Lecture Summaries 2022

The Society hosts a number of online lectures throughout the year. Here is a summary of past events for 2022, with links to the lecture recordings.

RAMI ARAV — Three Decades of Excavations at Bethsaida

20 January 2022 (online, via Zoom)

In this lecture, Professor Arav presented a review of three decades of archaeological investigations at the important site of Bethsaida, on the Sea of Galilee — a city settled on and off between the 10th century BCE and the 4th century CE.

The story started in the 10th century BCE, when the site served as the capital of the Aramaean kingdom of Geshur. Excavations of these phases have revealed a stunning succession of city gates, high places with pagan stele representing the moon god of Haran, a granary and a Neo-Hittite style palace. This city was destroyed in 920 BC.

Yet some fifty years after this destruction, Bethsaida had grown again, boasting the largest biblical-era city gate ever found in Israel, only to be brought to an end by the 732 BCE conquest of Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser III. It went on to become a Phoenician settlement, then around 100 BCE, the Hasmoneans conquered the site. In 60 CE Herod the Great’s son, Philip, granted the newly named Julias the status of a Greek city, building it a temple and new walls.

Rami Arav is a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at the
University of Nebraska at Omaha. He has been directing the excavations of biblical Bethsaida Since 1987, and is the co-author of the four-volume book, Bethsaida, a City by the Northern Shores of the Sea of Galilee.

A recording of this video is now available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ScuxsjCp-NHElHyMdCHa5EaJHe7nbDHS/view (lecture starts at 2:06 minutes).

Stone stele at et-Tel, ancient Bethsaida (Image courtesy of Chmee2, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons).

YUVAL GADOT —New Light on Iron Age and Persian Period Jerusalem

17 February 2022 (online, via Zoom)

Jerusalem is perhaps the most excavated place in the world and yet the ancient city’s size and location are still under debate.

This beautifully-illustrated lecture explored recent finds from the Western slope of the Southeastern ridge, to shed new light on the wealth of Jerusalem’s elite during the 7th century BCE, the city’s destruction, and its revival during the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.

Professor Yuval Gadot is Head of the Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel-Aviv University. He was the field director of the Tel-Aviv and Heidelberg Universities’ joint expedition at Ramat Rahel. From 2013 he has led TAU’s excavations in the core of ancient Jerusalem and its hinterland. He is the author of numerous articles and excavations reports.

The video recording of this lecture is now available in the members area of the website, and will appear here in early April.

Excavations below the Giv’ati Parking Lot in relation to Temple Mount/Haram e Sharif (courtesy of City of David Archive, photo by Yair Izbozky).

PHILIP ALEXANDER — Did Rabbis Write Down the Mishnah? Orality and Writing in the Jewish World in Late Antiquity

15 March 2022 (online, via Zoom)

The Mishnah, the Talmuds and the Midrashim are among the masterpieces of Jewish literature from late antiquity. Between them, they raise many questions, not least how they were composed, and then transmitted to future generations.

To answer these questions, Professor Alexander turned to the documentary and artefactual evidence for orality and writing in Rabbinic culture, to show how writing held a far greater role in the process than usually thought.

Phillip Alexander is Emeritus Professor of Post-biblical Jewish Literature at the University of Manchester. He is also a former President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, and a founding Director of the Manchester University Centre for Jewish Studies. He is currently supervising a project to produce a catalogue of Hebrew manuscripts in the John Rylands Library Manchester.

A video recording of this lecture is now available to view in our members area of the website; a link will appear here in May.

Professor Philip Alexander in the Rylands Library, University of Manchester.
Professor Philip Alexander in the John Rylands Library, University of Manchester.

KAREN STERN — Inscription, Touch and Worship in the Synagogue of Dura Europos

11 April 2022 (online, via Zoom)

An unprecedented feature of the ancient synagogue at Dura Europos are its spectacular wall murals, which simultaneously reflect and project visual modes of biblical interpretation for their audiences.

Seeing was not the only medium of experiencing devotional landscapes in ancient Syria. Indeed, visitors might choose other sensory means to engage with their elaborately decorated surroundings — allowing them to perceive, encounter, and interact with the holy and each other.

In this presentation, Professor Stern re-imagined their reality, by considering the significance of these other experiences, as mediated through properties of touch. She demonstrated how unofficial inscriptions, drawings, and modifications to these murals reflect the ways in which people interacted with the walls and architecture of the Dura synagogue, and their tactile encounters with the divine.

Karen B. Stern is Professor of History, Tow Professor (2019–2021) and Wolfe Professor (2021–22) at Brooklyn College. She is author of Inscribing Devotion and Death: Archaeological Evidence for Jewish Populations of North Africa (Leiden; Boston: Brill 2007); Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and the Forgotten Jews of Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020), winner of a 2020 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award through the Association for Jewish Studies; and co-editor of With the Loyal You Show Yourself Loyal: Essays on Relationships in the Hebrew Bible in Honor of Saul M. Olyan (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2021).

A video recording of this lecture will be available to view in our members area of the website shortly, and will be posted here in June.

Synagogue mural
Copy of a mural in the Dura Europos synagogue, courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery.