2017–2018 Topic:
What Did Ancient Jews Know?
Exploring the Place of Scientific Knowledge
in the World of Ancient Judaism

Co-Chairs: Matthew Chalmers and Natalie Dohrmann
PSCO Coordinator: Annette Yoshiko Reed (NYU)

medieval depiction of Moses

Over recent decades, scholars of antiquity have paid increased attention both to what ancient people knew and to how they knew it. What sorts of knowledge did Jews, Christians, Romans, Greeks, and others prioritize and acquire—and how does attention to knowing as a process help us to understand our sources? Equally, how did that knowledge shape—even generate—the experts who used it? We hope to build on these questions, discussing some of the possibilities in our ancient source material that emerge from considering them in terms of technical, or scientific, knowing. How did ancient knowers obtain, record, limit, contest, and order knowledge of the cosmos and its inhabitants? How did they, for example, leverage what they knew against opponents, or situate their own communities in time, space, and place? What language was used to define what we might label as scientific or technical knowledge? How did scientific knowledge interact with other regimes of knowledge, including those associated with law or empire? How were Jewish knowers different from other knowers—and how were they similar?

Now in its fifty-fifth 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.