The figures of Noah
From Gilgamesh to the Quran and beyond
3 April 2013 Workshop
National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO), Paris
Religion, because they are part of our political scene, give rise to a growing interest in academic research for they are now regarded as a topic for the future.
Yet the way we approach them, namely, comparative religion, seems to refer to the bygone days of a history of religions that emerged in the 19th century in the cold light of positivist prejudices. Today it is assumed that the superiority of scientists over believers has vanished. Religion is to be studied from the point of view of “the natives”.
Our resolutely comparative approach of the founding figure of Noah lies between these two theoretical milestones in the history of our discipline.
In order to construct comparability together, we ought to ask what is to be compared, how and why?
The answer to “what is to be compared?” seems obvious after George Smith succeeded in translating the eleventh cuneiform tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh in 1872, discovering a Mesopotamian counterpart that is far older than the Biblical Flood story. A few centuries later, the Quran told of another figure who embarks as the waves engulf the people he belongs to. This first parallel would be unrealistic in a comparative viewpoint if it did not involve all the metamorphoses the figure of Noah went through since the fifth century B.C. – at a time the Pentateuch was presumably written in Babylon – until the composition of the Quran in Arabia in the seventh century A.D. through the apocryphal or pseudepigraphical texts that accompanied the Biblical writings in the process of being canonized. And it would be incomplete if the numerous glosses and commentaries about Noah that have accompanied fixed canonic texts were ignored.
How to compare? The comparative approach has often been criticized for dissolving the consistency of a textual configuration by isolating elements drawn on exogenous sources. Today the more dynamic notion of intertextuality makes it possible to take into account the reconfiguration made in a new ensemble while leaving the text open to an infinite number of other texts. Thus, the originality of Genesis should not conceal the analogy with Near Eastern literatures just as the originality of the Quran should not conceal the analogy with accounts from elsewhere. However, the letter of Genesis does not exhaust its spirit, neither does the Quran.
The history of religions should remain an internal and external exercise of comparison that situates its object within a changing tradition, and this tradition beside other traditions. By placing several monotheisms side by side in a secular place such as the university, monotheisms and polytheisms, received texts and discarded ones, a canon and its gloss which tells it anew in another way, the comparative approach subverts a certain relationship between violence and truth. This is one of the answers to the question “why compare?”
The workshop will be held at the INALCO, 65 rue des Grands moulins, Paris, (13ème), Salle des Conseils en 4. 24.
Daniel Bodi (Université Paris 8)
Some common elements in the accounts of the Flood in Gilgamesh tablet 11, Genesis 6 to 9, Bereshit Rabbahand Sura 11
Jean-Jacques Glassner (CNRS)
Noah in Mesopotamian sources
Christophe Batsch (Université Lille 3)
Noah in the Hebrew Bible. How to read a text used and abused?
Serge Bardet (Université Évry)
The figure of Noah in Flavius Josephus and Philo of Alexandria
Muriel Debié (IRHT)
Noah in Syriac sources
Madalina Vartejanu (INALCO)
Noah the priest and exorcist: evidence from the Qumrân scrolls
Viviane Comerro (INALCO)
Quranic Noah in the Sura of the Poets
Jules Danan (INALCO) and Youssef Taharraoui (CERMOM)
A two-voice reading of rabbinic and Islamic traditions about Noah
Catherine Pennachio (CERMOM)
Noah in Rashi’s commentary and the Quran
Julien Hanoka (CERMOM)
The naturalization of the Law through the Biblical figure of Noah
Workshop papers (in French) will be published as articles in 2014.
Two forthcoming workshops will be focusing on the following topics:
a) Are there coherent transformation patterns of the figure of Noah similar to the patterns uncovered for myths? Should myths and accounts be distinguished? How does the relationship between text and commentary fit into this logic?
(Expertise is expected in one of the following languages: Akkadian, Aramaic, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic and Greek)
b) Updating and today’s relevance of the figure of Noah. A survey of modern texts: commentaries (religious, political, philosophical...), homilies, novels, iconography, and so forth.
To participate to the forthcoming workshops, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Islamic studies, INALCO, Paris.
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