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Talking Heads

Since the summer semester of 2013, Dr. J. Cale Johnson has been leading the discussion group „Talking Heads“.


The group first began to meet in June of 2013, initially every week, and for the most part focusing on theoretical questions of performative speech, the role of performance in maintaining institutions, metalinguistic awareness and distributed cognition. Some of the key reading for the earlier sessions were as follows:


M. Rosaldo. 1982. The Things We Do with Words: Illongot Speech Acts and Speech Act Theory in Philosophy. Language in Society 11(2): 203–237.

Duranti, Alessandro. 1997. Speaking as Social Action (Ch. 7). In Duranti, Linguistic Anthropology (Cambridge), pp. 214–244.

Wirth, Uwe. 2002. Der Performanzbegriff im Spannungsfeld von Illokution, Iteration und Indexikalität. In Wirth, Performannz: Zwischen Sprachphilosophie und Kulturwissenschaften (Suhrkamp), pp. 9–60.


Lee, Benjamin. 1997. Metalinguistics and Philosophy (Chapter 7). In Lee, Talking Heads: Language, Metalanguage, and the Semiotics of Subjectivity (Duke University Press), pp. 222–276.

Silverstein, Michael. 2004. “Cultural” Concepts and the Language-Culture Nexus. Current Anthropology 45(5): 621–652.


Putnam, Hilary. 1975. The Meaning of “Meaning”. In Mind, Language and Reality: Philosophical Papers, vol 2 (Cambridge University Press), pp. 215–271.

Searle, J. R. 2005. What is an Institution? Journal of Institutional Economics 1(1): 1–22.

Floyd, Juliet. Putnam’s “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’”: Externalism in Historical Context. In Y Ben-Menahem, ed., Hilary Putnam (Cambridge University Press), pp. 17–52.

In July of 2013, we also introduced two case studies into the mix (Neo-Assyrian kingship and Mesopotamian prostitution), focusing on Mesopotamia since most of the participants at that time came from an Assyriological background. In particular we discussed how to apply the concepts in Wirth 2002 (“Der Performanzbegriff im Spannungsfeld von Illokution, Iteration und Indexikalität”) to these particular examples.


Garjamovic, Gojko. 2012. “Propaganda and practice in Assyrian and Persian imperial culture”

Parker, Bradley J. 2011. “The Construction and Performance of Kingship in the Neo-Assyrian Empire”

Lerner, Gerda. 1986. “The Origin of Prostitution in Ancient Mesopotamia”

We returned to the theoretical questions, focusing more intently on ritual studies and some of the classic papers of discourse analyis and linguistic anthropology, viz. Goffman, Geertz and Silverstein.

30.07.2013 / 20.08.2013

Krieger, David J., and Andréa Belliger. 1998. Ritual and Ritualforschung. In: D. krieger and A. Belliger, eds., Ritualtheorien: Ein einführendes Handbuch.

Goffman, Erving. 1998 [1967] Interaktionsrituale. In: D. Krieger and A. Belliger, eds., Ritualtheorien: Ein einführendes Handbuch.

Geertz, Clifford. 1972. Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight. Daedalus 101: 1–37.

Silverstein, Michael. 2004. “Cultural” Concepts and the Language-Culture Nexus. Current Anthropology 45(5): 621–652.

In the autumn we turned in a rather new direction by examining some of the basic ideas in lexical semantics, attempting to build up a more historical counter-argument to the recent explosion in cognitive linguistics.

03.09.2013 / 17.09.2013

Geeraerts, Dirk. 1999. Diachronic prototype semantics: A digest. In: Andreas Blank and Peter Koch, eds., Historical Semantics and Cognition.

Geeraerts, Dirk. 2010. Theories of Lexical Semantics. Oxford.

In order to better trace out the history of genres and discourse more broadly, we then shifted to questions of intertextuality and Bakhtian approaches to the chronotope as well as related concepts within anthropology, especially Urban’s work on “entextualization” and Hanks’ discussion of models of “textuality”. We then returned to Bakhtin’s work on the chronotope and the prehistory of the novel for the rest of 2013.

01.10.2013 / 15.10.2013

Allen, Graham. 2000. Intertextuality. London: Routledge.

Bakhtin, 1986. The Problem of Speech Genres. In: C. Emerson and M. Holquist, eds., Speech Genres and Other Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.


Urban 1996 – Entextualization, Replication and Power

Hanks 1989 for a good overview of anthropological models of textuality


Bakhtin 1981 – From the Prehistory of the Novelistic


Bakhtin 1981 – Chronotope (Part 1) (see also the German translation in Bachtin 1986, Part 1)

26.11.2013 / 10.12.2013

Bakhtin 1981 – Chronotope (Part 2) (see also the German translation in Bachtin 1986, Part 2)



In the first half of 2014 we have increasingly focused on the transfer of knowledge between Mesopotamia/Persia and the Mediterranean in the first half of the first millennium CE. As our point of departure we looked at an older summary statement (Momigliano on “alien wisdom”) as well as a recent synthesis (Secunda on the Sasanian context of the Bavli):


Arnaldo Momigliano, Alien Wisdom, ch. 6 (“Iranians and Greeks”), pp. 123–150


Shai Secunda, The Iranian Talmud: Reading the Bavli in its Sasanian Context, ch. 1 and 5

We then moved on to more detailed discussions of similarities between Talmudic law and Middle Persian legal contexts. This discussion was greatly faciliated by the participation of Iris Colditz and we focused on a number of writing by SFB 980 project leader Maria Macuch.


Macuch, M. 2008, “An Iranian Legal Term in the Babylonian Talmud and in Sasanian Jurisprudence: dastwar(ih)”

Macuch, M. 2010, “Allusions to Sasanian Law in the Babylonian Talmud”

At the end of April and early May we focused increasingly on the Sasanian context of the Babylonian Talmud, the possible links between Christian (Nestorian) schools and Rabbinic academies in Sasanid Babylon, and the structural similarities between these institutions and the Old Babylonian Edubba.


Becker, Adam H. 2006. Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom: The School of Nisibis and the Development of Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Becker, Adam H. 2010. The Comparative Study of ‘Scholasticism’ in Late Antique Mesopotamia: Rabbis and East Syrians. Association of Jewish Studies Review 34: 91–113.

Rubenstein, Jeffrey L. 2003. The Culture of the Babylonian Talmud. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Volk, Konrad. 2000. Edubba’a und Edubba’a-Literatur: Rätsel und Lösungen. Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 90: 1–30.

Volk, Konrad. 2011. Über Bildung und Ausbildung in Babylonien am Anfang des 2. Jahrtausends v. Chr. Orientalia NS 80(3): 269–299.

In the last set of meeting prior to the summer pause, we focused on a particularly important text from the Babylonian Talmud known as the Gitten Recipe Book. This text derives from the Babylonian medical tradition but was translated into Aramaic and eventually found its way into the Bavli. In collaboration with SFB 980 A03, Lennart Lehmhaus led the first of these sessions and, due to his illness, was replaced by Mark Geller in the second of the two sections.


Freeman, David L. 1999. The Gittin “Book of Remedies”. Korot 13: 151–164.

Geller, M. J. 2004. Akkadian Healing Therapies in the Babylonian Talmud. MPIWG Preprint.


Hankoff, L. D. 1972. Ancient Descriptions of Organic Brain Syndrome: The “Kordiakos” of the Talmud. American Journal of Psychiatry 129(2): 233–236.

Rainbow, Jesse John. 2008. The Derivation of kordiakos: A New Proposal. Journal for the Study of Judaism 39: 255–266.