ICS marks the passing on November 2, 2016 of Professor A. Thomas Kraabel, who collaborated with ICS founder Estelle S. Brettman on the organization of the international panel "Diaspora Judaism Under the Roman Empire: Recent Archaeological Evidence," at the American Institute of Archaeology's Annual Conference in Boston in 1979. Panel speakers were Prof. Cesare Colafemmina on the Jewish Catacombs of Venosa; Prof. Dean L. Moe on the synagogue at Stobi; Prof. A. T. Kraabel on Jewish Communities of Western Asia Minor; and Prof. Eric M. Meyers on Gailean Synagogues and the Eastern Diaspora, with Prof. Jacob Neusner as respondent. As AIA Boston Program Director, Brettman helped raise funds for Prof. Colafemmina's travel expenses and speaking engagements around Boston. Her exhibit, "Vaults of Memory: Jewish and Christian Imagery in the Catacombs of Rome," (link) also made its debut at the Boston Public Library at this time as a featured event during the AIA conference.
In light of Kraabel's great dedication to the discovery, conservation, and documentation of ancient Jewish material remains, ICS reprints below his AIA panel abstract, both as a tribute to Kraabel's scholarship and a sign of support for his view that much work remained to be done in 1979 to give proper value to the non-literary remains of Jewish art and culture in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine Periods (third through seventh centuries CE). With due respect, concerning some sites and even entire geographical areas, much work remains! Perhaps something to discuss at the AIA's next conference in Boston in January of 2018, nearly forty years after Kraabel's panel brought the good news to new audiences that something very remarkable was happening to the study of ancient Judaism, right then, and right now.
"The study of Diaspora Judaism, the Jews under Roman rule but outside ancient Palestine, has long been only a "related field" for classical archaeology - which stresses "classical" sites and problems - and for Biblical Studies and Jewish Studies, which tend to focus on other geographical areas or time periods. The latter also favors other kinds of evidence, chiefly religious texts, while the data for Diaspora Judaism are chiefly archaeological.
In the last quarter-century, several major new sites have been discovered, and the reexamination of previously known evidence has progressed substantially. Presently, major initiatives are underway to preserve and record endangered sites and other evidence from the Diaspora, chielfy in Italy and Egypt.
Beginning with the new data, this colloquium attempts to view Diaspora Judaism in its own right, in order to more fully understand it as at the same time (his emphasis) an important phenomenon of the society of the Roman Empire, and an authentic and creative expression of ancient Jewish culture and religion.
The newest evidence is coming from Italy, where some of the most ancient Diaspora communities were located; the major presentation, by Prof. Cesare Colafemmina, deals with some of this material, nearly all not yet published. The next three speakers summarize the results of their own excavations and related sites. Prof. Neusner, dean of academic Jewish studies in North America, assesses the new archaeological evidence against the background of the larger context of the Judaism of Late Antiquity, known previously chiefly from rabbinic writings.
The concluding discussion permits responses from the previous speakers and from the floor."
Kraabel Obituary (Source: Star Tribune, November 5, 2016) "Kraabel, A. Thomas Died Nov. 2, 2016 having lived with Parkinson's Disease for 28 years. Formerly of Minneapolis, he served as Pastor at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church 1961-1963 and as Faculty in the Dept. of Classics at the Univ. of MN. 1967-1983. Retired in 2000 having served as Dean of the College and Faculty in Religion and Classics at Luther College, Decorah IA. Survived by wife Janice, son Allen (Debra), son Thomas (Kristine), daughter Sarah Kriewall (Dan), five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, brother Paul S. Kraabel and family. Memorial service at First Lutheran Church, Decorah, IA, 2pm, Nov 11, 2016."