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2017-2018 Jews and the Material in Antiquity

The Frankel Institute’s 2017-2018 theme year will ask how Jews in the ancient world related both to matter itself and to issues of materiality. How did ancient Jews sense, understand, and even construct material entities such as artifacts, bodies, environments, and so on? How did those who were not Jewish perceive or represent the relationships between Jews and matter? Finally, how has the history of Jews and matter been reconstructed in modern scholarship and how might scholars approach the nexus of Jews and the material more productively?

The challenge of addressing these questions necessitates a comparative perspective in which Jewish experience is firmly situated within its various historical contexts. In recent years, scholars have come to emphasize the religious formations that existed within the wider cultural landscape of the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern world. Jewish communities and lives were inextricably intertwined with other social and religious formations in the urban landscapes and built environments of the ancient world. The focus on the material dimension of Jewish antiquity calls for an integrative approach to ancient Jewish studies and to a comparative and collaborative approach to antiquity more broadly.

The 2017-18 Institute Annual is available online, and features essays by all of the fellows highlighting their research on "Jews and the Material in Antiquity".


Todd Berzon
Bowdoin College
"Holy Tongues: The Materiality of Language in the Religious World of Late Antiquity"

Rick Bonnie
University of Helsinki
"Material Religion in Hasmonean-Roman Judaea: The Role of the Senses, Space, and Climate in Determining the Use of Synagogues and Miqva’ot"

Sean Burrus
Metropolitan Museum
"Image and Empire: Jewish Identities and Visual Arts under Rome"

C. Mike Chin
University of California at Davis
"Life: The Natural History of an Early Christian Universe"

Deborah Forger
University of Michigan
"God's Embodiment in Jewish Antiquity"

Chaya Halberstam
King's University College at the University of Western Ontario
"Justice and Mercy Revisited: a Religious-Legal History of Judicial Impartiality"

Rachel Rafael Neis
University of Michigan
"The Reproduction of Species: Humans and Other Materials in Ancient Rabbinic "Biology""

Megan Nutzman
Old Dominion University
"Asclepius and Elijah: Ritual Healing in Roman and Late Antique Palestine"

Daniel Picus
Brown University
"Ink Sea, Parchment Sky: Reading Practices of Late Ancient Rabbis"

Michael Swartz
Ohio State University
"The Economics of Ritual in Judaism in Late Antiquity"

Juan Manuel Tebes
Catholic University of Argentina 
"Fluid Cultural Boundaries in Idumaea and the Formation of Jewish and Idumaean Identities"