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Materialising Jewish rituals: an Interview with Rick Bonnie

What is your research about, in general terms?
For my research, I currently examine the impact of ‘materials’ in the development and shaping of Jewish religious rituals during what’s been termed the Late Second Temple period in the region of modern Israel/Palestine, that is, roughly the first century BCE and CE. In particular, I research two material features that were introduced into the region during this period: monumental, stand-alone synagogue buildings used for communal gatherings and domestic stepped pools used for purification rituals. Both aspects were used among Jews already before the first of these manmade structures was built. So, why were these structures introduced and so well spread out across Jewish society during the first century BCE and CE? This is a question that has received rather little attention in scholarship, where the idea often still lingers that a material change has little influence on the institution of synagogues and purity rituals. Societies were understood as ‘floating’ outside of the material world – uninfluenced by the material surroundings they themselves created. So my second research question is how then did the material elements of these synagogue buildings and stepped pools shape (or change) the related Jewish religious rituals?

What have I found out so far? Well, in my research I have emphasized, for example, the irregularity of water in these manmade pools, as during the long, dry summers in the region primary water needs (drinking, washing etc.) would come first. This raises the question if people would have shared these pools during such occasions, or whether the tradition of water purification was perhaps altered during such extreme periods, perhaps by simply pouring a smaller amount of ‘pure’ water over one’s body. I’ve also focused on how the standing water in these stepped pools would become dirty and unhealthy over time. With regard to the stand-alone synagogues, the main observation I have made so far is that they were not as ‘public’ as previously assumed. They are nothing like the later synagogues, built during the third to sixth centuries (or our current churches), with their large, grotesque doors (sometimes more than one) and monumental façades inviting the congregation to gather. Instead, the façade of these early synagogues was usually rather unimpressive and, due to a lack of decoration, would have blended in with the larger village surroundings in which it stood. Its door (usually not more than one) was more narrow and usually did not provide a direct line of sight into the main congregation hall of the synagogue. These observations fit well with earlier research that showed that only a rather small percentage (ca. 10-20%) of a town’s population would fit in these buildings. This evidence hints toward a split community to some degree: those who made the decisions and discussing town politics, and those who did not. There appears thus to have been a more significant social segregation in these communities than there was later on, when all people were invited to participate in the congregation.

Why particularly did you choose this topic?
I first came to this topic through my doctoral research at the University of Leuven, in Belgium. There I focused on the socio-cultural development of Galilee in the second century CE. To study this development, I also needed to contrast the period in question with what came before, so the first centuries BCE and CE. Doing so, I felt a kind of unease with the broad claims that were made in some studies about certain ‘traditional’ material elements used by Jews, such as stepped pools and synagogues. In many cases, it felt that these claims were more based on their particular understanding of the texts than on the actual archaeological remains. Why was no one bothered by the fact that the distribution of the archaeological phenomena is so uneven at times. To give one example, we have various homes in Sepphoris with more than one stepped pool, while in others none were found. Clearly there is something going on here in terms of economic, social, cultural, or religious differentiation between these homes which we cannot really put our finger yet on.

How would you describe the relevance of your work for society?
I have been struggling with this question for as long as I’ve been doing archaeology. Surely there is a certain societal relevance to my work, but it is not as straightforward and as easy to pin down as, for instance, medical research with the potential of saving babies’ lives. Yet, often it gets forgotten that in those fields, the role of the individual researcher is rather minor – only a small block in a long chain of research toward the actual societal result. The individuality of humanities research often makes the public—and even the researchers themselves—forget about their longer research chain and its societal results (and, thus, relevance). It is this, I think, that has led to the more recent criticism levelled against humanities research—the larger picture and relevance often gets lost. This is why being part of the CSTT is such a great experience—you feel the larger relevance of the centre, as well as that of your own research.

My archaeological research will not be of direct, physical relevance to the person on the street. However, the material emphasis in my study shifts the balance toward the everyday aspects not usually given attention in history books or textual sources, yet which of course played important roles in the community at that time and, as a result, was of significant influence to society. Moreover, archaeology’s concern with ‘context’ provides an opportunity to balance people’s black-and-white views on ancient as well as recent events. The strong partition in society that has grown so clearly over the last decade (producing extremists, nationalists, etc.) is often due to a lack of understanding of contextual information. In our globalized world with more information coming toward us than ever before, clarifying context is crucial.

Which archaeological find, of all those you’ve been a part of, was most exciting to you?  Why?
I must confess, and this may sound odd, that I don’t have a particular find that has excited me the most. To be sure, last year’s mosaic floor at Horvat Kur was a very nice find. It hits a certain emotional level, as the inscription on it mentions the first known name of a person (Yudan bar Susu) to possibly have lived in this village in antiquity. It brings you closer to the actual people who lived here. Even the name of our site, ‘Horvat Kur’, is a modern one and we have no idea how the place was called in antiquity. But I cannot say that this personally was my most exciting find. Perhaps this sounds strange, but it is not the finds that excite me so much about archaeology. This is simply a consequence of the particular location where one digs—there’s more luck than skill in finding something spectacular.

Instead, I get more excited about the knowledge one is able to retrieve from a particular find, whatever it may be: a potsherd, a roof tile fragment, or a soil sample. This knowledge is not inherent in the find itself, but derives from the context where it was found. Perhaps the most exciting finds are the roof tile fragments found at Horvat Kur. Roof tiles? That sounds so dull! That may be, but petrographic research by our Horvat Kur team has shown that a considerable number of them were produced in the region of Cilicia, in south-west Turkey. The fact that a normal, small village in rural eastern Galilee used roof tiles made some 1000 km away shows how well-connected the Roman and Byzantine Empires were.

Is there anything you’ve researched that you never thought you’d find yourself interested in?
Well, this question fits my entire career in a way. It was never my plan to focus my research on Jewish and biblical history, let alone be physically working in a Biblical Studies department. It’s mainly my interest in research as such that brought me here, not the particular subjects themselves. I hold a (perhaps too) wide interest in archaeology, ranging from archaeological theory, ethics and the history of archaeology, to cultural heritage management and materials science. A mentor of mine in Leiden University, first enticed my interest in Roman archaeology, the cultural image of ‘Rome’ and its interaction with native subjects. The Roman Empire interests me, in part, because of how the West leans in its values and politics on Rome’s heritage, though I should say on their interpretation of this heritage. For my undergraduate thesis, I chose in 2005/6 one particular region to examine its cultural exchange with ‘Rome’. This became Galilee, in Israel. The initial topic turned out to be a bit larger than I expected… and, yes, I’m still working on it ten years later!

What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, I’m quite excited about plaster… especially the plaster that was used for the stepped pools in order to avoid seepage losses. I am currently planning to do a short field season with colleagues this summer to visit some sites and to analyze the plaster of some stepped pools there. I hope this investigation will show more regarding how it was made, where its natural components originated from, and perhaps if it can tell us something about the water that was held in these pools. Also we’re planning to build some digital 3D models of these pools using photogrammetry. We then can use these digital models for simulating the water level fluctuation in these pools based on paleo-climatic evidence.

Interview conducted by Helen Dixon

“Working With Cultural Objects and Manuscripts: Provenance, Legality, and Responsible Stewardship” (Helsinki, 5-6 June)

The symposium takes place on Monday 5 and Tuesday 6 June 2017 in the premises of the National Museum of Finland, Helsinki.

Registration is free and open until 28 May 2017. Go to registration form here.


Monday, June 5

9:30-10:00 Registration & Coffee
10:00-11:00 SESSION 1: Welcome & Introduction to the Issues
10:00-10:10 Elina Anttila (National Museum of Finland)
Opening words
10:10-10:30 Suzie Thomas & Visa Immonen (University of Helsinki)
Working with Cultural Objects and Manuscripts in a Finnish Context: Reflections on Issues and Possibilities
10:30-11:00 Jussi Nuorteva (National Archives of Finland; Finnish National Commission for UNESCO; UNESCO International Advisory Committee for the Memory of the World Programme)
UNESCO Memory of the World Programme and Measures to Safeguard Documentary Heritage
11:00-13:00 Lunch
13:00-15:30 SESSION 2: Museums
13:00-14:00 Keynote Speaker: Magnus Olofsson (Swedish National Heritage Board; Vasa Museum; ICOM Nord)
Cooperation, ethics and the need for new legislation – 
Some examples of how Sweden works to prevent cultural heritage crime”
14:00-14:30 Anni Guttorm (Siida Museum, Inari)
Homecoming: Experiences of Sámi Object Repatriations at the Sámi Museum Siida
14:30-15:00 Susanna Pettersson (Ateneum National Gallery)
“Acquiring fine arts: trade, ownership and provenance”
15:00-15:30 Nida Dandashi (University of Helsinki)
The Archaeological Museum of Homs and its Collection: Past and Present
15:30-16:00 Coffee Break
16:00-18:30 SESSION 3: Academia
16:00-17:00 Keynote Speaker: Christopher Rollston (George Washington University)
Flotsam and Jetsam: Salvage Work in a Sea of Forged and Pillaged Inscriptions
17:00-17:30 Damien Huffer (Stockholm University)
“Bodies in the Lab, Skulls on the Mantlepiece: Studying Human Remains in Academia, from Online Markets to Teaching Collections” 
17:30-18:00 Åke Engsheden (Stockholm University)
Bits and Pieces from Monastic Life in Late Antique Egypt: Coptic Ostraca in Museum Gustavianum, Uppsala”
18:00-18:30 Sanna Aro-Valjus (University of Helsinki)
The Allure of Touch, the Desire to Possess: Finnish Assyriologists and Cuneiform Tablets
19:30-21:30 Speakers’ dinner

Tuesday, June 6

9:00-9:30 Coffee
9:30-11:30 SESSION 4: Government
9:30-10:30 Keynote Speaker: Patty Gerstenblith (DePaul University)
Looting of Archaeological Sites amid Armed Conflict: Government and Legal Responses”
10:30-11:00 Raila Kataja (National Board of Antiquities; National Museum of Finland)
The Reality of Exporting Cultural Goods: The Point of Views of the Licensing Authority
11:00-11:30 Josephine Munch Rasmussen (Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage Research)
“Illicit trade in Cultural objects and manuscripts: stakeholder responses”
11:30-12:00 Eero Ehanti (National Museum of Finland; ICOM Finland)
Privileges and Responsibilities: Views on Museum Ethics
12:00-14:00 Lunch
14:00-17:00 SESSION 5: A Way Forward for Finland and the World (roundtable discussion)
14:00-15:00 Keynote Speaker: Neil Brodie (University of Oxford)
“Unprovenanced Objects in the Twenty-First Century: Policies and Problems”
15:00-15:45 Open discussion
15:45-16:15 Coffee break
16:15-17:00 Open discussion
17:00-18:00 Reception at National Museum of Finland (hosted by the City of Helsinki)


Famous top scholars in the Soisalon-Soininen symposium

More information on programme and registration for the conference can be found here.

Professor Ilmari Soisalon-Soininen (1917–2002) is best known for his research on the syntax of the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. One of the distinct traits of the Septuagint is its nature as a translation from a Semitic language to an Indo-European one. Actually, many of the books included in the Septuagint have different translations whose style and degree of literalism vary greatly. The translators can be characterized by their choice of renderings in such Hebrew structures that can be rendered in many different ways in different contexts. Some of the translators of the Septuagint aimed at rendering a certain Hebrew grammatical structure by a fixed Greek structure as often as possible, sometimes producing unidiomatic Greek or an obscure meaning. Thus the syntax of the translation is partly governed by the source language. Soisalon-Soininen did pioneering work in taking this aspect fully into account by his translation-technical methodology. Continue reading Famous top scholars in the Soisalon-Soininen symposium

New book “Insights into Editing in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East” (Peeters, 2017)

Reinhard Müller and Juha Pakkala, eds (2017) Insights into Editing in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. What Does the Documented Evidence Tell Us about the Transmission of Authoritative Texts? Contributions to Biblical Exegesis & Theology 84. Leuven: Peeters.

Documented evidence has shown that the Hebrew Bible was edited by successive scribes for centuries, and the impact of editing on the resulting text has proven to be crucial. A better understanding of any issue in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israel requires a deep understanding of the editorial processes. As a consequence, the editorial processes of the Hebrew Bible have come to the fore in the most recent scholarly debates.

Nevertheless, editorial processes in the Hebrew Bible are still poorly understood and a methodological overview is lacking. It is apparent that collaboration between scholars of different fields is needed, and a methodological discussion that takes into account all the editorial techniques witnessed by documented evidence in the Hebrew scriptures and the rest of the ancient Near East is required. This book is a step in this direction. Contributions in this volume by leading scholars approach the issue from various perspectives, including methodology, textual criticism, redaction criticism, Dead Sea Scrolls, Assyriology, and Egyptology.

For more information and to order the book, please visit Peeters Publishers.

New Book “The Legacy of Barthélemy” (V&R, 2017)

Anneli Aejmelaeus and Tuukka Kauhanen, eds (2017) The Legacy of Barthélemy: 50 Years after Les Devanciers d’Aquilla. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Les Devanciers d’Aquila by Dominique Barthélemy (1963) is an epoch-making work on the textual history of the Septuagint. On the basis of his analysis of the Nahal Hever Minor Prophets Scroll, Barthélemy developed his theory of an early Hebraizing revision (so-called kaige revision), designed to bring the traditional text of the Septuagint closer to the Hebrew text, and recognized examples of it in the B-text of books such as Joshua, Judges, and Samuel-Kings. The work of these early Hebraizing revisers resembled the later very literal translation by Aquila; hence the name of the book, “the predecessors of Aquila”. Continue reading New Book “The Legacy of Barthélemy” (V&R, 2017)

Soisalon-Soininen Symposium on the Septuagint (June 1-4, Helsinki): Registration + Programme

The international Soisalon-Soininen Symposium on the Septuagint focuses on the Greek language of the Septuagint and is organized in memory of Ilmari Soisalon-Soininen and in celebration of his 100th birthday on June 4, 2017. The symposium is organized by the Centre of Excellence “Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions,” Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki. Continue reading Soisalon-Soininen Symposium on the Septuagint (June 1-4, Helsinki): Registration + Programme

CSTT Annual Meeting “Tradition” (10-13 May, Tvärminne)

Location: Tvärminne, May 10-13, 2017

Wednesday, May 10

4:00 – 5:00pm: Jessi Orpana, Plenary Session on Defining ‘Tradition’

Session 1 (Keynote 1)
5:00 – 7:00pm: Eva Mroczek (UC Davis)
“Censored and Salvaged: Theories of Scriptural Survival in Ancient Judaism and Christianity”
[Responses by four teams with discussion, moderated by Jutta Jokiranta, Helen Dixon, Ville Mäkipelto, and Miika Tucker]

7:00 – 8:00pm: Dinner

Thursday, May 11

Session 2: (Keynote 2; Chair Katja Kujanpää)
9:00 – 11:30pm: Seth Sanders (UC Davis)
“Memory Without History, Art Without Intention: The Unique Problem of Pentateuchal Tradition” [Reinhard Müller and Hanna Tervanotko, respondents]

12:00 – 1:00pm: Lunch

Session 3: Scribes and Other Cultural Transmitters
1:00-2:00pm: Martti Nissinen, “CSTT Seen through Scribal Culture” (discussion)
2:00-3:00pm: Raija Mattila, “Your First Day at School (in Mesopotamia)” (workshop)

3:00 – 3:30pm: Coffee break

Session 4: Ritual (Chair Tero Alstola)
3:30-4:15pm: Gina Konstantopoulos, “Tradition and Transmission in Mesopotamian Incantations” [Timo Tekoniemi, respondent]
4:15-5:00pm: Jutta Jokiranta“Transmission of Traditions in Rituals from Cognitive Science of Religion Perspective” [Ville Mäkipelto, respondent]
5:00-6:00pm: Helen Dixon, Ritual workshop – title TBD

6:00 – 7:00pm: Dinner

Friday, May 12

Session 5
9:30-10:30am: Jason Silverman, “Amateur Anthropology of Foreign Traditions” (workshop)
10:30-11:30am: Isaak de Hulster, “Female Form: Generally Human, Traditional, or Contextual?” (workshop)

11:30 – 11.45am: CSTT photo (Ville)

11:45am – 12:45pm: Lunch

Session 6: Gender (Chair Hanna Tervanotko)
12:45 – 1:30pm: Jessica Keady, “Troubling the Purity Tradition: The Positions of Idealism, Impurity, and Masculinities in the Dead Sea Scrolls” [Jessi Orpana, respondent]
1:30 – 3:00pm: Saana Svärd and Hanna Tervanotko, “CSTT, Gender, and Tradition” workshop [with Anneli Aejmelaeus, Francis Borchardt, and Rick Bonnie; Eva Mroczek and Seth Sanders, respondents]

3:00 – 5:00pm: Afternoon break

Session 7 (Chair Mika Pajunen)
5:00 – 6:00pm: Joanna Töyräänvuori, “Tradition and Modernity in Light of the Linear Theory of Social Change” (workshop)
6:00 – 7:00pm: Elisa Uusimäki, Panel discussion on postdoc projects

7:00 – 8:30pm: Dinner

Saturday, May 13

9:00 – 10:00am: Ville Mäkipelto, Blogging workshop

10:00 – 12:00pm: Session 8: Wrap Up
– Reflections by Helen Dixon, Christoph Levin, Eva Mroczek, Seth Sanders, and Martti Nissinen
– Team reports and plans + CSTT meetings discussions

12:00 – 1:00pm: Lunch and check out

Workshop: “Social-Scientific Theorizing and Biblical Studies” (26-27 April, Helsinki)

Place: Faculty Room 5th floor, Vuorikatu 3, Faculty of Theology

Wednesday 26 April

10:00‒12:00 Prof. David Chalcraft (Liverpool John Moores University)
The most useful sociologist(s) to think with in Biblical Studies (depending on the task in hand)

13:30‒14:30 Dr. Jessica Keady (University of Helsinki)
From PhD to Postdoctoral Studies: Gender, Purity, Performance, and Positioning in the Dead Sea Scrolls

14:30‒15:00 coffee

15:00‒16:00 Dr. Jason Silverman (University of Helsinki)
The Socio-Political Implications of Language Choice: Towards Analyzing Persian Period Judaean Communication using the Sociolinguistic Concepts of “Code-Switching” and “Code- Mixing”.

