Conference “Conceptualizing the Divine in the Levant” (Helsinki, 21-23 March)

Deities in Aram, Israel, and Phoenicia: an Iron Age perspective on conceptualizing the divine in the Levant

(21–23 March 2018 in Helsinki)

The shift from Late Bronze Age to Iron Age in the Levant is usually characterized by the collapse of ‘empires’ and the rise of (so-called) ‘national states’ or ‘territorial kingdoms’. These political changes had their repercussions on how identities were negotiated and how ‘the divine’ (realm) was conceptualized and deities understood. The Iron Age Levantine kingdoms comprise ‘Aram’, ‘Phoenicia’ (or broader: Sea Peoples), and as a third ‘Israel’ (and Judah) is singled out here (among the kingdoms around the Jordan). These territorial kingdoms had their own ‘national deities’ – partly in continuity with the Bronze Age city states. For instance as heirs to Bronze Age Syrian religion Phoenicians and Aramaeans carried on prophecy, the ancestor cult for the king, and the prime position of the weather god (cf. M. Hutter, Religionen in der Umwelt des Alten Testaments I: Babylonier, Syrer, Perser, 1996: 177–178). Next to different forms of reception (incl. reinterpretation), the new historical context also demonstrates change. Contemporary cultural contacts, fostered by economics (trade) and politics (treaties and war), raised questions of cultural ‘translatability’ of deities (cf. M.S. Smith, God in Translation,
2010) and also resulted in ‘ligatures’ (a merger of deities, sometimes marked by hyphenated names, such as ‘Baal-Seth’) and ‘transnational’ veneration (e.g., Melqart). These conceptualizations of the divine found expression in names, religious practice (cult, ritual), texts (e.g., myths, prophecies) and material artefacts (both in monumental and miniature art).

Preliminary program

Wednesday, 21 March 2018
FIME lecture
Mark S. Smith, ‘The Three Bodies of God’

Thursday, 22 March 2018
9:30 – 10:00        Introduction (Izaak J. de Hulster)

Conceptualizing the divine
10:00 – 11:20      Liz Bloch-Smith, ‘Where the Deity was Manifest: Identifying Israelite Sacred Space’
11:20 – 12:00      Joanna Työräänvuori, ‘Divine or Divergent? The
Mythological Conception of the Mediterranean Sea in the World of the Old Testament’

12:00 – 13:15      lunch

Conceptualizing divinity and demons
13:15 – 14:35      Fabio Porzia, ‘Community of gods: a view from Levantine divine epithets and iconographies’
14:35 – 15:15      Lauri Laine, ‘Cognitive Aspects of Conceptualization of Divinity in Rider of the Clouds Imagery’
15:15 – 15:55      Gina Kontantopoulos, ‘Wandering Monsters: Tracking the Westward Movement of Demons from Mesopotamia through the Levant’

16:00 – 17:40      reception / snacks
17:40 – 18:45      travel to Espoo Cathedral
19:00 – 21:00      concert: Bach’s St. John Passion
21:00 – 22:00      travel back to Helsinki
22:00 – …             drinks (at the Faculty)

Friday, 23 March 2018
Historical trajectories
9:15 – 9:55           Andres Nõmmik, ‘Transformation of the Early Iron Age cultic practices in the Southern Levant’
9:55– 11:15        Herbert Niehr, ‘From Phoenicia via Aram to Israel: Outlines of the History of the God Ba’alsamem’

11:15 – 11:30     coffee break

Divine word
11:30 – 11:50     Sebastian Fink, ‘The divine word: exploring divine agency in ancient Mesopotamia’
11:50 – 12:00     response from a Levantine/biblical perspective (… … …)
12:00 – 12:20     discussion

12:20 – 13:30     lunch

Gods in Kings
13:30  – 14:50     Hadi Ghantous, ‘The Diminishing of the Baalistic
Image of YHWH in Elijah’s Journey from Carmel to Horeb (1 Kings
14:50 – 15:30     Izaak J. de Hulster, ‘YHWH and his enemies in I & II Kings’

15:30 – 15:45     coffee break

15:45 –  17:00     discussion

17:00 –  18:00     break
18:00 –  …             dinner

Centre of Excellence in ‘Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions’
(CSTT) directed by Martti Nissinen at the University of Helsinki, team ‘Society and Religion in the Ancient Near East’ in collaboration with the Finnish Institute in the Middle East (FIME). For more information, please, contact Izaak J. de Hulster (

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