Archive for February 2009

The Excavation at Qumran

February 26, 2009

Virtually all of Dead Sea Scroll research connects the site of Qumran with the Dead Sea Scrolls which were found in nearby caves. Qumran was excavated by Roland de Vaux in 1951-1956.

The remains of building which were found at Qumran are communal facilities – kitchen, dining room, etc. It is not clear where the living quarters were. Some have suggested that there was a second floor, some have posited that the sectarians lived in tents and others suggest they lived in caves.

A dining room was discovered adjacent to a pantry containing a large number of stacked dishes.

708 bowls were found at Qumran, along with jars, jugs and dishes (also stacked).

For more information and photos of the excavation of Qumran, see Excavation on the COJS website.

Aftermath of the Gaza War – An Important Article

February 25, 2009

Michelle Sieff of Z-Word interviewed Paul Berman, professor of Journalism at NYU and a writer on politics and literature. Berman explains that current attitudes which condemn Israel are part of a long-standing practice of seeing the Jews as an obstacle to whatever the prevailing intellectual philosophy of the day is. In Medieval times, Christianity was the most important principle and the Jews’ refusal to accept it rankled. In the period of the Enlightenment, religion was supposed to take a back seat, and the Jews’ refusal to do so was seen negatively. Today, the guiding principle is that statehood is old-fashioned and entities like the EU should replace it. So Israel’s stubbornness in holding on to its state is being criticized.

Another interesting point made by Berman is that the claim that Israel used disproportionate force in Gaza is only valid if the rhetoric of Hamas is not to be taken seriously. But regarding Hamas’ statements about killing Jews and destroying Israel as “just talk” could be a dangerous gamble. Those outside Israel find it easier to do since the risk to them is minimal, but for Israelis this could be a huge mistake.

Berman is not a hawk and he is not a supporter of settlements or of right-wing politics in Israel, yet he believes that the way to prevent wars in Israel is to take the weapons away from its enemies. Israel does not indiscriminately attack its neighbors. It only responds when threatened; so if the threat was removed peace would prevail.

Ancient Seals Discovered in Umm Tuba

February 24, 2009

A salvage excavation in Umm Tuba (near Har Homa in Jerusalem) uncovered a number of seals from the time of Hezekiah , King of Judah (8th century BCE). Two of the seal impressions belonged to Ahimelech ben Amadyahu and Yehohail ben Shahar. Four “LMLK” impressions on jar handles were discovered at the site. The impressions were discovered in a large building dating to the First and Second Temple periods. The site was destroyed during the Babylonian conquest and reoccupied in the Hasmonean period.

See also:

Israel Antiquities Authority press release
Haaretz
Jerusalem Post

How Peace with Egypt Came About

February 23, 2009

President Carter is remembered as the president who engineered the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. The agreement with Egypt is one of two lasting agreements between Israel and an Arab state (Jordan being the other one).

Does the credit really belong to Jimmy Carter? According to Arthur Herman, in an article in the Wall Street Journal, the credit really belongs to Anwar Sadat. Most of Carter’s foreign policies were failures and in the case of Israel and Egypt, Carter also followed a flawed policy. He aimed for a complete solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, including a solution to the Palestinian problem. Sadat, on the other hand, insisted on ignoring the Palestinian problem and focusing on an agreement regarding only Israel and Egypt.

In Herman’s words:

Camp David worked because it avoided all of Mr. Carter’s usual foreign policy mistakes, particularly his insistence on a comprehensive solution. Instead, Sadat and Begin pursued limited goals. The agreement stressed a step-by-step process instead of insisting on immediate dramatic results. It excluded noncooperative entities like Syria and the PLO, rather than trying to accommodate their demands. And for once, Mr. Carter chose to operate behind the scenes à la Mr. Kissinger, instead of waging a media war through public statements and gestures. (The press were barred from the Camp David proceedings).

Above all and most significantly, Camp David sought peace instead of “justice.” Liberals say there can be no peace without justice. But to many justice means the end of Israel or the creation of a separate Palestinian state. Sadat and Begin, in the teeth of Mr.Carter’s own instincts both then and now, established at Camp David a sounder principle for negotiating peace. The chaos and violence in today’s Gaza proves just how fatal trying to advance other formulations can be.

Step-by-step diplomacy instead of a complete solution may be a better way to approach the ongoing conflict. Israel has tried for years to solve the problem in one fell swoop and has not succeeded at all. In fact, these attempts have usually exacerbated the conflict. It is worth trying something new.

Sports and Politics

February 22, 2009

The UAE denied two Israeli tennis players visas to Dubai to compete in the Barclays tennis championship. The UAE’s government claimed they feared the players would pose a security risk due to lingering anger over the war in Gaza. The Wall Street Journal(Europe)  removed its sponsorship of the event and the Tennis Channel in the US said it would not show the tournament. The UAE backed down and Andy Ram received a visa to Dubai but Shahar Peer has missed the tournament since the women’s competitions preceded the men’s.

Z-Word’s Ben Cohen examines what this means for Israeli sports. Another interesting question is, why the sudden support for Israel around the world? Just a few weeks ago, Israel was being vilified for its attack on Gaza. Suddenly Dubai is being pressured to allow Israelis in its territory. Perhaps this is because the visa refusal is seen as an anti-Semitic act and not an anti-Israeli one?

The Discovery of the Cairo Genizah

February 19, 2009

It all began with a fragment of Ben Sira.

Agnes Lewis and her twin sister Margaret Gibson bought some Hebrew manuscripts from a dealer in Cairo in 1896. When they brought them to Solomon Schechter in Cambridge, he identified one as a fragment from the long-lost Hebrew original of the Book of Ben Sira. Librarians at Oxford University then discovered that they had nine more leaves from the same manuscript.

Some of the documents the sisters had brought from Cairo were marked “Fostat,” the name for Old Cairo. This led Schechter to believe that the manuscripts came from the genizah of Cairo. It was known in Schechter’s time that the Ben Ezra synagogue had a genizah but its contents were not known.

Schechter traveled to Cairo where he recovered 140,000 fragments from the genizah. He first had to persuade the rabbi of the synagogue to give them up. The fragments had provided the synagogue with a steady income from their sale to antiquities dealers. Schechter convinced the rabbi that in order to preserve the texts they needed to be housed in a university library.

Schechter then returned to Cambridge to begin the study of the documents from the Cairo Genizah, an enterprise which still continues to this day.

Read more about this amazing discovery and its implications at The Twins and the Scholar, Molly Dewsnap, BAR 22:05, Sep/Oct 1996.

Solomon Schechter examines the fragments from the Cairo Genizah

Discovery at Maresha

February 17, 2009

heliodoros_steleArchaeologists have discovered what is apparently the lower portion of the Heliodoros Stele in excavations at Maresha (inside the Beit Guvrin National Park). This discovery demonstrates that the stele, which is privately owned, was originally found at Maresha.

The Heliodoros Stele is a royal Greek inscription consisting of 23 lines inscribed on limestone bearing a proclamation by the Seleucid king, Seleucus IV (father of Antiochus IV). The inscription sheds light on the Seleucid government’s involvement in local temples. Heliodoros is mentioned in 2 Maccabees 3 as a representative of Seleucus IV who tried to steal the wealth of the Jerusalem Temple. The inscription reads:
Dorymenes to Diophanes greetings:

The copy of the letter given us by Heliodorus who is in charge of the affairs is enclosed. You will do well therefore if you take care that everything is carried out according to the instructions. Year 134, 22 of the month of Gorpiaius (August 178 BCE)

Heliodorus to Dorymenes his brother greetings:

The copy of the order given us by the king concerning Olympiodorus is placed below. You will do well therefore if you follow the instructions. Year 134, 20(?) of the month of Gorpiaius (August 178 BCE)

King Seleucus to Heliodorus his brother greetings:

Taking the utmost consideration for the safety of our subjects, and thinking it to be of the greatest good for the affairs in our realm when those living in our kingdom manage their lives without fear, and at the same time realizing that nothing can enjoy a fitting prosperity without the good will of the gods, we have given orders from the outset that the sanctuaries founded in the other satrapies receive the traditional honors with the care befitting them. But since the affairs in Koile-Syria and Phoinike stand in need of the appointment of someone to take care of these (i.e. sanctuaries) . Olympiodorus … .

(Translated by Prof. Hannah Cotton-Paltiel and Prof. Michael Woerrle)

See also: Hershel Shanks, “Inscription Reveals Roots of Maccabean Revolt,” BAR 34:06, Nov/Dec 2008.

Photo courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.