How a Greek Tale of Christian Martyrdom Found Its Way into an Egyptian Synagogue

Among the many documents that have been discovered in the famed Cairo Genizah—the storage room for sacred texts in the Ben Ezra synagogue—is but single sheet of parchment, measuring 16.3 by 12 centimeters, and known formally as Genizah MS 17. Alexandra Trachsel tells its story:

Genizah MS 17 is what we call a palimpsest. . . . The word palimpsest is a transliteration of the Greek word palimpsēstos. It literally means “scraped again,” from palin “once more” and the verb psaō, “to scrape.” The term describes a sheet of parchment that has been prepared for reuse by scratching off what was originally written on it so that a new text can be written on top of it.

This document’s presence in the Cairo Genizah is explained by the later-added “upper script.” The Hebrew text has been deciphered as a pair of liturgical poems (piyyutim). As sacred texts, these could not simply be thrown away, so they were stored in the Genizah to await ritual burial. Yet the now “lower” first text is not of Jewish origin, and is an extract of a martyrological text that tells of how a Christian named Plato (no relation to the philosopher: in the Greek Orthodox tradition he is known as Saint Plato the Great of Ancyra) refused to worship the pagan gods and was put to death.

This latter text has been identified as an excerpt from an anonymous Byzantine version of the Passion of St. Plato of Ancyra. . . . Analysis of the handwriting [allows] us to date this document to the late 5th or early 6th century CE. The writing style also suggests that the codex from which this leaf was taken was probably produced somewhere in the eastern half of the Mediterranean basin. Beyond this we cannot reasonably speculate further. There is no evidence whatsoever to help us understand how this text ended up in a Jewish community that reused the parchment to write down some liturgical poetry.

Read more at Antigone

More about: Cairo Geniza, Manuscripts, Piyyut

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security