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Pourdavoud Center Workshop: Papyrus Amherst 63

November 18, 2020 @ 10:00 am - 1:00 pm

The Puzzling Papyrus: New Perspectives on Papyrus Amherst 63

In this workshop, two of the world’s leading experts on Papyrus Amherst 63, Professors Tawny Holm and Karel van der Toorn, will reflect on recent scholarship on the Aramaic texts of this papyrus written in Demotic Egyptian script during the Persian Period. Since the decipherment of the papyrus, scholars have turned to investigating the papyrus’ compositional setting, as well as the hymns, prayers, and stories found in the papyrus, some of which correspond to texts of the Hebrew Bible. Though the language, script choice, and other features of the papyrus have puzzled scholars for decades, it speaks to the rich texts preserved by Aramaic-speaking populations in the region and provides access to Judean, Aramean, and other traditions. This workshop will discuss the content and organization of the papyrus and examine how its texts illuminate the diverse landscapes of peoples, places, traditions, and languages in the ancient Near East under the Achaemenid Empire.

This workshop will feature the research of Professor Tawny Holm (Pennsylvania State University) and Professor Karel van der Toorn (University of Amsterdam).

Textualizing Aramean Identities in Egypt: Papyrus Amherst 63

Professor Holm’s presentation highlights the new evidence that Papyrus Amherst 63 brings to our understanding of the Aramean and Aramaic-speaking diaspora in Egypt. The papyrus, written in approximately the fourth century BCE in Aramaic but using Demotic Egyptian script, is an anthology of Aramaic texts that reflect the traditions and collective cultural memory of a group of Aramean émigrés, including Judeans and Samarians, to Egypt in the first millennium BCE. The papyrus marries East and West in its nostalgia for lost landscapes, cities, and cult centers from across the Near East, yet it also joins this nostalgia with themes of renewal and rejuvenation in a new land. It seems likely that the various compositions on the papyrus became anthologized as such in Egypt.

The Internal Organization of Papyrus Amherst 63

Based on the 2018 published edition of Papyrus Amherst 63 Professor van der Toorn’s lecture will allow attendees of the workshop to engage with the most recent scholarship on the subject of the internal organization of the document.  His general subject will focus on how the document is organized, but will also engage with students and other participants about any issue that arises in connection with the papyrus.

Professor Tawyn Holm’s Bio

Tawny Holm earned her Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitic Languages at The Johns Hopkins University, and is now an Associate Professor of Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and the Jewish Studies Program at Pennsylvania State University. Her main research areas are Hebrew Bible and Aramaic studies, including Aramaic language and Aramean religion and culture. She is the author of Of Courtiers and Kings: The Biblical Daniel Narratives and Ancient Story-Collections (Eisenbrauns, 2013), and Aramaic Literary Texts, soon to appear in the SBL series “Writings from the Ancient World.” The latter is a bilingual edition of Aramaic literary texts from the Levant to Egypt, in particular the multi-composition Papyrus Amherst 63, written in Aramaic language but with Demotic Egyptian script. Other projects include a monograph on ancient Aramaic literature generally (under contract with de Gruyter), a critical edition of Papyrus Amherst 63 (also with de Gruyter), and a textbook of Imperial Aramaic currently under review. Professor Holm is also editing a collective volume, Handbook of Religions in the Ancient Near East, for Oxford University Press, and co-editing with Juan Pedro Monferrer Sala the Proceedings volume of the 8th Biennial Meeting of the International Association of Comparative Semitics in 2019. Among other professional service, she is an editorial board member of the Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions, a member of the Eisenbrauns Editorial Committeee for Penn State University Press, and Aramaic epigrapher for The University of Vienna Middle Egypt Project at Sheikh Faḍl.

Professor Karel van der Toorn’s Bio

Karel van der Toorn is currently professor of Religion and Society at the University of Amsterdam. He studied Hebrew Bible and Semitic languages in Paris and Amsterdam; did his PhD on Sin and Sanction in Israel and Mesopotamia (1985). He wrote extensively on Israelite religion in the context of ancient Near Eastern civilisation. He published an edition of Papyrus Amherst 63, along with translation and commentary, in 2018 (in the series Alter Orient und Altes Testament, 448; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag). His latest book Becoming Diaspora Jews: Behind the Story of Elephantine (Yale University Press, 2019) explores the significance of Papyrus Amherst 63 for the history of the Jewish community at fifth century BCE Elephantine, Egypt.


Please click here to register for the Zoom Webinar.


November 18, 2020
10:00 am - 1:00 pm
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Pourdavoud Center for the Study of the Iranian World
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