A 5th-Century Gold Coin Found in Israel Commemorates the Emperor Who Took Away Jews’ Rights

April 17 2019

Created recently under the auspices of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Sanhedrin Trail is designed for hikers, especially students, looking for Jewish archaeological sites in the Galilee from the first half of the first millennium CE. In February a group of such students discovered a solid-gold coin, which experts have now identified as dating to the reign of the emperor Theodosius II—who abolished the rabbinical high council for which the trail is named. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

Emperor Theodosius II (401-450) began his reign over Byzantium, the eastern part of the Roman empire whose capital was in Constantinople, at the age of seven. His name is enshrined in the Codex Theodosianus, . . . a set of laws published in 438 that collected and redacted the thousands of imperial laws of the sprawling empire.

Unfortunately for the Jews of the era, who had enjoyed relative freedom, the codex officially demoted their status. Although the coin depicts the goddess Victory, Theodosius was a defender of the Christian faith, which he promoted as the official religion of the empire. As such, the rights and privileges of Jews were circumscribed. They were barred from military and civil service—aside from the thankless profession of tax collector—and no new synagogues could be constructed.

In an even more resonant blow, the emperor’s codex also diverted the taxes paid to the head of the Sanhedrin, which led to [its] eventual abolishment. Gamaliel VI (400–425) was the final holder of the office of nasi [or president of the council].

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ancient Israel, Ancient Rome, Archaeology, Byzantine Empire, Sanhedrin

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat