A Newly Discovered Mosaic Displays an Obscure Biblical Scene

The book of Exodus, describing the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness after crossing the Red Sea, states: “And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and 70 palm trees: and they encamped there by the water.” Recently archaeologists have discovered a depiction of this scene in the elaborate mosaics of the 5th-century-CE Huqoq synagogue. Jodi Magness, who since 2011 has been leading the excavation of this Galilean synagogue, explains in an interview:

We’ve uncovered the first depiction of the episode of Elim ever found in ancient Jewish art. . . . The mosaic is divided into three horizontal strips, or registers. We see clusters of dates being harvested by male agricultural workers wearing loincloths, who are sliding the dates down ropes held by other men. The middle register shows a row of wells alternating with date palms. On the left side of the panel, a man in a short tunic is carrying a water jar and entering the arched gate of a city flanked by crenellated towers. An inscription above the gate reads, “And they came to Elim.”

Magness also describes the current season’s other major discovery, and why both matter:

Chapter 7 in the book of Daniel describes four beasts that represent the four kingdoms leading up to the end of days. This year our team discovered mosaics in the synagogue’s north aisle depicting these four beasts, as indicated by a fragmentary Aramaic inscription referring to the first beast: a lion with eagle’s wings. The lion itself is not preserved, nor is the third beast. However, the second beast from Daniel 7:4—a bear with three ribs protruding from its mouth—is preserved. So is most of the fourth beast, which is described in Daniel 7:7 as having iron teeth. . . .

The Daniel panel is interesting because it points to eschatological . . . expectations among this congregation. The Elim panel is interesting as it is generally considered a fairly minor episode in the Israelites’ desert wanderings—which raises the question of why it was significant to this Jewish congregation in Lower Galilee.

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Read more at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Hebrew Bible, Jewish art, Synagogues

Reforms to Israel’s Judiciary Must Be Carefully Calibrated

The central topic of debate in Israel now is the new coalition government’s proposed reforms of the nation’s judiciary and unwritten constitution. Peter Berkowitz agrees that reform is necessary, but that “the proper scope and pace of reform, however, are open to debate and must be carefully calibrated.”

In particular, Berkowitz argues,

to preserve political cohesiveness, substantial changes to the structure of the Israeli regime must earn support that extends beyond these partisan divisions.

In a deft analysis of the conservative spirit in Israel, bestselling author Micah Goodman warns in the Hebrew language newspaper Makor Rishon that unintended consequences flowing from the constitutional counterrevolution are likely to intensify political instability. When a center-left coalition returns to power, Goodman points out, it may well repeal through a simple majority vote the major changes Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition seeks to enact. Or it may use the legislature’s expanded powers, say, to ram through laws that impair the religious liberty of the ultra-Orthodox. Either way, in a torn nation, constitutional counterrevolution amplifies division.

Conservatives make a compelling case that balance must be restored to the separation of powers in Israel. A prudent concern for the need to harmonize Israel’s free, democratic, and Jewish character counsels deliberation in the pursuit of necessary constitutional reform.

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Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Judicial Reform