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Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations (NELC)

Faculty Profiles





Dan Ben-Amos

Dan Ben-Amos is a specialist in folklore and folklife, trained in the comparativist tradition in Jerusalem and at Indiana University at Bloomington. He is the editor of a series of translations of folklore classics, primarily by European scholars. He has published many articles on folklore theory and the history of the field. His books include Sweet Words: Folktales from BeninFolklore Genres and Cultural Memory and the Construction of Identity, which he co-edited with Liliane Weissberg. In 2006, his edited volume, Folktales of the Jews: Volume 1: Tales from the Sephardic Dispersion, was awarded the top prize in the National Jewish Book Award's Sephardic Culture category. 











Paul M. Cobb 

Paul M. Cobb, currently the Department Chair, is a social and cultural historian of the pre-modern Islamic world. His areas of interest include the history of memory, historiography, Islamic relations with the West, and travel and exploration. He is, in particular, a recognized authority on the history of the medieval Levant and of the Crusades in their Islamic context. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including White Banners: Contention in ‘Abbasid Syria, 750-880 (SUNY Press, 2001); Usama ibn Munqidh: Warrior-Poet of the Age of Crusades (Oneworld, 2005); The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades, a translation of the “memoirs” and other works of Usama ibn Munqidh (Penguin Classics, 2008), and most recently, The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades (Oxford University Press, 2014). He is also the co-editor (with Wout van Bekkum) of Strategies of Medieval Communal Identity: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Peeters, 2003) and (with Antoine Borrut) of Umayyad Legacies: History and Memory from Syria to Spain (E. J. Brill, 2010). 

He is currently the Vice-President of Middle East Medievalists and serves as a member of the Editorial Board of the Bulletin d’Etudes Orientales and as a member of the Advisory Council of the Schoenberg Insitute for Manuscript Studies.. He has received fellowships from, among others, the NEH, Fulbright, and the Guggenheim Foundation. 

    Courses Taught:

            • Introduction to the Middle East (NELC 102)
            • Getting Crusaded
            • The Mongol Experience
            • Age of Caliphs
            • Age of Sultans
            • Arabic Texts in Islamic History
            • Proseminar: Islamic Studies


Isabel Cranz 

Isabel Cranz is a biblical scholar specializing in the study of purification, pollution, curses, illness and magic in the Bible. In her work, she seeks to contextualize the traditions of the Hebrew Bible within the writings of the ancient Near East. Her book Atonement and Purification (2017) is a comparative study and explores how Priestly rituals of atonement relate to their ancient Near Eastern counterparts. Her current research focuses on the significance of royal illness in biblical and ancient Near Eastern historiography. Isabel studied Hebrew Bible and Assyriology in Heidelberg, earned an MA in Jerusalem and holds a PhD in Near Eastern Studies from the Johns Hopkins University (2012).  

    Courses Taught:

            • Introduction to the Bible
            • The Bible in Translation
            • The Bible in Movies
            • Women in the Bible


Huda Fakhreddine

Huda Fakhreddine is a specialist in Arabic literature. Her work focuses on modernist movements or trends in Arabic poetry and their relationship to the Arabic literary tradition. Her book Metapoesis in the Arabic Tradition (Brill, 2015) is a study of the modernist poetry of the twentieth century Free Verse movement and the Abbasid muḥdath movement, as periods of literary crisis and meta-poetic reflection. She is interested in the role of the Arabic qaṣīdah as a space for negotiating the foreign and the indigenous, the modern and the traditional, and its relationship to other poetic forms such as the Free Verse poem and the prose poem. She also has an interest in Translation Studies, the politics of translation and its role in creating the image and status of Arabic literature, and especially poetry, in other languages. She holds an MA in English literature from the American University of Beirut and a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from Indiana University, Bloomington.




Courses taught: 

  • Seminar in Arabic Poetry
  • Middle Eastern Literatures in Translation)
  • Classical/Early Arabic Prose
  • Modern Arabic Literature: The Free Verse Movement


Talya Fishman

Talya Fishman explores topics in Jewish history and culture from the 9th to 18th centuries within the broader regional contexts of Christian and Muslim societies. In Shaking the Pillars of Exile: 'Voice of a Fool,' an Early Modern Jewish Critique of Rabbinic Culture (Stanford University Press, 1997), she analyzes an early seventeenth century heretical Hebrew blueprint for Jewish modernization written (under cover of pseudonym) by a Venetian rabbi, and relates this enigmatic text to the theological and cultural struggles of former conversos who attempted to re-embrace their ancestral faith, and to the quests of self-fashioning Christians in a time of doctrinal lability. Dr. Fishman’s interest in Jewish legal cultures, their content, packaging, transmission and institutional implementation finds expression in Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), winner of the Jewish Book Council’s Nahum M. Sarna Award for Scholarship. Her research into the origins of Judaism’s sub-cultures includes “The ‘Our Talmud’ Tradition and the Predilection for Works of Applied Law in Early Sephardi Rabbinic Culture,” in Regional Identities and Cultures of Medieval Jews, ed. T. Fishman and E. Kanarfogel (Littman Library, 2018), and in her ongoing work on the disparate cultural weights ascribed to custom in the legal systems of Ashkenaz and Sepharad. She is also at work on a book length study, Word and Image in the Biblical Artifact: Sensing Torah, which attempts to understand the cultural functions of masorah figurata and of the illuminations that recur in lavish Hebrew Bible codices produced by medieval Jews.
Dr. Fishman has been the recipient of fellowships from the ACLS, NEH, Charlotte Newcombe and Guggenheim Foundations, and has lectured at universities in the US, Israel, Germany, France and China. She serves on the Editorial Board of the Association for Jewish Studies Review; of the Jewish Thought, Philosophy and Religion series of the Maimonides Centre for Advanced Studies at the University of Hamburg, and on the Advisory Board of Zutot: Perspectives on Jewish Culture.

Courses taught: 

  • Jewish Political Thought and Action
  • The “Religious Other” in the Lives & Cultures of Jews, Christians & Muslims
  • Rabbinic Writers on Rabbinic Culture
  • Themes in Medieval Jewish Culture
  • Medieval Hebrew Literature
  • Spirit and Law
  • Introduction to Jewish Mysticism
  • Contested Scriptures & the History of the Hebrew Bible’s Material Text

Grant Frame 

Grant Frame received his Ph.D. in Assyriology from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, and his M.A and B.A. from the department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto. His area of specialization is the history and culture (economy, politics, religion, and society) of Mesopotamia in the first millennium BC and Akkadian language and literature. His books include Babylonia 689–627 B.C.: A Political History  (Leiden, 1992); Rulers of Babylonia: From the Second Dynasty of Isin to the End of Assyrian Domination (1157–612 BC) (Toronto, 1995); and The Archive of Mušēzib-Marduk, Son of Kiribtu and Descendant of Sîn-nāṣir: A Landowner and Property Developer at Uruk in the Seventh Century BC (Dresden). He edited From the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea: Studies on the History of Assyria and Babylonia in Honour of A.K. Grayson(Leiden, 2004) and is co-editor of the forthcoming  Tablet and Torah: Mesopotamia and the Biblical World: Papers in Honor of Dr. Barry L. Eichler(Bethesda, MD). At present, he is preparing a volume editing approximately 170 letters from Babylonian officials to the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal for the Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project (Helsinki) and is director and editor-in-chief of the NEH-funded Royal Inscriptions of the Neo-Assyrian Period project, for which he is preparing a volume on the official inscriptions of Sargon II (721–705 BC). 
Dr. Frame is also the current Director of the Center for Ancient Studies.

Courses taught: 

  • Ancient Iraq: Mesopotamian Culture and Legacy (NELC 145)
  • Early Empires of the Ancient Near East: The Neo-Assyrian Period (NELC 242/542)
  • History of Ancient Iraq (NELC 243/643)
  • Introduction to the Ancient Near East (NELC 101)
  • Myths and Religions of the Ancient World (NELC 046)
  • Akkadian Historical Texts (ANEL 541)
  • Akkadian Legal Texts (ANEL 741)
  • Akkadian Letters (ANEL 542)
  • Akkadian Literary Texts (ANEL 540)

Nili Gold 

Nili Gold is Professor of Modern Hebrew Literature in the department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) at the University of Pennsylvania.

Born in Haifa, Israel, she received her B.A. and H.S. Techers Diploma in Hebrew Literature at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She continued her studies in the United States, receiving her M.A. and Ph.D from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York City. She taught at Columbia University before joining Penn faculty in 2000.

Her study of literature and culture combines psychoanalytic, biographical and historical approaches and is informed by diasporic studies, delving into issues of multilingualism and immigration. Her most recent book about her hometown is a hybrid work of urban studies, architecture, literature and memory.

Publications: Haifa, City of Steps: Brandeis (2017), Yehuda Amichai: The Making of Israel's National Poet, Hanover and London: Brandeis University Press/University Press of New England (2008). Lo kabrosh (Not Like a Cypress: Transformations of Images and Structures in the Poetry of Yehuda Amichai), Schocken (1994), in Hebrew. Forthcoming in 2018: Haifa Ahuvati (Haifa, my Love) a Hebrew version - not a translation of Haifa, City of Steps (Tel Aviv: Zmora Bitan Modan Publishing); Vehaga’agu’im sgurim bi: Yehuda Amichai, zmihato shel meshorer (And the longings are closed inside me: Yehuda Amichai, the growth of a poet), a revised Hebrew edition of Yehuda Amichai: The Making of Israel’s National Poet, (Jerusalem: Mineged Publishing). In preparation, The Art of Yoel Hoffman (in Hebrew, working title). Gold has also published dozens of articles in American, Asian, European and Israeli academic journals as well as in the Literary Supplement of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

      Courses Taught (specific content varies—see website for details): 

            • Modern Hebrew Literature and Culture in Translation (NELC 159)
            • Introduction to Modern Hebrew Literature (HEBR 259/559)
            • Seminar in Modern Hebrew Literature (HEBR 359/659)
            • Modern Middle Eastern Literature in Translation (NELC 201)


Emily Hammer

Emily Hammer is an anthropological archaeologist of the Middle East and South Caucasia. Her research applies spatial analyses to material culture to investigate the territorial organization of ancient polities, the development of early cities, and long-term changes in the interactions between culture and environment. She uses geographic information science (GIS) methods, archaeology, and archival research as tools for recovering human experiences that have otherwise been sidelined in narratives about the past, particularly the experiences of mobile pastoralists and other communities that lived in agriculturally marginal environments such as deserts and highlands.

Through field research in Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, and Iraq, Emily has studied the relationship between mobile pastoral and sedentary communities of the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and medieval/Ottoman periods. Her current collaborative projects include a survey at the Mesopotamian site of Ur in southern Iraq, a survey of fortresses and settlements in Naxçıvan, Azerbaijan, and two laboratory research projects on mass-kill hunting traps (desert kites) in eastern Jordan and pre-Islamic fortification patterns in the Balkh oasis of northern Afghanistan. These projects draw from new, rarely-used archival data sources, specifically recently declassified military intelligence imagery (early Cold War-era Hexagon and U2 imagery) that shows archaeological features much more clearly than modern satellite imagery. As a participant in the global collaborative project “LandCover6K,” Emily is working with other historians and archaeologists to reconstruct land use over the last 6000 years in the Middle East and other parts of Asia in order to improve climate change modeling.

Emily holds a PhD in Anthropology from Harvard University (2012) and a BA both in Mathematics and Classical & Near Eastern Archaeology from Bryn Mawr College (2006). Prior to coming to Penn, she taught at the University of Chicago (2014-2017) and New York University (2012-2014). At the University of Chicago, she directed the Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL) and directed satellite imagery-based work on the cultural heritage of Afghanistan.


Courses taught: 

  • Water in the Middle East Throughout History
  • Pastoral Nomadism in the Past and Present
  • GIS for the Digital Humanities and Social Sciences

Joseph E. Lowry

Joseph E. Lowry is a specialist in Islamic law, Arabic literature, and classical Islamic thought. He is the author, among other works, of  Early Islamic Legal Theory: the Risala of Muhammad Ibn Idris al-Shafi'i  (E. J. Brill, 2007) and the editor (with D. Stewart and S. Toorawa) of Law and Education in Medieval Islam: Studies in Memory of George Makdisi (Gibb Memorial Trust, 2005) and (with D. Stewart) of Essays in Arabic Literary Biography II: 1350-1850 (Harrasowitz, 2009). He has edited and translated al-Shafi‘I’s Epistle on Legal Theory for the Library of Arabic Literature (NYU Press, 2013) and is a member of the editorial boards of the Library of Arabic Literature and of the journals Islamic Law and Society (Brill) and Abbasid Studies (Brill). Before completing his Ph.D. he was an attorney in private practice.

Courses Taught: 

          • Introduction to the Qur'an (NELC 130)
          • Introduction to Islamic Law (NELC 238)
          • Islamic Intellectual Tradition (NELC 437)
          • Approaches to Islamic Law (NELC 638)
          • Introduction to Reading the Qur'an in Arabic (ARAB 333)
          • Introduction to Classical Islamic Texts (ARAB 436)
          • Seminar in Islamic Thought (ARAB 731)


Fatemeh Shams

Fatemeh Shams is a specialist in Persian literature. Her fields of interest include social history of modern Persian literature, classical and modern prose, literary institutions and their role in the literary production under authoritarian states, ideology, censorship and official literature in Modern Iran.  She is, in particular, an expert on modern Persian literature, social history of post-revolutionary official literature and the politics of literary production in Iran. Her forthcoming book A Revolution in Rhyme: Official Poets of the Islamic Republic (Oxford University Press, 2019) is a study of the post-revolutionary literary scene with specific reference to the official poets of the Islamic Republic and the role played by the state in the field of literary production as well as the way in which it uses literature in identity construction.

She is the author of a number of works including Literary Institutions in Post-revolutionary Period: A Detailed History of Howzeh-ye Honari (2013), State-Sponsored Poetry in Iran (2014), Poetry and Power in Iran (2014), Ideology of Warfare and Islamic Republican War Poetry (2015). She is presently writing on a project which is concerned with poetry as a medium between the living and the dead; a case study of tombstone poems in contemporary Iran. She earned her Ph.D in Oriental Studies from University of Oxford, Wadham College. Before joining Penn, she has taught Persian language and literature in various academic institutions including University of Oxford, University of SOAS and Courtauld Institute of Art in United Kingdom. Beside her academic expertise, Fatemeh is also an award-winning poet with three published collections.


Courses Taught:

            • Persian Poetry in Translation (NELC 216)
            • Literature of Modern Iran (NELC 217)
            • Persian Media and Culture in Contemporary Iran (NELC 218)
            • Persian Literature, Film and Culture for Advanced Learners (PERS 320)
            • Middle Eastern Literature in Translation (NELC 201)

Heather Sharkey photo

Heather Sharkey

Heather J. Sharkey is a historian in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. She teaches classes on the Islamic world, the modern Middle East, and colonial and postcolonial North Africa, and on the history of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish relations. She holds degrees from Yale (Anthropology, BA), the University of Durham, England (Middle Eastern Studies, MPhil), and Princeton (History, PhD). She has received many fellowships, including the Marshall, Fulbright-Hays, and Carnegie. 

Sharkey’s first book, entitled,  Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, appeared from theUniversity of California Press in 2003.  Her second book, entitled American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire, appeared from Princeton University Press in 2008. She is co-editor of American Missionaries in the Middle East: Foundational Encounters (forthcoming from the University of Utah Press). Presently she is writing a book on the history of inter-communal relations among Muslims, Christians, and Jews in the modern Middle East and North Africa. Her articles have appeared in many edited volumes (among them Globalization and the Muslim World  [2004], Literature and Nation in the Middle East [2006],  Muslim-Christian Encounters in Africa [2006], and Proselytization Revisited: Rights, Free Markets, and Culture Wars [2008]) and in periodicals such as the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the Journal of African History, Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, and theJournal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. She is on the editorial advisory boards of the International Journal of African Historical StudiesChurch History and Religious CultureIslamic Africa, and Northeast African Studies






David P. Silverman 

David P. Silverman is Eckley Brinton Coxe, Jr. Professor of Egyptology and Curator of Penn Museum's Egyptian Section, and one of the leading authorities on the civilization of ancient Egypt. Dr. Silverman was the national curator, advisor, and academic content creator for the blockbuster exhibition "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs.” He was also responsible for the curatorial content in the original 1977 "Treasures of Tutankhamun" exhibit and served as Curator in Chicago at the Field Museum. His extensive publications include numerous books and articles on Egyptian language, art, and religion, and he has directed several field expeditions at sites throughout Egypt. He has received many awards and honors, including grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Penn Research Foundation, and The Michela Schiff-Giorgini Foundation. The Athenaeum Society of Philadelphia presented him with a Literary Award for his books  Searching for Ancient Egypt and Ancient Egypt. Dr. Silverman has been a visiting professor at both L'École Pratique at the Sorbonne in Paris and Harvard University. 










