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

Mahmoud Abbas’s Appointment of a New Deputy Chairman Won’t Prevent a Violent Succession Struggle

Feb. 24 2017

Last week, amid ongoing concern over his refusal to choose a successor, the aging president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) elevated two of his associates to important positions within his Fatah party. Mahmoud al-Aloul, a PLO veteran who was close to Yasir Arafat’s inner circle, was named deputy party chairman, and Jibril Rajoub, who served as the head of Arafat’s Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, became the secretary general. The move, writes Yoni Ben Menachem, has calmed some of the internal tensions within Fatah, but only in the short run:

Both . . . Aloul and Rajoub, are unacceptable to the Fatah Central Committee as possible successors to Abbas as PA president or Fatah chairman. As soon as Abbas is in a state of incapacity, a harsh and violent succession struggle will ensue. . . .

Aloul and Rajoub are already making the most of their promotions to try and clear their path to the PA leadership and remove any obstacle in their way. . . . [The two] are themselves keen political rivals. But, although each sees himself as Abbas’s [rightful] successor, they appear to have a common interest in getting rid of [the current PA prime minister, Rami] Hamdallah, as quickly as possible. He does not belong to the Fatah movement and was appointed to the post because of his personal ties with Abbas. . . .

Abbas will have to contend as soon as possible with a pack of Fatah figures who want to succeed him. The pound of flesh he tossed to Aloul and Rajoub in the form of senior positions in the movement’s leadership will only satisfy them for a very short time. They will not stop trying to undermine him—especially Rajoub who is known to be a tireless subversive in Palestinian politics. Also involved in the effort will be [Abbas’s longtime rival Mahmoud] Dahlan and Marwan Barghouti, [the mastermind of the second intifada, who is currently in an Israeli prison], who are likely to join forces, and General Majid Freij, who has already forged ties with the new CIA chief Mike Pompeo.

The current calm in the Fatah leadership is only temporary. Despite Abbas’s new appointments last week, it could collapse at any moment.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Politics & Current Affairs