Lecture Summaries 2021

GIDEON AVNI — Jerusalem between Late Antiquity and Early Islam: The Creation of a Multicultural City

6 January 2021 (online, via Zoom)

The AIAS opened their 2021 lecture series with a fascinating talk by Professor Gideon Avni of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Hebrew University in Jerusalem. This explored the religious diversity of Jerusalem, and its journey towards multiculturalism in the period from the 6th to 11th centuries CE.

View of the cardo at Jerusalem
The Cardo at Jerusalem (image by משתמש:כיכר השבת ויקיפדיה, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Professor Avni drew on the evidence from excavations in and around Jerusalem to challenge traditional views of urban development in Jerusalem — particularly the idea that we can use military events to mark moments of abrupt change for the city.

Rather, he showed how Jerusalem’s transformation can be seen as a more gradual phenomenon. This ultimately lead to the development of urban zoning and the emergence of distinct physical precincts related to the city’s Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities.

A video of the lecture may be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iyoY39AQJ9ztzltiAQLHHdQXqBzOI7Sh/view; the presentation starts at 3:06 minutes.

SANDRA JACOBS — Why Cuneiform in Canaan Matters

3 February 2021 (online, via Zoom)

Cover of 'Cuneiform in Canaan' book (Eisenbrauns 2018)
Second edition of ‘Cuneiform in Canaan’ by W. Horowitz, T. Oshima and S.L. Sanders (Eisenbrauns 2018); image courtesy of Sandra Jacobs.

Cuneiform script in Israel and the Palestinian territories is one of the earliest explicit indicators of the impact of ancient Mesopotamian cultural transmission from the Middle Bronze Age.

Recently, the Cuneiform in Canaan project drew together this disparate material, making it this material widely accessible for the first time.

Drawing on this work, Dr Jacobs showed the importance of this material to our understanding of early Judaism. In particular, she explored their connection to the historical development of written law in ancient Babylonian and Hebrew sources.

A video of the lecture may be found at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xuREUPUgWPitUfh7NXqZDYnjHAEOwQgs/view; the presentation starts at 2:12 minutes.

JOAN TAYLOR — Babatha’s Sisters: Judaean Women Refugees in the Wilderness Caves

10 March 2021 (online, via Zoom)

Hand holding coins and Spindle whorls from a Judean desert cave
Coins and Spindle whorls of the Bar Kokhba period, found in a Judean desert cave in 1961. Photo courtesy of Judith Brown.

After the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 135 CE, refugee Judaeans hid from the Romans — and perished — in desert caves. From the clothing, cosmetics, jewellery boxes and wooden bowls preserved in the dry conditions, it would seem that many of these refugees were women. Even some texts survived, providing a rare glimpse into the life of Babatha.

But what about the others?

One of their hideouts, the ‘Christmas Cave’, was excavated by a British team in 1961-63. Yet their discoveries were caught in the aftermath of the Six-Day War and international disagreements, and have remained unknown — until now.

Professor Taylor’s lecture discussed her work to rediscover this excavation, and what it has taught us about women’s lives during those troubled times.

A video of the lecture may be found at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1i42j9AAoaxel8767aQ48LnidITfJqC33/view: the presentation starts at 5:59 minutes.

TAL ILAN and NOAH HACHAM — The Jews of Egypt and Israel: Fresh Insights from Newly Published Papyri

21 April 2021 (online, via Zoom).

Papyrus fragment from Berlin. Courtesy of the SMB Ägyptisches Museum und Payrussammlung. Photograph by Sandra Steiß.

The Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum project is an wide-ranging initiative to build on Tcherikover’s seminal corpora of papyri relating to Jews and Judaism. This lecture explored the project, and shows how it differs from its predecessor, by taking you on an exploration of two of the intriguing papyri in the new corpus.

After an introduction to the project, Noah Hachim discussed the Nash Papyrus from the Cambridge University Collection. This is the oldest Hebrew Bible papyrus found in Egypt, dating to the 2nd century BCE, and illustrates the connection between the early history of the Jews of Egypt and Israel.

Tal Ilan then examined a papyrus from 133 CE, now in Berlin, in which a certain Julia Crispina is seen to be present in the Fayum in Egypt – proposing that this is the same woman who appears on two papyri in the Babatha archive in the Judean Desert, belonging to the period just before the outbreak of the Bar Kokhba revolt.

AIAS members will shortly get early-bird access to the lecture recording, via the members area of the website. The recording will be posted here later in May 2021.

EITAN KLEIN — New Discoveries from the Judaean Desert Caves

26 April 2021 (online, via Zoom)

Israeli archaeologists discover the first fragment from the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets Scroll, in a cave in the Judaean desert.
The moment when the first fragment from the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets scroll was discovered. © Highlight Films, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

This lecture presented a unique chance to hear the first UK account of spectacular new finds from the Judaean Desert Cave Archaeological Project, presented by project co-director, and AIAS Committee Member, Dr Eitan Klein.

Most of the Judaean Desert caves are located on high vertical cliffs on the banks of deep and narrow valleys. During the past 70 years, important finds from various periods were found here, including the famous scrolls. Because of their remote location and the high probability of uncovering precious archaeological finds, the Judaean Desert caves have been a chosen target for groups of looters from 1947 right to the present day.

Due to intensive looting activities, the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out an extensive survey and excavation rescue project from 2017–2021. This presentation looked at the activities and events that led to the project, its goals and methods, and how fieldwork was managed in this frankly difficult terrain. We were also shown a selection of exciting new finds, including an incredibly well-preserved Neolithic basket, a cloth bundle thought to contain bead necklaces (it hasn’t yet been unwrapped), and new fragments of biblical scrolls from the Bar-Kokhba Revolt.

Dr Klein is Deputy Director of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit with the Israel Antiquities Authority, as well as a lecturer in history and archaeology in the Department of Land of Israel Studies at Ashkelon Academic College. He specializes in the archaeology of Judaea during the Second Temple Period and the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, speleology, settlement patterns, and pagan cults in Judaea during the Late Roman Period.

AIAS members will shortly get early-bird access to the lecture recording, via the members area of the website. The recording will be posted here later in May 2021.

JODI MAGNESS — More Than Just Mosaics

6 May 2021 (online, via Zoom)

A detail from the Huqoq synagogue mosaic, showing the month of Teveth (December-January) with capricorn. Photograph courtesy of Jim Haberman.

The ancient village of Huqoq in the Galilee is famous for its monumental Late Roman synagogue paved with stunning and unique mosaics. These include both biblical scenes, and the first non-biblical story ever found in an ancient synagogue. Its pretty spectacular stuff. In this online lecture, Professor Jodi Magness discussed some of the discoveries from this extraordinary site, which she’s been excavating since 2011.

For more information about her project, visit www.huqoq.org.

Jodi Magness is the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has written widely about the archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jerusalem, Masada, the Roman army in the East, pottery and ancient synagogues.

This lecture contained unpublished material, and so was not recorded, at the lecturer’s request.