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.

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

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat