What Are Pagan Deities Doing on the Floors of Ancient Synagogues?

Jan. 28 2015

Archaeologists have uncovered a handful of synagogues from the talmudic period (ca. 70 – 600 CE), mostly in the northern parts of Israel. Some of these synagogues contain elaborate mosaics, with representations of various religious symbols and objects, as well as biblical scenes. Surprisingly, some also have depictions of the signs of the zodiac and, in at least two cases, of a pagan deity. Mike Rogoff analyzes various theories of why this was not seen as a violation of the Second Commandment (which seems to prohibit making any “graven image” or “likeness” of terrestrial or celestial bodies), and puts forth his own conclusions (free registration required):

What is astonishing at [two of the best-preserved synagogue mosaics] is the large centerpiece, depicting the wheel of the zodiac, a blatantly Hellenistic-Roman device. It is populated with human figures, seemingly in defiance of the Second Commandment. Four female figures, representing the four seasons of the year (often with their season’s bounty at hand), inhabit the corners of the square frame. Several of the twelve signs of the zodiac are human, with two in [the synagogue at] Hammat Tiberias—Libra and Aquarius—fully naked.

But the real surprise lies at the center of the wheel. Here, in the very heart of the synagogues, is a representation of Helios, the Greek sun god, in the form of a charioteer, whip in hand, riding his four-horse quadriga across the sky. What is the image doing here? . . .

Jews recognized . . . that the universe is entirely in the hands of the Creator; but since any representation of Him was the most severe prohibition of all, they adopted and adapted a long-popular Mediterranean design to convey the idea. There was no veneration of the pagan deities or celestial bodies—after all, the congregation routinely tramped over them—and thus no violation of the second part of the Second Commandment [which states of images:] “…thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them.”

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Read more at Haaretz

More about: ancient Judaism, History & Ideas, Idolatry, Jewish art, Mosaics, Synagogues

The Attempted Murder of Salman Rushdie Should Render the New Iran Deal Dead in the Water

Aug. 15 2022

On Friday, the Indian-born, Anglo-American novelist Salman Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed and severely wounded while giving a public lecture in western New York. Reports have since emerged—although as yet unverified—that the would-be assassin had been in contact with agents of Iran, whose supreme leaders have repeatedly called on Muslims to murder Rushdie. Meanwhile U.S. and European diplomats are trying to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran. Stephen Daisley comments:

Salman Rushdie’s would-be assassin might have been a lone wolf. He might have had no contact with military or intelligence figures. He might never even have set foot in Tehran. But be in no doubt: he acted, in effect, as an agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under the terms of the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, Rushdie “and all those involved in [his novel The Satanic Verses’s] publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death.” Khomeini urged “brave Muslims to kill them quickly wherever they find them so that no one ever again would dare to insult the sanctities of Muslims,” adding: “anyone killed while trying to execute Rushdie would, God willing, be a martyr.”

An American citizen has been the victim of an attempted assassination on American soil by, it appears, another American after decades of the Iranian supreme leader agitating for his murder. No country that is serious about its national security, to say nothing of its national self-worth, can pretend this is some everyday stabbing with no broader political implications.

Those implications relate not only to the attack on Rushdie. . . . In July, a man armed with an AK-47 was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of Masih Alinejad, an Iranian dissident who was also the intended target of an abduction plot last year orchestrated by an Iranian intelligence agent. The cumulative weight of these outrages should render the new Iran deal dead in the water.

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Read more at Spectator

More about: Freedom of Speech, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy