This week in Jerusalem: Out of the blue

Peggy Cidor's round-up of weekly affairs in the capital.

The Bible Lands Museum’s new exhibition displays, for the first time, 2,000-year- old techelet- and argaman-dyed textile fragments found in the caves of the Judean Desert and at Masad (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Bible Lands Museum’s new exhibition displays, for the first time, 2,000-year- old techelet- and argaman-dyed textile fragments found in the caves of the Judean Desert and at Masad
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Out of the Blue’
No, this is not a surprising event, but the name of a new exhibition at the Jerusalem Bible Lands Museum, showing off the fascinating story of mysterious biblical colors. Techelet and argaman, blue-violet and purple, respectively, are two precious colors that were extremely significant in the ancient Near East for royal and religious uses. The exhibition, which opens June 1, displays for the first time 2,000-year-old techelet- and argaman-dyed textile fragments found in the caves of the Judean Desert and at Masada.
The Bible mentioned these two colors as symbols of royalty and nobility, but with the decline of trade and industry after the Roman period, the knowledge and the skill to produce these dyes was lost and almost forgotten. Recently, researchers have managed to trace the source of these two colors as coming from glands inside snails commonly found in the Mediterranean Sea.
Also, during ancient times, the precious stone lapis lazuli was used for some of these royal and religious purposes, as this blue color was considered the most precious and mysterious and extremely culturally significant. Lapis lazuli was found mostly in Afghanistan, were it has remained a profitable industry. In the Bible, it is called “sapphire,” but it has nothing to do with the gem, and it appears in several books such as Exodus and Ezekiel in the description of God’s throne, as well as in the Talmud.
One of the advantages of the murex snails producing the techelet dye is its fade resistance, which made it high in demand. While nobles and dignitaries in the Roman period adopted these colors for their garments, the Jews used it for their four-cornered garment (tallit). But as this industry faded away, instead of the blue-violet color being applied to the garment’s threads (tzitzit), the color appeared on the shawl itself as blue (or later on as black) stripes. Today, with the rediscovery of the snail, more and more tzitzit include a techelet-dyed thread.
The exhibition displays artifacts from the museum’s collection as well as objects on loan from several museums in the country and from private collections. On display is a rare crown from the Persian era, as well as many archeological items from the argaman industry from several places in the Holy Land. There are also rare prayer shawls, as well some historic Israeli flags, all featuring techelet.
The Green Line
While the future is still looming over the fate of the light rail’s Blue Line, earlier this week, the next line – the Green Line – was launched at a small ceremony with Transportation Minister Israel Katz and Mayor Nir Barkat. Above the parking lot of the Gazelle Valley, overlooking Katamonim, the short ceremony – a few speeches followed by questions from the press – marked the beginning of the construction preparing for the third light- rail line, which will connect the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus and Givat Ram campuses via the city center.
Katz boasted that today, as the status of the city and the country is changing in the world, there are no fewer than seven international companies that have expressed interest in submitting bids to the ministry, which will be issuing tenders in the coming days for the various aspects of the completion of the line. Unlike in the case of the first line (the Red Line), the government will be largely notified in all aspects of this gigantic project in order to prevent the teething troubles of the first rail project, according to the minister. Katz did not forget to link all these new projects – the three lines of the light rail with the high speed train from Tel Aviv. He said all these were aimed at the same goal: to make the city easily accessible for the millions of tourists expected in the coming years.
New lines for Jerusalem
After the taxi shuttle lines are up and running in the city – a project successfully promoted by city council member Elad Malka (Hitorerut), new bus lines will soon be added to the public transportation system. The initial solution was to convince Egged to add more drivers, and hence more buses, but after all efforts invested by the municipality and the Transportation Ministry failed to produce any changes, it was decided to move on and simply break the Egged monopoly on public transportation. The cut-off date for the former proposal was planned for the end of January, but it was postponed time after time, mostly because with the proposed salaries, few drivers joined the company. Egged even launched a campaign on its own buses, but the results were the same, and earlier this week, Transportation Minister Katz announced that next week the first tender for an alternative company to run a few lines in the city would be signed, freeing the city’s roads for competition. Details about the lines chosen for this initiative will be published soon, but by now it is already known that there will be about six new lines, most of them filling in the gaps of long routes, between large neighborhoods.