Join us for the inaugural Leon Levy Foundation Lectures in Jewish Material Culture. Andrea M. Berlin will deliver a series of three lectures entitled “Beyond the Temple: Jewish Households from the Maccabees to the Great Revolt against Rome.” Alex P. Jassen, Karen B. Stern, and Azzan Yadin-Israel will each respond to one lecture and also offer a corresponding lunchtime talk the following day.

Additional support provided by The David Berg Foundation.


On Tuesday, October 10, at 6pm Andrea M. Berlin will deliver the first lecture entitled “Mediterranean Cosmopolitans and the Maccabees.” Alex P. Jassen will offer a response.

Beyond the Temple: Jewish Households from the Maccabees to the Great Revolt against Rome. When did Jews first begin using material goods to communicate a religious identity? Why did such a practice arise, and what were its social and political consequences? In these three lectures, Berlin will couple archaeological remains with historical testimony to address these questions. The story begins in the second century BCE, with the rise of the Hasmoneans, a landed family from rural Judea who leveraged military success and political connections to establish themselves as both religious and civic leaders. The Jewish-Mediterranean state they created lasted just two generations, but by the time of its demise in the mid-first century BCE it had provided the context and impetus for the full integration of Judea into Mediterranean political culture. This gave rise to an elite class beholden more to political than priestly interests and set up a clash between two modes of Jewish self-understanding: one who took its cues from that extreme philo-romaios Herod; and a second who saw themselves as fulfilling a heroic Maccabean vision of a re-conquered Promised Land. In the nexus between these modes, archaeological remains reveal that there developed in Judea and Galilee a new materially-inflected lifestyle in which people adopted specific goods and behaviors to reflect a connection to Jerusalem. This was a commoner’s lifestyle; it allowed non-elites to infuse their homes and day-to-day lives with a Jewish sensibility. Over the course of the early to mid-first century CE, we can see how this lifestyle became implicated in the development of hardened social identities, which in turn contributed to zealotry and, ultimately, the Great Revolt against Rome.

Mediterranean Cosmopolitans and the Maccabees. In the second century BCE most people living in the Levant saw themselves as cosmopolites, Greek for “citizens of the world.” Personal names reveal multi-cultural sensibilities. In Idumea, a Sidonian named Sesmaios had a son with the Greek name, Apollophanes, and a daughter with the Edomite name Sabo. In Galilee, a man with the Greek name of Zoilus made a dedication at the ancient Israelite shrine at Dan. Material remains—household pottery, figurines, interior décor—also reflect a widespread embrace of the Hellenizing Mediterranean aesthetic. At ground level, without the testimony of names and written records, an ethnic Idumean and an ethnic Sidonian were indistinguishable. The exception to the pattern were Judeans, who opted out of the trend; their houses are marked by the absence of goods familiar in the homes of their neighbors.


Professor Andrea M. Berlin is the James R. Wiseman Chair in Classical Archaeology at Boston University. She has been excavating in the eastern Mediterranean for over thirty years, working on projects from Troy in Turkey to Coptos in southern Egypt to Paestum, in Italy. Her specialty is the Near East from the time of Alexander the Great through the Roman era, about which she has written four books and over fifty articles. She is especially interested in studying the realities of daily life, and in exploring the intersection of politics and cultural change in antiquity. She has been appointed as Leon Levy Foundation Professor of Jewish Material Culture at Bard Graduate Center for the fall 2017 semester.

Alex P. Jassen is Associate Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and Director of Graduate Studies in the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. He holds a BA in Jewish Studies and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Washington and a PhD in Hebrew and Judaic Studies from New York University. Dr. Jassen previously taught at the University of Minnesota, where he was the recipient of the university’s prestigious McKnight Land-Grant Fellowship. He has published widely on the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient Judaism and is a member of the international editorial team responsible for publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He is the author of Mediating the Divine: Prophecy and Revelation in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Second Temple Judaism (Brill, 2007), winner of the 2009 John Templeton Award for Theological Promise; Scripture and Law in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Cambridge University Press, 2014); as well as many articles and reviews; and co-editor of Scripture, Violence, and Textual Practice in Early Judaism and Christianity (Brill, 2010). Dr. Jassen is co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Ancient Judaism (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht). He served as academic advisor for The Dead Sea Scrolls: Words that Changed the Worldexhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. He is a popular lecturer at community centers, synagogues, churches, and museums. Dr. Jassen was featured in CNN’s Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery (2017). He is currently working on a book on religious violence in the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient Judaism. His work on religious violence has been recognized with a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


This event will be livestreamed. Please check back the day of the event for a link to the video. To watch videos of past events please visit our YouTube page.