The Spirit of Scholarship

Sunday, September 22nd - Tuesday, September 24th 

The Spirit of Scholarship: Biblical and Mesopotamian Studies in the Roman Catholic Academy

This international conference highlights the historical-critical study of the Hebrew Bible in its ancient Near Eastern context as an enduring concern in theological research at leading Roman Catholic institutions of higher education. This three-day meeting is organized by members of the Boston College Theology Department and School of Theology and Ministry. We welcome select junior, mid-career, and senior scholars from both Roman Catholic as well as other confessional and non-confessional institutions – from North America, Europe, and Israel – whose work focuses on the Hebrew Bible and its relationship with Mesopotamia.       

We gather together: to move our intellectual field forward, inviting not only senior and mid-career scholars but the latest generation of those working on the intersection of Bible and ancient Mesopotamia; to assemble a cadre of experts to create a sense of scholarly community; and, finally, to disseminate the cutting edge of biblical and Mesopotamian studies to the public and ecclesiastical community.


Boston College Institute for the Liberal Arts Major Grant

Catholic Biblical Association – Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Grant for the Promotion of Biblical Scholarship and Biblical Literacy

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry Continuing Education

The Joseph Professor of Catholic Spirituality

Special Conference Themes

Biblical Studies and Ancient Mesopotamia in the Roman Catholic Academy

This session will offer a venue to discuss the history of the Roman Catholic contribution to the study of ancient Mesopotamia and the Bible, as well as for current scholars to reflect on their own research and teaching experiences in Roman Catholic institutions of higher education.

The Production and Control of Knowledge: Ancient and Modern

What counts as “knowledge” in ancient Israel/Judah and Mesopotamia? Who controls its use and propagation? How did the parallel knowledge cultures of the Israelite/Judean and Babylonian scribal elite interact and what of their produce crossed cultural lines and why? Furthermore, how do contemporary institutions use, control, and disseminate knowledge of the distant past?

Judeans in Babylonia

What are the implications of the recently discovered and published Babylonian cuneiform texts (the so-called Al-Yahudu, or “Judah-Town,” materials) from the Mesopotamian settlements comprised of Judean exiles and their descendants, those forced from their native land during the Babylonian invasions of the early 6th century BCE?


Jeffrey L. Cooley was invited to join the Boston College Theology Department in 2009 after completing his doctorate at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion and teaching for several years at Xavier University (Cincinnati, OH). His research interests include biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies broadly, with a special focus on intellectual history. He is currently the co-chair of the Assyriology and the Bible Section of the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, and is a member of the editorial board of the SBL series Ancient Near East Monographs – Mongrafías sobre el Antiguo Cercano Oriente.

David Vanderhooft came to Boston College in 1996 after completing the PhD in Hebrew Bible in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. His research interests revolve around the Former and Latter Prophets and encompass historical, cultural and theological approaches. He has additional scholarly interest in Northwest Semitic epigraphy and in the relationship between Judah and the empires of Assyria and Babylon. He has been visiting professor at the Ruprecht Karls University in Heidelberg, Germany, and in the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University.

Michael R. Simone, S.J. is a Jesuit of the USA Midwest Province. He is a graduate of John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he studied history and philosophy.  From 2008 - 2013, he attended the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., where he studied on Northwest Semitics and Assyriology.  Upon completing his PhD, Fr. Simone came to Boston College to serve as a professor of Sacred Scripture. His research interests include divine embodiment and religious worship in ancient Near Eastern culture.

Schedule of Events

Sunday, September 22

School of Theology and Ministry Campus, Theology and Ministry Library 117 (Auditorium)

1:30-3:00 PM, Mūdû Mūdâ Likallim: The Production and Control of Knowledge, Part 1

1.     Jennifer Bader, Associate Dean of Academics, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry: Welcome

2.     Peter Dubovsky, SJ, Pontifical Biblical Institute, “Writing and Editing History in the Hebrew Bible and in the Ancient Near East”

3.     Andrew Davis, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, “Jehoash, Josiah, and the Historiography of Temple Renovation”

4.     C. Jay Crisostomo, University of Michigan, “Knowledge Creation in the Sumerian Proverb Collections”

3:00-3:30 PM, Break

3:30-4:30 PM, Mūdû Mūdâ Likallim: The Production and Control of Knowledge, Part 2

1.      Mahri Leonard-Fleckman, College of the Holy Cross, “The Malleability of ‘Knowledge’ of the Southern Levant and the Case of Timnah”

2.      Jennifer Singletary, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, “Whose Line Is It Anyway? The Production of Divinatory Knowledge in Akkadian Texts and the Hebrew Bible”

Sunday Evening, September 22

Boston College Main Campus, Corcoran Commons, Heights Room

5:30-6:30 PM, Plenary Speaker

Mark S. Smith, Princeton Theological Seminary, “The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the God of Israel: Deriving from and Engaging with their Ancient Contexts”

Monday, September 23

Boston College Main Campus, Corcoran Commons, Newton Room

9:00-10:30 AM Biblical and Mesopotamian Studies in the Roman Catholic Academy, Part 1

1.     Gregory Kalscheur, SJ, Dean of the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, Welcome

2.     James VanderKam, University of Notre Dame, “R.H. Charles, Ancient Texts, and Theological Controversies”

3.     Rannfrid Thelle, Wichita State University, “Sigmund Mowinckel’s ‘Enthronement’-Psalms and the Akitu Festival: the Reception of the “Cultic Principle” in Biblical Scholarship”

4.     Peter Machinist, Harvard University, William Foxwell Albright and Modern Catholic Biblical Scholarship”

10:30-11:00 AM Break

11:00 AM - 12:00 PM, Biblical and Mesopotamian Studies in the Roman Catholic Academy, Part 2

1.     Richard Clifford, SJ, Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Respondent

2.     Mahri Leonard-Fleckman, College of the Holy Cross, Respondent

3.     Discussion

2:00-3:00 PM, Yahūdū ina Māti: Judeans in Babylonia, Part 1

1.     Cornelia Wunsch, Freie Universität Berlin, “From J.N. Strassmaier SJ  to the Judean texts: The Publication of Babylonian Archival Material”

2.     Andrew Gross, Catholic University of America, “What Can the Al Yahudu Tablets Tell Us about Mesopotamia and Ancient Israel and their Influence on One Another?”

3:00-3:30 PM, Break

3:30-4:30 PM, Yahūdū ina Māti: Judeans in Babylonia, Part 2

1.     Joel Kemp, University of Scranton, “Defining the Outsider: The Amorites’ Function and Judahite Identity in Ezekiel 16”

2.     Angela Roskop Erisman, Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, “The King is Dead, Long Live the King! The Role of Mesopotamian Literature in the Formation of the Torah”

5:30-6:30 PM, Corcoran Commons, Heights Room, Plenary Speaker

Laurie Pearce, University of California Berkeley, “Piecing the Puzzle, Shaping the Scholarship of the Judean Exile in Babylonia”

Tuesday, September 24

Boston College Main Campus, Yawkey Center, Murray Function Room

9:00-10:00 AM, Malku : Šarru, Part 1

1.     Jessie DeGrado, Brandeis University, “Politics and Prophecy: The Conditions of Judah’s Submission to Tiglath-pileser III”

2.     Anthony Soohoo, SJ, Pontifical Biblical Institute, “Like Father, Like Son: Violence against the Enemy in the Royal Historiography of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal”

10:00-10:15 AM, Break

10:15-11:15 AM, Malku : Šarru, Part 2

1.     Alan Lenzi, University of the Pacific, “King Nabonidus, the Righteous Sufferer”

2.     Paul-Alain Beaulieu, University of Toronto, “In Memory of Belshazzar: A Conversation Between Greek, Jewish, and Babylonian Sources”

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM, Ludlul Bēl Nēmeqi: Laud and Identity of the Judean God

1.     Anne Marie Kitz, Independent Scholar, “ ʾĕlohîm and ʾēl The Semitic Perspective of Divinity: The Historical Reality behind some Theological Truths”

2.     Ronnie Goldstein, Hebrew University, “The Exaltation Hymns of Yhwh: Their Sources, Manifestations in the Hebrew Bible, and Continuity in Post-Biblical Literature”

Prof. Walter Ricciardi, MD

Laurie Pearce

Laurie Pearce is a lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches Akkadian language courses. In 2014, she published (with Cornelia Wunsch) Documents of  Judean Exiles and West Semites in Babylonia in the Collection of David Sofer (CUSAS 28. Bethesda: CDL Press), a collection of cuneiform texts that record the early stages of the Judean exile in Babylonia. Her research interests focus on the social and economic history of the late first millennium BCE. Since 2007, she has been developing digital projects and tools that support her work, including Hellenistic Babylonia: Texts, Images and Names (HBTIN), a component of Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus (ORACC,, an open-access consorital project for the online publication of cuneiform texts.

Prof. Walter Ricciardi, MD

Mark S. Smith

Mark S. Smith is Helena Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Theological Seminary and Skirball Professor Emeritus of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University. He taught previously at Saint Joseph's University (Philadelphia's Jesuit University), Yale University and Saint Paul Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Smith holds four Masters degrees from the Catholic University of America, Harvard Divinity School and Yale University. His doctorate is also from Yale. A past president and vice-president of the Catholic Biblical Association, Smith served as visiting professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and at the Hebrew University. A widely sought speaker, Smith delivered lectures this past year at Saint Mary's Seminary in San Antonio, at Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago, and at the international meeting of the Catholic Biblical Association. Smith's research focuses on biblical literature, Israelite religion and Canaanite texts, with a particular interest in God. He is the author of sixteen books and the co-author of four other books; he also has over 120 other publications to his name. His books include How Human is God? Seven Questions about God and Humanity in the Bible (Liturgical Press, 2014); The Priestly Vision of Genesis 1 (Fortress Press, 2010); and The Genesis of Good and Evil: The Fall(out) and Original Sin in the Bible (Westminster John Knox, 2019). His current research includes a commentary on the biblical book of Judges for the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press), co-authored with the archaeologist and love of his life, Elizabeth Bloch-Smith.

Paul-Alain Beaulieu

University of Toronto

In Memory of Belshazzar: A Conversation Between Greek, Jewish, and Babylonian Sources 

My contribution investigates the growth of the historiographic and literary tradition around the figure of Belshazzar (Akkadian Bēl-šarru-uṣur), the son of the last king of Babylon Nabonidus (reigned 556-539 BC). Belshazzar is known mainly from the Book of Daniel, where he appears erroneously as last king of Babylon and son of the famous Nebuchadnezzar II (reigned 605-562 BC). It has long been established that the court narratives of Daniel re-attributed to Nebuchadnezzar a tradition centered on Nabonidus. This was proven in 1965 by the discovery and publication of the Prayer of Nabonidus (Nabunay) among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q242). I will argue that this tradition originates in the time of the Neo-Babylonian Empire of the sixth century and underwent various transformations through a process of transmission which almost certainly included a significant oral component. I provisionally give the title of “Romance of Nabunay and Belshazzar” to this cycle of stories, which is represented in the Bible by the Aramaic portions of Daniel. One important, hitherto unrecognized aspect of the Romance is that it is grounded in a very important motif of Babylon historiography, that of royal sin and divine retribution, a motif which was still influential in the Seleucid period. The story of sin and retribution originates in Babylonia at the time of Nabonidus and Bel-šarru-uṣur and was meant as a criticism of the king and his son. It was borrowed by the Jews for the elaboration of the Romance and given a Jewish orientation. I will also examine how the Greek, Jewish and Babylonian traditions about Nabonidus, his son Belshazzar, and the fall of Babylon to the Persians in 539 relate to one another. Specifically, I will isolate the specifically Jewish components from the traditions found in Greek and Babylonian sources and analyze how these narrative strands relate to one another, and also how much they relate to historical facts. As a prospective conclusion, I will argue that the court narratives of Daniel, in spite of anachronisms and interpolations, are based to a significant degree on historical reality but that they propose a transfigured and tragic view of history, portraying as inevitable the failure of empires and the sacrilegious folly of their rulers.

C. Jay Crisostomo

University of Michigan

Knowledge Creation in the Sumerian Proverb Collections

Recent scholarship has situated the biblical proverbs within the social environment of scribal scholarship. The Sumerian Proverb collections were demonstrably reproduced as part of the education of student scribes. In this paper, I explicate how the reproduction and study of the Sumerian Proverb collections represent scribal knowledge and explore how the notion of scribal knowledge impacts how we should read and understand the proverbs. The Sumerian Proverb collections, as products of scribal schools, expand on the scholarly activities that scribal students learned in their previous training, providing them opportunities to refine their scholarly practices in more complex literary styles, drawing both on their prior familiarity with the lexical lists and their ability to innovate with the cuneiform script. I argue that these hermeneutical structuring principles are more important for understanding the proverbs collections than meaning or practical wisdom.

Andrew Davis

Boston College School of Theology and Ministry

Jehoash, Josiah, and the Historiography of Temple Renovation

Drawn from my forthcoming monograph, this paper examines the temple renovations of Jehoash (2 Kgs 12:5-17) and Josiah (2 Kgs 22:3-10) in light of Mesopotamian accounts of temple renovation.  These accounts occur mostly in royal inscriptions and employ a distinctive rhetoric.  Whereas accounts of temple-founding are oriented to the future and stress the building's novelty, accounts of renovation are oriented toward the past, namely, the temple's history.  A close reading of these temple histories shows that their content is highly selective, and in this way they represent a kind of historiography, particular pasts remembered to serve present royal interests.

In the Neo-Assyrian sources there are two particular rhetorical patterns that shed light on the biblical evidence.  First, these kings often used temple renovations as a way to distance themselves from recent turmoil and associate their reigns with older and more illustrious past traditions.  Secondly, the kings depicted their work on the temple as a correction of their predecessors' flaws.

Both patterns are relevant to our reading of renovations by Jehoash and Josiah.  The connection between 2 Kings 12:5-17 and 22:3-10 is apparent through their shared language.  Most scholars argue that the Josiah account was based on the Jehoash account, which was used to legitimize Josiah's renovation.  I argue otherwise.  Comparing the biblical passages to Neo-Assyrian temple renovations, I propose that both passages were written by the same author who depicted Jehoash's renovation as a flawed precedent for Josiah's ideal achievement.

Jessie DeGrado

Brandeis University

Politics and Prophecy: The Conditions of Judah’s Submission to Tiglath-pileser III

Over the past century, scholars have understood the prophetic rebuke narrated in Isaiah 7:1–17 to refer to the Judean king’s appeal to Assyria for assistance. They argue further that Judah remained independent of Assyria long after the neighboring kingdoms of the southern Levant surrendered—and that Judah could have maintained a position of “neutrality” vis-à-vis Assyria in the long term but for Ahaz’s hasty submission (e.g., Aster 2017: 86–87). This paper reconsiders the conditions of Judah’s initial submission to Assyria based on an examination of epigraphic evidence, including tribute lists preserved in the royal inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III. In both tribute lists and administrative documents, Judah consistently appears alongside the neighboring kingdoms of Ammon, Moab, and Edom, and is never afforded special status. I argue that Judah submitted to Assyria alongside its neighbors during Tiglath-pileser III’s Levantine campaign of 734, at the very outset of the Damascus-led rebellion. There are several implications to this reconstruction of Judah’s initial surrender to Assyria. First, it provides us an opportunity to reflect on the assumptions of Israelite (or in this case Judean) exceptionalism that are implicit in many of our historical reconstructions. There is no reason to believe that Judah alone held out against pressure to submit to Assyria as neighboring kingdoms fell like dominos in the face of an imperial juggernaut. In addition, this study sheds new light on biblical texts like Isaiah 7 that reflect Judah’s earliest experiences with Assyria. I argue that the scene narrated in Isaiah 7 reflects the political circumstances of Assyrian vassalage. Rather than advocating for continued “neutrality,” the text’s main concern is to keep Judah from joining the anti-Assyrian rebellion led by Damascus and Israel. The author accomplishes this by presenting the inevitable Assyrian retaliation against rebel kingdoms as divinely sanctioned punishment. As a result, the prophetic message escapes classification as either “pro-” or “anti-Assyrian” and reflects the complex interplay of regional politics with the imperial aims of Assyria.

Peter Dubovsky, SJ

Pontifical Biblical Institute

Writing and Editing History in the Hebrew Bible and in the Ancient Near East

This paper will investigate techniques ancient scribes used to assemble historical data, to create and edit historical texts. By comparing the ancient Near Eastern historical writings with similar texts in the Hebrew Bible, I believe we can cast new light on the historical-critical method.

Ronnie Goldstein

Hebrew University

The Exaltation Hymns of Yhwh: Their Sources, Manifestations in the Hebrew Bible, and Continuity in Post-Biblical Literature

In a series of articles that I published in the past, I analyzed the affinity between the so-called “exaltation hymns” in Mesopotamian literature and several passages in the Hebrew Bible. I pointed in them to the affinity of the Mesopotamian exaltation hymns (and particularly the exaltation hymns of Ishtar), with a few Biblical passages, mainly with the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32, Psalm 82 and Psalm 47. In these articles, I suggested that hymns belonging to this genre, or parts of them, have been preserved in various ways in the Biblical books, and that it in principle possible to reconstruct the existence of ancient “Exaltation Hymns of Yhwh,” which described the apotheosis of Yhwh in the presence of the other gods. I also pointed out that in those passages we recognize the hand of scribes who modified the form and content of the ancient hymns and adapted them to the monotheistic view dominant toward the end of the Biblical period. The present paper will revisit this topic, discussing some new examples of it which shed more light on the history of this genre and its manifestations in the Hebrew Bible. 

Andrew Gross

Catholic University of America

What Can the Al Yahudu Tablets Tell Us about Mesopotamia and Ancient Israel and their Influence on One Another?

The Al Yahudu tablets are remarkable in that they document actual contact between Judahite exiles and Mesopotamian administrators within cuneiform culture.  Scholars have often speculated about such contacts when adducing parallels between the Mesopotamian cuneiform record and ancient Israel (as represented in the Hebrew Bible).  Adducing such parallels, however, also involves the more difficult task of trying to determine the mechanisms by which such parallels arose as well as what the direction of influence was between the two cultures (if any).  In these latter inquiries, scholars generally look to one of the following three areas: (1) carriers of culture in Late Bronze Age Syria, (2) Assyrian imperial expansion during the early 1st millennium BCE, and (3) Neo- and Late Babylonian cultural exchanges, whether through returning Judahite exiles or other means.  The al Yahudu tablets would thus represent concrete evidence of this third area.

Cultural parallels, however, take many different forms, and each of these can take different paths.  The contents of the al Yahudu tablets are not literary or religious in nature, but rather are documentary materials that record legal and administrative transactions from everyday life.  For parallels, we must look to the texts’ vocabulary and the structure of their formularies.  The aim of this talk will be to examine these elements within this corpus against the broader Neo-Babylonian tradition.  What further complicates the situation is that West Semitic culture had been infiltrating Neo- and Late-Babylonian civilization for quite some time—and to some degree in all three of the abovementioned areas—and one must thereby keep that factor in mind when speaking about possible direction of influence.

Joel Kemp

University of Scranton

Defining the Outsider: The Amorites’ Function and Judahite Identity in Ezekiel 16

Ezekiel 16 uses several examples of figurative and symbolic language to depict the origins and identity of the people of Jerusalem. The chapter describes the history of Jerusalem and its people through a metaphorical biography of an abandoned girl who becomes the daughter and wife of YHWH.  Ezekiel 16:3 and 16:45 discuss Jerusalem’s “biological” origins, connecting them to the Amorites. However, there is little evidence that the authors of Ezekiel had direct contact with the historical Amorites, and scholarly consensus is lacking about the Amorites’ function in Ezekiel 16. In this paper, I argue that the authors of Ezekiel 16 use this symbolic language, as well as metaphors of abandonment, adoption, and marriage, to make a legal argument regarding the nature of Judahite identity and its dependence upon the covenant with YHWH. The invocation of the Amorites appeals to a specific set of biblical traditions that contrasts their legal standing with YHWH to the legal bonds that define Judahites’ relationship with the deity. Specifically, Ezek 16 argues Jerusalem’s initial legal relationship to YHWH, like the Amorites, was non-existent and thus Jerusalem neither could nor should expect to receive the benefits of a covenant with the deity. A purpose of the Amorites’ invocation is to demonstrate the transformation in Jerusalem’s legal standing from marginal and unprotected to secure under YHWH’s legal custodianship as initially an adopted daughter and subsequently his wife.

Anne Marie Kitz

Independent Scholar

ʾĕlohîm and ʾēl The Semitic Perspective of Divinity: The Historical Reality behind some Theological Truths

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, under the heading “The Profession of Faith,” the following observation occurs, “To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation throughout the Old Testament” (sect. 2, chap. 1, art. 1, para. 2, 237 b). The present paper will examine some of these vestiges as articulations of God’s earliest efforts to reveal himself to humanity. The text of the Hebrew Bible, in particular, harbors several instances when God refers to himself in the plural. The fact that some have survived for us to consider, is not only extremely remarkable but also speaks to an early concept of divinity the organization of which was only vaguely known and generally discerned. Citations such as these clearly point the original polytheistic environment, through and with which God worked to make himself known.

Since the history of God’s revelation begins with polytheism, this presentation will offer a general, examination of humanity’s earliest awareness of the divine that evolved from a common Semitic perspective that initially systematized and envisioned divinity as collectives of anonymous divine beings. It is likely ʾĕlohîm is a remnant of this archaic theological outlook. The presentation opens with a concise review of earlier interpretations of ʾĕlohîm, followed by a succinct analysis of Gen. 20:13, 35:7 and 3:22 and other verses that illustrate ʾĕlohîm’s and Yahweh’s plurality.

Turning to cuneiform texts one particular group of anonymous deities comes to the fore: the Sumerian da-nun-na and their Akkadian counterpart the da-nun-na-ki. A few preliminary observations are discussed including, the danunna’s persistent anonymous character who determine a city’s destiny and oversee the building of temples. Significantly, it is from their number that named city deities emerge, who, with the aid of the danunna, establishes his or her cult for the wellbeing of the state: diĝir-re-e-ne-er šu-mu-un-ne-mah-en da-nun-na-ke4-ne za-e šu-mu-un-ne-il2-en, “You (Enki) are chief among the gods! You are raised among the Anunna! (A Hymn to Enki? [Išme-Dagan X]: P491658, 17-18).

It is probable then, at one time during Israel’s early existence, ʾēl ʾĕlohê yiśrāʾēl (Gen 33:20) as well as yhwh ʾĕlohê yiśrāʾēl (Ex. 32:27), literally meant “El/Yahweh of the gods of Israel.” Later, when Israel’s awareness of her God sharpened, these epithets were reassessed. Thus, ʾĕlohîm + singular verb, became yhwh ʾĕlohîm + singular verb, with the latter articulating Yahweh’s unique individuality through his personal name, while expressing, at the same time, his core nature as a singular unity of many. Here one cannot help but sense some of the first tentative steps on the path that eventually led to the revelation of the Trinity.

Alan Lenzi

University of the Pacific

King Nabonidus, the Righteous Sufferer

In this paper I demonstrate how the Haran Stele presents king Nabonidus, the last and most controversial king of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty, in the role of the sufferer of the poem Ludlul Bel Nemeqi. The adaptation of Ludlul occupies the heart of the inscription. Surrounding this material is king Nabonidus’s divine election and protection. The entire text is written in the first person voice of the king, just as Ludlul is written in the first person voice of its suffering protagonist. Near the beginning of the inscription the king is chosen to complete a divinely revealed task (to build a temple for the moon god) and is blessed tremendously with protection in battle after fulfilling it at the inscription’s end. Between revelation and fulfillment, Nabonidus suffers social alienation and revelatory radio-silence but is restored at the time of the deity’s appointment, just as did the protagonist of Ludlul. I argue that this period of hardship, rather than abasing the king, intends to magnify his piety since throughout the period, following the example of the protagonist in Ludlul, he relies and trusts in the sovereign wisdom of his divine benefactor. Although interesting in its own right, this literary demonstration provides an opportunity to reflect on the intersection of literature and morality, raising questions about how authoritative narratives shape personal self-understandings as well as the public presentation/perception of political leaders.

Mahri Leonard-Fleckman

College of the Holy Cross

The Malleability of ‘Knowledge’ of the Southern Levant and the Case of Timnah

Depictions of the southern Levant's social and political landscape—including identities and borders—vary in biblical and Neo-Assyrian texts. Using Timnah in the Shephelah as our case study, this talk explores the malleability of textual depictions of landscape in relation to the theme of “knowledge,” both constructed knowledge of the past and how we interpret such constructions as textual scholars and archaeologists. How did scribes understand or shape themselves in relation to the “other” (e.g. “west,” Philistia, Judah, Canaan), and how do their perceptions affect contemporary quests for historical understanding? Or, how do ancient texts and their readers engage in a dialogical process of constructing or “languaging” society (borrowing a term from second language acquisition), and what are the ramifications of such constructions for what we know, or think we know, about the ancient world? 

Peter Machinist

Harvard University

William Foxwell Albright and Modern Catholic Biblical Scholarship

William Foxwell Albright, it may be said with confidence, belongs in the most elevated pantheon of those who shaped the modern study of the ancient Near East. In virtually all of the ancient Near Eastern fields, Albright's scholarship proved to be fundamental and foundational, and much of it, even with the inevitable critique and updating, continues to challenge. Albright's achievements were not only in his scholarship; they were evident in his teaching - more than fifty doctorates emerged from his tutelage - and in the international range of his personal associations and involvement in a dazzling variety of organizations and conferences. He was a major force in opening up and connecting ancient Near Eastern studies to individuals and groups that had been marginal to, even absent from, such studies heretofore; and he proved to be equally potent, especially in the middle decades of the twentieth century, in confronting the scourge of war and oppression and in rescuing those scholars who would otherwise have become its victims. Albright, in short, was truly a citizen of the world, and among his many beneficiaries was Catholic biblical scholarship, as the paper will explore. In a twentieth century that experienced major vicissitudes in Catholic scholarship on the Bible, both Testaments, Albright became an important resource for change. I will look particularly at his relationships with several of the critical organs of Catholic biblical studies, pre-eminently the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem and the (American) Catholic Biblical Association, but also at his mentoring, through the 1940's and 1950's, of a new generation of Catholic scholars, who took their doctoral degrees with him at Johns Hopkins, and at his pursuit of projects, most famously the Anchor Bible, that were designed to bring together scholars of different backgrounds, Catholic and other, who had not usually been under the same roof. How and why Albright reached out to Catholics and others, what his goals were in doing so, and what kinds of successes and failures he had - these will be my focus.

Laurie Pearce

University of California Berkeley

Piecing the Puzzle, Shaping the Scholarship of the Judean Exile in Babylonia

As with a jigsaw puzzle, pieces of textual evidence are identified and arranged in the frames and contexts to reconstruction of a larger picture of the experience of ancient populations. Just as the challenge of resolving a jigsaw puzzle increases in proportion to the number and size its component pieces, scholarly reconstruction of history is rendered more complex by the available variety of sources, which record the social, economic, literary, and religious experiences of the people that produced them. This broad, illustrated, survey of cuneiform evidence bearing on the study of the Babylonian Exile considers the variety and contents of sources that shape the emerging narrative of the Judean exiles in Babylonia, their processes of economic and cultural acculturation, and mechanisms for identity maintenance.

Angela Roskop Erisman

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The King is Dead, Long Live the King! The Role of Mesopotamian Literature in the Formation of the Torah

It has long been clear that elements of Mesopotamian literature played an important role in Pentateuch, from the flood story in Genesis to the treaty form of Deuteronomy. But they play no less a role in between. The wilderness narrative involves a series of episodes in which the Israelites complain about the difficult conditions of life in the wilderness and lash out at their leadership for bringing them out of the perceived safety of Egypt. Exodus 17 and Numbers 20 are among the more curious of these because the very same act has opposite effects in each. Moses strikes the rock and produces water in both. This act is witnessed by God in Exodus 17 and affirms Moses’s leadership role in the face of the Israelites’ complaint. Yet it is inexplicably framed as disobedience to divine command in Numbers 20, where Moses is condemned to die in the wilderness because of it. The implausibility of the latter in light of the former has been a sticking point throughout their history of interpretation.

This presentation will show that these rock-water episodes make excellent sense once we recognize that they turn on use of a Mesopotamian motif that links gushing water with the king’s responsibility for continued blessings of creation. Moses’s act in Exodus 17 establishes him as a divinely sanctioned royal figure. But kingship becomes problematic when the failures of kings are blamed for exile. Those failures are epitomized in the retelling of the rock-water episode in Numbers 20, where the human king is written out of the narrative, and the divine king leads the Israelite army into the land in his place. But the end the king is not as ignominious as it may seem, thanks to evocation of yet another Mesopotamian motif as Moses is gathered to his people on an unnamed mountain on the edge of the land—an effort to mythologize him that may well be the foundation for further developments of his character. These Mesopotamian motifs are used alongside the Neo-Assyrian annals genre (as I’ve discussed in The Wilderness Itineraries) to create an ingenious literary vision for Israel’s future after exile. This presentation aims to generate discussion about how, when, and why Mesopotamian literature influenced the emergence of the Torah.

Jennifer Singletary

Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Whose Line Is It Anyway? The Production of Divinatory Knowledge in Akkadian Texts and the Hebrew Bible

This contribution investigates human and divine agency in the portrayal of prophecy in Akkadian texts and the Hebrew Bible. Much of the current scholarship on divination in the ancient Near East characterizes prophecy as the transmission of divine messages that are reportedly received by the prophet through intuition or inspiration, while other forms of divination, such as extispicy, are contrasted as more technical processes that involve mastery of specific techniques along with higher levels of education.

Prophecy is indeed depicted in both Akkadian evidence from Mari and Assyria and biblical texts as knowledge produced by deities and pronounced through human mouthpieces. Descriptions of prophecies use various strategies to downplay the creative agency of the prophets and the roles of their collaborators, instead highlighting deities as the originators of the messages. Locating the primary agency and impetus for prophecy in the supernatural realm accurately reflects the image constructed by the texts, and sheds light on how prophecy may have been perceived by ancient audiences. Yet, such an emic understanding of the locus of agency can only go so far in helping us to understand the prophetic process.

A closer look at cases where a collaborative effort is required for prophecies to reach their audiences helps to nuance our understanding of the active roles of the human agents involved. For example, at Old Babylonian Mari, prophecies were written down and sent to the king by elite individuals who claim to have witnessed prophetic performances. Each participant in this complex interplay necessarily drew from different skill sets and deployed appropriate forms of cultural currency within their own social networks in order to construct and manipulate the contents of prophecies and effect their delivery. Important biblical narratives also recount stories of prophets cooperating with other religious specialists and scribes, such as the powerful partnership in 2 Kings 22-23 that includes Huldah the prophetess, and the interactions between Jeremiah and Baruch in Jer 32, 36, 43, and 45. A comparative reading of these texts reveals that prophets were simultaneously depicted as passive transmitters and skilled performers, while the recorders of the messages artfully shaped their communiqués to boost both their own credibility, and that of the prophets, by denying their influence on the utterances written down. These texts are carefully curated to appear spontaneous and authentic, as multiple parties work in synergy to bolster their own authority by manipulating audiences’ perception of the relative agency of the various participants, both human and divine.

Mark S. Smith

Princeton Theological Seminary

The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the God of Israel: Deriving from and Engaging with their Ancient Contexts

The study of the Hebrew Bible has been transformed by the discovery of extra-biblical sources from ancient Israel and neighboring lands.  For a long time, the comparison of these sources with Bible was construed in terms of the Bible and the ancient Near East, or even in oppositional terms of the Bible versus the ancient Near East.  The twentieth century witnessed a major shift in this paradigm in understanding the Bible in the Ancient Near East.  Intellectually, this change represented a decided advance in appreciating how the biblical texts partake of larger regional and international contexts in a myriad of different ways.  In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, this work represented a major, ecumenical undertaking, with wide participation and conversation among Catholic, Jewish and Protestant scholars working in North America, Europe and Israel. 

How the Bible is “in” the Ancient Near East remains a complex issue. The “parallels” noted by many scholars between the Bible and the late Bronze Age Ugaritic texts (late thirteenth-early twelfth centuries) pointed to a considerably shared cultural background.  As a result, much of the Bible could be seen as coming out of a cultural matrix that includes the Ugaritic texts.  At the same time, a broader international matrix for the Bible is suggested by the much wider fund of Bronze Age Mesopotamian texts, which show broad backgrounds for the Bible across a wider array of subjects and genres, such as creation and flood, treaty and covenant, law and historiography.  As Israel increasingly engaged with Mesopotamia in the Iron Age, biblical writings became particularly marked by Mesopotamian language and culture.  In these cases, we might say, “Mesopotamia came to the Bible,” and it left enduring imprints.  This presentation explores these issues, with a particular focus on God in the Bible.

Anthony Soohoo, SJ

Pontifical Biblical Institute

Like Father, Like Son: Violence against the Enemy in the Royal Historiography of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal

Violence communicates meaning and is directed to particular audiences. It is never random. The representation of violence is part of the cultural discourse regarding power. Accounts of violence, in both visual and written media, contribute to the creation of identity and cultural memory. In the royal inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian kings, the beheading of named individuals is a rather unique occurrence. This motif occurs for the first time in the royal historiography of Esarhaddon in his account of the death of Abdi-Milkūti of Sidon and Sanda-uarri, king of Kundi and Sissû. Likewise, instances of beheading occur mainly in Ashurbanipal’s narrative relating his conflict with Teumman and the campaign against Elam and its allies. Parallels suggest that Ashurbanipal’s scribes modelled their account on Esarhaddon’s narrative. This paper will analyze the beheading motif in the royal historiography of the two rulers, arguing that there is a logic behind its usage. By claiming to engage in this type of violence against an adversary, these rulers were imitating the divine warrior Marduk, confronting the forces of disorder, in his conflict with Tiāmat in Enūma eliš. Moreover, they were enacting divine justice by realizing the curses imposed upon vassals in the treaties sworn in the presence of the gods. The accounts involving beheading, involving allusions to myth, were part of a narrative of revenge created in vulnerable moments during the reigns of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal to project their power in response to military setbacks in Egypt. These counter-narratives appealed to myth and cultural norms to highlight them as successful and pious rulers.

Rannfrid Thelle

Wichita State University

Sigmund Mowinckel’s “Enthronement”-Psalms and the Akitu Festival: the Reception of the “Cultic Principle” in Biblical Scholarship

Ranked among the most significant biblical scholars of the 20th century, the Norwegian scholar Sigmund Mowinckel wrote on almost every area of Old Testament study, from his first publication in 1909 up to his death in 1965. Between 1921 and 1924, Mowinckel published Psalmenstudien, the 6-volume work which put him on the international stage.

It was the second of these volumes, concerned with idea of “YHWH’s enthronement” and ancient Israelite eschatology, which became most widely influential. Mowinckel indebtedness to Herman Gunkel in his work on the Psalms has been well established, as well as the significance of Hugo Gressmann’s 1905 work on the origins of Jewish-Israelite eschatology. In my contribution, I will trace connections between Mowinckel’s early exposure to Babylonian religion and Assyriology, and his theories about the festival of YHWH’s enthronement. In doing this, I will be sharing material from letters that Mowinckel wrote to his teacher, Prof. Simon Michelet in Norway, between November 1911 and March 1913. During this time Mowinckel was based in Marburg, spending a bulk of his time studying Assyrian language and cuneiform with Peter Jensen. He also studied with Gunkel in nearby Giessen for part of this time.

In a second section, I will survey Mowinckel’s use of Assyrian-Babylonian material in his Psalmenstudien II, focusing on his underlying understanding of the Israelite psalms as cult literature. Mowinckel believed that the psalms which proclaimed YHWH as king (such as Psalms 47, 93, 95-99) celebrated YHWH’s enthronement in a cultic ritual. This allowed him to reconstruct a festival of YHWH’s enthronement and an Israelite New Year Festival.

In a third portion of my presentation, I will explore the reception of Mowinckel’s understanding of “cult” in contemporary biblical scholarship by examining book reviews and references to Psalmenstudien, particularly Volume II, in select journals and publications from the mid-1920s. From “oral tradition” in my academic training, I have heard the claim that Mowinckel’s positive view of the significance of the cult in ancient Israelite was criticized, or not well appreciated. This push-back has been explained as stemming from a bias against Catholicism in Protestant biblical scholarship. My aim is to investigate this claim by tracing Mowinckel’s impact in biblical scholarship of various academic milieus (particularly in Germany, the UK, US, and Scandinavia).

James VanderKam

University of Notre Dame

R.H. Charles, Ancient Texts, and Theological Controversies

The paper situates R.H. Charles, the famous editor of The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament and of many other works, within the state of biblical scholarship at his time and the ecclesiastical controversies that ensued.  Charles (1855-1931) was an Anglican clergyman who early in his career became an enthusiastic advocate of higher criticism as it had developed in his time.  This led him to advocate for application of its results within his Church, a not uncontroversial thing to do at the time.  But it also allowed him to give a new kind of expression to his very strong anti-Catholic sentiments.  That he had entertained such thoughts from early on is perhaps not so surprising since he came from the northern part of Ireland and looked down on inhabitants of the other parts of the island and the form of Christianity that almost all of them embraced.

But Charles’ strong anti-Catholicism was not simply a product of his roots in County Tyrone.  This Ulster man saw the Catholic Church, especially its hierarchy headed by an infallible pope, as the antithesis of the free search for truth to which the scholar and in fact everyone were called.  He strongly believed that within such an authoritarian structure it was impossible for a scholar to do his work in a proper fashion.  Any results at which he might arrive would be assessed by ecclesiastical authorities according to the unchanging and unchangeable norms of creeds and other parts of the tradition, and not according to the standards of the truth.

Charles identified himself with the English Modernists who were a movement of some note in the Church of England in the early decades of the twentieth century.  The modernists wished to reform the church from within and to update it in the light of the discoveries made by the modern sciences, including historical and biblical studies.  They believed that the church should take these results so seriously as to be ready to modify traditional stances in light of them.  Creeds and doctrinal systems were limited products of certain times and circumstances and should not be regarded as once-for all statements of the truth.  They were limited, fallible attempts to formulate it and should be open to revision as required by modern knowledge not available to those who wrote them.

It is instructive to look back on this movement from our perspective about one century later and to see the sorts of claims that were being made for the capabilities of scholars using the methods of higher criticism.  It is an opportunity to see how excessive some claims now appear but also a chance to observe how a group of thinkers attempted to be consistent, to follow through on their core beliefs and their implications for study of the Bible and theology within the church.

Cornelia Wunsch

Freie Universität Berlin

From J.N. Strassmaier SJ  to the Judean texts: The Publication of Babylonian Archival Material