Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Could They Still Make Lemonade?

Traveling in the Middle Ages was not that much fun but that didn't stop men like Meshullam ben Menachem of Volterra, who went to the Middle East, including Egypt. His account of his travels is fascinating. Meshullam left "Misr" [a name for Cairo] on the 4th of July, 1481. It is interesting that, in his time, certain Biblical toponyms were thought to be identified. "Bilibis" or Bilbeis was thought to be Goshen. El-Arish was Succoth because, as Meshullam mentions, "for in Arabic arish means hut. This is the place built by our father, Jacob, peace to his memory, and there is only one little house there in ruins and a well of brackish water; and, behold, at night there came upon us a swarm of insects found in the sand of the desert as large as two flies and rather red. They say that these are the lice with which Pharaoh was plagued, and they bit me big bites, but fortunately we had lemons which we brought with us from Misr, because we knew about them, that there is no remedy to their bite except lemon juice, for the juice prevents the wound festering in a man's flesh, and I swear that in all my days I never had so much pain as that night..."

Meshullam further says there was nothing but brackish water until they arrived at a place called "Asika, in Arabic called Azan" but then it's possible he gives us a clue as to who one of the Sea Peoples might have been . This Azan was about "four miles from the sea and the Moslems keep guard there because of the corsairs [pirates] from the sea. They are mostly corsairs of Rhodes who come mostly to levy booty from the travellers there...the corsair robbers were about four hundred men...all those who were in al-Khan fled when they heard about them and left all their property and went to Gaza...From Misr to Gaza is 298 miles..." Meshullam and his caravan made it to Gaza by July 21st--17 days in all. Since the people of ancient Rhodes were connected to a character named Danaeus, perhaps they can have been the "Danuna".

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