@Leisure: Middle East Meanders, part 2

October 17th, 2016, Published in Articles: PositionIT


In part one of this series, based on a recent tour I took of Israel and Egypt, I discussed our travels from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem via Caesarea Maritima, Mount Carmel, Nazareth and Bethlehem.

The second day started with what came to be a typical wake-up call in Israel. It was either the church bells ringing for early morning mass or the amplified call to prayers from the local mosque. The hotel in Bethlehem had both of these in close proximity. We also had our first real taste of the Middle Eastern concept of breakfast. Nazareth is Israel’s largest Arab city and also the country’s information technology (IT) centre, with Microsoft having recently opened a new research and development facility there. After the usual luggage security check, to which one becomes accustomed in Israel, we were on the bus and back on the road.


The first stop was the Nazareth Village, a farm and Galilean village recreating Nazareth as it was 2000 years ago. Set on a hillside in a way which somehow enables one to ignore the surrounding modern apartment blocks, the village gives an idea of what life must have been like in biblical times. Complete with sheep, shepherds in robes, weavers and a carpenter’s shop as well as wine and olive presses, a carved tomb complete with stone, some very old olive trees, and a synagogue. Donkeys are still used there. According to our tour guide, donkeys are not stupid, they will take the shortest route to get to where they need to be, and the donkey path often became the road used by people. Villages developed alongside the donkey paths, with the width of the road determined by the size of a laden donkey. The carpenter’s workshop featured a selection of tools from the period. The traditional role of Joseph as a carpenter was questioned by the guide, as the word used in the original text was builder. There was little specialised carpentry work at the time and more work for builders, so perhaps Joseph was a general builder who also did carpentry. The first builders in Israel had no shortage of ready-made building material, as the ground is littered with smallish limestone rocks which, with a bit of trimming, make convenient sized building blocks. Limestone is quarried all over Israel, and most buildings have limestone façades. The weaver’s shop showed how wool was spun by hand into thread – without spinning wheels – and then woven on a hand frame. One can imagine what the rough woven garments must have felt like.

The village had presses for both wine and olives. We saw wine presses at several other sites as well. Roughly carved out of limestone, the device consists of a press and a storage cavity for the grape juice to run into. Wine was pressed “manually” using human feet because the light pressure did not crush the pips, which would impart a bitter taste. Olive presses were far more complicated and require sophisticated machinery. The olives were first crushed in a rotary stone mill driven by a donkey, and then the remaining oil was pressed out using a press driven by stone weights on a lever arm… (more)

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