Mediterranean Cultural Koine: A Heuristically Valid Concept for the Greek Classical/Achaemenid and Hellenistic Eras?

When and Where

Friday, November 12, 2021 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm


Sylvie Honigman (Tel Aviv University)



Scholars have used the concept of Mediterranean cultural koine (or literary koine) to capture the cultural contacts and transcultural circulation of ideas, literary forms and motifs in the Iron Age (roughly, 800–500 BCE). At the other end of our timeframe, specialists of the Roman Empire are adopting the concept of globalization/glocalization not only to refer to increased travels and commercial exchanges across the Mediterranean and between the Mediterranean and India, but also to apprehend the multiplicity of literatures and local identities produced in imperial times, and redefined as “imperial literatures.” In this paper I address the period in-between, starting from the Hellenistic era. My aim is to propose an alternative to the paradigm of “Hellenization” while questioning the validity of “globalization” for this period as overlooking (or as used as a means to overlook) the role of imperial structures in intercultural circulation of ideas, literary forms, and texts. I will explore the heuristic validity of “Mediterranean cultural/literary koine” for the periods 300-33 and 500-300 BCE as being potentially more appropriate to capture the combined modes of circulation: elitist (through courts and temple literati) and “popular” (that is, informal).

My starting point to question the “Hellenization” paradigm is the literary production of Judea in Hellenistic times, which appears to bear crucible of cultural appropriations (Greek, Persian, Babylonian, Phoenician, and Egyptian/Demotic) and likewise the growing evidence of the continued vitality of native priestly cultures across the Hellenistic East (Babylonia, Judea, and Egypt). The period of 500–300 will be treated both per se and in conjunction with the Hellenistic era because of chronological uncertainties regarding the appropriation of Homer and archaic poetry on the one hand, and Herodotus on the other, in the Hebrew Bible and Demotic literature.

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UTM Annual Classics Seminar - Department of Historical Studies