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Hyssop / Za'atar

Posted: Wed Jun 12, 2013 12:30 am
by Toto
NPR had a piece on za'atar
Eaten in the Middle East for centuries, za'atar has a fascinating history. The word refers both to the alluring spice mixture that you encountered, and to the wild oregano from which the mix derives (the latter za'atar, by the way, makes several ).

Just what's in your za'atar depends, in part, on where you are in the Mideast. But generally speaking, it involves some combination of ground dried oregano, thyme or marjoram, ground sumac, toasted sesame seeds and often, salt.
which referenced this article:

Among Palestinian Arabs, in any case, the word za’atar refers to both the condiment and the wild oregano plant from which its local variety is made. Israelis call the condiment za’atar, too, although in some of the commercially packaged Israeli preparations of it, it is advertised as “hyssop” or “holy hyssop.” This is a word that, so the dictionaries tell us, comes from Latin hyssopus, which comes from Greek, which in turn comes from a word of Semitic origin that is either the same as, or closely akin to, Hebrew ezov.

Ezov is a word that occurs several times in the Bible. We first encounter it in the account of the paschal sacrifice in the book of Exodus, in which the children of Israel are told, in the language of the King James Bible: “And ye shall take a bunch of hyssop [ezov], and dip it in the blood [of the sacrifice]… and strike the lintel [of your homes] and the two side posts….” Elsewhere in the Bible, the hyssop is mentioned as a plant used in rites of purification. There is no reference to its having been eaten, although the New Testament Gospel of John does tell us that Jesus’ followers gave him a “sponge of vinegar” and “put upon it hyssop” to ease his thirst when he was dying on the cross. (Hence the adjective “holy” that Christianity attached to it.) They may really have done so, or else John was simply using the hyssop as a symbol of what is lowly and humble, as it is referred to by the Book of Kings when it relates that King Solomon’s wisdom encompassed everything great and small, “from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that groweth out of the wall...
The book of John in the New Testament (written in Koine Greek) mentions that hyssop was used, along with vinegar, to alleviate the thirst of Jesus, during his Passion. Matthew and Mark mention the occasion but refer to the plant using the general term καλαμος (kalamos), which is translated as "reed" or "stick." Origanum has short stems and some scholars say it would have been too short to reach the mouth of Jesus during crucifixion.[5] A number of scholars have proposed that ezov is the Caper plant (Capparis spinosa), which the Arabs call azaf. [6] The caper is native throughout the Mediterranean Basin, and considered to have cleansing properties.[4]
So where did the ezov in John come from?

Posted: Wed Jun 12, 2013 12:42 am
by stephan huller
There's something about za'atar in the Chronicle of Abu'l Fath involving the arch-heretic Dositheus. I will have to look it up. But I have an amazing memory for stupid things like this.

Posted: Wed Jun 12, 2013 12:46 am
by stephan huller
I can dig up the original passage but here is Crown's summary:

To the Dositheans, Dositheus was the Prophet like Moses who had restored the genuine Law of Moses. Mainline Samaritans of course said that he had forged it. The first clash between the old party and the Dositheans is said to have occurred at the feast of Passover, and the Dositheans is said to have occurred at the feast of Passover, when Levi publically read "thyme" (Arabic, sa'tar) instead of "hyssop" ('ezob) in Ex. 12:22. This was in fact an established equivalence in the Middle Ages, and the story in truth does not tell us anything about the changes introduced by Dositheus127. In response to the opposition that he encountered, Levi retorted that the real heretics were the priestly Samaritans: "You have altered the Feasts, and changed the Almighty Name of YHWH, and sent us out in pursuit of the Prophet of God - the Second Prophet, whom God has sent forth from Mount Sinai. ... 22&f=false

Crown as a footnote 127 cites Isser's (god-awful) book on Dositheus: "For the word 'ezob in Ex. 12.22 (= hyssop), Levi read in Dusis' text sa'tar. Maimonides on M. Neg. 14.6 translates 'ezob by the Arabic sa'tar ("thyme, origan") as does Saadiah in his Arabic Pentateuch. Ibn Ezra on Ex. 12.22 comments that 'ezob is the Arabic sa'tar, or, as it is known in the language of idolators, "oregano" !

Posted: Wed Jun 12, 2013 3:11 am
by stephan huller
when (the sectarian leader) levi dies the Dositheans were said to dip palm branches in his blood (from memory)