A Newly Discovered Inscription Sheds Light on an Ancient Negev City

March 15 2019

Archaeologists excavating the ruins of an ancient city in southern Israel have found a Greek inscription with the city’s name, confirming that it is indeed Ḥalutsah—in Greek, Elusa. The Jewish Press reports:

The discovery of an inscription with the name of the ancient city in a site itself is a rare occurrence. . . . The name of the city of Elusa appears in a number of historical documents and contexts, including the Madaba mosaic map, the Nessana papyri, and [elsewhere]. However, this is the first time that the name of the city has been discovered in the site itself. The inscription mentions several Caesars of the tetrarchy, [a period when governance of the Roman empire was divided among four rulers], which date it to around 300 CE.

In addition, in the recent excavation season, a bathhouse and Byzantine church were uncovered. The 130-foot-long three-aisled church contained an eastward apse, whose vault was originally decorated with a glass mosaic. Its nave was decorated with marble. The bathhouse is a large, urban complex of which were revealed part of the furnace and caldarium (hot room). . . .

Elusa was founded toward the end of the 4th century BCE as an important station along the Incense Road, the ancient road between Petra, [in what is now Jordan], and Gaza. The city continued to develop, reaching its peak in the Byzantine period in the 4th-to-mid-6th centuries CE. In that period, it was inhabited by tens of thousands of inhabitants and was the only city in the Negev.

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More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Negev

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey