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Rome and the Menorah

New Online Course Led by Yeshiva University Faculty Brings Arch of Titus to the Global Classroom

As Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah, a new massive open online course (MOOC) being offered through YU Global, Yeshiva University’s online initiative, and Coursera, an educational technology company, will provide interested members of the public with a once in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore the cultural impact of the Arch of Titus, a central artifact in both Jewish and Western history that depicts the golden menorah used in the Jerusalem Temple, among other Temple relics.

Dr. Steven Fine leads a new online course on the Arch of Titus that includes virtual visits to museums and artifacts across the globe. Dr. Steven Fine leads a new online course on the Arch of Titus that includes virtual visits to museums and artifacts across the globe.

Titled “The Arch of Titus: Rome and the Menorah,” the free online course, led by Dr. Steven Fine, the Dean Pinkhos Churgin Professor of Jewish History at YU and director of its Center for Israel Studies, combines aspects of archaeology, art history and Judaic studies.

“Especially in relation to the holiday of Hanukkah, the Arch is particularly significant to the Jewish community, with its portrayal of the Jerusalem Temple artifacts like the golden menorah that played a central role in the holiday’s history,” said Fine. “The arch’s depiction is even more intriguing since we discovered the golden paint used to color the Arch menorah in 2012.”

The course’s unique format allows students to accompany Fine on expeditions across New York, Los Angeles, Jerusalem and Rome, as he discusses artifacts with museum curators, scholars and artists and even visits the Arch itself—a postmortem commemoration of the Roman Emperor Titus depicting his triumphal return to Rome from Jerusalem, where the legions destroyed and looted the Jewish Temple.

Fine’s discussions with guest experts give students a multidimensional approach to the Arch, including a talk with Dr. William Stenhouse, associate professor of history and chair of the history department at YU, about Christian attitudes toward the Arch during the early modern period. The course focuses on the ways that Romans, Jews and Christians have looked at the Arch and its symbolism from antiquity to the present. Fine’s ultimate goal is to involve students in the continuing life of this monument, especially as its menorah now appears on the state symbol of Israel. He hopes to open students’ eyes to the many references to the Arch of Titus that surround them in their daily lives. It has served as the inspiration for many arches over the last 2,000 years, from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to New York’s own Washington Square Arch.

“The imagery that appears in the Arch of Titus—that is, classical Roman art and architecture of the mid-first century—can be found in every town throughout America, ” said Fine. “These are all standard motifs, and the Arch is one of the best examples that have come down to us through antiquity. We’re teaching students to look into hidden depths of an object that has been meaningful to many different people, whether it was the Romans, medieval Christians, 20th-century Zionists or the United States Army during World War II.”

Created by YU Global, the course is part of a larger rollout of upcoming classes and certificates that aims to extend the Yeshiva University brand beyond New York City to interested learners worldwide. It is YU’s first project with Coursera, an educational platform boasting more than 15.6 million unique students, and represents one of the first Coursera courses in Jewish history and archaeology.

“YU Global wants to radiate the University faculty’s knowledge across the world—that is its core mission,” said Dr. Selma Botman, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “In creating this online course, we hope to introduce people worldwide to Yeshiva University and the depth of scholarship we have here.”

The Arch of Titus is the first public course available online through YU Global, but Fine feels it is the beginning of an incredible partnership. “Coursera is a great place to be because it includes the top universities in the world,” he said. “In joining Coursera, we’ve joined our peers.”