Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Summer Beauty

The days have grown so hot and dry that even the hardy thistles are drying up and turning brown. But even as they disappear into the browning landscape, the beautiful caper flower is beginning to bloom.

Capparis spinosa

An unusual shrub, the caper plant remains dormant and leafless during the rainy season, waiting until the dry season to produce it's smooth green foliage and stunning flowers. Though caper plants are found in many vacant lots and open fields, it is not unusual to find these vigorous plants growing out of limestone walls and paths as they tenaciously penetrate the limestone in search of moisture.

The caper flower, with its multitude of showy stamens, opens at night and is pollinated by moths. Outside of the Middle East, the caper plant is perhaps best known for its "capers", the immature buds which are pickled and used to season fish, salads, and other dishes. Interestingly, although the people of the Levant are known for their wide use of wild potherbs (I've recently received two yet-to-be-identified oreganos and/or sages from a friend of my husband's), the caper has not traditionally been eaten in this area. However, with increasing western influence, local capers are now being harvested commercially.

And, lest you think that we are fortunate to be able to harvest and brine our own capers--and we do have several large bushes growing within a stone's throw of our front door--I must tell you that purchased capers are worth every cent you pay for them, as the plants are armed with very sharp fish-hook shaped thorns that are nearly impossible to avoid when harvesting the buds. (Note, the "spinosa" part of the plant's name.) One brief season of caper picking was all that my pricked and bleeding children and I could withstand.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site VI~Aroer

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site I~ Tell Al'Umeiri
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site II~ Ataroth
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site III~Machaerus
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site IV~ Khirbet Iskander
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site V~Dibon

"From Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon..." Deut. 2:36

Also mentioned in the Mesha Stele (line 26) as being built by the Moabites is the ancient settlement of Aroer. Next to rule over Aroer, was Sihon, king of the Amorites. When Sihon would not allow the wandering Israelites to pass through his territory, going out against them in battle, the Israelites fought and defeated Sihon and his army and "took possession of his land from the Arnon(river) to the Jabbok, as far as to the Ammonites, for the border of the Ammonites was strong. (Numbers 21:24)

Fast forward to the Jehu, king of Israel, who though he abolished the Baal worship promoted by King Ahab, nevertheless condoned the sins of a previous king, Jeroboam--worship of the golden calves in Bethel and in Dan. (II Kings 10:29)

"In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael (Aramean king of Syria) defeated them throughout the territory of Israel: from the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead, the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassites, from Aroer, which is by the Valley of the Arnon, that is Gilead and Bashan" (II Kings 32-33).

The prophet Jeremiah's prophesy of God's judgment on Moab indicates that Aroer and the surrounding area came once again under the control of the Moabites: "Stand by the way and watch, O inhabitant of Aroer! Ask him who flees and her who escapes; say, 'What ha happened?' Moab is put to shame for it is broken; wail and cry! Tell it beside the Arnon, that Moab is laid waste." (Jeremiah 48:19-20)

The Grand Canyon of Jordan
The Arnon River, Mujib Dam, Wadi Mujib

Life among the ruins

These puppies weren't the only life we met at the ruins of Aroer; a bedouin family was camped near by. These puppies looked to belong to one of the dogs we saw sleeping near their tents. The wise mother housed her large litter in the cool shelter of a small cave. The children among us were charmed.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Iris Trio

On May 30th, the Iris Trio performed their first concert, delighting their audience with Mozart's Trio VII, Schumann's Fairy Tales, and Piazzolla's Oblivion Milonga. Oldest Daughter and her fellow Iris Trio musicians formed their chamber group in the fall and worked throughout the school year on the pieces they played in their concert.

An explanation of their name: the Black Iris (Iris nigricans) is the national flower of Jordan and its flower parts are in threes. A dear friend designed the trio's logo.

The clip below is Astor Piazzolla's Oblivion Milonga

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Spring Music

And while we weren't busy studying, playing baseball, watching baseball, going to end of _____ parties, we were attending spring music recitals; pleasant work for the spectators but hours and hours (and hours) of practice for Oldest Daughter. Talent is only one thing needed to become an accomplished musician. Dedication, discipline, and hardwork are indispensible. And, a wonderful teacher and mentor makes all the difference. Oldest Daughter's "Ustaz" has been instructing her for the past eight years, imparting to her his love of music and violin performance.

Below are a couple of clips from Oldest Daughter's last performance. She is playing in a fellow musician's personal recital, joining him for this piece and one other. The piece , C. Saint-Saens's Introduction and Rondo-capriccioso is in two clips. If you only have time to watch one, watch the introduction in clip one and then switch to clip two--I think it's the better of the two parts.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site V~Dibon

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site I~ Tell Al'Umeiri
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site II~ Ataroth
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site III~Machaerus
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site IV~ Khirbet Iskander

Continuing south, we arrived in the present day village of Dhiban and the ancient city of Dibon which exist side by side. It is believed that "Dibon-gad" mentioned in Numbers 33:45 is one of the camp locations of the Israelites during the exodus. Dhiban has been occupied intermittently since the Early Bronze Age, or about 3000 BC.

Perhaps the greatest historical signifcance of this site is that it was here, in 1868, a German missionary, Rev. F.A. Klien discovered the Mesha Stele, or as it has come to be known, the Moabite Stone. The stele, erected by the Moabite King, Mesha, in about 850 B.C., is a memorial to his victories over the Israelite king, Omri, and the other men of Israel (Gad, Ataroth, Nebo, and Jehaz).

The bedouins of the area, hoping that multiple pieces would bring more money, broke up the stone; fortunately, a French diplomat had made a squeeze (paper mache' impression) of the intact stele. The reconstructed stele in housed in the Louvre.

Written in the Moabite language, nearly identical to an early form of Hebrew, it contains 34 linesof history which scholars generally accept as agreeing with the historic accounts found in the Old Testament historical books of Kings and Chronicles. You can read more about the Mesha Stele and a translation of the inscription here. Very interesting.

Dear Husband shows a budding archaeologist how to determine the arc of a vessel from a pottery sherd.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site IV~Khirbet Iskander

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site I~ Tell Al'Umeiri
Bibilcal Archaeology in a Day, Site II~ Ataroth
Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site III~Machaerus

From Machaerus we returned to the King's Highway, once an ancient trade caravan route, and traveled south to the Khirbet Iskander site. Though the name "Khirbet Iskander" means the "ruins of Alexander" in reference to Alexander the Great who conquered the area in 323 BC, the site is actually the ruins of a fortified Early Bronze Canaanite city, the only one of it's kind to be discovered and dating back to 2300 BC.

The Early Bronze Period, 3500-2000 BC and divided into four sub-periods, is so significant because this is the period in history when the first cities rose up in Mesopotamia and Egypt. It is also the period when writing was first discovered. The rise of urban centers influenced the rise of cities in the biblical lands of present day Jordan and Israel. This was the land of Canaan, peopled by the Canaanites. The Israelites didn't come to the area until 1200 BC.

We didn't actually go down to the site, where excavation is ongoing, but instead viewed it from the highway.

Before leaving the area our guide lead us to yet another treasure: a Roman road milestone inscribed with the name of Nerva, Emperor of the Roman world from AD 96-98. Imagine, just lying in a ditch off the highway!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site III~ Machaerus

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site I~ Tell Al'Umeiri
Bibilical Archaeology in a Day, Site II~ Ataroth

Leaving Ataroth and heading south on the eastern ridge of the Dead Sea, we rounded a bend revealing this view of the ruins of the palace of Machaerus, Herod the Great's palace/fortress overlooking the Dead Sea.

(map photo courtesy of

First fortified by the Jewish Hasmoneon leader in the first centrury B.C. the hilltop fortress was later fortified by Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) and, upon his death, passed to his son, Herod Antipas. According to the gospel writers (Matt 14:1–12; Mark 6:21-29; Luke 9:7–9) it was Herod Antipas was who was rebuked by the prophet John the Baptist for marrying Herodias, his brother Philip's wife:

"... and though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter (Salome) of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother she said, 'Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.' And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it and they went and told Jesus." Mark 14: 5-12, ESV Bible

Although the gospels do not mention the palace of Machearus by name, the historian Josepheus (who our guide reminded us got many things right but a few things wrong) names Machearus as the location of John the Baptist's imprisonment and execution.

