The Ancient History of the Talmud’s Version of Instant, Long-Distance Communication

Sept. 1 2020

According to the talmudic tractate of Rosh Hashanah, in the evening after the Jerusalem authorities announced the beginning of a new month, messengers would stand on the Mount of Olives and wave a large torch until they could see their counterparts doing the same on another mountain. The message would be spread in this manner from one mountain to another, “until the entire face of the Diaspora looked like a bonfire.” Thus, without the benefit of modern technology, announcements about the calendar could by conveyed quickly from the Land of Israel to Babylonia. Tiffany Earley-Spadoni explains this practice’s long pedigree:

[The 5th-century BCE Greek historian] Herodotus famously related splendors of the Persian world, including its road system. . . . A system of fire-beacon-signaling stations was [one] wonder of the Persian highway—a claim that is supported by [material] evidence at Anatolian archaeological sites.

A remarkable text, sometimes called “The Eighth Campaign,” describes a military expedition conducted by the Neo-Assyrian king Sargon II in 714 BCE. According to this lengthy literary text framed as a letter, the Assyrian army set out from modern-day Iraq . . . and entered territories in modern-day Iran, . . . where it confronted one of the Assyrians’ most bitter enemies, the Urartian empire. The text . . . relates an altogether cinematic sequence akin to the lighting of the beacons in the 2003 film Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In advance of the arrival of the Assyrian troops, the Urartians illuminated the clustered mountain peaks like stars in the sky with their myriad beacon fires, presumably to warn their compatriots of imminent danger.

Archaeological investigations have revealed traces of the elaborate systems of fire beacons described in the Assyrian text. Fire-signaling platforms have been observed by archaeologists working in the region, and a computational analysis of fortress sites, identified in survey by German and Italian archaeological teams, suggest the fortresses were intentionally placed to create signaling networks.

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 Ancient Near East Today

More about: Ancient Persia, Archaeology, Assyria, Israel and the Diaspora, Talmud

 

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

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 Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism