The material realities of Jewish life in the Land of Israel, c. 235–638

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INTRODUCTION A commonplace among historians is the notion that every age must be understood as it really occurred. However, agreement on perspective and methods of observation is less common. The study of material culture provides a tool for understanding the basic building blocks or the ground floor of history. To some scholars, this study concerns the banal, and it is not surprising that the interests students of material culture might enjoy have often escaped the notice of normative historians. Students of material culture might answer, however, that these “banalities” accumulate into forces reflecting the essence of society. More surprisingly, though, people do not always agree about the composition of material culture. Combining some of the more common perceptions, one might suggest the following two definitions: the landscape-oriented definition claims that material culture is the segment of one's physical environment shaped by humans according to culturally dictated plans, whereas the artifact school maintains that material culture is the totality of artifacts in culture and includes all remnants left behind from the physical world, such as farm tools, houses, furniture, utensils, and landscape-oriented remains, such as roads or cities. Common to these two approaches is the notion that there is not sufficient evidence available to the normative historian to reconstruct society. Ironically, the study of material culture introduces so much new data that it simply staggers the imagination.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Judaism
Subtitle of host publicationVolume IV the Late Roman-Rabbinic Period
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781139055130
ISBN (Print)0521772486, 9780521772488
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2006

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2006 and Cambridge University Press, 2008.


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