An Ancient Persian Military Base Discovered in Northern Israel

Dec. 28 2018

The book of Esther describes the Persian king Ahasuerus as having reigned over an empire that stretched “from India to Ethiopia”—and thus, as a matter of simple geography, must have included Egypt. It was Cambyses II, the son and successor of Cyrus the Great, who added Egypt to the vast empire he inherited in the late 6th century BCE. Recently, archaeologists have discovered the ruins of a Persian military base near the Israeli city of Acre that Cambyses likely used in preparing for his campaign against the pharaoh, writes Philippe Bohstrom. (Free registration required.)

Among the findings at Tel Keisan, a hill rising 28 meters from the coastal plain . . . in northern Israel, were ruins dated to the Persian period by ceramic jars and cooking pots in the Greek and Phoenician styles typical of that time. The Phoenicians . . . and their fleet had been subjugated by the Assyrians and then by the Persians; and the ancient Greek historian Herodotus said that Greek mercenaries fought in the Persian emperor Cambyses’ army. The Greek and Phoenician ceramic finds in the Persian layer of Tel Keisan [thus] suggest that this area was part of the base camp of the great Achaemenid campaign.

It was on the Acre plain that Cambyses assembled his army that would sweep down to Egypt, in the 520s BCE. Why were the Persians so adamant about conquering Egypt, aside from the usual human weakness for building empires? One reason is because the various empires in the Levant and Middle East considered Egypt to be a major threat. That is just one more reason for their desire to control the land of Israel—a fertile land with a long coast, and a convenient [place from which to launch] attacks on Egypt. Or, at least, to contain Egypt’s influence over the Levant. . . .

The forces Cambyses massed on the coast would have needed a huge apparatus and an incredible amount of resources. Tel Keisan would have been only one of a series of supply points along the Acre plain, Indeed the archaeologists found remnants of storage jars and cooking pots in large quantities that may have been used by Cambyses’ armies. A key bit of evidence was a large pit with organic debris and substantial quantities of pottery, some of which was Phoenician pottery and some imports from Greece, mainly from Athens.

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Read more at Haaretz

More about: Ancient Greece, Ancient Persia, Archaeology, Esther, History & Ideas, Phoenicia

To the Anti-Semite, Jews Aren’t Just One Problem among Many, but the Source of All Problems

While it likely had some ancient antecedents, the blood libel—the myth that Jews murder Christian children and consume their blood as part of a Passover ritual—as we know it began in Norwich, England in 1144. That same city was the location of one of several blood-libel-fueled massacres of Jews in 1190, and researchers have recently concluded that a mass grave found in Norwich contained the bones of the victims. Meir Soloveichik reflects on this discovery:

The popularity of the blood libel, in its very absurdity, captures the essence of anti-Semitism. By taking the tale of the origin of Jewish chosenness—the exodus from Egypt—and turning it into a pernicious plan for annual evildoing, the libel illustrates how, as Robert Nicholson once wrote, hatred of Jews “isn’t just any old hatred or racism. It is a grand anti-myth that turns Jewish chosenness on its head and assigns to the people of Israel responsibility for all the world’s ills.”

The readiness of all today to denounce the massacres of medieval Jewish communities often highlights how, as the writer Dara Horn put it, “people love dead Jews.” The blood libel is not a thing of the past. It is ongoing. The world is all too prepared to bemoan the injustice against Jews in the past and yet all too ready to overlook those who purvey blood libels today.

Such a phenomenon can be seen in the successful career of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As Seth Mandel has noted, . . . the congresswoman has taken rhetorical dishonesty about Israel to entirely new level, linking—like the libelists of old—purported Jewish activity to grievances around the world. Commenting on the situation at the Mexican-American border, she accused, without offering any evidence, Israel of placing Palestinian children in cages. During one debate, standing on the floor of the House next to an image of a dead Palestinian child, she linked Israel’s airstrikes to the naval base in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

The bones of murdered Jews may have been exhumed from the soil of the site where the blood libel was born, but what has yet to be exhumed from the present is the blood libel itself. And it is only if we do all we can to identify, and call out, the liars and the libelists that we can honestly hope that the murdered Jews of Norwich will rest in peace.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Anglo-Jewry, Anti-Semitism, Blood libel