Seminar: Correspondence, provenance, and the ethics of collecting, 6 March 2019

by | Feb 11, 2019 | Blog, Seminar 18/19, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Please join us for our second seminar of the semester, featuring two twenty-minute presentations and discussion. All welcome!

Wednesday 6th March 2019, 3pm – 4.30pm
A112 Samuel Alexander Building

Ethical challenges in early twentieth century Samaritan manuscript collecting

Dr Katharina E Keim (Centre for Religions and Theology, Lund University, and Centre for Jewish Studies, Manchester)

Historically, the collecting of Samaritan manuscripts was a challenging endeavour. The Samaritans, who regard themselves to be descendants of ancient Biblical Israelites, were for centuries a relatively insular group that closely guarded their traditions from outsiders. Western scholars and orientalists began acquiring Samaritan manuscripts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the Samaritan Pentateuch played an important role in debates between Protestant and Catholic biblical textual critics. Samaritan manuscripts arrived in Europe in fits and starts until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when the trickle became a flood. Weakened by population collapse and poverty, the Samaritans began selling their manuscripts to tourists, collectors, and antiquities dealers in a desperate attempt to survive. This paper will look at two understudied correspondence collections that detail the acquisition of Samaritan manuscripts by Western collectors in the first three decades of the twentieth century. The first is that of Rabbi Dr Moses Gaster (1856-1939), a Jewish community leader and collector living in London who purchased around 400 copies of Samaritan works, and the second is that of William E Barton (1861-1930), an American Congregationalist minister who, together with industrialist Edward K Warren (1847-1919), drew together a valuable collection of original Samaritan manuscripts now in the Special Collections of Michigan State University. It will highlight key issues relating to the provenance of Western collections of Samaritan manuscripts, and the ethical problems involved in their acquisition.

The corrupting text: Searching, interpreting and exchanging papyri (1890–2019)

Dr Roberta Mazza (Classics, Ancient History, Archaeology and Egyptology, Manchester)

This paper addresses questions of cultural appropriation, colonialism and imperialism, through the analysis of published and unpublished correspondence of some of the protagonists of the first phase of ancient papyrus manuscripts discoveries in Egypt (ca. 1890-1920). These letter exchanges, including some from the John Rylands Library archives, shed light on attitudes towards the search, study and circulation of ancient manuscripts guided by nineteenth century ideas of civilization, the classics and the Western canon, conveyed by academics from text-oriented disciplines, such as Papyrology, Classics and Biblical Studies. A comparison with recent episodes involving famous genuine and forged classical and biblical papyri exchanged on the market shows that colonial attitudes are still deeply entrenched in these fields and more broadly in society. In the conclusion, I will discuss possible ways to introduce real change in the ethics of manuscript collecting and publishing.

For more information, please contact Dr Alice Marples  (


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