CEMS COLLOQUIUM: Continuities and Changes in Byzantine Writing Culture: A case study
An interest in the "Story of Abgar" hardly needs defending: In describing the life of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, this text provides one of the most exhaustive testimonies to a lively oral and literary exchange in diverse Christian traditions across time and space; It belongs to the realms of apocryphal literature, ecclesiastical history, religious controversies, iconography, popular beliefs, imperial ideology, diplomacy – to name but a few; and its uninterrupted, if meandering, history can be traced through an impressively wide circulation in the Syriac, Greek, Coptic, Armenian, Latin, Persian, Arabic, and Slavonic linguistic areas.
Unsurprisingly, the Abgar-Story has also attracted considerable amount of interest among modern scholars: in fact, so much so, that the vast body of extant secondary literature can be studied as a viable research topic in its own right. Un-codified (and un-canonical), the Abgar-Story was frequently repeated in different contexts, and modified, both in form and content. The modifications themselves were meaningful – their meaning was often confirmed and enhanced through text, object, symbol and image – generating a wealth of historical material that modern scholars still struggle to cover and interpret. More specifically, publically displayed writing played a major role in the transmission of the Abgar-Story, which provides a unique insight into continuities and changes in late antique and Byzantine epigraphic habits – too significant and revealing for any textual scholar with an interest in Byzantine writing culture to miss!
Ida Toth is a classicist and a historian of Late Antique and Byzantine literary culture. She convenes graduate courses in Medieval Latin, Byzantine Greek, and Byzantine Epigraphy, and supervise MSt, MPhil and DPhil students in Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at Wolfson College, Oxford University. Recently, she has been appointed one of the coordinators of the International Committee for Byzantine Epigraphy, and a co-editor of the newly-established series Studies in Byzantine Epigraphy.