Comparing Ancient Chronographic Histiographies from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Judah, and Greece in the Persian and Early Hellenistic Period

Programme

This research unit aims to advance the comparative exploration of ancient historiographies from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Judah, and Greece in the Persian and early Hellenistic periods. To this end we will pay significant attention to the following matters: the underlying assumptions and basic world-shaping conceptualizations on which these works were grounded (including conceptualizations of time, periodization, causality); the generative grammars and narrative patterns at work in these historiographical texts; the interrelation between genre, social location, and historical contingency, and intersections between local, ‘global’ and ‘glocal’ cultural traditions in shaping historiography.

Keywords:

Ancient Historiography, Comparative Historiography, Babylonian Chronicles, Herodotus, 1-2 Chronicles, Demotic Historiography, Aramaic-Demotic Cultural Interactions and Historiography

Chairs

Ehud Ben Zvi
University of Alberta 

 

Sylvie Honigman

Tel Aviv University

Kathryn Stevens

University of Oxford

Caroline Waerzeggers
Leiden University


Member Area

Sofia 2024 Call for Papers

Our focus for 2024 is on ‘causality’ in ancient historiographic works. Causality may seem a straightforward notion at first sight, for instance when a specific episode seems to illustrate in an unproblematic way the narrative pattern of ‘sin-retribution-repenting’ which features so prominently in Judahite/Yehudite historiographies, or when many works all over the area seem to portray a well-coordinated relationship between human and divine agencies. However, it is at best unclear whether ‘sin-retribution’ patterns are mainly about communicating notions of necessary historical causality, rather than, for example, assigning blame, delegitimizing certain behaviours and characters while legitimizing others, and serving didactic or socializing purposes. 

 Whatever the pattern of causality shaping a specific text, it is open to question whether the writers and readers of these historiographic texts understand causality in the strong sense of “if (cause) X, then necessarily (effect) Y”. If the answer is negative, how did they conceptualize historical causality? For instance, is the underlying notion of causality in some cases closer to notions of potential influence in the production of effects, of complex sets of multiple causes that as a whole may lead to unpredictable effects? What role, for example, did astrological knowledge and notions of fate, both individual and collective, play in the constructions of historical causality? 

 In this meeting we intend to explore how ancient (Near Eastern) historiographies conceptualized causality. We are particularly interested in expressions of causality that reveal complex understandings of historical processes, and of the relationship between human and divine agencies in determining the course of history. We invite speakers to address these questions from a comparative perspective or to trace developments across traditions of the mid- to late first millennium BC.

We plan two sessions around the following sub-topics: 

Causality in history

  • Identifying and explaining patterns of history;grand narratives and their limitations.
  • Predictability and unpredictability and their implications for ancient historians and didactics.
  • Causal frameworks used to conquer or temper fears of chaos among elites.

Agency

  • Who are the agents of history in the historiographic traditions we are examining (e.g., divine, human, collective, individual, female, royal, priestly, urban-tribal, astral, environmental)? What is the relationship between institutional agency and individual agency?
  • Ancient historians’ agency and constraints on it when conceptualizing and projecting historical causality. 
  • Ancient historians’ agency in shaping social memory and how considerations of memory impacted the notions of causality that they propagated.  
  • Limits to individual and collective human agency in cases of disaster and the like, and how, if at all they affected notions of causality.