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

Russia Has No Interest in Curbing Iran in Syria—Despite Putin’s Assurances

July 20 2018

In his joint press conference on Monday with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump stated that in their meeting he had brought up U.S. concerns about the Islamic Republic’s malign influence in the Middle East, and that he’d “made clear [to Putin] that the United States will not allow Iran to benefit from [America’s] successful campaign against Islamic State.” It does not appear, however, that any concrete agreements were reached. To Alexandra Gutowski and Caleb Weiss, it’s clear that agreements will do little, since Putin can’t be trusted to keep his word:

In late June, Russia began to unleash hundreds of airstrikes on [the southwestern Syrian province of] Deraa, in flagrant violation of the U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement that Trump and Putin personally endorsed last November. While Russia struck from the air, forces nominally under the control of Damascus conducted a major ground offensive.

Closer examination shows that the dividing line between Assad’s military and Iranian-aligned forces has become ever blurrier. Before the offensive began, Lebanese Hizballah and other Iranian-backed militias staged apparent withdrawals from the region, only to return after donning [Assad]-regime uniforms and hiding their banners and insignia. Tehran is also directly involved. On July 2, a senior commander of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died in Deir al-Adas, a village in northern Deraa province along the strategic M5 highway. Persian sources describe him as the commander for the province. [In fact], forces nominally under the control of Damascus are permeated with troops that are at least as close to Tehran. . . .

It’s also becoming clear that Russian aircraft are supporting the efforts of Iranian-backed units nominally under the control of Damascus. . . . Russia has also now deployed military police to hold terrain captured by Iranian-aligned forces, demonstrating a level of coordination as well as Russia’s unwillingness to use its forces for more dangerous offensive operations. These terrain-holding forces free up Iran-aligned actors to continue undertaking offensives toward the Golan.

Reported meetings between militia commanders and Russian officers suggest these operations are coordinated. But even without formal coordination, Russian air cover and Iranian ground offensives are mutually dependent and reinforcing. Iran can’t be in the sky, and Russia refuses to put significant forces on the ground, lest too many return home in body bags. Thus, Putin requires Iran’s forces on the ground to secure his ambitions in Syria.

President Trump should remain highly skeptical of Putin’s interest in serving as a partner in Syria and his ability to do so. The humanitarian relief Putin proposes [for postwar reconstruction] is designed to fortify the regime, not to rehabilitate children brutalized by Assad. Putin also has limited interest in curtailing Iran’s deployment. Russia itself admits that Iran’s withdrawal is “absolutely unrealistic.” Trump should not concede American positions, notably the strategic base at Tanf which blocks Iran’s path to the Mediterranean, for empty promises from Russia. Putin can afford to lie to America, but he can’t afford to control Syria without Iranian support.

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