Narratives of Egypt and the Ancient Near East: Literary and Linguistic Approaches. Edited by FREDRIK HAGEN; JOHN JOHNSTON; WENDY MONKHOUSE; KATHRYN PIQUETTE; JOHN TAIT; and MARTIN WORTHINGTON. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, vol. 189. Louvain: PEETERS, 2011. Pp. xxxvi + 558. [pounds sterling]89.
The twenty papers in this volume derive from the December 2005 conference "Framing Plots: The Grammar of Ancient Near Eastern Narratives" held at the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London. Although commonly scholars cherry-pick from conference volumes such as this, perusing its wealth of material will pay the reader handsome dividends, as the editors and conference organizers intended.
The volume is divided into three major parts in addition to its preface, introduction, and afterword: narratives dating from 2400 to 1500 B.C.E.; from 1500 to 500 B.C.E.; and from 500 B.C.E. to 2000 C.E., this latter section dated to accommodate Geoffrey Khan's study on the rapidly disappearing North Eastern Neo-Aramaic. The volume's introduction outlines helpfully the backgrounds of Mesopotamian and ancient Egyptian writing and literatures while including discussion of some general issues affecting the available literature, such as damaged documents, lack of provenance and of clear and definitive dates, lack of knowledge of a language's vocalization, and the loss of untold numbers of documents, all this with a generous bibliography.
Until relatively recently, study of the fields included here has tended to be largely philological in nature, particularly in comparison to that of Classics and the Hebrew Bible. In contrast, this volume's essays bring examinations of the literatures from viewpoints new to these fields, drawing on research methods from other disciplines, including the grammar of narrative, narratology, and grammatical structures.
The afterword, written by Wen-chin Ouyang, a scholar of medieval and modern Arabic literature and story-telling, not only discusses briefly the twenty papers, grouping them and relating them within the groups, but begins with a rich discussion of literature as an art form, reminding readers that the literary work lives in its own world. Quite pertinent to this idea is Gerald Moers' "Broken Icons: The Emplotting of Master-Narratives in the Ancient Egyptian 'Tale of Sinuhe," in which Moers observes that while much of the tale takes place outside of Egypt, Sinuhe's behaviors reflect Egyptian behaviors and thus are...