Ancient Iconic Texts and Scholarly Expertise
Keywords:literacy, scribes, scholars, authority, legitimacy
This essay probes the origins of iconic textuality in the ancient Near East, informed by post-colonial perspectives on iconic texts. The surviving art and texts from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia exhibit at least four forms of iconic textuality: monumental inscriptions, portraits of scribes, displays and manipulations of ritual texts, and beliefs in heavenly texts. The spread of literacy did not displace the social prestige of scribal expertise that was established in antiquity. The every-growing number and complexity of texts accounts for the continuing cultural authority of scholarly expertise. The tension between expert and non-specialist uses of texts, however, explains scholarship’s avoidance of the subject of iconic books and texts while drawing constant attention to their semantic interpretation instead.
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