Join us this spring for the Leon Levy Foundation Lectures in Jewish Material Culture. Seth Schwartz will deliver three lectures in a series entitled “Materiality and Politics: How Integrated were Diaspora Jews in the Roman Empire?”

A dominant trend in ancient Jewish scholarship regards the Jews of the high Roman imperial Diaspora as having reached a successful and sustainable balance between friendly integration and the separation necessary for the maintenance of a particular religious identity. The archaeological remains of the Jewish communities of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) provide the bulk of the evidence for this characterization. (Evidence from other provinces, primarily Egypt and Cyrenaica—modern Libya—has drastically more disturbing implications). In the course of three lectures Schwartz will challenge the rosy picture of stable and successful Jewish corporate life under Rome through skeptically minimalistic analysis of Asian Jewish materiality and the ways in which it has been deployed in modern historiography. He will also try to account for what in the final analysis were divergent Jewish experiences in different Roman provincial settings.


Lecture 2—Politics: Jews, Asian Cities, and the Roman State (May 11)

A close reading of the mainly (but not exclusively) literary sources for the early and high Empire reveals not a simple story of integration but a highly complex one of a three-sided negotiation between Jews, cities, and the emperor and his representatives. For reasons to be explored, at least some Jews experienced the Roman state as at least sporadically sympathetic to their desire to balance integration and separation, though to be sure this tendency faded over time in the High Empire, under the impact of the Jews’ rebellions elsewhere. Cities, though, had highly varied responses to their Jewish populations, but often tended to be hostile. Some texts, especially Christian ones, suppose that the Asian Jews more or less systematically cultivated buffer groups of friendly pagan citizens, who could save the Jews from having to rely on the sporadic and undependable support of the emperor. But such groups were not as widespread as the Christian texts imagine, and demonstrably often failed to fulfill their function as intermediaries between Jews and Greeks.


Lecture 1—The Problem of Asian Jewry (May 4)

Lecture 3—Materiality and Culture: Did the Asian Jews Attain Stability in the High and Later Roman Empire (250–600 CE) (May 19)


Seth Schwartz (BA, Classics, Yeshiva University, 1979; PhD, History, Columbia, 1985) is a political, social, and cultural historian of the Jews who specializes in the period between Alexander the Great and the rise of Islam, and has become especially interested in the anthropological and social theoretical aspects of his field. Before returning to Columbia in 2009 he taught for fourteen years at the Jewish Theological Seminary after having been a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and a senior research fellow at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1999/2000 he was a Guggenheim Fellow and in 2006/7 a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He is co-author, with Roger Bagnall, Alan Cameron and Klaas Worp of Consuls of the Later Roman Empire (Atlanta, 1987), and author of Josephus and Judaean Politics (Leiden, 1990) and Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 BCE to 640 CE (Princeton, 2001), Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society? Reciprocity and Solidarity in Ancient Judaism (Princeton, 2009), and The Ancient Jews from Alexander to Muhammad (Cambridge, 2014).


Additional support provided by The David Berg Foundation.

This event will be held via Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 3 pm on the day of the even