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Relief from the Arch of Titus, in Rome (c. 85 C.E.), depicting triumphal procession of soldiers carrying menorah and other items taken from the Temple in Jerusalem during the sack of the city in 70 C.E.
Masada N. Palace Wall Painting. Courtesy of the Israel Exploration Society.
Gamla Synagogue. Courtesy of Andrea M. Berlin.


When, nearly 100 years ago, the Hungarian scholar Ludwig Blau proposed the study of the Jewish past through its material remains, he modelled it on the study of Christian antiquity through its material remains. Blau saw that the full breadth of the Jewish experience extended beyond any national, geographical or temporal limitation. It is this sense of possibility as yet unfulfilled that lies at the heart of the Leon Levy Foundation Lectures in Jewish Material Culture.
In fact, it does not occur to anyone to read about the Jewish monuments, and, as far as I know, such a subject of study figures in no curriculum and there exists no Jewish archaeologist in the sense of the term employed here…To America, which has at its disposal the means and the teaching staff, there is here offered a grateful field of activity—the founding of Jewish archaeology. It is well worth the exertion and the money of the noble…In Palestine there has been founded a Jewish Archaeological Society which, let us hope, will carry on its labors successfully. This society, as is quite natural, confines itself exclusively to the Holy Land, but that which I am proposing has reference to all lands, a plan which only America would be able to carry in view of the present conditions. It would be a religious and national achievement at the same time, even as it would be a furtherance of general science, not only Jewish science. A general exhibition of the Jewish monuments would level the way for the establishment of institutions to carry out this suggested task, a work which enthusiastic men would be in a position to accomplish. (Ludwig Blau, “Early Christian Archaeology from the Jewish Point of View,” Hebrew Union College Annual, 3 (1926) 157-214, at 160-161)

This pilot project, aimed at creating models for the development of a field, will bring five visiting scholars to the Bard Graduate Center between 2017 and 2021. Each will be in residence for a semester, during which they will teach a graduate seminar, deliver a series of public lectures, and curate a series of response talks. All of this will feed into a published version of the lectures, to appear in BGC’s book series, Cultural Histories of the Material World.


Join us in October 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.

October 10, 6 pm
Lecture 1: Mediterranean Cosmopolitans and the Maccabees

October 11, 12:15 pm
On the Emergence of Jewish Cultural Practice in the Second Century BCE

October 17, 6 pm
Lecture 2: Class Divides: Jewish Daily Life in the time of Herod the Great

October 18, 12:15 pm
Class Divides: Reading, Writing, and Jewish Daily Life through Graffiti

October 24, 6pm
Lecture 3: The Great Revolt, and Its Jewish Afterlife

October 25, 12:15 pm
Material Culture and Rabbinic Isolation: A Cultural Ecology Perspective


The following five visiting scholars will hold the position of Leon Levy Foundation Professor of Jewish Material Culture:

Fall 2017
Andrea M. Berlin
James R. Wiseman Chair in Classical Archaeology, Boston University
Lecture: “Beyond the Temple: Jewish Households from the Maccabees to the Great Revolt against Rome”

Spring 2018
Laura Arnold Leibman
Professor of English and Humanities, Reed College

Spring 2019
Zeev Weiss
Professor, Department of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Spring 2020
Miriam Frenkel
Senior Lecturer, Department for Jewish History, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Spring 2021
Seth Schwartz
Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Classical Jewish Civilization, Columbia University