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Professor Paul Flesher of the University of Wyoming’s Department of Religious Studies has received a prestigious award that includes funding for a four-and-a-half month residency in Jerusalem in spring 2016.
The Seymour Gitin Distinguished Professorship award is given by the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research (AIAR) in Jerusalem.
“The Albright Institute is known worldwide for its role in fostering research in biblical and Near Eastern studies, and to have this fellowship awarded to a UW faculty member is quite an honor,” says Associate Professor Quincy Newell, head of the Department of Religious Studies. “This will raise the profile of the UW Religious Studies Department and the university as a whole. I’m very proud of his achievement and pleased that the Albright Institute has recognized the importance of his research.”
Founded in 1900 as the American School of Oriental Research, the AIAR was renamed in 1970 in honor of its director, William Foxwell Albright. The mission of the AIAR is “to develop and disseminate scholarly knowledge of the literature, history and culture of the Near East, as well as the study of the development of civilization from prehistory to the early Islamic period.”
Flesher is internationally known for his research on the Jewish Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Targums, as well as his work on early synagogues, from their origins into the Rabbinic period. Since 2011, he has been part of an archaeological team that is unearthing a late Roman (fifth century) synagogue at Huqoq in Israel’s lower Galilee which has a floor covered in mosaics. The site has already become famous for its depictions of the Samson story (Judges 13).
“At present, the Huqoq excavations are still in their early stages,” Flesher says. “The synagogue is so large, we have not yet progressed beyond the eastern aisle. This residency will give me a chance to study the central mosaics of two other ancient synagogues nearby in Galilee, in anticipation of the Huqoq finds. These depict Torah shrines, the Jerusalem Temple and the so-called sacrifice of Isaac from Genesis 22 -- all theologically key themes in Late-Antique Judaism. I will bring my expertise in the Targums and in rabbinic literature to the study of these mosaics.”
Seymour Gitin, for whom the distinguished professorship is named, became director of the AIAR in 1980. He and his colleague, Trude Dothan of Hebrew University, conducted 14 seasons of excavations at Tel-Miqne-Ekron.
“I am particularly excited to receive the professorship named after the great archaeologist Seymour Gitin,” Flesher says. “In the early 1990s, the University of Wyoming was a sponsoring institution of his excavations at Tel Miqne, the ancient Philistine city of Ekron. I, and several UW students, had the privilege of digging there under his direction.”