Category Archives: Education

The Final Excavation Season at the Horvat Kur synagogue

By Raimo Hakola  

A team representing the University of Helsinki and the CSTT has participated in what the excavation team believes to be the final season of digging at the Horvat Kur synagogue. The Kinneret Regional Project, a joint expedition of the University of Helsinki, Leiden University, Bern University and Florida Atlantic University, finished the excavations of the Byzantine-era synagogue that was first found in 2010. During this year’s excavations, led by Jürgen Zangenberg, Raimo Hakola, Stefan Münger and Byron McCane, the team tried to find traces of the earliest phase of the building, which was apparently constructed for the first time in the second half of the fourth century.

Earlier excavation seasons have revealed the detailed layout of a so-called broadhouse synagogue that was built at the site around 450 CE and later renovated at least once in the late sixth or early seventh century, before it went out of use in the seventh century. The team thought to be finishing the excavations of this synagogue already in 2015, when a mosaic floor predating the excavated synagogue was found. The mosaic contained a menorah, seven branched candle holder and the name of a synagogue benefactor (for an earlier report on the excavation of this mosaic, click here). The finding of the mosaic came as a surprise, because it soon became clear that the mosaic did not belong to the excavated broadhouse synagogue, but was from an unknown building predating it. During subsequent excavations, our team has tried to find more traces of this early building in order to understand better its layout and function.

Students at work during the excavations. Photo by Raimo Hakola.

During this year’s campaign, carried out in June and July 2018, the team focused on excavations below the floor level of the broadhouse synagogue. The team was able to expose, among other things, a terrace wall running from north to south. Our initial interpretation is that this wall served as a foundation wall for the eastern wall of the mosaic synagogue. The preliminary analysis of the pottery suggests that the wall was constructed in 350-400 CE, which corroborates with the dating of the so-called “mosaic synagogue” based on a coin found in the bedding of the mosaic. The team now has enough evidence to postulate that the synagogue with the mosaic floor was built in the second half of the fourth century. After the destruction of this building in the early fourth century, a new and larger broadhouse synagogue was built on the site of the earlier building and this new building remained in use for over 200 years.

Excavations beneath the floor of the later synagogue. Photo by Raimo Hakola.

Raimo Hakola, one of the co-directors of the Horvat Kur excavations, led the Helsinki excavation team in 2018. Helena Wahala took care of find registration and prof. Ismo Dunderberg and theology student Yoon-Hee Choi participated in the excavations as volunteers. The Kinneret Regional Project now focuses on the analysis of the finds and findings and continues the preparation of the final excavation report. Raimo Hakola, Rick Bonnie and Ulla Tervahauta will contribute to the forthcoming publication. The Horvat Kur excavations are a part of the research program of CSTT. These excavations clarify the changes that took place in Jewish society after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE when synagogues became important local centers and assumed some of the roles that the temple earlier had. CSTT has been an important sponsor of the excavations that have been carried out in co-operation with the Finnish Institute in the Middle East.

Antiquarianism for Fun and Profit: Financing Your (God’s) Home in Ancient Mesopotamia

By Shana Zaia.

Buying a house or apartment, paying a mortgage, maintaining your home: these are common concerns of property-owners in the modern world and most people turn to banks to finance their real estate ventures. But what if you’re an ancient Mesopotamian priest with the god’s house—that is, a temple—to run? Here, the funding agency is not your bank but rather your king, and you’ll need to make quite a persuasive case to get his attention.

Temples in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) were not only religious spaces: they controlled property and slaves, acted in legal cases, and stored money and precious goods in their inner sanctums. Even with these riches, upkeep was expensive and required additional resources as temples needed renovations and particular accessories for the performance of routine rituals, especially for larger festivals such as for the New Year. So, the king was in charge of reconstruction projects and he and other elites often made donations to the main temples, which also benefitted from royal exemptions from taxation and from other means of support such as receiving spoils of the king’s military campaigns.

A stele from Babylonia showing King Ashurbanipal (687-c. 627 BCE) performing the “basket bearing” ritual to mark the start of temple construction. British Museum 90865.

But not all temples were so lucky when it came to royal patronage; wealth was generally concentrated in the major temples, the ones that were most important to royal ideology. Peripheral and provincial temples were not necessarily as financially stable and may have struggled with maintaining the building, keeping the rituals running, and paying the officials and staff. A temple in this situation was best served by trying to attract the attention of the king so that he would support their cult. So how did local priests try to convince the king to grant them privileges and financial assistance? The answer was by invoking ancient history—or something like it.

Stele from Babylon showing a ziggurat and the temple at its top. Source.

For example, the priests of the Sippar temple of the sun god, Šamaš, got quite creative. At some point, probably the Neo-Babylonian period (626-539 BCE), the priests approached the king with an impressive inscription, the Cruciform Monument, that was written in an antique form of Akkadian and explained privileges and funds granted to their temple by the third millennium king Maništušu. The monument claims that the temple received land, renovations, provisions for the priestesses and temple, mandated labor from 38 cities, and gifts for Šamaš and his consort Aya. This was an effective strategy—kings paid careful attention to the deeds of ancient predecessors, especially construction projects and granting privileges, often to outdo them and receive divine favor. Thus, the appeal for the king to follow in Maništušu’s footprints was strong.

Cruciform Monument, British Museum 91022. Source.

There was, of course, one tiny detail that king, who was probably illiterate, wasn’t aware of—the monument was not ancient at all! The Sippar priests created the text themselves, imitating the ancient script and language of Old Akkadian to convince the king to provide support. They didn’t quite get the Old Akkadian right and perhaps went a bit too far in ending the text with “this is no lie, it is the truth.” It is unknown whether the king saw through their ruse or if the priests were successful, but the fact that this monument exists shows the importance of texts and ancient theological ideals. This is not our only example of “pious frauds,” which usually had to do with temple privileges in a similar way as this case, so it’s clear that this was not an isolated incident.

Later, in Seleucid period Uruk (312-63 BCE), the local elites took an even more elaborate approach to promote their temples. Uruk had a long history of being the main cult center in southern Mesopotamia as the home of Ištar (called Inanna in earlier periods) and Anu (earlier, An). But, the city was overshadowed by the rise of Babylon and its city god Marduk in the Old Babylonian period (c. 2000-1600 BCE). When Babylon’s status later declined, Uruk’s literate elites took the power vacuum as an opportunity for a religious reform that would put Uruk back on the cultic map.

Marduk of Babylon depicted on a Babylonian cylinder seal. Source.
Map of Mesopotamia, including the Babylonian cities of Sippar, Uruk, Babylon, and Nippur. Source.

Even though Uruk had become marginal, Ištar remained one of the most popular deities throughout Mesopotamia’s history, especially in royal ideology. But the reform did not promote Uruk’s Ištar cult—no, strangely enough, the Urukean elites revived the cult of Anu, the god of the heavens, who did not have the same popularity despite historically being the highest god in the pantheon. The exact timeline is not clear, but by the Seleucid period, Anu’s dominance in Uruk was indisputable and rising. Local archives show how the scribes promoted Anu from a local god to a universal god through ancient texts that recognized him as the head of the pantheon, sometimes reinterpreting the texts to prove their theological ideals.

Example of an Akkadian text that exalts Anu found in Seleucid period Uruk (312-63 BCE). Full edition.

Why did the Urukeans revive a long-defunct cult instead of capitalizing on their powerful and popular local goddess? Like the Šamaš priests in Sippar, the answer lies in strategic antiquarianism and the tendency in ancient Mesopotamia to repackage theological innovations as a return to ancient traditions. Anu’s status as the traditional head of the pantheon meant that his relative unimportance in living cult mattered less than the fact that he outranked all other gods. Most importantly, he outranked Marduk of Babylon and even Enlil of Nippur, another rival cult city in Babylonia. A governor of Uruk even created an ancient past for the (new) temple complex built for Anu by claiming that it was actually built by a legendary sage who was said to have lived before the Great Flood.

Reconstruction of the Bīt Reš, the Seleucid period temple complex of Anu and his consort Antu (image by Staatliche Museen zu Berlin/Deutsches Archäologisches Institut). Source.

Unfortunately, we don’t know how these reforms played out regionally or to what extent non-literate classes knew about them. We are left to wonder if the Urukeans managed to draw the king’s attention to their ancient and powerful (if somewhat neglected) god Anu and thereby to channel imperial wealth and resources into their city.

Šamši-Adad V of Assyria (c. 815 BCE) shown facing the symbols of the gods. The horned crown representing Anu is the highest in the sequence (British Museum 118892). Source.

As we can see, the stakes for temples to attract royal patronage were quite high and temple staff could resort to some rather drastic measures. Luckily, this was probably not the norm, as many temples were important enough in royal ideology that they were supported by the king with no further prompting. Generally this was because the temples’ resident gods were considered supporters or protectors of the king in his political and military endeavors and so the king patronizing their temples would inspire these gods to continue showing favor to him. Still, these gods and their associated temples were subject to changing beliefs and many temples, especially smaller ones, likely quietly faded into obscurity and neglect. But, thanks to a few cases such as the ones above, we can see how some temples fought back against their increasing marginalization by invoking an ancient—if fictitious—past in which their gods and temples were high priority for an esteemed royal ancestor

Written by Shana Zaia.

Further Reading

P.-A. Beaulieu, “Antiquarian Theology in Seleucid Uruk,” Acta Sumerologica Japonica, vol. 14 (1992): 47-75.

A. Berlejung. 2009. “Innovation als Restauration in Uruk und Jehud. Überlegungen zu Transformationsprozessen in vorderorientalischen Gesellschaften” in Reformen im Alten Orient und der Antike. Programme, Darstellungen und Deutungen, ed. E. – J. Waschke. Mohr Siebeck.

N. Na’aman. “The ‘Discovered book’ and the Legitimation of Josiah’s Reform.” Journal of Biblical Literature 130: 1 (2011): 47-62.

The Happiness Track in Academia

by Elisa Uusimäki

Dr Emma Seppälä tackles modern myths of success in her recent book The Happiness Track (HarperOne, 2016). Seppälä’s work is highly relevant for academic communities: she has a PhD in psychology and works as a science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and as a co-director of the Yale College Emotional Intelligence Project. In her book, Seppälä identifies six myths of success that are prevalent in contemporary western culture: Continue reading The Happiness Track in Academia

Video lectures of 2nd Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East

The video lectures of the 2nd workshop on Gender, Methodology, and the Ancient Near East, which was held in Barcelona in February 2017 (full program here and a report here), are now online.

The Youtube playlist has the following presentations:

  • Welcome to the Second Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East – Adelina Millet Albà (IPOA, Universitat de Barcelona)
  • Presentation and introduction to the Second Workshop on Gender, Methodology and the Ancient Near East Agnès Garcia-Ventura (IPOA, Universitat de Barcelona) & Saana Svärd (University of Helsinki)
  • “Dressing the Whore of Babylon for the 21st Century: Sex, Gender and Theory in Mesopotamian Studies” – Ann Guinan (Babylonian Section, University of Pennsylvania, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology)
  • “Queering šà Therapy. Considerations on the Relations between Masculinity, Sickness and Anatomy” – Gioele Zisa (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)
  • “Domesticating the Female Body: Ancient Mesopotamian Discourses on Fertility and (Re)production” – M. Erica Couto-Ferreira (Universität Heidelberg)
  • “Nefertiti and the ‘Docile Agent'” – Jacquelyn Williamson (George Mason University)

Qumranin löydöt mullistivat käsityksemme raamatusta – katso videohaastattelu

Akatemiatutkija Jutta Jokiranta avaa uudessa videohaastattelussa Qumranin tekstien eli Kuolleenmeren kääröjen merkitystä Raamatun ja uskonnon historian tutkimukselle. 1940-50 -luvuilla tehdyt löydöt toivat esiin lähes tuhat kirjakääröä, jotka sisältävät tuhat vuotta varhaisempia Vanhan testamentin käsikirjoituksia kuin ennen löytöä tunnetut hepreankieliset tekstit.

– Tekstit ovat peräisin ajalta ennen kaanoneita. Ne osoittavat, miten Raamattu ei ollut kirjanmuotoinen kirja, vaan oli useita käsikirjoitusrullia, jotka poikkesivat toisistaan. Löydöt osoittavat, miten elävä tekstiperinne se oli tähän aikaan.

