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


Hamas’s Dangerous Escalation in Gaza

June 22 2018

As Hamas has stepped up its attacks on communities near the Gaza Strip—using incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons—Israel has begun to retaliate more forcefully. In response, the terrorist group has begun firing rockets and mortars into Israel. Yoav Limor comments:

What made Wednesday’s rocket salvo different is that ‎unlike previous flare-ups on the border [since 2014], this time it ‎was Hamas operatives who fired at Israel, as opposed ‎to Islamic Jihad or the ‎rogue terrorist group in the coastal enclave. ‎Still, Hamas made sure the attack followed most of ‎the familiar “rules”—only [firing] at night and only at the ‎ communities in the vicinity of Gaza, and apparently while also ‎trying to minimize any casualties, to avoid further ‎escalation. ‎. . .

The first reason [for the shift in tactics] is Israel’s own change of policy ‎with regard to kite terrorism. It took Israel far ‎too long to define the incessant waves of incendiary ‎kites sent over the border as actionable acts of ‎terror, but once it did, the IDF began ‎systematically countering them, including firing ‎warning shots at terrorist kite cells and targeting ‎Hamas assets in Gaza in retaliation.‎

The second reason is Hamas’s own frustration and ‎distress in Gaza. Since the border-riot campaign was ‎launched on March 30, some 150 of its operatives ‎have been killed and the Israeli military has ‎carried out over 100 strikes on Hamas positions in ‎the coastal enclave, all while Hamas has nothing to ‎show for it. ‎In this situation, Hamas is searching for [some sort of victory] by declaring that “bombings will be ‎met with bombings,” as Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum ‎said Wednesday, in order to portray itself as defending Gaza from ‎Israel.‎ . . .

Hamas is banking on Israel opting against a military ‎campaign in Gaza at this time so as not to split its ‎focus from the [developments in Syria], but it is sorely ‎mistaken if it thinks Israel will simply contain ‎kite terrorism or shy away from action given the new ‎equation it has presented. ‎At some point, Israel’s patience will expire.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security