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

Oct. 22 2021

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

In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan