Exodus: Border Crossings in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Texts and Images
Interdisciplinary Conference at the Karl-Jaspers-Centre, Heidelberg
Organized by Annette Hoffmann
Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut
Cluster of Excellence "Asia and Europe in a Global Context: Shifting Asymmetries in Cultural Flows", project D3 "Images of Alterity"
Funded by the Fritz-Thyssen-Stiftung
The conference will be dedicated to the Exodus narrative, Israel's emigration from Egypt, its liberation from servitude and its wandering to the Promised Land via the Red Sea—the threshold and border to Asia—and then the Sinai desert, itself a space of liminality—a locus of transit. The border crossing, therefore, is not predominantly a spatial geographical aspect in the story, but it also includes a transition to freedom and initiation into a new divine community, an encounter with God and an entry into, or even a violation of, the law. Moses died just before crossing the Jordan River, the last frontier, which separated him from the Promised Land—a border crossing that was not permitted to him. The Exodus is a story of Passover(s).
The centrality, in all three religions, of the story of Moses based on the Pentateuch suggests a comparative examination of Jewish, Christian and Islamic modes of 'retelling' the Exodus narrative. The conference aims to outline the differences and shared concepts in processes of historicizing and actualization, changes and displacements in patterns of historical interpretation. The conference will therefore focus on both biblical and non-biblical texts, such as patristic and rabbinic literature, the Quran, chronicles, legends and epics about the life of Moses, as well as images: frescoes, sarcophagi and book illumination (e.g. bible illumination, the Haggadot or Islamic chronicles). The concentration on topics concerning the crossing of frontiers as a crucial aspect of the Exodus also offers a common basis for addressing comparative problems.
Jewish, Christian and Islamic Exodus traditions, however, did not grow in parallel—neither in texts nor in images—but rather interdependently. Thus, the chosen title "border crossings" does not simply address the narrative's content, but it also includes aspects of transculturality and migrations of textual and visual motifs, for instance the Jewish adoptions of Christian iconography and vice versa or the use of Jewish sources in Islamic texts. Crossing a border means entering a new context; transits are often accompanied by transformations. Accordingly, the overall theme at the same time becomes a methodological approach, which goes beyond the comparative analysis.
Basic questions that could be addressed are: How do Jewish, Christian and Islamic texts and images interpret the transitional aspects in the Exodus story? How and on what levels do Jewish, Christian and Islamic interpretations interfere, and which processes of transformation can be observed? How do text and images shift and adapt themselves within zones of intercultural encounters such as, in particular, the Jewish Diaspora? What correlations can be observed between the concepts in texts and those in images in the various cultures; what role do the different media play?
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