For Ancient Jews, Graffiti Could Be an Expression of Religious Devotion

June 12 2019

Reviewing a recent book about graffiti that appear to have been written by Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Near East, Jillian Stinchcomb writes:

“Good luck with your resurrection!” So a passerby wrote in the grave complex at [the ancient Galilean town of] Beit She’arim, in fairly messy—although still legible—Greek in the ceiling and entryway wall of a catacomb. This somewhat cheeky greeting is one among many charming, intimate moments Karen Stern catalogues in her 2018 monograph, Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and the Forgotten Jews of Antiquity. . . .

Stern . . . contrasts the modern expectation that graffiti are inherently illicit with evidence from the ancient world that suggests graffiti were often anticipated and unexceptional, albeit lacking official sanction. . . . Jewish graffiti follow certain patterns, particularly clustering around doorways, as seen in the evidence from the synagogue from Dura Europos [in what is now Syria, which dates back at least to the 3rd century CE, and is one of the oldest ever discovered]. Stern argues that this type of graffiti should be seen as a visual and physical form of prayer, which was performed not only in synagogues but in and near outdoor, non-Jewish sanctuaries, showing heterogeneity in the worship practices of Jewish populations. . . .

Stern [also] argues that the evidence shows “some ancient Jews and their neighbors commonly . . . visited and elaborated [upon] the interiors of cemeteries after they had completed activities of burial and interment.” [Additionally, the book] looks at Jewish graffiti in public spaces, such as the theater or a marketplace, which show everyday Jews interacting with and moving through a Christian or pagan world.

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More about: ancient Judaism, Ancient Near East, Archaeology

Whatever the Kushner Plan’s Flaws, They Won’t Be the Reason It Fails

June 27 2019

On Tuesday and Wednesday, delegates from across the Middle East met in Bahrain to discuss, among other things, the “economic portion” of the Trump administration’s proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace; its political complement remains under wraps. The Palestinian Authority (PA), boycotted the meeting and rejected the plan even before it was made public, while most foreign-policy experts have been sharply critical of its contents. Comparing this plan with those that preceded it, Jonathan Tobin writes:

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More about: Jared Kushner, Palestinians, Peace Process