Topic for the Year 2009–2010:
“Revealing the Divine: From Greco-Roman Palestine to the Persian Empire”

Co-Chairs: Sevile Mannickarottu, Tammie Wanta, & Virginia Wayland (University of Pennsylvania)

In the scriptural religions of the eastern Mediterranean and Near East, a variety of human and otherworldly figures are imagined to connect the mundane realm with figures and worlds beyond. This year’s PSCO focuses on prophecy and revelation, exploring the specific processes and channels of communication claimed for such figures. Of particular interest will be the transformation of older ideas about prophets, oracles, and divination in Late Antiquity. Moving beyond traditional notions of the “cessation of prophecy” in “post-biblical” Judaism and Christianity, we hope to investigate how ideas about on-going revelation continued to be explored and expressed in the religions of the Mediterranean and Near East – including Judaism and Christianity, but also Mandaism, Manichaeism, Islam, and so-called “pagan” local traditions. Special attention will be paid to the textualization and scripturalization of revelation, on the one hand, and its ritual and social settings, on the other. By comparing the representations of revelatory figures, mechanisms, and events across different groups and locales, moreover, we hope both to expose some of their shared epistemological and cosmological assumptions, and to shed light on how contestation over mediatory power functioned in the negotiation of boundaries within and between them.  

By virtue of the trans-regional, trans-imperial, and inter-religious focus of this year’s PSCO, we feel that our theme and approach fit well with the 2009–2010 Penn Humanities Forum on Connections. It is our hope, furthermore, that the topic of prophecy may serve as an apt “test-case” for investigating pre-modern perspectives on the movement of knowledge along networks (e.g., religious, pedagogical, economic) and across boundaries (e.g., geographical, linguistic, imagined, constructed), as well as for considering the common conversations and concepts that linked far-flung locales and diverse religious groups in Late Antiquity, bridging even between “religions,” “ethnicities,” and empires.