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Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones through the Eyes of an Ancient Jewish Artist

June 30 2017

The synagogue at Dura-Europos—an ancient city in what is now eastern Syria and was then the frontier between the Roman and Sassanian empires—is thought to have been built in the 2nd or 3rd century CE and is one of the oldest synagogues ever discovered, as well as one of the best preserved. Although the synagogue itself has reportedly been destroyed by Islamic State, its elaborate wall paintings of biblical scenes, arranged in three rows (or “registers”) are in a Damascus museum and have been photographed extensively. Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman explicate a series of these paintings drawn from the book of Ezekiel, which they understand as an artistic “midrash” on the corresponding passages:

Unlike the middle register of paintings in the Dura Europos synagogue, all of whose pictures deal with the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple, the lower register contains a variety of separate scenes whose unifying theme is elusive. The paintings that have survived include: scenes from the life of Elijah, the Purim story, the anointing of David, the saving of the infant Moses, and episodes from the book of Ezekiel.

Some have suggested that miraculous survival is the central theme of the register; others have mentioned rebirth and resurrection. But in each case, the suggestions do not account for all the paintings. As a result, we propose that the underlying motif of this register is “unexpected reversal of fortune that leads to triumph,” in which God’s presence is sometimes overt and at other times implied. It is significant that this register is at the congregation’s eye level, and therefore serves as a continuous subliminal message.

We have here two examples of children, destined for greatness, who are saved from imminent death (baby Moses and the son of the widow of Zarefat [revived by Elijah in I Kings 17]). We have examples of the defeat of the many idolaters by the few faithful (Elijah against the prophets of Baal and the fall of Jerusalem’s apostates [Ezekiel 9]). We have the startling choice of David, Jesse’s youngest son, over his older brothers and in place of Saul, as the new king of Israel; and we have Mordecai’s triumphant parade led by the foiled Haman through the streets of Shushan. And finally, we have the vision of the valley of dry bones.

Read more at Tali Virtual Midrash

More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Ezekiel, Hebrew Bible, Jewish art, Religion & Holidays, Synagogues

 

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