The Invention of Religion: Jews in Babylon and the Evidence of Language and Literature
Social Science Matrix, 820 Barrows
Jan Joosten, Regius Professor of Hebrew, University of Oxford
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At some time after the end of the First Temple period, the religion of ancient Israel became independent of the nation. Language and texts are key to this change. Hebrew turned into a sacred language, not one learned from one’s parents, but from the study of ancient texts. The process didn’t come to full fruition until after the fall of the Second Temple. But its earliest effects can be traced already in writings of the exilic period. This linguistic development is rooted in a profound change affecting Judean religion. Before the fall of Jerusalem, the cult of the God of Israel was part and parcel of a national existence with strong territorial and cultural components. In exile, worship of this same God was motivated differently, with the reference to ancient texts—history, law, and prophecy—taking on a new and ever-increasing role. The result was a new phenomenon in the ancient world.
Jan Joosten studied theology in Brussels and Princeton, and Semitic languages in Jerusalem. He earned a PhD in Semitic languages at the Hebrew University in 1989, a ThD at the Protestant Faculty in Brussels in 1994, and a HDR (Habilitation à diriger des recherches) in Strasbourg in 1994. He taught at the Faculty of Protestant Theology of the University of Strasbourg for twenty years. In 2014 he was appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew in the University of Oxford, and Student of Christ Church. He is Editor-in-chief of Vetus Testamentum since 2010, president of the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies since 2012, and honorary member of the Academy of Hebrew Language.
Co-sponsored by the Berkeley Center for Jewish Studies, UC Berkeley Near Eastern Studies, and the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion.