The Oldest Known Image of the Biblical Balsam Plant Discovered in Jerusalem

According to the Talmud, balsam—a resin produced from the sap of a plant known as the biblical persimmon—was one of the ingredients of the incense used in the Temple rituals. The same substance, tsori in Hebrew, is mentioned several times in the Hebrew Bible, most famously in Jeremiah’s rhetorical “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Thus the discovery of an ancient seal bearing the oldest known image of the plant is of particular significance. The Times of Israel reports:

The 2,000-year-old amethyst seal, which was designed to be worn as a ring, has an engraving of a bird next to a branch of what appears to be the expensive biblical persimmon used to make the fragrance. The seal . . . was discovered at the foundation stones of the Western Wall. . . . According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the biblical persimmon plant is unrelated to the modern-day fruit.

The 1st-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote that Mark Antony gave Cleopatra valuable persimmon groves that formerly belonged to King Herod. Scholars believe that this was so she could have an unlimited supply of the expensive balm extracted from the plant [to use as perfume].

Researchers [from the Israel Antiquities Authority] said in a statement that the seal depicts a bird, probably a dove, and a thick branch with five fruits on it, which they believe to be the persimmon plant.

“This is an important find because it may be the first time a seal has been discovered in the entire world with an engraving of the precious and famous plant, which until now we could only read about in historical descriptions,” said Eli Shukron, who carried out the excavation where the seal was found.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, Jerusalem, Josephus, Temple


An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy