First annual conference of Hekhal: the Irish Society for the Ancient Near East

Just returned from Dublin where our attendance at Hekhal’s conference on “The Other Temples” was time well spent. As Lidia Matassa, the society’s president, wrote in her introduction to the conference programme:

“Hekhal was born in July 2011, out of a desire to create a new academic society in Ireland, whose focus is the history of the ancient Near East. There are many academic conferences held in Ireland annually, but none whose focus is solely the history and historiography of the ancient Near East and the biblical world. It is the hope of the committee that over the next few years Hekhal will become prominent in the academic landscape and will provide a forum for the many academics whose work in this area finds itself without a proper and permanent place to be aired.”

The Church of Ireland Theological Institute, where the conference was held.

The programme can be seen on the society’s website, but we will try to give a bit of the flavour of the three days we spent together in the “fair city”. Jason Gosnell gave an overview of the subject, setting the scene with his talk: “Interpreting YHWH’s Space, an Examination of the Temples of the G-d of Israel”. David Morgan also explored the question of whether the multiple temple sites were in competition with or complementary to the Jerusalem Temple. There was lots of Hebrew conversation to be heard, with Israeli archaeologists reporting fresh from the field. Yossi Garfinkel gave the first academic presentation of the finds from Khirbet Qeiyafa, followed by an animated discussion session. In a talk called “The Temple in the hearts of Galileans”, Motti Aviam showcased the large decorated stone block found in Migdal (Magdala), which he identifies as a symbolic representation of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Attendees experienced some of the passion involved in Temple topics in the discussion arising from Yossi Patrich’s proposal of his theory on the development of the Temple Mount in opposition to the one I have proposed (See: Leen Ritmeyer, “The Hasmonean Temple Mount”, in: The Quest – Revealing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, pp. 207-220). Patrich suggested that the outer court of the First Temple sloped downhill and that Simon the Just leveled it out.  According to him, the southern boundary was determined by a Roman staircase which he mistakenly interpreted as a Hasmonean “staged wall”. My paper was entitled: “Relating the Temple Scroll from Qumran to the architecture of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem” and was based on work I carried out with the late Prof. Yigael Yadin shortly before his death.

The Middle Court of the Temple Scroll was a square of 500 cubits, the same size as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during the First Temple period. © Leen Ritmeyer

Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme also spoke on a theme connected to the Jerusalem Temple, looking into the links between it and the temple on Mount Gerizim. Other talks based on the subject of Qumran were given by David Hamidovic and Jamal-Dominique Hopkins, while Benedikt Eckhardt dealt with: “The Yahad, Temple Ideology and Graeco-Roman Voluntary Associations”. The Temple at Elephantine was the subject of papers by Gard Granerod and Stephen Germany, while the theme of Egypt was also pursued by Andrew Krause in his: “Diaspora synagogues, Leontopolis, and the Other Jewish Temples of Egypt”. Meron Piotrkowski discussed Onias’ Temple.

The Gospel of Mark and the Epistle to Barnabas were the subjects of Clement William Grene and Douglas Estes respectively. Naphtali Meshel set up an interesting model for sacrificial language. Tyson Putthoff spoke on “The Edible Shekhinah: Temple, Vision and Transformation in Bavli Sotah 49a”. Members of the Hekhal committee also gave papers, Lidia Matassa examining the identification of a synagogue at Jericho, Jason McCann, “Imagining the Temple” and Jason Silverman suggesting that the renewal of the Jerusalem cult in the Persian period may have had ritual connections with Iran. Most encouragingly, there was still quite an audience for the last speaker, William Hamblin, whose subject “The Temple in the Qur’an”, brought us forward five hundred years from the destruction of the Temple, but showed its enduring spiritual significance.

The most popular site among attendees to visit in Dublin appeared to be the Chester Beatty Library, where biblical papyri dating from the second to the fourth century proved a great lure.

The Permanent display of the Pauline Letters, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin.

After the conference, speakers went their various ways, with most of them promising to submit their papers for publication in the conference proceedings. Another Hekhal conference is planned for 2013.

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