I am happy to report that, with little or no help from the Persian Empire, I have ended my exile from the Republic of Letters, that is, the web.
And I am positively delighted to report that my sojourn--to help start some new scholarly conversations, to work on some books, and to find a job for next year--has been successful.
I ran the first conference on the political history of writing in the ancient Near East. It was held at the end of February at the University of Chicago Oriental Institute. Jim Davila, with typically wide-ranging interest, asked if anyone would be blogging it. The answer, of course, is, "yes, Jim, me--just two months late!" Fellow Biblicists participating were Bill Schniedewind, whose presentation on the death of written Hebrew and Jewish nationalism was as genial as it was provocative, and Peter Machinist, who placed the conference in the context of the past century of ancient Near Eastern studies' moves to a broader intellectual public. I felt honored to be involved in the lineage of Henri Frankfort's Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man and Robert McCormick Adams' City Invincible. It's true these were ambitious comparative projects done at the Oriental Institute, featuring a wide range of scholars of great intellectual firepower. I can certainly vouch for our intellectual ambitions and the stunning depth of knowledge and ideas the participants brought--now I just have to turn it into a book! What's best is that this is going to be an annual tradition at the Oriental Institute.
But this only scratches the surface of the people and ideas, not to mention the food (the caterers began life catering for Aerosmith, and they did not disappoint). The U of Chicago Chronicle did a nice piece on it, and this will have to do for tonight.
This week, look for more on the conference: intellectual sparks between philology and anthropology! Did the Hittites speak Hittite, was Sumerian a sham perpetrated by Amorite intellectuals, or does it even make sense to talk about languages living and dying? Plus, what I've been thinking about ancient Israel as a public, the native Jews of South Africa, and the courses I'll be teaching at Cornell next year.