Spies need pockets

When you’re writing something like “The Gospel According to the Romans” with its cloaks and daggers, your hero is bound to have the need to hide various items on himself, and his adversaries are going to have weapons stashed on themselves. This would be very easy in cyberpunk, the outfits are so elaborate, with belts and buttons and flaps and pockets all over the place. But what about Ancient Rome and Israel when your clothes were a simple toga, or a basic robe, or possibly a short tunic with a belt?

Robes can certainly have pockets

And then I noticed – being in Saudi Arabia these days – that all the robes have pockets, both men’s thobes and women’s abayas. Where else can people keep their keys and cash and cell phones? How long has this been going on? What is the history of the pocket?

The most succinct yet engaging history of the pocket – though with a very European bias – comes from columnist Jeff Elder, writing in 2004:

In Europe, common people began to exchange coins for goods and services toward the end of the Middle Ages. By the 13th century, many kings, princes, dukes, bishops and free cities minted their own coins.

So people needed someplace to carry their coins. The first pockets were small purses hung on one’s belt. You might’ve seen these in Robin Hood books and movies or Renaissance costumes.

But pockets on the outside of one’s clothes were easy to pick, or swipe altogether. One slice with a knife could cut the drawstrings and your money was gone.

So people started hanging their pocket-purses inside their pants. This made it tough for criminals to get at their money. It also made it difficult for the rightful owners to get at the money. To buy something you’d virtually have to drop your trousers and moon the entire marketplace.

So many people made a simple slit that enabled them to reach through their clothes and into their purses, which were still pouches hung around their waists.

But saddling yourself up with the purse before you put on your clothes was a hassle. And in the late 1700s, tailors and family seamstresses began to sew pockets right into trousers and dresses.

In  other words, it seems unlikely that you can use pockets for hiding anything in a Roman era novel. Yes, coins were common then; but the most you can assume is that a few people kept precious things in a bag round their neck or on a belt round their waist (under their clothes), just as backpackers do today when in unsafe lands.

Oh well, no pockets anyway. So unless anyone can tell me better, it’s back to the vague claim that “he hid it in his robes”…

Advertisements

The Promised Land, 3 – do Jews really believe that?

The land promised to Abraham by his god (in exchange for exclusivity of worship) was “from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates”. In modern terms this includes not just Israel/Palestine, but Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, half of Iraq, a large part of Egypt, and an undefined part of Saudi Arabia. (You could even argue that it includes the entire Arabian peninsula, as falling within the coast between the Euphrates and Egypt.)

Map of the Promised Land as defined in Deuteronomy

If you don’t think that fundamentalist Jews and Messianic Christians believe in such a massive expansion of Israel, look at this map on this website.

If you don’t think that the Arabs are aware of the fundamentalist Jewish vision, then look at this blog. This blog includes references to Jews claiming the full territory in the writings of Theodore Herzl and in 1947 testimony to the UN.

And notice that they are using the same map (misspelling ‘Caspian’, and showing Israel as including both Lebanon and the Sinai peninsula). How nice that they can agree about something.

Of course, only a very few Jews and Christians make these preposterous claims to own the whole “Promised Land”. Similarly, only a very few Muslims want to eradicate the state of Israel. Most people on both sides, as most people everywhere, simply want a better life for themselves and their children, and to feel that they are living in a fair and just world. As the bumper sticker says, “If you want peace, work for justice.”

It would be nice for Palestinian constitutions to renounce the idea of the eradication of Israel. Israel could show the way by renouncing, in its constitution, the idea of the Promised Land “from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates”.

The Promised Land, 2 – the people already living there

Of course, a whole lot of people were already living in the Promised Land when Moses showed up with the Children of Israel. It was good land.

According to Moses, GOD had two sets of rules for warfare with cities, depending on whether the target cities were outside the Promised Land (“very far from you”), or inside it (“cities of the nations here”).

For the first ones, GOD says, offer them peace as slaves. If they accept, enslave them. If they don’t accept, then besiege the city, capture it, kill all the males, and keep the women and cattle as booty. You can afford to be this generous, because it’s outside the Promised Land.

But if the city is inside the Promised Land, you have to kill everything – men, women, children, animals – “in order to prevent them infecting you with their immoral practices”. I kid you not.

"You shall save alive nothing that breathes."

Here are the rules, from Deuteronomy 20, verses 10-15 for the first lot, 16-18 for the second.

[10] When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it.
[11] And if its answer to you is peace and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you.
[12] But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it;
[13] and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword,
[14] but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you.
[15] Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here.

[16] But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,
[17] but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Per’izzites, the Hivites and the Jeb’usites, as the LORD your God has commanded;
[18] that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the LORD your God.

Having got control of Palestine for 1500 years through genocide and ethnic cleansing, religious Jews (including Jesus, obviously) were in no mood to have the idolatrous, polytheist, pig-eating Romans come in and run the country. Their duty was to wipe the Romans out.

Unfortunately that thinking is still alive today among religious Jews. Even if Palestinians are neither idolatrous nor polytheist nor pig-eating, the more fanatical among the Jews do not see them as worshiping the same God, and want to wipe them out. But God is said to have promised the land to the descendants of Abraham – and Arabs, too, claim descent from Abraham. So the promise of the Covenant is fulfilled if Jews or Arabs live in the Promised Land… from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates.