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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Read more at Ancient Near East Today

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

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy