Sean Burrus

Graduate Assistant

External address: 
118 Gray Building, Durham, NC 27708
Phone: 
+1 919 660 3512

My dissertation project, Remembering the Righteous: Sarcophagus Sculpture and Jewish Identity in the Roman World, explores the role that visual culture played in the Jewish dialogue with the Greco-Roman world and the ways that individual Jews and Jewish communities in the late Roman world responded to, created, commissioned and engaged with (or avoided) images. Two major Jewish burial sites provide the raw data for this study: the catacombs of Rome and the necropolis at Beit Shearim in Israel. These contemporaneous, late Roman burial sites and the visual artifacts they contain provide an opportunity to compare and contrast responses both in Israel and in the Jewish diaspora. 

The goal of this project is to assess whether these responses reveal anything meaningful about the construction of Jewish identity. Did the interactions of Jews with visual culture throughout the Roman world differ in any meaningful ways from the interactions of other local peoples? What do differences and similarities between Jews, non-Jews and other Jews reveal about “being Jewish” in the Roman world?

At the core of this project is the belief that Jewish visual culture, practices and attitudes towards the visual are a key part of the puzzle for understanding how Jewish communities identified themselves within the broader cultural world they lived in. Remembering the Righteous breaks new ground not only by pushing beyond traditional, iconographical readings of Jewish art, but by using Jewish art as an starting point to explore the Jewish encounter with the Greco-Roman world and the identities that emerge therein.