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The Archaeology of Judaism

Weekend All-Day Lecture/Seminar

Saturday, May 18, 2024 - 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2323
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This online program is presented on Zoom.
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Aerial view of the Tel Arad fortress archaeological site

The period of post-biblical Judaism is exceedingly rich in archaeological evidence, found both in Israel and in the lands of an ever-widening Diaspora. In an illustrated full-day program, biblical scholar Gary Rendsburg synthesizes archaeological findings and literary evidence to reveal a multifaceted portrait of Jewish life in late antiquity.

Rendsburg holds the Blanche and Irving Laurie chair in Jewish history at Rutgers University.


10–11:15 a.m.  The First Diasporas: Egypt and Babylonia

With the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC, Jews left the land of Israel in large numbers. A considerable amount of archaeological evidence reveals the lives of Jews now resident in Egypt and Babylonia over the course of the subsequent two centuries. Most notably, this includes about 175 Aramaic papyri written by Jewish soldiers and families at Elephantine, in the far south of Egypt near Aswan, as well as several hundred cuneiform tablets from Jewish businesses with mercantile interests, attesting to successfully reconstructed lives in Babylonian exile.

11:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m.  The Jews of Hellenistic Egypt

The conquests of Alexander the Great brought Hellenism to the entire Near East in the late 4th century BC. No Jewish community reflects the symbiosis of Hellenism and Judaism better than the large and thriving one in Egypt, especially in Alexandria. The Jews translated the Bible into Greek, built synagogues dedicated to the Ptolemy kings and queens, wrote Jewish literature in Greek, and in one case, even constructed a temple in Egypt to rival the main temple in Jerusalem. 

12:45–1:15 p.m.  Break

1:15–2:30 p.m.  The Diaspora

Survey the archeological evidence of the Jewish communities established during the Diaspora in the wake of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 AD—covering far-flung places such as Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Aegean, and Rome itself. Synagogues are the best guide to the presence of Jewish communities, but there also are a surprising number of tomb inscriptions and dedicatory inscriptions throughout the Diaspora, including in far-off Yemen. These inscriptions provide evidence for flourishing Jewish communities across the Near East and the Mediterranean.

2:45–4 p.m. The Land of Israel

After the Great Revolt of 66–70 AD and the Bar-Kokhba Revolt in 132–135 AD, relative peace and stability were eventually restored to the land of Israel. The result was a thriving Jewish community, one no longer settled mainly in Jerusalem and its environs, but extending farther north in the Galilee. Dozens of synagogues offer remarkable architectural remains (including inscribed lintels, mosaic floors with figural art, and other features), providing the backdrop for an examination of how Rabbinic Judaism emerged during the 3rd and 4th centuries.

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