How Important Is a 1st-Century-CE Synagogue and Its Unique Stone Carving?

In 2009, archaeologists excavating the ancient Galilean city of Migdal (Aramaic Magdala) discovered the remains of a synagogue built and used prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Although many ancient synagogues have been discovered in the region, all but a few were built in the 2nd century CE or later, making this one a rare and exciting find. Most fascinating was the engraved stone block in its center, which has sparked many interpretations, including that it was a table for reading the Torah, a place for burning incense, an elaborate symbolic representation of the Temple in its entirety, and even a clue to understanding the origins of Christian theology. David Gurevich, while appreciating the object’s significance, cautions against overreading its symbolism and ramifications:

The Magdala Stone has a rectangular form (60×50×40 cm). Its base consists of four legs. Five of its sides are decorated with reliefs. On the stone’s upper face, there is a rosette pattern, two palm trees, and various plant elements. Another two rosettes with arches are found on a narrow (back?) face. The longer sides depict what may be seen as arched gateways, and a strange artifact that [resembles] a lamp.

The most interesting side of the stone has an extraordinary relief of a menorah flanked by two amphorae [jugs] and two columns. It is a unique finding because the Magdala Stone provides the earliest visual representation of the menorah in synagogue art. Due to the dating, it is possible that the artist had seen the original candelabrum of the Temple with his own eyes. Columns found in later Jewish art . . . are usually explained by scholars as an architectural façade that symbolized the entrance to the Temple. Hence, the appearance of the menorah combined with the façade could not be random. . . .

The menorah was definitely important as a symbol in the Jewish art [of the time] and it is meant to invoke the Temple; but the menorah was also a symbol of Judaism and Jews in the ancient world. It is [entirely] reasonable to find a menorah decorating a place where a Jewish community gathers to study Scripture. This does not necessitate that every single ornament on the stone ought to be linked to Jerusalem’s Temple.

As for the more elaborate interpretations, Gurevich cites the historian Steven Fine, who has compared them to something that might be found in the novels of Dan Brown.

Read more at Bible and Interpretation

More about: Archaeology, History & Ideas, Jewish art, Menorah, Synagogues

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy