Washburn Paper Addresses Analysis of Ancient Inscriptions

August 09, 2019 | Education | Makena Horton

A paper by Jody Washburn, Walla Walla University assistant professor of biblical studies, titled “The Family Tomb as an Inscribed Artifact: Toward an Integrative Analysis of the Beit Lei Inscriptions,” will be published this year in MAARAV: A Journal for the Study of the Northwest Semitic Languages and Literatures.

In her master’s and doctoral work at the University of California, Los Angeles, Washburn studied a variety of Aramaic and Hebrew inscriptions. Her interest in this area led to studies of an inscription from Khirbet Beit Lei that was in storage at the Israel Museum. Her subsequent work involved taking new photographs of 12 inscriptions that had been removed from a tomb at Beit Lei, in modern Israel, and creating a schematic of how the inscriptions would have appeared in the tomb prior to removal. This became the basis for her dissertation research.

Washburn’s article in MAARAV notes a tendency in academic studies of ancient inscriptions to get so wrapped up in translating an inscription that the context of the inscription is minimized or overlooked. “Bringing together the content and the setting,” explains Washburn, “helps to add nuance to the various suggestions that have been made regarding who might have inscribed the images and texts found on the tomb walls at Beit Lei and what they may have been seeking to accomplish by writing and drawing in the family tomb.”

Reflecting on the connection between her research and her teaching, Washburn says her research on integrative approaches to ancient inscriptions has pushed her to widen her lens and wrestle with how different kinds of data might be related. This informs her teaching in the sense that one of her goals in every class is to challenge students to consider specific texts, archaeological artifacts and even theological arguments in their wider contexts.