Shohet Scholars: Creating Connections and Inspiring Results
The International Catacomb Society began in Boston in 1980 as an ecumenical and interfaith network of individuals passionate about the preservation of ancient Jewish and Early Christian material remains in countries around the Mediterranean. In the ensuing decades, ICS has become a major financial contributor through its Shohet Scholars Grant Program to current research in these sites. Funding for the Shohet Scholarship is made possible in part by generous contributions from our donors.
Shohet Scholar grant recipients have excavated catacombs in Tunisia and Sicily, ancient Greek tombs in Corinth, shipwrecks in Turkey, and a venerated crypt in Cana, Galilee; they have analyzed and preserved unique ancient wall paintings in Egypt and recovered traces of polychromy on the ancient reliefs of Jewish Temple instruments decorating the Arch of Titus in Rome; they have tracked down rare material evidence of Late Antique religious practices outside the walls of churches, temples, and synagogues, and have documented how the fashions of the times reflected key attitudes toward education, philosophy, and status. And these are only a few of the dynamic and innovative projects carried out and reported on with ICS support. A complete project list is below.
Michael Flexsenhar (Rhodes College, Religious Studies)
Jewish Imperial Life in Ancient Rome: The Agrippesioi and Augustesioi Synagogues
Flexsenhar’s project investigates the Agrippesioi and Augustesioi synagogues, which on the basis of their names are usually dated to the first-century CE and connected with slaves of Marcus Agrippa and the emperor Augustus. A collection of epigraphic and topographic evidence for the other synagogues of ancient Rome and for cult buildings of other ancient minority groups, including Christians and followers of Isis, tends to show that cult buildings were named on the basis of topography rather than of founders’ names. A broad collection of data will place the development of these two synagogues in the third- and fourth-century and locate them in the local Roman topography. It will also articulate more precisely the history of Jews in Rome and elucidate more critically the intersections of slavery, ethnicity, and religion in the imperial capital.
Justin Leidwanger (Stanford University, Classics)
The Marzamemi “Church Wreck” Project
Investigations of the Marzamemi “church wreck” off the coast of Sicily seek to explore the religious, economic, and political context of this famous 6th-century cargo of prefabricated church architecture. Building on fieldwork since 2013, we aim now 1) to excavate a new sector of the site that can reveal clues to the ship, crew, and cultural context, and 2) to undertake 3D recording and analysis of the monumental architectural elements. These efforts will offer a rare window into the roles of high commerce, mundane exchange, local religious patronage, and imperial ideology in tying together the Mediterranean during the twilight of ancient maritime connectivity.
Lindsey Mazurek (Bucknell University, Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies)
Mapping Religious Communities Across the Ancient Mediterranean - The Ostia Connectivity Project
This project examines the social ties that defined religious associations at Roman Ostia through a digital humanities approach. The Ostia Connectivity Project (OCP) uses data analysis and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping technology to consider how religious communities embedded themselves in the social networks of ancient Rome’s port complex at Ostia. Utilizing an archive of over 6,500 inscriptions and newly published graffiti, OCP charts the complex layers of relations that facilitated connectivity between religious groups, and sites. Through this approach, OCP can visualize the different scales of complexity that connect the local with the global, allowing us to account for the work that each relation does in making religious connectivity possible across the ancient Mediterranean.
Lindsey Mazurek (Memorial University, Newfoundland, Canada):
“Mapping Religious Communities Across the Ancient Mediterranean: The Ostian Connectivity Project.”
This project examines the social ties that defined religious associations at Roman Ostia by charting the complex layers of relations that facilitated the movement of goods, people, and ideas in and out of Rome's port. By examining inscriptions related to Jewish, early Christian, Isiac, and Mithraic communities with social network analysis and GIS data, Dr. Mazurek’s research offers new social and spatial information about how religions were practiced under the Roman Empire. The Shohet Scholars grant will fund Dr. Mazurek’s first season of field research, which will include database expansion and digital mapping.
Ilenia Gradante (Römisches Institut der Goerres-Gesellschaft) and Davide Tanasi (University of South Florida):
“Languages, formulas and identities in the Christian community of Syracuse in Sicily: the case of the Catacombs of S. Giovanni.”
The San Giovanni Catacombs are an impressive example of a Late Antiquity communal cemetery. Epigraphic formulas, linguistic choices and onomastic data prove that the local ruling class, clergymen and foreigners, preferred this cemetery: it was a society still influenced by classical reminiscences and yet able to express consciously its devotion to the new creed, on the basis of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The aim of the project is the systematic review and 3D digitization of published and unpublished epigraphic material from the cemetery, offering the first comprehensive survey of this community, published in an open access digital format.
Robert Tykot (University of South Florida) and Andrea Vianello (Independent Researcher):
“Mobility in north-eastern Italy between the Late Roman and Byzantine periods: the view from stable isotopes.”
This ambitious and interdisciplinary research will carry out strontium isotope analyses for the first time on Late Roman and Byzantine individuals buried in southern Veneto and Emilia-Romagna in Italy to investigate the mobility of these ancient people at a time of great changes and migratory movements. The research will reveal social mobility in Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, the effective impact of Late Antiquity migrations across the region and provide the strongest clue yet on who founded Venice and who lived in the Byzantine Empire of Ravenna.
Nathaniel DesRosiers (Stonehill College)
"Aphrodisias: City of the Gods"
This study will examine the religious life of the ancient Roman city of Aphrodisias. The project focuses on the ways that diverse religious groups, including the Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Christians, interacted within an urban environment, often adapting their beliefs, architecture, and religious practices as a result of such contact. Although other cities in the Greek-speaking east faced similar challenges, Aphrodisias is striking because it provides compelling evidence demonstrating how these diverse cultures competed with one another through art, architecture, and public donations, resulting in unique and innovative forms of religious expression found only in Aphrodisias.
Sarah Madole (City University of New York)
"New Perspectives on Mythological Sarcophagi and Subterranean Rome"
Mythological sarcophagi found in subterranean Rome have long been disassociated from their archaeological and cultic contexts due to the fragmented record and disciplinary agendas. The mythological sarcophagus catalogue remains incomplete, and a contextual study of the sub-group found beneath Rome is lacking in recent scholarship. The collation and study of this often-fragmentary material has rich potential and further, will contribute to recent studies on myth and meaning, and the sarcophagus industry in late imperial Rome.
Jodi Magness (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
“The Huqoq Excavation Project”
Huqoq is an ancient Jewish village located approximately three miles west of Capernaum and Migdal (Magdala) in the Galilee of Israel. A consortium of universities, led by Dr. Jodi Magness, has completed five seasons of excavations. This fifth season of excavation has revealed further portions of a mosaic floor that decorated a Late Roman – Byzantine (fifth century C.E.) synagogue. The mosaics uncovered in 2013 include a scene of Samson carrying the gate of Gaza upon his back (Judges 16:3), a grouping of men who surround a central figure under an arcade, and a battle scene or triumphal parade with elephants. In 2014, the remainder of the scene containing elephants was brought to light. For site reports and other documentation of the Huqoq Excavation, visit: http://huqoqexcavationproject.org/.
Daniel Ullucci (Rhodes College)
“Evidence of Physical Offerings by Christians in Roman Funerary Contexts”
This research seeks to demonstrate that current models of Christian origins are warped by a positivist attitude regarding the scope and influence of religious experts and their texts. There is a growing body of evidence, textual and archaeological, pointing to the continuance of sacrificial practices (physical offerings) in early Christian groups. Most of this evidence is preserved in funerary settings. Reintegrating this evidence will give a clearer picture of early Christian development. It will also help to show the various ways in which the everyday practices of the majority of ancient Christians did and did not correspond to the theological formulations of Christian experts.
Elizabeth S. Bolman, (Temple University)
Publishing Late Roman Paintings
Bolman has directed a project that recovered magnificent secco paintings in the Red and White Monasteries near Sohag in Egypt. She also gave a Shohet Memorial lecture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston on the subject in 2013. A 3-D virtual tour of the monastery is at this link.
Steven Fine, (Yeshiva University)
The Arch of Titus Project
Fine contextualizes this monument, which has been and continues to be contentious in the history of Judaism and Western culture. He is also directing high-tech digital reconstructions of the polychromy of the menorah panel on the arch. Websites for the Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project and Coursera series, "The Arch of Titus. Rome and the Menorah."
Rosa Maria Motta (Christopher Newport University) and Davide Tanasi (Arcadia University)
Burial Practices and Funerary Rituals between the Late Roman and Early Medieval Periods in the Catacombs of St. Lucy in Syracuse (Sicily)
This project investigates the transformation of cemeterial spaces into cult places for religious practices relating to the worship of the holy relics of St. Lucy and of other holy men and women buried in the catacombs. Press: http://studyabroad.arcadia.edu/about-us/news-publications/details/student-published-in-scholarly-journal/ and http://facultynews.cnu.edu/2015/04/archaeologist-motta-wins-catacomb-society-grant-publishes-book/
Robert Tykot (University of Southern Florida) and Kevin Salesse (Université de Bordeaux)
Quantifying the Roman diet: improving the accuracy and precision of paleodietary reconstructions by isotopic analysis
This project investigates dietary composition and variation of the ancient imperial-period Roman diet through isotopic analyses of both human and faunal remains from the catacomb of Santi Marcellino e Pietro (Rome, Lazio, central Italy) and other Italian sites.
No grants were awarded in 2014.
Lee M. Jefferson and Thomas McCollough (Centre College)
The Christian Veneration Complex at Khirbet Qana
Literary evidence from Christian pilgrims from the sixth century and continuing through the medieval era pointed to Khirbet Qana as the biblical Cana of Galilee. Our initial surveys of Khirbet Qana revealed plentiful evidence of human activity, particularly in Late Antiquity. The veneration cave complex that was unearthed includes material evidence that could illuminate how this complex functioned in relation to neighboring Sepphoris as well as Jerusalem. This project intends to further examin the cave complex, including the iconography and the material evidence. Khirbet Qana offers a research opportunity that holds great promise for exploring the architectural, artistic, economic, and political impact of Christian pilgrimage on Galilee in Late Antiquity and beyond.
Press on the excavations: M. Smith, "Grant gives Centre professor and his Indiana Jones-style adventure in Israel additional life" - KY Forward, July 3, 2013
Arthur Urbano (Providence College)
Wisdom Made Visible: Iconography and the Fashioning of Philosophical Culture in Late Antiquity
This project is a study of the role of art and portraiture in the fashioning of late ancient philosophical culture. Through analysis of early Christian images that employ philosophical and pedagogical themes and symbols in funerary, domestic, and liturgical settings, I examine how Christian art employed, adapted, and innovated the conventions of Roman art as a mode of competition and participation in larger cultural debates surrounding education, philosophy, and status. I employ an interdisciplinary analysis that considers iconography in tandem with ancient texts and engages scholarship in the fields of religion, art history, classics, and cultural theory. The results of A. Urbano's research are now published in: “Sizing-Up the Philosopher's Cloak: Christian Verbal and Visual Representations of the Tribon,” in Dressing Judeans and Christians in Antiquity, eds. Kristi Upson-Saia, Carly Daniel-Hughes, Alicia J. Batten. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014 and "Fashioning_Witnesses_Hebrews_and_Jews_in_Early_Christian_Art" in A Most Reliable Witness: Essays in Honor of Ross Shepard Kraemer, Susan Ashbrook Harvey, Nathaniel P. DesRosiers, Shira L. Lander, Jacqueline Z. Pastis & Daniel Ullucci, eds., Brown Judaic Studies, 358, Providence, 2015.
Nicola Denzey Lewis (Brown University)
Catacomb Religion: Uncovering Ordinary Christianity in the Centuries Before and After Constantine
What did it mean to be "Christian" in the centuries before and after Constantine, in the city of Rome? A proposed book, Catacomb Religion: Uncovering Ordinary Christianity in the Centuries Before and After Constantine will present groundbreaking new research and a transdisciplinary approah to illuminate this question. Eschewing exclusively literary sources for reconstructing the concerns and activities of ordinary Christian men and women, this project involves a close examination of visual, material, and archaeological evidence from the Roman catacombs to construct a new history of Christian everyday life during the turbulent era of Christianization. In addition to the monograph in preparation, Denzey Lewis' research on this topic is addressed in the publications: “Popular Christianity and Lived Religion in Late Antique Rome: Seeing Magic in the Catacombs,” in Locating Popular Culture in the Ancient World (ed. Lucy Grig. London: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2015), and “Reinterpreting ‘Pagans’ and ‘Christians’ from Rome’s Late Antique Mortuary Evidence,” in Pagans and Christians in Fourth-Century Rome (eds. Michele Salzman and Marianne Saghy. London: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Karen C. Britt
Eudokia: Byzantine Palestine Hath No Patron Like an Empress Scorned
The proposed project forms the research for a book manuscript that investigates the patronage of the fifth-century empress Eudokia, who spent the last twenty years of her life in Palestine, and its influence upon the many benefactions of prosperous women who lived in the region from the fifth through the seventh centuries. The imperial women of the Theodosian courts established themselves as important patrons in Constantinople as well as in the provinces. The multifaceted role played by imperial women in the Christianization of the urban space of the capital provided an exemplum for emulation by elite and prosperous non-elite women. This project examines female imperial patronage during the fourth and fifth centuries in order to determine how empresses employed their prestige and resources to create carefully constructed places for themselves in society. Using the example of imperial patronage, the next stage of the project explores how nonelite women in the provinces of Palestine and Arabia employed their donations to frame their identities, in a highly self-conscious manner, and to negotiate gender and status.
No grants were awarded in 2010.
Deborah Carlson (Texas A&M University)
Between Quarry and Quay: The Shipwreck at Kizilburun, Turkey
Since 2005, Deborah Carlson has been directing the excavation of a marble cargo shipwrecked off the Turkish coast in the first century B.C.E. Annual campaigns to the site have yielded over 2,000 artifacts, including ceramic shipping containers, lamps, figurines, anchors, and ritual basins and altar tables of marble, quarried on the island of Proconnesos in the Sea of Marmara. In 2008, Carlson's research determined that the ship's principal cargo--a single monumental column carved up into eight drums and capital--was destined for the Temple of Apollo at Claros. This project involves a return to the site in 2009 to complete the excavation, reported in D. N. Carlson and W. Aylward, “The Kızılburun Shipwreck and the Temple of Apollo at Claros,” American Journal of Archaeology 114.1 (2010) 145-159.
John R. Levison and Jörg Frey (Seattle Pacific University)
The Historical Roots of Early Christian Pneumatology
This research project will launch five interdisciplinary research teams to answer an indispensable question about the origins of early Christian pneumatology: What are the historical roots—Greco-Roman and Jewish—of early Christian claims to the holy spirit? Each team will pair a classicist or scholar of Judaica with an expert in early Christianity, and each team will provide a unique opportunity for the mentoring of a selected junior scholar. The research outcomes will be stunning: lifelong mentor-protégé relationships, a permanent web site devoted to inspiration in Antiquity (http://www.christianpneumatology.com), an international symposium streamed on ITunes U, and a published volume of interdisciplinary articles on the historical roots of early Christian pneumatology. Publications inspired by the project include: J. Levison, Inspired: The Holy Spirit and the Mind of Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013), and "The Holy Spirit, Inspiration, and the Cultures of Antiquity: Multidisciplinary Perspectives," in Ekstasis: Religious Experience from Antiquity to the Middle Ages 5 (eds. Jörg Frey, John R. Levison. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, 2014). For additional information: http://johnrlevison.com.
Susan Stevens (Randolph College)
Excavation and Analysis of an Underground Christian Burial Complex at Lamta (Tunisia) second season
The Christian complex consists of a building 5 m underground, used for burials in the 4th through 6th centuries A.D., attached to catacomb tunnels untouched since antiquity. The intact tombs of the building and tunnels are ideal for exploring the traditions and social structures of one Christian community through its burial practices. Information comes both from the many beautiful mosaic markers of the tombs, including inscriptions and even portraits of the deceased, and from the osteological remains. Since the underground complex was part of a larger 2nd-6th century cemetery, its Christian identity can be understood as part of the tapestry of Roman burial practices.
Alice Christ (University of Kentucky) and Janet Tulloch (Carleton College)
Ways of Seeing in Late Antique Material Culture
This project is an interdisciplinary symposium on ways of religious seeing in late antique material culture. An international group of scholars from a range of disciplines including archaeology, art history, biblical studies, classics, history, Jewish studies, psychology, and religious studies will participate. participants' fields of expertise include ancient Near Eastern, Roman Imperial, early Christian and Byzantine, Hebrew, Syriac texts, art, artifacts, and archaeology. They will bring international training and experience to what Anthony Cutler has described "is the most important single aspect of Late Antique studies today." A program for the symposium at the University of Kentucky in 2008 is at the link: http://archives.catacombsociety.org/ChristTulloch.html.
Conference participants: David Morgan, Sheena Rogers, Brent Plate, Patricia Cox Miller, Daria Pezzoli-Olgiati, James Francis, Roger Beck, Janet H. Tulloch, Linda Jones Hall, Anthony Cutler, Linda Wheatley-Irving, Rachel Neis, Giselle de Nie, Laura Nasrallah, Todd Penner, Daniel Sarefield, Nicola Denzey Lewis, Sharon Salvadori, Barbette Spaeth, Linda A Fuchs, Karen Britt, John Wortley, Caroline Downing, Steven Fine, Hallie Meredith-Goymour, and Kevin Uhalde.
Susan Stevens (Randolph College)
Excavation of a Catacomb Church at Lamta (Tunisia)
The Christian church and burial complex at Lamta (Tunisia) is a well-preserved site sealed 5 m underground, though it is increasingly threatened by the construction of modern houses around and over it. Since the complex, probably of the 4th-5th century A.D., is connected to catacombs and hypogaea as well as a 3rd-century-A.D. Roman surface cemetery, it stands at an interface of Roman and Christian burial practice. The excavation of the site will produce new inscriptions from tomb mosaics and is likely to uncover the raison d'etre of a whole new catacomb complex. Unlike the catacombs in Rome, Carthage, and Sousse, those underlying Lamta are largely undisturbed. Published reports on the project include: "Preliminary Report on Excavations of a Catacomb Church at Lamta, Tunisia, 8 May–16 June 2006: Dharet Slama Site 304, Leptiminus Archaeological Project" (http://www.doaks.org/research/byzantine/project-grant-reports/2006-2007/stevens) and Nejib Ben Lazreg, Susan Stevens, Lea Stirling and Jennifer Moore, "Roman and Early Christian burial complex at Leptiminus (Lamta): second notice," Journal of Roman Archaeology 19 (2006) 347-368.
