Even without Scrolls, the Latest Discovery at the Dead Sea Could Help Fight Forgery

Feb. 16 2017

Last week archaeologists discovered a cave near the Dead Sea that almost certainly once contained ancient scrolls like those found at eleven other caves nearby. They believe looters took the documents in the 1950s, leaving broken jars and blank parchment behind. Yet despite the absence of texts, experts still expect the new discovery to prove helpful, as Michelle Z. Donahue writes:

Over the past fifteen years there has been an increase in the number of Dead Sea Scroll fragments offered for sale on the private art market, said Lawrence Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University and an authority on the scrolls. “Many of the fragments that entered the market since 2002 appear to be forged.”

Some forgeries have expert lettering on parchment as old as the actual scrolls themselves, Schiffman said. “It’s possible some of this is coming from caves where people were able to locate ancient blank material to write on.”

The blank parchment that archaeologists recently found may shed light on how high-quality forgeries could be making their way to the market. And because it was recovered by scientifically rigorous methods, the parchment will help experts assess fragments that show up for sale.

“When things turn up, you just don’t know where they came from—you’re relying on the testimony of the seller,” [the archaeologist Randall] Price said. “We need these controlled excavations so that when something’s found, there’s no doubt of its origins and authenticity.”

Read more at National Geographic

More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, History & Ideas

As the Situation in Syria Changes, the Risks for Israel Increase

March 27 2017

On March 17, the Israeli Air Force struck a weapons convoy near Palmyra that was most likely bringing precision missiles to Hizballah in Lebanon. Syria responded with surface-to-air missiles, in turn triggering Israeli anti-missile missiles that successfully intercepted the counterattack. Yoav Limor comments on what is becoming an increasingly volatile situation:

[A series of military] successes in Syria have led the Russians, [who are fighting to prop up the Assad regime] to expand their campaign, and there is no doubt that Raqqa, Islamic State’s “capital” in Syria, as well as Palmyra and Deir el-Zor are next on Moscow’s list. Seizing control of these strategic areas will significantly increase Russia’s scope of operations, hence the increased risk factors in the regional theater, which includes Israel.

This was most likely the reason for Russia’s ire over the Israeli strike [on the Hizballah-bound convoy] in Syria, which led the Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov to summon, very publicly, the Israeli ambassador to Russia, Gary Koren, to provide clarifications. . . . The area struck near Palmyra, northeast of Damascus, is home to a Russian base and it is possible the Russian troops felt threatened, or that someone in the Kremlin wanted to draw clear operational parameters for Israel.

To be clear: Russia has no interest in a clash with Israel or in a fresh Israeli-Syrian conflict. But if until now Moscow was conspicuously uninterested in the covert blows Israel has been dealing Hizballah and Syria, the latest signal from the Kremlin is at the very least a warning sign to remind anyone who might have forgotten that the only interest Russia cares about is its own. . . .

[T]he tensions on the northern border do not spell an inevitable Israeli-Syrian conflict, as all regional actors have a clear interest to avoid one. Assad wants to re-establish his rule and he does not want to endanger it with an unplanned escalation against Israel, the strongest regional entity; Iran and Hizballah currently prefer to expand their regional sphere of influence quietly; and Israel wants peace and quiet as long as its two main interests—preventing advanced weapons from reaching Hizballah and avoiding war on the Golan Heights—are maintained. However, . . . recent events increase the risk that the parties could find themselves in a situation that might rapidly spiral out of control and result in a full-blown conflict.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war