Photos: Gabi Laron.

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 3, “Expanding the Limits: The Study of Jewish Material Culture in the Twenty-First Century,” will take place on Tuesday, March 5, 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 third lecture is entitled “Expanding the Limits: The Study of Jewish Material Culture in the Twenty-First Century.” Associating archaeological finds with the Jewish realm has often been linked to the existence of certain socio-cultural and religious markers denoting Jewish usage. A single symbol or fragmentary inscription appearing on a small object, a sarcophagus, or a mosaic floor decorated with mythological themes can at times confirm Jewish usage. However, would it be possible to associate Graeco-Roman finds such as the monumental buildings or colorful mosaics uncovered in Tiberias and Sepphoris, cities populated mostly by Jews, with Jewish usage even if they were devoid of any indicative signs? What do these finds tell us about Jewish life in antiquity? Interpretation in such cases depends on how the archaeological finds are perceived in the eyes of the beholder, who questions the limits, shifting borders, and extent to which the Jewish communities were willing to adopt foreign influences and assimilate them into their lives. The third lecture will focus on Jewish populations living in multicultural environments in antiquity and will proffer a new approach to the study of Jewish archaeology and its borders in the twenty-first century. It will present an array of finds associated with the prevalent Graeco-Roman lifestyle and culture, and will claim that such expressions should not be ignored when attempting to contextualize Jewish life in ancient Palestine.


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.