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Promised Land Pomegranates

Dr. Scott Stripling

The Associates for Biblical Research (ABR), under my supervision, just completed Season Three of a multi-year expedition at Shiloh, the site of Israel's first capitol and the epicenter of the fledgling nation's cultic system. This season yielded many important finds: altar horn, possible postern gate, bullae and scarabs, large structure from the tabernacle period, etc. Friends often ask me to name the most important discovery from our first three seasons of excavation. While there are many important finds, one stands out from the rest.

In June 2018, Shiloh Square Supervisor Tim Lopez excavated a ceramic pomegranate near a large East/West wall dating to Iron Age I, a period when the tabernacle was in operation at Shiloh. We now believe that this is part of a massive building from the time of Samuel. This, of course, matters because the tabernacle, and later the temple, oriented East-West. This is the first East-West wall from Iron Age I to emerge from the three expeditions to Shiloh over the past century. Between 1922-1932, the Danish excavated four seasons and again in 1963. Bar Ilan University dug from 1981-1984 under the direction of Israel Finkelstein. Shortly after the ABR pomegranate came to light, we searched the final publications of the Danish and Israeli excavations. Our research revealed that the Danish excavation also recovered a ceramic pomegranate, but they misidentified it as a stopper, an understandable oversight since the calyx (flowered petals) of the pomegranate was missing. Tim and I partnered with Ariel University professor David Ben-Shlomo to publish these two important artifacts in Judea and Samaria Research Studies, an Israeli peer-reviewed journal, in June 2019. This rekindled the media interest that was generated by ABR's original press release in October 2018. Christianity Today included the Shiloh pomegranate(s) on their list of the Top 10 Biblical Archaeology finds of 2018.

The grapes of Eschol often epitomize the fruitfulness of the Promised Land, but the pomegranate more clearly symbolizes Israel's new Eden. The Bible mentions pomegranates 15 times. The first mention reveals the sacred status of this fruit: “Make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them” (Ex 28:33). This verse describes the garment of the high priest. The bells were utilitarian, signaling the entrance of the high priest into the Holy Place “so that he will not die” (Ex 28:35). Clearly, unannounced mediaries risked death. The significance of the pomegranate lies in its rich symbolism. It represents fecundity (potential for fertility) and God's abundant provision. With effort one could count the number of seeds in a pomegranate, but it is impossible to count the number of pomegranates in a seed.

Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses described the land’s horticultural potential: “a land of wheat and barley, vines, and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil, and honey” (Deut 8:8). The vines likely refer to grape vines, and the honey probably refers to date honey, a thick sap derived from crushing dates. Assuming that this is correct, Moses' list of products includes five fruits: grapes, figs, olives, dates, and pomegranates. Of these fruits or their by-products, only the pomegranate qualified as a revered fruit which transcended secular and sacred boundaries and represented God’s nature to his people. But, why did God find such pleasure in the pomegranate and instruct that it should be in his presence? Numerous sources claim that all pomegranates have 613 seeds, but others dispute this assertion. If the claim is true, perhaps these seeds represent the 613 laws in the Hebrew Bible. A more certain explanation would be the fecundity symbolism. All ancient religions were fertility based, including the Israelite's monotheistic worship of Yahweh. The five pomegranate mentions in the sensual love poetry of the Song of Solomon (e.g. 8:1-2) support this idea. The sensual connotations of Song of Solomon 8:1-2 are clear:

If only you were to me like a brother,
who was nursed at my mother's breasts!
Then, if I found you outside,
I would kiss you,
and no one would despise me.
I would lead you
and bring you to my mother's house—
she who has taught me.
I would give you spiced wine to drink,
the nectar of my pomegranates.


From the wilderness to Shiloh to Gibeon, the tabernacle functions for almost five centuries until Solomon builds the first temple (1 Ki 6:1). Although the tabernacle eventually ceased operation, the pomegranate continued to represent God to his people as evidenced by the one-hundred pomegranate shaped ornaments that adorned the pillars in Solomon's temple (2 Chron 3:16). God created roughly 2,000 different fruits, from apple to yuzu. Biblical writers connect no fruit, besides the pomegranate, with God's presence. This raises questions in my mind. Was the pomegranate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, or even the fruit of the Tree of Life? Was pomegranate wine the sacred nectar for occasions such as Passover, or was it the more traditional grape byproduct?

Interestingly, the Israelites were not unique in their veneration of the pomegranate. Many Ancient Near Eastern cultures also invested a special significance in the pomegranate. Perhaps the best-known parallel is the Greek myth of Persephone, Demeter's daughter. Hades sequesters the young and beautiful Persephone in the underworld, without her permission. At Demeter's request, Zeus sends Hermes (messenger of the gods) to investigate the circumstances surrounding Persephone's abduction. After interviewing Hades and Persephone, Hermes informs Zeus that the young lady (Zeus' niece) finds the powerful Hades attractive, but she is not yet ready to live apart from her mother. Hermes also notes that she had eaten six pomegranate seeds. Based on this, Zeus forges a compromise solution for the siblings, Demeter and Hades. Half the year Persephone would live in the underworld as Hades’ (her uncle) wife, but the other half of the year she would live with Demeter and the rest of the pantheon on Mt. Olympus. As goddess of the Harvest, Demeter refuses to let trees bud or flowers bloom in the spring until Hades releases Persephone.

At least a dozen other cultures generated myths that involved the sacred nature of the pomegranate. For, example, the image of a pomegranate adorns the Karnak temple in Luxor, Egypt. Assuming Moses' authorship of the Pentateuch in the fifteenth century B.C. it is possible that his writings influenced the other Mediterranean cultures. Likewise, pomegranate veneration may have predated Moses.

The next time that you see a pomegranate in your grocery aisle, don't be so fast to pass on it. The pomegranate is the ultimate antioxidant, and it can also teach us much about God's promises and provision. A copy of my peer-reviewed article can be downloaded at my Academia.edu page.

 

Announcements of archaeological discoveries and research of Biblical significance, mainly from Israel, have been made throughout 2013. In this article I would like to update readers on six of these recent findings.

Gerzeh, Egypt, 3200 BC*

Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron (Gen. 4:22).

Modern Bible students have been puzzled by Genesis 4:22 and other early references to iron in the Bible since archaeological findings indicate that iron was not in common use until ca. 1200 BC. While it is true that 1200 BC marks the beginning of the Iron Age when the use of iron for tools and weapons became widespread throughout Bible lands, there are many examples of iron objects that are much earlier than 1200 BC. Prior to 1200 BC iron was rare and considered a precious metal. The earliest known iron objects are nine tubular iron beads excavated in 1911 in a cemetery in Gerzeh, Egypt, 45 miles south of Cairo, dated to 3200 BC. Seven were found in one tomb, three from the waist of the deceased and four from a necklace along with lapis lazuli, carnelian, agate and gold beads. The other two came from a very rich tomb containing, among other things, the largest number of beads found in a burial in the cemetery, consisting of lapis lazuli, obsidian, gold, carnelian, calcite, chalcedony, steatite, faience, garnet and serpentine. The nature and origin of the iron beads has been a matter of uncertainty and dispute, until modern scientific tests were conducted on them, published in August in the online Journal of Archaeological Science. The 15 authors concluded the beads were made from meteoritic iron and 'that already in the fourth millennium BC metalworkers had mastered the smithing of meteoritic iron.' They went on to say that when the production of iron metal from ore started in the mid-second millennium BC, the Gerzan cemetery beads 'demonstrates that metalworkers had already nearly two millennia of experience to hot-work meteoritic iron when iron smelting was introduced.'

Three of the nine iron beads from a cemetery in Gerzeh, Egypt, that date to 3200 BC (© Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, photo by Gianluca Miniaci).

* ABR Editorial note: Dating from this time period is usually dependent on Carbon-14 dating, and should be considered tentative. The date of the Flood is critical to our understanding of this era. ABR is conducting research in this area in order to more precisely ascertain the date of the Flood and then correlate archaeological dates accordingly. More will be announced in the future.

Shiloh, Israel, mid-11th century BC

He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among men (Psalm 78:60).

'Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel' (Jer. 7:12)…'Then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth' (Jer. 26:6).

The instrument of God's judgment against Shiloh is not named in the above verses, but the Philistines are a prime candidate since Israel was at war with them at that time. On July 1st the Israeli online newspaper Arutz Sheva headlined 'Shiloh Find May Show It was Sacked by Philistines.' The article went on to describe a broken jar and remains of ash from a fire which they say were indicative of large scale destruction. Finding ash at Shiloh is nothing new. Both the Danish excavations of 1929 and the Israeli excavations of 1981-1984 at Shiloh found evidence of a massive destruction by fire in the mid-11th century BC:

These buildings were destroyed in a fierce conflagration. Burnt floors were found all over. Collapsed burnt bricks accumulated on these floors to a height of more than three feet. Some of the bricks had been baked by the blaze that had raged here. Roof collapse was discernible in many places. All this dramatic evidence of fire must be associated with the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines after they defeated the Israelites near Ebenezer in the mid-11th century B.C. Jeremiah knew what he was talking about when he later threatened the people with destruction like Shiloh's (Finkelstein 1986:39).

Evidence of a mid-11th century BC destruction at Shiloh, most likely carried out by the Philistines (Bryant G. Wood).

Hazor Sphinx Fragment

Hazor had been the head of all these kingdoms (Josh 11:10).

The culmination of the Israelite Conquest of Canaan was the annihilation of a coalition of northern city-states led by Jabin king of Hazor in 1400 BC (Josh. 11:1-15). The coalition consisted of the kings of the Galilee region, from Mount Hermon in the north, as far south as the Jezreel Valley south of the Sea of Galilee, west to the Mediterranean and east to the Hulah and Jordan Valleys (Josh. 11:1). It was an enormous force: 'They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots-a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore' (Josh 11:4). After recording the Israelite victory in just three verses (7-10), the author added the historically significant footnote quoted above. Excavations at Hazor have verified the truth of this statement. The city was found to occupy an area of over 200 acres, making it the largest city-state in all of Canaan. A fragment of a sphinx excavated at Hazor in 2012, but only announced on July 9, 2013, is yet further confirmation of the Bible's description of Hazor as the most important city-state in the region (see Murray Hiebert's first-hand account of the discovery in the Summer 2013 issue of Bible and Spade).

The fragment is the front part of the base, including the front paws and a hieroglyphic inscription between the paws. The inscription bears the name of King Menkaure, ruler of Egypt from about 2551 to 2523 BC, some 400 years before Abraham. He was the builder of the so-called 'third pyramid,' the smallest of the three great pyramids at Giza. This is the only known sphinx of this king and the only portion of a royal sphinx to be found in the eastern Mediterranean. It was unearthed in the entrance of a 13th-century royal palace, buried in the debris of a destruction which was undoubtedly caused by the Israelites under Deborah and Barak (Judges 4:24). The intriguing question is, 'How did the sphinx come to be in a palace in Hazor nearly 1400 years after the rule of Menkaure?' Canaan came under the dominion of Egypt following the campaign of Tuthmosis III in the 22nd year of his rule in ca. 1485 BC. It is most likely that the sphinx came to Hazor sometime after 1485 BC, perhaps as a gift to the king of Hazor, but more likely to be set up in a prominent palace as a symbol of Egypt's dominance over even the mightiest kingdom in Canaan. In any case, this rare sphinx provides tangible evidence of the significance of Hazor at the time of the Conquest as recorded in Joshua 11:10.

Sphinx fragment excavated at Hazor during the 2013 season. Along with the king's name, the inscription reads 'Beloved by the divine manifestation…that gave him eternal life' (Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman via Bloomberg).

The Ophel Inscription

Now Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, along with cedar logs and carpenters and stonemasons, and they built a palace for David (2 Sam. 5:11).

On July 10 the Hebrew University issued a press release announcing the publication of a 10th-century BC alphabetic inscription incised on the rim of a large storage jar excavated in Jerusalem. Found in what is believed to be the palace of David, it is referred to as the Ophel Inscription. The Ophel, meaning 'hill,' was the area south of the Temple Mount, today referred to as the City of David. The inscription is older by some 250 years than the previous oldest alphabetic (Hebrew) inscription found in Jerusalem. ABR research associate Doug Petrovich was quick to enter the scholarly fray on the interpretation of the seven surviving letters. You can read Doug's detailed analysis here on the ABR website. Doug was interviewed by Fox News about this important find. The excavators and other scholars suppose that the writing is Canaanite, but Doug believes it to be Hebrew. The new inscription has far-reaching implications. Doug said in his concluding statement: 'the relationship between the Hebrew and Egyptian languages goes back even further into the 2nd millennium BC.' This is truly an exciting find and ABR will be providing more details in the future.

 

Jar fragment bearing an inscription that was unearthed in a monumental structure south of Jerusalem's Temple Mount by Hebrew University archaeologist Eilat Mazar (Eilat Mazar/Noga Cohen-Aloro).

Timna Copper Mines (11th-9th centuries BC)

And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt. He put garrisons throughout Edom, and all the Edomites became subject to David (1 Sam. 8:13-14).

In February a team led by archaeologists from Tel Aviv University explored the ancient copper mining industry at Timna in the Arabah Valley 15 miles north of the port of Elat at the northern end of the Gulf of Elat. Carbon-14 tests of 10 date seeds and one olive pit determined that the mines were being operated in the 10th century BC, when David (1010-970 BC and Solomon (970-930 BC) were ruling the United Kingdom of Israel. This agrees with the results of a 2009 Tel Aviv University excavation that determined the mines were in operation from the 11th to the 9th centuries BC, with the main period of copper smelting being the 10th century BC (Ben-Yosef, Shaar, Tauxe and Ron 2012). Archaeological evidence indicates that the mines at Timna were operated by Edomites and were an offshoot of a much larger operation in the Wadi Faynan 70 miles north-northeast of Timna.

The Bible records that Edom had been subjugated by David and that Solomon carried on trade from the port of Ezion Geber near Elat (1 Kings 9:26-28). It is quite possible that Israel controlled the copper mining and smelting industries at both Wadi Faynan and Timna. Erez Ben-Yosef, who directs the excavations at Timna, said, 'the findings at the Slaves' Hill undermine criticisms of the Bible's historicity based on a lack of archaeological evidence. It's entirely possible that David and Solomon existed and even that they exerted some control over the mines in the Timna Valley' (http://www.aftau.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=19081). The online newspaper Israel Hayom further quoted Ben-Yosef as saying, 'The events of the bible are consistent with the findings at Slave Hill, which suggest the local population present at the site was most likely an ancient group from the Edomite Kingdom that had been placed under Jerusalem's control in the wake of David's conquests. I believe Jerusalem had a garrison stationed there whose job it was to defend the area and collect taxes from the Edomites, as well as to oversee its operation.'

Tel Aviv University excavation in February 2013 at 'Slaves' Hill,' a large debris deposit from copper smelting operations in Timna, Israel (AFTAU).

City of David 8th-7th-Century BC Inscription

Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly. He said: 'Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's…'' (2 Chr. 20:14-15).

The prophet Jahaziel went on to deliver a stirring message to the king and the people of Judah, followed by a worship and praise service, on the day before they entered into battle against the Ammonites, Moabites and men of Seir (2 Chr. 20:16-19). As they marched off the next morning the warriors continued to sing and praise the Lord (2 Chr. 20:20-21). With God's miraculous intervention, the Judahites returned triumphant (2 Chr. 20:22-30). Recent excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the area of the Gihon Spring in the City of David have uncovered a layer of rich finds, including thousands of pottery sherds, clay lamps and figurines. One of those sherds, that of a bowl, was inscribed on the inside, just below the rim, with a personal name. The name had been inscribed prior to firing indicating that the name was intended to be permanently inscribed on the bowl and not merely a name written on a broken piece of pottery. The excavators suggest that the bowl was for an offering given by the individual whose name was inscribed on the bowl. Unfortunately, the name is incomplete, but what remains is intriguing. It reads […]ryhu bn bnh, or […]ariah [the] son [of] Benaiah. The best match for this name is the father of the prophet Jahaziel, Zechariah son of Benaiah mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:14. There is no way to be certain, of course, but it is a possibility.

Benaiah was a relatively common name in ancient Israel, so our […]ariah could have been a son of one of the other Benaiahs mentioned in Scripture. It is clear, however, that both names are good Hebrew names as they both end in the theophoric element yahu, a shortened form of Yahweh, the unique name of the God of Israel, translated as Lord in our English Old Testaments. Hebrew names had meanings and in the case of Benaiah, it means 'Yahweh has built up.' If Zechariah is the correct reconstruction of […]ariah, the meaning would be 'Yahweh remembers.' Many Old Testament names end with the theophoric element indicating that the parents of the individuals were followers of Yahweh. Many such inscriptions with Biblical names ending in yahu have been found in archaeological excavations, verifying the historical accuracy of the names recorded in the Bible. These inscriptions also validate the Bible's portrayal of ordinary people as being followers of Yahweh, not just the religious elite, as some critics have claimed.

Seventh-century BC pottery sherd from a bowl excavated near the Gihon Spring in the City of David with the inscription […]ryhu bn bnh, […]ariah [the] son [of] Benaiah (Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority).

Bibliography

Ben-Yosef, Erez; Shaar, Ron; Tauxe, Lisa and Ron, Hagai

2012 A New Chronological Framework for Iron Age Copper Production at Timna (Israel). Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 367: 1-41.

Finkelstein, Israel

1986 Shiloh Yields Some, But Not All, of Its Secrets. Biblical Archaeology Review 12.1: 22-41.

 

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ABRT 24 | 4/13/2019