Some of us ascended the fortress by the "gentle" slope...

while others took the more direct route, straight up the side.

A view of the top (the columns have be reconstructed but the capital is original)...

...and from the top.

Tradition holds that John's body is buried in a cave near the foot of the fortress.

Echinops polyceras

Zygophyllum(I think)

This picture is a little blurry but I'm including it as it was truly a highlight of our morning to see this desert owl perched on a rock overlooking the valley (overheard from the backseat of the car: "I've never seen a real live owl before!") As I hurriedly shot some pictures with the telephoto lens, through the windshield of the car, the owl turned and looked at us before flying off over the valley.

At Machaerus we were surrounded by stillness and the desolation of the desert, yet at the same time I sensed the presence of life quietly moving all around as birds sailed and swooped, large butterflies flitted and silent lizards darted. I am developing a new appreciation and awe of the desert.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site II~Ataroth

Heading south, our second stop was the ruins of Ataroth, the ancient city of Northern Moab established by the Gadites and Reubenites who, seeing that it was a good place to raise livestock, were happy to settle in the area east of the Jordan Valley rather than cross into the promised land (Numbers 32). The Numbers account agrees with the only extra-Biblical artifact to mention Atoroth, the Mesha Stone, also know as the Moabite stone. More on the Mesha stone when we arrive in Diban, about 17 km southeast of Ataroth, home of the Mobite king, Mesha, in the mid-ninth century B.C.

The entire section of the Mesha stone dealing with Atoroth reads as follows:
And the men of from of old, and the king of Israel built Ataroth for himself, but I fought against the town and took it, and I slew all the people: the town belonged to Chemosh and to Moab. And I brought thence the altar-hearth of his Beloved, and I dragged it before Chemosh in Kerioth my town. And I settled in it the men of Sharon and the men of Maharath (lines 10-14).
The vertical stone on the right was some sort of worship stone.

We headed down into a cave which was probably used for livestock, though we all agreed that it would have made a pretty nice dwelling; it was a cool reprieve from the midday heat.

Sunlight streaming in through a hole in the "roof" created an other-worldly beam for the the kids to play in.

Peganum harmala L.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day

Last week a dear friend extended to us a serendipitous invitation to join them and some friends on a one day whirlwind tour of ten archaeological sites in southern Jordan. Our answer, in one word (and a punctuation mark): Yes! And yesterday was the day. By the end of our whirlwind tour we were hot, dusty, and in the words of our illustrious guide, suffering from rock fatigue. And so to spare you from rock fatigue, I will blog about one site at a time. But remember, we visited all these sites in ONE day. One amazing day.

The first site we visited, Tell Al Umeiri, is located just 6 km south of Amman. Dated from the Early-Middle Bronze period (per our guide though I've also read Late Bronze to Early Iron) or nearly 4000 years ago, this four room dwelling is the best preserved Ammonite house in all of Jordan/Palestine/Israel.

A 1984 excavation led to the discovery of a seal impression which read: “Belonging to Milkom’or the servant of Ba’alyassa.” This fits with a reference to an Ammonite king mentioned in Jeremiah 39:14: "...'Do you know that Baalis the king of the Ammonites has sent Ishmael the son of Nethaniah to take your life?'"

And though the delicate spring wildflowers have faded, growing in their place were the hardier, drought resistant flowers of early summer.

The Euphorbia provided a beautiful chartreuse accent to area.

The ubiquitous purple thistle was the flower of the day, appearing at nearly all the sites we visited. Jordan's grazing sheep and goats just don't like those thorns!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sigh (of relief)

We made it through the packed-full-of-activities month of May and now we are breathing a little easier. Baseball is all but finished with only this week's all-star game and closing ceremony remaining, school work is nearly completed (for most) and I need only write one final exam, going-away parties have taken place and dear friends have departed, and Oldest Daughter's concerts were lovely.

In line with a bit of wisdom shared by my friend at A Circle of Quiet via yet another blogger, "live first, blog later", I hope to do a little retroactive blogging so as to share some of the highlights of our month. It was a good one, but I certainly couldn't have kept up that pace of living for much longer!