New Technology Sheds Light on Literacy in Ancient Israel

Using cutting-edge techniques of machine learning and computerized image processing, a group of Israeli scientists and archaeologists have examined the Hebrew handwriting of a group of clay fragments from the early 8th century BCE known as the Samaria ostraca. Amanda Borschel-Dan reports on their findings:

The Samaria ostraca are a collection of over 100 pottery pieces upon which are recorded a few words of biblical Hebrew. . . . The ostraca were thoroughly recorded by a 1910 Harvard Semitic Museum expedition, and the new study is based on digitally enhanced scans of the Harvard negatives.

The few words etched on the small clay pieces found in [what is now] Nablus record commodities: which containers held what, from which region and clan, and when . . . they were brought to the ancient city. For example, [one] piece states: “In the year ten from Hazeroth to Gaddiyau jar of bath oil.”

Through these meager words, rare early examples of Iron Age, paleo-Hebrew script, linguists have already learned that those who wrote them used a dialect of biblical Hebrew, today called the northern dialect, which was different from that spoken in the kingdom of Judah. Although the same language, words were pronounced differently and different word constructions were used.

The study concluded that the same two scribes wrote the 39 ostraca examined thus far. While this suggests limited literacy during this time, which is thought to have been the peak of the northern kingdom’s prosperity, Israel Finkelstein—a distinguished archaeologist and one of the study’s coauthors—notes that climate conditions meant that fewer texts have been preserved from this period in contrast to others.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Biblical Hebrew

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Russia, U.S. Foreign policy