Using Cutting-Edge Technology, Scientists Make an Ancient Torah Scroll Readable

Sept. 23 2016

In 1970, Israeli archaeologists discovered an ancient synagogue in the oasis of Ein-Gedi in the Negev. Its ark contained charred lumps that had once been Torah scrolls, destroyed in a long-ago fire, which are the oldest extant manuscripts of the Pentateuch besides the Dead Sea Scrolls. Since even touching the scrolls would cause them to disintegrate, they have remained a mystery until recently, when a team of researchers used “virtual-unwrapping” technology to produce a legible scan of the texts. Nicholas Wade writes:

The scroll’s content, the first two chapters of the book of Leviticus, has consonants—early Hebrew texts didn’t specify vowels—that are identical to those of the Masoretic text, the authoritative version of the Hebrew Bible and the one often used as the basis for translations of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles.

The Dead Sea Scrolls . . . contain versions quite similar to the Masoretic text but with many small differences. The text in the scroll found at the Ein-Gedi excavation site . . . has none, according to Emanuel Tov, an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“We have never found something as striking as this,” Tov said. “This is the earliest evidence of the exact form of the [Masoretic] text.”

The date of the Ein-Gedi scroll is the subject of conflicting evidence. A carbon-14 measurement indicates that the scroll was copied around 300 CE. But the style of the ancient script suggests a date nearer to 100 CE. “We may safely date this scroll” to between 50 and 100 CE, wrote Ada Yardeni, an expert on Hebrew paleography. . . . Dr. Tov [also] said he was “inclined toward a 1st-century date.”

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Archaeology, Dead Sea Scrolls, History & Ideas, Masoretes, Synagogues, Torah

Reengaging the Syrian Government Has Brought Jordan an Influx of Narcotics, but Little Stability

As Syria’s civil war drags on, and it seems increasingly unlikely that Bashar al-Assad will be overthrown, Arab states that had anathematized his regime for its brutal treatment of its own people have gradually begun to rebuild economic and diplomatic relations. There are also those who believe the West should do the same. The case of Jordan, argues Charles Lister, shows the folly of such a course of action:

Despite having been a longtime and pivotally important backer of Syria’s armed anti-Assad opposition since 2012, Jordan flipped in 2017 and 2018, eventually stepping forward to greenlight a brutal, Russian-coordinated Syrian-regime campaign against southern Syria in the summer of 2018. Amman’s reasoning for turning against Syria’s opposition was its desire for stability along its border, to create conditions amenable to refugee returns, and to rid southern Syria of Islamic State cells as well as an extensive Iranian and Hizballah presence.

As hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians were swiftly besieged and indiscriminately bombed from the ground and air, Jordan forced its yearslong Free Syrian Army partners to surrender, according to interviews I conducted with commanders at the time. In exchange, they were promised by Jordan a Russian-guaranteed reconciliation process.

Beyond the negligible benefit of resuming trade, Russia’s promise of “reconciliation” has resolutely failed. Syria’s southern province of Daraa is now arguably the most unstable region in the country, riddled with daily insurgent attacks, inter-factional strife, targeted assassinations, and more. Within that chaos, which Russia has consistently failed to resolve, not only does Iran remain in place alongside Hizballah and a network of local proxy militias but Iran and its proxies have expanded their reach and influence, commanding some 150 military facilities across southern Syria. Islamic State, too, continues to conduct sporadic attacks in the area.

Although limited drug smuggling has always existed across the Syria-Jordan border, the scale of the Syrian drug trade has exploded in the last two years. The most acute spike occurred (and has since continued) immediately after the Jordanian king Abdullah II’s decision to speak with Assad on the phone in October 2021. Since then, dozens of people have been killed in border clashes associated with the Syrian drug trade, and although Jordan had previously been a transit point toward the prime market in the Persian Gulf, it has since become a key market itself, with Captagon use in the country now described as an “epidemic,” particularly among young people and amid a 30-percent unemployment rate.

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Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Drugs, Jordan, Middle East, Syrian civil war