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Emet m'Tsiyon

Monday, December 28, 2009

Ancient Synagogue from Second Temple Times, One of the Oldest in the World, Found at Migdal [Magdala]

The last year has seen many exciting archaelogical finds throughout Israel, in and around Jerusalem, in the south and the north, the Galilee. Striking findings have been made in the City of David-Pool of Siloam [Silwan] area in Jerusalem which was within the ancient city walls of Jerusalem in the First Temple period but is now outside the Old City, south of the Temple Mount. Here is a discovery of a carved stone from an ancient synagogue from Second Temple Times with a striking photo showing the an ancient menorah, candelabrum. That is, the carving is from the time when the Temple still stood and it depicts the seven-branched menorah used in the Temple. This menorah can be compared with the menorah carved in stone on the Arch of Titus in Rome, which is meant to show the golden menorah from the Jewish Temple in the hands of conquering Roman troops. I would say that the two menorot are fairly similar but not identical. What a difference the artist makes!!

Here is the account of the finding from the website of the Israel Antiquities Authority:

"A synagogue from the Second Temple period (50 BCE-100 CE) was exposed in archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting at a site slated for. . . construction. . . on Migdal beach [on Lake Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee]. . . In the middle of the synagogue is a stone that is engraved with a seven-branched menorah (candelabrum), the likes of which have never been seen. The excavations were directed by archaeologists Dina Avshalom-Gorni and Arfan Najar of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Note the carved stone slab with floral and vegetation designs on top and a menorah accompanied by a pitcher or jar on each side. Carved images of columns appear at the two visible corners.

"The main hall of synagogue is c. 120 square meters in area and its stone benches, which served as seats for the worshippers, were built up against the walls of the hall. Its floor was made of mosaic and its walls were treated with colored plaster (frescos). A square stone, the top and four sides of which are adorned with reliefs, was discovered in the hall. The stone is engraved with a seven-branched menorah set atop a pedestal with a triangular base, which is flanked on either side by an amphora (jars). According to the excavation director, Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “We are dealing with an exciting and unique find. This is the first time that a menorah decoration has been discovered from the days when the SecondTemple was still standing. This is the first menorah to be discovered in a Jewish context and that dates to the Second Temple period/beginning of the Early Roman period. We can assume that the engraving that appears on the stone, which the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered, was done by an artist who saw the seven-branched menorah with his own eyes in the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue that was uncovered joins just six other synagogues in the world that are known to date to the SecondTemple period”.

"According to the Minister of Culture and Sport, MK Limor Livnat, 'This important find attests to the extensive Jewish settlement in the northern region at the time of the Temple. I am certain that the site will . . . shed light on life in the Jewish settlement [of Migdal] during the Second Temple period'.
. . .

"The synagogue is located in Migdal (‘Magdala’ in Aramaic) [מגדל > מגדלא ], which is mentioned in Jewish sources. Migdal played an important role during the Great Revolt [66-73 CE] and was actually the main base of Yosef Ben Matityahu (Josephus Flavius), commander of the rebellion in the Galilee [at the start before he betrayed]. Migdal also continued to resist the Romans after both the Galilee and Tiberias had surrendered. ‘Magdala’ is mentioned in Christian sources as the place whence Mary Magdalene came [as indicated by her name] . . . After it was conquered by the Romans, the city was destroyed and many of its residents were killed. At the end of the Second Temple period Migdal was an administrative center of the western basin of the Sea of Galilee. Until the founding of Tiberias in the year 19 CE, Migdal was the only important settlement along the shore of the Sea of Galilee." [original article of the Israel Antiquities Authority here . Scroll down]

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The site is legally the property of a subsidiary of the Franciscan Order who were assigned for centuries by the Vatican to watch over Roman Catholic church interests in the Land of Israel, caring for Catholic pilgrims and Catholic interests in the Christian holy sites as against Greek Orthodox and other Christians. The Order's delegation in the country was called the Custody of the Holy Land, Custodia Terrae Sanctae, in their lingo. The Franciscans intend to build a hotel on the site which may also serve as an ecumenical center for "dialogue" in today's fashionable terminology. This would be a welcome change from the old days when the Franciscans were known for their bigotry and intolerance, especially toward Jews, including in the Land of Israel.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

British Press Censors Historical Truth, Promotes Lies

UPDATE 12-25 & 27-2009 & 1-2 & 3-9-2010 at bottom

Anti-Zionism is the anti-imperialism of fools

In its smear campaign against Israel, much of the the British press --indeed of the British "quality" press-- both "leftist" like the Guardian and frankly business-oriented, pro-capitalist like The Financial Times, bash Israel with smears and lies. They promote falsifications of Jewish history as well as smears relating to current events, such as last winter's Israeli effort to stop Hamas rocket attacks on Israel's civilian population.

In this context, the FT censored significant historical facts in a book review. The FT asked one of its regular book reviewers, the respected historian Simon Schama, to review the book The Invention of the Jewish People, by Shlomo Sand. In this book, Sand, an Israeli Communist, seems to be trying to validate the claim of the former leader of his Communist movement, Stalin, that the Jews were not a nation in his time. Stalin wrote this in 1915, apparently to delegitimize Zionism. Since then, the Jews set up a state in 1948, obviously refuting Stalin. Neither Stalin nor Hitler nor the British Foreign Office had thought that a Jewish state should or could come into being. Of course, for hard-line Judeophobes, such as populate the Foreign Office, the problem then became how to destroy the Jewish State that had been established. Hence, a Communist's fanatical invention meant to confirm and update Stalin's claim of 1915 gets support in the capitalist United Kingdom. Without getting into Sand's book too deeply, suffice it to say that he claims that Ashkenazi Jews are descended from a medieval northern Caucasus or Turkic people called Khazars, whose ruling elite, at least, converted to Judaism but who disappeared after military defeat in the northern Caucasus-northern Black Sea region. Sand also claims that North African Jews are mainly descended from the Berbers of North Africa. Thus, modern Jews are not descended from ancient Jews, according to Sand, and thus have no historical right to return to the Land of Israel, nor does Israel have a right to exist as a state.

Arthur Koestler raised a similar argument about Ashkenazim being descended from Khazars about 30 years ago, although he was more tentative, less positive in his claims than Sand is today. Koestler got little scholarly support for his tentative argument. One strong critique was the demolition of his book by Edward Grossman. There were a lot of things wrong with Koestler's theory that were perceived 30 years ago. That did not deter Sand when he wrote his book a few years ago, although a whole new set of factual data refuting his and Koestler's theory had emerged since publication of Koestler's book. This data is the study of Jewish DNA. A number of researchers have found great genetic proximity among Ashkenazic, Sefardic, Oriental and Yemenite Jews. There is also proximity to various Arab groups as well as Armenians and Kurds. To a lesser extent, there is Jewish genetic proximity to Greeks, Turks and Italians. This scientific data effectively refutes Sand and Koestler's theory. But fanatics want to believe what suits their prejudices. So Sand dismisses and largely overlooks all of the DNA research by Professors Bonne-Tamir, Hammer and others. That very significant data does not fit the conclusion that Sand wants to reach. Of course, the DNA data was not available in Koestler's time, but now it is. Hence, Sand had less justification for publishing his crackpot theory than Koestler did. But that didn't stop Sand.

This has taken us far from censorship by the British press. The FT published, as said, a critical review of Sand's book, but the review seemed peculiar. Certain points that one would expect to be brought up in a critical review were not there. Then there is a passage in the review that very clearly seems to have been altered, tampered with, bowdlerized, censored, eviscerated. Schama outlined Roman anti-Jewish actions after defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt [131-135 CE]:
. . . there was also the mass extirpation of everything that constituted Jewish religion and culture; the renaming of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, the obliteration of the Temple, the prohibition on rituals and prayers. Sand asserts, correctly, that an unknowable number of Jews remained in what the Romans called Palestina. [here]
This outline, as it stands, is mainly correct, but it is misleading on a crucial point as well as incomplete. Indeed, Rome, under Hadrian, the emperor of the time, renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina, Aelia referred to Hadrian's clan or gens and Capitolina to a hill in the historic center of Rome where a Roman temple was located. However, in addition to Jerusalem, the Romans also renamed the whole country, which up to the defeat of Bar Kokhba was called Provincia Iudaea [IVDAEA], Province of Judea. The Romans did call the country Palaestina, but that name came only after defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. According to most authorities [Michael Avi-Yonah, Felix Abel, Solomon Zeitlin, Mary Sherwood, inter alia, as I read them], the whole country, all of the Land of Israel, was called Judea by the Romans up to the aftermath of the Jews' defeat in 135 when it was renamed at the same time as Jerusalem, and made symbolically subordinate to Syria with the name Syria Palaestina. In this name, Palaestina is an adjective, not a noun, by the way.

Now, Simon Schama is a respected historian and I cannot imagine that he did not know that both Jerusalem and the Province of Judea were renamed by the Romans at the same time, and that Palestine was a name introduced by the Romans as a replacement meant to degrade and humiliate the Jews. The structure of the text that I have quoted also seems to support my surmise. It is likely that he wrote "the renaming of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina and of Judea as Palestina." Or perhaps he wrote: ". . . Jews remained in what the Romans thereafter called Palestina" or ". . . what the Romans henceforth [or from then on] called Palestina." After all, if he is writing about changing geographic names of political import, then why not also point out that the country too was renamed? Schama is aware of the name Judea for the country, since he uses it --or was allowed to use it-- elsewhere in the review. But that usage of the name does not indicate that it was the Roman official name for the country throughout the heyday of the empire up to Hadrian's difficult victory over the Jews led by Bar Kokhba.

I believe that burying the fact that the country was called Judea officially by the Romans is likely a policy in the British press. I say this from personal experience. Some years ago, a letter of mine was published in a prestigious British weekly, which I shall not name to protect my own identity. The letter was published in its entirety except for one sentence which pointed out that the official name of the country was Judea until Hadrian changed it upon defeating the Bar Kokhba Revolt. It seems that the British psychological warfare/cognitive warfare experts do not want their own people to know that the Land of Israel, all of it, not just the southern inland area, was called Judea by Rome at the height of the empire.

An omission from the review was any mention of the DNA evidence, which would seem to naturally come up in a critical review of Sand's book. However, I am less certain that Prof Schama had mentioned this in his review. But it is surprising that it is not there, unless the editors of the FT did not want it there.

Additional support for my belief that the review was tampered with, distorted, weakened deliberately by the FT editors is that they took the most unusual step of publishing a second review of the same book, a favorable review this time. Martin Kramer commented on the Financial Times' felt need to publish a second review of Shlomo Sand's tract:
The Financial Times decided one review of Shlomo Sand's 'The Invention of theJewish People' (reviewer, Simon Schama: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/b74fdfd2-cfe1-11de-a36d-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1J4C3P7CY) just wasn't good enough, and so runs another by Tony Judt, who knows even less about the subject than Sand. The result is entirely predictable: a rant against Israel in the thin disguise of a review.
Kramer's comment appeared on facebook [here].

This affair leads to the conclusion that the British press, daily and weekly, as well as many of the UK's supposed scholarly and scientific journals, are unreliable and politically guided and motivated where Israel is concerned and where Jewish history is concerned. It is no secret that the BBC is directed politically in regard to foreign affairs by the UK Foreign Office. The BBC long delayed reporting on the Holocaust as it was happening and then minimized its extent, thus failing to warn Jews and others in the Axis occupied countries who depended on the BBC for news. The BBC did this as part of a policy decided by the Ministry of Information [Orwell mocked it as the Ministry of Truth in his novel 1984] while the BBC's foreign news was directed by the Foreign Office. The British press, daily, weekly, scientific, professional, and scholarly has been mobilized, at least in large parts, to a Crusade of slander and demonization against the Jews and Israel, in which crucial facts are often omitted.
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Here are some useful links:
Here is a strong demolition of Koestler's book by Edward Grossman.
Here are posts on the Bar Kokhba Revolt and its aftermath, including the expulsion of Jews from the area of Jerusalem: here & here & here & here & here & here & here & here
Arab auxiliary troops fought for Rome in the earlier war against the Jews which resulted in destruction of the Temple in 70 CE [here]
On the Arch of Titus in Rome as a monument to the Roman destruction of the Temple [החורבן] here.
Coins issued by Rome to celebrate victory over the Jews [here]
Names of the Land of Israel before and after the Bar Kokhba Revolt: here
A fairly well preserved ancient Roman metallic military diploma showing Roman use of Judea [IVDAEA] as the name of the Land of Israel [here].

Here are print accounts by ancient sources on the Jewish revolts against Rome. Some of these ancient works may be available online but I do not have the links.
Ancient accounts of the Jewish revolt and its suppression by the Roman Empire:
Orosius, VII, 9:5 f.
Sulpicius Severus, II
Dio Cassius [or Cassius Dio], Roman History [Italian edition: Cassio Dione, Storia Romana], LXIII, 22; LXV, 8:1-3, 9:2; LXVI, 1:1-4, 4-7, 9:2, 12:1
Menahem Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, vol. II (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences 1980), pp 64-67.
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UPDATE 12-25-2009 Martin Peretz, editor of the New Republic, frankly calls The Financial Times, a "viciously anti-Israel newspaper" [here]
12-27-2009 Link to article on Jewish DNA, plus speculations on possible 11.5% Khazar genetic heritage among Ashkenazim [here]. H/T to Martin Kramer [here].
UPDATE 1-2-2010 The BBC in English disregarded an important story about Iranian involvement in mass murder of Jews. However, the BBC in Spanish did cover the story, which was reported by the Spanish-speaking media in any case [here].
UPDATE 3-9-2010 Martin Goodman, a historian of the Jews in Roman times, takes on Sand's tract in the TLS and throws it in the trash bin of history [here]

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