Between Archaeology and Texts: Early Jewish Ritual Law as a Test Case

Author(s): Yonatan Adler

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "At the Interface the Use of Archaeology and Texts in Research" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

The late Hellenistic and Roman periods were formative for the development of halakhah—Jewish ritual law. Whereas texts have traditionally served as the primary basis for tracing the evolution of early halakhah, archaeology provides evidence on aspects of this history which are entirely unobtainable from the textual record. Through archaeology, we can trace how halakhah developed in the actual practices of ordinary Jews over time and across geographies. Together with the potential prospects, a slew of methodological pitfalls lie in the path of any attempt to correlate archaeological finds and halakhic praxis. We must be careful, for example, never to be too quick in finding intersections between archaeology and halakhic textual evidence; archaeological finds should never be forced into the straightjacket of the texts. Another salient and ever-present danger is anachronism – whenever earlier material finds are interpreted through the lens of later practices. Ritual purity and tefillin (phylacteries) provide two case studies for evaluating how archaeology may be both used and misused in the reconstruction of early halakhic development. A sober consideration of the benefits and hazards allows us to chart the path forward toward developing a useful "archaeology of halakhah" within the framework of a broader "archaeology of ritual".

Cite this Record

Between Archaeology and Texts: Early Jewish Ritual Law as a Test Case. Yonatan Adler. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 452496)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: 26.191; min lat: 12.211 ; max long: 73.477; max lat: 42.94 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 24608