Friday, October 12, 2018

Hasmonean-era mass-beheadings excavated

GRUESOME OSTEOLOGY: Ancient beheading site found in Jerusalem, evidence of ‘holy’ king’s bloody rule. Archaeologists now know whodunnit — the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus — after uncovering a 2,000-year-old mass burial ground in the municipality’s backyard (Amanda Borschel-Dan, Times of Israel).
Evidence of a mass slaying, including cruel beheadings, committed during the bloody reign of the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE) was recently uncovered in a courtyard next to the Jerusalem municipality during excavations of an ancient water cistern.

“We removed from the pit more than 20 neck vertebrae which were cut by a sword,” said Dr. Yossi Nagar, an anthropologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). “We discovered in the pit, bodies and body parts of infants and adult individuals, women and men, who were probably victims of a brutal slaughter.”

Embryonic bones discovered in the excavation indicate that among victims were even pregnant women.

I'm going to register a little skepticism. The Roman era had no shortage of butchery. There were many episodes in which men, women, and children were slaughtered. It's safe to infer that we don't know about all of them. I have recently been reading Plutarch's Lives. Murders of political opponents, with their families and supporters, are a common occurrence in them.

Something horrible happened here. But I hesitate to identify it confidently with a specific event that happens to show up in our surviving records.

I'm sure the archaeologists have considered this carefully. At the same time, our media culture provides lots of incentive to tie archaeological discoveries to already-known events.

I am not an archaeologist and I may be completely wrong here. But I will be more confident about the conclusions once they are published in a peer-review venue, reviewed by other archaeologists, and generally accepted as correct. If they are.

Also, a small correction to the article: the Pesher Nahum does apparently allude to the mass crucifixion by Alexander Jannaeus. But the details about it come from Josephus (J.W. 1.97-98).

UPDATE (21 October): I had read this article to say that this discovery was being associated with a specific, already known, event in the reign of Alexander Jannaeus. After reviewing the media coverage I think I misunderstood the claim. It was that this was evidence for an atrocity during his reign, not necessarily that specific one. That makes sense. Please discount my comments above accordingly. Apologies for the misunderstanding.

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