Visual Judaism in Late Antiquity: Historical Contexts of Jewish Art

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A new type of Jewish art emerged in Late Antiquity, when artists produced visual depictions that had not existed earlier within a Jewish context—figural images (including pagan motifs), biblical scenes, and religious symbols. Visual Judaism locates this phenomenon in the wider context of Late Antiquity, revealing new insights into the role of visual culture in Jewish society, in which individual communities determined what forms of artistic expression would be displayed in their synagogues. Following introductory chapters surveying Jewish art over fifteen hundred years, down to the third century CE, author Lee I. Levine focuses on the wealth of archaeological, artistic, and textual material from the third to seventh century, demonstrating how this artistic activity responded to new historical circumstances.

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Editorial Reviews

Richard Kalmin
"Breathtakingly learned; nothing else like it exists. Visual Judaism examines archaeological, epigraphical, and literary sources, and Jewish and non-Jewish culture and history to understand Jewish art in context. . . . Magnificent."—Richard Kalmin, The Jewish Theological Seminary, author of Jewish Babylonia Between Persia and Roman Palestine
Jas' Elsner
"A bold and comprehensive book. Lee Levine's command of the monuments, bibliography, and relevant historical and contextual issues (not to speak of the languages and literatures involved) is second to none. This is a magisterial survey."—Jas' Elsner, Oxford University, author of Roman Eyes: Visuality and Subjectivity in Art and Text
Sacha Stern
"Unique in its breadth and comprehensiveness. This book is the summation of decades of research in archaeology and history of the ancient Jewish world, which author Lee Levine, as a senior scholar in this field, is able to deliver from a position of erudition and authority."—Sacha Stern, University College, London, author of Time and Process in Ancient Judaism
Library Journal
In his highly regarded The American Synagogue: The First Thousand Years, Levine (classical archaeology, emeritus, Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) traced the origins and development of the synagogue from the Hellenistic period through late antiquity. Now he focuses on the art of the Jewish people inside and outside the synagogue, from c. 1200 BCE to seventh century CE, using "the immediate social, cultural, and religious contexts as the main points of reference in interpreting Jewish art of Late Antiquity." With meticulous scholarship and a judgment informed by a lifetime of study, Levine argues: "the picture that emerges from the archaeological remains of Late Antiquity is far more diverse, heterogeneous, and locally oriented than that derived from literary sources." This sprang, he says, from Jewish communities' "relationships vis-à-vis Byzantine-Christian society generally and specifically their willingness to integrate non-Jewish components into their daily lives." VERDICT An academic masterwork that will be cherished by scholars of ancient Judaism as well as by general readers interested in Jewish culture, archaeology, and art history. Most highly recommended.—Marcia G. Welsh, Dartmouth Coll. Lib., Hanover, NH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300100891
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/31/2013
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 1,145,842
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Lee I. Levine is professor emeritus of the Rev. Moses Bernard Lauterman Family Chair in Classical Archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published numerous books, including The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (Yale).

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