Thursday 27 April

9:00‒10:00 Dr. Joanna Töyräänvuori (University of Helsinki)
How to Study Strategies Used by Minority Cultures in Dealing with Oppressive Ideological Messages in the Ancient World

10:00‒11:00 Dr. Jessi Orpana (University of Helsinki)
On Cultural Negotiation

11:00‒12:00 Dr. Doc. Jutta Jokiranta (University of Helsinki)
On the Fuzzy ‘Authority’ & Conclusions

16:15‒18:00 CSTT Lecture Series: Prof. David J. Chalcraft, (Liverpool John Moores University)
Moving Through Texts: The Rituals of Reading and the Sociology of Mobility

Rituals are Exciting! An Interview with Jutta Jokiranta

What is your research about, in general terms?
My research is about the Second Temple period and processes of creating Judean/Jewish identities, especially in light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (or Qumran texts). It’s also about imagining what texts mean during this time when they are written in scrolls, and about the impact of rituals in humans’ lives and perceptions.

Why particularly did you choose this direction for your career?
Rituals are underrepresented in research that has been keen on finding meanings of texts and symbolic interpretations; rituals take seriously the need for doing and aspects that are common to all human beings: patterns of ritualization and rituals as mediating traditions. Identity has been part of my research always!

How would you describe the relevance of your work for society?
The more I study, the more I think of big questions: how is human thought constrained by its innate capacities. and how does that effect the way we think of God, gods or otherworldly beings, for example. How is our perception of the world embodied and extended? Cognitive science of religion brings together the past and the present to answer such questions.

More focused on biblical studies: it is valuable to study in which forms sacred texts exist in different times and how they are understood to exist and work. Before books and print culture, you could not walk with “the bible” in your hand. Furthermore, Judaism is and was not only one thing, then and now. Christians tend to look at Judaism of the New Testament as legalistic, ritualistic, and corrupt, but one gets a different story in the Scrolls.

Looking back at your academic work so far, what would you say you are most proud of?
Perhaps being able to show the relevance of social-scientific approaches in Qumran and biblical studies: studying social identity, sectarianism, authority, or almost any topic can benefit from critical thinking about the concepts we use or from informed theories.

Can you tell us a short story about something that happened to you during your career that amazed you?
Well, I was amazed during these past years to find myself in archaeological excavations and enjoying it so much — or rather that my physical condition did not let me down! I am really grateful for these opportunities.

Is there anything you’ve researched that you never thought you’d find yourself interested in?
It may sound funny, but somehow the Maccabean/Hasmonean history with all the power struggles and various successive kings has not been so appealing to me, but recently these things have become more alive and meaningful, also because of archaeology.

With the cognitive approaches, I find myself reading studies referring to neuropsychology or evolutionary theories, and those can be quite apart from traditional biblical studies.

What are you working on at the moment?
I want to find out how ritualization, as a mechanism of actions that feel compelling, functions within various rituals or practices, and how we might detect this phenomenon that can be significant in dealing with anxieties. I also want to explain what kind of ideas and practices were connected to covenant making and covenant renewal, and what difference those make, especially with the Qumran movement as a case study. Rituals are exciting!

Jutta Jokiranta is University Lecturer in Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies at the University of Helsinki, Department of Biblical Studies (since 2009). She is currently Team Leader of CSTT’s Team 4 Society and Religion in Late Second Temple Judaism (2014‒2019) and is also an Academy Research Fellow for her project Ritual and Change in the Qumran Movement and Judaean Society (2014‒2019). More information can be found on her University of Helsinki profile-page.

Interview conducted by Helen Dixon

Why the stadium of Roman Tiberias was not a stadium but a harbor quay: A Dialogue between Archaeology and Text

By Rick Bonnie

While archaeological excavations often help us to elucidate the narratives found in ancient texts, trying to combine the two sources can sometimes lead us astray. Examples where texts are used for the interpretation of archaeological material usually receive a lot of attention in the media. Cases when archaeology and text cannot be so easily used together are considered much more rarely, especially in the weeks around Pesach and Easter when hyperbole in terms of the importance of certain finds tends to hit the media machine. I wish to focus here on a case where text and archaeology cannot be so straightforwardly combined.

Continue reading Why the stadium of Roman Tiberias was not a stadium but a harbor quay: A Dialogue between Archaeology and Text