Interview with Catherine E. Bonesho

Published: November 5, 2018

From being the Emeline Hill Richardson Rome Prize Fellow in Ancient Studies at the American Academy in Rome to receiving her Ph.D. in Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018, Dr. Catherine Bonesho has had an incredibly enriching experience in academia thus far. Catherine is a new hire in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and she is teaching the GE course “The Social, Cultural, and Religious Institutions of Judaism” and a graduate seminar on the Book of Daniel during Fall quarter.

Catherine’s extensive research while studying in Rome provides her with a very unique perspective on the communal celebration of holidays in the ancient world, and also the importance of studying the intersections of the Roman Near East. We were able to ask Catherine a few questions about her research on how the ancient Jews used foreign holidays, her upcoming presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, and how her experience in Rome enhanced both her personal and academic life.


How did you decide to pursue research on locating the history, languages, literature, and culture of Judaism in the Second Temple and Rabbinic periods in their imperial contexts?

I have always been interested in intersections and how two or more components or groups come together to interact. Before starting graduate school, I worked in a biological laboratory investigating the interaction of proteins in the human body and realized that the interaction and intersections of fields sometimes go understudied. Then, when I decided to go to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, I became interested in the specific intersections of the Roman Empire and ancient Judaism because of my training in Latin and ancient Hebrew, allowing me to study Early Judaism, the Hellenistic and Roman Near East, and Semitic languages.

How did spending the 2017-2018 academic year at the American Academy in Rome enhance and challenge your personal and academic life?

Being in Rome last year as a Rome Prize Fellow enhanced my research in many ways. First, being a fellow at the American Academy in Rome gave me the time to work and write and gave me the opportunity to collaborate with a variety of scholars and artists. However, the most unique reward of living in Rome was the influence of the city itself. Through numerous activities, including attending the lighting of the largest menorah in Rome on Hanukkah and the celebration of the Christian Pentecost in the Pantheon, I was able to better understand the communal celebration of holidays in the ancient world. I also accessed the spaces that showcase the intersection of Rome and the Near East, from the Palmyrene Aramaic and Nabatean Aramaic inscriptions found in the ancient city to the depiction of the menorah on the Arch of Titus and the ancient synagogue at Ostia Antica. The city of Rome itself showed me that its sites, spaces, and monuments emphasize the importance of studying the intersections of the Roman Near East.

What is your favorite place in Rome?

I cannot get enough of the Pantheon. I love that every time I enter the building the light, the sounds, and the general feeling is different. One of my other favorite places was Ristorante Al Pompiere, my favorite restaurant in Rome, because of their carciofo alla giudia (Jewish artichoke) and their tagliolini al limone (lemon-cream pasta). When I miss Rome, these are the first two places I think of.

What research are you currently working on?

I am currently working on my monograph on foreign holidays and festivals in early Jewish and rabbinic literature, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, the writings of Josephus, and the Palestinian and Babylonian Talmuds. The holidays described include those of the Greeks, Romans, and Persians, and even touch on the proper celebration of Jewish holidays. These individual holidays have typically either been seen as mere historical data detailing the timing of historical events, or these holidays have been used to reconstruct ancient calendars. However, instead of merely looking for the historical details of these holidays in the ancient world to determine what holidays were observed when, in my monograph, I analyze how ancient Jews used foreign holidays and possibly why.

Do you have any upcoming conferences or events you will be presenting or speaking at?

As part of this research I will present at the upcoming Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature this November in Denver. My presentation discusses ancient Jewish literary descriptions of individual foreign holidays from the Hellenistic kingdom and Roman empire to determine if the differences between these descriptions and rhetoric can illuminate Jewish attitudes towards these foreign rulers.

What are you the most excited about teaching at UCLA?

This quarter I am teaching the GE course “The Social, Cultural, and Religious Institutions of Judaism,” as well as a graduate seminar on the Book of Daniel. Both have been quite productive and rewarding. I’ve really enjoyed how much UCLA’s students are engaged in course material. In the future, I am most looking forward to teaching courses on Aramaic and its various dialects. Overall, I am excited to be part of this interdisciplinary, vibrant, and diverse NELC department here at UCLA.