I’ll be organizing what looks to be a wonderful workshop at the 62nd Rencontre Assyriologique in Philadelphia this summer, July 12-15, on
Culture contact and the history of ideas: Comparing scribal ideologies in the Persian and Hellenistic periods
An area of increasing shared interest connecting Assyriology with the rest of ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean studies is the concept of scribal culture: how scribal practices and goals may have shaped the worldviews of ancient writers. So far the most influential theories have been proposed by biblicists (often based on secondary sources) and assumed a common “ancient Near Eastern scribal culture.” But recent work in Assyriology, Classics, and early Judaism on ancient education, textuality, and intellectual history is transforming what had been a uniform and static picture into a surprisingly varied one.
This workshop focuses on a uniquely rich database for the interaction and comparison of ancient scribal cultures: the Persian and Hellenistic near east, but takes a new methodological direction by focusing on the scribes’ own worldviews. It will build on the groundbreaking new research and data of the past decade in how the languages, scribal traditions, and political conditions of the Near East came to be shared, but move beyond simple questions of influence toward deeper questions of intellectual history. For example, if Francesca Rochberg is correct that Babylonian intellectuals did not believe in nature, or an inherent gap between nature and culture, as in the Greek antinomy between physis and nomos, what happens when Babylonian culture is created and transmitted in a Hellenistic Greek environment? How can we understand the shared elements of early Jewish and Mesopotamian hermeneutics? By exploring how culture contact changed scribes’ ontologies and hermeneutics, we will better understand the creative new aspects of ancient thought that emerged in the Persian and Hellenistic periods.