Conference: The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity

The conference will investigate whether and to what extent religious knowledge in the form of textual traditions and rituals was accessible to and known by ordinary people beyond religious functionaries.

St. Peter Preaching in Jerusalem. Fresco by Tommaso Masolino da Panicale, 1427. Source: Wikimedia commons 

Organized by the Department of History, Religions & Philosophies, SOAS, University of London in collaboration with the Faculty of Theology, University of Oslo, Norway

Everyone is welcome – entrance is free of charge

About the theme:

Which contexts (e.g., family, synagogue/church, private and public study and ritual practices) enabled the dissemination and acquisition of religious knowledge, in which forms was it accessible (e.g., oral discourse, texts, visual art), and which individuals (e.g., parents, teachers, scribes, rabbis, priests, monks) mediated it to others? Can we assume that the majority of those who identified themselves as Jewish or Christian would have possessed a “working knowledge” of the respective religious traditions and customary rituals? Would that knowledge have differed from one person to another, depending on gender, socio-economic status, religious commitment, and the general circumstances in which one lived? Which sources enable us to access and evaluate ordinary people’s knowledge, given that our literary sources were written by the literate intellectual elites? How did religious leaders disseminate scriptural knowledge? Were they interested in maintaining a monopoly on the interpretation and application of law and theology and show off their erudition and expertise? If “popular” religious knowledge was eclectic and rudimentary, to what extent did customary practice play a role? Would the public have been more familiar with specific stories, traditions, and rituals than with others? And what would have been the consequences of the (limited?) extent of religious knowledge on the public performance of religious rituals and observance?


Monday 5 November

14:00-14:15h: Introduction (Catherine Hezser, SOAS)

Session 1: Popular Religious Knowledge in Ancient Mesopotamia

14:15-15:00h: Andrew George, SOAS, University of London:

“Access to Religious Knowledge in Ancient Babylonia”.

15:00-15:45h: Sam Mirelman, SOAS, University of London:

“Public Lamentation in Ancient Mesopotamia”.


15:45-16:15h: Coffee break


Session 2: Judean Communities of the Second Temple Period

16:15-17:00h: Diana Edelman, University of Oslo:

"How was Jewish Religious Knowledge Disseminated in Judean Communities ca. 350-30 BCE?"

17:00-17:45h: David Hamidovic, University of Lausanne:

“The Production and Dissemination of Knowledge in the Community of Qumran".


Tuesday 6 November

Session 3: Rabbis and “Popular” Judaism

9:30-10:15h: Philip Alexander, University of Manchester:

"’If They Are Not Prophets, They Are Sons of Prophets’: Folk Religion (minhag) as a Source of Rabbinic Law".

10:15-11:00h: Catherine Hezser, SOAS, University of London:

“Interaction between Rabbis and Non-Rabbinic Jews in Palestinian Rabbinic Literature of Late Antiquity”.


11:00-11:30h: Coffee Break


Session 4: Liturgy and the Synagogue

11:30-12:15h: Anders Runesson, University of Oslo:

“The Role of the Synagogue in the Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Late Antiquity”.

12:15-13:00h: Stefan Reif, University of Cambridge:

"Medieval Jewish Prayers and Rituals as Religious Education".


13:00-14:00h: Lunch break


Session 5: Near Middle Eastern Christian Communities

14:00-14:45h: Hugo Lundhaug, University of Oslo:

"The Use and Dissemination of Apocrypha in Egyptian Monasteries".

14:45-15:30h: Erica Hunter, SOAS, University of London:

“Public and Private Religious Practices Amongst the Christian Communities of Mesopotamia”.


Wednesday 7 November

Session 6: Material Culture and Women’s Religiosity

9:30-10:15h: Annette Weissenrieder, University of Halle:

"The Function of Material Culture in the Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Ancient Christianity".

10:15-11:00h: Christine Amadou, University of Oslo:

"The Tecla Tradition and Women's Religious Knowledge in Early Christianity".


11:00-11:30h: Coffee break.


Session 7: Reading, Education, and Scholastic Transmission

11:30-12:15h: Hindy Najman, University of Oxford:

“Reading Practices and the Vitality of Scripture”.

12:15-13:00h: Jan Stenger, University of Glasgow:

“Religious Knowledge and Models of Authority in Sixth-Century Gaza”.

13:00-13:45h: Holger Zellentin, University of Cambridge:

“The Transmission of Legal and Literary Features of Late Antique Literature into the Qur’anic Milieu”.

14:00-15:00h: Final discussions over lunch.


For further information please contact Prof. Catherine Hezser

Published Oct. 1, 2018 4:02 PM - Last modified Oct. 1, 2018 8:11 PM