Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

How Do We Know This

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Professor Gary Rendsburg, SAS - Jewish Studies & History
T-Th 2:50PM-4:10PM
Honors College S-120
College Ave Campus

 Will Count Towards SAS-AMESALL & Jewish Studies Major and Minor

How do we know anything about the ancient world? How did the Bible reach us? How did Homer reach us? How are we able to read Babylonian cuneiform? How are we able to read Egyptian hieroglyphics? Or, put simply, how do we know this?!?!

This seminar will focus on ancient Israel, ancient Greece, and the ancient Near East, with special attention to Egypt and Babylonia. For ancient Israel, including both Jewish and Christian origins, and ancient Greece, the answer is that the manuscripts of the Bible, Homer, the New Testament, and much more have been passed down to us directly since ancient times, via the yeoman work of medieval scribes, until the age of printing. Many of these manuscripts are housed in the great libraries of Europe, especially in England.

For the ancient Near East, the vast majority of our knowledge derives from archaeological excavations conducted during the past two centuries. The Rosetta Stone, the Book of the Dead, Hammurabi’s Code, the Gilgamesh Epic, and much more were found via explorations in Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere, with these great findings now located in the Louvre, the British Museum, the Berlin Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum. The two great decipherments of the 19th century granted scholars this remarkable window to the ancient world: Jean Champollion was the first person able to read continuous passages of ancient Egyptian, while Henry Rawlinson was the first to do so for Babylonian cuneiform. The grand arc of this narrative is simply breathtaking.

Moreover, as we now have entered the digital age, with all of these precious documents available to us on the internet, we are able to inspect the manuscripts, the ancient tablets, the artifacts, and much more, with the click of a mouse. Though to be sure, we also will visit the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, along with other institutions whose collections are relevant to our course material.

GARY RENDSBURG is professor in the Department of Jewish Studies and the Department of History. His main fields of teaching and research are the Bible, the ancient Near East, Semitic languages, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and ancient and medieval manuscripts. He has traveled extensively in Israel, Jordan, and Egypt; he has visited the major museums and libraries of England, Ireland, France, Germany, and the U.S., where so many treasures are housed; he has worked firsthand with medieval manuscripts in both Oxford and Cambridge; and he has participated in the excavations at Tel Dor and at Caesarea. Professor Rendsburg holds a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina (where he read mainly Middle English and Renaissance English); he then pursued his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Hebrew studies at New York University (where he also studied Hieroglyphic Egyptian and ancient Semitic languages).