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 17, at 6pm Andrea M. Berlin will deliver the second lecture entitled “Class Divides: Jewish Daily Life in the time of Herod the Great.” Karen B. Stern 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.

Class Divides: Jewish Daily Life in the time of Herod the Great. Herod the Great is deservedly recognized for his stunning architectural creations. Less acknowledged but equally pivotal was the effect of his lifestyle and cultural affectations on Jewish society. Before Herod, there is little evidence in Judea for an array of items common in the classical Mediterranean, including formal dining rooms, frescoed walls, mosaic floors, decorated table wares, and even variously shaped cooking vessels for different recipes. After Herod, wealthy Jews embraced classical culture. They entertained in well appointed dining rooms, prepared Roman recipes in Italian-style pans, served from decorated dishes, and dined on individual place settings of slipped and painted pottery. Such cosmopolitan displays evoke the banquets of Greek and Roman custom, but their late appearance in Judea – only after their adoption by Herod—suggests that it was the king himself who set the tone. Local elites, following his example, probably used these meals as potent status events to reflect and augment their own social positions. Such actions contributed to a growing class divide that marked Jewish life in the two generations leading up to the Great Revolt.


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.

Karen B. Stern is Assistant Professor of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She is the author of Inscribing Devotion and Death: Archaeological Evidence for Jewish Populations in North Africa (Brill, 2008) and of the forthcoming Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and the Forgotten Jews of Antiquity (Princeton University Press). Her research considers the material culture of Jewish populations throughout the Mediterranean world.


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.