Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Catching up on Palmyra

PALMYRA WATCH: I have fallen behind on posting on Palmyra, but there does not seem to be much news about the ruins in the last few days. Here is what has been happening overall:

Military news:
Official: Syrian army preparing for counterattack on ISIS (AP, 24 May);

Assad Starts Heavy Bombing of Ancient Palmyra. After ISIS captures city with rich archaeological heritage and massacres residents, Assad regimes launches multiple airstrikes (Arutz Sheva, 25 May).

The ruins:
Syria antiquities chief: Palmyra ruins unharmed for now, i.e., as of yesterday (Reuters, 27 May);

Syrian Official: No Damage Done to Palmyra. Syria's antiquities chief says the historic city of Palmyra had been unharmed since being seized by ISIS jihadists. (Ben Ariel, Arutz Sheva, 27 May).

Historical background:
The Venice of the Sands in Peril (G.W. Bowersock, The New York Review of Books)

Hebrew inscriptions, jewels of Palmyra’s Jewish past, may be lost forever. With Islamic State now in control, fears grow for archaeological gems that point to the ancient city’s resonant Jewish history (Ilan Ben Zion, Times of Israel, 25 May).
Among the archaeological gems from Palmyra, the pearl of Syria’s desert, at risk after the Islamic State’s takeover last week are vestiges of its Jewish past, including the longest Biblical Hebrew inscription from antiquity: the opening verses of the Shema carved into a stone doorway.

Western archaeologists who visited the site in the 19th and 20th century discovered Hebrew verses etched into the doorframe of a house in the ancient city. But whether that inscription is still at the site is unclear.

The last time a European scholar documented it in situ was 1933, when Israeli archaeologist Eleazar Sukenik of Hebrew University photographed it.

“What may have happened to it since is anyone’s guess,” Professor David Noy, co-author of Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis (Jewish Inscriptions of the Near East), said in an email on Friday.

I didn't know about this inscription, of which there is a photograph in the article. More on the building:
But most significantly, etched into the doorway of a house in central Palmyra, northeast of its main colonnaded street, were the four opening lines of the Shema, one of the central Jewish prayers, verses from the book of Deuteronomy. Scholars have debated whether it was an entryway to a synagogue, but now they lean toward it having been a private home.

The Biblical passage differs from the traditional text only inasmuch as it substitutes God’s name Yahweh for adonai — my Lord.

On the sides of the doorway were two other apotropaic inscriptions in Hebrew script believed taken from Deuteronomy as well. It was last photographed in the 1930s, and scholars contacted by the Times of Israel couldn’t ascertain whether it was still at the site, or whether in the intervening decades it was destroyed or sold on the black market.
According to the following article, the inscriptions and some related fines are from "prior to the sixth century [CE]": ISIS Takeover of Ancient City, Palmyra, Threatens Jewish Artifacts (Suzanne Vega, JPUpdates, 26 May).

Background on Palmyra is here and links. And more on Queen Zenobia of Palmyra is here.