Israeli Schoolchildren Discover a 7th-Century Engraving of a Hanukkah Menorah

April 17 2018

Participating in a project organized by the Israel Antiquities Authority, thousands of students joined adult volunteers in helping to prepare a new hiking path through the historic Galilee—discovering, in the process, a number of ancient and medieval artifacts. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

[The] pupils participated in archaeological excavations at sites including Usha, the first seat of the Sanhedrin in the Galilee following the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132-136 CE. Previous excavations of the small Galilee town . . . have uncovered remains of a thriving community, including building foundations, a mosaic floor, rock-hewn tombs, wells, wine presses, and an oil press. . . . During the [current] excavations, more evidence of settlement was discovered, including an intact 1,400-year-old oil lamp engraved with an eight-branched menorah, such as one would use during the holiday of Hanukkah. (The menorah of the Temples, and the symbol of the state of Israel, only has seven branches.) . . .

Additionally . . . the team uncovered clear signs of the glass industry that is recorded in ancient Jewish sources as having been located in the vicinity of Usha, [and that] was one of the most important centers of glass manufacturing during the Roman [period]. The quality [of the glass produced there] was considered very fine—the discovered blocks are still crystal clear—and would have been exported throughout the empire. . . .

[One] high-school student, Ilai Yonah, . . . uncovered a gold coin bearing an inscription from the period of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, ruler of the Ottoman empire and builder of Jerusalem’s city walls, who died in 1566. Only two others exist in the State Treasury.

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More about: Archaeology, Galilee, History & Ideas, Menorah, Ottoman Empire

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey