Long Thought to Be Spain’s Oldest Church, an Ancient Site Might in Fact Be One of Europe’s Oldest Synagogues

April 24 2020

In the Roman ruins outside the eastern Spanish town of Elche lies an ancient basilica which has become a popular tourist destination. The main portion of the structure was built in the 4th century CE, and an apse was added in the 5th. For many years, archaeologists have assumed the building to have been a church, but the scholar Robyn Walsh has recently argued that—although undoubtedly used for Christian worship in its later form—it was originally a synagogue. Candida Moss writes:

[According to Walsh], the “best evidence” for the building’s use comes from the mosaic that was unearthed on its floor. She pointed to inscriptions dedicated to the “archons and elders” and dedicating the building as a “place of prayer of the people” as suggestive of Jewish use. These, she said, “correspond well with inscriptions found elsewhere in the Jewish Diaspora—including other synagogue inscriptions.”

The most suggestive discovery, however, is the presence of what is likely to be a seven-[branched] menorah in the mosaic. The identification of the image as a menorah is difficult because visitors to the site have defaced it by picking out small pieces of the mosaic as souvenirs; because it was at some point repaired by an amateur artisan; and because it is what Walsh calls a “figurative motif.” These caveats aside, said Walsh, “the figure . . . looks an awful lot like menorahs created by non-professionals or amateur artisans in other contexts.” . . . Add the evidence of the menorah to the inscriptional evidence and it seems almost certain that this Christian basilica was originally a synagogue.

Part of the reason this evidence has long been ignored, argue Walsh and Moss, is that the main excavation of the site was conducted under the auspices of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, and overseen a German archaeologists sent there on the orders of the Third Reich.

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Read more at Daily Beast

More about: Archaeology, Nazi Germany, Spain, Synagogues

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter