Joel Walker

Project Description

Portrait of Joel Walker in button-up shirt and blazer, with a gray studio background

Associate Professor, Department of History

Ph.D., History, Princeton University, 1998

Contact Information:
Office: SMI 206B
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Faculty profile

As a historian of Late Antiquity, my interests range widely across western Eurasia from prehistory to the Mongol Empire. All of my courses combine texts, art and archaeology in order to bring the past to life and reveal the cultural fabric of now distant societies. In addition to my 100-level survey of the ancient world, my course rotation includes smaller lecture courses on ancient Iran, the world of late antiquity, and the Mongols, as well as seminars on Jerusalem (From King David to the Dome of the Rock) and animal-human relations in world history (“the cow course”). I enjoy teaching students at all levels.

My research focuses on the history of the late ancient Middle East, especially the Sasanian Empire (224-651) and its Christian communities. My first book, “The Legend of Mar Qardagh: Narrative and Christian Heroism in Late Antique Iraq” (University of CA Press, 2006), sought to elucidate Sasanian Christian culture and its dialogue with the social, political, and intellectual traditions of Iran, Syria, and the Greco-Roman world. Subsequent articles have examined East Syrian hagiography, book culture, shrine topography, and the general history of the Church of the East from its formation to the Mongol era.

My current book project explores the history of pearls in the arts, imagination, and economy of the ancient and late antique world. Several pieces from this project are now in print or in press. I am also working on a study of animal-human relations from the Paleolithic to the late Roman period, tentatively entitled “Bull of Heaven and Earth: A History of Cattle in the Ancient World.”

My graduate teaching has been eclectic, spanning the fields of Roman history, early Christianity, Late Antiquity, and Islamic studies. Former students include graduates of the Comparative Religion Program, the Department of Classics, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization, the Jackson School’s Middle East Center, the Graduate School’s Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Near and Middle Eastern Studies.