University of California, Los Angeles
Assistant Professor of Egyptology, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Ph.D., Leiden University
In my research, I am fascinated with reconstructing Egypt’s intellectual history. Religious and literary texts tend to be the sources I find most exciting and intriguing. My studies are driven by the question of how the indigenous elites of Egypt created and maintained their social and cultural identity in the Late Period and Greco-Roman Period (664 BCE – 300 CE). This period of about thousand years is characterized by successive phases of foreign domination and immigration from the Levant, Asia Minor, and Greece. These intense and long-lasting contacts with foreign peoples, beliefs and practices within the national borders led to dramatic demographic and socio-economic changes, and gave the Egyptian landscape, her population and culture a new face.
This reality was strikingly at odds with the Egyptian ma‘at theology, which had always served, and continued to serve, as the basis of the official ideology of the pharaonic state and society. According to this worldview and ethical framework, Egypt was the center of the ordered world and was continuously under threat of disintegration, from within and from without, by demonic forces of chaos. Foreigners and nomadic people were singled out to symbolize these chaotic forces and accordingly, their subjugation was considered a condition for a stable and thriving Egyptian society.
My research feeds on the tension between this ideology and the historical reality of the Late and Greco-Roman Periods. Instead of being the center of the world, Egypt played often only a peripheral role on the international scene in these periods. Instead of defeating foreigners abroad, foreigners were now living inside Egypt and for several periods the royal family was of foreign descent. The basic questions are: 1) how did historical reality affect the worldview and self-identity of the Egyptian indigenous elites and 2) how did these elites (re)construct their social and cultural identity as a unique and inalienable essence vis-à-vis foreign culture groups who cohabitated Egypt and occasionally even ruled over them?
I address these issues in three research projects. One project is concerned with the identification and development of the indigenous roots of Greco-Egyptian magic. A major concern is developing a better understanding of the sphere of production and reception of Egyptian ritual texts throughout Egypt’s long history. The second project deals with the transformations in usage and transmission of Egyptian funerary texts through time. Its core is my current preparation of a comprehensive edition of a funerary liturgy in the hieratic and Demotic script, preserved on a manuscript in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The other project addresses changes in the form and function of space and time in Egyptian fictional narrative literature and cult topographies. All three projects engage with early and late sources, with various languages and writing systems, and with both Egyptian and non-Egyptian beliefs and practices. And that is precisely why they are so fascinating.