Remembering the Man Who Liberated the Dead Sea Scrolls and Popularized Knowledge of Ancient Israel

On Friday, Hershel Shanks, the founder and long-time editor of the Biblical Archaeological Review, died at the age of ninety. A lawyer by training, Shanks since 1974 devoted himself to promoting the study of ancient Israel and making the latest scholarship accessible to the general public, earning the respect of many leading academics. His persistent efforts are largely responsible for freeing the Dead Sea Scrolls from the jealous guardianship of a small group of scholars, and their eventual publication. A moving tribute to Shanks by Christopher Rollston, an expert on ancient Hebrew inscriptions, can be found here.

While Shanks provided a forum for a variety of opinions in the pages of his journal, he also fought passionately against postmodernism as well as efforts to undermine, without scholarly basis, the Jewish and biblical connection to the Land of Israel. In a 1986 article in Commentary, he took to task Glen Bowersock, the former chairman of Harvard’s classics department, for accusing Israeli archaeologists of “tampering with history in the interest of the present,” of “tendentious falsification,” and of efforts to “suppress” inconvenient discoveries. Shanks, after methodically dismantling the specific charges, observed:

[A]lthough it is certainly true that Israelis are especially concerned with their own history, just as Arabs are especially concerned with theirs, the implications to be drawn from this are not those drawn by Bowersock—who in any case finds nothing but words of praise for such a “bias” when it appears in Arab scholarship. Jordan, he observes, has “provided enlightened support for research and excavation in pre-Islamic fields, with particular attention to the culture of the Nabateans who were the Arabs who preceded the Romans in the region.” Bowersock even lauds the Syrians and the Saudis.

[Yet as Bowersock is unwilling to acknowledge], Israeli scholars have made an enormous contribution to the study of early Arab cultures. Benjamin Mazar and Meir Ben-Dov have uncovered, and restored, previously unknown Arab palaces at the foot of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Abraham Negev, [a victim of Bowersock’s slanders], has excavated, and restored, several Nabatean sites in Israel’s Negev desert. Israeli scholars have made singular contributions to Islamic studies.

By contrast, the way in which Arab scholars deal with issues touching on Jewish history may be gleaned from an account in the Syria Times of a symposium in Damascus on Syrian archeology. According to this account, “All participants in the symposium emphasized that Hebrew, regardless of the suspect political purposes of Zionist allegations, is no more than a Canaanite dialect.” The symposium concluded that “The Canaanite heritage was the real source of Jewish legends. The Jewish rabbis plagiarized that precious treasure.”

It is, indeed, as Glen Bowersock writes, disturbing to see scholarship at the highest and most respected level made the dirty handmaiden of politics. It is especially chilling when, as in his own case, the accuser turns out to be the guilty party.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Ancient Israel, Anti-Zionism, Archaeology, Hebrew Bible, Postmodernism

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7