Centre professor of religion connects past to present
By EMILY TOADVINE
Beth Glazier-McDonald has an engaging way to characterize one of the interesting aspects of her job as professor of religion at Centre College.
"I speak many, many dead languages," she says with a grin.
She studied Syriac, Aramaic, Ugaritic, which is a Canaanite dialect, and Akkadian, as well as Hebrew, Greek and Arabic during graduate school at the University of Chicago.
Glazier-McDonald's lifelong interest in languages led her to want to work with primary sources, she says. When fellow religion professor C. Thomas McCollough came back from an archaeological dig in summer 1994, he asked her to translate an amulet found in Sepphoris. "It was a dream come true," Glazier-McDonald notes.
Their first collaborative effort was a bronze fever amulet that measured 3.5 centimeters in width by 8.2 centimeters in height. It is partially broken at the bottom. Its language is Aramaic and it dates to the early fifth century Common Era (C.E.) Glazier-McDonald says it is an "amulet for protracted fever." In ancient times, amulets were written, rolled up and put in a case.
They've also collaborated on three other amulets, including a silver amulet that is written primarily in Hebrew with occasional "Aramaicisms." Its message is social rather than protective, and it dates from the same period as the bronze amulet. It was found in its silver case, and measures 11.2 centimeters long by 3.1 centimeters wide.
Glazier-McDonald spent a lot of time working on the silver amulet during a recent sabbatical. She says it "looks like silver foil." Because the amulets do not leave the country where they are found, Glazier-McDonald works from photographs.
For Glazier-McDonald's most recent work, there were almost 56 lines of text in a space less than 2 inches wide. It was written in Hebrew, with words that "flowed into one another," Glazier-McDonald says.
"The more I work on an amulet, the more I see," she explains. "This silver amulet is an analysis between Biblical literature and amulet literature. And the line drawing is painstaking."
McCollough says he is trying to correlate the amulet with a recently excavated synagogue that has a Zodiac mosaic.
"Which is not too unusual, but it is unexpected," he says of the mosaic.
Glazier-McDonald says the amulet makes reference to Zodiac signs. Some of the language of the amulet leads them to believe there could be a connection between the amulet and the mosaic.
A fourth amulet is out of a collection and measures 8 centimeters by 3 centimeters. Glazier-McDonald says she is beginning to work on it.
I love ancient amulets. Incantation bowls too.