Archaeologists Discover Evidence of an Ancient Mass Beheading in Jerusalem

Oct. 17 2018

After the death of Judah the Maccabee in 160 BCE, his brother Simon assumed the position of both high priest and king—establishing the Hasmonean dynasty that ruled over Israel until 40 BCE. In a burial site adjacent to an ancient cistern in Jerusalem, archaeologists have now found evidence to support existing accounts of the war and civil strife that characterized the Hasmonean period. They believe the site dates to the reign of King Alexander Yannai, Simon’s grandson, who ruled from 103-76 BCE and is depicted by the ancient historian Josephus and the Talmud as cruel and ruthless. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

“We removed from the pit more than twenty neck vertebrae which were cut by a sword,” said Yossi Nagar, an anthropologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). “In the pit we discovered bodies and body parts of infants and adults, women and men, who were probably victims of a brutal slaughter.” Embryonic bones discovered in the excavation indicate that among victims were even pregnant women. . . .

The reign of Alexander Yannai (or Jannaeus) . . . was marked by court intrigue and seemingly endless military campaigns in which he conquered—and lost—swaths of territory.

It was a time of violent power struggles between the Jewish sects known as the Sadducees and Pharisees, [Alexander Yannai supported the former], which led to a six-year civil war that, according to Josephus, left some 50,000 Jews dead. . . . According to the commentary on the book of Nahum discovered as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, after the war’s end Alexander Yannai punished some 800 of his political enemies, sentencing them to crucifixion. Others, such as those discovered in the courtyard [in Jerusalem], were beheaded and dismembered.

During excavations, the archaeologists discovered broken human bones, which were randomly discarded together in a water cistern and covered in ash, rocks, and boulders.

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More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Hasmoneans, History & Ideas, Jerusalem, Nahum

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics