Aramaic in Post-Biblical Judaism and Early Christianity

The NEH Summer Seminar, "Aramaic in Post-Biblical Judaism and Early Christianity" will be held from June 14 to July 23, 2004 at Duke University. During this six-week seminar, participants will study the Aramaic language and literature of post-biblical Judaism and early Christianity. In the mornings, participants will receive intensive instruction in three dialects of Aramaic: Jewish Literary Aramaic of first-century Judea and Qumran, Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of Galilee in the third century and later, and Syriac, used extensively in Eastern Christianity. The Seminar is structured so that participants, upon successful completion, will have mastered at least one dialect for use in their personal research.

In the evenings, there will be seminars discussing the literature written in these dialects and analyzing how that literature can be used in historical and religious studies of ancient Judaism and Christianity. Topics will include: Dead Sea Scrolls, Bar Kokhba, synagogue and ossuary inscriptions, the language of Jesus, Targums and Peshitta, rabbinic literature, and Dura Europos, as well as Ephrem and Aphrahat. One week will be devoted to seminars on the history and development of the Aramaic language.

The six-week program will be organized to give participants support to do original research in Aramaic on a topic of their choice and to compose a publishable paper on it. The Seminar Directors plan to edit a volume consisting of papers from some of the participants and presenters as part of the follow-up to the Seminar.

The organizers and principal teachers are: Paul V. M. Flesher of the University of Wyoming, Eric M. Meyers of Duke University, and Lucas Van Rompay also of Duke University. Guest teachers and seminar leaders will include Michael Sokoloff of Bar Ilan University (Israel), Douglas Gropp of The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, Hayim Lapin from the University of Maryland, and Tina Shepardson who teaches at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Paul Flesher, the youngest member of the organizing team, researches actively in the Targums and the early synagogue. His recent papers bring these two interests together with advances in the understanding of Jewish Aramaic dialects to create a base for historical explanation. Presently serving as President of the International Organization of Targumic Studies, he views Aramaic texts and inscriptions as an entré into the complex world of Judaism in the Second Temple and Rabbinic periods.

Eric Meyers has published widely in the field of Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism as well as the archaeology of the land of Israel. A past president of ASOR, he has also conducted ancient synagogue excavations in Israel and most recently at the urban site of Sepphoris in Galilee.

Lucas Van Rompay has recently come to Duke from the University of Leiden where he taught Aramaic for several years. His specialty is Syriac, the language of Christianity in Syria and Mesopotamia. Most recently he has worked in the Monastery of the Syrians in Egypt from which he is publishing the inscriptions.

Participants will be selected from applicants most of whom have completed their doctoral dissertations in some aspect of Jewish Studies, Hebrew Bible, early Christian Studies, Classics, Near Eastern Archaeology, or other relevant fields. Knowledge of Hebrew, as well as an elementary knowledge (at least) of Aramaic, is a prerequisite.

Although most NEH seminars have a single weekly rhythm repeated through the seminar, this seminar will change over the course of instruction. The mornings of the first four weeks of the seminar will feature two and a half hours of intensive language instruction. The first week will be a warm-up with Biblical Aramaic, and in successive weeks Jewish Literary Aramaic, Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, and Syriac will be taught. The mornings of the last two weeks will be devoted to daily one-hour reading sessions in selected texts from the different dialects, with participants expected to pick one dialect and concentrate on it.

Afternoons will be open for individual study and research with no scheduled meetings. The Seminar leaders will hold regular office hours during this time, with each participant meeting with one of the leaders to discuss their research projects in the first week and then at regular intervals. During the last week of the Seminar, each participant will give a seminar talk about his or her research project.

A reserve shelf with all relevant readings for participants will be set up in the Duke Divinity School Library where open carrel space is available along with Internet access. Seminars will be conducted in the Gray Building, where the Graduate Program and Department of Religion are housed, just adjacent to the Divinity Library.

For housing information, consult our web site or attachment. All participants will be issued a Duke Card ID, which will grant them access to all on-campus facilities, including all libraries. Payment of a small fee allows one to use the Wilson Recreation Center, which houses two pools and all manner of exercise equipment. Participants will also be eligible to use the Faculty Club at $5 per day (the Club has three pools, twelve tennis courts, and exercise room and a game room for children).

If an applicant has special needs, please let us know about them at the outset.

NEH eligibility does not require that a candidate hold a full-time job, though preference will be given to candidates at both private and public institutions of higher learning. U.S. citizenship is normally required, though individuals teaching at U.S. institutions abroad for three or more years may be considered. Students who are nearing completion on the Ph.D. may be considered under certain conditions if they are employed by another institution other than the one granting the degree.

Successful applicants will receive a stipend of $3,700. The amount will be paid in two parts, with one installment being paid upon arrival at Duke and the second installment being paid about halfway through the seminar.
Perhaps the most important part of the application is the essay that must be submitted as part of the complete application. This essay should include any personal and academic information that is relevant; reasons for applying to the particular project; your interest, both intellectual and personal, in the topic; qualifications to do the work of the project and make a contribution to it; what you hope to accomplish by participation, including any individual research and writing projects; and the relation to the study to your teaching.

Application information is included with this letter. Your completed application should be postmarked no later than March 1, 2004, and should be addressed as follows:

Nancy Hurtgen
NEH Seminar
Duke University
Department of Religion
Box 90964
Durham, NC 27708-0964
(919) 660-3500