Then and Now
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What I Learned in Prison

I recently finished teaching a four-class course on the Book of Psalms to medium security inmates of our state ACI (Adult Correctional Institute). The course was organized through a student group at Brown. The reasons I choose to do this are too complex to get into here; perhaps that will be the topic of another...

Fooling Around with Digital Humanities

I have long been interested in ways in which modern technology can enhance what I do, as a scholar and a teacher. In the classroom I have used podcasts and wikis, and I continue to work on a digital collection of inscriptions from Israel/Palestine that date from antiquity. Only recently, however, has the surge of...

A Usable Past

I just finished Albert Baumgarten’s engaging biography of Elias Bickerman, Elias Bickerman as Historian of the Jews: A Twentieth Century Tale, which was also recently reviewed by Anthony Grafton in The Jewish Review of Books. In Baumgarten’s telling, Bickerman was a permanent refugee (who for the almost forty years that he “lived” in America actually...

Death, and the Modern American Synagogue

I had the pleasure this last week of listening to a lecture by Professor Carlos Eire, of Yale University. (Full dislosure: I was a colleague of Carlos’s at University of Virginia, and in addition to finding him a supportive senior colleague, have followed his work with admiration since, particularly his award-winning Waiting for Snow in...

Larry Axel Memorial Lecture

I just presented the Larry Axel Memorial Lecture at Purdue University. The talk was entitled, “Big Givers: The Origins of Jewish Philanthropy.” The publicity paragraph reads: Whether by naming buildings, erecting plaques, or publishing name-lists, our practice of recognizing donors is so common that we hardly notice it. This lecture will examine the origins of...

"Day of Judgment"

Tonight Rosh HaShanah begins. It is probably safe to say that many Jews associate the holiday with two theological themes. The first, emphasized especially in children’s books and early Jewish educational settings, is the birthday of the world – the day on which God created the world. The second theme, which is far more prominent...

Memory, History, and Jews in the Eighteenth Century

I’ve just spent a fascinating few days reading through Jewish ritual calendars luhot – that date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many of these calendars contain a short, one or two page, list of important Jewish historical events, dated from the creation of the world. These annual calendars were for the most part small...

"Fruit and the Fruit of Fruit"

My article, “Fruit and the Fruit of Fruit: Charity and Piety among Jews in Late Antique Palestine” has just appeared the Jewish Quarterly Review 100 (2010): 244-277. It can be accessed online here, with an institutional subscription.

Costly Mistakes

In the new Bevis Marks synagogue in London, in 1701, the hazan, or salaried prayer-leader, was fined for every mistake he made while reading from the Torah. The minute books of the synagogue record actual cases of fining the hazan. In his book, The History of the Ancient Synagogue of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews...

Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine

I am happy to report a significant upgrade to the site, Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine. The site will eventually make accessible all of the published inscriptions from the region that date from the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods.

Last Friday I delivered a plenary address at the NE regional SBL meeting in Newton, MA. Below is the text: Who Needs Theory? An Historian’s PolemicMichael Satlow I have to start with a confession: I hate plenary sessions. I’ve always disliked plenary sessions, and I have generally avoided them – if not quite like the...

The Gift in Antiquity

On May 2-4, 2010, Brown will be hosting a conference entitled “The Gift in Antiquity.” The purpose of this conference is to use the theoretical frame of the “gift” (especially as discussed by Marcel Mauss) as a way to explore a range of practices in antiquity, focusing on the Mediterranean region and West Asia. It...