Courtesy of the Institute of Archaeology, photo archive, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Join us this spring for the Leon Levy Foundation Lectures in Jewish Material Culture. Zeev Weiss will deliver a three-part lecture entitled “Jewish Material Culture: Old Theories and New Approaches, from Eleazar L. Sukenik to the Twenty-First Century.” Lecture 1, “Eleazar L. Sukenik: The Establishment of the Field of Jewish Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1926–1953,” will take place on Tuesday, February 19, at 6 pm.

Lecture 1, Tuesday, February 19
Lecture 2, Tuesday, February 26
Lecture 3, Tuesday, March 5

Additional support provided by The David Berg Foundation.


The period following the destruction of the Second Temple, and especially the Bar-Kokhba revolt, was a watershed in the life of the Jewish people, unfolding a new era when borders shifted and were redefined owing to the new order of Roman authority, socio-economic behavior, and Graeco-Roman culture. This shift is clearly visible in various types of material culture, including the architecture of private dwellings and public edifices, small artifacts for domestic use, art, language, and burial customs. While archaeology sheds light on the daily life and cultural behavior of the Jewish population in Roman and late antique Palestine, the Jewish literary sources, despite their limitations, also provide a glimpse into the realia of antiquity, rendering their interdisciplinary study necessary and promising for a comprehensive understanding of this era.

Interest in the study of Jewish material culture began in the early twentieth century. Professor Eleazar L. Sukenik was the first scholar to highlight the importance of exploring and excavating the physical remains scattered throughout the Land of Israel, thereby laying the foundations for Jewish archaeology at the newly established Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Three lectures will be devoted to Jewish material culture. Through the presentation of archaeological finds Weiss will examine the various approaches, types of finds, and parameters used by scholars to outline and reconstruct Jewish life and cultural behavior in Roman and late antique Palestine. He will begin by focusing on Sukenik and his academic achievements in the field of archaeology, continue with a discussion of the developments in modern scholarship, and, finally, offer new perspectives for future research of Jewish material culture.

The first lecture is entiteled “Eleazar L. Sukenik: The Establishment of the Field of Jewish Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1926–1953.” Eleazar L. Sukenik, who immigrated to Palestine from Bialystok, Poland, laid the foundations for archaeological research in the early days of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. Sukenik’s archaeological interests were broad, but he focused mainly on Jewish archaeology in the Second Temple period and late antiquity, and devoted his career to the study of ancient synagogues, Jewish burial, epigraphy, numismatics, and the Dead Sea scrolls. His major excavations, contributions, and achievements in Jewish archaeology are the backdrop for the first lecture, which will focus on definitions and content. It will examine the principal finds that defined Jewish material culture in Sukenik’s lifetime as well as his motives and mission to fill the prevailing vacuum in the archaeological research of the Land of Israel. A retrospective of the development of his academic career and public role will be presented in light of the emergence of Jewish archaeology as an academic discipline following his pioneering initiative.


Zeev Weiss is the Eleazar L. Sukenik Professor of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Trained in Classical Archaeology, he specializes in Roman and Late Antique art and architecture in the provinces of Syria-Palestine. His interests lie in various aspects of town-planning, architectural design, and mosaic art, as well as the evaluation of archaeological finds in light of the socio-cultural behavior of Jewish society and its dialogue with Graeco-Roman and Christian cultures. As Director of the Sepphoris excavations on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, his work has contributed greatly to understanding the architectural development and character of the city throughout its history. Weiss has been a visiting scholar at Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (IAS), Princeton University, and the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW). He has published many articles as well as two major volumes: The Sepphoris Synagogue: Deciphering an Ancient Message through Its Archaeological and Socio-Historical Contexts (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 2005) and Public Spectacles in Roman and Late Antique Palestine (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014). Weiss is currently working on his next book, Sepphoris: A Cultural Mosaic from Alexander to Muhammad, which will offer an unprecedented perspective on the socio-cultural history of this Galilean city and will serve as an essential reference for future study of the multifaceted life of Jewish society in late antiquity.