The Bible and its timeless stories were written down and compiled amid the backdrop of the writings, literature, and traditions of the ancient Near East and the later Greco-Roman world. In this week-long seminar, two leading scholars in the field of ancient writing—Sidnie White Crawford of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and Christopher Rollston of the George Washington University—explore the origin, development, and uses of writing in the biblical world and what we know about the authors and scribes who wrote down and preserved the biblical text.
We invite you to join us for a week of expert biblical scholarship, wonderful company, and relaxation in the tranquil setting of the Montreat Conference Center.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Sidnie White Crawford is Willa Cather Professor of Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism emerita at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a visiting scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary.
George Washington University
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 in DC.
1. Libraries Yesterday and Today
Today we think of libraries as public information hubs, repositories where written and electronic records of all types are kept, with access generally open to all. But what was a “library” in the ancient world? Who owned them, and who had access to them? What were their purposes?
2. Ashurbanipal’s Library
The most famous library in the ancient Near East was the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. This lecture will tell the story of its discovery and discuss its contents and purpose.
3. From Socrates to Alexandria: Libraries in the Greco-Roman World
Libraries took many forms in ancient Greece and Rome, from the private library belonging to the Greek philosopher Socrates to the famous Ptolemaic library in Alexandria, which collected manuscripts from all over the world. This lecture will survey these libraries, with a particular focus on Alexandria.
4. The Education of Scribes in the Ancient Near East
Libraries were the result of the work of scribes, who were the professional writers of the ancient world. This lecture will examine the elements of a scribe’s education as well as the role of scribes in the ancient world.
5. Ezra: Scribe and Torah Sage
Ezra, the eponymous hero of the Book of Ezra, is described as “a scribe skilled in the law of Moses.” Who was Ezra and what was his role in post-Exilic Judah? And what is meant by “the law of Moses”?
6. Mount Gerizim, the Samaritan Temple, and the Samaritan Pentateuch
Mt. Gerizim was the center of Samaritan culture in Palestine in the Second Temple period. This lecture will explore the archaeology of the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim and its inscriptions. It will also discuss the Samaritan Pentateuch and its importance in understanding the history of the Pentateuch.
7. Qumran and Its Archaeology: What Was There?
We will explore the archaeology of Qumran and what it tells us about the people who lived there and their daily lives.
8. The Qumran Collection as a Scribal Library
The Qumran scrolls, found in 11 caves in the vicinity of Khirbet Qumran, form a distinct literary collection. The lecture will argue that this collection was a scribal library with a prominent sectarian component.
9. Qumran as an Essene Scribal Center
If the Qumran scrolls collection was a scribal library, to whom did it belong and who placed it in the caves where it was found? This lecture will suggest that the people who lived at Qumran and owned its scrolls were Essenes, a Second Temple Jewish movement described by Josephus, Philo, and Pliny the Elder.
10. Scribes and the Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible as we now have it is a product of the work of scribes. Scribes composed, copied, and revised all of the book now part of the Jewish canon of scripture. This lecture will present examples of this scribal activity as found in the Qumran scrolls, with a special focus on the Pentateuch.
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.
Montreat Conference Center
401 Assembly Drive
Montreat, NC 28757
Please note that check-in is after 3:00PM on Sunday, May 22 and check-out 11:00AM on Saturday, May 28.
The Asheville, NC regional airport is the closest airport to Montreat, located approximately 30 miles away. Participants are responsible to arrange their own transportation to and from the Montreat conference center. There are several options available. Uber and Lyft are options. Car rentals are available at Asheville airport. For those who do not wish to rent a car, there are two local companies who provide transfer services between the airport and Montreat conference center. Please contact these companies directly to organize your transfer service.
*Follow CDC guidelines for social distancing and hand washing. Masking is optional but encouraged. COVID-19 VACCINATION REQUIRED for seminar participation (copy of CDC vaccination card must be submitted to BAS prior to the start of the seminar).
If you are unable to fill out the electronic registration form, please contact the Travel/Study department at 1-800-221-4644 ext. 216.
For more information, contact:
Biblical Archaeology Society
Email: [email protected]
800-221-4644, ext. 216 (Toll-free)
202-364-3300, ext. 216
5614 Connecticut Ave. NW #343
Washington, DC 20015