by Adi Erlich
ASOR February 2018
Few Jewish sites in Israel are as renowned as Beit She’arim, which today receives many thousands of visitors a year. But while best known for its catacombs and tombs, Beit She’arim was much more than a cemetery. New excavations are bringing that living dimension into focus for the first time, and refining our understanding of the Jewish Galilee as a whole.
After the Roman period there is no mention of the site. Beth She’arim declined in the Byzantine period and later was reoccupied in the 13th century and again in the Ottoman period, when the Sheikh Abreik tomb was erected and a small village occupied the hill. In the early 20th century the Jewish National Fund bought the land and archaeological excavations commenced in 1936.
During the 1930s and 1950s pioneering archaeologists Benjamin Mazar and Nachman Avigad excavated the site for the Israel Exploration Society. Their soundings concentrated mostly in the cemetery on the slopes of the Sheikh Abreik hill, revealing decorated caves and catacombs filled with inscriptions in Hebrew and Greek.
But the town on the hill was hardly explored. Only a few buildings were excavated – a synagogue, some houses, an olive press and a basilica, and the results have never been fully published. Today the site is occupied by the Beth She’arim National Park and by a small village named Beit Zaid.
In 2014 I renewed excavations on the Sheikh Abreik hill in the Beth She’arim National Park on behalf of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. The project is funded by the Israel Science Foundation, and carried out by our staff, students and volunteers. We are grateful for the support and cooperation of the National Parks Authority, the Beth She’arim National Park, our friends in the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Jezre’el Valley municipality, and residents of Beit Zaid.
Seven areas were excavated on the northern slope and on the eastern edge of Sheikh Abreik. Area A, situated near the basilica, revealed domestic structures of the Roman period (2nd-4th centuries). Different water installations were also found, including a cistern, an underground installation with a staircase leading to a mikveh (ritual bath), and a plastered pool with an arch to support the ceiling.
This building was destroyed in the mid-4th century and a new one with poorer masonry was built in the second half of the 4th century, using and altering the old structure. The early Byzantine building was destroyed, possibly by an earthquake, in the first half of the 5th century CE . A special find from this phase is a rare pottery object, perhaps a lantern, engraved with human figures and architectural motives. Many finds of the 13th century CE have also been excavated, including a hoard of weapons, along with scant Ottoman remains.
The Roman and early Byzantine phases are well attested also in Area D, mostly as water installations like channels, a plastered vault and two cisterns connected at their bottom. The concentration of water collection installations in Area D is due to its location on the lower part of the hill, where water naturally drains. Area C on the east of the hill has two buildings flanking a street whose drainage survived. These buildings were erected in the 3rd century and were then abandoned and collapsed in the early 5th century. A hoard of 21 coins found on one of the floors attest to the date of its destruction.
Area B, close to the summit, was used during the Ottoman period as a garbage dump and for debris burning pits, which created a large fills for us to remove. These fills covered and preserved ancient remains but also cut through and robbed them. The earliest remains in this area are small Hellenistic pits quarried in the soft bedrock and some walls, and Hellenistic pottery typical of Southern Phoenicia. During the early Roman period (1st century CE), a building was constructed over the pits, followed by another in the 2nd – 3rd century CE, with stone-paved floors.
Area Z is situated beside the road leading to the national park. There we discovered an Early Byzantine building, which was built on an earlier mikveh. The Roman mikveh was vaulted, hewn in the rock and plastered, with a staircase leading downward. When the 2017 season ended and the first rains came, we could witness how it is being filled with water again after some 1800 years.
Outside and north of the gate we uncovered a round pottery kiln that produced pottery dated to the 4th century CE, mostly storage jars, and above it the remains of a glass workshop. The industries seem to postdate the nearby gate. Vast amount of pottery, mostly storage jars, was recovered in the kiln.
The story of Beth She’arim that is emerging from our excavations starts in the Iron Age II period, of which only sporadic sherds of pottery survived. From the Hellenistic/Hasmonean period (3rd-1st centuries BCE) there are buildings, quarried pits, and small finds. The Early Roman period (1st century CE), the era of Queen Berenice’s estate on the hill, are represented by impressive walls in area B, possibly belonging to that estate, and small finds.
The heyday of Beth She’arim (2nd-4th centuries CE), the days of the Jewish Sages and the cemetery, are well attested in buildings, streets and alleys, cisterns, quarried installations, and many small finds. The town was well planned, perhaps fortified, and the dwellings and public buildings indicate the high socio-economic status of the residents. Various installations for collecting water were constructed. The Jewish character of the inhabitants is attested by ritual baths and the use of stone vessels, typical of Jewish households. The town was destroyed in the mid-4th century CE, perhaps by the 363 CE earthquake.
The town recovered for a short time (ca. 380 to 420 CE), but was ruined again, probably by another earthquake. The pottery and glass industries north of the gate belong to that period. There are also some Late Byzantine finds (5th-6th centuries CE), but only little architecture and it seems that the town declined in the mid-5th century. The almost lack of Byzantine coins is striking in this regard. A building with mosaics excavated by Fanny Vitto, dated to the 6th century CE, is probably part of the small settlement in the late Byzantine period, perhaps a small farm or monastery.
The origin and decline of the Jewish Galilee is the subject of considerable debate. Some scholars see a period of decline in the mid-4th century CE (whether the 351 Gallus revolt or the 363 earthquake), while others maintain there was no crisis and that it continued to flourish throughout the Byzantine period. The story emerging at Beth She’arim offers a middle way; the settlement recovered for a short time, but no longer flourished after the mid-5th century, and probably was small and insignificant in the Late Byzantine period. The cemetery was probably still in use, but the town no longer existed.
But Beth She’arim also stands out in the Jewish Galilee with its large public buildings decorated with marble slabs and well-planned town, atypical for Galilean towns. The large gate we have discovered, probably the town’s main gate, is also unique in Roman Galilee, attesting to the high status of Beth She’arim. Other features are unique to Beth She’arim, such as the double cisterns and large reservoirs. The special place of Beth She’arim as a living Jewish town, the home of Rabbi Judah and the Sanhedrin, is now coming into better focus.
New York Times Feb 21, 2018
|There’s a hard truth about identity that is laced throughout, though never quite stated in, the new film “Black Panther” as well as the bounty of smart commentary it’s elicited.|
|That hard truth is that identity, in basically all forms, is to some significant extent a fiction. Confronting this can be awkward, controversial and even painful but, in the long run, we believe, can make life better and the world’s problems more manageable.|
|That might sound like a rebuke to the film’s celebration of pan-African and African diaspora identities. But it’s quite the opposite. What makes the film powerful and important, we think, is its implicit acknowledgement that identity is made up by deconstructing old, colonially imposed identities so as to build a new, better set of identities.|
|“Africa—or, rather, ‘Africa’—is a creation of a white world and the literary, academic, cinematic, and political mechanisms that it used to give mythology the credibility of truth,” Jelani Cobb wrote in The New Yorker. The film’s fictitious African nation of Wakanda is, he says, “a redemptive counter-mythology” that is “no more or less imaginary than the Africa conjured by” colonists and their enablers.|
|All identities are, to some extent, invented. If one has been invented for you to justify your subjugation, displacement, murder or worse, why not invent a better one?|
|Racial identity is made up, forced into artificial but deeply consequential categories. That doesn’t mean it can’t feel real, or be a source of value or social place or harmful discrimination. It just means it’s artificial and therefore can be imposed or manipulated by outsiders — for instance, centuries of Westerners constructing a black identity that would justify slavery and colonialism.|
|We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about national identity and nationalism recently, and it’s clear that national identity can also feel like one of the most “real” things in many people’s lives, but it’s made up, too.|
|Often, national identity is engineered by governments to justify and exert their authority over territory within otherwise arbitrary borders. That identity is then dressed up in mythology and symbolism to make that territory’s unity feel eternal and inevitable.|
|Most European nations, for instance, began as mere collections of territory whose residents had little in common, including language or race. It’s only very recently that those countries have developed shared languages and cultures that make them feel like a unified whole — like a nation.|
|Consider this mind-blowing statistic from Eric Hobsbawm, a prominent scholar of nationalism: “The French language has been essential to the concept of ‘France,'” although in 1789” – the year of the French Revolution, the pinnacle of Frenchness — “50 percent of the French people did not speak it at all, and only 12 to 13 percent spoke it fairly well.”|
|Diaspora identities, such as Irish-American or Nigerian-British, are especially complicated because they incorporate both race and nationality, which they are meant to reconcile but in practice keep locked in tension with one another. Americans know this as the struggle of the hyphen.|
|“Black Panther” deals, Mr. Cobb writes, with the hyphen in “African-American,” a bit of punctuation fraught with so much history and “dissonance” it could be replaced, he argues, with an ellipses.|
|Part of the film’s triumph is in deconstructing what it means to be African or part of the African diaspora, building those identities back up into something — symbolized by the fictional, never–colonized nation of Wakanda — that is just as real, but designed to empower rather than subjugate.|
|And, perhaps more important, it’s an identity constructed by the people who hold it rather than ill-wishing outsiders. Mr. Cobb calls this “a kind of democracy of the imagination” and a “reclamation” of Africa and how it is conceived.|
|But that reclamation is possible only by acknowledging that identities are constructed, which means going against lifelong educations telling us that our race and nationality are rooted in some deep and immovable truth. That an identity made in a superhero movie is as good as, and maybe better than, one articulated over generations of real-world abuses.|
|The right to define oneself, either as an individual or a community, is fundamental. Edward W. Said, the Palestinian-American theorist, called this the “permission to narrate” one’s own experience, which he argued had been denied to Palestinians.|
|“Black Panther” is an act of defiant self-narration, and therefore a kind of liberation from being defined by others. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we are all, in some sense, trapped in identities that were made for us. Most were designed for subtler and less catastrophic ends than slavery and colonialism, if they were consciously designed at all, but all come with constraints and obligations we might not have chosen for ourselves.|
|“Black Panther” is a spectacular expression of liberation for a spectacular medium, but it’s a kind of breaking free that might have attraction for all of us.|
BRISTOL, Tenn., Feb. 16, 2017 –King University Chair of Philosophy and Religion Don Michael Hudson, Ph.D., and Brad Zockoll, Ph.D., upper school Bible teacher from Grace Christian Academy in Knoxville, collaborated on an adventure of a lifetime for Grace’s high school students. Along with the two group leaders, seven students and three chaperones traveled to Israel and Palestine to experience the Holy Land firsthand Oct. 7-16, 2017.
“Dr. Hudson put together one of the most intensive, instructive, emotional and impactful trips I’ve ever taken,” said Zockoll. “It’s as if he had been leading a private classroom for us at each stop. It’s been an eye-opener at every new venue.”
“I have wanted to host a trip for high school students for years now. The problem was finding the right co-leader and working with a really good school,” said Hudson. “Once I found Dr. Zockoll (actually an old college buddy) and Grace Academy I knew we were in for a great trip. I particularly wanted to take young people who are interested in understanding their faith and Scriptures in much deeper ways.
“I want to take younger folks over to Israel and Palestine to challenge their American way of thinking and introduce them to a much better knowledge of the Christian Scriptures,” added Hudson. “Many modern Christians believe the Bible, but few actually know the Bible. I meet so many who will defend the Bible to the death, but they never read it. So let’s go see the places where the events occurred and the narratives were constructed. This vision is a revolution in their thinking.”
Upon arriving in the Holy Land, the group began their journey in Taybeh, which was first called Ephraim during the time of Jesus. The Palestinian village is located in the West Bank and is the only known Christian village left in Israel and Palestine.
The group packed in as many sites as possible in the short time they were in the Holy Land. Locations they visited included: the Qumran Caves, the Dead Sea, Jordan River, Masada, Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives, the Damascus Gate (one of the entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem), Bethlehem, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Ein Gedi, Capernaum at the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Magdala, the Mount of Beatitudes, Haifa, Akko, Megiddo, Caesarea Matimah, and Jaffa.
“The Israel trip was one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” said Junior Brooke Hilemon. “I have grown very much in my spiritual relationship with God. I’m so thankful for the opportunity, and I wouldn’t trade the memories for anything. If I could, I would go back in a heartbeat.”
For Linda Reedy, a teacher at Concord Christian School and trip chaperone, this was her second trip. “I learned so much more on this trip [than the first]. Not being hindered by a large tour group moving quickly through each site, we were able to spend quality time learning about the different places through Dr. Hudson. Magdala was one of my favorites—walking through a village Jesus and the disciples would have traveled through.”
Junior Christian Luttrell commented, “The trip to Israel was an experience I will never forget. I was amazed seeing Biblical places I have read about come to life as Dr. Hudson led us around and explained the different sites. Junior Stacy Koger added, “The Israel trip was beyond amazing. From Taybeh to Jerusalem, and everywhere in between. This trip was a journey that I feel benefits the spirit just as much as the mind.”
The King Philosophy and Religion Department’s next Israel/Palestine excursion led by Dr. Hudson will take place during Spring Break March 2-11. King University students will have an opportunity similar to that of Grace Christian Academy: to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
If you are interested in King’s Department of Philosophy and Religion or the Israel/Palestine trip, contact Dr. Don Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New York Times, Feb 14, 2018
|Two notable things happened in Israel this week and, while only one made the front page, the stories, in tandem, reveal something important about the country and its future.|
|On Tuesday, the Israeli police recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. This is a big deal; it could topple his premiership.|
|It’s worth considering that alongside a less-discussed event from the day before, when Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s justice minister, advocated for a so-called nationality bill, which would officially enshrine Israel as a Jewish nation. Ms. Shaked, a right-wing nationalist known for provocations, said, to some controversy, “There is place to maintain a Jewish majority even at the price of violation of rights.”|
|Together, these two events tell us something meaningful about the health of Israeli democracy, whose future is subject to growing debate.|
|A disclaimer: there are two partially overlapping “fate of Israeli democracy” conversations. One is about whether Israel can call itself a democracy as long as it maintains its forcible occupation of the West Bank, whose Palestinian residents lack basic rights. The other conversation, the one gaining urgency in recent years, is whether democracy within Israel proper could recede, or is already doing so.|
|Now to this week’s news. You could draw seemingly contradictory conclusions about Israeli democracy from the two events.|
|On the one hand, the Israeli police are, at least so far, showing every sign of political independence on the Netanyahu case. Recommending charges against the prime minister is a big deal. Mr. Netanyahu has also not outwardly meddled in the case, suggesting he, his party and his supporters are all constrained by norms of police independence.|
|It’s hard to get excited about the absence of something, but the absence of political meddling in Israel’s police and justice systems, at least over this case, is an important sign of democratic health.|
|Contrast that with, oh, we don’t know, the United States of America, where the president is openly pressuring senior F.B.I. and Justice Department officials to drop an investigation into the election that could implicate him personally.|
|This gets to something important. The political scientists Daniel Ziblatt and Steve Levitsky write in their new book, “How Democracies Die,” that, in order for a democracy to persist, its leaders must exercise what the authors call “forbearance.” This means that leaders restrain themselves from politicizing democratic institutions — say, law enforcement or the courts — even when it would be legal to do so.|
|If leaders stop practicing forbearance, the authors write, democracy can backslide. That may already be happening in the United States, they warn. But, in Israel, the Netanyahu case is at least one datapoint in favor of forbearance persisting. It’s also a datapoint in favor of institutional independence and rule of law, also essential democratic foundations.|
|Now consider Ms. Shaked’s speech in defense of the nationality law. Her comments, to be clear, are not particularly new for her. Still, it is striking to hear a senior government official say that some rights abuses are acceptable costs for preserving her country’s Jewish identity.|
|This hits at the contradiction at the heart of Israeli democracy. The country’s all-but-official identity is the oft-repeated phrase “Jewish and democratic.” But can a country enshrine democratic principles like equality under the law and one-person-one-vote if it also officially privileges one demographic group above all others?|
|Many countries face versions of this contradiction. France defines itself as democratic and French, an adjective that describes the French nationality as well the French ethnicity and French language. And France, like Israel, is struggling with what it means to balance national identity with a democratic duty to incorporate an increasingly diverse population. It’s not an easy task for any country.|
|What makes Israel different is its occupation of the West Bank and embargo on Gaza (many Gazans consider this a continuation of the Israeli occupation, which otherwise ended with a 2005 withdrawal). The country cannot fully separate its occupation of Palestinians outside its borders from its struggle over how or whether to democratically incorporate the Arab minority within its borders.|
|They are not the same issue, but they connect in so many ways that they cannot be addressed separately, either. And they feed into one another. When violence related to the conflict with the Palestinians spikes, so does Israeli skepticism toward pluralism and democracy.|
|Exposure to terrorism tends to increase support for extreme politics in a number of ways, according to a 2015 study led by Daphna Canetti-Nisim, a political psychologist at the University of Maryland.|
|For one, it increases hostility toward minorities. People who endure terrorism “feel threatened and vulnerable,” the study found. This “psychological distress” makes them more likely to retreat to familiar in-groups and view outsiders as threats. This in turn is associated with declining support for democratic norms.|
|This is how debates over the nationality law take on such high stakes that Ms. Shaked, though she argues Israel can be both Jewish and democracy, advocates policies that would privilege the former at the expense of the latter.|
|You see the effect in polls showing that Israelis increasingly believe they will have to choose between an Israeli or Jewish national identity. And you see it in Israeli institutions, which have been gradually re-engineered to service the occupation. The needs of maintaining that occupation are “seriously hampering, if not reversing” the “process of self-democratization of the state,” according to a 2012 study by the Israeli researchers Tamir Magal, Neta Oren, Daniel Bar-Tal, and Eran Halperin.|
|All of which helps to explain this chart:|
“Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it’s the site of the world’s oldest temple.”
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gobekli-tepe-the-worlds-first-temple-83613665/#CCtatfSmd8lJTTGW.99
“Our contention that the local material culture at Dor in the early Iron Age is a single cultural sequence and that the essential process it marks is a gradual transition from Late Bronze ‘Canaanite’ to Iron Age ‘Phoenician’ is clear.” Sharon and Gilboa