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In this lecture Emeritus Professor Gruen will address the question of how ancient peoples conceived or expressed a sense of their own national identity.
In the polyglot and multicultural world of the Mediterranean, the values and features that gave identity to a group were constantly in flux and evolving, rather than congealed into a static entity. On the most common interpretation, the construct of a collective identity depends on distinguishing one's own nation or culture from that of the "Other" or the alien, a form of denigration or demonization of the unlike in order to establish distinctiveness and superiority. Such conceptualizing and stereotyping led Greeks to disparage "barbarians," Jews to deprecate gentiles, Egyptians to scorn lesser societies, and Romans to presume divine sanction for subordinating all inferior peoples to themselves. The lecture, however, endeavors to see another side to this story and to tease out of the texts signs of a more open-minded attitude in which ancient peoples saw themselves as part of a larger cultural heritage, in which they stressed links with others and even couched their own historical memories in terms of a past (often legendary) borrowed or appropriated from other societies. That is what he terms "identity theft."