Overcoming Dichotomies: A Conversation That Continues

Albertina Oegema presenting the first copy of ‘Overcoming Dichotomies’

On Friday 23 September 2022 Dr. Albertina Oegema, Jonathan Pater and Dr. Martijn Stoutjesdijk organized a book launch for their edited volume Overcoming Dichotomies: Parables, Fables, and Similes in the Graeco-Roman WorldDuring the book launch, with the title “Overcoming Dichotomies: Continuing the Conversation,” Albertina Oegema officially handed over the first copy of the book to project leader Dr. Eric Ottenheijm, on behalf of all three editors (see photo).

The program continued with four experts “continuing the conversation” from their respective disciplines. Jewish Studies scholar Dr. Eric Ottenheijm used in his talk findings and experiences from archaeology, and argued that stories traveled together with trade products: “With pots and pans come stories and ideas.” He also reflected on the question of what genre is, asserting that “genre merely is a tool to rethink ours and other people’s cultures.”

The classicist Prof. Dr.  Gerard Boter (photo) reflected in his contribution on his struggle with the issue of whether Epictetus did or did not tell parables in his writings. He argued that categorizing should not be an aim in itself, the issue is rather “how a given genre works in its context.” He also emphasized that the “common ground between author and audience (who apparently understood the author’s intentions) deserves more attention.”

Lecture by Prof. Dr. Gerard Boter

The New Testament scholar Prof. Dr. Caroline Vander Stichele widened the conversation on overcoming dichotomies, transgressing the boundaries of the ancient past, “to explore the many ways in which parables, fables, and similes continue to serve as a source of inspiration in different times, places and media.” As an example, she discussed the movie Mary Magdalene (2018, Garth Davis) which starts and ends with the retelling of the well-known “parable of the mustard seed” which frames the whole film.

The conversation was closed – or actually wasn’t – by Dr. Justin David Strong who has, together with Prof. Dr. Ruben Zimmermann, recently secured a grant in Germany for the project “The Ancient Fable Tradition and Early Christian Writings.” In his talk, he raised the question of what “overcoming dichotomies” actually means: have the dichotomies been overcome with the edited volume, or are we still in the process of overcoming them? Strong argued that his own PhD project actually already was an experiment in dichotomies overcome (past tense), namely by perceiving parables as fables.

After these talks, the conversation continued firstly with a Q&A round, and then with drinks and snacks in an informal setting – and surely the conversation will continue for many more years to come.

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