An Ancient Hasmonean Fortress in the Galilee

June 29 2022

Located in the Upper Galilee, about ten miles east of the coastal city of Akko (known to ancient Greeks as Ptolemais and to Europeans as Acre), the fortress of Horvat Tefen dates to the 1st or 2nd century BCE. Excavations of the site began in 2019. Nathan Steinmeyer explains why archaeologists have connected it to the Hasmoneans—the dynasty that led the Maccabean revolt and included the last Jewish kings to rule the Land of Israel:

Horvat Tefen was located strategically along the border between the expanding Hasmonean kingdom and the independent Phoenician city-state of Akko-Ptolemais. During the reign of the Hasmonean king Alexander Yannai (r. 103–76 BCE), this region was a flashpoint between the two powers as Alexander Yannai sought to conquer the important coastal port. . . . Roi Sabar, director of the excavations, believes he has an answer to the mystery of who built the hilltop fortress.

While other scholars have suggested that Horvat Tefen was constructed by the people of Akko in the 2nd century BCE., Sabar . . . suggests that Horvat Tefen was a short-lived military fort constructed by Alexander Yannai after he failed to conquer Akko early in his reign. The fortress fell out of use shortly after the death of the Hasmonean king and was only reoccupied, for agricultural activity, in the Byzantine period (324–634 CE).

Although previous theories had suggested that the fortress was built in the 2nd century to defend Akko from enemies to the east, Sabar’s study presents a compelling alternative. Instead, he concludes that the fortress was constructed by the Hasmoneans as a way of keeping watch over Akko. The purpose of Horvat Tefen was likely both to threaten the city and to strengthen the Hasmonean border. The kingdom had grown rapidly during the Hasmonean period and, by the reign of Alexander Yannai, included most of the Galilee region.

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Read more at Bible History Daily

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Galilee, Hasmoneans

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy