CULTURE

Runciman Lecture on Hellenism in Syria, Jordan, Palestine

The first Thursday of every February, the Runciman Lecture is held at King’s College, founded and established by the artist Nicholas Egon, who was a close friend of the late Byzantinist Steven Runciman, who lived to see the first lectures take place – «very happy to be alive to enjoy them» as he used to say. As Runciman always stayed at the Athenaeum Club when in London, Egon’s wife Matti always gives a dinner on the eve of the lecture at the club. This year’s guests included the Greek ambassador in London, Vassilis Pispinis. The 16th Runciman Lecture was attended by a full house of international scholars, students, diplomats and the many readers of Glen Bowersock’s brilliant books on Roman and Hellenic Arabia. His latest work «Mosaics as History» cast a new light on many aspects of the history of Syria, Jordan and Palestine. But in this marvelous lecture, «Hellenism in Late Antique Syria and Jordan,» Bowersock, who is professor emeritus of ancient history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, showed in beautiful pictures some new discoveries and some earlier work reinterpreted. He surprised us with slides of many Greek texts which have never been published. He explained how since the conquest of the area by Alexander the Great and the later Roman occupation, Greek culture, literature and language became and continued to be a sign of social status for the Nabateans until the Arab conquests. His erudite and lucid critique of ancient sources and his amazing knowledge of the local languages of the periods in their various dialects, which even extends to Ethiopian, helped us to follow his expert analysis of the many Greek texts with their many Nabatean, Arab, Latin and Hebrew names and nouns – all written in Greek. Ancient Greek in the region started with the adaptation and acceptance of Greek gods, sometimes identified with local deities, and continued with the Roman gods and finally with the Greek Bible, the New Testament, and historians such as Josephus, who describes the Jewish revolts and final destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.