Traces of Jewish Life in Roman Anatolia

Feb. 17 2017

In the ruins of the ancient city of Limyra, in southwestern Turkey, archaeologists have uncovered apparent evidence of a Roman-era Jewish community. Megan Sauter writes:

Limyra was first settled in the 6th century BCE. During the 4th century BCE, it was the largest city in Lycia (a region on the southern coast of Anatolia). . . . Several centuries later, in the Byzantine period, Limyra served as the seat of a bishop. . . . [I]t appears that there was also a Jewish presence [in the city]. In a building recently excavated by Martin Seyer, chancel screens with Jewish symbols—menorahs, a shofar, and a lulav (palm branch)—have been uncovered. In a later period, these screens were broken and reused as paving stones.

In the same building, close to the discovery spot of the chancel screens, is a water basin. With plastered walls and a floor of marble slabs, this basin was fed by rainwater. A low stone bench rests against one of the walls. Could this basin have served as a mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath?

With its Jewish features, could this structure have been a synagogue? Martin Seyer clarifies that although it is not possible to create a precise stratigraphy for this building because of the high groundwater level, there are still some reasons to interpret this structure as a synagogue. . . . Previous to [the building’s] discovery, the only other indicator that there were Jewish inhabitants at Limyra was a solitary Greek inscription on a rock tomb that reads, “Tomb of Iudas.”

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More about: ancient Judaism, Ancient Rome, Arcaheology, Byzantine Empire, History & Ideas, Jewish art, Turkey

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy