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This lecture aims to analyse the interactions between Jews and Christians in sixth century South Arabia, offering some reflections on the wider late antique socio-economic and political map. The talk will present a comprehensive analysis of this period through a reading of literary and epigraphic material, reconstructing the spread of Christianity in South Arabia and the events leading to the massacre of the Christians of Najrān in 523. It is a recurrent topos for late antique hagiographies and histories to ascribe the evangelisation of a region to the arrival of an itinerant figure leading to the sudden conversion of the entire population. However, this trend was the cumulative result of socio-economic networks and migrations, as the exchange of ideas followed that of resources. Accordingly, the depiction of the massacre of Najran as a ‘religious slaughter’ reflects more the ‘religious’ character of the available literary sources than the actual unfolding of the events, as economic reasons were the main motivations behind the negus’s invasion of South Arabia.
Valentina A. Grasso is a Visiting Assistant Professor at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. She is also an affiliate member of the ERC project “The Qur’an as a Source for Late Antiquity” (QaSLA, 2021-6), the Cambridge Silk Road Program, and the London Society for Medieval Studies. She holds a B.A. cum laude from the University of Catania (Semitic Philology, 2015), a M.A. cum laude from the University of Naples “L’Orientale” (Islamic Studies, 2017), and a Ph.D. (Divinity, 2021) from the University of Cambridge, where she completed her doctoral dissertation on the history of pre-Islamic late antique Arabia under the supervision of Professor Garth Fowden. While her current research explores the interactions between Arabia and Ethiopia during Late Antiquity, her teaching seeks to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the first millennium world outside of a Eurocentric framework.
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