Lecture Summaries, 2020

ADI ERLICH — In the Court of the Patriarch: New Excavations at Roman Beth She’arim in the Galilee

13th January 2020, University College London

This lecture introduced the work from recent excavations at the famous Roman settlement of Beth She’arim in the Galilee, which have focused for the first time on the hill-top town.

Six seasons of excavations have brought to light a large and well-planned settlement with a monumental gate, public buildings, houses, water installations and traces of industry. Ritual baths confirm the town’s Jewish character, while hiding complexes may relate to the Bar Kokhba revolt (132-136 CE).

In the 2nd century Beth She’arim was a major centre of Jewish life and culture, the seat of the Jewish sages, the Sanhedrin, and home to Rabbi Judah, the patriarch who compiled the Mishnah-Jewish law. The town became a favoured cemetery for Jews drawn from the Land of Israel and across the eastern diaspora in the 3rd Century.

YOSEF GARFINKEL — The Murder of James Leslie Starkey, Discoverer of Lachish

Our inaugural Zoom lecture was presented by Professor Yosef Garfinkel on Tuesday 26 May 2020, who spoke on ‘The Murder of James Leslie Starkey, Discoverer of Lachish‘ – combining a murder mystery from the 1930s with the archaeology of one of Israel’s most famous sites.

Professor Garfinkel.

We were delighted to see so many of our members attending virtually. If you weren’t able to join us, or would like to watch the lecture again – just click on this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mq4iCQJagrb6iB5D0yrp7RkI3y2lLw3m/view.

The actual lecture starts at 2:55 minutes. You can watch it online, or download the file to watch later (helpful for those suffering from a slow internet connection).

SHIMON GIBSON — Recent Archaeological Excavations on Mount Zion in Jerusalem

On 18 June 2020, Professor Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina presented a virtual lecture on his fieldwork at Mount Zion. To watch his lecture, go to: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SMH9KYOkGKyRgKsn9RPOjcz-k8Tq2J6D/view. The presentation starts at 3:46 minutes.

RAFI LEWISTime-thinking, Archaeology and the Battle of Hattin

View of the Horns of Hattin, and surrounding fields, from the south west. Image courtesy of Rafi Lewis.

On 16 July 2020, Dr Rafael Lewis, Senior Lecturer at Ashkelon Academic College, presented an online lecture on ‘Time-Thinking, Archaeology and the Battle of Hattin‘.

How does one study a battlefield in a landscape which has seen numerous conflicts and was subjected to so many changes over the years? And how can you locate archaeologically a catastrophe which has not left behind a destruction layer?

To find out, go to: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nGTXmSaYc7QvXuS-khfkwltL3iVTz_ua/view – where you can view a recording of the session. The presentation starts at 2:54 minutes.

GARY A. RENDSBURG — Jews In Arabia

On 15 September 2020, Professor Gary Rendsburg of the Department of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University gave a fascinating online lecture exploring how textual evidence can cast light on the lesser-known Jewish communities living in the Arabian peninsula, in the period from 70 CE to the rise of Islam in the 7th century.

Jews lived in oases in northern Arabia, as Jewish tribes in and around Medina, and even formed the basis of a Jewish kingdom in Yemen — while the wealthiest among them arranged for their burials back in the land of Israel, despite the great distances involved.

This narrative reminds us how time and again the historian of Judaism needs to have the broadest cultural and geographical horizons.

To watch this lecture, go to: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xq1mZgKcdeg7uMg0J7QIw_opFUB6TCep/view – the presentation starts at 2:48 minutes.

YANA TCHEKHANOVETSThe Holy City? Fourth-Century Jerusalem in the Light of the New Archaeological Data

Givati excavations
View of the excavations of Givati (courtesy of Yana Tchekhanovets).
Late Roman Mansion at Givati
The Late Roman mansion at Givati (courtesy of Yana Tchekhanovets).
Bone artefact
Bone artefact from Givati (courtesy of Yana Tchekhanovets).

On 1 October 2020, Dr Yana Tchekhanovets of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ben Gurion University in the Negev spoke to the society about fourth-century Aelia Capitolina/Jerusalem, explaining how new archaeological discoveries are presenting a complex portrait of the city that challenges traditional views of its smooth and quick Christianization.

Key to this are finds from the large peristyle mansion of the Late Roman period, recently exposed in salvage excavations at the Givati site, located close to the ‘City of David’ — the historical nucleus of ancient Jerusalem. This had been violently destroyed by an earthquake in AD 363.

Dr Tchekhanovets presented many finds from the site that attest to the Roman nature of the building and its clearly Pagan beliefs — carved bone and ivory items, statuettes of the gods and votive offerings, gemmae, masques, magic objects, and osteological remains of public sacrifice ceremony.

Thanks to the secure, sealed archaeological context of this material, it is now possible to question the historical narrative presented by the ecclesiastic sources and to reconsider the nature of conversion process of the central city of Christendom.

To watch this lecture, go to https://drive.google.com/file/d/187MH7GrDU4Qx4wvS6PlBoYAT6jGhU23c/view – the presentation starts at 2:01 minutes.