III. A POSSIBLE INTERPRETATION OF THE BLESSINGS IN THE HUNT FOR PETROLEUM (ROCK OIL) IN ISRAEL
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.”
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But the question remains, are the riches referred to in the Blessings of Joseph water or petroleum (rock oil)? Or perhaps both?