November 22, 2019

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Did early Muslims respect Jewish symbols – or co-opt them?
Muslim coin with seven branched menorah

From Times of Israel:

 Jerusalem’s Muslim identity was forged alongside the dawn of Islam. However, according to a pair of Israeli archaeologists, that identity was originally one of coexistence and tolerance. They say they have the 1,300-year-old archaeological evidence to prove it, and now they want to share it with the Muslim world.

Jerusalem-based doctoral students in archaeology Assaf Avraham, 38, and Peretz Reuven, 48, launched a crowdfunding campaign Wednesday to gather funds to continue their work in exposing a lesser-known period of Jerusalem history which, they argue, saw Jews and Muslims conducting “an inter-religious dialogue.”

Their archaeological evidence includes the use of Jewish symbols during Muslim rule. Avraham said in conversation with The Times of Israel on Wednesday that this and other findings illustrate an era of Jerusalem history in which the Muslim conquerors felt themselves to be the continuation of the People of Israel.

“At the beginning of the Muslim rule, not only didn’t they object to the Jews, but they saw themselves as the continuation of the Jewish people.” They adopted the Jewish narrative and symbols for their own, said Avraham. The menorah was a Jewish symbol; its use is testimony that Muslims didn’t have a problem with the Jews, he said.

As evidence, the researchers offer 1,300-year-old coins and other vessels from the Umayyad period (from 638 CE) which bear the seven-stemmed menorah. Additionally, the archaeologists point to an inscription mentioning the Temple Mount which the pair dramatically deciphered and unveiled last year and which links the Dome of the Rock with the Temple Mount.

The inscription, found in a working mosque in the village of Nuba, was etched in 1,000-year-old Kufic script onto a limestone block which points to Mecca and reads: “In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, this territory, Nuba, and all its boundaries and its entire area, is an endowment to the Rock of Bayt al-Maqdis and the al-Aqsa Mosque, as it was dedicated by the Commander of the Faithful, Umar ibn al-Khattab for the glory of Allah.” The tie to the Temple Mount, said Avraham, shows the Muslim rulers wanted to rebuild King Solomon’s Temple, not supersede it.

 This is wishful thinking, not science.

We’ve looked at the Muslim use of the menorah before. It is true that they started depicting a seven-branch menorah in their coins, but soon they changed it to a five-branch menorah with a base of two legs instead of three as virtually all menorahs were depicted on Jewish coins.

Some scholars say that the five branches as meant to represent the give pillars of Islam, and one intriguing theory says that these later coins – which were all minted in Jerusalem – were meant to be a visual pun, where turning them one way looks like a menorah but turning them the other way looks like the Dome of the Rock, complete with the crescent on top formed by the anomalous two-leg base! And on at least some coins the text was written as if the Dome picture is meant to be primary.

It is true that Islam originally tried to attract Jews by emphasizing its Jewish roots. But, as with Christianity, this was not evidence of co-existence – it was evidence that Judaism was being superceded by Islam, and anyone who did not see the light was clearly a problem.

The researchers pushing this “co-existence” meme are seeking crowdfunding for their efforts to paint early Islam as a tolerant religion based on biased reading of archaeology. True research doesn’t decide what the results would be ahead of time.

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