Christopher Rollston is Professor of Northwest Semitic Languages and Literatures, and Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the George Washington University. A leading scholar in the field of Northwest Semitic epigraphy, his many research interests include ancient writing practices, scribes and scribal education, ancient literacy, the origins of the alphabet, and modern (and ancient) forgeries. His book Writing and Literacy in Ancient Israel (SBL, 2010) was awarded the American Society of Overseas Research’s Frank Moore Cross Award in 2011.
BAS Spring Seminar 2022 at Montreat, May 22 – 28, 2022
Beyond the Bible: Writing, Texts, and Collections from the Biblical World
1. The Origins of the Alphabet: From Egypt to the Levant
The technology of writing was developed during the late fourth millennium B.C.E., but the earliest writing systems were non-alphabetic. But during the early second millennium B.C.E., there was a major breakthrough—alphabetic writing. This lecture will focus on the long and ongoing debates surrounding the origins of this crucial technology and the impetus for its invention.
2. From Beirut to Jerusalem: Writing among Second-Millennium Canaanites
The Canaanites of the biblical world are sometimes presumed not to have been very sophisticated, accomplished, or literate. But the 14th-century Amarna Letters provide a window into the world of the Late Bronze Age Canaanites and the brilliant scribes who left us so much information about the period.
3. The Oldest Hebrew Inscriptions
The Gezer Calendar has sometimes been called “the oldest Hebrew inscription.” But is it Hebrew in script and language, or is it actually Phoenician? And if it is Phoenician (as has been suggested), then what is the oldest Hebrew inscription? This lecture will probe that question and then discuss some recent finds that are major contenders.
4. The Schooling of a Scribe in Ancient Israel: What We Know and What We Don’t
Were there schools in ancient Israel? Some say yes, some say no. This lecture focuses on the high caliber of the Old Hebrew script, the fine orthography (spelling), and the usage of a complicated system of numerics (Egyptian hieratic numerals), and then posits these were basic elements of an Israelite scribe’s education.
5. A Garment Taken in Pledge: Biblical Law and a Hebrew Inscription
Sometimes an inscription is found that sheds fairly direct light on the Bible. An inscription from Yavneh Yam in Israel (often referred to as the Mesad Hashavyahu Inscription) is one of the most delightful Hebrew inscriptions, and it dovetails quite nicely with biblical law, as this lecture will discuss.
6. Moabites and Ammonites in the Bible and Inscriptions
There is a small but growing corpus of Iron Age Moabite and Ammonite inscriptions, a number of them from excavations. These inscriptions shed fascinating light on Israel’s neighbors across the Jordan River, including the fact that there were trained scribes in ancient Moab and Ammon, just as there were in Israel and Judah.
7. Wars and Rumors of Wars: The Ninth Century B.C.E. in the Bible and Inscriptions
Wars were often part of the ancient biblical world, and the ninth century B.C.E. is an especially interesting period in this regard. This lecture focuses on the bellicose words and actions of some major regal players in this tumultuous century.
8. Killer Quotes: Burial Inscriptions from the World of the Bible
Although burial inscriptions are not that common in the biblical world, some really fascinating ones have been discovered through the years. This lecture focuses on some of the more interesting, including those that feature some truly great curse language.
9. Balaam son of Beor in the Bible and the Epigraphic Record
Balaam is a famous figure of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), and he is even mentioned several times in the New Testament. Is he a historical figure, or perhaps just a figure of lore? An important Iron Age inscription from Deir Alla (in modern Jordan) may, or may not, shed light on this question.
10. What’s for Dinner? Food and Drink in Ancient Inscriptions
Since food and drink are essential facets of our lives, it is predictable that at least some inscriptions from the biblical world would refer to food and drink (for animals and for people). This lecture will focus on what people ate and drank, based on actual references in the inscriptional record.