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 24, at 6pm Andrea M. Berlin will deliver the third lecture entitled “The Great Revolt, and Its Jewish Afterlife.” Azzan Yadin-Israel 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.

The Great Revolt, and its Jewish Afterlife. Galilee in the first century CE was a region transformed. For several hundred years, it had been a place of scattered settlements occupied by different ethnic groups, all sharing similar lifestyles and buying the same range of goods from local markets. There existed a few small open-air sanctuaries of varying orientation but no evidence for organized religious activity. A visitor here in 100 BCE would not observe separate cultural spheres. But a century later, things had changed dramatically. A sharp line now separates the two local cultural groups of Phoenicians and Jews, a division reflected in a host of material remains. Jews live surrounded by specific markers: Judean-style household pottery, lamps, stone vessels, and mikva’ot. They build synagogues, which, in addition to their practical functions, also are a structural advertisement of communal identity and solidarity. By the middle of the first century CE no Jew living in this region would remember when daily life did not materially reify a distinctive ethnic and religious identity. Such a lifestyle would have contributed to a sharply delineated world view, a sense of separation from others. This view, sense, and lifestyle contributed in part to the decision in 66 CE to revolt against Rome. Neither the view nor the lifestyle survived beyond the Roman victory in the year 70 CE. It could be argued, however, that the sense of separation has lived on.


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.

Azzan Yadin-Israel earned his BA from the Hebrew University and his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley and the Graduate Theological Union. He has published widely on rabbinic literature, Hebrew Bible, and early Christianity, including two books on early rabbinic midrash: Scripture as Logos: Rabbi Ishmael and the Origins of Midrash (2004) and Scripture and Tradition: Rabbi Akiva and the Triumph of Midrash (2014), both with the University of Pennsylvania Press. A Professor of Jewish Studies and Classics at Rutgers University, his latest book is The Grace of God and the Grace of Man: The Theologies of Bruce Springsteen (Lingua Press, 2016).


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.