As promised in an earlier entry, I am presenting today the second outcome from the presentation of my post-doctoral project three weeks ago at the monthly meeting of the discipline of the Study of Religions at the Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion. Finishing my talk I was approached by associate professor Richard Natvig. He had decided to show me two treasures that he inherited when he moved into his office. Two objects that are linked in very particular ways with the history of the discipline and its study through textual sources, as still practiced by some of us until today.
The person who was sitting before Natvig in that same office was professor Ragnhild Finnestad, specialist of ancient Egyptian religion and Coptic Christianity. The change of guard happened under difficult health conditions for the late professor and several objects were left behind. Some of them had a longer history at the University of Bergen, because Finnestad (or professor Anders Hultgård who also used this office) had inherited them from the founder of the Study of Religions in Bergen, professor Alv Kragerud. It seems that she found them in Kragerud’s office at the HF-bygg when she took it over after his retirement in 1976. At least for the first object this is confirmed by the memories of some of his students that are still active today and could be reached. Some more research in the archives will be needed. I’ll keep you posted. In any case, these objects concern in fact a history much older than the discipline, the department, the university, perhaps even the town of Bergen (founded in 1070 CE)!
The first object is a parchment scroll, which contains a hebraic text. Richard Natvig called for assistance his friend and colleague Evyatar Marienberg (Associate Professor at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), who identified the scroll as the Book of Esther, a religious object used both in the Synagogue and privately. Further analyses of the scroll’s materials (parchments, wooden roller, inks), as well as study of its paleography and text content should reveal very interesting insights into the character of this intriguing find. But before everything else, its provenance must be identified and the conditions of its storage had to be improved. While the former task is ongoing, the latter was completed today! With the help of Pedro Vasquez of the Special Collections and Manuscripts Section of the University Library, Richard and myself visited the conservation department of the museum of the University of Bergen and met Stine Rost-Kronvang, graphic conservator (paper, books, photography and digital media) educated at the School of Conservation in Copenhagen, Denmark. She pointed out the dangers of the scroll being tackled by inexperienced hands and packed it properly so as to be stored at the Special Collections awaiting further research. In the early afternoon, Bjørn Bagge, director of the Special Collections, was smiling over the new, unexpected and precious acquisition!
As for the second object: it is a Coptic ostracon that I will read in the coming weeks with professor Einar Thomassen and after identifying its content and whether it has already been published we will see as to how we will present it either on its own or in combination with the Scroll of Esther. There will in any case be a third part in this series of entries!
For all those involved in this adventure, there is surely a wish to use these objects so as to refresh the interest in the languages that we so dearly need to learn when we begin in the long path of understanding the past as history, religion, material culture or human thought in that very special part of the world.