Before the Book: Rethinking Biblical Religion

Rebecca Wollenberg's picture
December 8, 2016
Michigan, United States
Subject Fields: 
Assyriology, Ancient History

Before the Book: Rethinking Biblical Religion

We often imagine that the Bible began its life as the normative religious tradition(s) of ancient Israel. The research presented in this colloquium tells a new story about the origins of biblical literature within its ancient Near Eastern context.

Featuring: Simeon Chavel, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible, University of Chicago; Abraham Winitzer, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Languages and History, University of Notre Dame; Piotr Michalowski, George G. Cameron Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern Language and Civilizations, University of Michigan


University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Thursday, December 8th, 2016, 11:30am-2:00pm

Institute for the Humanities Osterman Common Room, 1022 Thayer Building

202 S Thayer St, First Floor


In recognition of the lunch hour, light refreshments will be served.


Session I


The Argumentative Nature of Ancient Authors and Their Biblical Works: The Law Codes

Simeon Chavel, University of Chicago

The presentation will propose that ancient authors and the works that have since become biblical cannot be taken to reflect the general view in their contemporary society or even the shared view of complete institutions. Rather some, at least, ought to be taken as the views of individuals interacting within their cultures, advancing unique, even idiosyncratic arguments about the past, the present and the future, and whose works and views may have perplexed and even put off their audience. The presentation will focus on the biblical legal material to illustrate what recommends this approach.

Session II


Bloody Murder!  On the Afterlife of Atra˙asīs and Man’s prima materia in Genesis 1-11

Abraham Winitzer, University of Notre Dame

The Primeval History in Genesis 1-11 has long been recognized as drawing inspiration from beyond Israel in the formation of this foundational portion of the Bible. This paper considers a case study in this regard, concerning the interface of pre-Biblical traditions and their reflections in the Biblical text. Specifically, this involves thinking about the primary elements comprising primeval man in terms of origins and adaptations. Along with the mystical divine spirit (ah≥), the nexus of earth (ºada¢mâ) in the formation of man (ºa¢da¢m) with that of blood (da¢m) will be considered, as a case of a Biblical formulation of materials originally beyond the Book. In so doing I will seek to demonstrate how this portion of the textualization process – from the beyond to the Book – took shape. 

Respondent: Piotr Michalowski, George G. Cameron Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern Language and Civilizations, University of Michigan

This colloquium is cosponsored by the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, the department of Near Eastern Studies, the LSA Dean’s Office, UMOR Small Grants to Support Major Conferences, the Rackham Dean’s Strategic Initiative Fund, the American Academy of Jewish Research, and the American Academy of Religion.

This event is part of the Beyond the Bible: Rethinking Biblical Religion speaker series at the University of Michigan. For information about upcoming events, contact Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg (

Contact Email: