Jul 292018
 

Today is one of the possible dates (in the Gregorian calendar) of the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in 587 BCE by the neo-Babylonian army under the command of Nebuchadnezzar II. The date is set in the Jewish calendar as Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av) http://www.bookofdaystales.com/tisha-bav/ but we have to be a little careful about ascribing this date (in the Gregorian calendar) as the actual historical date of the event. As with all dates in the Jewish calendar, the day begins and ends at sundown, and it moves about the Gregorian calendar. Whether today is the actual anniversary of the destruction of the Temple depends on the answers to two key questions: (1) Did the destruction actually take place on Tisha B’Av? (2) Did the destruction happen in 587 BCE? There is no dispute among historians that the destruction occurred, and was followed by a mass deportation of the residents of Judah to Babylon, known as the Exile or the Babylonian Captivity. The precise details are what are under dispute. The year could have been 587 or 586; scholars disagree on this point. Knowing the exact year is important for placing Tisha B’Av on the right date in the Gregorian calendar because it changes from year to year. They also disagree on whether the destruction occurred on Tisha B’Av or whether this has become a fixed tradition not rooted in fact. Let’s leave those disagreements aside for now, and claim today as the anniversary. I want to talk about the Exile anyway. Spoiler alert: If your faith leads you to believe in a literal interpretation of history in the Hebrew Bible, you are not going to like what I have to say.

How you determine the timing and significance of the destruction of the Temple depends on what sources you want to believe. The oldest Biblical sources that we have concerning the history of Judah are the books of Samuel and Kings, compiled by what are generally known as the Deuteronomists: historians writing at the time of king Josiah of Judah (c. 649–609 BCE). Like all historians they had their own axes to grind. As I have said numerous times, history is not about documenting facts, it is about ascribing meaning to facts. Mere recording of historical facts is chronicling or archiving, not history. History is something deeper, and there is good reason to argue that the Deuteronomists were the world’s first true historians. The Deuteronomists were intent on “purifying” the religion of Judah (that is, getting rid of supposedly “foreign” influences), as their first step in setting up Judah as a fully independent nation, free from the imperial demands of Egypt, Assyrian, and Babylon. They chose Josiah as their model king based on their interpretation of historical records. He was supposed to be a direct descendant of David, the archetypical king, chosen by God, to govern his chosen people, and Solomon, his son, had built the first temple in Jerusalem. Josiah (by the Deuteronomists’ estimation) was destined to return Judah to the glory days of David and Solomon, when the combined tribes of Israel were pre-eminent (and Jerusalem was the center of the universe). Since those days, Israel and Judah had suffered numerous defeats from neighbor states, and the Deuteronomists argued that this was because they had fallen away from the true worship of Yahweh, their national god (sometimes mistakenly translated as Jehovah). In many circles, Josiah was considered to be the foretold Messiah (anointed warrior/king), the second coming of David who would vanquish all before him because Yahweh was on his side. Josiah in Hebrew – Yoshiyahu (יֹאשִׁיָהוּ) – means “healed by Yahweh” or “supported by Yahweh.” This plan went belly up when Josiah was defeated and killed by Egyptian forces at the battle of Megiddo (Armageddon in Hebrew) in 609 BCE. Judah became a vassal state of Egypt, then of Babylon when Babylon vied for supremacy in the Levant with Egypt.  Things get a bit complicated at this point, but the essentials are fairly straightforward. Judah rebelled against Babylon’s vassalage on three occasions: 597 BCE, 587/586 BCE, and 582/581 BCE. Each time, Judah was defeated and some of Jerusalem’s elite were exiled to Babylon, with the middle defeat in 587 (or 586) being the worst and most significant historically.

The destruction of the Temple, and the deportation of the priests, could have marked the end of the religion of Judah. But it didn’t. If anything, it strengthened and solidified it for a very important reason: the Temple had been destroyed and the people were separated from their Holy Land. If they clung on to the old religion it would die because it was inextricably linked to Jerusalem and the Temple (most notably a long tradition of animal sacrifices). To survive, they had to create a new religion to hold themselves together as a people. This is the subject of a book of mine which has been journeying around presses for many years. Consequently, I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice it to say, the general outline of my hypothesis is in line with the thinking of a number of Biblical scholars and archeologists – certainly not all, by any means. It will not sit well with orthodox Jews and evangelical Christians.

Empires have been able to subjugate peoples for generations by displacing them from their home territories. The Assyrians did it in antiquity and Stalin did it in the 20th century. If your cultural identity is rooted to a specific geography and specific buildings within that geography, then your culture can be destroyed if you are torn away from that geography. If your cultural identity is rooted in something portable, then you can survive being transported anywhere. Many ancient cultures had gods that were fixed in particular places, and at the time of the siege of Jerusalem by, Yahweh, god of Judah, had his home in the Temple in Jerusalem. The priests forced into exile in Babylon devised a new idea. God was not rooted anywhere geographic: he was located in THE WORD. God’s home was the sacred texts that embodied his words. They could be copied if need be, and they could be transported to wherever the Judean people found themselves. Thus, the people were freed from a specific temple in a specific place. Their cultural identity could be preserved. In other words, I am saying that Judaism was born in Babylon among the priests and people of the Exile. You may understand now why my book on the subject is not having an easy job finding a publisher. It will, but there are still hurdles to clear.

For today’s recipe I am breaking with historical chronology a little. One of the ways that Judeans during the Exile avoided assimilation with Babylonians was enforcing strict food laws that made it all but impossible to eat with Babylonians or use their ingredients. Three great commandments – not part of the 10 Commandments, of course – were 1. Don’t marry a foreigner. 2. Don’t dine with a foreigner. 3. Don’t eat foreign food. These commandments were laid down during the Exile, and have endured to this day. Judeans in Exile probably ate the dishes from home as much as they could. Their traditional meats were from locally herded cows, sheep, and goats. They did not herd pigs. But the Babylonians did. They relished them, in fact. So, they were supremely taboo. These days there is much more interchange of food ideas between Iraq, successor state to Babylon, and Israel. Laffat betinjan –  لفّة بيتنجان – a fried eggplant sandwich from Iraq is popular in Israel, where it is called sabich. Eggplant has been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory, and it must be domesticated. There are no wild edible versions. Because there are no Greek or Latin names for the vegetable, and all the words in European languages are derived from Arabic, it is believed that eggplants were introduced into the Mediterranean region by Arabs in the Middle Ages. In other words, Judeans and Babylonians were not eating eggplants during the Exile. No matter. Iraqis and Israelis are enjoying fried eggplant sandwiches these days.

With this dish you have a lot of choices, so let me start with frying the eggplant, and then talk about possibilities. The main concern with frying eggplant is to do all you can to prevent the slices from absorbing too much oil.

Betinjan Maqli  بيتنجان مقلي Fried Eggplant

Ingredients

1 large eggplant (about 1½ lb)
flour for coating
oil for frying

Instructions

Cut off the stem of the eggplant, and peel it lengthwise. Cut the eggplant into 2 parts crosswise, and then cut each part into ¼ in-thick slices lengthwise.

Place the eggplant pieces in salted warm water and place a plate or other flat heavy kitchen object to make sure they stay completely submerged. Let me soak for 30 minutes.

Drain the eggplant pieces, and coat them well with flour on all sides.

Heat ½ in of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and fry the eggplant pieces in batches until golden brown on both sides. Turn once only.

Drain the eggplant pieces on a wire rack.

These fried eggplant pieces can be arranged on a platter with sliced tomatoes, grated garlic, and chopped parsley, and you can also provide cayenne pepper, lemon juice and Greek yoghurt. This will serve as a side dish on its own, or you can assemble sandwiches in pita bread, or other flatbread, according to your tastes. Iraqis often use khubuz. You don’t have to limit your ingredients for the sandwiches either. Israelis often add boiled egg slices, for example.

Apr 212017
 

Today is Grounation Day, an important day for the Rastafari, second only to Coronation Day (November 2). It is celebrated in honor of Haile Selassie’s 1966 visit to Jamaica.  When Haile Selassie visited Jamaica, around 100,000 Rastafari from all over Jamaica descended on Palisadoes Airport in Kingston. When his Ethiopian Airlines flight landed at the airport at 1:30 pm the crowd surrounded his plane on the tarmac. After about half an hour, the door swung open and the emperor appeared at the top of the mobile steps. A deafening tumult was heard from the crowd, who beat calabash drums, lit firecrackers, waved signs, and sounded Abeng horns. All protocol was dropped as the crowd pressed past the security forces and on to the red carpet that had been laid out for the reception. Selassie waved from the top of the steps and then returned into the plane. Finally Jamaican authorities asked Ras Mortimer Planno, a prominent Rasta leader, to climb the steps, enter the plane, and negotiate the Emperor’s descent. When Planno reemerged, he announced to the crowd: “The Emperor has instructed me to tell you to be calm. Step back and let the Emperor land” After Planno escorted Selassie down the steps he refused to walk on the red carpet on the way to his limousine. Thus was born the term “grounation” a portmanteau of “foundation” and “ground,”  meaning something like “the spiritual leader (foundation) makes contact with the soil (ground).”

As a result of Planno’s actions, the Jamaican authorities were asked to ensure that Rastafari representatives were present at all state functions attended by Selassie, and Rastafari leaders, including Planno, also obtained a private audience with the Emperor, where he reportedly told them that they should not attempt to emigrate to Ethiopia (or Africa in general) until they had first liberated the people of Jamaica. This dictum came to be known as “liberation before repatriation.” Defying the expectations of the British colonial Jamaican authorities, Selassie never rebuked the Rastafari for their belief in him as the Messiah. Instead, he presented the movement’s faithful leaders with gold medallions bearing the Ethiopian seal – the only recipients of such an honor on this visit. Meanwhile, he presented some of the Jamaican politicians with miniature coffin-shaped cigarette boxes. So let’s explore what Rastafari is all about (in very little space – as always).

The word Rastafari comes from Haile Selassie’s birth name and title in Amharic: Ras (Chief) Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael. From the 1930s onward a movement, known as Rastafari, grew in Jamaica as a militant reaction to colonialism and former slavery, at one time advocating a return of the descendants of former slaves to Africa and revering Haile Selassie as the reincarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. Outsiders define Rastafari as a religion, but devotees prefer to see it as a movement, although it has many of the hallmarks of a religion, with many features taken from Judaism and Christianity.  I see no point in quibbling about terminology.

Rastas use the Biblical term “Babylon” to describe the colonial forces of oppression, one major form of which is language itself. Thus suffixes, such as “-ism” and “-ian,” are seen as linguistic forms of limitation and control. I am wholly sympathetic with this agenda. Labels such as “Marxism” or “Freudian,” for example, are both limiting and misleading. I happen to like the word “Christian” when it is strictly applied, meaning “a person who strives in all ways to be Christ-like.” By this definition there are precious few Christians. In my opinion the word “Christian” should not be randomly applied to anyone who happens to go to a certain kind of church, but should have a clear and precise meaning. In this respect I am fully in accord with Rastas.  The trouble is that with or without suffixes, “Rastafari” and “Rasta” are labels and bring the limits of definition along with them.

It is fair to say that Rastafari has no rigid dogmas, but is rather a way of life with multiple paths. These ways include an emphasis on an Afro-centric worldview (replacing the desire for repatriation to Africa), eating unadulterated and unprocessed foods, smoking ganja (marijuana) as a sacrament, communal singing and chanting, belief in a single God – called Jah, and belief that Haile Selassie was the Second Coming of the Messiah. These paths are not all rigid. Not all Rastas smoke ganja for example. Some are strict vegans, while others eat meat. Early on Rastas realized that language can limit ways of thinking and developed a dialect of English which is now called Iyaric (a portmanteau of “I” and “Amharic”). The idea was to break away from standard English, the language of the colonial masters, and, since the former languages of African slaves had been lost, to create a new mode of speech that rejected the ideology of “Babylon.” “I,” signifying the empowered self, is of prime importance in Iyaric – hence the name.

In the first place, “I” can signify at least two meanings through “wordsound” (the power of sound in words). It can mean the self, but can also signify “high” (which is sounds like), not in the sense of high from ganja, but spiritually high. Here’s a very brief lexicon:

I replaces “me,” which is much more commonly used in Jamaican English than in standard English. Me is felt to turn the person into an object whereas, I emphasizes the subjective nature of an individual.

I and I (also spelled I&I, InI, or Ihi yahnh Ihi) is a complex term, referring to the oneness of Jah (God) and every human. Rastafari scholar E. E. Cashmore says: “I and I is an expression to totalize the concept of oneness. ‘I and I’ as being the oneness of two persons. So God is within all of us and we’re one people in fact. I and I means that God is within all men. The bond of Ras Tafari is the bond of God, of man.” The term is often used in place of “you and I” or “we” among Rastafari, implying that both persons are united under the love of Jah.

I-tal (like “vital”) is spiritually blessed food that has not touched modern chemicals and is served without preservatives, condiments, or salts. Alcohol, coffee, milk, and flavored beverages are generally viewed as not I-tal. Most Rastas follow the I-tal proscriptions generally, and many are vegetarians or vegans. Even meat-eating Rastas abstain from eating pork, crabs, lobsters, and shrimp (which coincides with the restrictions of Kashrut).

I-man is the inner person within each Rastafari believer.

Irie refers to positive emotions or feelings, or anything that is good. This is a phonetic representation of “all right”.

Ites derived from English “heights”, means “joy” and also the colour “red”. It can also be short for “Israelites”.

Irator replaces “creator”, and Iration replaces “creation”.

Idren refers to the oneness of Rastafari and is used to describe one’s peers.

Itinually replaces continually. It has the everliving sense of I existing continuously.

Reggae developed out of the Rastafari movement, with its early lyrics expressing core Rasta values of militancy and freedom.  Here’s Bob Marley and the Melodians singing “By the Rivers of Babylon” which explores notions of slavery and alienation in a Biblical context. The song is dear to my heart because it was the first on a mix tape that I used every night 25 years ago to rock my son to sleep when he was an infant.

There are, of course, plenty of Rasta recipes exploiting I-tal food. Like Buddhist monks, Rastas don’t want to sacrifice taste and complexity just because they avoid certain ingredients. Many avoid red meat because of a belief that it rots inside the body, but fish is acceptable to some. Callaloo is a common Caribbean dish, ultimately deriving from West African cooking, that can be made from various leafy greens. In Jamaica amaranth leaves are the usual component. They are best if cooked fresh, but in the US I only ever found tinned callaloo, which is all right. The flavor is correct, but the greens are too mushy for my taste.

If you can get fresh amaranth leaves, take a bunch, cut off the tough part of the stems and roughly chop the  leaves. Soak and rinse them in fresh water for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile peel and slice an onion and mince 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, and thinly slice a scotch bonnet pepper. Also de-seed and chop a tomato. In a large heavy skillet sauté  the onion in a little vegetable oil until translucent. Add the garlic and pepper and cook for 1 or 2 minutes longer. Then add the amaranth (with fresh water still clinging to the leaves) and the tomato. Mix well, cover and steam for about 10 minutes, or until the leaves are tender. Add a little water if necessary during the cooking process so that the pan does not dry out and scorch. Callaloo is often served in Jamaica with salt fish and plantains, but it can be used as a green vegetable accompaniment for any dish.

Mar 302016
 

jachina2

 My birthday has rolled around again – 65 !!! Two years ago I did a sort of omnibus of anniversaries and birthdays for the day, followed with a recounting of significant birthdays past which I promised not to repeat the following year:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/juan-alejandro/

I kept my word:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/vincent-van-gogh/

This year I’ll look at a few more birthdays and anniversaries. It’s quite a day. I’ll begin with a slight puzzle.

Quite a few websites say something to the effect that today was the Day of Bau in ancient Babylonia. For example:

https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/8122667-mythical-calendar-march-30

jabau

Bau had various names in Mesopotamia including Nintinugga, goddess of healing and consort of Ninurta in the Babylonian pantheon. She is identical with the goddess of Akkadian mythology, known as Bau or Baba, though it would seem that the two were originally independent. She was the daughter of An and Ninurta’s wife. She had seven daughters, including Hegir-Nuna (Gangir). She was known as a patron deity of Lagash, where Gudea built her a temple. But I cannot find any primary sources that refer to 30th March as a special day for her. Yet numerous “pagan” sites list today as a special day for her. This seems to be a case where one person asserts something, and numerous others repeat the “fact” without checking.

jajanus

We’re on slightly more solid ground in ancient Rome. 30th March was, for a time, the feast day of Janus and Concordia, a day celebrating peace and harmony at the end of what was the first month before the introduction of the Julian calendar. While Janus is sometimes surnamed belliger (warrior) and sometimes pacificus (peacemaker) in accord with his general function of beginner of things, he is mentioned as Janus Quirinus in relation to the closing of the rites of March at the end of the month together with Pax, Salus and Concordia: Janus Quirinus which stresses the quirinal function of bringing peace to Rome and the hope that soldiers will return victorious. In the Fasti, a multi-volume work on the origins of Roman festivals, Ovid says:

March 30th

When, counting from that day, the shepherd has four times penned
The sated kids, and the grass four times whitened with fresh dew,
Janus must be adored, and with him gentle Concord,
And the Safety of Rome, and the altar of Peace.

jajanus2

I’m inclined to believe that the legendary martyrdom of Quirinus of Neuss on this date in 116 is an early Christian conflation of events in Rome in the 2nd century with Janus Quirinus, but sources are fragmentary. Saint Quirinus of Neuss (German: Quirin, Quirinus), sometimes called Quirinus of Rome (which is the name shared by another martyr) is venerated as a martyr and saint of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. His cult was centered at Neuss in Germany, though he was a Roman martyr.

jaquir

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a Roman martyr named Quirinus was buried in the Catacomb of Prætextatus on the Via Appia. The Martyrologium Hieronymianum mentions Quirinus’ name and place of burial. Legends make him a Roman tribune who was ordered with executing Alexander, Eventius, and Theodolus, who had been arrested by order of Trajan. Quirinus converted to Christianity, however, after witnessing miracles performed by these three saints, and he was baptized along with his daughter Balbina. He was then martyred on March 30 by being decapitated.

According to a document from Cologne dating from 1485, Quirinus’ body was donated in 1050 by Pope Leo IX to an abbess of Neuss named Gepa (who is called a sister of the pope). In this way the relics came to the Romanesque Church of St. Quirinus at Neuss (Quirinus-Münster) which still exists.

jaquir2

Inhabitants of that city invoked him for aid during Siege of Neuss by Charles the Bold that occurred in 1474-5. His cult spread to Cologne, Alsace, Scandinavia, western Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy, where he became the patron saint of Correggio. Numerous wells and springs were dedicated to him, and he was invoked against the bubonic plague, smallpox, and gout; he was also considered a patron saint of animals. Pilgrims to Neuss sought the Quirinuswasser (Quirinus water) from the Quirinusbrunnen (Quirinus spring or pump-room).

A farmers’ saying associated with Quirinus’ feast day of March 30 was “Wie der Quirin, so der Sommer” (“As St. Quirinus’ Day goes, so will the summer”).

jametre

On March 30, 1791, the French Academy of Sciences defined the length of a meter. Before this date, there were two definitions for a meter: one based on the length of a pendulum and the other based on a fraction of the length of a half-meridian, or line of longitude. The Academy chose the meridian definition. One meter was defined as one ten-millionth of the distance from the Equator to the North Pole. Not awfully accurate, I’m afraid, but it was a start. Today, a meter is “the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second.”

One more birthday:

jaastin jaastin2

John Astin (1930 and still going), whom I remember as Gomez in the 1960s series, The Addams Family.  Fond memories.

jajeo

Speaking of the 60’s, Jeopardy!, originally hosted by Art Fleming had its debut on this date in 1964.

I don’t normally record death dates in these posts except in reference to saints, but three on this date are worthy of note:

1840 – Beau Brummell, English-French fashion designer (b. 1778)

1925 – Rudolf Steiner, Austrian philosopher and author (b. 1861)

2004 – Alistair Cooke, English-American journalist and author (b. 1908)

Last year I was in China and had a rather muted celebration because I had to work, and was living in a hostel with no kitchen.

jachina

Here’s an album:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.846446478749192.1073741895.100001515440887&type=1&l=4124b24525

This year’s album will get here at some point.  It’s 4 am right now and I’ve got a long day. Dinner is in the works (cream is the theme):

Appetizers: Italian ham and cheeses plus deviled eggs (with cream filling).

Soup: Cream of wild mushroom and leek.

Fish: Fresh anchovies with a crème of smoked salmon.

Main: Braised quail, rabbit and beef in a spicy cream sauce.

Dessert: Wild berries in a chilled custard of eggs, cream, and mascarpone.

Every recipe is my own creation. I hope my guests don’t go home hungry.

Oct 292015
 

cyrus1

Sorry for the small hiatus faithful readers. I was given a week’s notice to leave China, and, after trials and tribulations, I am ensconced in Mantua in northern Italy. Hopefully I can pick up daily posting again, but do not be surprised by occasional lapses. Hey, I do this for free and there is no advertising !!!

On this date in 539 BCE Cyrus II of Persia, also known as Cyrus the Great and Cyrus the Elder, entered Babylon as conqueror, a most momentous date in the history of the Jews who had been exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadrezzar (misspelled in the Bible, “Nebuchadnezzar”) as punishment for rebellion. The so-called Babylonian Captivity or Babylonian Exile (or simply “the Exile”) was a crucial time in the history of Judaism (and later for Christianity). I have written a great deal about this era, as have numerous other scholars. Judaism was codified in this period when priests and people were unable to practice temple worship and sacrifice in Jerusalem. Instead they founded synagogues in Babylon where they concentrated on reading and interpreting sacred writings. I believe, as will be evident in my forthcoming publications, that Genesis was redacted (put together) at this time, and has formed an important document of faith for Jewish identity ever since.

cyrus5

Cyrus was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Under his rule, the empire conquered all the previously civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded greatly, and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much of Central Asia and the Caucasus. From the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the Indus River in the east, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire the world had yet seen. Under his successors, the empire eventually stretched from parts of the Balkans (Bulgaria-Pannonia) and Thrace-Macedonia in the west, to the Indus Valley in the east. His regal titles in full were The Great King, King of Persia, King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad, and King of the Four Corners of the World.

cyrus2

The reign of Cyrus the Great lasted somewhere between 29 and 31 years. Cyrus built his empire by conquering first the Median Empire, then the Lydian Empire and eventually the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Either before or after Babylon, he led an expedition into central Asia, which resulted in major campaigns that were described as having brought “into subjection every nation without exception”. Cyrus did not venture into Egypt, as he himself died in battle, fighting the Massagetae along the Syr Darya in December 530 BCE. He was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, who managed to add to the empire by conquering Egypt, Nubia, and Cyrenaica during his short rule.

Cyrus the Great respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. It is said that in universal history, the role of the Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus lies in its very successful model for centralized administration and establishing a government working to the advantage and profit of its subjects. In fact, the administration of the empire through satraps and the vital principle of forming a government at Pasargadae were the works of Cyrus. What is sometimes referred to as the Edict of Restoration (actually two edicts) described in the Bible as being made by Cyrus the Great left a lasting legacy on Judaism, where, because of his policies in Babylonia, he is referred to in the Hebrew Bible as Messiah (lit. “anointed one”) (Isaiah 45:1), and is the only Gentile to be so called.

Cyrus the Great is recognized for his achievements in human rights, politics, and military strategy, as well as his influence on both Eastern and Western civilizations. Having originated from Persis, roughly corresponding to the modern Iranian province of Fars, Cyrus has played a crucial role in defining the national identity of modern Iran. Cyrus and, indeed, the Achaemenid influence in the ancient world also extended as far as Athens, where many Athenians adopted aspects of the Achaemenid Persian culture as their own, in a reciprocal cultural exchange.

cyrus7

In the 1970s, the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, identified Cyrus’ famous proclamation inscribed on the Cyrus Cylinder as the oldest known declaration of human rights, and the Cylinder has since been popularized as such. This view has been criticized by some historians as a misunderstanding of the Cylinder’s generic nature as a traditional statement that ancient Near Eastern monarchs made at the beginning of their reigns. There is nothing especially original about the Cylinder’s contents, and the Shah’s touting of it as Iran’s first human rights declaration was more likely a calculated political move to trumpet his own status, and thus hide the realities of his own repressive rule under a thin veil of historical continuity and legitimacy. In truth, Cyrus did, indeed, allow local cultures to retain their traditional identities, hence his willingness to return the Jews to Jerusalem. People not subject to tyrannical, enforced hegemony and assimilation, as the Jews were in Babylon, are less likely to rebel. If you let them get on with their own business – taxing them heavily – you survive as a ruler longer. But make no mistake, the “laws of the Medes and Persians” were legendary for their strictness. Rebel and you pay in blood.

cyrus4

Here’s an old Persian recipe for duck in pomegranate and walnut sauce. Duck is traditional, but you can use just about any meat or meatballs. Chicken works fine. There’s no knowing the exact age of the dish given that recipes from Cyrus’ era do not exist. But it is acknowledged to be an old dish, still very popular. You can probably buy pomegranate molasses online, but it’s easy enough to make. I give a recipe below the main recipe. Serve the duck with Persian rice and flat bread.

cyrus6

Duck Fesenjān

Ingredients

1 duck cut in 8 pieces (bone in)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp duck fat
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cups diced yellow onion
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup pomegranate molasses
¼ cup honey
3 cups walnut halves

Instructions

Season the duck all over with salt and pepper.

Heat the duck fat in a heavy skillet over high heat. Sauté the duck pieces in batches until browned on all sides. Reserve the browned pieces and pour the remaining fat into a Dutch oven.

Pour a little chicken stock into the skillet and bring to a boil while scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat.

Heat the duck fat plus olive oil in the Dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté the onion in the oil and fat until golden. Add the turmeric, cinnamon, and nutmeg and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Pour the chicken broth, pomegranate molasses, and honey, into the onions. Bring to a simmer.

Grind the walnuts to a fine powder in a food processor.

Sauté the walnut powder in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir the walnuts into the broth mixture. Add the browned duck and add more chicken broth if needed to cover. Reduce the heat and simmer until the duck is tender (up to 3 hours).

Transfer the duck to a serving dish and keep warm.

Bring the broth mixture to a boil and cook until reduced to a thick sauce consistency. Ladle the sauce over the duck.

Pomegranate Molasses

Place 4 cups of pomegranate juice, ½ cup of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced to 1 cup ( approximately 70 minutes). It should be the consistency of thick syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.