The Israel Museum Features the Recovered Manuscripts of Two Middle Eastern Space Explorers, One Modern and One Mythical

Oct. 11 2019

On display through November at the Israel Museum, the exhibit Through Time and Space juxtaposes the outer-space diary of Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who died in the 2003 Columbia disaster, with the oldest known text of the book of Enoch, a cosmological travelogue of a very different kind. Both manuscripts have dramatic stories of discovery and were reconstructed through painstaking work. Fragments of Ramon’s diary literally fell from the sky and were found in Florida; fragments of the book of Enoch, until then known only in translation, were collected from among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Reviewing the exhibit, Shai Secunda praises the diary’s “unadorned yet eloquent, almost literary” Hebrew, and describes the book of Enoch, one of several ancient works that take as their hero a character who receives a mere four verses in the fifth chapter of Genesis:

In the 3rd century BCE, Aramaic writings began to circulate that narrated the visions and teachings of Enoch who, although born of woman, had a place among God’s heavenly entourage and was privy to special knowledge, including the complex workings of the solar calendar. According to these texts, Enoch embarked on a number of heavenly journeys.

[In one such work], Enoch encounters a “wall built of hailstones; and tongues of fire were encircled them all around,” and then proceeds into a series of heavenly palaces, where he takes note of curious architectural features like snowy flooring and “a ceiling like shooting stars and lightning flashes.” [Then] he is treated to astounding sights, including “the place of the luminaries, and the treasuries of the stars and of the thunders, and the depths of the ether.” He sees heaven and hell, the mountain of the dead, and a gurgling paradise that recalls the Jordan River tributary where his interstellar journey began.

The Enochic writings present [their] hero as probing the cosmos in the service of humankind, not entirely unlike an astronaut testing scientific hypotheses in space for the people on earth below.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: ancient Judaism, Dead Sea Scrolls, Ilan Ramon, Jewish museums, Space exploration

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.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Jonathan Spyer

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