Why do people call Israel “Palestine”?

Anyone studying biblical history or reading books about this topic, may have noticed that the common name to refer to the country of Israel in the academic literature is not “Israel”, nor “Judah”, but “Palestine”. Why is this name so commonly used? Where did it come from?

Paul Lawrence, in his “Atlas of Bible History” explains:

Before the Israelite conquest the name of the Promised Land west of the Jordan was Canaan. Its inhabitants were Canaanites.

To avoid confusing we use the term “Palestine” to designate that region after the conquest, but this should not be interpreted a modern, political sense.

“Israel” and “Judah” are used to denote the historic nation states that later emerged.

Lawrence Paul, The IVP Concise Atlas of Bible History (IVP Academic, 2013), 48

Even if we agree that the term “Palestine” does not have a political meaning, it surely has a theological meaning, as we shall explain below.

Palestine in c. 350 AD according to Eusebius and Jerome (map as reconstructed by George Adam Smith, 1915)

When was the term “Palestine” first used?

Although many biblical history scholars call the land “Palestine” in their articles and books, this term was never used in the Bible itself. The first to call the land of Israel “Palestine” were the Romans in the 2nd century AD, after they defeated the Bar-Kokhba revolt in 135 AD.

After the war against Judah ended, Hadrian, the Roman emperor, decided to officially change the name of the province “Judaea” to “Syria Palaestina”. Some scholars claim that this name was already known before Hadrian. But nevertheless, the change of the name of the province came only after the Judean nation was completely destroyed and exiled.

Another proof of the Roman intention to wipe out the name Judaea and the bond of the Judeans to the land is the fact that they also changed the name of Jerusalem. The Roman exiled the Jews from Jerusalem and renamed it Aelia Capitolina.

There is no doubt that the Romans, in the period they called “Pax Romana” – the Roman peace – wiped out Judah and made sure no remains are left of that nation. From this point in time, the name Judea was replaced in all maps by Syria-Palaestina, and all history books started to use the new name: Palaestina. Until this very day…

The origin of the name “Palaestina”

This name is derived from Philistia (Hebrew: פְּלֶשֶׁת), the name of the coastal area of Israel that was held in biblical times by the Philistines (Hebrew: פְּלִשְׁתִּים). Philistines were people that arrived to the land of Canaan around the same time the Israelite arrived. They were in their peak around the rein of the kings Saul and David, and then started to decline, until destroyed completely in 604 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar II.

In this small land, there were Canaanite, Philistines, Phoenicians, Edomites, Hellenists, Samaritans, and of course: Israelites and Judeans. How then, from all those nations, it is after the name of the Philistines that Hadrian chose to call the land?

After all, the Philistines held a very small part in the southern cost of the land, and they were gone more than 700 years before Hadrian time.

Political or Theological?

An act of political renaming of countries was used since ancient times. The name of the land affects how it is publicly known. Many countries changed their names after a change of regime to denote that they are different entity. (e.g., Russia to USSR and back to Russia, Burma to Myanmar, and many more examples).

So it makes a lot of sense that the Romans changed the name of Judaea. Did the name that they chose as the new name had any meaning for them? was it just the most logical name to choose?

But the bigger question is, how come this name, that was invented as a “replacement” name by Rome, is still the name used today by scholars to refer to the land in the time of the Bible, when this name was not used?

An answer to the above question may be attributed to the early church in the first centuries. The early theologians of the church had the idea that the Christian Church replaced Israel of the Bible. So, Israel is no more, and the Church is the “New Israel”. This replacement theology was the mainstream Christian perception of Israel and the Jews until the 20th century and until the new state of Israel was founded. The new state of Israel brought great questions to the Church, and even the Catholic church had to reconsider its approach to the Jews.

Then why this name, “Palestine”, is the name that the Arabs choose to identify with today? After all, this name has nothing to do with any Arab or Muslim legacy, and it is a memory of the Roman conquest and the Roman Catholic church.

Do the Arabs who call themselves “Palestinians” affiliate with the Roman conquest of Judah or with the early church?

What is Palestine?

If we look at the history of the use of this name – Philistines/Palaestina/Palestine, we can see a “crimson thread” throughout time.

  • The Philistines killed the first ‘anointed one of Israel’ – the first Messiah (Hebrew: מָשִׁיחַ), king Saul. They also tried to kill David, the anointed one who was a man after God’s own heart, but without success.
  • The Romans used the name of the Philistines and renamed the land to “Palaestina”, hoping to eradicate the name of Israel and Judah forever.
  • The early church followed Rome by trying to abolish the memory of historical Israel believing that God abandoned His people.
  • And in our modern era, the name “Palestine” is attributed to an entity that aims to replace the state of Israel.

What is common to this name throughout history, is an attempt to destroy God’s plan of salvation through Israel and the Jews! Whenever this name is used, it comes to replace the role of Israel in God’s plan.

For thousands of years, from King Saul up to our day, trying without success, to abolish the plan of God that cannot be changed.

The death of King Saul by Gustave Dore

Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”

He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.
Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress them in His deep displeasure:
“Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion.”

Psalms 2:1-6 [NIV]

So next time you use the name “Palestine”, be sure you understand what you are saying.

Joshua and Zionism – from trouble to hope


1882 is considered the year in that started the Zionist movement. In this year, the first Zionist settlement was established.

The village was founded in a swamp area in the Sharon and was called Petah-Tikva.

Joshua leads the sons of Israel into Canaan

The Taking of Jericho

When the people of Israel entered Canaan from the east, they were not considered Zionists. Zion at that time was a place that they did not hear about yet.

They were commanded to conquer the country from the seven Canaanite nations that inhabited the land.

The first city they conquer and destroy was Jericho. Two spies were sent to the house of Rahab who hidden them. Then the people of Israel marched around the city during seven days and in the seventh day they blew the trumpets and the walls fell down. No doubt that God was with the people of Israel!

Joshua warns the people not to take anything from the city as it is under a ban.

Then, they went on to conquer the second city – Ai, But they fail badly… Something went wrong. Joshua cried to the Lord and asked – Why is that Lord? and the answer came clearly:

Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. 12 Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction (Joshua 7:11-12)

The Lord instructed Joshua how to find the person that did wrong. It came out that it was Achan from the tribe of Judah.

Interestingly, in Chronicles, the name changes from Achan to Achar:

The son of Carmi was Achar, the troubler of Israel, who transgressed in the accursed thing (1 Chronicles 2:7)

This is interesting, because the Hebrew word for “trouler” in the Bible is “Ocher” which is from the same root of the name “Achar” and literally means “bring trouble or darkness“.

Achan with all his family were sentenced to be stoned. Where did that happen? let’s read:

Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day (Joshua 7:26)

The Hebrew root A.Ch.R. appears three times in our story:

  • Achar (or Achan) – the name of the sinner
  • Ocher – adjective that means troubler or literally “darkens”
  • Achor – the valley where he was stoned.  Near Jericho.


A prophecy of hope

Let’s move to another book in the Bible. Hosea.

Hosea, speaks about the restoration of Israel.

In the second chapter of the book he compares Israel to a treacherous wife. He describes all her harlotry and unfaithful ways.

But then the Lord takes her to the desert, and there, after all her lovers have left her, the Lord restores Israel. Then Hosea prophesies:

Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope (Hosea 2:15)

This verse takes us back to the story of Achan in the valley of Achor.

The Zionist movement begins

In the year of 1872, a few families from Jerusalem tried to buy a land in Jericho and to build a new agricultural village. The name they wanted to give to the village is Petah-Tikva – which means “Door of hope” to fulfill the prophecy of Hosea.

They were not successful in buying the land in Jericho, but ended up buying a swamp area in the Sharon from an Arab family in Jaffa.

The life was too hard in the swamp, and after three years the village was abandoned.

Seven years later, in 1882, the village was restored by new settlers. This year marks the beginning of the first wave of Zionists moving to Israel and building new settlements.

The location of Petah Tikva in the Sharon instead of Jericho is a fulfillment of another prophecy:

Sharon will be a pasture land for flocks,
And the valley of Achor a resting place for herds (Isaiah 65:10)

The Zionist movement, just like Joshua, brought the people of Israel back to their land.

And the city of Petah Tikva is a symbol of the restoration of Israel.

Today my son found a quail in school


Today my son found an exhausted quail in the schoolyard. He took the bird in his hand. The bird was calm, then it spread its wings and flew away.

The quail is a bird from the family of the pheasants. It is wild migratory bird  in our area. They migrate in the autumn from Africa to Europe, and the other way around in the spring. They fly at night, and because their wings are relatively small to carry their weight, they are very exhausted in the morning and are very easy to catch.

When the sons of Israel were in the desert, around 3200 years ago, a big flock of quails stopped near them and provided them some good meat.

Now a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quail from the sea and left them fluttering near the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and about a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and about two cubits above the surface of the ground. (Numbers 11, 31)

The almond Tree

11 Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” 12 Then the Lord said to me, “You have seen well, for I am ready to perform My word.” (Jeremiah 1, 11-12)

In the first chapter of Jeremiah, Jeremiah tells us about a vision in which he sees a branch of almond tree.

In Hebrew, the word is not just a ‘branch (Anaf – עָנָף) as translated here, but a ‘dry branch’ (Makel -מַקֵּל).

The almond tree, during fall, has no leaves. In this season it is difficult to distinguish between a dry branch of an almond tree and a dry branch of any other tree.

Jeremiah can make the distinction. And therefore the Lord compliments him and says: “You have seen well”!

And the Lord continues: “for I am ready to perform My word”.

If you read it in Hebrew, there is a special meaning: “ready to perform my Word” or in better translation: be diligent to perform my Word.

Be diligent is: “shoqed” – שֹׁקֵד.

Almond in Hebrew is “shaqed” – שָׁקֵד.

So the vision of the almond – “shaqed” tells Jeremiah that the Lord is being diligent “shoqed” to perform his Word.

There are other verses in which the Lord uses the word “shoqed” with the same meaning. For example:

28 And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 31, 28)

Here again, the expression “watch over” that is used twice, is derived from the word  “shoqed” in Hebrew.


Other almonds in the Bible

In the story of the rod of Aaron in the desert, the rod becomes a branch of an almond tree:

Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses went into the tabernacle of witness, and behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds. (Numbers 17, 8)

The Menorah (lamp) in the tabernacle has also almond shapes in it:

33 Three bowls shall be made like almond blossoms on one branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almond blossoms on the other branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower—and so for the six branches that come out of the lampstand. (Exodus 25, 33)

Literal meaning of ‘Almond’ in Hebrew

Why is the almond tree called ‘shaqed’? is it related to the verb ‘shoqed’?

A common explanation for the connection between almond (shaqed) and ‘being diligent’ (shoqed) is the special way that the almond tree blossoms.

During February, when most trees in the mountains of Israel are without leaves, the almond tree blossoms with beautiful white flowers. This is the first sign for the coming spring.

This magnificent blossom in the middle of the winter might have brought our fathers to call the tree ‘shaqed’ for its hard and diligent work.


Almond in the modern Israeli feast

In February, we celebrate in Israel the feast of “Tu-Bishvat”. This is also known as the “New year of the trees”. This feast is not mentioned in the Bible. Jews started to celebrate it not before 200 hundred years ago.

In the modern state of Israel, this is the day that is dedicated to planting new trees in the land. And the symbol of this day is the almond tree that blossoms in this time of the year.


How Arab villages in Israel affirm the correctness of the Bible

Throughout history, Bible scholars were looking for evidence of the Bible stories in the land of Israel. Many were looking for names of places that appear in the Bible and trying to identify where they are.

The modern archaeology in Israel and modern Bible research are very serious in the way they examine the evidences. In very few places there were findings that had the name of the city written on a piece of clay. One famous example is the city of Gezer: Close to the site that is known as Tel Gezer, was found a stone on which it was engraved in ancient Hebrew: “Boundary of Gezer”:


So in all other archaeological sites, how can we be sure whether the site represents an ancient Biblical site?

The answer is not so simple. In many cases there is a context of the findings that resembles the site. For example a palace or administrative building. Sometimes the geographical description in the bible appears the same as we see the place today.

But in the land of Israel, there is a spacial aid that comes from an unexpected source.

The Arab names

In Israel there are many Arab towns and villages that preserve the names of cities from the time of the Bible. This is a phenomenon that is very unique to Israel: Although this land was conquered so many times during history, and each conqueror wanted to leave his mark on the land, miraculously, many of the Biblical names still exist today. And they were preserved by the Arabs!

In the modern Biblical geography research, the Arab names play a crucial role as an evidence for the correctness of the Bible. There are hundreds of them and we will bring just a few examples.

The Border of Ephraim and Manasseh

The lot fell to the children of Joseph from the Jordan(1), by Jericho(2), to the waters of Jericho(2) on the east, to the wilderness that goes up from Jericho(2) through the mountains to Bethel(3), then went out from Bethel(3) to Luz(4), passed along to the border of the Archites at Ataroth(5), and went down westward to the boundary of the Japhletites, as far as the boundary of Lower Beth Horon(6) to Gezer(7); and it ended at the sea. (Joshua 16, 1-3)

The verses above describe the southern border of Ephraim (referred here as Joseph). Let’s look at each of the places marked with numbers 1 to 7 and see what is the Arab parallel:

  1. Jordan river. Hebrew – יָּרְדֵּן. In Arabic: Urdun (الأردن)
  2. Jericho. Hebrew – יְרִיחוֹ. The citi is called in Arabic: ‘ariha (أريحا )
  3. Bethel. Hebrew – בֵּית אֵל. The meaning of this name is “House of God”. “Beth” is house. Archaeologists identify the place with the Arab Village Biatin (بيتين). It is interesting to note that there was another “Bethel” in the inheritance of Ephraim, where Deborah would sit: And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim (Judges 4,  5).  There is an Arab village today called Beitillu (بيتللو) that is identified with this other Bethel.
  4. Luz. Hebrew – לוּז. This is the previous name of Bethel. Jacob changed its name: And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously (Genesis 28, 19). 
  5. Ataroth. Hebrew – עַטְרוֹת. An Arab village there is called: ‘Atara (عطارة)
  6. Lower Beth Horon. Hebrew – בֵּית חוֹרוֹן תַּחְתּוֹן. In Arabic: Beit Ur alttahta (بيت عور التحتى). “alttahta” in Arabic means “lower”. So the name of the village is literally “Lower Beth Ur”. The sound of Horon is close to Ur and the whole meaning is similar.
  7. Gezer. Hebrew – גזר. The hill (“Tel”) on which the ancient city was found, is called by the Arabs:  “Tel Jazar”. “Tel” is hill in both Hebrew and Arabic. Jazar and Gezer are similar as the ‘G’ in Hebrew is replaceable with ‘J’ in Arabic.

Based on the above we can now draw the border of Ephraim. Similarly we can draw most of the borders between the tribes.



The Beloved Friend and the Judge

Even more fascinating than the above example, is the fact that some names were preserved not by their phonetic sound but by their meaning.

For example, the city of Jerusalem is called by the Arabs “Al-Quds” (القدس) which means “The Holy”. In the Arab books from the Middle Ages the city is often called “bayt almuqaddas” (بيت المقدس) which is translated to “The Temple”.

So Arabs in the Middle Ages acknowledged that Jerusalem is the place of the Jewish Temple!

But there was never any doubt about the identification of Jerusalem, as this is a city that Jews almost always inhabited.

Another one is Hebron. The Arabs calls it Al-Khalil (الْخَلِيل‎‎). And its meaning is “The beloved friend”. The beloved friend refers to Abraham as he is a friend of God and is buried in Hebron. It is interesting in this regard, that the word Hebron comes from the Hebrew root H.B.R. which means “friend”.

But the most surprising one is the city of Dan. Let’s read from the Bible:

And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born to Israel. However, the name of the city formerly was Laish (Judges 18, 29)

The archaeological site of Tel Dan is a hill (Tel) near the spring of Dan which is the biggest spring in Israel. very interesting stuff was found in the excavations there. The most important findings are the Canaanite gate, The massive Israelite wall and the Tel Dan Stele on which the House of David the king is mentioned.

But the name of the Tel in Arabic does not sound like Dan. It is “tal alqadi” ( تل القاضي).

Tal alqadi in Arabic means: The hill of the Judge. And who is the Judge? “Dan” is the name of the son of Jacob, and the tribe. But the meaning of the word Dan in Hebrew is “Judge”.

So we see here that the meaning of the name was translated to Arabic and this is the new name of the place.



Tel Dan Stele


There are many more examples that include names of cities or mountains and valleys. Not all the examples are from the Bible. There are Arab names that preserve more recent names that appear first in the New Testament or in the Talmud.

What is important is that the local Arabs of Israel help us a lot in the research of Biblical Geography.

A Mustard Seed

“…The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.

(Mathew 13, 31-32)

Seeds of mustard and a mustard flower:   mustard-seeds

Many people that read the verse above from Mathew, tend to think that the mustard is a big tree.

Well, this is not the case. In Israel the mustard is a very common wild weed that grows almost everywhere except for the desert. It has yellow flowers and a strong odor of mustard. During the spring it paints the fields with a strong color.

Wild Mustard field in Golan heights:18127405

The mustard is very known in Israel as a herb and a medicine. People used in the time of Yeshua, and until today it is used by the local people as a vegetable and as a medicine.

Mustard condiment is made from the seeds. 20091007-mustard-yellows

So why does Yeshua uses the mustard in his parable?

The reason is that the mustard weed grows very fast: It sprouts in the beginning of the winter, and by the end of the spring it gets to be higher than the height of a person. In the summer the weed dries and becomes a thorn bush.

Small birds use the mustard weed to build their nests.

A bird (bunting) on a dry mustard in Golan Heights in the autumn: גבתון עפרוני

A mustard stem is used for a crown:mustard_crown

The base of the Menorah

“You shall also make a lampstand (menorah) of pure gold; the lampstand shall be of hammered work. Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and flowers shall be of one piece…”

(Exodus 25, 31)


The description of the Menorah in Exodus 25 is very detailed. but try now the following exercise: read the description – Exodus 25, 31-40. Now try to draw the Menorah in your mind just from the writing. You will very soon see that the written description is not enough. The many details that we see in the Menorah as we know it from eye sight is not completely covered in this description.

But we know that Bezalel the son of Uri made the Menorah after Moses’s instructions (Exodus 38,22).

The original Menorah from the second temple was lost in Rome after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

People in modern Israel tried to draw and remake the Menorah from the model that they had in mind. What was the model that they used?

The most common and famous model is on the arch of Titus in ancient Rome.



The interesting part of it is the base. In the arch of Titus, there is a base that looks like an hexagonal box of two parts – a smaller part on top of a bigger part, and is decorated with drawings.

Menorah drawings in ancient synagogues

The Menorah was found in some mosaics on floors of several ancient synagogues.

Synagogue of Maon:  7d585800-8cbc-4002-a521-df3f0b41ea0c_big

Synagogue in Hamat Tiberias: %d7%a4%d7%a1%d7%99%d7%a4%d7%a1-%d7%9e%d7%a0%d7%95%d7%a8%d7%94-%d7%97%d7%9e%d7%aa-%d7%98%d7%91%d7%a8%d7%99%d7%94-%d7%a6%d7%99%d7%9c%d7%9d-%d7%a9%d7%99-%d7%90%d7%a9%d7%9b%d7%a0%d7%96%d7%99-jpg5

Note that those Menoras have three lion legs and not the hexagonal boxes!

Menorah on coins

A coin from the time of the Maccabee kings, 37 BC, show a different base. A round wide base.

This image also appears on the 10 Agorot of modern Israel today.

The Maccabees coin:coin_issued_by_mattathias_antigonus_c_40bce

The 10 Agorot: israel_10_agorot_1985_edge_obverse__reverse

So how did the base of the Menorah look like?

A few years ago, an important stone was found in the synagogue of Magdala near the Sea of Galilee.

On that stone, there is a carving of the Menorah:



This carving is not very sophisticated, but resembles the base that is seen on the coin from the Maccabees. A round wide base. No lion legs and no hexagon boxes.

The importance of this stone, is that it was made in the first century A.D. in the time of Yeshua and of Mary Magdalene who came from the village of Magdala.

So this carving was done by an artist that saw the Menorah in the Temple before it was destructed.

We can be quite sure that this is how the Menorah looked like.

What about the other bases that were found?

The bases that look like lion legs are all from mosaics in synagogues from the Byzantine period. They are dated to the third to sixth centuries. The artists that made them did not see the original Menorah and therefore they are not authentic.

It is possible that this is the idea that the people had about the Menorah in the Byzantine time, as they could not see it.

And what about the base seen in the arch in Rome?

The carving on the arch of Titus if very precise. But there is a real problem about it. There are drawings on the base that look like pagan drawings.

Some researchers suggest that the base that appears in this image was made by the Romans when they took it to Rome. The original base is either hidden inside this box or was broken and replaced by the box.

What is the Color of the Tsitsit

“Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them make fringes in the corners of their garments throughout their generations, putting upon the fringe of each corner a thread of blue. And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them.”

(Numbers 15, 38-39)

Orthodox Jews, use Talit – prayer shawl – in their prayer, that has fringes – tsitsit.

They also wear Talit Katan – small prayer shawl below their shirts. this Talit Katan also has four fringes – tsitsit.

Those two customs are taken from the law as appears in Numbers 15, 38-39. See above.

In the English translation we read that there is supposed to be a thread of blue in the tsitsit. Is this right?



The color blue in the bible

The translation of the word blue comes from the Hebrew word “Tekhelet” (תְכֵלֶת). This word appears in the bible 48 times. Most of the times in the description of the tabernacle as given by Moses.

In 26 of those cases we see three colors mentioned together: blue, purple and scarletIn Hebrew: Tekhelet, Argaman and Tola’at-Shani (וּתְכֵלֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן וְתוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי)

“Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them”

(Exodus 26,1)

In other 6 occasions, only blue and purple without scarlet:

“Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning men.”

(Jeremiah 10, 9)

But according to bible scholars, those blue, purple and scarlet are not colors, but rather materials.

In fact, the words blue, purple and scarlet never appear in the bible as a colors, but always as a materials that are used in cloths.

Because blue and purple appear so many times together, we may get to the conclusion that they are in fact the same material or two variants of one material.

But what is this material and what was its color? And why do we translate it to what we know today as blue, purple and scarlet?

Some more light on our question

As mentioned above, the bible does not give a hint to what the color of the material “Tekhelet” is.

In the Talmud, that was written between the third and fifth centuries AD, we read that there are white and blue (Tekhelet) threads in the tsitsit. It tells us that the “Tekhelet is like the sea, and the sea is like the skies, and the skies are like the Throne” (Masekhet Minkhot 43, Beit)

We can conclude then, that the color is really blue.

Can we? not really…

In another place in the Talmud it is written that the “Tekhelet is like the sea, and the sea is like the grass, and the grass is like the Throne”. (Berakhot 7, Beit)

So according to this quote, the Tekhelet is green!

Fortunately, we got another quote from the Talmud that teaches us some more facts about the Tekhelet:

“This snale, its body is like the ocean …. and with its blood the Tekelet is dyed, and therefore its blood is very expensive” (Menakhot 44, Alef)

So the Tekhelet is a pigment that was created from a snail!

And indeed, we know that the Phoenicians had an industry of manufacturing dye color from marine snails. Evidences for that industry were found in some of the antique Phoenician cities in Israel.

There are two species of marine snails from which the dye was produced:

Hexaplex trunculus hexaplex_trunculus_l

Murex brandaristyrianpurpleimages

The colors produced from those snails were dark blue or scarlet.

The knowledge of how to produce the color from snails disappeared in the seventh century after the Muslim conquest of the Middle East.

What is used today as Tekhelet?

It is written in the Talmud:

“Tekhelet is not Kosher unless from the snail. If not from the snail it is disallowed” (Menakhot, 89)

Therefore, until today, Haredi orthodox Jews do not use the Tekhelet in the tsitsit but only white threads.


However, in Israel today, the production of Tekhelet from the marine snails was renewed and you can get real “Kosher” Tekhelet threads. Many religious Jews these days are starting to wear Talit with Tsitsit that has blue threads in it.

More information about the production of the Tekhelet in this site.




The narrative of a mountain – Temple Mount

In October 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) voted in a resolution that denies Jewish heritage and history to the Temple Mount. The resolution refer to the place only by its Muslim name, “Al-Haram al-Sharif”, and not mentioning its original name, “Temple Mount”.


Visitors that come to the Temple mount, often wonder how come the Israelis, that got this place in the 6-days war (June 1967) still let the Muslims control over the place.

Only Muslims are allowed to pray in Temple Mount

In today’s status-quo, Only Muslims are allowed to Pray in the Temple Mount.

Anyone that is not a Muslim: either Jew or Christian, can go up to the Temple Mount but not into the mosques. This can be done only in certain hours, not in weekends, and one is not allowed to pray in the place, and not to bring any Bible, cross or Star of David with him.

Moreover, until last year, Israeli tour guides could not even guide groups in the site, as groups of praying Muslim women would start to shout every time someone spoke in the place.

This rude behavior was stopped by the Israeli police and it is much easier to tour in the place today.

Why did Israel let the Muslims to control the place?

Temple Mount is the most holly place for the Jews, although for centuries they were not allowed to enter or pray in it.

In June 1967, after Israel got east Jerusalem, there was an historical opportunity to set a Jewish rule over the Temple mount.

Moshe Dayan, who was the Minister of Defense in 1967, returned the keys to the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf (the religious Muslim property) and took the Israeli flag from Temple Mount immediately after the war ended.

What was the reason he did that? Such an action was not taken in any other part that was taken in 6-days war.

Some people say that Dayan understood the sensitivity of the place and prepared for a peace process in which lands will be returned back to the Kingdom of Jordan. But this does not make a lot of sense as most people in Israel believed that Jerusalem will remain united forever.

A Religious Jewish issue

The reason is different and comes from a religious Jewish consideration that some people do not always understand.

When you enter the Temple Mount, you may notice the following sign before the gate:


This sign is only an announcement and warning. But why is it there?

Let’s open our Bible

Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come. You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes, he shall bathe in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp; the priest shall be unclean until evening. And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening. Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin. 10 And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them. (Numbers 19 1-10)

In not so many places in the Torah we get such a detailed explanation of the law and what needs to be done. The issue of the red heifer is very serious because this is the key for purifying people that are unclean. Who is the unclean? People that touched dead bodies.

Since the destruction of the second temple, the breed of red heifers was lost, and all the detailed procedure to prepare water of purification cannot be performed.

The meaning is that almost anyone is unclean and hence, should not enter the holy place of the Temple Mount!

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel warn anyone, in particular Jews, to avoid from entering Temple mount until the Third Temple is built!

Political Wisdom

Moshe Dayan, understood that this place is explosive.

On the one hand, The Muslims ruled the place for centuries and claim that this is the third most holy place for them.

On the other hand, the Jewish Rabbinate do not want Jews to enter the place.

He made a quick decision to keep the status-quo that was before the 6-days war and not to create a new reason for another war.

And he was very right!

The heart of the conflict

The Temple Mount, or Al-Haram al-Sharif as it is called by the Muslims, is being the heart of the religious conflict between Muslims and Jews for 100 years.

The first riots were in 1920, while the British still ruled the place. The Muslims claimed that the Jews want to take over Al-Haram al-Sharif and started murdering Jews.

This happened again and again until in the year 2000, The Muslims started extensive riots that they literally called: “AlAqsa Intifada” (Al-Aqsa is the name of the most holy mosque) .

And today, nothing has changed: you can hear in Muslim media again and again that Israel is aiming to take over Al-Aqsa and all Muslims are called to unite against Israel.

Rose or Lily?

“I am the rose of Sharon, And the lily of the valleys” (Song of Solomon 2, 1)

In a previous post we brought the problem of identifying species that appear in the Bible. In this post I’d like to discuss the rose and the lily from Song of Solomon. From taking several English translations, we can see that we have a problem…

“I am the rose of Sharon, [And] the lily of the valleys”  (KJV/NASB/NIV)

“I am a narcissus of Sharon, A lily of the valleys” (DARBY)

I’m a flower from Sharon, a lily of the valleys (ISV)

“I am the lily of the field and the rose of the valleys” (JUB)

I am a meadow flower from Sharon, a lily from the valleys” (NET Bible)

Two flowers or one?

Most translations point to two flowers, most of them suggest rose and lily. But there are some more suggestions.

Can we tell for sure what are really the flowers?

In the Hebrew, the first flower is called Havatzelet of the Sharon. The second is called Shoshana of the valleys. In Biblical poetry, this is called Parallelism as a rhetorical device. The sentence is built of two parts where both parts emphasize each other. There are several types of parallelism styles in the Bible. The most common is what we call “Synonymous parallelism” in which the same or similar thoughts are repeated. In our case we have Synonymous parallelism. It means that the word “Sharon” is the same as “Valleys” and the two flowers are in fact one, or two that have similar attributes.

Havatzelet (a  rose?)

The first flower – Havatzelet in Hebrew – was translated by many to “rose”. It appears only once more in the Bible in Isaiah:

The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them,
And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose (Isaiah 35, 1)

There are good reasons to believe that Solomon and Isaiah did not mean rose…


We are looking for a magnificent flower that grows in the Sharon. Roses do not grow in the Sharon. In fact, wild roses are quite rare in Israel. They are found only in the mountains in the north and they are not impressive.

So if we cannot tell what is Havatzelet, we can check what is the second flower, and assume that those are the same flower of similar ones.

Shoshana (a Lily?)

Shoshana or Shoshan (Lily?) appears many times in the Bible and in different contexts. Its Hebrew root is the number Six (Shesh). So it makes sense that this is a flower with six petals – like the lily!

In Song of Solomon it appears many times as a flower that was growing in the gardens:

My beloved has gone to his garden, To the beds of spices, To feed his flock in the gardens,
And to gather lilies (Song of Solomon 6, 2)

In Psalms it appears in a context that is not quite clear and can be interpreted in many ways:

To the Chief Musician. Set to The Lilies. A Psalm of David (Psalms 69, 1)

But when Solomon built the temple, the “Shoshan” appeared as a geometric shape that is used on top of the pillars:

“The capitals which were on top of the pillars in the hall were in the shape of lilies, four cubits” (1 Kings 7, 19)

“The tops of the pillars were in the shape of lilies (1 Kings 7, 22)

“It was a handbreadth thick; and its brim was shaped like the brim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It contained two thousand baths” (1 Kings 7, 26)

So the “Shoshan” is first of all a beautiful flower with six petals that grows in the valleys of the Sharon and in the gardens of Solomon. It has some special meaning that is used in music in Psalms. And it is also a shape that is used as a geometric decoration in the temple.

Archaeology comes to our aid

A coin that was discovered in Israel and is dated to the Persian period (Ezra and Nehemiah) shed some more light on this topic.

The sign of “Shoshan” on old coin and on New Israeli Shekel

The Ancient coin has a flower on it that is a symbol of the province of Judea in the Persian period. This coin was used when stamping the coin of the New Israeli Shekel.

This symbol resembles very much the Royal French symbol “Fleur-de-lis” or the symbol of the scouts!



Royal Flower symbols

So the French Fleur-de-lis may be originated from a Jewish symbol in the Persian period. And back to our question – What is this flower.

We have Three suggestions.

  1. Lily – The Lily is a white flower with six petals that grows wild in Israel in very rare places at the cliffs of the mountains. Not very probable for a flower that grows in the valleys of the Sharon and in the gardens of Solomon.lily
  2. Narcissus – A white flower with six petals and good blossom that is common in the mountains and the valleys of the Sharon. It can be the “Shoshan” that we are looking for!narcissus

Iris – A colored flower that grows in Israel in many places, including the Sharon. The Iris resembles most then the others the Fleur-de-lis and the symbol on the Jewish coin!1787296-1600x1200


The “rose” and “lily” that appear in most translations of Song of Solomon are probably not rose and lily. It makes more sense that those are the same flower or two similar flowers that their shape was used as a decoration in the first temple, and later on coins. The flowers in the Bible could be narcissus but more probably an Iris. Certainly not a rose.