The Rise and Fall of Beyt She’arim, Birthplace of the Mishnah

March 6 2018

Queen Berenice—the daughter of the 1st-century-CE Judean king Herod Agrippa I and the sister of Herod Agrippa II, the last king of Judea—built one of her palaces near the Galilean village of Beyt She’arim, which became a major center of Jewish intellectual life during the early talmudic period (ca. 70-400 CE). Having spent the last three years leading an excavation of the village’s remains, Adi Erlich summarizes his and his colleagues’ findings:

The story of Beyt She’arim that is emerging from our excavations starts in the Iron Age II period [ca. 1000-550 BCE, i.e., the earlier biblical period], of which only sporadic sherds of pottery survived. From the Hellenistic/Hasmonean period (3rd-1st centuries BCE) there are buildings, quarried pits, and small finds. The early Roman period (1st century CE)—the era of Queen Berenice’s estate on the hill—is represented by impressive walls, . . . possibly belonging to that estate, and small finds.

The heyday of Beyt She’arim (2nd-4th centuries CE), the days of the Jewish sages and [the town’s famous] cemetery, are well attested in buildings, streets and alleys, cisterns, quarried installations, and many small finds. The town was well planned, perhaps fortified, and the dwellings and public buildings indicate the high socio-economic status of the residents. Various installations for collecting water were constructed. The Jewish character of the inhabitants is attested by ritual baths and the use of stone vessels, typical of Jewish households. The town was destroyed in the mid-4th century CE, perhaps by the 363 CE earthquake.

The town recovered for a short time (ca. 380-420 CE), but was ruined again, probably by another earthquake. The pottery and glass industries north of the gate belong to that period. There are also some late Byzantine finds (5th-6th centuries CE), but only little architecture and it seems that the town declined in the mid-5th century. The almost [complete] lack of Byzantine coins is striking in this regard. . . . The special place of Beyt She’arim as a living Jewish town, the home of Rabbi Judah, [who codified the Mishnah around 200 CE], and the Sanhedrin, is now coming into better focus.

Read more at Ancient Near East Today

More about: Ancient Israel, Ancient Rome, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Judea, Mishnah

The Danger of Hollow Fixes to the Iran Deal

March 20 2018

In January, the Trump administration announced a 120-day deadline for the so-called “E3”—Britain, France, and Germany—to agree to solutions for certain specific flaws in the 2015 agreement to limit the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Omri Ceren explains why it’s necessary to get these fixes right:

[Already in October], the administration made clear that it considered the deal fatally flawed for at least three reasons: a weak inspections regime in which the UN’s nuclear watchdog can’t access Iranian military facilities, an unacceptable arrangement whereby the U.S. had to give up its most powerful sanctions against ballistic missiles even as Iran was allowed to develop ballistic missiles, and the fact that the deal’s eventual expiration dates mean Iran will legally be allowed to get within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear weapon. . . .

A team of American negotiators has been working on getting the E3 to agree to a range of fixes, and is testing whether there is overlap between the maximum that the Europeans can give and the minimum that President Trump will accept. The Europeans in turn are testing the Iranians to gauge their reactions and will likely not accept any fixes that would cause Iran to bolt.

The negotiations are problematic. The New York Times reported that, as far as the Europeans are concerned, the exercise requires convincing Trump they’ve “changed the deal without actually changing it.” Public reports about the inspection fix suggest that the Europeans are loath to go beyond urging the International Atomic Energy Commission to request inspections, which the agency may be too intimidated to do. The ballistic-missile fix is shaping up to be a political disaster, with the Europeans refusing to incorporate anything but long-range missiles in the deal. That would leave us with inadequate tools to counter Iran’s development of ballistic missiles that could be used to wipe Israel, the Saudis, and U.S. regional bases off the map. . . .

There is a [significant] risk the Trump administration may be pushed to accept the hollow fixes acceptable to the Europeans. Fixing the deal in this way would be the worst of all worlds. It would functionally enshrine the deal under a Republican administration. Iran would be open for business, and this time there would be certainty that a future president will not act to reverse the inevitable gold rush. Just as no deal would have been better than a bad deal, so no fix would be better than a bad fix.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Donald Trump, Europe, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy