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AAR Annual Meeting
San Diego, CA
November 23-26, 2019

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Religion in Premodern Europe and the Mediterranean Unit and Traditions of Eastern Late Antiquity Unit
Theme: Religious Life on the Silk Road
James McGrath, Butler University, Presiding
Monday - 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Convention Center-23C (Upper Level East)

This session explores the movement of people, texts, and ideas along the Silk Road, with particular attention both to local cultural exchange and to the long-distance influences facilitated by this vital trade route.

Richard A. Freund, University of Hartford
The Caves of Letters: Jewish Texts and Communities from the Silk Road to the Via Maris

The ancient Jewish Diaspora spread both east and west following the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE and especially following the Bar Kokhba period (second rebellion against the Romans) in 135 CE. My research connects the textual discoveries in caves from the Dead Sea to the caves in what is today Afghanistan to the caves of Magao (along the Silk Road) in China. The Synagogue of Kaifeng at one terminus of Silk Road became by the 12th century a more permanent settlement for the Jews who had been traveling the Silk Road from a much earlier period and the Jewish textual discoveries in the caves reveal a rich and distinctive religious life in Hebrew, Aramaic and Judaea-Arabic texts.

Zsuzsanna Gulácsi, Northern Arizona University
The Syro-Mesopotamian Ties of Uygur Manichaean Book Culture

East Central Asian Manichaean sources discovered at Kocho from the Uygur era of Manichaean history (755-1024 CE) constitute prominent examples of Silk Road art and text. Despite the closeness of Chinese culture and the dominant presence of Buddhism in the region during this era, Manichaean books maintain a distinctly “West Asiatic” character. In order to further explore the latter, this study assesses the codicological similarities between Manichaean manuscripts from East Central Asia (that were written in Parthia, Middle Persian, Sogdian, and Uygur languages) and the earliest Eastern Christian and Islamic manuscripts from Syro-Mesopotamia (that were written in Syrian, Armenian, Arabic, and Persian languages between the 5th and 11th centuries). The two groups compare favorably based on five criteria: (1) codex design attested in quire structure and page arrangement, (2) scribal workmanship attested in calligraphy and scribal decoration, (3) the practice of featuring didactic paintings as illustrations of books (as either the solely pictorial prefatory sections of “text books,” or solely pictorial “picture books”), (4) employing horizontal codices, and (5) illustrating various religious texts with sideways-oriented images. These five correspondences point beyond the late antique, mid 3rd-century, Syro-Mesopotamian roots of Uygur-era Manichaean book culture and indicate continuing contact between the Manichaean communities in East Central Asia and their Mesopotamian homeland well into the medieval period.

Giselle Bader, University of Sydney
Processes of Globalisation in Early Armenian Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

This paper considers the processes of early globalisation in Armenian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Armenians were some of the first pilgrims and settlers in Christian Jerusalem, making them the ideal case study through which to consider pilgrimage as a vehicle of globalisation in Late Antiquity. Particular attention is paid to the epistles (325–335) between Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem and the head of the Armenian Church Bishop Vertaness, Eutaktos’ dissemination of Gnostic heresies while on pilgrimage from Lesser Armenia, and monastic pilgrimage to the monastery of St Euthymius. Manuel Castells (2004) proposes that globalisation and identity formation have a dialectic relationship, reinforcing both global and regional identities. Pilgrimage facilitated this process of identity formation and globalisation. Ultimately, this paper finds that in examining Armenian pilgrimage a greater, more holistic understanding of Late Antique Christian identities as related and rooted in the Holy Land can be attained.