A Biblical Treasure Hunt Part 4

May 1, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

(From “A Biblical Treasure Hunt, by Philip Mandelker)


1. The Blessings of Joseph and of the Tribes of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) mention their “land” as being blessed with “blessings”, “bounties”, “chief things” and “precious things” lying deep underground in “ancient mountains” and “primordial hills”. It is also said that these “blessings” shall be on “the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of [Joseph].” Finally, the Blessings compare Joseph to a fruitful tree “by a well.”

2. Two questions arise: (i) what are the precious things lying deep underground? and (ii) under what part of the lands of Joseph do these precious things lie?

3. Initial clues to possible answers to both of these questions appear in the Blessings of Joseph; additional clues appear in the Blessing of Asher and the Song of Praise.

(i) The Location:

The Joseph Blessings in both Genesis and Deuteronomy talk of the blessings coming “upon the head of Joseph and the top of the head of [Joseph].” The Hebrew word for “head” is “ROSH”. In Hebrew, when talking geographically and topographically, “ROSH” can mean the upper or higher area, thus the northern area, in the same way as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is the northern part of that state. The Hebrew word for “crown of the head” – “KODKOD” – also can have a geographical/topographical connotation meaning highest part or crest.

Looking at the map, we can see that the lands of Joseph’s son Manasseh are in the northern part of the lands of Joseph, north of the lands of Ephraim, thus in the “ROSH” or “head” of the territories of Joseph. The reference to the “KODKOD” or “crown of the head” then points us to the upper or northern portions of the lands of Menasseh.

But we can see from the map that the lands of Manasseh stretch all the way from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River and parts of the Tribe of Manasseh occupied lands east of the Jordan River. Where in this wide stretch of territory do we begin our search?

Let us start with the Blessing of Asher who “dips his foot in oil”. The word “foot” in Hebrew is “REGEL” and, again, “REGEL” also has a geographical and topographical meaning. Specifically, it means the lower portion of an area, i.e. the southern portion of an elongated territory running on a north – south axis, in the same way again as Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is the southern portion of that state. (And, of course, there is always the Puglian “heel” and Calabrian “toe” of the “boot” of Italy) Assuming for a moment that the “precious thing” and the “bounty” refer to “oil”, we note that the blessing does not say that the precious thing is in the “foot of Asher”, rather it says that Asher “dips” his foot into the oil. Again looking at the map, we see that the southern portion of the lands of Asher touch on and, indeed, extend into the western side of the lands of Manasseh, west and south of the Carmel range.

We thus appear to have a geographical marker as to where the search might begin: the western side of the northern parts of the lands of Manasseh near that part of the southern portion of the lands of Asher which extend into the lands of Manasseh. Interestingly, this is also the area through which Wadi Ara runs, the inferred fault which divides the Carmel range to the north and the Plain of Sharon and Samarian hills (including the Umm el-Fahm anticline) to the south. (See the Geographical Note to the Map above.)

As noted in the Cartographical Note to the Map, some biblical scholars are of the opinion that the southern border between the lands of Asher and Manasseh is the Kishon Stream that flows in the plain along the hills flanking Mt. Carmel to the north-east, with the Carmel range lying wholly within the lands of Manasseh. Even in this case, though, the southern portion of the lands of Asher “dips” into the northern portions of Manasseh.

(ii) The Treasure: Hard Mineral or Liquid?

The Joseph Blessings talk generically of “precious things”, “chief things”, “bounty”, “fullness” and “blessings” lying in “ancient mountains” and “primordial hills” deep underground. But what are these “precious things”? Gold? Silver? Diamonds? Coal? Iron? Uranium? Water (which in the thirsty Land of Israel is certainly a treasure)? Petroleum (which derives from the Latin “petrus” meaning rock and “oleum” meaning oil – in other words “rock oil”)? Or perhaps some other mineral or liquid treasure.

Not surprisingly, this question was raised as early as the 12th Century by the biblical scholar and grammarian Rabbi David Kimhi (the Radak) who lived in the Provence, France. In his commentary on the Blessing of Joseph in Genesis, the Radak talks of subterranean waters; while in his commentary on the Blessing in Deuteronomy, in discussing “MEGED” – “precious things” – he raises the possibility of gold or silver or other precious metals, at the same time also referring to waters in his discussion of the reference to “TEHOM” which follows the verse’s first reference to “MEGED” and precedes the second reference to “MEGED”. (Kamelhar, M., ed., Commentaries of Rabbi David Kimhi on the Torah (Mosad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem, 1970) [“Radak Commentaries”], at pp. 209 and 288.)

