Friday, June 17, 2005

Steven Fine's new book, Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman World, has just been published by Cambridge University Press.

From the publisher's description: "Art and Judaism explores the Jewish experience with art during the Greco-Roman period - from the Hellenistic period through the rise of Islam. It starts with the premise that Jewish art in antiquity was a ‘minority’ or ‘ethnic’ art and surveys ways that Jews fully participated in, transformed, and at times rejected the art of their general environment. It focuses upon the politics of identity during the Greco-Roman period, even as it discusses ways that modern identity issues have sometimes distorted and at other times refined scholarly discussion of ancient Jewish material culture."

It sounds like a really interesting book, worthwhile for anyone interested in ancient Jewish art and archaeology. I hope that it might be of some use to me in my current research on the Babylonian incantation bowls (I'm currently writing an article tentatively called "Image and Word: Performative Ritual and Material Culture in the Aramaic Incantation Bowls," a revision of two papers given in the last two years at the Association for Jewish Studies meetings). One of the problems that always concerns me in dealing with the bowls is the question of the relationship between literary sources and material remains. Are they talking about the same thing? Do they give evidence for the same aspects of late Sassanian/early Islamic culture in Iraq? What is the relationship between unequivocally Jewish sources like the Babylonian Talmud and the incantation bowls, which clearly display a pluralism of cultural markers? What do the bowls tell us about cultural/ethnic/religious identity at that time in late antique Iraq? Steve Fine's book deals with the Greco-Roman world, but some of the same intellectual problems would arise there also.

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