Carolyn Plocher and Dr. Jared Ludlow, Religious Education
My original proposal was entitled “Ancient Near Eastern Perspectives on the Process of Death in the Hellenistic Period.” I initially chose this topic because the human fascination with death extends far back into history; in fact, it alone has been the reason for the founding of many cults, the erecting of innumerable monuments, and the writing of a great number of documents. Furthermore, the people most famous for their fascination with death are the inhabitants of the ancient Near East. Well-known examples of their enthrallment with death are the Egyptians who mummified their dead and built exquisite pyramids for funerary rituals; the Greeks who firmly believed in Hades, the god of the Underworld; and the Hebrews who taught the exalting of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked upon death. With such a rich background, it is not surprising that the ancient Near East has been the focal point of many archaeological, textual, and anthropological studies on the subject of death. When I actually began my research, however, I noticed a missing link in past and present publications concerning this subject.
Though much study has been devoted to the analysis of both the Jewish treatment of the dead and their beliefs in the afterlife, little has been written about the Jewish view of the actual moment of death. This lack of scholarly research cannot be attributed to the want of material. The Hebrew Bible, extra-biblical books, rabbinical literature, and Jewish folklore are replete with references to and stories concerning those crucial moments when one must step from the world of the living to “the other side.” Moreover, many of the accounts in these texts focus particularly on the idea of the Angel of Death. For that reason, my research became more specific and my new title became “The Evolution of the Angel of Death in Jewish Literature.”
My original anticipated academic outcome was to write a paper and submit it for presentation at the 2007 International Conference of the Society of Biblical Literature in Vienna, Austria. SBL is a prestigious society founded in 1880 that encourages over 6,000 members from every continent to test ideas and advance the understanding of the Bible and the ancient Near East. My paper was accepted by SBL and I co-presented it in Vienna, Austria with my mentor Professor Ludlow. I am now working on possible publication venues, such as the Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period, or other journals related to ancient Near Eastern studies as needed.
An important concept that I realized during the research process involves the constant evolution of the research itself. Although proposals are important beginnings for the research process, the final product is usually quite different. For example, as I learned more and more about my subject, my study became equally more refined and specific. I believe that those who keep an open mind during their research make discoveries that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
At the same time, however, I have also learned that it is difficult to delve into a more refined and specific research project because it usually means that little study of the subject has been done in the past. My mentor was able to teach me how to properly gather information and form it into a complete and reliable paper.
I must say, though, that what I have learned the most from my research is that it takes time. A good paper, a good presentation, or whatever it may be, takes time, thought, and a great deal of revision.