Biblical Dates Come to Life

The Hebrew Bible and the Talmud make frequent mention of the date palm, and both works list its fruit among the agricultural products that distinguish the Land of Israel. After fifteen years of effort, a team of Israeli scientists have used 2,000-year-old seeds to recreate the dates of the Bible. Isabel Kershner writes:

A Roman coin minted around 70 CE to celebrate the conquest of Judea depicted the Jewish defeat as a woman weeping under a date palm. But by the Middle Ages, the famed Judean plantations had died out. Wars and upheaval likely made their cultivation impractical, as did their need for copious amounts of water in summer. . . .

Elaine Solowey, [an agricultural scientist], planted the seeds in quarantined pots in January 2005, not expecting much, but nevertheless employing a few “horticultural tricks” to try to coax them out of their long slumber, involving warming, careful hydration, a plant hormone, and enzymatic fertilizer.

This endeavor produced a tree named Methuselah, which turned out to be male. But growing dates requires trees of both sexes:

[Soloway’s collaborator, Sarah] Sallon went searching again and chose more than 30 seeds from another stash from archaeological sites in the Judean desert, including Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Planted at Kibbutz Keturah between 2011 and 2014, six of the seeds sprouted. They were given the names of biblical figures when they germinated, but as their sexes became clear over time, Judah became Judith, Eve became Adam, and Jeremiah became Hannah.

Hannah’s seed, which came from an ancient burial cave in Wadi el-Makkukh near Jericho, . . . was carbon dated to between the 1st and 4th centuries BCE, becoming one of the oldest known seeds ever to have been germinated.

The match between Hannah and Methuselah produced dates that, reportedly, were delicious.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Ancient Israel, Hebrew Bible, Israeli agriculture, Land of Israel, Talmud


The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law