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Jewish Life Before the Revolt: The Archaeological Evidence

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In this paper, I present material remains relevant to understanding Jewish life in Palestine in the century or so before the Revolt. These remains comprise tangible data by which Jewish praxis, actual behavior, as well as attitudes, can be identified and dated. From the early-mid first century B.C.E., Jews adopted what I call 'household Judaism'—using mikva'ot as well as locally manufactured oil, wine, and cooking vessels—in order to incorporate a religious sensibility into their daily lives. At the end of the first century B.C.E. and in the early first century C.E., they began using plain oil lamps and stone dishes as markers of ethnic solidarity and, perhaps, religious attitudes. Throughout these years, most Jews in Jerusalem and Judea followed identical burial practices, with understated funerals at undecorated family tombs. 'Household Judaism' developed outside halakhic or priestly concerns. The remains reflect shared beliefs as well as a broad desire for material possessions that would encode and reflect religious unity and identity.

Other remains, however, tell a different story. In country villas and in the Upper City of Jerusalem, wealthy Jews embraced the use of decorated table vessels, Italian-style cooking pans, and foreign modes of dining. They built elaborate display tombs whose large courtyards and impressive façades provided a classicizing backdrop for staged funeral ceremonies. These sorts of remains are rare or absent in rural Judea, Jewish Galilee, and Gaulanitis. The archaeological evidence thus provides an eyewitness view of a population strongly unified in religious practices but sharply divided by cultural ethic. Over the course of the first century that division may have helped weaken the link between position and moral authority, which in turn created a space and a platform for new voices and different agendas.


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