How the Pomegranate Became a Jewish Fruit

Feb. 15 2019

Mentioned repeatedly in the Pentateuch as one of the five fruits that the Land of Israel produced in abundance, the pomegranate has long had special significance in Judaism and Jewish iconography. Federica Spagnoli writes:

The pomegranate is attested in ancient Elam, [now in southwestern Iran], during the 4th millennium BCE, and then spread to the rest of the Near East, . . . reaching Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Syria, and Palestine by the end of the 3rd millennium. . . . The brilliant red and yellow of the pomegranate’s skin, the blood-red juice, and its healthy properties create associations with human fertility, and thus life and death. In ancient Mesopotamian art pomegranates are often represented with the deities of fertility, fecundity, and abundance.

Pomegranate seeds were found in the principal cities of the 3rd millennium BCE Syria-Palestine, such as Ebla and Jericho, and the spread of pomegranate in the Levant continued during 2nd millennium BCE. . . . By the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE, the pomegranate is found especially in funerary contexts in the Levant, and it also achieves further symbolic value connected to kingship. Its image continued to be reproduced on textiles, wood, ivory, and precious metals, as well as in symbolic ornaments.

The Bible provides several interesting references to pomegranates (Hebrew rimmonim). The earliest is in Exodus 28:33-34 and 39:24-26, [read in synagogues tomorrow], and refers to tying blue, purple, and scarlet yarns in the shape of pomegranates, which alternated with golden bells, to embellish the hem of a priestly robe. Similar decoration had been used on Near Eastern elites’ robes since the 2nd millennium BCE, as can be seen on old Syrian and old Babylonian royal statuary. . . . [G]arlands of bronze pomegranates encircled the top of the pillars flanking the entrance of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem built by Phoenician architects and artisans (1King 7:18-20).

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More about: Ancient Near East, Archaeology, Hebrew Bible, Land of Israel, Religion & Holidays

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey