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

How can we read material culture politically? The question acquires its urgency from the fact that material culture has dominated the study of later imperial Asian Jewry, and the mirage of stability produced by the materiality of the material has shaped scholars’ understanding of earlier periods too. But there are ways to break or bypass—or at very least complicate out of meaningful existence—the materialist illusion, even if we cannot in the final analysis extract a satisfactorily messy and richly ludic political history from it. We can begin by disaggregating the material and resituating specific items in their environments. We can employ comparison: how does Jewish material culture compare to that of other municipal communities? What is missing from the Jewish record? What are the different ways of accounting for its ambiguities? And finally, how does the Jews’ material culture help us understand the Jews’ relation to the Roman state?


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

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


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