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A Mysterious Dead Sea Scroll Turns Out to Be a 364-Day Calendar

Jan. 22 2018

More than six decades after their discovery, all but two of the hundreds of documents in the Qumran caves have been published. Researchers at the University of Haifa have finally determined that one of these two—a scroll that was found in 60 tiny fragments and written in a sort of code—is a calendar used by the desert sect to whom the scrolls belonged. Daniel Eisenbud explains:

The researchers spent a year painstakingly studying the tiny fragments, . . . some of which measured smaller than one square centimeter. . . . According to the researchers, the calendar was involved in one of the fiercest debates among different sects during the late Second Temple period. “An important peculiarity of the present discovery is the fact that the [Qumran] sect followed a 364-day calendar,” the university said.

“The lunar calendar, which Judaism follows to this day, requires a large number of human decisions. People must look at the stars and moon and report on their observations, and someone must be empowered to decide on the new month and the application of leap years.” By contrast, the researchers described the 364-day calendar as “perfect.”

“Because this number can be divided into four and seven, special occasions always fall on the same day,” they said in a joint statement. “This avoids the need to decide, for example, what happens when a particular occasion falls on the Sabbath, as often happens in the lunar calendar. The Qumran calendar is unchanging, and it appears to have embodied the beliefs of the members of this community regarding perfection and holiness.” . . .

“The scroll is written in code, but its actual content is simple and well-known and there was no reason to conceal it,” they said. “This practice is also found in many places outside the land of Israel, where leaders write in secret code even when discussing universally-known matters, as a reflection of their status.” The custom . . . was intended to show that the author was familiar with the code, while others were not.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Dead Sea Scrolls, History & Ideas, Jewish calendar, Qumran

 

Israel Agreed Not to Retaliate During the Persian Gulf War—and Paid a Price for It

Feb. 19 2018

During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, killing one person and causing extensive property damage. Under intense pressure from the first Bush administration to sit still—ostensibly because Israeli involvement in the war could lead Arab states to abandon the White House’s anti-Iraq coalition—Jerusalem refrained from retaliating. Moshe Arens, who was the Israeli defense minister at the time, comments on the decision in light of information recently made public:

[W]hat was George H.W. Bush thinking [in urging Israel not to respond]? His secretary of state, James Baker, had accompanied the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles (Chas) Freeman, on a visit to King Fahd in Riyadh on November 2, 1990, two-and-a-half months before the beginning of the war, to obtain the king’s approval for additional deployment of U.S. troops in his kingdom in preparation for the attack on Iraq.

He was told by the king that although they would not welcome Israeli participation in the war, he understood that Israel could not stand idly by if it were attacked by Iraq. If Israel were to defend itself, the Saudi armed forces would still fight on America’s side, the king told Baker. So much for the danger to the coalition if Israel were to respond to the Scud attacks. Israel was not informed of this Saudi position.

So why was President Bush so intent on keeping Israel out of the war? It seems that he took the position, so dominant in the American foreign-policy establishment, that America’s primary interest in the Middle East was the maintenance of good relations with the Arab world, and that the Arab world attached great importance to the Palestinian problem, and that as long as that problem was not resolved Israel remained an encumbrance to the U.S.-Arab relationship. If Israel were to appear as an ally of the U.S. in the war against Iraq, that was likely to damage the image the U.S. was trying to project to the Arabs.

In fact, immediately upon the conclusion of the war against Saddam Hussein, Baker launched a diplomatic effort that culminated in the Madrid Conference in the hope that it would lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It didn’t. . . .

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: George H. W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Peace Process, Persian Gulf War, US-Israel relations