Babylon: Myth and Reality (Nov 13, 2008-Mar 15, 2009) is an exhibition that changed my life – even though I had never seen it.
It was my father who visited this British Museum exhibition and brought home the catalogue (“the Babylon book”). Shortly after this, in 2010, I volunteered to teach the Book of Daniel to a class of thirty-seven 8th graders in Jerusalem, and where I was teaching as an undergraduate student-teacher. Using the resources I learned about through this book, I inspired these adolescents who were previously intimidated by the mostly-Aramaic book. This experience had made the book approachable to them, and the importance of archaeology for me – tangible.
At the end of the year, we celebrated with Nebuchadnezzar’s Ishtar Gates of Babylon – on a cake designed by yours truly.
End-of-year celebration, after learning the Book of Daniel. Jerusalem, 2010
The next part of this story was completely unexpected. Since those student-teacher days, I’ve been teaching professionally in the US for six years, and often guiding tours near the two real Ishtar Gate lions on display at the Met. Academically I’ve gone back to school, completing an M.Ed in Jewish Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and currently studying for an MA in Ancient Jewish History at Bernard Revel Graduate School (Yeshiva University). It is in this context that I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Dr. Michael Seymour, co-author of the Babylon book.
Dr. Seymour moderated a symposium for The World Between Empires Met exhibition (Mar 18-Jun 23, 2019). This spectacular exhibition shows the complexities of life, religion, commerce and identity in the region between Roman and Parthian Empires; the two superpowers of the late Second Temple period to the 3rd century CE.
This was only possible thanks to my professor at Revel, Steven Fine, inviting students to the symposium.
During that symposium, I was reminded of how my journey began 9 years ago. But it was only later, as I was guiding a private tour in the World Between Empires, that I recognized Dr. Seymour as he spoke to a group, and introduced myself. We kept in touch, met again when I was guiding students, and finally sat down for an early Friday morning coffee at the museum.
We sat and told lots of stories about shared interests. It was a fascinating conversation, and hopefully just the first of many.
Dr. Seymour is an assistant curator in the Met since 2011, when he began work on the exhibition Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age (Sep 22, 2014-Jan 4, 2015). This was the very first exhibition I saw, on my very first Met visit.
I had brought along my copies of the Babylon and World Between Empires books, which are now autographed in a place of honor on my bookshelf.
We never know who we will touch and how we will make an impact. Whether it’s something we say, an act of kindness that we do, or a book that we write.
The impact that Dr. Seymour had on my life in turn had an impact on my students’ learning, on my career path, and down the line – on countless other lives which were inspired and invigorated because of some old rocks someone dug out of the dirt in Ancient Babylon!
Be the change that you wish to see in the worldMahatma Gandhi
Starting from the Bottom Up
It is 2019, and the grassroots, bottom-up approach has been proving itself to be the way change happens. This is happening in so many fields, including education – and there is no reason why it should not apply to Jewish Education.
How do we adapt?
The internet, technology and social media have changed the way we interact. They are vying for our attention, and that of our children. It has a losing battle, once you allow that small device into the home – and I am not here to say that you should or should not do that. What I am saying is that, the impact on the Jewish Educational system is inescapable.
Where do we make the change?
How do we make a difference?
How can we get our school on board?
I am a firm believer in the vitality and relevance of Torah to our life. I believe that the goal of a Jewish Education system cannot be just to convey information or preparing for a BJE test. There has to be a deep commitment to, and belief in, the reality of Torah. Only with that in mind, can we proceed with confidence into the unknown future of Jewish education, learning, leadership and change.
As a jewish-educational-entrepreneur (for lack of a better title), I work tirelessly to convey this message to laypeople, parents, schools, administrations, synagogues and publications. Having spoken to many schools and rabbis and community leaders in the past three years, I realized that the change cannot come from the top down.
Schools, institutions – they are all systems that have to run a certain way. They have a tremendous amount of responsibility to their parent bodies, congregants, and general clientele. This is both a vital part of the system, and what can make it very hard to move, when necessary.
That is where I come in. I believe that with social media, today, we can engage people in new ways. Not only students. I am not talking about creating multimillion dollar online curriculum – that has its place. I am talking about inspiring educators and just simply – Jews – to respond to the call of Torah. To realize that it is real, that it can be vitalized in the classroom or the synagogue without expensive materials, without learning new curriculum but rather, with a change in approach.
This week I took action.
I spoke to several colleagues who are on board with me, and said “guys, let’s do an Instagram Live session on this De’Ara Tanach Map”. We have been trying for two years to figure out the logistics of doing this with our own school, while I am traveling the country doing this with other schools. Instead of talking about it – let’s be the change we want to see.
To find out more about the map, and see a video about it: http://foundationstone.org/Store/store.html
The results we incredible. The three teachers were super-energized and excited about the possibilities of integrating this simple and powerful tool. Social media is playing its part, and we are reaching people in new ways, bringing the change from the bottom up. Here is a short video from the excitement:
It was last Shabbat in the Golan Heights when I had a profound and timely experience: Being in the land that was bequeathed to Reuven, Gad and Manasseh, while we read the Torah portion that discusses it (Num. 32:33), right before Tisha b’Av, the day in which we deal with the destruction of that area.
I was asked to address the youth in an agricultural community on Shabbat afternoon, and was honestly a bit hesitant. It is one thing to share my story with American educators and students: I grew up in Jerusalem’s Old City, and that comes with a unique perspective that is very valuable in the diaspora. But it is quite another to speak to kids who grew up in the land, and perhaps even take it for granted?
That is when I thought about Superman and Tisha b’Av, a concept which I have used in summer camp, and which has worked with kids and teenagers on several occasions, with surprising effects. So what is this idea?
Tisha b’Av brings out the worst in religion: Suffering, mourning, synagogue and fasting, and the best part is, it is in the midst of the summer vacation. No swimming for over a week!
It is a challenge to engage youth who are already jaded or perhaps overstimulated from attempts to make Judaism alive, relevant and meaningful to them. And yet, I find Tisha b’Av to be a special opportunity to do exactly that – if I prompt the question of relevance from the start.
The talk with the youth revolved around two main ideas.
- Tisha b’Av has the status of Mo’ed – generally understood as a ‘holiday’, but clearly not a happy one. Mo’ed actually means “an appointment in time” (e.g. Gen. 18:14), and just as Passover is a time for Freedom, and Sukkot is a time for Joy, Tisha b’Av is an annual meeting in time. But a time for what? For loss, mourning and destruction (Lam. 1:15)
- Tisha b’Av didn’t happen because we cried. We cried because it was Tisha b’Av. Just as we say that we left Egypt on Nissan because it is a time of redemption, so too all of the ‘bad stuff’ is associated with Tisha b’Av, because it is a designated time for destruction. Why? Why do we need such a time?
Superman and Smallville
Background: The origin story of Superman relates that he was born Kal-El on the planet Krypton, before being rocketed to Earth as an infant by his scientist father Jor-El and his mother Lara, moments before Krypton’s destruction…. Discovered and adopted by a farm couple from Kansas, the child is raised as Clark Kent and imbued with a strong moral compass. Early in his childhood, he displays various superhuman abilities, which, upon reaching maturity, he resolves to use for the benefit of humanity through a “Superman” identity (from Wikipedia: Superman).
The main idea: Upon discovering his true identity, Kal-El / Clark Kent’s ambitions and life goals change. He is imbued with deep purpose, and knows that life as he knew it was no longer the same.
The idea of Tisha b’Av is an awakening, a profound realization that all of the symbols that we hold dear, from the Promised Land to the Two Temples in Jerusalem – could be lost. As long as we have not fulfilled our full potential, there is no compromise. We cannot settle for mediocrity.
It is painful. It is cruel. It is uncompromising. And precisely because of that, it is the most meaningful holiday, and the most hopeful. Jewish tradition says that the Messiah is born on Tisha b’Av. It tells us that we have a superpower, that we are meant for greatness, and that we should never compromise.
May this be the last Tisha b’Av in mourning. May we merit to bask in the Light of Truth, and rejoice in the true beauty of a united and rebuilt Jerusalem.
Some of the youths’ responses (translation, and Hebrew below):
My takeaway is that I will never give up until I find myself in a place where I am making a difference, and fully utilizing my capabilities
…that I am really part of something big, whether it is the Jewish People or Humanity as a whole
Truth be told, it was one of the more interesting discussions, it…gave me a different perspective on Tisha b’Av and also on our lives as a whole in Eretz Yisrael, and that we need to appreciate our lives here…
I love Capoeira – a Brazilian Martial art that combines self-defense with music, acrobatics and dance.
I started training in martial arts at 13, at age 17 I joined Capoeira, and by September 2006 I was teaching it. I taught for seven years, have hosted radio shows, national championships organized international trips and have taught thousands of students.
And I hated my job.
I loved my students, I loved doing capoeira, but I hated working in capoeira. Why?
Skipping over my ups and downs of my 8 years (and counting) in formal education – which I still do and still love but thankfully am not invested in full-time. Perhaps in another post for time.
Today I have the job of my dreams. I never knew I would be entertaining hundreds of people in the museum, connecting jewish history and archaeology, pop culture and talmud. And yet, everything I did until now has prepared me for it.
I would like to share with you the treasure that helped me start turning things around: From being a creative, enthusiastic, engaging – and frustrated school teacher, to someone who is passionate about what he does.
I follow a podcast called Art of Manliness by Brett McKay. I listened to an episode called The Myth of Following Your Passion, which is an interview with Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You. The title, by the way, is a piece of advice by Steve Martin.
What happened after that?
I was still teaching full-time, but I was in a different head space. I became a Jedi. I was going to knock the ball out of the park. I wasn’t just doing my job (with care, love and commitment, as a teacher should), but I was stretching myself, building my skill and becoming more versatile. I became noticed in the whole school, not just locking myself up in the teachers’ lounge with piles of work to get through, the daily grind, trying to get through the material and prepare the students for this and that.
While hitherto I was working in the middle school, I volunteered to give special workshops to 1-6th graders. I engaged with other department, and became an asset to the school.
I told myself every day: ‘Be so good, that they can’t ignore you’.
And so it happened that I lost my job, and found my dream.
Below: Living my dream job!
Interview with Tzvi (Greg) Lauren – co-founder of Heart of Israel Wines
This segment of the series of articles “Rebirth of Shomron” has been fermenting “in the barrel”, so to speak, for the last half year. In honor of Rosh Chodesh Adar – the new Hebrew month in which we celebrate Purim, specifically with wine, I would like to bring out this “vintage” article. But much has changed since…
I met Tzvi over a year ago in New Jersey. Being that I love Israeli wine, and he imports it, we instantly started thinking of ways we can integrate our entrepreneurial ideas to advance Torah and Wine. It was not until this past Saturday night (February 11, 2018), that our plans came to fruition.
Tasting and Torah was an intimate evening organized by Heart of Israel Wines, featuring a selection of wines from Shiloh Wines. Speakers included Tzvi and his partner Yehoshua, Amichai Lourie – winemaker for Shiloh Winery, Rabbi Yair Shachor -from the community of Ma’aleh Levona, and myself. We hope that this is the first of many such events.
This interview took place in the summer, when Tzvi’s company was still called “West Bank Wines”. The old name itself was controversial, and has a story you will hear about in the interview. A few notes (from Tzvi himself) about the new name:
The company is now starting to import its own wines, and with their main customers being people in middle America, it made sense to have something simple, catchy, which still bears a connection to what it is about, and is not politically charged. Furthermore, after many requests from residents of Judea and Samaria, and promises to change the name, they finally owned up to their word and changed it.
Practically, Judea and Samaria is too long a name. They went for something universal and simple. Since heartofisraelwines.com would have also been way too long, the new top level domain “.wine” adds some panache to the new website, and here it is!
Tzvi was born in Ukraine and grew up in the NYC metro area. With a background on Wall St., he made aliyah to Israel in 2010. The story of West Bank Wines started in 2015 with a chance encounter, while Tzvi was working for a an NGO called World Yisrael Beytenu. From there Tzvi began working on building an American brand for Lev Ha’olam, a company distributing various boutique goods from mom & pop producers in Judea & Samaria.
Tzvi eventually realized that the product he had a calling for was actually hiding in plain sight and pivoted the project to wine.
After looking up Israeli Wineries through Google Maps, Tzvi brought a list to his now business partner Yehoshua Werth in Monsey, NY, and they now regularly feature wines from Judea and Samaria, and you can follow their reviews and events on social media. He then set out to start visiting a few: Har Bracha, Shiloh, Hebron and Beit El wineries, all along Route 60.
Tune in for some stories about these valuable connections, and the world that it opened to him. These wineries are run by very special people, who are keenly aware of the place they live in, and the revival of Judea & Samaria through its booming wine industry. Every winery has a Biblical and Jewish history story linked with the location, and that story is the key to appreciating the wine. As Erez Ben Saadon of Tura Winery said, “When you love the Land, the Land loves you back”. A land that was mostly desolate for near two millennia becoming fruitful and productive again is a testament to the deep love of a people to their homeland.
The name “West Bank” Wines naturally had people raise their hackles, on both sides of the fence. Tzvi talks about how he arrived at this name as well as some of the reactions he has received, and the impact it had on his resolve to keep the name…which has now changed to Heart of Israel Wines.
Some fascinating research has been done into the grapes indigenous to the region, the history of how these grapes were forgotten, and how the grapes we now have in Israel, got there. That, and other areas of history, research and stories are discussed.
We hope you enjoy!
Links to content from the interview
Articles and Videos:
- Dr. Shivi Drori, Ariel University, on the revival of 2,000 year old grapes: Here is a link to a short video on the science of reviving the grape, and here is the full lecture.
- Professor Ian McGonigle, Harvard University, and his article about Israeli Wine in Times of Israel.
Heart of Israel Wines reviews:
- Review of 2000 ancient Israel wine and reenactment of the Incense ritual in the Temple
- Review of the Psagot Peak.
Three reviews by 2007 world #1 sommelier Andreas Larsson:
- Mount Hevron – Reserve Syrah 2009 – Judean Hills
- Psâgot – Single Vineyard 2013 – Benjamin Mountains
- Gvaot – Masada 2012 – Judean Hills
Meet Abir Nassee, a master storyteller and over 45-year owner of the Oil Press Gallery in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Come in with me as we see his gallery, hear stories and see wonderful thing.
Part 1: Intro video
Part 2: The tour
Image Posted on Updated on
Summer Public Tanach Tours are over
Public tours will resume shortly, and a schedule will be posted soon.
It has been a long summer, with nearly 20 Tanach and Jewish History tours running at the Met. The summer Public Tanach Tour series is now complete, and we are gearing up for the year.
Follow Torah Intermedia to learn about upcoming tours, lectures and programs, as well as articles and reviews.
Thank you so much for an amazing tour of the MET with my children! You were so engaging with my children and managed to still fill the rest of the tour for us adults with lots of meaningful content! I will recommend you to anyone looking for a great tour guide of the MET and specifically a Jewish tour. You were great!!!
“Our extended family, ranging in age from 7 to 65, enjoyed a wonderful tour of the Met with Nachliel. He planned scavenger hunts, decryption games, and more to keep the younger crowd interested while engaging the adults with his vast knowledge. The tour brought the museum to life. I highly recommend it!”
