Herod’s Masada Pleasure Palace

Aug. 27 2018

In 1924, a British pilot flew over the ancient fortress of Masada and took photographs that have been preserved at University College London. Examining them, the archaeologist Guy Stiebel found something overlooked by previous excavations, and this led to a new discovery. Robin Ngo writes:

Stiebel . . . noticed next to the Byzantine church [atop the fortress] an oblong shape that seemed to be covering a subterranean structure—something that couldn’t be seen at the site at the time. As it turns out, not knowing that anything was there, the Israel Nature and Parks authority had covered this structure around 45 years ago—providing an excellent candidate for excavation. With this undisturbed section of Masada in mind, Guy Stiebel and Boaz Gross launched a new archaeological project under the sponsorship of Tel Aviv University. . . .

The project has uncovered evidence of agricultural activity, aqueducts, and irrigation systems from the time of King Herod, [the Judean king who built a palace on Masada in the fourth decade BCE]. Although Masada is situated in the middle of the Judean desert, such excessive use of water for agriculture was not unheard of in antiquity. Scholars were already familiar with Herod’s lush gardens at Jericho, Caesarea, and Herodium; moreover, the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus describing the soil at Masada offered clues.

“Learning from Josephus’ account that the soil of Masada was allegedly fertile, we wondered if we could identify evidence of such agricultural activity atop the mountain,” write Stiebel and Boaz Gross in [a report on their findings]. “We excavated a series of probes in the semi-hemispheric feature of the northern palace’s upper terrace, which had been suggested to be a viridarium, a plantation of trees constituting what many call a ‘pleasure-garden.’ The semi-hemispheric balcony provided the royal residences of the northern palace with a spectacular view of the Dead Sea, the Moab mountains, and the oasis of En Gedi.”

Read more at Bible History Daily

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Herod, History & Ideas, Josephus, Masada

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship