Saturday, February 9, 2013

Parsing the Marriage of Ksenia Sobchak, Russia’s Paris Hilton. By Leonid Bershidsky.

Parsing the Marriage of Russia’s Paris Hilton. By Leonid Bershidsky. Bloomberg, February 5, 2013.

Twitter End to Love Story Born in Russia’s Protests. By Andrew E. Kramer. New York Times, February 2, 2013.

Socialite Sobchak Secretly Marries Opposition-Minded Actor. By Lena Smirnova. Moscow Times, February 3, 2013.

Ilya Yashin and Ksenia Sobchak, the Russian Opposition’s Romeo & Juliet. By Anna Nemtsova. The Daily Beast, December 17, 2012.

Ksenia Sobchak, puzzled by sexism. By Eliot Borenstein. Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia at New York University, October 24, 2012.

From Party Girl to Putin’s Threat. By Elisa Lipsky-Karasz. Harper’s Bazaar, July 2012. Also find it here.

Ksenia Sobchak, the Stiletto in Putin’s Side. By Andrew Meier. New York Times, July 3, 2012. Also find it here.

Ksenia Sobchak in her Moscow restaurant.
Ksenia Sobchak in a more revealing position.

Archaeologists Reveal a Desecrated Iron Age Temple and Find Possible Evidence of Samson at Beth Shemesh.

Tel Beth-Shemesh, the ancient meeting point of the Canaanites, Philistines and Israelites. Tel Aviv University archaeologists are excavating the site, looking for evidence that it once was an ancient border.
Archaeologists Reveal a Desecrated Iron Age Temple at Beth-Shemesh. By Noah Wiener. Bible History Daily, November 13, 2012.

Desecrated Ancient Temple Sheds Light on Early Power Struggles at Tel Beth-Shemesh. American Friends of Tel Aviv University, November 12, 2012.

Holy Site Desecration Traced to Philistine Era. By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu. Israel National News, November 13, 2012.

Israel Temple Discovery Shows War Horror, Ancient Border. By Gwen Ackerman. Bloomberg, February 4, 2013.


We are standing in the middle of Israel on a quiet hill overlooking a fertile green valley.

Some 3,000 years ago, this peaceful place was right at the center of conflict, says archaeologist Shlomo Bunimovitz.

“The border lies somewhere between here and there,” he says, pointing to the west. He is co-leading excavations which have found the remains of a temple which was later desecrated and used as animal pens.

This is Tel Beth-Shemesh, the ancient meeting point of the Canaanites, Philistines and Israelites. The Bible describes it as the northern border of the Tribe of Judah. The area also features in the story of the return of the Ark of the Covenant, earlier captured by the Philistines. King Solomon ruled the district and it was the site of the battle between Joash and Amaziah, the respective kings of Israel and Judah.

“We are looking for evidence that this was a border, tangible evidence in the material culture that reflects this,” says Bunimovitz, from Tel Aviv University.

The excavation, just outside the modern Israeli town now called Beit Shemesh, is investigating the extent of Philistine dominance some 3,000 years ago and the impact its culture had on the indigenous Canaanites.

Tel Aviv University started excavating in the early 1990s. Bunimovitz says that Beth-Shemesh may have been the first line of resistance against the Philistines, the seafaring people who began to settle there.

Philistine Pottery

He produces plastic-covered charts that show how as excavations moved eastward, there were less remains of decorative Philistine pottery and a complete disappearance of pig bones.

“The Philistines wanted this fertile valley,” Bunimovitz says, “but had this pain in the neck here at Beth Shemesh.”

Before the Philistines settled, the Canaanites did eat a little pork, he says. Then they seemed to want to set themselves apart from newcomers and maintain a distinct culture.

“There is a modern example of this, in the wearing of keffiyehs (headscarf),” he says. “Israelis always wore them until Yasser Arafat adopted it. Now you won’t see any Israelis with it. Suddenly the keffiyeh becomes an ethnic marker.”

His team has uncovered the outer wall of what they say is an ancient temple, with a row of three flat stones. One was surrounded by chalices and goblets, another surrounded by bones -- evidence of offerings to the gods or sacrificial slaughter.

Black Lines

Most interesting to Bunimovitz is the black lines that run through the hill along the temple that has yet to be uncovered.

“Normally I would say these are destruction layers, there was a temple, it was destroyed, and that’s it,” Bunovitz says. “But we ran chemical checks on this and found out that what caused the lines was animal dung. Someone came and used the place after the temple was destroyed for animal pens. We surmise it must have been their enemies. If you want to overcome resistance you desecrate a temple.”

There is a possibility that the Canaanites living in Beth Shemesh may have further evolved into being part of the Israelite people, he says. “We see a process of becoming something not eating pig that will later become an identity marker of the Israeli monarchy. This may or may not be an evolution into being Israelites or part of the Israelites.”

Beth Shemesh later became part of the Israelite monarchy, although the Bible never calls the people there Israelites, only the people of Beth Shemesh, he says.

Pig Bones

Neil Silberman, a historian at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, cautions against reading too much into archaeological findings. The absence of pig bones may be an environmental issue, such as the climate no longer being conducive to the raising of the animals.

“What is interesting about Beth Shemesh is the concept of it not only being a border town between the Philistines and the kingdom of Judah, but also of the inevitable tension between the two,” he says by telephone. “Archaeology is sort of like Sherlock Holmes at a crime site: Unfortunately in archaeology there isn’t an end to the process.”

Lion Seal from Beth Shemesh Sparks Samson Discussion. By Noah Wiener. Bible History Daily, July 30, 2012.

Does this coin found near Jerusalem prove that Samson lived . . . and that he did fight the lion? By Leon Watson. Daily Mail, July 31, 2012.

Seal found by Israeli archaeologists may give substance to Samson legend. By Nir Hasson. Haaretz, July 30, 2012.

Israeli scholars claim possible evidence of Samson. By Adrian Blomfield. The Telegraph, July 30, 2012.

Beth Shemesh: Culture Conflict on Judah’s Frontier. By Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman. Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 1997.

The Archaeology of Border Communities: Renewed Excavations at Tel Beth-Shemesh, Part 1: The Iron Age. By Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman. Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 72, No. 3 (September 2009).

Canaanite Resistance: The Philistines and Beth-Shemesh—A Case Study from Iron Age I. By Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 364 (November 2011).


In two excavation cycles conducted at Tel Beth-Shemesh in the early 20th century, a scholarly myth about Philistine domination at the site during Iron Age I was born. Renewed excavations at Beth-Shemesh by the authors dispelled this unfounded hypothesis. In a sequence of Iron I levels, Canaanite cultural traditions are dominant. Only a meager amount of Bichrome Philistine pottery was found, and other items of Philistine affiliation are missing. Furthermore, pork consumption was completely avoided at Beth-Shemesh in contrast with adjacent Philistine sites. Review of geopolitical changes in the Shephelah during the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition indicates that the Canaanite inhabitants of Beth-Shemesh took advantage of their location at the Philistine periphery and resisted Philistine hegemony. By denying foodways (eating and drinking) that symbolized their new aggressive neighbors, the people of Beth-Shemesh culturally identified themselves as “non-Philistine.” But since an inverse process, by which elements of Philistine culture were adopted by Canaanites living within the Philistine territory, is also evident, it is apparent that whether adopting or denying Philistine cultural elements, the indigenous population of the Shephelah changed its previous way of life during Iron Age I.

Ceramics, Ethnicity, and the Question of Israel’s Origins. By William G. Dever. The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 58, No. 4 (December 1995).

How to Tell a Canaanite from an Israelite. By William G. Dever. In Hershel Shanks et al., The Rise of Ancient Israel. Biblical Archaeology Society, 1991.

How Did Israel Become a People? The Genesis of Israelite Identity. By Avraham Faust. Biblical Archaeology Review, Vol. 35, No. 6 (November/December 2009).

Ethnicity, Assimilation and the Israelite Settlement. By Pekka Pitkänen. Tyndale Bulletin, Vol. 55, No. 2 (2004).

The Rise of Secondary States in the Iron Age Levant. By Alexander H. Joffe. Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 45, No. 4 (2002).

This 11th century BC seal from Beth Shemesh shows a person next to a leonine figure. The site and chronology have led some to associate the seal with the Biblical story of Samson.

How the Gun-Control Movement Got Smart. By Molly Ball.

How the Gun-Control Movement Got Smart. By Molly Ball. The Atlantic, February 7, 2013.

Egypt’s Incompetent Politics Turn Citizens Against the State. By Issandr El Amrani.

Egypt’s incompetent politics turn citizens against the state. By Issandr El Amrani. The National, February 7, 2013.

More posts on Egypt and Morsi here.

Soviet Lessons for the Arab World. By Anne Applebaum.

Preparing for freedom before it comes. By Anne Applebaum. Washington Post, February 7, 2013. Also in National Post, and Slate.

More on Egypt and Morsi here.

China Marches West. By Yun Sun.

Westward Ho! By Yun Sun. Foreign Policy, February 7, 2013.

As America pivots east, China marches in the other direction.

For the Taliban Love Is a Battlefied. By Mujib Mashal.

Love Is a Battlefield. By Mujib Mashal. Foreign Policy, February 5, 2013.

Are the Taliban using sex to fight America?

Florence and the Drones. By David Brooks.

Florence and the Drones. By David Brooks. New York Times, February 7, 2013.

Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart? By Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.

Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart. By Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. New York Times, February 6, 2013.

Andrew Jackson Teaches Us To Rein In Bureaucrats. By Dick Morris.

Andrew Jackson Teaches Us To Rein In Bureaucrats. By Dick Morris. Video., February 9, 2013. Also find it here.

“Suicide Conservatives.” By Charles Blow.

“Suicide Conservatives.” By Charles Blow. New York Times, February 8, 2013.

See also here and here.