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 Dr 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 AIAS YouTube. 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: AIAS YouTube. 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: AIAS YouTube. 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.

A video of the lecture may be found at AIAS YouTube. The presentation starts at 3:31 minutes.

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.

A video of the lecture may be found at AIAS YouTube. The lecture starts at 3:08 minutes.

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.

ERIC H. CLINE — Digging Up Armageddon: The Search for the Lost City of Solomon

3 June 2021 (online, via Zoom)

Using balloons for aerial photographs at Megiddo.
Using baloons to capture aerial images of Megiddo. Image courtesy of the Oriental Institute of Chicago.

The University of Chicago excavations at the ancient mound at Megiddo — biblical Armageddon — yielded stunning discoveries in the 1920s and 1930s that transformed our understanding of the ancient world. They unearthed biblical-era gates, palaces, stables, and temples, along with gold and ivory treasures, making international headlines in the process.

In this illustrated lecture, Professor Eric H. Cline, who himself excavated at Megiddo for twenty years, drew on archival records and rare photographs left by the participants to present a portrait of a bygone age of archaeology.

His story took us through the infighting that rocked the expedition, as well as the impact of their work on biblical archaeology as a whole. It then finished on a high, with 10 surprising and little-known facts about the excavations.

Dr Cline is Professor of Classics and Anthropology and Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at The George Washington University. A National Geographic Explorer, Fulbright and Getty scholar, and NEH Public Scholar with degrees from Dartmouth, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania, he is an active field archaeologist with more than 30 seasons of excavation and survey experience in Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Cyprus, Greece, Crete, and the United States. These include ten field seasons at Megiddo, and eight seasons at Tel Kabri in Israel, where he is currently Co-Director.

A video of the lecture may be found at AIAS YouTube. The presentation starts at 2:59 minutes.

AMIHAI MAZAR — A Philistine Outpost in Northern Tel Aviv: The Story of Tell Qasile

8 July 2021 (online, via Zoom)

Tell Qasile is located in the compound of Eretz Israel Museum in northern Tel Aviv. The site may be small in size (3 acres), but not in stature: it has provided important evidence for the culture of the central coastal plain of Israel between the 12th and 9th centuries B.C.E.

Female-shaped pottery libation vessel known as the ‘Lady of Tell Qasile’. Found in the temple compound at Qasile, and dating to the 11th century BC. Photograph by L. Padrul-Kwitkowski, courtesy of the Eretz Israel Museum.

The site served as a harbour town for a mixed population of Philistines and local Canaanites. It was home to a sequence of three successive temples, which were unique to the region. In this lecture, Professor Mazar presented the rich finds from these temples, and explained what Qasile tells us about the Philistines material culture, how they interacted with local Canaanite populations, and their wider engagement with Phoenicia, Cyprus and Egypt. He also explored the final fate of the town during the 10th to 9th centuries BCE.

Amihai Mazar is Professor Emeritus in the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and Vice-President (Israel) of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society. He has directed numerous excavations including those of Tell Qasile, Tel Batash (biblical Timnah), Tel Beth Shean, and Tel Rehov. He has written extensively on the archaeology of the Bronze and Iron Ages of the Southern Levant.

A video of this lecture may be found at AIAS YouTube. The presentation starts at 7:19 minutes.

DAVID GRAF— Relations between the Client Kingdoms of Judaea and Nabataea

14 September 2021 (online via zoom)

The Nabataean Civic Centre at Petra. Photo Copyright D.F. Graf, 2013.
The Nabataean Civic Centre at Petra. Photo Copyright D.F. Graf, 2013.

With the expansion of Judaea under the Hasmonean and Herodian dynasties in the 1st centuries BCE and CE, the Jewish state was set on a collision course with the neighbouring Nabataean Kingdom centred at Petra. The intervention of Rome and the creation of client-states made for a sometimes volatile mix.

In his lecture, Professor Graf examined these historical encounters, and show how recent archaeological and epigraphic discoveries have cast new light on this fascinating period of cooperation and conflict — and the differing status held by these two Kingdoms vis-à-vis their relations with Rome.

Professor David Graf from the University of Miami is a specialist in the Graeco-Roman Near East and has conducted surveys and excavations in the Nabataean world for the past four decades. He is co-editor of the multi-volume Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), author of Rome and its Arabian Frontier from the Nabataeans to the Saracens (1997, recently reissued by Routledge in 2020) and more than 150 scholarly articles.

A video of the lecture may be found at AIAS YouTube. The presentation starts at 3:33 minutes.

HUGH WILLIAMSON— Old but Still Topical: The Dispute between Driver and Sayce on Biblical Archaeology

27 October 2021 (online via Zoom)

The closing decades of the 19th century were a time when many of the most famous finds associated with ‘Biblical Archaeology’ were discovered. Two prominent scholars in Oxford, one the Professor of Assyriology and the other the Regius Professor of Hebrew, both changed their views on how these finds should be related to the Bible and effectively established two distinct approaches to this subject, both still very much debated.

In his lecture, Professor Williamson explored the history of their journey, suggesting a middle way forward, which might take some of the heat out of the continuing debate.

Hugh Williamson was Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University until his retirement in 2014. During his career he participated in excavations at Lachish and Jezreel and he has always taken an interest in the relationship between archaeology and the Bible. He was chair of the AIAS for 19 years, up to 2010. He was also Chairman of the Committee of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem at a time when it was facing pressure to close; with the help of others, this decision was eventually reversed, and it since gone from strength to strength as the Kenyon Institute.

A video of the lecture may be found at AIAS YouTube. The presentation starts at 1:29 minutes.

CAROL MEYERS— Work and Worth: Women’s Household Activities in Ancient Israel

11 November 2021 (via Zoom)

Oven and grinding tools from Israel, on display in Museum of the Bible, Washington.
Clay oven and grinding tools on display in the Museum of the Bible, Washington. Photograph by Carol Meyers.

Professor Meyers rebuts the perception that women in Iron Age Israel were just ‘wives and mothers’. By using the combined evidence of archaeology, biblical texts and ethnographic data, she demonstrates their central role in household life, particularly in the essential activities of food and textile production. Its an important reminder of how we must be wary of letting modern bias colour our understanding of past societies.

Carol Meyers is the Mary Grace Wilson Professor Emerita at Duke University. She specializes in biblical studies, archaeology, and women in the biblical world. An experienced field archaeologist, she has published hundreds of books and articles and is currently Vice-President of the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.

A video of this lecture may be found at AIAS YouTube. The presentation starts at 2:31 minutes.

DAVID JACOBSON — Agrippa II: The Last of the Herods

16 December 2021 (via Zoom).

View of the site of Gamla
Gamala/Gamla: A town in the kingdom of Agrippa II that joined the Jewish Revolt against Rome. Photography by David Jacobson.

Agrippa II, the last king of the Herodian dynasty, was prolific in minting coins, particularly after the Judaean-Roman War. In this online lecture, David Jacobson examined Agrippa’s coinage as well as the writings of Josephus and epigraphic evidence for his reign. He discussed the chronology of his reign, the role of his sister, Berenice, as his de-facto consort, his attitude towards the Jews and Judaism, particularly after the quelling of the First Jewish Revolt, and determining the date of his death.

Professor David Jacobson has pursued careers in both materials science and classical archaeology. He is currently an associate of the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford. From 2009 to 2015, he edited PEQ and is now Editor-in-Chief of Strata for the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society. He has published widely on the history, architecture, and numismatics of the southern Levant, including most recently the historical biography, Agrippa II: The Last of the Herods (2019), for which he was awarded the Shekel Prize by the American-Israel Numismatic Association.

This was a joint AIAS/UCL Institute of Jewish Studies lecture, held in collaboration with the American Israel Numismatic Association.

A recording of this lecture is available at: AIAS YouTube (lecture starts at 5:31 minutes).