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The Archaeology of Judaism

All-Day Program

Saturday, May 5, 2018 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Code: 1M2958
Iron Age ruins at Megiddo, in northern Israel, fortified by both Solomon and Ahab (Photo: Gary A. Rendsburg)

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 all-day program, biblical scholar Gary Rendsburg synthesizes archaeological findings and literary evidence to reveal a multifaceted portrait of Jewish life in late antiquity.

9:30–10:45 a.m. The First Diasporas: Egypt and Babylonia

With the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C., Jews left the land of Israel in large numbers. A considerable amount of archaeological evidence focuses on Jewish life 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 opposite Aswan, as well as several hundred cuneiform tablets from Jewish businesses and mercantile interests that attest to successfully reconstructed lives in Babylonian exile.

11 a.m.–12:15 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 B.C. No Jewish community reflects the symbiosis of Hellenism and Judaism better than the large and thriving one of Egypt—especially in Alexandria. They 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 that in Jerusalem. 

12:15–1:30 p.m.  Lunch (participants provide their own)

1:30–2:45 p.m.  The Diaspora

Survey the archeological evidence of the Jewish communities established in the Diaspora in the wake of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 A.D.—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 are a surprising number of tomb and dedicatory inscriptions, as well as similar writings, in the various languages and dialects of ancient Arabia (including some bilingual ones, using either Hebrew or Aramaic) that provide further evidence for a flourishing Jewish community far removed from the geopolitical maelstrom of the period.

3–4:15 p.m. The Land of Israel

After the Great Revolt of 66–70 A.D. and the Bar-Kokhba Revolt in 132–135 A.D., relative peace and stability were eventually restored to the land of Israel. The result was a thriving Jewish community, one no longer settled 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. 

Rendsburg is the Blanche and Irving Laurie professor of Jewish history at Rutgers University.

Other Connections

The Times of Israel reports that archeological findings suggest that hometown of the most popular sinner of the New Testament may also have been the seat of one of the priestly families that fled Jerusalem to the Galilee after the fall of the Second Temple at the hands of the Romans.

S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)