Global Implications in Local Life: Syrian Emar and Social History

Visiting Research Scholar Lecture

Daniel Fleming (ISAW and Hebrew & Judaic Studies, NYU)

The ancient Near East is known for its empires and kings, an ultimate source for the religious rationalization of royal authority picked up in European Christendom through the Hebrew Bible. It can be natural to place this Near Eastern political tradition in opposition to the Greek and Roman commitments to democracy and the republic, as if there were an "oriental" inclination toward autocracy. Actual Near Eastern political traditions were more complex, combining impulses toward individual leadership with diverse structures for group-based decision-making. One way to get at the mixed character of this political world is to examine evidence for authority in daily practice, as exhibited in legal documents drawn up in service of individual and household transactions that rely on various forms of authority without the rhetoric of advocacy. With this goal in view, the cuneiform texts from Late Bronze Age Emar in northwestern Syria offer a particularly productive body of material for study. Emar was ruled by the Hittites of Anatolia, and it had a local king, but neither of these monarchies imposed a centralized administration that drew all matters of law into the palace sphere. Study of this single site, with its remarkable variety of legal texts, produces a historical perspective "from below" that recalls the rallying cry of the Social History of the 1960s and that provides an alternative to the ideas propagated by the kings themselves.


Admission to this lecture closes 10 minutes after the scheduled start time.

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