Saturday, August 26, 2006

ISRAEL AS CARTHAGE? The analogy is kind of jarring, but perhaps that was intended. At least this time Rome isn't America. Elyakim Haetzni makes the comparison in two essays, one in Arutz Sheva and the other in Ynet. Excerpt from the latter:
Carthage was ruled by a "peace party" of elites - corrupt, incompetent and sold on the Romans. In opposition stood the "war party," who claimed that compromise bought only time, and that Rome's goal was to destroy, not co-exist, with Carthage.

[Theodor] Mommsen's description [in "The History of Rome"] could well be talking about modern-day Israel: "In a country clearly threatened with a war of destruction, the geniuses, the determined and the committed will plan immediately to attack, but they will be swallowed up by the lazy, cowardly money-worshippers, who will push off the final battle at any cost, in order to live, and to obtain their deaths, in peace."

Army chief Hamilcar Barca and his son Hannibal planned the defensive war against Rome far away from home, with funding they had to raise themselves - from provinces they'd captured in Spain.

Hannibal crossed the Alps, attacked the Romans on their own territory and reached the gates of Rome. His fall was in part due to the fact that he was not supported financially from home, and reinforcements arrived sporadically.
Make of it what you will. David Meadows (who is back from Sicily and blogging like a fiend) notes this piece as well.

UPDATE (27 August): Joshua Tallent comments here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

ARCHAEOLOGY MAGAZINE has a new issue online (59.5, September/October 2006). Highlights include: Brian Fagan offers forecasts for the next 50 years of archaeology (abstract); President Jane Waldbaum tells you why you should become a member of the AIA; a review of the online exhibit of the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus Imaging Project; and a review of the Cradle of Christianity exhibition at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland. Plus lots of other articles (mostly just the abstracts online) and notes about archaeology all over the world.
DISTANCE LEARNING in the Geonic era.
Race to save historic town from sea of oil

Sarah Smiles in Byblos, Lebanon
August 25, 2006 (Sydney Morning Herald)

LEBANON's most famous seafood restaurant, Pepe's Fishing Club at Byblos, has served just three tables since war broke out last month.

After Israel bombed a coastal power plant near Beirut, sending about 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil spilling into the Mediterranean - there have been few customers at this quaint seafood restaurant where Brigitte Bardot once dined.

The ancient city of Byblos, which has been inhabited for 7000 years, is about 35 kilometres north of Beirut, and has been one of the clean-up priorities. With the help of a pump donated by the Norwegians, Lebanese authorities are frantically trying to clean the bay of a thick layer of sludge.

Oussama Kallab, an architect who restores Phoenician artifacts, has volunteered to help clean Byblos's contaminated ruins. Oil has even seeped into the sandstone foundations of a watchtower built by Crusaders.

Stand-up in Aramaic?

Sometimes, when Gila Hakimi leaves a note for her husband, she writes it in Rashi script, in Aramaic. That's only natural: This is the language used by the Hakimis for everyday discourse as well; they speak Aramaic to their eldest son too.

I phoned her in my search for the story furthest removed from the war, but Gila Hakimi said it isn't all that remote. Anyone who says prayers, opens the Talmud, and in effect anyone who speaks Hebrew speaks Aramaic in one way or another. But as an everyday language of discourse? Yes, says Hakimi. At least several thousand Israelis, who are generally described as "Kurds," speak Aramaic, in one dialect or another. Unfortunately, more and more people are ceasing to conduct their everyday lives in Aramaic and are forgetting the language. That is why Hakimi created her one-woman show. As far as is known, she is the first Aramaic stand-up comedian. She is extremely successful.


Hakimi was the principal of the Yeshurun religious state elementary school in Pardes Hannah-Karkur, and when she retired five years ago, she decided to fulfill an old dream and went onstage with a show that revives the folklore of the past with a smile, here and there satirically, and all in Aramaic. The beginning was very modest, without any celebrity mannerisms, but in recent months she finds herself in the center of a major Aramaic awakening: She travels from city to city with her show, and attracts large audiences everywhere. She is told that more and more family celebrations are now being held in Aramaic, and this week she was invited to conduct a course in spoken Aramaic.

She feels as though she has extracted from the members of her ethnic group something that was hidden inside them, and perhaps until now they were embarrassed to reveal it, or neglected it and now are rediscovering it. Something of the kind has been happening for several years to Yiddish speakers, as part of the return to Judaism. Like most of the shows in Yiddish, Hakimi goes for nostalgia. One of her subjects is the traditional status of women, when the prevailing practice was "All glorious is the King's daughter within the palace." She levels criticism at modern feminism. We argued about that a little, in Hebrew; I assume that it sounds better in Aramaic.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Phoenician tombs found in Sicily

40 sarcophagi unearthed at necropolis near ancient colony

(ANSA) - Marsala (Trapani), August 23 - Archaeologists have unearthed 40 sarcophagi in what was once the sacred Phoenician burial grounds of Birgi, near the ancient colony of Motya .


Although they failed to find objects inside the sarcophigi, archaeologists unearthed several vases of different sizes and shapes in the field .

"The vases were most likely used during propitiatory rites just before the burial took place," the experts said .

According to the experts, the tombs had clearly been ransacked by tomb raiders or perhaps by Joseph Whitaker, an archaeologist related to a noble British family that produced and exported Marsala wines from Sicily in the 19th Century .

Whitaker, who was responsible for the rediscovery of Motya, built a house on the island and moved all his finds there in 1908 .

His house now serves as the archaeological museum .

A Phoenician temple was found in the vicinity of Motya earlier this year.
THE MUFTI OF EGYPT, Sheikh Dr. 'Ali Gum'a, recently reaffirmed the blood-libel myth as presented in nineteenth-century anti-Talmud propaganda. MEMRI has translated excerpts from the Al Ahram article. The relevant passage is:
"Anyone who follows the news will discover that the Hebrew entity has turned into a [source] of [empty] talk, while the Arab discourse, which was characterized in the sixties [as empty talk], has developed significantly. [The Arabs] have learned a lesson and have moved from talk to action, and from the fostering of illusions to honesty, transparency, realistic goal-setting and ability to change. The Israeli discourse, [on the other hand], has turned to false declarations based on illusions, with wishful thinking taking precedence over facts.

"These lies have exposed the true and hideous face of the blood-suckers who were described by Filmange in his book The Treasure Hidden in the Talmudic Laws [sic], which tells how [the Jews] planned [to prepare] a matzo [unleavened Passover bread] using human blood. ...
Regrettably, the cited book can be found online in Arabic.
MOZART AND JUDITH - The New York Sun has a review of a performance of Betulia Liberata:
Lawfully Wedded Operas
Classical Music

August 22, 2006

For Mozart's 250th-anniversary year, the Salzburg Festival set out to do all 22 of the composer's stage works, and they are. ...

When he was 15, Mozart wrote "Betulia Liberata." It is not exactly an opera, more like an oratorio — more specifically, an "azione sacra," or sacred action, in two acts. Mozart wrote it on a text of Metastasio, the master of opera seria. And that text is from the Book of Judith, which belongs to the Apocrypha.

The story tells of "Betulia liberated" (as Mozart's title has it). What happens is basically this: The Israelite town of Betulia is under siege by an Assyrian army. All seems lost. But Judith, a widow, has a plan. She goes into the enemy camp, makes nice with the leader, and returns with his head — I mean, literally.That's it, in an extremely tight nutshell. The piece, true to its form, gives you recitative and aria, recitative and aria, at length. It may not be Mozart's most inspired work, but it is still Mozart, and not at all bad for a mid-teenager (or for anybody).

The Salzburg Festival presented a single performance of "Betulia Liberata," with no staging. The concert took place on Friday night in the Felsenreitschule, in front of that multi-tier parking garage that serves as the set of "La Clemenza di Tito." The orchestra was a good one: the Munich Chamber Orchestra, led by a good conductor: Christoph Poppen. Mr. Poppen, a German, has been music director of this group for 11 years; his tenure will come to a close at the end of this season.

And there's more on the performance if you follow the link.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

FEATURE-Lebanese oil slick hits ancient Phoenician port
23 Aug 2006 01:04:14 GMT

By Gideon Long

BYBLOS, Lebanon, Aug 23 (Reuters) - The Lebanese port of Byblos has survived the Romans, the Crusades and the armies of Alexander the Great but now it faces a 21st century menace, brought to its shores on a tide of war -- oil pollution.

A slick caused by Israel's bombardment of a power plant last month during its conflict with Hizbollah guerrillas has spewed a black tide along a 140-km (87-mile) stretch of the coastline.

Few places have been hit harder than Byblos, which dates back 7,000 years and lies 35 km (22 miles) north of Beirut.

Thick black oil laps against the ancient stone wall of the harbour under the shadow of a 13th century watchtower. Workers use a mechanical digger to scoop it from the water and dump it into plastic tanks on the quayside.

THE RAMAT RAHEL WATER SYSTEM is covered today in a Reuters article that has some new details:
Ancient biblical waterworks found in Israel
Wed Aug 23, 2006 2:43am ET147

By Corinne Heller

RAMAT RACHEL, Israel (Reuters) - Archaeologists in Israel have unearthed an ancient water system which was modified by the conquering Persians to turn the desert into a paradise.


The infrastructure of the palace was remodeled throughout the centuries to fit the needs of the Babylonians, Persians, Romans and Hasmoneans who ruled the Holy Land, said Lipschits, who heads the dig with an academic from Germany's University of Heidelberg.

But it was the Persians, who took control of the region around 539 BC from the Babylonians, who renovated the water system and turned it into a thing of beauty.

[Oded] Lipschits said they added small waterfalls to try to turn a desert into a paradise.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

THE ZEALOTS-AS-SUICIDE-KILLERS MEME appears again. According to the publisher's blurb reproduced by OpenDemocracy, Robert A. Pape makes this claim in his new book:
“Dying to win: why suicide terrorists do it”
by Robert A. Pape

Random House (US) / Gibson Square (UK) | August 2006 (UK) | ISBN 0679454713

What the publisher says: “In Dying to Win Robert Pape presents the findings of the first comprehensive database of every suicide terrorist attack in the world from 1980 until today. Discrediting widely-held misconceptions on suicide terrorism, he creates for the first time a clear psychological, sociological and strategic profile for combating suicide attacks. His thesis — initially drawn from the 354 attacks throughout the world up to 2003 — has been remarkably born out by the ones that have followed (the 192 attacks from 2004 up to May 2006 are included in Dying to Win). Pape also examines the early practitioners of this guerrilla tactic, including the ancient Jewish Zealots, who in A.D. 66 wished to liberate themselves from Roman occupation; the Ismaili Assassins, a Shi’ite Muslim sect in northern Iran in the eleventh and twelfth centuries; World War II’s Japanese kamikaze pilots, three thousand of whom crashed into U.S. naval vessels; and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a secular, Marxist-Leninist organization responsible for more suicide terrorist attacks than any other group in history.”
(My underscoring.) The "Zealots" (i.e., the Sicarii) were murderous thugs and carried out targeted assassinations, but they were not suicide killers. I have replied to this claim in detail here and here and have more on the Sicarii here. If Pape really does make this claim (and publishers' blurbs are not always the most accurate source for the content of a book), it doesn't inspire confidence in the book's research. In any case, once a claim like this starts, it tends to be perpetuated, because very few people will bother to check the original sources to see if it's true.
THE RAMAT RAHEL EXCAVATION has uncovered an impressive Iron Age water system:
Dig shows Ramat Rahel was once major royal Judean site

A highly sophisticated ancient water system dating back to the end of the Kingdom of Judah in the Seventh Century BCE and a Muslim structure from the Eighth or Ninth Century CE have been uncovered by Israeli, American and European archeologists at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel south of Jerusalem.

Experts from Tel Aviv University, the University of Heidelberg and other academic institutions were involved in the dig. Its discoveries are said to have changed the known historical picture of Ramat Rahel, which turns out to have been a major royal site whose exact identity is not yet known.


The Ramat Rahel dig began in the summer of 2005 to investigate a number of principle questions such as the nature of the biblical-era citadel and the magnificent palace at a place that served as an administrative center during various important historical periods.

Evidence for this is provided by a large collection of seals marked "The King," "Lion" and "Yehud." The current digging season is the second of five that are planned. Some experts claim the fortress - which has no parallel inside Jerusalem - was used by the kings of Judah, while others claim it dates back to the Assyrian Empire or to the Israelite kings who ruled for a certain period in Judah.


Monday, August 21, 2006

A QUIET DAY, as least as regards ancient Judaism. But on the technology front, here is another ray gun (cf. here and here) being used to do archaeology.

(Via Archaeologica News.)