The first clue to answering this question can be found in Jacob’s blessing of Joseph in Genesis which at 49:22 refers to the fruitfulness of Joseph lying “by a well”. A “well” can be a cistern dug into the ground to be filled with rainwaters or waters (or other liquids) brought by aqueduct from afar. Or it can be a well dug to an underground source of naturally flowing liquids, as an artesian well. The Hebrew word used in the Blessing is “A’YIN”. “A’YIN” in Hebrew means a naturally flowing spring or fountain; this as differentiated from “BE’ER” which is the Hebrew word for a well or cistern. (The Revised Standard Version properly uses “spring” in translating “A’YIN” in verse 22.) Thus, from his Blessing in Genesis, one can conclude that the fruitfulness of Joseph’s lands will flow naturally from an underground source. If correct, this would seem to rule out the underground treasures being hard metals or minerals.

This conclusion appears to be supported by the use of the words “TEHOM” and “ROVETZET” in one of the phrases (“the deep that couches beneath”) that appears in both of the Joseph Blessings and is used to describe the location of the treasures in relation to the surface of “the land” of Joseph – above, on or below. “TEHOM” principally denotes particularly deep waters, as well as subterranean waters, and is only derivatively used to denote an abyss. “ROVETZET” is a word used to describe an animal lying recumbent, ready to pounce when cause is given, a condition similar to that of a liquid lying pressurized deep underground ready to spring/flow upwards when the pressure is released by drilling a well into the reservoir. – Interestingly, use of analogies from the animal world to the world of petroleum continues through the ages. For example, the legal regime applying to ownership rights in underground petroleum reserves which can flow from under the property of one person to that of another is strongly influenced by the medieval English “law of capture” that governed the rights to wild animals which roamed at will from the lands and forests of one landowner to those of another, something which neither forest trees nor hard mineral mines did or could do. And, of course, “wildcat” is the term used for a high risk exploration well. (In Talmudic times, the root word “RAVOTZ” was used also to denote the act of sprinkling water. Babylonian Talmud, “Tractate Shabbat” 95:1 – – ע הצ תבש ” א and the commentary of Rashi there, as discussed in Sefer Breishit [Genesis], vol. 3 [Mosad HaRav Kook, Jerusalem, 2003], at p. 328, “Da’at Mikra” commentaries to 49:27.)

The source of the Hebrew word TEHOM is the Babylonian TIAMAT. According to the ancient Mesopotamian creation story as told in the epic “Enuma Elis”, Tiamat was the primordial goddess of the salt waters. In the war with the younger gods – the offspring of Apsu (the primordial god of the sweet waters) and Tiamat – which led to the creation of the world, Tiamat was killed by Marduk, the champion of the younger gods. Marduk then stretched Tiamat’s carcass out over the waters and of it created the sky and the earth, commanding her carcass (now the earth) not to allow the salt waters, the waters of the deep, Tiamat’s original realm, to escape. (Pritchard, J. B., ed., The Ancient Near East – An Anthology of Texts and Pictures [Princeton, 1958], at pp. 31-35 [“Akkadian Myths and Epics, The Creation Epic”, Tablet IV, ll. 130-140].) “TEHOM” or TIAMAT also plays a role in the Biblical creation, Genesis 1:2 : “. . . and darkness was on the face of the deep [TEHOM]” – “םוהת ינפ לע ךשחו”. And then Genesis 1:6-7 tells us: “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide water from water. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters that were above the firmament, and it was so.” See “Olam Ha’Tanakh”, vol. “Breishit” [Genesis], at pp. 13-14 (discussion at “Early Creation Stories”) and pp. 17 – 18 (discussion at Genesis 1:2 – “TEHOM”).

The story of Tiamat and the creation of the earth from her dead female body also appears relevant for the present purposes when we recall the reference in Jacob’s Blessing in Genesis to “the blessings of the breasts and of the womb” immediately following the references to “the blessings of the deep [TEHOM] that couches beneath.”

* * *

But the question remains, are the riches referred to in the Blessings of Joseph water or petroleum (rock oil)? Or perhaps both?

A Biblical Treasure Hunt Part 3

April 26, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

What are these Blessings? How do the founders of these oil and gas exploration companies, many of them oil and gas professionals with years of industry experience, come to connect Biblical verses with potential petroleum reservoirs located deep underground? Is there any possible connection between the Blessings and the story of Elijah’s sacrifice? With other references appearing in historical texts concerning what may possibly be oil seeps in the area of the Carmel?

In what follows I have tried to collect and present the various Biblical and historical references that I understand have inspired the founders of these petroleum exploration ventures.


THE TRANSLATION: Except where otherwise noted, the translation used is that of The Jerusalem Bible (Koren, Jerusalem, 2000). The Jerusalem Bible is a Bible published with the original Hebrew text and an English translation printed on facing pages. In the words of the editors:

The English Translation is not essentially new: it is rather a thoroughly corrected, modernized and revised version of those Anglo-Jewish Bibles which have long been accepted for home and synagogue use throughout the English-speaking world. As a basis for this edition, the ‘Jewish Family Bible’ of M. Friedlander, published with the sanction of the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Dr. N. M. Adler in 1881, was selected. That version had two important merits: it was faithful to the MASORA, or received Hebrew text, and it retained as much as Jewish sentiment permitted of the unsurpassed language and rhythm of the ‘Authorized Version’ [King James] of 1611. These advantages have been preserved in the present version.

“In addition to the text of Friedlander, a comparison was made with the interesting nineteenth century Jewish Bible of Isaac Lesser, and with other later translations. As a result many fresh readings have been adopted. The language of the older versions has been modernized where it was felt that the ancient linguistic and grammatical forms would cause difficulty for the present-day reader. Also many points of detail have been corrected in the light of modern scholarship, or as a result of fresh application to the TARGUMIM and the classical Jewish commentators.

For ease of use, proper names do not appear in transliteration from the Hebrew as in The Jerusalem Bible, but in traditional English spelling. Also, rather than using colons followed by small letters to show breaks between sentences as in The Jerusalem Bible which follows the traditional Hebrew punctuation, I follow the modern English tradition using periods followed by capital letters.


1. Jacob’s Deathbed Blessing of Joseph:

Genesis 49: 22-26:

“Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall. The archers fiercely attacked him, and shot at him and hated him; but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made supple by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob (from thence from the shepherd, the Stone of Israel), by the God of thy father who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee, with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that couches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of thy father are potent above the blessings of my progenitors to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills, they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separated from his brothers.”

[Variant Translation: The Jerusalem Bible translation above is based on The King James Version. The Revised Standard Version translates the opening passage of verse 26: “The blessings of your father are mighty beyond the beyond the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills, ….” This translation is based on the Septuagint, the 3rd Century translation of the Bible into Greek by the Jews of Alexandria. The Septuagint translates the Hebrew “HOREI”, literally “parents”, as “mountains” based on the argument that the root “HOR” in this context can also mean mountain as in “HOR HA’HAR” (Numbers 20:22). The translation of the Septuagint was adopted by the Rashbam (Rabbi Samuel ben Meir), the grandson of the noted Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi), who lived in the Rhine Valley in the 12th Century. Olam Ha’Tanakh (Davidson–Eti, Tel-Aviv, 1993) [“Olam Ha’Tanakh”], vol. “Breishit” [Genesis], p. 253.]

2. Moses’ Deathbed Blessing of the Tribes of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim):

Deuteronomy 33 : 13-17:

“And of Joseph he said, Blessed of the Lord be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew and for the deep that couches beneath, and for the precious fruits brought forth by the sun, and for the precious things put forth by the moon, and for the chief things of the ancient mountains, and for the precious things of primordial hills, and for the precious things of the earth, and its fullness, and for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush. Let the blessings come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the top of the head of him who was separated from his brothers.”


Moses’ Deathbed Blessing of the Tribe of Asher

Deuteronomy 33 : 24:

“And of Asher he said, be Asher blessed above sons; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil.”


Deuteronomy 32 : 13:

“He made him ride on the high places of the earth, and he ate the produce of the fields; and he made him suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock.


Cartographical Note: There is a dispute among scholars as to whether the southern border of Asher extended down the Mediterranean coast to Caesarea and included the northern parts of Mt. Carmel or it ran along the Kishon Stream which flows along the northeastern flank of Mt. Carmel. In all cases it is generally agreed that the Lands of Manasseh abutted on and lay just to the south of the Lands of Asher.

Geographical Note: In the context of appreciating the geological implications of the map of the northern portions of the Lands of Manasseh, it should be mentioned that running approximately from somewhat east of Caesarea in the West to Megiddo in the East and representing the southern boundary of the Mt. Carmel range is Wadi Ara, the Ara Valley or Nahal I’ron (part of the ancient Via Maris or Way of the Sea that ran between Egypt and Damascus) which, from dipping beds and seismic data, geologists infer to be a major fault feature. A fault the size of Wadi Ara in a tectonically active area, in which the Carmel range and the northern Samarian hills (including the Umm-el-Fahm anticline) are located, is a phenomenon which is of major interest to petroleum geologists and explorationists.