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

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine