Imperialism and Jewish Society came out in 2001. I remember skimming it and liking the deflationary view of Jewish history in Roman Palestine, particularly in relation to the rabbis and the question of rabbinic authority. I like very much the highlighting of ancient Jewish society as urban. That’s where the action is, where things happen, where Judaism happens, in the cities. Sepporis (Tzipori) in the lower Galil gets a lot of attention here. Among its many virtues, there are three things in particular that draw my attention.
 Imperialism and Jewish Society should give pause to a lot of contemporary Jewish philosophers who, in my opinion, overinvest Judaism and Jewish philosophy in law and politics. In contrast, a deflationary view such as this one would present “Jewish law” as a marginal force in Jewish society in late antique Palestine with little actual impact on Jewish communal and political life. The rabbis like to pretend that they were in control of things, when in fact that control was determined, as per Schwartz, by local city councilors, rich Jewish magnates, the Patriarchate, which over time detached itself from the rabbinate, and, of course, by Roman authority. In the day, custom was king, not law, and that was true then, no less than today.
 The importance of art in telling and thinking about the story of Jewish life and religion. As presented by Schwartz, the synagogue and synagogue art play an important role in the re-constitution of Jewish society around 500 CE or so. As for me, I’m not entirely sure that the presence of Jewish art supports the lachrymose picture of the rabbis’ marginal authority, an argument that probably stands on its own. What the visual record suggests instead is another part of Schwartz’s thesis, one that takes sharper form in later work by him, namely that the Jews have always been a Mediterranean people. The picture it provides is one of Jewish life based on “riotous” “visual stimulation” full of color, figuration, and artificial illumination that mark out the passages between numinous terrestrial and celestial realms (pp.252-3).
 The idea of a “numinous Torah” takes shape in the 4th C. It suggests to me that if law is prosaic, then it’s not really law once it becomes holy. This was a point made by Franz Rosenzweig in The Star of Redemption, but one actually anticipated by Moses Mendelssohn in Jerusalem. More like a colorful ceremonial art or a glittering surface presentation, Torah turns into something more like art than like dull and practical law.