Celebrating Sukkot 2,000 Years Ago

Today, the holiday of Sukkot—a seven-day festival that began last Monday evening—is characterized primarily by building outdoor booths, or sukkot, and the ritual waving of palm fronds, myrtle and willow branches, and citrons. But prior to the Romans’ destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, it was also a time of mass pilgrimage to the Jerusalem Temple. Rossella Tercatin explains what archaeological and historical evidence have demonstrated about the practice:

The 1st-century CE Roman-Jewish historian Titus Flavius Josephus says that millions of people took part in the pilgrimage, bringing tens of thousands of sacrifices to the Temple. The Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria also speaks about the occasion in his work. The [pilgrims’] itinerary was designed in such a way that people would experience what [the archaeologist] Guy Stiebel described as a “wow effect,” similar to that felt by someone visiting a majestic cathedral.

“At the time of Herod, [circa 37-4 BCE], the Temple Mount was known as one of the biggest religious compounds in the Roman world,” he said.

Archaeological excavations have revealed the gate the pilgrims crossed [on their way into Jerusalem at the beginning of the first millennium]. “They would purify themselves in the Siloam Pool and then go straight up to the Temple Mount, through a stepped street which was previously believed to have been built at the time of King Herod,” Stiebel noted. “Now we know that the project was actually carried out under the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, [in the 20s or 30s CE].”

While no traces survive of the ancient booths those Jews probably built to celebrate the holiday, archaeology provides other important evidence of the centrality of the festival of Sukkot. . . . A palm tree bound with some leafy branches—likely the willows and the myrtle—and one or two citrus fruits appear on artifacts that were symbols of freedom and independence from the Romans [during the Jewish revolt of 66-70 CE].

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Josephus, Second Temple, Sukkot

 

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf