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An Ancient Jewish Amulet for Winning at the Chariot Races

In the 1930s, two American archaeologists working in the now-Turkish city of Antioch discovered a small lead scroll, closed shut with a nail, from the 5th century CE. It resembled other ancient amulets used to curse the owner’s enemies, but only recently has modern imaging technology made decoding the scroll’s text possible, as Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

In the curse, written in a Jewish dialect of Aramaic in Hebrew letters, [a] gambler beseeches God and his panoply of angels to thwart a competitor’s horse and cause him to “drown in the mud.” . . . “The curse calls upon the angel who [in the Bible] stands before Balaam’s ass to block the horses of the opposing team,” said [Rivka Elitzur-Leiman, the scholar who has translated the amulet].

Curse amulets on horse racing were common during this time, but until now were only discovered written in Greek or Latin. There has been some attempt to tie one scroll to Jews, said Elitzur-Leiman, because it referenced Pharaoh’s chariots. However, she said, Christians of the era were also well versed in the Hebrew Bible’s stories, so this could not be conclusive proof of a Jewish connection.

Due to this scroll’s Jewish Aramaic dialect, the Hebrew lettering and the very Jewish content—including the Hebrew Tetragrammaton—she is convinced that this amulet was indeed written by Jews. . . . Spells were very diverse in terms of their goals, she said, but incantations on horse races were among the most popular in the general population of the time. And now, with this newly deciphered tablet, we see this unsporting behavior among Jews, too.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Superstition

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen