THE SECRET'S OUT!

Ein Gedi's historical secret, as depicted in the flawless mosaic floor of the ancient synagogue, is a lesson that we can still learn from today!


In the mid-1960's, whilst ploughing the fields in the extreme heat typical of the area, local farmers from Kibbutz Ein Gedi uncovered an ancient mosiac floor.  The area was excavated in the early 1970's unveiling a perfect mosiac floor that had been waiting 1500 years to tell a story.  The tale it tells is of the village Ein Gedi which, apparantly, was very affulent.  The synagogue was delicately artistic, elegant and the superb craftmanship of the mosaic sets it apart from the many other contemporary mosiacs of the time (and there are several).  Ein Gedi is a remote settlement, a mere few hundred residents, and yet at great expense they managed to bring the best of the best artisans to create such a masterpiece.  So the question is; how? Where did this obvious wealth come from?  The answer is in the mosaic floor! 

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There are several inscriptions on the floor that are quite usual for that era, but here we have quite a unique inscription.  'here is a curse on those who argue, slander, steal or 'reveal the secret of the town (Ein Gedi)'.

The 'secret' is not something that has been a hundred per cent confirmed, but it is believed by those who research/study the history that this 'secret' refers to the process of the Ein Gedi balsam - a plant that was the foundation for a rare lotion or perfume.  About 1500 years ago, this secret plant, unique to the Dead Sea was cultivated in its natural enviornent and used to produced the perfume.  Rare spices and perfumes were priceless in those days and were of particular interest to the royal nobility.  As this perfume is unique - one remote village where the perfume could thrive and only the villagers who knew how to deliver the raw material into its commercial form - the revenue was formidable.  So, keeping the process a secret had enormous economic relevance and  so it was, that every person who entered the synagogue needed to be reminded that they were sworn to secrecy.  

The curse depicted on the synagogue floor is true even of today.  Quarrels weaken a community, neighbourly backbiting weakens a community.  The 'secret' was the key to maintaing economic survival without which there would be no money to pay for future stability of the area. In that era, the symbol of the econmic stability was embodied in this elaborate building.  

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There is a final inscription that gives gratitude to all the benefactors who contributed to this exceptional building, Yose, Ezron and Hazikin, sons of Halfi.  There is no difference today - every generation has its own philanthropists; Rothschilds, Spielberg, Bernstien, Shusterman and every community has its own supporters.

 

 

Photos: Itay Bar Lev 

 

 

 

 


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