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The Institute for the Liberal Arts

The Maccabees Project Dialogue Series

institute for the liberal arts

Maccabee Stamp


About this Series

The Maccabees project is a multi-disciplinary research effort across the fields of biblical studies, ancient history, archaeology, and the history of religion. The Project is a series of dialogues, presentations, and colloquia devoted to the time and place of the original story—Israel in the second century B.C.E.—as well as later times and places in which people relied on or were affected by those written texts, including the periods of the Jewish Revolt against Rome in 66 C.E., the rabbinic and medieval eras, and the early years of the modern State of Israel.


Spring 2016 Lectures


Pietists, Pragmatists, Infidels, Martyrs:
The Maccabees in Scripture and Tradition »

A conversation with Daniel R. Schwartz and Robert Doran.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
12:00- 2:00 p.m.
STM Library, Room 112

Event Description

 Who were the Maccabees? They were heroes to secular Zionists like Herzl, who idealized their turn from traditional piety to pragmatism, and heroes to some current culture warriors like Ted Cruz, who claims to emulate their defense of religious freedom. Their willingness to fight inspired Crusaders and Zionists; the story of seven brothers (though not Maccabean) martyred informed Christian ideals of suffering, atonement, and resurrection. In their own time they also aroused suspicion: seen as illegitimate rulers by some, and as impious by others. Their own histories are just as divided: they are presented as royal but not kings; defenders of piety who allowed sabbath warfare; opponents of Hellenizers who nonetheless turned Judea into a Hellenistic state. Can we assess the evidence and identify these historical figures? Will the real Maccabees please stand up?

Can Judaism Survive a Jewish State?
On the First and Second Books of Maccabees »

A Public Dialogue with Daniel Schwartz, Robert Doran, and Jonathan Klawans
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Congregation Kehillath Israel, Brookline, MA



Event Description

From the fall of Judah's independent monarchy in the 8th century BCE to the rise of modern Israel in 1948, Eretz Yisrael saw autonomous rule only for about fifty years, under the Hasmonean dynasts (c. 110-63 BCE). What has been the relationship between political autonomy, imperial rule, and the emergence and development of Judaism? Our interlocuters will begin with the ancient evidence. The First Book of Maccabees clearly bespeaks the position of those in power, the members of the Hasmonean dynasty, but its attitude toward Judaism is not clear; the Second Book of Maccabees, in contrast, is clearly enthusiastic about Judaism and devotion to it, but seems to have little interest in the Hasmonean dynasty. In our dialogue we will investigate both sides of this contrast, then follow the discussion into modern times, focusing on the interdependence of land, political independence, social agreement, and civic participation, and their implications for the freedoms enjoyed by contemporary religious communities.

Maccabees, Martyrs, and Mythmakers:
The Invention of Jewish Identity in 1st and 2nd Maccabees »

A Research Colloquium with Daniel Shwartz, Robert, Doran, and Jonathan Klawans
Thursday, April 14, 2016
3:00- 5:00 p.m.
STM Library, Room 112

Event Description

Who was a “Jew” in the time of the Hasmoneans? When did the category become primarily religious, rather than ethnic and territorial? This Colloqium will focus on evidence for competing concepts of Jewish identity in First and Second Maccabees. We will consider the conspicuous, still familiar expression of piety in First and Second Maccabees—Kashruth and Shabbat observance, Torah veneration, circumcision, and marriage practices. When did they become central to Jewish identity? What do Hasmonean-era debates over their proper observance reveal about their origins—and about the nature of Judean society at the time? What was at stake in the struggle to control “Jewish” identity? What are the implications of these ancient debates for modern Jews and Christians?

About the Speakers


Andrea Berlin headshot

Andrea Berlin is the James R. Wiseman Chair in Classical Archaeology in the Department of Archaeology at Boston University. She has been excavating in the eastern Mediterranean for over thirty years, working on projects from Troy in Turkey to Coptos in southern Egypt to Paestum, in Italy. Her specialty is the Near East from the time of Alexander the Great through the Roman era, about which she has written four books and over forty articles. She is especially interested in studying the realities of daily life, and in exploring the intersection of politics and cultural change in antiquity. Since 1997, she has been the co-director, with Sharon C. Herbert of the University of Michigan, of excavations at Tel Kedesh, a large mound in Israel’s northeastern Upper Galilee. Discoveries include a huge compound (2400 sq m), built c. 500 BCE and used as a royal or imperial administrative center under the Achaemenid, Ptolemaic, and Seleucid regimes. The site has produced new evidence pertinent to the historical realities of life in southern Phoenicia and Judea from the fifth through second centuries BCE, with pointed implications for the historicity of the books of the Maccabees.


Robert Doran is the Samuel Williston Professor of Greek and Hebrew at Amherst College. His research explores the way Jews were affected by Greek culture and how they re-wrote the biblical traditions. Of particular interest is the author of 2 Maccabees, who used the categories and style of Hellenistic historiography in telling the victory of the Judeans against their Greek Seleucid overlords. His most recent book, 2 Maccabees: A Critical Commentary, explores the interplay between history and historiography in the document. Providing detailed philological analysis of the elegant Greek of the text, Doran carefully sifts the evidence for the historicity of the events recounted, while giving full attention to the literary and rhetorical qualities that mark this dramatic narrative.

Yonder Gillihan headshot

Yonder Gillihan is Associate Professor of Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins at Boston College. His research focuses on law and ideology in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Hellenistic-Roman world. His current book project treats the status of associations in state ideology and law during the Hellenistic-Roman era, with emphasis on Judea under Hasmonean and Herodian rule.

Jonathan Klawans headshot

Jonathan Klawans is Professor of Religion at Boston University. He is a specialist in the religion and religious literature of ancient Judaism who teaches courses in Western Religion, the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Jewish history, and Rabbinic literature. His most recent book, Josephus and the Theologies of Ancient Judaism re-examines the theology of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, as well as the theological views Josephus attributes to the major Jewish groups of his day: the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes. The book argues that matters of belief played an important role, alongside Jewish law, in ancient Jewish sectarian disputes. Professor Klawans also serves on the editorial boards of Currents in Biblical Research, the Journal of Biblical Literature, and the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Early Jewish Setting. He is co-editor (with Lawrence Wills) of the forthcoming Jewish Annotated Apocrypha.

Daniel Schwartz headshot

Daniel Schwartz is the Herbst Family Professor of Judaic Studies at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. His research focuses on Jewish history of the Second Temple period, especially in the fields of historiography and chronology and the history of Judaism in that period, with special emphasis on the background of Christianity and upon Hellenistic Judaism. He also focuses on modern historiography of the Second Temple period. His most recent book Judeans and Jews: Four Faces of Dichotomy in Ancient Jewish History presents the Second Temple era as an age of transition between a territorial past and an exilic and religious future, sharpening our understanding of this important era while also shedding light on the revolution in Jewish identity caused by the creation of the modern state of Israel.

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