Kuolleenmeren kääröt ovat myös mullistaneet vanhaa oletusta siitä, että Jeesuksen ajan juutalaisuus olisi ollut puhtaasti lakihenkinen ja ulkokultaisia säädöksiä korostava uskonto. Esimerkiksi rukous- ja siunaustekstit osoittavat, että ajan juutalaiset korostivat henkilökohtaista uskoa ja ajatusta siitä, että Jumala on valinnut ihmisen ja ihminen on täysin riippuvainen Jumalasta.

– Toisaalta meillä on myös tarkkoja ruokaan ja elämäntapaan liittyviä säädöksiä. Tämä yhdistelmä, että meillä on sekä hengellistä elämää että tarkkoja säädöksiä sopii yhteen uuden uskonnontutkimuksen mukaisen näkökulman kanssa, että ihminen on kokonaisuus. Uskonto ei ole joko tai, vaan erilaiset näkökulmat ovat läsnä samassa yksilössä ja yhteisössä.

Videolla Jokiranta myös muistuttaa, että suomalaiset voivat olla ylpeitä siitä, miten merkittävää Qumranin tekstien tutkimusta maassamme tehdään.

– Joskus suomalainen lukiolainen tietää aiheesta enemmän kuin keskimääräinen israelilainen yliopisto-opiskelija. Meillä on ymmärretty, että yksinkertaistava Raamatun idea, joka on nykyään läsnä monissa uskonnollisissa yhteisöissä, on aika myöhäinen. Jos me halutaan ymmärtää meille tärkeää Raamattua, pitää ottaa huomioon kaikki mahdollinen evidenssi. Suomalaiset osaavat myös etsiä aktiivisesti tiedealarajat ylittäviä näkökulmia. Se on vienyt meidät eteenpäin huippuyksikköön asti.

Haastattelu on vuoden 2016 osalta viimeinen osa Suomen Akatemian “Pyhät tekstit ja traditiot muutoksessa” -huippuyksikön nettihaastattelusarjaa, jossa keskustellaan ajankohtaisista aiheista yksikön tutkijoiden kanssa.

Teksti: Ville Mäkipelto

Voiko Raamattua käyttää maahanmuuttokeskustelussa? Katso videohaastattelu

Eksegetiikan ja Raamatun heprean yliopistonlehtori Juha Pakkala toteaa uudessa videohaastattelussa, että Vanhassa testamentissa ei ole yhtenäistä linjaa suhteessa maahanmuuttoon ja vierasmaalaisiin.

– Vanha testamentti on hyvin monen kirjoittajan toimesta, eri kontekstien ja pitkän ajan kuluessa syntynyt kirjakokoelma. Siellä on monenlaista ääntä ja monenlaista näkemystä.

Pakkala hahmottelee kolme erilaista suhtautumistapaa vierasmaalaisuuteen, jotka näkyvät eri tekstigenreissä. Yhtäältä teksteistä löytyy muinaisen Lähi-idän kontekstiin nähden poikkeuksellisen myötämielinen suhtautuminen muukalaisiin. Toisaalta useissa kirjoista kehotetaan tiukkaan erottautumiseen ja suorastaan vihamieliseen suhtautumiseen.

– Joissain teksteissä käsketään jopa tuhoamaan ja tappamaan vierasmaalaiset. Tämä tulee esille hyvin selvästi esimerkiksi Joosuan kirjassa, jossa valloitetaan maa ja käsketään tuhoamaan kaikki sen asukkaat.

Haastattelussa Pakkala muistuttaa, että suurin osa Vanhan testamentin teksteistä on itse asiassa pakolaisuudessa syntyneitä. Silloinkin kun kuvataan vanhempia aikoja, se tehdään projisoiden kirjoitushetken pakolaisuuden kokemusta historiaan. Siksi pakolaisuus ja maahanmuutto ovat aivan keskeisiä teemoja Vanhan testamentin tutkimuksessa.

Kysyttäessä Raamatun tekstien soveltamisesta nykypäivään Pakkala peräänkuuluttaa vastuullisuutta ja kriittisyyttä.

– On tärkeää ymmärtää Vanhan testamentin monimutkainen syntyhistoria ja se konteksti, jossa tekstit ovat syntyneet. Me ei voida vain ottaa sitaattia tai yhtä lausetta Raamatusta ja suoraan soveltaa sitä nykykontekstiin. Erityisesti tutkijoiden vastuulla on tuoda esille Raamatun tekstien kriittistä käyttöä.

