The Archaeology of the Holy Land

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

Alexandra Ratzlaff


This course will take place virtually on Zoom. Participation requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email.

10-Week Course

Feb. 28 - May 8. No Class April 24.


In present day Israel, archeological remains represent for many of us fundamental aspects of our identities and conception of place. In this course, we will survey the archaeological record of this place -- the historic land of Israel -- from the Bronze Age to the Roman period. Over this long era, figures larger than life made history here: King Solomon, Judah Maccabee, Herod the Great, and Constantine, among others. Their stories are set in time but also transcend it, and the land in which they lived was itself transformed from mere geography to “the Holy Land.”

We will address the modern scholars who have conducted archaeological studies from the early days of Biblical Archaeology to the present as we explore some of the most interdisciplinary and dynamic archeological research in the world. Our focus will be on the study of sites and remains that archaeologists have recovered in places such as Jerusalem, Megiddo, and Jericho, among many others.  We’ll also consider the relationship between physical remains and ancient literary sources, for example, by comparing Josephus’ description of the siege of Masada with what the physical evidence tells us.

We will learn about the geography and chronology of the region, the cultural traditions of different groups, and how the varied strata of society lived based on the objects they left behind. Students will become adept in analyzing the symbolic meaning of art, architecture, and artifacts, learning how they can help us reveal the social, political, and religious contexts for ancient civilizations.

Group Leadership Style

More lecture than facilitated discussion (there will be both).

Course Materials

All materials will be posted on the course website.

Preparation Time

2-4 hours per week.


Alexandra Ratzlaff is a Classical and Near Eastern archaeologist specializing in the eastern Mediterranean. She is currently the Director of the Birsama Exploration Project, a Late Roman Fort and Byzantine city (Israel); Associate Director for the Excavations Tel Kabri (Israel); and the ceramist at the Rhapta Expedition on Mafia Island, Tanzania. Her research examines the Roman army, ancient economy, cultural heritage, ceramics, and Mystery Cults, among other topics. Ratzlaff is also the Project Lead for the Brandeis Techne Group and the Director of the Classical Studies Artifact Research Collection at Brandeis.