Monday, August 20, 2018

Shikhin, gazelle bones, and the parchment industry

MATERIAL CULTURE: Ancient Judeans Wrote Torah Scrolls on Gazelle Hide, Archaeologists Find. Since rabbis frowned on eating hunted animals, discovery of gazelle remains in the 1,900-year-old Galilean towns hints at parchment industry, say archaeologists.
Archaeologists excavating the ancient Jewish village of Shikhin in the Galilee encountered a mystery: a strangely large proportion of the animal bones were from wild gazelles. It was far greater than the proportion of gazelle remains found at any other archaeological site in Israel, from that time of about 1,900 years ago, or earlier. Or later. What was the strange predilection the ancient Jews of Shikhin had for gazelles?

Some were surely eating of the gazelle, which is perfectly kosher when slaughtered by ritual. But the people of Shikhin also had plenty of domestic flocks: sheep, goats and cows. It seems, the archaeologists concluded, that the Jews of Shikhin had developed a robust industry of curing gazelle hide for parchment, including for Torah scrolls.

Speculative, but certainly possible. I would be very cautious about using the Mishnah, let alone the Talmud (Gemara) to infer what the customs were in Shikhin nineteen hundred years ago. The rabbinic texts were written long after this. And we don't know how much authority the rabbinic movement had in the first and early second centuries C.E. The rabbinic texts imply that the movement had a lot of authority in the Galilee then. But that may be anachronistic.

Cross-file under Osteology.

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