Post 227: TADMOR from the word Tamar, Palm Tree and indicates the Oasis it offered. from Jewish Virtual Library – Million Image Database Project : UNESCO NGOs and local officials will help hand out the cameras, which cost around $30 each and that programs at New York University and MIT have also been enlisted in the effort the former for storing photographs in an open-source database the latter for printing out scaleable 3D models of the ancient artifacts and sites.

Palmyra/TADMOR from the word Tamar, Palm Tree and indicates the Oasis it offered. from Jewish Virtual Library

Ruins of Palmyra
Part of the city borders on the Mediterranean
Overview of the Palmyra historic site in 2008

Palmyra is located in the center of Syria


Map of Syria
Palmyra is located in the center of Syria
Shown within Syria
Alternate name Tadmor

TADMOR (Heb. תַּדְמֹר; Palmyra), a North Western oasis city at the point of intersection of the caravan roads in the central Syrian desert and the steppe land between Lebanon and Jabel Bishri, halfway between the Euphrates and the Orontes River in the Mediterranean Sea area has been in the news recently.

In classical sources it is called Palmyra, a direct translation of its Semitic name Tadmor, which is obviously connected with the word tamar, “palm tree.” Josephus calls it Ταδάμορα (Ant. 8:154). Its modern name is Tadmura.

Tadmor was situated on the crossroads between Syria-Canaan and Mesopotamia, on the one hand, and between these areas and Arabia on the other. Its resulting importance goes back to the Old Babylonian period. Without doubt the rich trade between the “West” and Mesopotamia, well known from the*Mari documents and other sources, flowed through Tadmor.


In periods of “law and order” during the Old and Middle Babylonian periods, Tadmor served as a well-protected central station for commercial caravans, diplomatic envoys, and royal tours, and as a crossroads for cultural influences.

Because it was situated in the desert and steppe land, Tadmor was subject to sudden attacks of Western Semitic desert nomads, such as the Sutaeans, or movements of Western Semitic tribes (as can be deduced from the Mari archives and also, indirectly, from Hittite-Babylonian correspondence). During the Aramaic invasion at the end of the second millennium, Tadmor, being the key point of connection between east and west and north and south, was one of the chief sites of clashes between King Tiglath-Pileser I of Assyria and the nomadic Aḥlamû-Arameans:

“On the territory which extends from the feet of the Lebanon mountain to the city of Tadmar (!) of the land of Amurru, [to] the [city of] Anat [on the Euphrates] of the land of Suḥi, and to the city of Rapiqu [on the Euphrates] of the land of Karduniaš [= Babylon] I defeated them decisively” (Annals, lines 31ff.; Weidner, in bibl.).

From this inscription it can be learned that Tadmor belonged to Amurru, which here means not simply the “West” but is connected in some way to the (by then dissolved) state of Amurru, founded by the dynasty of Abdasrita in the 14th century (see *El-Amarna Tablets and *Amorites). This territory was inherited by the Arameans.

The place of Tadmor in the history of pre-Exilic Israel is a direct continuation of the situation described above.

Kings 9:18 reads: “King Solomon rebuilt [fortified and reorganized]… Tamar [ kere Tadmor; cf. below] in the desert [ midbar ] in the land” (see below). In IChronicles 8:3–4 “Solomon went [in a military-political campaign] to Hamath-Zobah and took it, and he built [see above] Tadmor in the desert and all the store-cities which he built in Hamath.” Even if one considers Tamar of  Kings as one of the fortification enterprises of Solomon in the south, in the Judean Desert on the Arabah route (that passed through Tamar, Ein Hasab, and Hasebah), it seems that from the point of view of defense and control it is part of the same plan as that reflected in the II Chronicles passage.

The northern enterprise in Syria was at first a political move but later was motivated by economic considerations. The difficulty in the mention of friendly Hamath-Zobah (LXX, Beth Zobah) can be overcome by supposing that Solomon took control over this city as a countermeasure against the renewed independence of Aram-Damascus (I Kings 11:23–25). Tadmor, as a center of routes in every direction including Arabia and Palestine, was all important for Solomon to hold, in order to maintain at least commercial control over the west up to the Euphrates.

By holding and rebuilding Tadmor, he assumed control of the flow of commerce for some time, thus giving a new turn to the economic development of the whole “west” that persisted even after his period. Tadmor was no less important to Solomon than it had been to Tiglath-Pileser I; in fact it was even more so because it was a key point in his north-south control plan.

In the Hellenistic-Roman Period

A neutral city located on the borders of two large empires – the Roman and the Persian – it traded with both (Appian, Historia Romana, 5:37–38, 42), and levied duty on all entering and departing caravans for the use of its water and lodging facilities. During the rule of *Odenathus and Zenobia in the third century, Palmyra – as it was known at this period – became an important power for a short time after its armies conquered Palestine and Egypt. After Emperor Aurelian entered into battle against it and destroyed the city in 273, however, it lost its importance.

During the period of its efflorescence, Palmyra had a Jewish community, as is clear from various documents and inscriptions of the period. The mention of Miriam of Palmyra in the Mishnah (Naz. 6:11) as a contemporary of the first-century R. Eliezer indicates that a Jewish community may have existed there at an earlier date. In literal obedience to biblical command the Shema (Deut. 6:4–9) is carved on the stone lintel of a building in Palmyra which E.L. Sukenik believes to have been part of a synagogue (CIJ no. 821). Other house inscriptions have also been found; they contain the following biblical texts: (a) Deuteronomy 7:15 and 25:5; (b) ibid. 28:4b–5; (c) ibid. 7:14; and (d) Shema Yisrael in large letters (CIJ nos. 821–3).

Three views of the Shema inscription found in a doorway in Palmyra, taken in 1884 and printed in Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis. (S. Landauer)

Three views of the Shema inscription found in a doorway in Palmyra, taken in 1884 and printed in Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis. (S. Landauer)

All of them predate the third century C.E. A number of Jewish funerary inscriptions have also been found (cf. Cooke, bibl., and CIJ no. 820). They are dated second and third century C.E. From them it seems that the Palmyrene Jewish community was fairly large and conscious of its Judaism, although non-Jewish personal names became increasingly common (as in Egypt), e.g., Wahb’allāth (“the gift of [the goddess] Allāt”).

In addition, graves of Palmyrene Jews are to be found in *Bet She’arim and Jerusalem although it is not known whether the bodies were brought to Jerusalem for reburial or whether a community of Palmyrene Jews had settled there. The cemetery of Bet She’arim has a large number of graves of Palmyrene Jews, including spacious, decorated burial chambers. This cemetery was in use for about 150 years, until its destruction by Gaulus in 352. Palmyra’s brief rule over Palestine during that period may have made the transport of bodies for burial easier.

The Palmyrene pantheon was a syncretism of Canaanite, Greek, and Syrian deities. One of the latter was the moon god, ʿAglibol (i.e., “calf-ba’al”; Gr. ʾΑγλίβαλος; cf. Cooke, bibl., nos. 139, 140), who is identified with the Ugaritic god mentioned in the “Hymn to Rpu” called ʾgl-il (“calf god”) connected with tr-il (“bull god”; cf. C.F.A. Schaeffer, Mission de Ras Shamra, 16 (1968), 551–5). ʿAglibol is thus connected with the ancient calf god which appeared in the Bible as the golden calf (Ex. 32:4). In Palmyra the month of Tammuz is called “Qnyn,” just as Tammuz is lamented with kinah in Ezekiel (8:3, 14).

The Talmud (Yev. 16a; Nid. 56b; TJ, Kid. 4:1, 65c, and Yev. 1:6, 3b) mentions Palmyrene converts to Judaism. Buechler suggests this is connected with the conversion of the Adiabene dynasty in the first century C.E. Many Palmyrenes also came into contact with Jews while accompanying commercial caravans to the Persian Gulf along a route which led through such large Jewish centers as *Pumbedita, *Nehardea, *Sura, and *Maḥoza. M. Lidzbarski (Ephemeris fuer semitische Epigraphik, 1 (1902), 247f., 2 (1908), 295, 298) points out that specifically Jewish phrases had crept into Palmyrene inscriptions. A number of them (Février, Religion, bibl., 120–7) are dedicated to an anonymous god with the words לבריך שמה לעלמא (“May his name be praised forever”) which is generally assumed to be a Jewish influence on Palmyrenes against profaning the name of a god.

The Talmud reports that the rabbis looked upon converts from Palmyra, who evidently retained customs of idol worship, with suspicion and viewed the city itself with animosity. “The future destruction of Palmyra will be a day of rejoicing for Israel” (Yev. 17a). Aggadic tradition holds that Palmyrenes participated in the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

The brief ten-year rule of Palmyra over Palestine was not a peaceful or happy one, and R. Johanan said: “Blessed be he who will witness the downfall of Tarmod (Tadmor)” (TJ, Ta’an. 4:8, 69b). The Babylonian rabbis also suffered from the Palmyrenes, who, during the reign of Odenathus, fought with Rome against Persia and destroyed Nehardea in the process. The Talmud refers to Odenathus as Ben Naẓer and also mentions Queen Zenobia, who was considered to be sympathetic to the Jews. (For a discussion on the alleged Judaism of Zenobia and of a number of inscriptionary Palmyrene names which are preceded by בת see Février, Religion, bibl., 220).


BIBLICAL: E.F. Weidner, in: AFO, 18 (1957–58), 343–4; J.R. Kupper, Les nomads en Mésopotamie (1958), 47, no. 2, 89; Bright, Hist, 192, 193; A. Malamat (ed.), in: Bi-Ymei Bayit Rishon (1962), 31–33; A.L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964), 60–61, 167, 392; Du Mesnil du Buisson, in:Bibliotheca Orientalis, 24 (1967), 20ff.; H. Klengel, Geschichte Syriens, 2 (1969), S.V. Palmyra. POST-BIBLICAL: C. Moss, in: PEFQS (1928), 100–7; G.A. Cooke, A Text-Book of North-Semitic Inscriptions … (1903), 263–340; J.G. Février, La religion des Palmyréniens (1931); idem, Essai sur l’histoire politique et économique de Palmyre (1931); H.P. Chajes, in: RI (1904), 171–80; M.A. Levy, in: ZDMG, 18 (1864), 65–117; A. Champdor,Palmyre (Fr., 1934); L. Berger, in: Memoires de la Société le Linguistique, 7 (1892), 65–72; Buechler, in: Festschrift Adolf Schwarz (1917), 150ff.; Pauly-Wissowa, 36, pt. 2 (1949), 262–770; J. Starcky, Palmyre (Fr., 1952). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Bounni, “Palmyra,” in: The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 4 (1997), 238–44.

New Digital Archaeology Effort Attempts to Capture Cultural Heritage Before It’s Gone

A photo republished by the AP shows ISIS destroying a tomb at the ancient site of Palmyra.

As ISIS and other groups continue to destroy important heritage sites and ancient artifacts, archaeologists and other onlookers continue to scramble to find ways to counter the destruction. The latest effort comes from an organization called the Institute for Digital Archaeology, which will distribute some 10,000 3D cameras in West Asia over the next year, in the hopes of documenting archaeological sites and objects before they’re gone, the Daily Beast reports.

“Digital archaeology, in my view, is the best hope that we have for preserving the architecture, the art history of these sites,” Roger Michel, the executive director of the institute, told BBC Radio. “It provides an opportunity not only to record this for posterity, for scholars to be able to crowdsource interpretative information about the data that we collect. It provides a deterrent for folks who might have in mind pilfering … the objects from these sites and selling them on the black market, by documenting the location of these objects and establishing a clear and permanent provenance for [them].”

The institute is a collaboration between Oxford and Harvard Universities, and its 3D photography venture, estimated at $2.3 million and officially titled the Million Image Database Project, has been five years in the making — although efforts are now being expedited as more and more ancient sites, particularly in Syria and Iraq, are facing high risk from ISIS’s destructive forces. “All of us realize this is a race against time,” Michel told the BBC. “We’ve completely changed the timetable for our project over the course of the last six months.”

The project description on the institute’s website explains:

We have created a heavily modified version of an inexpensive consumer 3D camera that will permit inexperienced users to capture archival-quality scans. The camera has the facility to upload these images automatically to database servers where they can be used for study or, if required, 3D replication. … Each camera contains an automated tutorial package that will help field users – local museum affiliates, imbedded military, NGO employees and volunteers – both to identify appropriate subject matters and to capture useable images. … All of the associated technology and software will be open-source to facilitate that goal.

The Daily Beast adds that UNESCO, NGOs, and local officials will help hand out the cameras, which cost around $30 each, and that programs at New York University and MIT have also been enlisted in the effort, the former for storing photographs in an open-source database, the latter for printing out scaleable 3D models of the ancient artifacts and sites.

The institute bills the project as “the first of its kind in both purpose and scale,” but it does follow other efforts aimed at preserving cultural patrimony. A host of Afghani scholars and experts have been wondering what to do about the Buddhas of Bamiyan, destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, for over a decade; the question was revived this summer when a Chinese couple projected images of the towering sculptures in their original location in 3D. In the wake of ISIS’s trashing of the Mosul Museum in February, artist Morehshin Allahyari began modeling and 3D printing objects that were shattered or stolen by the extremist group — an effort that aligns with the work of Project Mosul, a volunteer group dedicated to creating digital 3D models of “recently destroyed cultural heritage in Iraq” that are housed in a gallery online.

While these projects arrive after the decimation, what the Institute for Digital Archaeology hopes to do is capture images of these precious objects and sites in 3D ahead of time, so that studying, modeling, and/or re-creating them accurately will be possible even if ISIS does get a hold of them. (In that it shares a kinship with Arches, a newly launched, open-source heritage inventory system.)

In a way, it’s a deeply pessimistic approach to the crisis, but also an honest and practical one. As Christopher Jones wrote in a piece for Hyperallergic earlier this year:

By erasing all evidence of both the pre-Islamic past and alternative interpretations of Islam, ISIS hopes to create a world where knowledge of any belief system except their own interpretation of Islam is forgotten forever.

As a result, the work of documenting what is lost takes on even more importance. Not only is it vital for future scholarship, it serves to remind the world of the existence of all that ISIS seeks to destroy. The Million Image Database Project extends that vital work of documentation beyond what’s lost already to what might very well be.

UNESCO NGOs and local officials will help hand out the cameras, which cost around $30 each and that programs at New York University and MIT have also been enlisted in the effort the former for storing photographs in an open-source database the latter for printing out scaleable 3D models of the ancient artifacts and sites.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s