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Remnants of an Ancient Refugee Camp at Masada Tell a New Story

Sept. 13 2017

The hilltop fortress in the Negev, where—according to the ancient historian Josephus—some 1,000 Jewish zealots killed themselves rather than fall to the Romans in 73 CE is among Israel’s best known archaeological sites. In conducting the first excavations there in over a decade, archaeologists have uncovered many new details. Ilan Ben Zion writes:

“We’re actually excavating a refugee camp,” said Guy Stiebel, the archaeologist leading the excavations. . . . Masada’s inhabitants during the seven years of the revolt were “a sort of microcosm of Judea back then,” comprising refugees from Jerusalem and across Judea including priests, members of the enigmatic monastic group from Qumran who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, and at least one Samaritan.

“What my expedition intends to do is to reconstruct life at Masada, without even referring to [the fortress’s destruction],” Stiebel said. . . .

Cutting-edge archaeological techniques helped glean a more detailed picture of the past that would have been impossible during the time of [the site’s earlier excavator Yigael] Yadin. The picture emerging from these new data about Masada’s inhabitants is far more complex than previously assumed.

“It’s not one monolithic group,” Stiebel explained, describing the people living at Masada before its fall as a “very vibrant community of 50 shades of gray” of Judea.

“We have the opportunity to truly see the people, and this is very rare for an archaeologist,” he said. Among them are women and children, who are too often underrepresented in the archaeological record. . . . “We know people by name; we know people by profession. We can learn about the way this group of rebels lived,” he said.

Read more at Forward

More about: Archaeology, History & Ideas, Josephus, Judean Revolt, Masada

The Movement to Return Jewish Worship to the Temple Mount Has Gone Mainstream

Sept. 25 2017

During the eruption of violence against Israelis in Jerusalem this summer, and the subsequent struggle over metal detectors, the Islamic authorities briefly boycotted the Temple Mount. As a result, Jewish visitors, normally prohibited from praying there, immediately began to do so. Meir Soloveichik puts the episode in context and describes its meaning:

The Temple Mount is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for religious Jews. In the past, most abstained from visiting out of concern that they might enter a sacred area in a state of ritual impurity, but many now believe that, with a knowledge of the layout, history, and religious laws pertaining to the location, it is permissible to visit certain parts of the Temple Mount plaza. They thus visit the site under religious guidance—immersing first in a ritual bath, or mikveh—and tread only in specific areas. What was once a trickle of pilgrims has become a stream, and this year they numbered in the many thousands. . . .

[Indeed, a] sea change has taken place in the past fifteen years: . . . the segment of Jews visiting the Temple Mount is becoming more and more mainstream, supported by rabbis noted for their liberalism in social or religious affairs. . . .

Visiting Jews were, for a brief and brilliant moment [this summer], able to utter several words of prayer without interference. The Israeli media published photos of a diverse group of Jews standing on the Temple Mount reciting the kaddish, so close to where their ancestors, on Yom Kippur, had once stood listening to the high priest pronounce the Name of God. Soon after this kaddish, the [status quo ante] returned; Jews again were no longer free to pray at the site toward which all Jewish prayer has been directed for thousands of years. But images of that one unimpeded kaddish remain; to study them is to look back on the miraculous and heartbreaking past half-century in Jerusalem, to celebrate what has been achieved, and to mourn what might have been.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Judaism, Palestinian terror, Religion & Holidays, Temple Mount