Seth Larkin Sanders Profile picture
Author: From Adapa to Enoch, The Invention of Hebrew. Guggenheim fellow; I study how people say what God says.
9 May
About two generations ago, the worlds oldest recorded history was seen as the conflict, assimilation, and even replacement of different peoples and nations—Whether Sumerians and Babylonians, Canaanites, Philistines, and Israelites, or other semi imagined protagonists.
My first teacher in Assyriology, Jerrold Cooper, demonstrated that the rulers and writers of early Mesopotamian city states did not see themselves as “Sumerians” even when they spoke and named their children in that language.
Similarly, I remember my mind being blown when the archaeologist Anne Killebrew pointed out to me that there wasn’t any clear evidence that ancient Canaanites thought they had anything special in common. Now, Sumerian speakers with Sumerian names do have some things in common...
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2 May
Images like this, of a settler in the standard Israeli dati-le'umi (religious nationalist) garb that many would identify as "traditional" and reasoning in baldly unethical and immoral ways, raise a larger longstanding question: are there any limits to Jewish tradition? 1/?
Most widely-discussed cases today are of inclusion: are female Rabbis or non-Orthodox Jews "really" part of Jewish tradition? In the big picture this is a trivial one since Orthodoxy itself is a modern construct: most Jews, not just now but through history, weren't Orthodox. 2/?
Surprisingly, a more difficult case was that of Israel itself. As Hebrew U Prof Aviezer Ravitzky shows, until the mid-20th-century the majority (Orthodox, even!) Rabbinic opinion was that it is forbidden to settle in Israel until the Messiah returns.… 3/?
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1 May
"So we looked at the 4 nations most commonly recognized in Toronto Land Acknowledgments and then went to communities where those people actually live. We chatted to the people there about the practice and there was a huge disconnect for them...."
"A lot of people in the communities said they didn’t like Land Acknowledgments. It felt like a eulogy: We were there, now we’re not, and now it’s yours."
"Yet Land Acknowledgements smell like condescending bullshit to me. Here's why: Attaching an Indigenous identity to the Land Acknowledgement deters the conversation from what we can all do together and instead to the commiseration of a lost culture. We are not lost."
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24 Feb
Theses on Biblical Translation:
1. At root, translation is no big deal. Many if not most people in human history lived in linguistically diverse environments; they were either multilingual or had regular contact with speakers of different varieties. People translated every day.. their own heads to express a thought to a family member, to say hello to their neighbor, to offer food to a visitor, to tell a story to a customer. It was only about as profound and problematic as putting on your shoes.
2. How did translation become a profound, soul-searching quest? Two forces are key in making high culture out of our words: religion and monumentality. Wirtz's brilliant 2005 article shows how in religious language, being "untranslatable" is often tied to being otherworldly..
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19 Feb
@WillKynes To be fair it's from a much broader article: "The Use(s) of Genre in Mesopotamian Literature" Archív Orientální 67:703–17.
@WillKynes Digging further into this, it looks like a typical move to say there are no clear criteria for wisdom literature then to just keep talking about it. From the excellent survey by Beaulieu, it seems as if the Gilgamesh epic, the Mesopotamian flood stories, and even Adapa qualify:
@WillKynes "The son of Shuruppak, Ziusudra, was the Mesopotamian Noah according to the Sumerian Flood Story.. Ziusudra appears again as teacher of wisdom in the Death of Gilgamesh" which "tells us that Gilgamesh, having... reached the abode of Ziusudra..."
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16 Feb
Just started reading the new Yale report on the future of its humanities grad programs. Its recommendations might freak people out but from my POV having run a small grad program look like a really helpful response to a bad situation both in R1 universities and overall. 1/
It names a problem that (even!) Yale shares with humanities graduate ed everywhere: "Fewer than half of the humanities doctoral students who matriculate
at Yale obtain tenure-track jobs." It implies that students can be neglected, stultified, or even driven out of programs. 2/
In response it recommends that Yale "evaluate doctoral programs in relation to three major elements: the innovation and inclusion in each doctoral program, the amount of late attrition in a program, and the employment outcomes of a program’s students." 3/
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2 Sep 20
Tradition or Memory: What is the Bible made of? Reflecting back on the past century or so of debate I think the stakes here could be higher than they appear.
The biggest arguments in e.g. Pentateuchal studies are over what the building blocks of the Torah were, and how and why they were put together. Similarly in the past couple of decades people have started talking about these building blocks as "collective memories."
In an earlier phase these building blocks were called "traditions" and the early all-but-invisible process of composition, "history of traditions." But in both cases it was treated mainly as referential content, abstracted away from human agency, a quick but shaky solution.
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12 Apr 20
In 2020 what are the main issues of a small religious studies grad program? Here are things I thought about while running one. Really only one: given the data, you're doing it against the odds, so every significant decision needs to help set you apart and justify your existence.
This is because in humanities and social sciences the most prestigious programs are typically overwhelmingly more successful than others and tend to hire from each other.… 1/10
Here are the relevant studies on narrowness of hiring in history, comp sci, and business:…
And same phenom in political science… 1b/10
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1 May 19
Happy May Day--the ancient Babylonian flood myth describes the first labor dispute in the history of the cosmos, as the lower-status gods slaving to feed the higher-status ones burn their tools and march on the high god's palace…
Meanwhile a scroll from the artisans' village of Deir el-Medina--likely written by a labor leader and not found in official records or royal victory inscriptions--records the first documented strike in ancient Egypt…
The craftspeople who made the tombs that supposedly allowed the rich to live forever were not getting paid. So the workers went on strike, blocking access to the Valley of the Kings so no priests or family could bring food for the dead, starving the rulers in the afterlife...
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