Seminar für Ägyptologie und Koptologie

Universität Göttingen

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Dating Egyptian Literary Texts

On Dating Egyptian Literary Texts

The proceedings have been published!


Institute of Egyptology and Coptic Studies, Göttingen, June 9th to 12th 2010

A central issue of Egyptological research is the question of dating the original composition of religious or literary texts. However, re-dating might amount to a downright re-writing of parts of the Egyptian cultural history. Very prominent is a lively debate about the date of composition of a number of literary texts, traditionally dated to the First Intermediate Period or the Early Middle Kingdom but known only from New Kingdom manuscripts. Over the last forty-five years, several attempts have been made to date the production of some of these texts much closer in time to their first physical appearance. Using religious, cultural, linguistic, or textual arguments scholars have argued for a New Kingdom origin (Admonitions: van Seters 1964  (» list of readings); Hymn to the Nile: van der Plas 1984; Merikare: Bickel 1994; Amenemhet: Grimal 1995; Loyalist [Kaires]: Schipper 1998). More recently the discussion has heated up considerably with contributions that argue for a New Kingdom origin of Merikare, Neferti, Khakheperreseneb and Amenemhet with the reassessment based on conceptions of Egyptian cultural history (Gnirs 2006; eadem in press) or on linguistic analysis (Stauder, in press). On the other hand, there is an equally strong tendency to oppose any later datings which bases itself on the very same categories of arguments (for example Amenemhet: Burkard 1999; Merikare and Neferti: Burkard/Thissen 22007) and a general attitude to take the oldest linguistic layer of a text as a direct indication of its time of origin (von Lieven 2006). Most recently, Verhoeven (2009) was able to falsify Schipper’s reconstruction of the redaction-history of Loyalist [Kaires] due to newly discovered and dated textual evidence from her epigraphic mission in Assyut.

Nevertheless, from a systematic point of view, the question must be considered as entirely open. It therefore seems time to re-enter the discussion in a more systematic manner with an attempt to develop methodical approaches towards the possibility of (re?-)dating the entire group of texts in question (including also Kheti, Man for his Son, Djedefhor, Pleasures of Fishing and Fowling, Sporting King and others). This would include the re-evaluation of Egyptological notions of the Egyptian text and individual textual histories (in terms of the so-called New Philology) as well as a reconsideration of the cultural and religious contexts of particular texts and the analysis of their linguistics.

The conference is intended to be a first step in such an enterprise and tries to advance the discussion on this highly important topic without any preconceived preferences for either approach. It hopes to reassess the state of Egyptological research and discuss critically the methodological implications of all ap­proaches.

We have been able to secure the participation of the majority of scholars who have substantially contributed to the issue. However, to re-open the discussion in a copious manner, each of them has been assigned the task to present their ideas in a self-conscious as well as in a self-critical manner. Furthermore, scholars from neighbouring disciplines which, at one point in their histories, were facing comparable methodological problems, will enrich and stimulate the Egyptological discussion. Their papers will serve as examples of what might be at stake and how to handle a task which in our case might amount to a downright re-writing of parts of the Egyptian cultural history. For this reason, a specialist in Medieval Literature will present the most up-to-date ways of dealing with openly transmitted texts in semi-oral manuscript cultures. Furthermore, a specialist in Old Testament Studies will present a field which had to re-date and subsequently reinterpret most of the Old Testament texts and their role in establishing Israelite identity.

The prime objective of the conference is to bring forward a long overdue discussion on the topic without any preconceived preferences for either approach. For the long run, we hope that our meeting can eventually serve as a basis to develop, promote and eventually to institutionalize a research program aiming at a generalized catalogue of methods and criteria for dating texts.