Stephen J. Tinney 

Stephen J. Tinney is Clark Research Associate Professor of Assyriology, Associate Curator of the Babylonian Section of the Penn Museum and director of the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project. He holds a B.A. in Assyriology from Cambridge University, England, and a Ph.D. in Assyriology from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. His research interests include all aspects of Sumerian language, literature, and culture. Much of his current work is devoted to developing and publishing Sumerian texts and to analyzing and presenting the Sumerian language. This work is primarily focused on the creation of two major projects, the online Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary (ePSD), a project he began work on when he joined Penn in 1991 as a postdoctoral research assistant and which he now directs, and the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative based at UCLA. 






Joseph W. Wegner 

Josef Wegner is Associate Professor of Egyptian Archaeology in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. He is also Associate Curator in the Egyptian Section of the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He received his BA in 1989 and his Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania) in 1996 on the topic of the development of the Osiris cult at Abydos during the Middle Kingdom. He is a specialist in the archaeology of Egypt's Middle Kingdom (ca. 2050-1650 BCE). Since 1994, as part of the combined University of Pennsylvania-Yale-Institute of Fine Arts, New York University Expedition to Abydos, he has directed excavations at the mortuary complex and settlement site dedicated to pharaoh Senwosret III at South Abydos. His interests include the study of state organization, administration, and settlement archaeology during Egypt's late Middle Kingdom. His research has been supported by fellowships and grants from the American Research Center in Egypt, the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society, American Philosophical Society. He is author of The Mortuary Temple of Senwosret III at Abydos(2007); co-author (with D. Silverman and J. Houser-Wegner), Akhenaten and Tutankhamun: Revolution and Restoration (2006); and co-editor, with (D. Silverman and W. K. Simpson) of Archaism and Innovation: Cultural Studies in Egypt's Middle Kingdom (2009). He is author of numerous articles and edited contributions including recently a chapter in W. Wendricke (ed.), Egyptian Archaeology, Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology (2010). Among his current projects he is editor of the 2-volume Blackwell Companion to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt (projected publication: 2012). He is currently completing a book on the mayoral residence of the town of Wah-Sut, South Abydos (for publication in 2011). 







Richard Zettler photo

Richard L. Zettler 

Richard L. Zettler is an archaeologist specializing in Mesopotamia, the region occupied by modern Iraq and Syria. He received his MA and PhD (1984) in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. He worked at Nippur and Umm al-Hafriyat in southern Iraq, as well as Üç Tepe in the Hamrin or upper Diyala River basin in the late 1970s, and directed excavations at Tell es-Sweyhat, an Early Bronze Age site, whose occupation spans the 3rd millennium BCE, on the upper Euphrates in Syria, from 1989-2007. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley in 1985-86 before coming to the University of Pennsylvania in 1986-87. 

Dr. Zettler’s research focuses on 3rd and early 2nd millennia BCE. His particular interests include urbanism and the socio-economic organization of complex societies, as well as methodological complexities of integrating archaeological and documentary data. His books include interpretative studies likes The Ur III Temple of Inanna at Nippur, as well as excavation reports such as Excavations at Nippur: Kassite Buildings in Area WC-1 and Subsistence and Settlement in a Marginal Environment: Tell es-Sweyhat, 1989-1995 Preliminary Report. He is currently working on the publication of the excavations of the temple of Inanna at Nippur, which took place in the 1950s and early 60s, and his own excavations at Tell es-Sweyhat. 

In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Zettler is Associate Curator-in-Charge of Penn Museum’s Near East Section, which houses more than 100,000 artifacts from excavations across the Middle East. He co-curated Penn Museum’s Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur, a highly successful traveling exhibit which appeared at venues across the US from 1998-2007. He recently collaborated in the re-installation of the Museum’s collections from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, entitled Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering the Royal Cemetery of Ur. The exhibit opened to the public in October, 2009. 

      Courses Taught: 

        • Origins and Cultures of Cities (NELC 103)
        • Ancient Civilizations of the World (NELC 182)
        • Archaeology and History of Ancient Israel (NELC 153)
        • Iraq: Ancient Cities and Empires (NELC 241/641)