Philistines introduced new plants to the coastal plain

One of my neighbors came to the USA from an Asian country spelled with five letters beginning with “I”. After he moved in, some strange plants that I had not seen in our part of the world began to grow. Perhaps he got then at  Exotic Plants R Us, but I doubt it.

Maybe you have had the same experience. Apparently the same thing happened to ancient Israel. Typical plants known to the Biblical Israelites include wheat, barley, grapes, olives, pomegranate, date, and fig.

Sign in the Ashkelon National Park indicating one of the groups that inhabited the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sign in the Ashkelon National Park indicating one of the groups that inhabited the city. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

What happened when the Philistines moved in? A recent article by Frumin, Maeir, Horwitz, and Weiss in Scientific Reports provides an answer. The authors describe their approach.

Here we propose a novel research approach aiming to study the different anthropogenic impacts on an ecosystem resulting from the advent of an extinct historical culture, the Philistines–one of the so-called “Sea Peoples”–that appeared in the southern Levantine littoral, after ca. 1,200 BCE. Until quite recently, the accepted view was that the Philistines originated from a single region, most likely somewhere in the Aegean. Recent research has revised this view and shown that in fact, the Philistine culture is comprised of migrants of multiple foreign origins, including the Aegean, who, when arriving in Canaan, intermingled with local Canaanites. The non-Levantine origin of a substantial portion of the Philistine culture is evidenced by their distinctive architecture, ceramic ware, technologies and ritual activities that point to their diverse and multifaceted origins with different components resembling Aegean, Cypriot, Anatolian, Egyptian and even Southeast European cultures.

The article is chocked-full of maps and diagrams which I will leave for you to explore at your leisure. What really caught my attention was the introduction of new species of plants by the Philistines. The three plants were,

  1. Cumin (Cuminum cyminum), found at Aphek in the early Iron Age.
  2. Sycamore (Ficus sycomorus) found at Ashkelon in the late Iron Age.
  3. Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) found at Ashkelon in the late Iron Age.

Cumin and sycamore came from the Eastern Mediterranean, but opium came from west Europe.

Let’s take a look at a few Biblical references to cumin and sycamore.

Cumin is mentioned by the prophet Isaiah in the 8th century B.C. (28:25, 27), and then by Jesus in the first century A.D.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23 ESV)

Cummin for sale at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Cummin for sale at Aswan, Egypt. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sycamore is mentioned in connection with Solomon who wanted to make cedars as plentiful in Jerusalem as the sycamores were in the Shephelah.

And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. (1 Kings 10:27 ESV)

Amos of Tekoah claimed to be one who took care of the sycamore fig trees.

Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. (Amos 7:14 ESV)

And there is the well known story of Zacchaeus who climbed up into a sycamore tree at Jericho in order to see Jesus as He passed by.

So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. (Luke 19:4 ESV)

Sycamore figs at Ashkelon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sycamore figs at Ashkelon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The opium poppy is not mentioned in the Bible and is not currently grown in Israel. Turkey is one of three countries where it is grown for medicinal purposes . I have seen small fields of it in several places in Turkey.

Opium poppies are grown for medicinal purposes in Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Opium poppies are grown for medicinal purposes in Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The link to the full article by Frumin, Maeir, et al. is here. Near the top there is a link to the PDF file. An informative article by Nir Hasson appeared in Haaretz here earlier this week.

Archaeology does not consist solely of stone walls and broken pottery. It also includes uncovering and identifying the tiniest of seed.

HT: Thanks to Aren Maeir, director of the excavation at Gath for the original article. Check out his blog.

5 responses to “Philistines introduced new plants to the coastal plain

  1. I’ve read and learned from your blog for a couple of years or more!

    This specific post came at a great teaching time for me to share with my students as we were just discussing population migration issues in class yesterday! Tomorrow I’ll be introducing all of them to your blog!

    Thanks for consistently sharing great insights and pictures!

  2. Many thanks. It is my pleasure to share some of the things I have learned as a result of my travels.

  3. Very interesting article.

  4. Oh, this is really interesting! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Pingback: Unrivaled discovery to unravel origins of notorious and enigmatic peoples of the Hebrew Bible | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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