‘Geniza’ Find in Afghanistan
Details of this discovery are still very sketchy but Prof. Shaul Shaked of the Hebrew University has given more information recently. He is skeptical of the many stories of the discovery that are surfacing, as they all revolve around a shepherd who is looking for his flock in a distant cave, fails to find them but sees pieces of parchment scattered over the ground. These stories are clearly based on the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and so are dismissed as fiction. But, like the Scrolls, there is the hope that further caches will be uncovered as to date only about 150 pieces has come to light.
Prof. Shaked, an expert in ancient Persian languages, has no doubt the finds are authentic and has said that they include a medieval copy of the Book of Jeremiah, previously unknown works by Rabbi Sa’adiah Gaon of the 10th century CE, as well as the private financial diary of a Jewish merchant. The documents are in Judeo-Persian and Judeo-Arabic and can be precisely dated to the medieval period. Many are damaged and decayed and the number is small, but Prof. Shaked hopes that search will now be made for others. He is of the opinion that the cache may include the records of a Karaite community, although it is known that Sa’adiah Gaon was fiercely opposed to this Jewish sect.
Prof. Robert Eisenman has said that he hopes the records may shed light on another sect called the Rhadanites, early medieval Jewish merchants who had set up an extensive trade network connecting Europe and Asia. He raises the suspicion that these Jews may have been descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes, but that is a claim made for all outlandish sects and usually with little justification.
Bread Seal Found at Uza, near Acre
A rescue dig is being conducted at Uza, a Byzantine village east of Acre, prior to the laying of a railway track between Acre and Carmiel. In the course of the dig, headed by Gilad Jaffe and Danny Syon of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), a diminutive clay stamp incised with the reverse of a seven-branched menorah was uncovered. The excavators point this out as a bread seal of the type used in the early medieval period and they date it to the 6th century CE. Bread seals of the period are common but mostly carry a figure of a cross and denote Christian ownership. The Menorah, which clearly marks Jewish ownership, is rare, and probably indicates that there was a Jewish bakery at Uza supplying bread to the Jewish community of Acre, which was mainly a Christian town in the Byzantine period. The short handle of the stamp carries some Greek lettering, read by Dr. Leah di Segni of the Hebrew University as “Launtius”, a common Jewish name of the period.
Prehistoric Evaporation of the Dead Sea
Last year researchers from the Geological Survey of Israel, the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University conducted drilling at the centre of the Dead Sea, at a depth of 300m, and offshore near Ein Gedi, and they found that the Dead Sea had nearly dried up 125,000 years ago due to climate change. At a depth of 250m below the floor of the lake they found levels of pebbles above substantial salt layers and concluded that these demonstrated a period when the lake had nearly dried up, due to little inflow of water. From sediment cores, the scientists discovered a layer of 45m of salt below nearby pebbles, which indicated a shoreline close by. The condition was attributed to a change in climate that occurred thousands of years ago and was ultimately remedied by increased rainfall and flow into the Dead Sea from the river Jordan. The researchers indicated that such a condition of excessive fall could occur again at the present time and the remedy of replenishment did not exist as so much of the waters of the Jordan was being syphoned off by the adjoining countries. They warned that the previous ancient fall had been due to climate change whereas the present drop was a man-made disaster.
Archaeological Survey of Lifta, west of Jerusalem
Since 1948 the Arab village of Lifta, standing outside the western approach to Jerusalem, has stood in ruin and virtually unpopulated except for a few Yemenite families. The area contains dozens of stone-built houses that stand derelict on a piece of prime real estate, and two years ago tenders were issued to private developers to build 212 luxury houses on the former village, on condition that the contractor would conduct a full survey of the existing properties before work could begin. The site contains mainly 19th century houses but there are also some Crusader structures and First Temple remains, all in an advanced state of disrepair.
A recent court ruling has annulled the previous tenders and has now stipulated that the area must first be surveyed in depth by an independent multi-disciplinary university team and the IAA, whose interests will be purely scientific and historical and not guided by development opportunities. However it has been agreed that in the long run it is not desirable to leave the area unbuilt and undeveloped as that would continue the neglect and decay that has taken toll of the site over the last sixty years. It is stipulated therefore that there must be in the long run a plan for both development and preservation of the historical core, with convenient access for the public to the sections of historical interest, so as to provide for example an area that would illustrate the physical form of a typical Arab village of the 19th century. It is hoped that the involvement of many university departments and the IAA will bring positive results and not delay the restoration works unduly.
Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg
W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, Jerusalem