Ancient Rome’s Jewish Catacombs

June 28 2022

First discovered in the 17th century by the Maltese scholar Antonio Boso, the subterranean Jewish catacombs on the outskirts of Rome are some of the oldest monuments to the European Diaspora. Additional Jewish burial sites, not to mention many Christian ones, were also unearthed in the 19th century. Saul Jay Singer outlines their history:

Ancient Roman law prohibited burial within the city, so catacombs were established in the soft volcanic rock outside the city walls. These Roman catacombs, which feature about a half-million tombs interred in a complex underground network of narrow passageways and dark galleries, contain the largest body of archaeological evidence on the early Christian and Jewish communities of ancient Rome.

Intriguingly, [modern] radiocarbon dating suggests that Jewish catacombs may have preceded Christian catacombs and that their use may have actually been of Jewish origin, as Jewish immigrants from the Middle East brought their traditional burial practices to Rome and influenced the Romans to abandon their customary cremation funerary practices. Indeed, according to Leonard Rutgers, an archaeologist for Utrecht University and an expert in Roman Jewish catacombs, radiocarbon analysis by atomic-mass spectroscopy shows that Jewish catacombs predate their Christian counterparts by at least a century.

An unsolved mystery, however, is where Jews—who are known to have been living in Rome at least as early as the 1st century BCE—buried their dead before the initial construction of the Jewish catacombs around the late-1st to 3rd centuries CE.

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Read more at Jewish Press

More about: ancient Judaism, Ancient Rome, Jewish cemeteries

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