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Jerusalem as the Omphalos of the World

For Jerusalem Day, the origins of a geographical concept in Jewish anti-Greek and anti-Roman polemic

Philip Alexander
May 10, 2021
Public Domain
The Hereford Mappa Mundi is the largest medieval map known to existPublic Domain
Public Domain
The Hereford Mappa Mundi is the largest medieval map known to existPublic Domain

Jerusalem has evoked many images, but none is perhaps more vivid and abiding than that of the Holy City as the center and navel of the earth. A series of medieval Christian maps, of which the Hereford Mappa Mundi is perhaps the best known, has given this idea graphic expression by depicting the world as a circular landmass surrounded by ocean, with Jerusalem at its center, the circle of its walls following the line of the earth’s rim and hinting at the city’s perfection and spiritual supremacy. Often reproduced, the symbolism of these charming artifacts has passed into popular consciousness. But where and when did this concept originate, and what message or messages has it been used to convey?

The first clear reference to Jerusalem as the navel of the earth occurs in the Book of Jubilees, a retelling of the Book of Genesis composed in Hebrew in Palestine in Second Temple times. The importance of Jerusalem, its favored location, and even its centrality within its region, are certainly mentioned in earlier Jewish texts, but it is only in the second century BCE in Jubilees that we find for the first time a clear cartographic image of the world as a whole, with Jerusalem placed at its center and called “the navel” of the earth. The relevant passage comes from Jubilees’ treatment of the division of the world among the sons of Noah after the flood:

“And he (Noah) knew that the Garden of Eden is the holy of holies and the Lord’s dwelling place, and Mount Sinai the center of the desert, and Mount Zion the center of the navel of the earth: these three were created as holy places facing each other.”

There are problems with this text and unfortunately neither the Greek nor the Hebrew survives to help us solve them. The phrase “the center of the navel of the earth” seems curiously tautologous, and we might suspect that “navel” has been added secondarily, perhaps in the Greek or the Ge’ez. Why not simply “center of the earth,” matching “center of the desert?” Zion’s designation as the “navel” does, I would suggest, have a point and was probably in the original text. It serves to rank Sinai and Zion. Both are “holy,” both are “centers,” but whereas Sinai is only the center of the desert, Zion is the center of the world and its omphalos. The resonant epithet omphalos establishes Zion’s higher status.

The geographical centrality of Jerusalem is presented by the author of Jubilees in a very concrete way. His treatment of the Table of the Nations in Gen. 10 projects a remarkably vivid imago mundi, one so coherent and cartographic that it probably once existed as a drawn map. The world is visualized as a more or less circular landmass surrounded by the waters of ocean, its disc bisected east-west by a median running through the Garden of Eden and the Straits of Gibraltar, and north-south by a median running through Mount Zion and Mount Sinai. The medians intersect at Zion which stands, consequently, at the center of the earth.

What exactly does the author of Jubilees mean by asserting that Zion is the “navel” of the earth? We must be careful not to read too much into his use of the word. The concept of the center of the earth plays an important role in many religious worldviews and is associated with an impressive, and remarkably constant, set of mythological ideas. But it would be wrong to assume that every time the phrase “the navel of the earth” occurs, it invokes automatically this whole nexus of ideas. There may be distant echoes of mythology in Jubilees (note, for example, that the “navel” is a mountain), but fundamentally Jubilees is not expressing mythology. Indeed, its sober geography is remarkable for its absence of mythology and stands in striking contrast to the fantastic geography of its contemporary, I Enoch.

The Jubilees’ reference to Zion as “the navel of the earth” must be considered in the context of the message of the Jubilees world map as a whole. In that setting, it can be seen first and foremost as a political statement. It is part of the anti-Greek political rhetoric of the Jubilees mappa mundi. I would suggest that when the author of Jubilees refers to Zion as the navel of the earth, he does not have earlier Jewish or Semitic ideas primarily in mind, but rather the contemporary Greek claims that Delphi is the omphalos of the world.

There were a number of omphaloi in Greece, but Delphi was the omphalos par excellence. Its status as such was enshrined in national folklore and literature, and the omphalos stone at Delphi was a major tourist attraction that featured on coins. Delphi was a pan-Hellenic shrine and doubtless, its claim that it was the navel of the earth was intended to support its national status. Its role within Greek religion can be compared to the role of the Jerusalem sanctuary within Judaism. There is every possibility, then, that the author of Jubilees could have known this Greek tradition.

The author of Jubilees took the standard Ionian map and recast it unto a biblical frame. He correlated the three sons of Noah with the three Ionian continents—Japhet = Europe, Shem = Asia, and Ham = Libya—using the rivers Nile and Dan (as did certain Ionian cartographers) to demarcate their respective territories. And he relocated the omphalos of the world from Delphi to Jerusalem. This view, which I have argued at length elsewhere, has recently encountered some criticism. So let me restate the evidence for it as succinctly as I can. The use of the Don and the Nile to delimit the territories of Noah’s three sons is a clear Ionian feature on the Jubilees map, which indicates that the author of Jubilees knew the Ionian geographical tradition. This conclusion is reinforced by the presence of other details on the map which almost certainly did not come from earlier Jewish tradition. Note, for example, its visualization of the coastline of the northern Mediterranean, with its “tongues” of land (Italy and Greece) jutting out into the sea.

Where is the Jewish antecedent for this? The image is so vivid that it points to a cartographic precursor. So, too, when Jubilees talks about the “great islands” to the northwest of Europe (the British Isles), where is the Jewish source? This is not just the vague biblical “islands of the sea”; the islands are precisely located. It is true that there are scattered hints in the Bible that the earth is circular, and certain, largely poetic, passages speak of the centrality of Jerusalem to the Land of Israel, or even vaguely to the world, though, as we shall presently see, it is doubtful whether earlier Jewish tradition ever called Jerusalem the “navel” of the earth. It is also true that, according to the Bible, Noah had three sons who parceled out the world between them after the flood.

Jubilees is not saying anything radically new. Its image of the world is consonant with earlier Jewish world geography, such as it was, which is hardly surprising since biblical geography and Ionian geography may have common roots in Babylonian geography. But nowhere before Jubilees do we find these scattered elements drawn together so clearly and convincingly. This synthesis is less easy to achieve than one might suppose. In my view, the crucial stimulus toward achieving it was provided by an encounter with the Ionian world map.

A consideration of the general program of the Jubilees map confirms the impression that its assertion of Jerusalem’s centrality is essentially polemical and political. We must recall the historical setting of the book. Jubilees dates to the mid-second century BCE. Its appearance coincided with the Hasmonean revolution, which caused a profound intensification of religious life in Palestinian Judaism.

The Hasmoneans redefined the concept of Jewish territoriality, the relationship of Israel to the diaspora, and possibly even the concept of what it meant to be a Jew. They redrew the political map of the Middle East by first establishing the independence of the Jewish territory from Greek hegemony, and then expanding Jewish hegemony over neighboring non­ Jewish territory and creating a greater Israel.

Jubilees attempts to give de jure justification for both these de facto developments. Note, first, its treatment of the Greeks on its world map. Javan (Greece) is a son of Japhet, and so his patrimony, according to the Jubilees schema, belongs to Europe, which ends at the Bosporus. The Greeks, therefore, have no right of residence in Asia, and in usurping land there they are breaking the solemn agreement entered into by the sons of Noah after the flood. Positing Jerusalem as the omphalos of the world is an integral part of this polemic: It is a political gesture of great symbolic significance.

Jubilees also seems to have tried to underpin the legitimacy of the territorial expansion of the Hasmonean state. In this context, its treatment of Canaan is noteworthy. As a son of Ham, Canaan had to be assigned on the Jubilees schema a patrimony in Africa (the area around Carthage was cleverly chosen for him). However, in migrating from Ararat after the flood, Canaan saw the so-called “Land of Canaan,” liked it, and seized it, thus violating the covenant between the sons of Noah. The “Land of Canaan” was, in fact, allotted to Arpachshad, the ancestor of Abraham. We have here a polemical reversal of the “Canaanite” “Joshua the brigand” traditions, which claimed that it was the Jews who had usurped the land.

The author of Jubilees used the Medes as a foil to the Canaanites. The Medes, as sons of Japher, were assigned territory in Europe—the British Isles, in fact—but having migrated to their patrimony they did not like it (the weather may have been a problem), and so they returned to the Middle East and settled in the allotment of Shem.

There was, however, a difference. The Medes occupied their new territory amicably, by negotiation and agreement. This story about the Medes is otherwise unknown, suggesting that the author of Jubilees probably made it up as a telling contrast to the violence of the Canaanites.

Maps, even modern scientifically surveyed ones, are ideological constructs. What features are selected for representation, how they are named, the choice of meridians, the projections used, and the resultant distortions of size and relationship are not value-free, but often involve political statements. The Jubilees map is no exception. It was, arguably, propaganda for the Hasmoneans and embodied their political aspirations in much the same way as Marcus Agrippa’s “map” erected in the Forum at Rome embodied Augustus’ vision of the Roman world order.

I would like now to consider the question of whether Jerusalem or any other locality is referred to in the Bible as “the navel” of the earth. The expression tabbur haaretz, applied to Mount Gerizim in Judg. 9:37 and to Jerusalem in Ezek. 38:12, has certainly been given this sense, ever since the Septuagint rendered tabbur as omphalos. But it is very doubtful whether this translation is historically correct. The contexts of both references are vague and it is hard to see why such strong metaphorical language should have been used. It is more likely, as Shemaryahu Talmon has suggested, that tabbur has a neutral geographical sense, perhaps something like “plateau,” or “rounded hill.” The root טבר is not attested in early Semitic. Tibbur occurs in mishnaic Hebrew and in later Jewish Aramaic in the anatomical sense of the umbilicus, and from there it was passed on to modern Hebrew. Particularly noteworthy is Bavli Yoma 85a which states, in accordance with early medical theory, that the formation of the embryo begins from the tibbur. But this later usage can hardly be decisive for the early meaning of the word. Old Hebrew had another term for the umbilicus, derived from the root שרר and found in Ezek. 16:4 and Cant. 7:3.

Moreover, mythological motifs normally associated with the navel of the earth—for example, that some physical feature (a rock or a mountain) marks the spot from which the earth grew—are also not prominent in the Bible. These ideas are found in Babylonia and Egypt, but they are not obvious in ancient Hebrew literature. Wensinck tried to prove that belief in a navel of the earth was universal among the western Semites, but his methodology is, to say the least, dubious. He lumps together sources from widely different periods and places to create a highly synthetic picture. When we introduce a diachronic perspective it becomes clear, as Talmon rightly observed, that all Wensinck’s clear Jewish evidence comes from post-biblical aggadot. Behind Wensinck’s account seems to lie the view, fashionable in his day, that there existed in the distant past a universal folk religion, a sort of perennial philosophy, one clement of which was a set of ideas about the navel of the earth. This is speculative and would command little support today.

I know of only two sources that may plausibly be seen as anticipating Jubilees. The first is I Enoch 26:1, where, in his cosmographical account of his world tour, Enoch says: “I was transported to the middle of the earth, and I saw a blessed place, in which were trees and saplings surviving and burgeoning from a felled tree.” The “blessed place” here, as in I Enoch 26:1, is the Land of Israel, and the place at the center of the earth is Jerusalem, an unmistakable topography of which follows—though in keeping with the fictional setting of the narrative the name Jerusalem itself is not used. This passage in I Enoch belongs to the Book of the Watchers, which was probably redacted in the second half of the third century BCE, that is, earlier than Jubilees. Given that the author of Jubilees unquestionably knew the Enochic literature, we may well conclude that he knew this passage of I Enoch.

We are certainly getting close to Jubilees’ position, but we are still not quite there. It is one thing to say that Jerusalem is the middle of the world and another to say that it is the navel of the earth, and to realize this assertion in clear cartographic form. The latter implies the former, but not vice versa.

The other possibly antecedent source is the Septuagint, which, as we have already noted, rendered tabbur in Judges and in Ezekiel by the Greek omphalos. In the latter text, there is a link with Jerusalem. However, we cannot be sure whether the Greek translations of these two books predate or postdate Jubilees. The rendering of tabbur as omphalos is striking and full of potential. It is probable that the Septuagint here, as so often elsewhere, is reflecting Palestinian Jewish exegetical tradition.

The word tabbur, it should be recalled, occurs only twice in the Hebrew Bible and its sense is very uncertain. This uncertainty may have been exploited already in the late Second Temple period, and Ezek. 38:12 used as a convenient biblical “peg” on which to hang the doctrine of Jerusalem as the navel of the earth. The Septuagint reflects this Palestinian tradition. In other words, the equation tabbur = omphalos in Ezek. 38:12 is not a distinctive Alexandrian invention, but represents Palestinian exegesis—the same Palestinian exegesis as is implied by Jubilees.

To sum up: I would suggest that the doctrine of Jerusalem as the navel of the earth can be traced back no earlier than the Hasmonean revolution of the second century BCE. It is first clearly attested in Jubilees, whose author used it for polemical purposes to support aspects of the political propaganda of the Hasmonean state.

Once launched, the idea had a long and vigorous life, in both Christianity and Judaism. First, the Christian tradition. Though explicit statements occur from time to time in Christian writers, asserting the geographical centrality of Jerusalem and calling it the omphalos of the earth, it is Christian cartography that expresses this idea most powerfully. This brings us back to the Hereford Mappa Mundi. Even at a glance, the similarity of the Hereford map to the reconstructed Jubilees map is striking. Is this accidental? I would argue not: A convincing line of transmission can, in fact, be constructed linking the Hereford map directly to Jubilees.

We know that the author or creator of the Hereford map was one Richard of Holdingham, and that it was drawn, probably at Lincoln, in the late 13th century, though it was taken almost immediately to Hereford, where it has remained to the present day. It belongs to a collection of maps that show a strong family likeness. These include both the large, detailed images like the Hereford Mappa Mundi, and the little T-0 and T-Y maps, which are probably stylized pictograms or logos created by scribes who were daunted by the challenge of copying the complex, full-scale map.

P.D.A. Harvey argues that this whole group of mappae mundi belongs to “a single, much-ramified tradition which must go back to the Roman period,” at least to the fifth century. He suggests that the original was a Roman map “measured” and “reasonably accurate,” “showing coastal outlines, mountains, rivers, towns, and boundaries of provinces,” which has become more and more garbled with successive copying. Parts of this original, more accurate, map have, however, been preserved. In this context, he points to the map contained in an 11th­-century Cotton manuscript, which displays a strikingly more correct coastline for the North Sea and the English Channel. He raises the question of the possible relationship between this original Roman map and the Marcus Agrippa map, set up in Rome on the orders of Augustus and based on a survey of the empire initiated, according to tradition, by Julius Caesar. He notes that Dilke is in favor of such a link, whereas Brodersen is not, on the grounds that the Agrippan map was not an image, but a written text.

Parts of Harvey’s tradition-history are plausible, but parts are not. That the ancestor of the Hereford family of maps goes back at least to the fifth century is a conclusion demanded by the basic stemmatics of the manuscripts. But that the ancestor map was some sort of official Roman world map, based on information derived from the efficient Roman methods of surveying, seems to me to be totally off target. In fact, I would suggest that Harvey and other historians of cartography are guilty of naively misreading the Hereford map. The Hereford map, and the others like it, were never meant to be “real” geography. Their significance was symbolic and theological right from the start.

The Hereford map was so seriously out of joint with the geographical knowledge of its day that it cannot have been intended to be taken literally. Educated people, as Harvey correctly observes, already accepted by the 13th century that the world was not a flat disc but a globe, and many would have subscribed to the theory that in the Southern Hemisphere lay a continent matching our own, the terra incognita or australis, cut off from northern lands by the burning and impassable tropics. This terra australis has actually been added to the Beatus mappa mundi, thus destroying its symmetry. There is surprisingly little contemporary information in the Hereford map. Its image was already antiquated when it was produced. It is a survival from an earlier age, cherished more for theological than for strictly geographical reasons. It was not meant to function as a modern school atlas to inform people about the “real” world, but rather as a stylized visual aid to assist pious meditation and reflection.

The Hereford map belongs primarily to a tradition of Christian symbolic and mythical geography for which the real world was of little moment. Jerusalem was central to this geography, but this “Jerusalem” was not strongly identified with the physical city in the land of Palestine.

In certain Christian sources, the physical Jerusalem does indeed stand at the center of the physical world. Thus, a widespread Byzantine tradition puts the omphalos in Jerusalem, though significantly—in contrast to Jewish tradition—it is precisely located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and not on the Temple Mount. This polemical relocation of the navel of the earth is apparently reflected in the sixth-century Madeba mosaic map, which shows Jerusalem as (more or less) a circle with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at its center, and which pointedly ignores the Temple area. Christian and Jewish geography thus drew quite different maps of the same small space.

However, for most Christian writers, Jerusalem was a spiritual entity which the Christian could experience anywhere. Other great cities, Rome, Constantinople, Aachen, could become “Jerusalem.” “Jerusalem” could even be created in one’s local church by the erection of stations of the cross and of “calvaries.”

Ambivalence toward the Land of Israel goes back to earliest Christianity. The spiritualization of “Jerusalem” is found already in the New Testament: Paul in Gal. 4:25-26 regards the metropolis of the Church as being not the “present Jerusalem” which is “in slavery with her children,” but the “Jerusalem above” which is free.

It is true that from time to time there have been upsurges of Christian interest in the real Jerusalem. Constantine’s beautification of the city with fine buildings in the fourth century raised its importance in Christian consciousness and promoted pilgrimage. At the time of the Crusades, there was a strong feeling that the actual places of Christ’s life and passion were important and should be seized back from the Muslims. And in the 19th century, European Christianity became obsessed with the realia and archaeology of the Bible. Why these upsurges should have occurred, and what they tell us about the spirituality of the ages which produced them, are intriguing questions which we cannot pursue here. Suffice to note that this interest was the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, Christianity has been indifferent to the actual “Holy Land” and the actual “Holy City.” Against this background, to find fault with the cartography of the Hereford map is rather misplaced and involves a misjudgment of its purpose and the nature of its geography.

The ancestor of the Hereford map was probably similar in outline to the Hereford map itself, though occasionally this tradition may have been revised and smartened up, as in the Cotton manuscript, by reference to “real” maps. The roots of this image lie not in Roman “scientific” cartography, but in a symbolic Christian world map originating in the East, an idiosyncratic version of which is found in the works of the sixth-century writer Cosmas lndico­pleustes. This early Christian map was, in turn, more or less identical to the Jubilees map and may well have been descended from it. It should be borne in mind that Jubilees circulated in a Greek version in the Greek East and is quoted by a number of Byzantine scholars. Also relevant is the type of early Christian text known as a “Division (Diamerismos) of the World.” A classic example of this genre, worked and reworked in Latin and Greek throughout lace antiquity, is found in the Chronicle of Hippolytus. These Diamerismoi contain a detailed ethnography based on the Table of the Nations in Gen. 10. They are, in many respects, verbal analogs to the medieval mappae mundi, and some of them may show the influence, whether direct or indirect, of Jubilees.

Finally, some remarks on later Jewish tradition. Jewish-Greek literature yields a few interesting references to the centrality of Jerusalem. Philo, in his Embassy to Gaius claims that Jerusalem is “situated in the center of the world.” Josephus, in the War, defines Judea as stretching from the Jordan River to Jaffa, and writes: “the city of Jerusalem lies at its very center, and for this reason, it has sometimes, not inaptly, been called the ‘navel’ of the country.” A similar tradition is echoed earlier in the Letter of Aristeas, where it says that Jerusalem is “situated in the center of the Land of Judah on a high and exalted mountain (cf. Isa. 2:2).”

But the most significant developments of the idea are to be found in rabbinic texts. The locus classicus is in the Tanhuma to Leviticus, Qedoshim 10:

“As the navel is in the middle of the person, so is Eretz Israel the navel of the world, as it is written, “That dwell in the navel of the earth” (Ezek. 38:12). Eretz Israel is located in the center of the world, Jerusalem in the center of Eretz Israel, the Temple in the center of Jerusalem, the heikhal in the center of the Temple, the ark in the center of the heikhal, and in front of the heikhal is the even shetiyyah from which the world was founded.”

What is striking about the rabbinic traditions is how they testify to the re­mythologization of the concept of the navel of the earth. I argued that in Jubilees there is no sign of mythology; the navel of the earth is a geopolitical concept used to locate Jerusalem on the terrestrial plane and to assert its political importance. In the rabbinic sources, however, the original mythological associations of the idea come flooding back.

In the Tanhuma passage quoted above, Jerusalem has cosmogonic significance. It is the first created place from which the rest of the world grew outward concentrically. The “navel” is linked with the even shetiyyah, a stone or rock supposedly located within the Temple which marked the exact spot from which the world developed like a fetus from the umbilical cord.

Related to this may be the tradition that Adam was created from earth taken from the Temple Mount. The original thought, as found in II Enoch 71:35, was probably that it was appropriate that humanity should arise from the same spot from which the physical world grew; Jerusalem was not only the tabbur of the world, but the tabbur of humanity as well.

In rabbinic tradition, however, the Aggadah is given a rather different twist: It was appropriate that Adam should be formed from the place where later atonement should be made for his sins.

In rabbinic literature, the concept of the navel of the earth belongs to a constellation of mythological motifs which define Jerusalem as an axis mundi . In Jubilees, Jerusalem is the focal point only of the horizontal, terrestrial plane. In rabbinic texts, however, it has vertical as well as horizontal centrality: It is the focal point of different, superimposed planes. The Temple in Jerusalem and Jerusalem itself stand over against the heavenly Temple and the heavenly Jerusalem; Jerusalem, the terrestrial midpoint, corresponds to Jerusalem the celestial midpoint. Jerusalem also corresponds, in a downwards direction, to Gehenna, the center of the underworld, an entrance to which is located near the Holy City. And the even shetiyyah, on which the Ineffable Name is inscribed, serves as a capstone to seal the waters of the abyss and prevent them welling up and overwhelming the world. Jerusalem is the point where heaven, earth, and the underworld meet—a veritable axis mundi.

Here, too, it seems possible to introduce a diachronic perspective. In tannaitic sources, as in the Bible, there are general statements about the centrality of Jerusalem. The map of the concentric circles of holiness surrounding the Temple in Mishnah Kelim 1:6--9 is a pertinent example. But this idea undoubtedly gains precision and force in the amoraic period, when it is linked to renewed speculation about the navel of the earth. And although they are occasionally quoted in Babylonian sources, these traditions all appear to be Palestinian in origin.

The relationship between Mishnah Yoma 5:2 and later texts illustrates this development. There it is stated that the even shetiyyah, has been in the Temple “from the days of the first prophets.” Even allowing that the time reference of “from the days of the first prophets” is vague and probably means simply “from time immemorial,” the language is odd if the even shetiyyah is being thought of as the navel of the earth, since, by definition, the even shetiyyah is the oldest thing on earth and has always been there.

However, in the corresponding passage of the Tosefta Yom ha-Kippurim 2:14, the cosmogonic function of the even shetiyyah is clearly introduced and sets the tone for the comments in the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, and for later midrashic texts in general. These later ideas were attached to the even shetiyyah by the common midrashic device of etymology. The mysterious word shetiyyah is derived either from the root “to found” (hence “stone of foundation,” i.e., foundation stone of the world), or from the root “to weave” (hence “stone of weaving,” involving comparison of the act of creation to the weaving of cloth). Thus, the even shetiyyah provided a convenient peg on which Palestinian amoraic authorities were able to hang certain speculations about the cosmic and theological centrality of Jerusalem.

Why might these ideas have been stressed in Eretz Israel in amoraic times? Again, we may suspect a political purpose. Rome also regarded itself as the center of the world, the hub of a network of roads leading outward to the edges of its empire. This was symbolized by the milliarium aureum in the Forum, the “golden milestone,” which “in letters of gilt, indicated the mileage from Rome along the trunk roads to key points in the empire.”

The amoraic sages seem to have increasingly regarded Rome and Jerusalem as rivals, particularly after the empire became officially Christian and went over to “heresy.” Jacob Neusner has suggested that this rivalry is a major motif of Genesis Rabbah. The rabbinic story which circulated in amoraic times, that Rome was founded when an angel stuck a reed into the sea and a mud bank grew around it on which the city was built, reads like a parody of the story of the creation of the world from the even shetiyyah in Jerusalem.

The new emphasis on Jerusalem as the navel of the earth may be part of this anti-Roman rhetoric. Alternatively, it may have been intended for an internal, Jewish audience. Isaiah Gafni has argued that the new stress on the importance and centrality of the Land of Israel which he finds in Palestinian amoraic sources reflects an emerging political struggle between the rabbinic schools of Eretz Israel and Babylonia. The religious authorities in Palestine, alarmed by the growing reputation of the Babylonian academies, began to highlight ideas which asserted or implied the primacy of Eretz Israel. Perhaps the tibbur ha-olam and the even shetiyyah traditions were employed as part of this propaganda. If either of these suggestions is correct—and they are not mutually exclusive—then, once again, for all its mythological color, the assertion that Jerusalem is the navel of the earth is intended, as in Jubilees, primarily to serve political ends.

Philip Alexander is Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester, a former Director of the Manchester University Center for Jewish Studies, and the former President of the Oxford Center for Jewish Studies.

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