Haastattelu on toinen osa Suomen Akatemian “Pyhät tekstit ja traditiot muutoksessa” -huippuyksikön nettihaastattelusarjaa, jossa keskustellaan ajankohtaisista aiheista yksikön tutkijoiden kanssa. Sarjan osia julkaistaan lisää talven mittaan.

Teksti: Ville Mäkipelto

Assyriologi: sukupuoli moninainen jo muinaisessa Lähi-idässä – katso videohaastattelu

Teksti: Ville Mäkipelto

Assyriologian dosentti Saana Svärd kertoo tutkimuksen huippuyksikön uudessa videohaastattelussa, että muinaisen Lähi-idän teksteistä välittyy moninainen suhtautuminen sukupuoleen. Usein ajatellaan, että Lähi-idässä naiset olivat alistettuja ja heidän roolinsa yhteiskunnassa ei ollut kovin aktiivinen

– Kun tekstievidenssiä alkaa tarkemmin seulomaan, niin sieltä nousee ensinnäkin voimakkaista naishahmoja: kuningattaria ja hovin tärkeitä naisjäseniä, jotka ovat olleet mukana talouden hallinnassa ja poliittisessa päätöksenteossa, Saana Svärd kertoo haastattelussa.

– Toiseksi, kun me ajatellaan millaisia naiset ja miehet ovat, niin me ajatellaan usein siitä näkökulmasta, miten sukupuoliroolit ilmenevät meidän omassa suomalaisessa kulttuurissa. Oleellinen asia on, että kun tekstimateriaalia käy läpi kulttuurin omilla sisäisillä silmillä, niin silloin sieltä nousee esille monenlaisia kertomuksia. Kuvasta tulee monisyisempi.


Svärd kertoo myös kirjoittavansa artikkelia yhdessä Martti Nissisen kanssa Assinnu-virkanimikkeellä toimineista henkilöistä. He olivat ilmeisesti biologiselta sukupuoleltaan miehiä, mutta ottivat erityisesti rituaaleissa samanlaisia sosiaalisia rooleja kuin naiset. Heillä oli oma tärkeä roolinsa Ishtar-jumalattaren temppelissä.

Videohaastattelussa näytetään myös, millaista oli muinainen nuolenpääkirjoitus savitauluilla ja keskustellaan suomalaisen assyriologian nykytilasta. Haastattelu on ensimmäinen osa Suomen Akatemian ”Pyhät tekstit ja traditiot muutoksessa” -huippuyksikön nettihaastattelusarjaa, jossa keskustellaan ajankohtaisista aiheista yksikön tutkijoiden kanssa. Sarjan osia julkaistaan lisää syksyn mittaan.

Scriptural Interpretation and Research Cooperation within Helsinki’s Centres of Excellence

By Anna-Liisa Tolonen & Elisa Uusimäki

The two Centres of Excellence at the Faculty of Theology – Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions and Reason and Religious Recognition – are characteristically interdisciplinary. Thus, the research conducted should not only be of high quality within specific disciplines, but also reflective of cooperation that breaks down boundaries between fields. Having both of these goals as our aims, we should strive to deepen and broaden our notions of, for example, historical phenomena, philosophical concepts, or the meanings of “holy scriptures” within ever-changing religious traditions. Continue reading Scriptural Interpretation and Research Cooperation within Helsinki’s Centres of Excellence

Tuore dosentti Saana Svärd: Assyriologian tulevaisuus huolestuttaa

Huippuyksikön jäsenelle, tutkijatohtori Saana Svärdille myönnettiin dosentin arvo 21. elokuuta 2015. Tuore assyriologian dosentti iloitsee, että hänen tutkimuksensa ja opetuksensa on puolueettomassa asiantuntija-arviossa todettu riittäväksi dosentin arvoa varten. ”Aivan erityisesti ilahduttaa opetustaidon arviointi erinomaiseksi. Humanistisessa tiedekunnassa on kiristetty opetustaitovaatimuksia viimeisten vuosien aikana, mikä onkin tärkeää. Dosentin ei tosiaan pitäisi olla vain pitkälle edistynyt tutkija vaan myös hyvä opettaja”, Svärd sanoo.  Continue reading Tuore dosentti Saana Svärd: Assyriologian tulevaisuus huolestuttaa