Location: Benjamin T. Rome Auditorium of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, 1619 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
Our December lecture will be presented by Jennifer Westerfeld, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Louisville. The lecture is entitled: “Reading Hieroglyphs in Byzantine Egypt“.
During the Pharaonic period in Egypt, hieroglyphs served both functional and decorative purposes. For the literate minority, hieroglyphs transmitted information like any other writing system, while for the illiterate majority of Egyptians, hieroglyphs served to adorn material objects and to mark the boundary between sacred and profane spaces. For non-Egyptians, hieroglyphs came to symbolize Egypt’s “otherness,” and Greek and Roman authors alike struggled to understand the hieroglyphic system.
This challenge became all the more urgent after genuine knowledge of hieroglyphic writing died out in the late Roman period. For more than a millennium thereafter, speculation on hieroglyphs became increasingly fantastical and deeply entwined with notions of primordial Egyptian wisdom. This talk will consider interpretations of hieroglyphs by Christian authors of the Byzantine period, a subject largely unexplored by modern scholarship. Whether hieroglyphs were condemned as Satanic images or admired as a source of mystical knowledge, control over the representation and interpretation of hieroglyphic texts constituted an important source of Christian authority, and Coptic discussions of hieroglyphic writing serve to illuminate the dynamic relationship between Egyptian Christians and the monumental remains of the Pharaonic past.
About our speaker:
Jennifer Westerfeld received her PhD in Egyptology in 2010 from the University of Chicago and is currently an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Her research focuses on the cultural and religious history of Byzantine Egypt, and she is currently preparing a monograph on Christian interpretations of Egyptian hieroglyphs.