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Seth Schwartz
Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Classical Jewish Civilization, Columbia University; Leon Levy Professor of Jewish Material Culture Spring 2021, Bard Graduate Center

“The Jews in Roman Asia Minor: Materiality and Politics”

Schwartz will begin by briefly describing the historical and theoretical problems occupying his time at BGC: in brief, he will explore the possibility of producing a revisionist narrative of the Jews’ experience in the Roman diaspora, by highlighting the failures in the Jews’ integrative efforts. The evidence for Jewish life in the region where evidence for successful integration has been thought strongest, Asia Minor (Anatolia), is sharply discontinuous—almost exclusively literary until the middle of the High Empire (31 BCE to c. 200 CE) and almost exclusively material thereafter. Schwartz will argue that the narrative of successful integration is based on a naively politicizing reading of the material culture of the Asian Jews. There remains room for a politicizing reading, but he aims to produce a more refined and complex one that can be read continuously with the tension-filled accounts in literature.

This lunchtime talk, along with others planned for later in the semester, will allow for a more detailed exploration than will be possible in the public lectures to be delivered at the end of the semester. For those interested in doing some preliminary reading, Schwartz suggests looking at Josephus, Jewish Antiquities book 14, paragraphs 185-267 (in the 1997 reprint of the Loeb Classical Library edition/translation this is in volume 10 of Josephus’s Works [ed., H. St. J. Thackeray]; volume 7 in the first printing), and Book 16, paragraphs 160-173 (volume 11 in the reprint, volume 8 in the old edition. These are in the BGC library, PA 3612 .J6, v.10-11). A seminal modern discussion is T. Rajak, “Was There a Roman Charter for the Jews”, Journal of Roman Studies 74 (1984) 107-123.

Tuesday, February 16, 12:15 pm

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Seth Schwartz (BA, Classics, Yeshiva University, 1979; PhD, History, Columbia, 1985) is a political, social, and cultural historian of the Jews who specializes in the period between Alexander the Great and the rise of Islam, and has become especially interested in the anthropological and social theoretical aspects of his field. Before returning to Columbia in 2009 he taught for fourteen years at the Jewish Theological Seminary after having been a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and a senior research fellow at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1999/2000 he was a Guggenheim Fellow and in 2006/7 a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He is co-author, with Roger Bagnall, Alan Cameron and Klaas Worp of Consuls of the Later Roman Empire (Atlanta, 1987), and author of Josephus and Judaean Politics (Leiden, 1990) and Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 BCE to 640 CE (Princeton, 2001), Were the Jews a Mediterranean Society? Reciprocity and Solidarity in Ancient Judaism (Princeton, 2009), and The Ancient Jews from Alexander to Muhammad (Cambridge, 2014). Schwartz is the Spring 2021 Leon Levy Foundation Professor of Jewish Material Culture at Bard Graduate Center, generously supported by the Leon Levy Foundation and The David Berg Foundation.

This event is open to the BGC community and invited guests of the speaker. This event will be held via Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 10 am on the day of the event.