Jewish and Other Imperial Cultures in Late Antiquity: Literary, Social, and Material Histories

Post-Doctoral Fellowships 2007-2008

The study of Jewish culture and society in Late Antiquity (approx. 200-750 c.e.) has undergone profound shifts in recent decades. This fellowship year will enable scholars from a wide range of disciplinary and linguistic backgrounds (rabbinic literature, Patristics, Church history, classical literature, the various branches of late Roman history, archaeology and art history, legal studies, history of religions, liturgical and ritual studies, and rhetorical and cultural studies) to assess and explore the state of the field.

The dialogue among scholars in these neighboring fields, while ongoing, remains insufficiently realized. Narratives of late antique Jewish history and culture have not adequately addressed the Roman historical contexts. Conversely, the telling of Roman history has insufficiently mined Jewish evidence and its implications. If Late Antiquity is indeed Judaism's formative period, then a fuller appreciation of this era is of paramount importance.

  • How might developments in ancient Mediterranean historiography contribute to our understanding of late antique Jewish society? And how might Jewish data alter longstanding assumptions that underlie late Roman and early Christian histories?
  • How did the emergence of "religion" as a primary discursive category in this period affect the various communities and movements in the Roman Empire? How does the literature of the period reflect and shape the religious ideologies and identities of these communities? What is the relationship among processes of Rabbinization, Christianization, and the persistence of traditional Graeco-Roman religions?
  • How did individuals and institutions negotiate their relationship with hegemonic forms of power and knowledge? What impact did specific manifestations of imperial power (both within the Roman world and the Sassanian east) have on late antique Jewish, Christian, or pagan social formations and cultural practices?
  • Where did authority reside within Jewish social and cultural life? Through which institutions and disciplinary practices was authority produced and reproduced? How does leadership, real and imagined, central and marginalized, take shape in relation to adjacent models?
  • How should scholars interpret the complex and often contradictory relationship between literary and material evidence for Jewish life from Late Antiquity to the rise of Islam?

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