Joseph L. Rife (Vanderbilt University)
Death, Social Structure, and Religion in the Provincial Landscape: The Roman Cemetery at Corinthian Kenchreai, Greece
This project is the final phase of archaeological field research and study of a major Roman cemetery at Kenchreai, eastern port of Corinth, Greece. Through the examination of wall painting, inscriptions, architecture, and artifacts, funerary rituals and mortuary spaces will be reconstructed in order to understand how the social structure and religious identity of local residents changed over time with the advent of Christianity. This study employs an innovative approach to interpreting ancient cemeteries that can shed light not only on the internal complexity of Mediterranean port communities during the Empire but also on regional variabmpony in the Greek world. The published report: Joseph L. Rife, Melissa Moore Morison, Alix Barbet, Richard K. Dunn, Douglas H. Ubelaker and Florence Monier, "Life and Death at a Port in Roman Greece: The Kenchreai Cemetery Project, 2002-2006," in Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 76.1 (Jan. - Mar., 2007) 143-181. The project website is: http://www.kenchreai.org/.
Sharon Salvadori (John Cabot University)
The Early Christian Orant: The Remaking of an Image in Late Antique Rome
The Early Christian Orant: The Remaking of an Image in Late Antique Rome is an iconographic and contextual analysis of the female orant, the single most recurrent image type in early Christian funerary art of Rome. Taking an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates recent research on gendered, religious, social, and political representations in both image and text, the meanings attributed to this figure by contemporary patrons and viewers are reexamined in order to gain a greater understanding of the early Christian funerary context and its complex semantic relationship to late antique art, specifically in the context of the visual construction of gender.
Sharon Salvadori presented a lecture on her project at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on November 16, 2005.
Laurie A. Brink, OP (University of Chicago)
Roman Burial and Memorial Practices and Earliest Christianity: Reading Texts and Inscriptions in Context
This project is a two-year interdisciplinary endeavor to investigate, read and interpret inscriptional remains and catacombs in light of early Christian texts. The goals of this project are: to study burial epitaphs and their iconography along with the art work of the catacombs, in order to investigate the particular character and emergence of early Christianity within its various religious and socio-historical contexts; and to foster an environment where scholars talk across the divide of disciplines so as to pave the way for future collaborative efforts among the next generation of scholars. Recognizing that scholars of Roman history, Christian history and the New Testament benefit from interdisciplinary academic research, dialogue and consultation, this project will include: Rome Working Conference (June 2004)—to include site visits in Rome, its environs, and Tunisia with scholars from a variety of disciplines, and a Shohet Conference on Roman, Jewish and Christian Burials at the University of Chicago Divinity School (May 22–24, 2005; link to program).
Program participants: David Balch, John Bodel, Deborah Green, Amy Hirschfeld, Robin M. Jensen, Margaret M. Mitchell, Carolyn Osiek, Richard Saller, Susan T. Stevens, and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill
The scholars' papers that resulted from this collaborative effort have been published in Commemorating the Dead: Texts and Artifacts in Context, Studies of Roman, Jewish, and Christian Burials (eds. Laurie Brink and Deborah Green. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter, 2008).
ICS Research Grants awarded prior to the Shohet Scholars Program
Dennis E. Trout (University of Missouri at Columbia)
A study of how the development of the catacombs in the fourth century contributed to the evolution of Rome's urban image in Late Antiquity and translation and commentary of Damasene epigrams in: Damasus of Rome. The Epigraphic Poetry. Oxford: 2015. An extensive listing of Trout's articles on Damasus and other epigraphic texts with links are on ICS BiblioSelect.
Tessa Rajak (University of Reading) and Lucy Grig (University of Edinburgh)
Digitizing Greek and Roman epitaphs.
Preliminary Study of the Jewish Catacombs of the Vigna Randanini, Rome
Preliminary study of a Jewish catacomb in Rome to assess work needed to restore stable microclimate conditions within the site (supervised by the land owners, the del Gallo di Roccagiovine).
Photo credit: George Duffield. Prof. Jodi Magness and students on the steps to the Hulda Gates by the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.