Another Treasure Revealed on an Ancient Synagogue’s Mosaic

July 11 2018

For eight years, archaeologists have been meticulously uncovering the intricate mosaic floor—depicting scenes from the Bible and Jewish legend—of a 5th-century synagogue in the Galilean village of Ḥuqoq. Amanda Borschel-Dan describes their latest findings:

A recently unearthed mosaic shows two men carrying between them a pole on their shoulders from which is hung a massive cluster of grapes—quite similar to the symbol of Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. Accompanied by a clear Hebrew inscription stating, “a pole between the two,” it illustrates Numbers 13:23, in which Moses sends twelve scouts to explore Canaan [and they come back bearing the fruit of the land].

Before wrapping up the dig season last week, the team of twenty excavators uncovered a further biblical mosaic panel, which shows a youth leading an animal on a rope and includes the inscription, “a little child shall lead them.” It is a reference to Isaiah 11:6, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” . . . .

During this year’s dig, the team also continued to expose and study rare 1,600-year-old columns . . . covered in painted plaster with red, orange, and yellow vegetal motifs. Other . . . columns . . . were painted to imitate marble; . . . despite these “imitation marble” columns, this was no poor man’s synagogue. Much in the manner of King Herod decorating his palaces with painted faux-marble frescos, the columns and gorgeous mosaics point to a wealthy, flourishing 5th-century Jewish settlement. . . .

The obvious wealth and disposable income displayed in the synagogue undermines “a widespread view . . . that the Jewish community was in decline” [in 5th-century Palestine, said Jodi Magness, the archaeologist leading the excavation]. “The mosaics decorating the floor of the Ḥuqoq synagogue revolutionize our understanding of Judaism in this period. . . . Ancient Jewish art is often thought to be aniconic, or lacking images. But these mosaics, colorful and filled with figured scenes, attest to a rich visual culture as well as to the dynamism and diversity of Judaism in the late-Roman and Byzantine periods.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ancient Israel, History & Ideas, Jewish art, Synagogues

When It Comes to Syria, Vladimir Putin’s Word Can’t Be Trusted

July 13 2018

In the upcoming summit between the Russian and American presidents in Helsinki, the future of Syria is likely to rank high on the agenda. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has already made clear that Moscow won’t demand a complete Iranian withdrawal from the country. Donald Trump, by contrast, has expressed his desire for a complete U.S. withdrawal. Examining Moscow’s track record when it comes to maintaining its past commitments regarding Syria, Eli Lake urges caution:

Secretary of State John Kerry spent his last year in office following Lavrov all over the world in an attempt to create a U.S.-Russian framework for resolving the Syrian civil war. He failed. . . . President Trump [now] wants to get to know Putin better—and gauge his willingness to help isolate Iran. This is a pointless and dangerous gambit. First, by announcing his intention to pull U.S. forces out of the country “very soon,” Trump has already given away much of his leverage within Syria.

Ideally, Trump would want to establish a phased plan with Putin, where the U.S. would make some withdrawals following Iranian withdrawals from Syria. But Trump has already made it clear that prior [stated] U.S. objectives for Syria, such as the removal of the dictator Bashar al-Assad, are no longer U.S. objectives. The U.S. has also declined to make commitments to give money for Syrian reconstruction.

Without any leverage, Trump will have to rely even more on Putin’s word, which is worthless. Putin to this day denies any Russian government role in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. Just last month, Putin went on Austrian television and lied about his government’s role in shooting down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. Why would anyone trust Putin to keep his word to help remove Iran and its proxies from Syria?

And this gets to the most dangerous possible outcome of the upcoming summit. The one thing that Kerry never did was to attempt to trade concessions on Syria for concessions on Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. There was a good reason for this: even if one argues that the future of Ukraine is not a high priority for the U.S., it’s a disastrous precedent to allow one nation to change the boundaries of another through force, and particularly of one that signed an agreement with the U.S., UK, and Russia to preserve its territorial integrity in exchange for relinquishing its cold-war-era nuclear weapons.

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Read more at Bloomberg

More about: Crimea, Donald Trump, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy, Vladimir Putin