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.

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Read more at Tali Virtual Midrash

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

Palestinian Acceptance of Israel as the Jewish State Must Be a Prerequisite to Further Negotiations

Oct. 19 2018

In 1993, in the early days of the Oslo peace process, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) under Yasir Arafat accepted the “right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security.” But neither it nor its heir, the Palestinians Authority, has ever accepted Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, or the right of the Jewish people to self-determination. Robert Barnidge explains why this distinction matters:

A Jewish state for the Jewish people, after all, was exactly what the [UN] General Assembly intended in November 1947 when it called for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into “the Arab state, the Jewish state, and the city of Jerusalem.”

Although the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state does not stand or fall on this resolution—in declaring the independence of Israel on the eve of the Sabbath on May 14, 1948, the Jewish People’s Council, [the precursor to the Israeli government], also stressed the Jewish people’s natural and historic rights—it reaffirms the legitimacy of Jewish national rights in (what was to become) the state of Israel.

The Palestinians have steadfastly refused to recognize Jewish self-determination. [Instead], the PLO [has been] playing a double game. . . . It is not simply that the PLO supported the General Assembly’s determination in 1975, rescinded in 1991, that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.” It is that that the PLO leadership continues to speak of Jews as a religious community rather than a people, and of Zionism as a colonial usurper rather than the national liberation movement that it is.

The U.S. government, Barnidge concludes, “should demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in peace and security as a Jewish state” and refuse to “press Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians unless and until that happens.”

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Israel & Zionism, Peace Process, PLO, US-Israel relations, Yasir Arafat