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Using “Ghost Letters” to Decipher the Wisdom of Ben Sira

The book of Ben Sira (also known as Ecclesiasticus) is a collection of proverbs and poems thought to have originally been written in Hebrew in the 2nd century BCE. Although excluded from the Jewish canon, it is included in many Christian Bibles; nevertheless, it is occasionally cited with reverence in ancient and medieval rabbinic works. The oldest surviving manuscripts of the book are in Greek and Syriac; the oldest one in Hebrew, discovered in 1896, was written in the late-11th century CE and contains mysterious faded letters, which a scholar now believes he has deciphered:

[Eric R]eymond has [made] a connection between the lost first page of the manuscript and the strange ghosts of backward letters that appear on the first of the surviving pages. He posits that the backward letters are offsets or impressions of the missing text transmitted from the opposite, and long-missing, first folio page of this ancient manuscript. . . .

A scholar of ancient Hebrew texts, Reymond has been noticing and puzzling over the faint traces of letters since he was in graduate school. Were they Arabic or some other language? Could they reveal something about Ben Sira’s text that was not known from the Greek or Syriac Aramaic translations? Could they help resolve which of the variant translations—the Greek or the Syriac—was closer to the original mark?

The discovery that the ghost letters are backward Hebrew is important in and of itself. What adds even more value to his find is that it seems to indicate that the Hebrew . . . is, for the passage in question, closer to the Syriac translation than to the Greek, which will help guide future research on the evolution of Ben Sira’s text.

Read more at Notes from the Quad

More about: ancient Judaism, Apocrypha, Ben Sira, Bible, Christianity, History & Ideas

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen