AMME Seminar: Identity in the Ancient World

This autumn’s first AMME Seminar was held online via Zoom. The topic of the evening was identity in the Ancient world. The guest speakers were PhD candidate Ivo Martins (University of Leiden) and Professor Jutta Jokiranta (University of Helsinki).

The first speech was given by PhD Candidate Ivo Martins from Leiden University. The topic of his speech was The World Against Nabonidus: Identity and Liminality on BM 38299. Martins studies the text BM 38299 from the perspective of liminality. The text tells the story of how Babylonian king Nabonidus lost his power to the Persian king Cyrus the Great. The obverse of the text tablet tells the story of Nabonidus in a negative tone and Cyrus’ ascension to power on the reverse is told in a very positive manner. Because of this Martins argues that the whole text can be interpreted as a rite of passage where Nabonidus and Cyrus together form the subject that goes through the passage. In its essence a rite of passage consists of three different stages: separation, liminality and incorporation. The beginning of BM 38299 describes the separation and liminality from the community as Nabonidus is socially and physically distanced from others. However, it is not Nabonidus who returns from liminality back into the community, but it is Cyrus. Cyrus physically enters Babylon and he is also accepted morally and socially as he restores the old, conventional norms and practices that Nabonidus had abandoned.


The second talk was given by Professor Jutta Jokiranta (University of Helsinki) on the topic Identity in the Qumran Temple of Man. The focus of her talk was the temple as metaphoric signifier for identity in Qumran. The temple is itself has many functions and meanings, and thus is multivalent on its own. Temple is of course a physical building which has material and ritual functions. But it is also a social and normative institution, and it also carries symbolic and imaginative meanings as a space that is both earthly and heavenly. As temple is such a multivalent concept, then what does it mean when it is used as a metaphor for a community? For example, in the text Community Rule (1QS) found in Qumran, the community is called a holy house for Israel. The community took upon themselves some of the functions that before were assigned for the temple, such as organizing festivities at their proper times, managing the law and separating the community from impurity. Jokiranta argues that even if the community performed functions assigned to the temple, these two institutions were not in conflict, but rather in competition with each other. Thus the polemic texts related to the Qumran community should be read from the point of competition.