Thank you Nachliel providing us all a great understanding of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires and their connection to Tanach!
We so enjoyed having Nachliel as our guide at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our group had been studying rabbinic materials about idolatry and Nachliel helped bring those issues to life through the Met’s collections. His comfort both with the ancient and classic sculpture we looked at as well as his fluency in Bible and rabbinic literature were terrific!
“Fascinating…Truly eye opening into the world we only hear about. The connection of Ancient Artifacts and the Tanach is explained and put into perspective, especially in this troubled time. This tour only reinforces our Historical connection to the Holy Land of Israel”
Jeff and Chery Klein from Monsey, NY. Participated July 23
This your is a great way to be introduced to the history of the Ancient Near East! It’s very comprehensive and spans a pretty good range of time. I also loved that it was grounded (corroborated) by passages of Tanakh. I loved seeing the intersection between the written record of history and Torah! Personally, I would have loved to spend more time on the text itself, but it’s hard to do it all in under two hours. I recommend this for anyone who’s interested in the A.N.E.!
Malka Rappaport from Crown Heights, NY. Participated Wednesday, July 12
Powerful presentation of the era of kings – Regional Kingdoms and Empires…the separation of Israel and Judea and eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian diaspora. Nachliel is a passionate guide and very informed and well traveled in order to present his material.
Notes were very well researched and presented. This tour was made even more powerful during the period of the three weeks between Tammuz and Tisha b’Av.
– Aliyana Wasserman, Rosanne Koenigson from Edison, NJ. Participated Sunday, July 16
“I’ve lived in New York City my entire life and have been through the Metropolitan Museum of Art…many times. Nachliel made me feel like I was touring these wings for the first time.”
“Nachliel is exceptionally knowledgeable and passionate about his twin loves – Torah and Archeology. He showed us the importance of contextualizing II Melakhim and Yirmiyahu in its Ancient Near Eastern setting…We moved at a rapid-fire pace…”
Gear up for the summer with a
Tanach Tour at The Met!
Sunday afternoon, June 18
Join us at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as we go through the final chapters of the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah, during the First Temple period, until its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
See fascinating artifacts that bring these civilizations to life, learn about the dilemmas we faced during these times, and understand their historic context.
- Tour is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes
- Materials are provided, but bringing your Tanach is recommended
- Tour is limited to 25-30 participants at a time
For your convenience, you may check the FAQ section, which includes information about arrival, parking, kosher food, as well as a link to the source sheet which I hand out at the Met.
Book your reservation now!
Call or text: 929-233-0950 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nachliel put together an interactive and informative program in the MET. It was a great experience to see firsthand some of the artifacts that our biblical ancestors saw, as presented to us in the Tanach. It was especially moving to stand under the Ishtar Gate, the same gate our ancestors entered through as they were exiled from Jerusalem to Babel during first temple period, circa 586 BC.
Rav Nachliel led my ninth grade Jewish History students on an eye – opening tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Assyrian, Egyptian, and Babylonian wings. It was important to me that my students gain the requisite background knowledge to more deeply understand the Second Temple Period…Rav Nachliel was professional and thorough and provided an enriching and worthwhile learning experience. I highly recommend a museum tour guided by Rav Nachliel.
Magen David Yeshivah Celia Esses High School, Brooklyn, NY
Nachliel’s knowledge, energy and understanding of the art was thorough, colorful and rich. Through an intimate knowledge of history as well, he was able to vibrantly relate manifestations of ancient history to modern cultural events. A history lesson through art would have been satisfying enough, but Nachliel’s added touch of historical events as they relate to modern culture, and his willingness to respond to many questions, often tangential, brought the tour to unexpected heights
Ezra and Deborah Safdieh
I went with Nachliel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on several occasions. Nachliel is enthusiastic about Torah and archaeology, explaining Tanach and teachings of Chazal in a very engaging manner, passionately bringing Torah to life through the history and the archaeology that we explored together.Indeed, I too look forward to join him on future programs…
I really liked going to the MET with Nachliel. We saw lots of amazing things together. We should go again soon!
I found the book The 28th of Iyar very moving. My grandmother, Jaqueline Hirsch, transcribed the original recordings which made the publication of the book possible. So we have a family connection to the book, as well as the community. I thought to read select passages from the book which spoke to me deeply about my home town of Jerusalem.
During the last days of Pesach, I had the honor of speaking about Jerusalem in Congregation Beth Jacob of Atlanta, GA.
This was the first time I gave the talk “What does Jerusalem mean to me?”, with a slightly more presumptuous title – “Do we really have Jerusalem?”
The most challenging thing about that talk was that the author, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, attended the talk. Afterwards he told me that he was crying when I read his own words, and wondered “How could I be crying, when I wrote those words?”
The talk was given with enthusiasm, clarity, by an obvious master of the subject. He was able to demonstrate the connection between archeological finds and Biblical verses, such that it felt as if we were discussing current events. The discussion left me craving to learn more about the Prophets and their history.
Rabbi, Beth Jacob Atlanta
In honor of this week’s weekly Torah portion – Shemot – I offer two ideas which can be shared and used in the classroom. The first one – namely the one below, can be applied for roughly 5th grade and up. The second is best suited for high school and up.
For the sake of brevity I will assume the reader’s familiarity with the French medieval Biblical and Talmudic commentator Rashi, or Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (1040 – 1105), and with a commonly known concept called “mida k’neged mida” – or “measure for measure” (which is not “an eye for an eye”).
Translations are from Sefaria.org (Tanach, Holy Scriptures, JTS edition), with added suggestions.
Part 1: The Midwives and The Great House
The story we know goes as follows: A new Pharaoh rose to power, one who did not recognize Joseph (Exodus 1:8-11), and so he schemed to enslave the Hebrews. That was not working too well for him, as they were still increasing in population. He therefore devised a more cunning plan: The midwives should kill the males at birth, faking their deaths, thereby controlling the population growth (ibid, 15-21).
Both ideas shared here deal with this part of the story.
The midwives of course feared God. At great risk to their own lives they did not obey Pharaoh’s command, and were rewarded for this in a very unusual way.
And God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and increased greatly.
And because the midwives feared God, He established households for them. (ibid, 20-21)
At face value, it seems like a fair reward, or measure (mida k’neged mida). The midwives risked their own lives to sustain the households of their people, and God rewarded them in kind with having households of their own.
The Talmud, however, looks at this differently. Rashi presents the Talmudic approach as follows:
Houses (dynasties) of the priesthood and the Levites and of royalty are all termed בתים. “Houses”, as it is said, (I Kings 9:1) “and Solomon built the house of the Lord and the house of the king”: “the house of the Lord” i. e. a dynasty of priests and Levites — from Jochebed (Shifrah); and “the house of the king”, i. e. a royal dynasty — from Miriam (Puah), just as it is stated in Tractate Sotah 11b.
This is all very nice, and from a midrashic point of view, this correlation can be made. But is there a p’shat, or simple reading of the text, that can allow for this “measure for measure”? One that would make sense intuitively, perhaps, to a Hebrew reading this text in the generation of the Exodus?
It appears that there might be one, and this is entirely my own suggestion. Feel free to reject it.
The measure for measure attribute of God’s reward is implicit in the source of the command to kill the newborn boys: Pharaoh himself. As you can see above (just do a search for “Pharaoh Etymology”), the word Pharaoh comes from the Egyptian pr-aa or pr-’o. During an online course on Ancient Egypt I heard this explained by David P. Silverman, Ph.D (Eckley Brinton Coxe, Jr. Professor of Egyptology, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Curator of the Egyptian Section, University of Pennsylvania Museum), as the equivalent of saying “Speaker of The House” or “The Kremlin”.
That is to say, the midwives were disobeying “The Great House” – which is dynastic royalty and government. The great risk that they took was rewarded by them having their own Great House – dynasties of kings, priests and levites.
In an effort to explore the simple reading of the text, archaeology and linguistics help us uncover another layer of understanding which was hitherto perceived as purely midrashic.
Part 2: Carchemish and the Evil Scheme
This article is more appropriate for high school students. Its primary focus is textual analysis, in conjunction with history and archaeology.
The scheme to subjugate the Hebrews all started, ostensibly, out of fear of the rapid growth of their population:
A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.
And he said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us.
Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground/land. (ibid, 8-11)
Without getting into the complicated discussion of who were the Hebrews in Egypt, and the possible understandings of this saga in light of archaeological evidence, I would like to just discuss three words (or more, in other languages):
ועלה מן הארץ
“And rise from/above/over the ground/land”
The ambiguity of the translation shows how difficult it is to understand what the primary concern was, as demonstrated by several commentaries. Nachmanides (ibid, 1:10) sees a correlation with Nebuchadnezzar’s taking control over the cities of Judah, rising “over all the fortified cities in Judah”, or Rezin king of Aram “rising overJerusalem”.
Others suggest it means that the Israelites shall leave Egypt “against our will”. (Rashi, and others)
Whatever it means, it is not good for Egyptian interests of that time.
Fast forward to a later Pharaoh: Necho II.
Pharaoh Necho is famous for his involvement in the death and appointment of two Kings of Judah (II Kings 23:27-37). In that sense, Necho II plays an important role in Jewish History.
While the motives of King Josiah’s opposition of Necho II’s passing through Judah – against the warning of the prophet Jeremiah – are very important to understand, this article is focused on Necho himself, and who he is going to battle.
Bible commentators and thinkers as recently as 1972 (Rabbi Shlomo Rothenberg in his book Toledot Am Olam – though maybe historically inaccurate and perplexing, is recent enough to demonstrate what we are trying to show here), and as early as the Middle Ages (Rabbi David Kimhi or Radak, 1160–1235), understood the enemy to be Assyria.
In his days, Pharaoh Neco, king of Egypt, marched over/up towards/againstthe king of Assyria to the River Euphrates; (II Kings 23:29)
After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight against (or: in) Carchemish by the Euphrates; and Josiah went out against him. (II Chronicles 25:20)
Image below: Carchemish, at the apex of the fertile crescent. Necho ventures north to Carchemish, passing through the coastline without getting close toe Jerusalem. Josiah challenges Necho as he passes Megiddo, where he thought he had the advantage. Necho kills Josiah, and goes to battler in Carchemish. On his way back, the newly appointed Jehoahaz rebels, Necho exiles him to Egypt and appoints Jehoiakim.
Disclaimer: This map is only to display the ebb and flow of the battle, and not chronology. The battle of Carchemish is commonly accepted to be at 605 BCE.
Image source: generationword.com/
Is there precedent to assuming that Egypt was going to fight Assyria? Of course! They were mortal enemies. And ever since the Kushite 25th Dynasty’s alliance with King Hezekiah against Assyrian King Sennacherib, and their consequent invasion by Esarhaddon, they have been destroyed by, and vassals to, Assyria.
A simple reading of the text only encourages this interpretation. The verse from this week’s Torah portion is one of the several examples which make it plausible to suggest this.
However, as history and archaeology teach us, this is not the case.
In its death throes, Assyria makes a desperate alliance with its mortal enemy: Egypt.
Necho II, following Psamtik I, was part of an alliance with its mortal enemy – Assyria – in a campaign to defeat the uprising of the Neo-Babylonian empire. They were defeated in the famous Battle of Carchemish, by the crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar II, future emperor.
A simple reading of a verse, supported by similar examples and common knowledge, lead us to make assumptions about the meaning of a text. Archaeology can sometimes surprise us, making us revisit what we thought we knew, and see a fresh angle.