Saturday 31 March 2012

The flowers on the Holy Shroud

Fr Vernet was talking about a recent study of the Holy Shroud of Turin by an Israeli botanist, Avinoam Danin (1997). This botanist has discovered the images and even the colours of flowers around the head and the hands of the Man on the Shroud, and has concluded that these are images of flowers that are found exclusively in the area of Jerusalem and the bordering desert. Some of these are Chrysanthemum coronariumCistus creticus and Zygophyllum 

Pollen grains of flowers were also found, one of them being the Gundelia tournefortii.

Fr Vernet himself published an article in Catalan on the matter. 

Dovesfoot Cranesbill (Geranium molle)

A poor specimen of Geranium molle, but the characteristics are very clear, including the seed pods. 

Longbeak Stork's Bill (Erodium botrys)

Longbeak stork's bill

Longbeak stork's bill

Another common weed in our garden. The purple-pink flowers are tiny.

Actually there are two types of flowers in the top photo: some with 5 single petals, and others with 5 double petals. The ones in the second photo are all single petalled. The leaves are quite different.

The single petalled ones are Longbeak stork's bill or Broadleaf filaree (Erodium botrys). The very striking seed pods can be seen in both photos - giving the name to the plant (longbeak stork's bill) - makhol hasidah in Hebrew, I think. Our Filipino children recognized it right away, and I gathered from that that makhol means stork.

The other, double petalled flower is the Dovesfoot Cranebill, Dovesfoot Geranium (Geranium molle). Another common weed around here. The seed pods are less remarkable, but interesting all the same. 

Naples Garlic (Allium neapolitanum)

Another humble flower blooming these days in the Ratisbonne garden. Naples Garlic (Allium neapolitanum) or shum meshulash in Hebrew. 30-50 cms., blooms March-April. 

Nodding Wood-Sorrel (Oxalis pescaprae)

Nodding Wood-Sorrel (Oxalis pescaprae), or hamtzitz natuy in Hebrew. Height up to 40 cms., blooms in late February to April. Very common weed in our garden these days. I believe the stem and leaves can be eaten; tastes sour. 

White-spectacled bulbul

When I arrived in Jerusalem 5 months ago, I noticed a bird that looked like a bulbul, but with yellow under its tail, whereas most of the ones I had seen in India had red. Yesterday I discovered that the bird is indeed a bulbul, and is also known thus: it is the White-spectacled Bulbul (Pycnonotus xanthopygos) or Yellow vented Bulbul, not to be confused with the Spectacled Bulbul or Lesser Brown Bulbul which is found in Southeast Asia.  

Persian cyclamen

Persian cyclamens, Bittir
Persian cyclamens, Bittir
Persian cyclamens, Ain Hanniye

Friday 30 March 2012

Helmet clover, shield clover (trifolium clypeatum)

Very common little flower, in the valley of Rephaim. Didn't get a close up, perhaps because not very impressive. But I would like to know the name.

This was taken in the valley of Rephaim, along the wadi / stream that the railway follows. But there were plenty of these also in and around Bether.

The two samples above are from Mt Gerizim.

This sample is from Sebaste, near the ruins of the Omri palace
Finally: I think this is Trifolium clypeatum, Helmet Clover, or Shield Clover

Crown Anemone (Anemone coronaria)

The red flower is most likely the Crown Anemone (Anemone coronaria), kalanit metzuya in Hebrw. 15-40 cms., blooming in late December to late March. Usually 5-6 velvety petals, with a white circle in the centre.

Probably not the Palestine Pheasant's Eye (Adonis palaestina) or dmumit eretzyisraelit in Hebrew. 20-30 cms. in height, March to mid-April blooming, 6-9 glossy petals. 

White Mustard (Sinapis alba), Camphor Weed, and Egyptian Campion

The little yellow flowers clustered at the top of long spindly stems may be White Mustard (Sinapis alba), or hardal lavan in Hebrew. Height 80-120 cm. Blooms March-April. Grows in fields and roadsides. The fruit is said to be covered in white bristles. These are of course from Bether.

The many-petalled yellow flowers in the first photo are Camphor Weed probably.

The little pink/purple flowers in the first photo are Egyptian Campion (Silene aegyptica) or tzipornit mitzrit in Hebrew. Height 40 cms, blooms in March - April. The flower seems to have inspired a primary decorative element in classical architecture. 

Hairy Pink Flax (Linum pubescens)

This is probably the Hairy Pink Flax (Linum pubescens) or pishta se'ira in Hebrew. Height 30-40 cm (but the specimen above was much much smaller). Blooms in March - April. All plant parts are described as hairy, and is said to form pink carpets. This was in Bether, and was not common, certainly not forming pink carpets. So maybe this is something else.

The multipetalled yellow flowers may be Camphor Weed (Heterotheca subaxillaris) or tayunit haholot in Hebrew. Height 60-120 cm. Blooms in September - December. Seems to have been imported to stabilize sands on the coastal plain.

(See Wildflowers of Israel: A Pocket Guide to Familiar Flowers. Noam Kirchenbaum, 2005)

Large-flowered Sage (Salvia indica)

The large-flowered sage (Salvia indica), or marva k'hula in Hebrew. Height 60-120 cms. Blooms in late April-May, according to my pamphlet, but this is late March on the Bether ruins. My pamphlet also says that it blooms on the summit of Mt Meron and the Bashanit Ridge (Golan). Listed as a rare beauty, a protected species. There was just this one specimen on Bether. 

Nerved vetchling (Lathyrus pseudocicera)

The little orange flower in the centre of the photos is the Nerved Vetchling (Lathyrus pseudocicera) or 'tofah adom' in Hebrew. Height: 15 cm. Bllooms in January - March. Listed as a desert flower that grows in the Negev, but these specimens are from Bether, the Khirbet al-Yudah. Not very many of these around, though.

The yellow flowers in the top photo are not daisies, but Spring Groundsel (Senecio vernalis), savyon avivi in Hebrew. height 10-30 cms, blooms in January to late March. Said to be the commonest yellow flower in Israel! 

Narbonne Star of Bethlehem

This is probably the Narbonne Star of Bethlehem, or Ornithogalum narbonense. Netz halav tzarfati in hebrew. Height 20-30 cm. Blooms in March - April. Flowers arranged on a long spike, with a green vein on back of petals.

The specimens above - not yet 20-30 cm - are from Bether, the Khirbet al-Yudah near Bittir, Palestine. 

Thursday 29 March 2012

The valley of Rephaim and Bether in flower

Terebinth, possibly


Pink Butterfly orchid (orchis papillionacea)

Toothed orchid (orchis tridentata)

Simon bar Kochba

The fountain in Bittir

The fountain in Bittir

The fountain in Bittir

The original fountain, with Roman inscriptions

The ruins of Bether - Khirbet al-Yahud

The ruins of Bether

Probable site of a tower in the citadel, Bether 

The remains of the Canaanite high place in the ruins of Jewish Bether 
Bether is associated with the tragic memory of Simon bar Kochba. Bar Kochba was the name given to Simon bar Kosiba by Rabbi Akiba, who believed him to be the messiah, hence bar Kochba, Son of the Star - the Star referring to the prophecy about the Star arising from David.

Bar Kochba led a revolt again the Roman domination of Judaea in around the years 132-135 AD. It is believed he even restored the Temple - and if this is true we can speak of a Fourth Temple - though certainly not to its Herodean glory. His revolt seems to have been serious enough to bring the Emperor Hadrian himself down from Rome to Judaea, with no less than 6 legions - each legion consisting of 6000 men. The final battle was fought precisely in Bether. Or better, Bether was the site of the final siege: two Roman camps on the hills overlooking the old Jewish fortified town of Bether, and Kochba and his followers slowly starving to death in the town itself. Hadrian proceed to destroy Jerusalem itself, putting up his Aelia Capotilina, a Roman city. Vernet says he read recently in Ha-aretz that the present day old city of Jerusalem is really neither a Jewish city nor a Christian one nor a Muslim one, but basically a Roman city - the city that Hadrian built, even though the main roads are today much narrower.

Today only the ruins are visible. The Arab villagers call it, in fact, Khirbet al-Yahud - the "ruins of the Jews". Nothing was ever built on these ruins after the Romans destroyed the town. The villagers have olive groves there, that's all. The modern Arab village of Bittir is on one side of the old site. But the spring is to be found in the centre of the village - a strong, forceful spring, which the Romans controlled and were careful to put out of reach of the Jews in Bether. Today there is a mosque just above the spring, and Vernet says that this must have been the place originally of a Canaanite high place, and subsequently of some Byzantine church.

After climbing up to the Jewish ruins and spending time there, we came down and tried to find the Roman camps, but we were not so successful. Vernet himself was coming after some 6 years, the first time since we shifted to Ratisbonne, and lots has changed in these years. Plenty of building activity on what was presumably the site of the Roman camps.

Very little information available about this period, it would seem. Vernet read us passages from Marguerite Youcenar's The Memoirs of Hadrian. Pronouncedly pro-colonial in outlook, but then these are supposed to be, after all, the memoirs of Hadrian. Hadrian keeps calling the Jews the most obstinate people on earth, with an amazingly narrow view, thinking that divinity could be represented by only one God, their own, and so on. 

The mountains of Bether

Bether is mentioned twice in the Bible: once in Joshua 15, 59, and the other time in Song of Songs 2, 17. Interestingly, both mentions are 'problematic.' The first is not found in the Hebrew Masoretic text, but only in the Septuagint, while the second is not found in older English translations like the RSV that I have.

Why is Josh 15, 59 missing from the Masoretic text, and therefore mostly from Protestant Bibles which choose to strictly follow that text? Difficult to say. Perhaps a scribal error. But it is difficult to understand why the MT should have left out the names of important towns around Jerusalem such as Tekoa, Bethlehem, Karem and Shoresh. This is how the LXX reads, speaking about the places owned by Judah:

58 Halhul, Bethzur, Gedor,
59 Maarath, Behanoth, and Eltekon: six cities with their villages.
Tekoa, Ephrathah now Bethlehem, Peor, Etam, Kulon, Tatam, Sores, Carem, Gallim, Bether and Manach: eleven towns with their villages.
60 Kiriath-baal, that is, Kiriath-jearim, and Rabbah: two cities with their villages.
61 In the wilderness, Beth-Arabah, Middin, Secacah,
62 Nibshan, the City of Salt, and En-Gedi: six cities with their villages. 
 As for the Song of Songs, my RSVCE 2, 17 just reads: "the rugged mountains," adding, in a note, that the meaning of the original Hebrew word is uncertain. But the Jerusalem Bible reads:
Be, my love, like a gazelle, like a young stage,
On the mountains of Bether.
 And this is how most more recent translations have it. But even Luther translated Bether as Scheidebergen, and Young's Literal Translation still speaks of the 'mountains of separation.'

But Bether is associated also with the tragic memory of Bar Kochba.

The valley of Rephaim

The Judas Trees, (Cercis siliquastrum), also known as Mediterranean Redbud

Ain Hanniye is found in the valley of Rephaim. This valley begins just on the outskirts of modern day Jerusalem, and is west of Cremisan, barely a kilometre or so from our house. At this time of the year, it is beautiful: green, with flowing waters in the stream that runs its length, trees in flower, and even shepherds watching their sheep.

Vernet surmises that the young shepherd David must have certainly been familiar with the place. Given that it is not far from Bethlehem, and also the abundant and perennial spring, he must have come here with his sheep. The beauty of the place seems to have found its way into the psalms attributed to David. Thus Psalm 23:
     The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;
he makes me lie down in green pastures.
     He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
     He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
     Even though I walk through the valley in the shadow of death,
I fear no evil; for you are with me.
     Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
     you anoint my head with oil, my chalice overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
     and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. 
The young David also probably lay in wait for his enemies, the Philistines, in the valley of Rephaim. This was the only road that the Philistines could take from their five strongholds of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, etc. to Jerusalem.

The Byzantines called this the Valley of the Roses.


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