A 2nd-Century Woman’s Financial Documents Offer a Glimpse of Ancient Judean Life

Sept. 27 2017

In Babatha’s Orchard, the lawyer-turned-historian Philip Esler pieces together the story of an ancient Jewish woman whose possessions were found by the Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin in 1961. Elizabeth Shanks Alexander writes in her review. (Free registration required.)

Sometime toward the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135 CE), a Jewish woman named Babatha, daughter of Shimon, fled [the Negev town of] Ein Gedi with a group of fellow Jews. She had been visiting her stepdaughter and ended up in a remote cave in the Judean desert, accessible only by a narrow ledge carved into sheer cliffs 650 feet above the canyon floor. Like fleeing refugees of other times and places, Babatha carried her most important papers with her, so that she would be able to reclaim her property and re-establish her life when the war was over. However, she and the Jews she was hiding with either died of starvation when Roman soldiers cut off their supply lines or were killed outright when the soldiers penetrated the refuge.

Sometime before that happened, she hid her satchel with its 35 documents, including wedding contracts, a property registration, legal petitions and summonses, deeds, and loan notes, in a recess of the cave. These documents were written between 94 CE and 132 CE in Nabatean Aramaic, Judean Aramaic, and Greek. [Archaeologists] also found several other items that likely belonged to Babatha, including a pair of sandals, balls of yarn, two kerchiefs, a key and two key rings, bowls, a clasp knife, and three waterskins. . . .

Eser’s book has all the twists and turns of a detective story, but its biggest surprise is the people into whose world we have been permitted to peer. Women, at least the upper-middle-class Jewish and Nabatean women of Babatha’s circle, turn out to have been major financial players in this world. They bought and sold property, financed ventures from which they stood to gain, and even protected their interests at the risk of legal and marital conflict when things did not go according to plan.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Jewish law, Simon bar Kokhba

The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy