Catherine E. Bonesho

Assistant Professor of Early Judaism, UCLA

Research Fellow, Frankel Institute for Judaic Studies, University of Michigan

What will you be researching while a fellow at the Frankel Institute and how does it relate to your work overall?

During my time as a fellow at the Frankel Institute, I am focusing on my second book project, Gentile Rulers in the Ancient Jewish Imagination, which investigates the trope of gentile rulers in early Jewish literature through case studies on the Jewish portraits of rulers like Alexander, Titus, and Cleopatra, among others.


What is the most common misconception about this area of research?

One common misconception, though not necessarily among scholars, is that depictions of gentile rulers in ancient Jewish literature are all necessarily negative, with the exception of Cyrus the Great. However, ancient Jewish memories of gentile rulers are much more complicated. What I hope to do in this project is illuminate the diverse Jewish attitudes toward Greece and Rome: some sources imagine gentile rulers, like Cleopatra, as tyrants, while others see them as potential allies. Ancient Jewish sources are influenced by broader Mediterranean traditions of these rulers and simultaneously show great creativity in their imagined portraits of gentile rulers. Overall, for ancient Jewish communities, gentile rulers often become what Jewish authors need them to be—potent literary tropes by which the authors can critique, praise, or ultimately reimagine their worlds.


What has been your greatest success in academic/teaching, research, etc.?

It is difficult to pick a single moment in my career as my “greatest success.” I am proud of my achievements in the academy, especially my most recent publications in Aramaic and Jewish Studies. Maybe a more productive question for me is what is my most memorable success thus far, and for me, that would be my time as a Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. There I was able to collaborate with scholars and artists of a variety of disciplines and highlight the importance of including Jewish communities in studies of the ancient world.

What do you hope to gain from this experience? How has your time at the University of Michigan impacted your research so far?

One of the many things I am looking forward to at the Frankel Institute is dedicated time to focus on my research. I am also looking forward to the academic community at the Frankel Institute, among both my co-fellows and the faculty and students at the University of Michigan. After more than a year of working and teaching remotely, it is refreshing to return to an academic community, especially one focused in Jewish Studies.