The Jews of an Ancient Galilean Village and Their Magnificent Synagogue

July 24 2015

Excavations of the village of Shikhin have revealed much about the lives of the Jews there. James R. Strange, one of the archaeologists involved in the excavations, answers some questions about what he and his colleagues have unearthed. (Interview by Brian Leport.)

Shikhin’s Roman-period synagogue . . . was built sometime after the 1st century CE. . . . For the main entrance to their new building, [its builders] imported two halves of very large threshold stones made of hard, dolomitic limestone, using them to form a single threshold. The fragments of columns, including heart-shaped columns for interior corners, are also quite large. Either Shikhin had a modest synagogue with oversized architectural pieces, or it was a modest village with an oversized synagogue. . . . After the building was abandoned in the 3rd or early 4th century, nearly all of its stones were removed. . . .

Contrary to older views, in which people thought of the Galileans as peasants who barely escaped starvation year by year, . . . we now know that Galilee under Roman occupation had a fairly robust economy in which people [traveled] both to the city and from village to village, whether to engage in commerce or to find work. This does not mean that the Romans were not iron-fisted overlords, or that taxes were not onerous. . . .

We also know that, so far as we can tell, the Jewish population [in the Galilee] was concerned with the same sorts of things that concerned the Jews in the south [of Israel]: maintaining [ritual] purity on a daily basis, eating kosher meats and other foods prepared according to a kosher manner, and traveling to Jerusalem when they could for the pilgrimage festivals. By and large, Jewish people tended to live together in villages and pagan people tended to live in their villages (not many villages in the Galilee were pagan).

Read more at Ancient Jew Review

More about: Ancient Israel, Ancient Rome, Archaeology, Galilee, History & Ideas, Synagogue


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy