While archaeological excavations often help us to elucidate the narratives found in ancient texts, trying to combine the two sources can sometimes lead us astray. Examples where texts are used for the interpretation of archaeological material usually receive a lot of attention in the media. Cases when archaeology and text cannot be so easily used together are considered much more rarely, especially in the weeks around Pesach and Easter when hyperbole in terms of the importance of certain finds tends to hit the media machine. I wish to focus here on a case where text and archaeology cannot be so straightforwardly combined.
In late October the CSTT co-hosted a workshop on mortuary ritual together with the REECR. The workshop was a cross-disciplinary gathering, where scholars working within the fields of archaeology, religious studies and biblical studies could discuss aspects of mortuary ritual practices, such as funerary rituals, mourning, ancestor worship and other kinds of death-related ritual behaviour.
The two-day program consisted of eleven presentations by researchers working on contemporary thanatology (death studies) and ritual, the archaeology of death and mortuary ritual, and mortuary ritual in ancient texts. The workshop was an opportunity for scholars working in religious studies, archaeology and biblical studies to exchange ideas, material and methodologies and throughout the two days the discussion was lively, open and engaged.
During the workshop it quickly became clear that although the presentations covered a timespan of almost 3000 years and the case-studies came from places as far apart as the Levant and Karelia in Eastern Finland there were many common denominators and aspects that kept appearing. The importance of space and materiality in relation to mortuary ritual was apparent both in contemporary and ancient practices. In many cases mortuary ritual aims to create presence out of absence and this is achieved by strategic interaction with objects and places. Another aspect that was central to many of the examples was the status changes that the dead undergo in mortuary ritual as they are transformed from corpses to the recently deceased and to venerated ancestors. It was apparent that the life of the dead in the sphere of mortuary ritual is surprisingly dynamic and changeable.
In the very first presentation on the first day of the workshop Professor Terhi Utriainen from the University of Helsinki introduced the concept of the ritual subjunctive mode. The ritual subjunctive, which was originally proposed by the American religious studies scholar Jonathan Z. Smith, is an ‘as-if’ mode of behaviour that combines the ways things actually are with the ways people would like them to be. This concept of ritual as an idealized version of the world turned out to be a very fruitful category to apply to several of the case-studies presented at the workshop. In tombs, in texts and in ritual practices the dead are often presented as peaceful, powerful and content and perhaps most important of all they are accessible. In this way, mortuary ritual enables continued social interaction with the dead so that although the living die, the dead live on – at least for as long as they are commemorated and their presence is ritually enacted.
The papers presented at the workshop will be revised and published by the Finnish Exegetical Society in a volume edited by Dr. Kirsi Valkama and Professor Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme. The book is expected to come out in 2018.
Here is the book’s blurb: “Places and spaces are key factors in how individuals and groups construct their identities. Identity theories have emphasised that the construction of an identity does not follow abstract and universal processes but is also deeply rooted in specific historical, cultural, social and material environments. The essays in this volume explore how various groups in Late Antiquity rooted their identity in special places that were imbued with meanings derived from history and tradition. In Part I, essays explore the tension between the Classical heritage in public, especially urban spaces, in the form of ancient artwork and civic celebrations and the Church’s appropriation of that space through doctrinal disputes and rival public performances. Parts II and III investigate how particular locations expressed, and formed, the theological and social identities of Christian and Jewish groups by bringing together fresh insights from the archaeological and textual evidence. Together the essays here demonstrate how the use and interpretation of shared spaces contributed to the self-identity of specific groups in Late Antiquity and in so doing issued challenges, and caused conflict, with other social and religious groups.”
The book is edited by CSTT-member Raimo Hakola and other researchers from Helsinki’s Faculty of Theology, and includes two essays by CSTT-members: Raimo Hakola (“Galilean Jews and Christians in Context: Spaces Shared and Contested in the Eastern Galilee in Late Antiquity“) and Rick Bonnie (“Thrown into Limekilns: The Reuse of Statuary and Architecture in Galilee from Late Antiquity onwards“).
After a long siege, Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian forces in 597 BCE. King Jehoiachin and upper classes, the supporters of the rebellion against their Babylonian overlords, were taken captive and deported to Babylonia. The city was plundered, heavy tribute was carried to the temples and palaces of Babylon and a new vassal king was placed on the throne in Jerusalem. Another rebellion ten years later resulted in the collapse of Judean society at the same time, when Judean deportees were resettled in Babylonian towns and countryside. Perhaps a century later, some descendants of these deportees were able to return to Judah and claim a high status in the slowly recovering society. Continue reading Investigating the Babylonian Exile: When Old Testament Studies Is Not Enough→
In the years 2010–2014, a team from The Faculty of Theology of the University of Helsinki participated in the excavations of a late antique synagogue at Horvat Kur, Israel. Now, from June 21 to July 17, 2015, excavation will continue and we are searching for volunteers to participate! Continue reading Join the Horvat Kur excavation season 2015→
Two members of CSTT, Raimo Hakola and Rick Bonnie, together with their Helsinki-colleague Ulla Tervahauta, are at the moment participating as team members in the archaeological excavations of Horvat Kur, a hilltop site situated north of the Sea of Galilee (Israel). Unlike previous seasons (2008, 2010–2013), this year no excavations will be conducted at the site. Instead, the research team carries out a two-week study season (June 22–July 6) in the lab at the youth hostel of Karei Deshe, where finds and architecture uncovered in previous seasons are being meticulously analyzed in preparation of the final excavation report of the synagogue. Raimo and Rick write this week in a more general manner about the excavations at Horvat Kur, and will elaborate next week in more detail on the different individual tasks carried out during this study season. Continue reading Horvat Kur 2014 (part 1): no digging, but in the lab→
Differences in texts are traced by reading closely manuscripts and comparing them – this work reveals changing patterns in thinking and society. Ideological, social and economic changes also leave an imprint on material culture, which is the focus of archaeological study. Changes in material culture are traced by examining material remains and comparing them with each other. These remains include various things, like settlement patterns, temples, domestic houses, lithic tools and pottery fragments. Continue reading Reading Pottery→
The Academy of Finland's Centre of Excellence, Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki