2015–2016 Topic:
Beyond “Greco-Roman Context”:
Persian & Other Perspectives on Judaism & Christianity

Co-Chairs: Jae Hee Han (UPenn) and James Shackelford (UPenn)
PSCO Coordinator: Annette Yoshiko Reed (UPenn)

To the degree that scholars of Judaism and Christianity have explored their formative “contexts,” it has been largely with reference to the “Greco-Roman world.” Recently, however, scholars of Rabbinic Judaism and Syriac Christianity have pointed to Sassanian Persia as a compelling contextual locus in its own right-not merely a realm of exile or Diaspora. At the same time, scholars of the Hebrew Bible have been revisiting the Achaemenid Persian imperial contexts that shaped the Torah and other biblical writings, and scholars of early Judaism have been revealing the continued importance of Near Eastern traditions and trajectories in the Second Temple period and beyond.

This year's PSCO will reflect on these developments and explore their value for reorienting the study of Judaism and Christianity alike. Bringing separate specialist discussions of Persian, Parthian, and other “eastern” empires into conversation, we hope to open a space for discussing the benefits and challenges of countering the longstanding privileging of “Greco-Roman context.” What happens to our definitions of “Judaism” and “Christianity” when we look instead to Persian contexts? How might such a shift in focus also affect our understandings of Empire? What might we learn from further integrating current research on Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism, and early Islam, on the one hand, and new findings about the material cultures and imperial histories of Achaemenid, Seleucid, Parthian, and Sassanian empires, on the other?

Now in its fifty-third year, the Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins (PSCO) brings together scholars and graduate students in Philadelphia and surrounding areas for informal discussion and debate of timely issues and questions in the study of ancient Judaism, early Christianity, and cognate fields. Each year, PSCO hosts five to six meetings to explore one theme-ranging from pressing methodological or theoretical questions, to neglected primary or secondary sources, to timely conversations across disciplines. Meetings are informal and discussion-oriented, and invited speakers are encouraged to provide suggested readings and resources prior to their session so as to facilitate productive conversation. PSCO has been made possible by generous sponsorship from the Penn Humanities Forum and Penn’s Center for Ancient Studies.