Feasts and the Social Order in Early Jewish Society (ca. Third Century B.C.E.-Third Century C.E.)
My dissertation elucidates the roles feasts played in constructing the social order for different Jewish communities from approximately the third century B.C.E. to the third century C.E. Feasts - defined in this work as events based on the communal consumption of food and drink conscientiously differentiated from quotidian meals - punctuated the rhythms of the lives of Jews throughout ancient Palestine and the Diaspora. Jews convened feasts before and after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. to mark seminal moments in Jewish history and to commemorate the roles God and his intermediaries played in these events. Jews also held feasts on a number of other occasions. Individuals and groups of Jews may have held feasts upon the visitation of foreign dignitaries, the completion of a major building project, after the safe return of a family or friend from a journey abroad, or during important life-cycle events. Regardless of the occasion, feasts consisted of a host of practices that provided Jews with the means to establish, maintain, or contest social hierarchies and group cohesion. How individuals and groups of Jews manipulated the constitutive elements of feasts during the period under investigation to actuate the social order within their communities is the focus of this dissertation.
To achieve this dissertation's objective, I will examine the textual and archaeological evidence for the performances of feasts within two domains that were central to the construction of Jewish society: privately owned Jewish domiciles in Palestine and the communal and religious institution of the synagogue located in the Diaspora and Palestine. There have been previous studies that have examined both the textual and archaeological data for the functions of feasts convened within these locations, but they have been temporally limited and have not taken into account recent anthropological and ethnographic studies demonstrating the dynamic functions of feasts. My analysis of the literary and archaeological evidence for feasts held within Jewish domiciles and synagogues shows that these repasts provided Jews with various opportunities to determine their relationships with one another, advance their economic and political agendas, seek power, and establish and/or contest broader tenets of the social order. I hope that my study will lead to further investigations into the social dynamics of Jewish feasts as well as their role as a catalyst for the transformation of economic, political, and religious institutions that shaped Jewish society in antiquity.
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