Sunday, December 13, 2009

Modern Archaeology From Israel Speaks to History Surrounding Hanukkah

Given that it is the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, it is somewhat fitting that some of the latest and most interesting archaeological discoveries to have been announced in Israel relate, at least indirectly to the Maccabean revolt that is the basis for the Hanukkah story and to the Hasmonean kingdom which rose after the revolt.

In the first story, a discovery was made of inscribed tablets originating from the seat of the Seleucid empire ruling over what is today Israel, and appointing a new tax collector for the region. This tax collector, however, was granted new authorities to collect taxes from religious shrines, including the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Being dated to eleven years prior to the Maccabean revolt, this inscription is said, by archaeologists, to represent a break with the contemporary status quo which allowed religious life to be free from taxation and which was likely the first step towards open hostility between the Jews and the Hellenistic Seleucids in power.

The second story relates to what happened after the Hanukkah story and the Maccebean revolt. After the success of the revolt an independent, Jewish Hasmonean kingdom was established. Recent discoveries and analysis of the ruins of a fortress, in what is today southern Israel's Negev desert, have lead archaeologists to conclude that this Jewish kingdom extended well into the Negev. The fortress, built along the Nabatean trade route between Petra and the port of Gaza, was originally though to have been Roman, but now appears to have been a Jewish fort aimed at disrupting the presences of the Jews' Nabetean foes. To archaeologists, this now means that they have to totally redraw the map of what the Hasmonean kingdom and been previously believed to be.

It's always fascinating when modern science and scholarship can create real links to people and events that are the basis of religious and cultural beliefs.

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