In his farm near the Dead sea, Guy Erlich claims to have reconstituted the fragrance of Cleopatra, and the anointing oil of the kings of Israel, or the incense used in the jewish Temple of Jerusalem. Fascinated by the plants of the Ancient world, the farmer of 48-year-old devoured the literature he could find on the subject and was launched in 2008 in the cultivation and processing of these plants on a hill near the jewish settlement of Almog, the west bank, a palestinian territory occupied by Israel.
His dream: to give back its letters of nobility to a resin medicinal plant mentioned in the Bible. Called the “Balm of Gilead” or “Balm of Judea”, it is extracted from a tree native to these desert regions, the “Commiphora gileadensis”. Inexhaustible on the subject, Guy Erlich recalls Galen, the Greek physician who used this balm to heal infections and wounds, or the Talmud, to explain the importance throughout History.
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to help identify the plants they cultivate, such as those mentioned in the Bible, he contacted Elaine Solowey, a specialist in agriculture in the desert, and director of the institute Arava, a research center of israel on the environment. “The species produced by Mr. Erlich are probably those grown in the region during Antiquity, but we have no certainties,” says Mr. Solowey, who advised the farmer. “Many species of plants mentioned in the Bible have disappeared and it is capital that we can find how” to make it reappear, but we would need more money for more research, ” she said.
“Scent of Cleopatra”
With the sixty of the plants he cultivates, Guy Erlich product creams, perfume, soap and honey. And he does not skimp on the words. Wearing boots, wide hat on the head, the father tells to the tourists the history of each shrub, latin name, including, before the feel of his perfumes. Recalling that the Egyptians were the great perfumers of Ancient times, and historians agree that several of the species that he cultivated were the basis for the manufacture of fragrances of the time, he does not hesitate to sell his fragrance like that of queen Cleopatra.
“Give your woman the perfume of Cleopatra, the aromas of Ancient times, the fragrance of Rome”, lance-t-il, rather convincing to the public, non-professional – to some researchers, them, take it little seriously. Guy Erlich lives in a kibbutz secular but also attempts to seduce the orthodox jews claiming to have recreated the incense used at the time of the two temples of the jews, destroyed, respectively, in 587 before Christ and in 70. “On the right hand, you have the incense of the First Temple, on the left hand, that of the Second Temple, and if you rub one against the other, you will feel the incense that will be burned up in the 3rd Temple”, which will be rebuilt after the coming of the Messiah, according to jewish tradition.
Guy Erlich tries to lure investors while its micro-farm to be sited in the palestinian Territories occupied by Israel since 1967. The UN considers the settlements civilian in the occupied territories – the settlements are illegal under international law. “Us investors have abandoned the project due to political pressure” and the fear that such activity does not operate in a territory to the status contested, he says. But for Abdallah Abu Rahma, a senior official in the department of the palestinian Authority, “everything that is produced in the colony is illegal”. “This is why we call for a boycott of these products,” he insists.
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In the absence of export, the farmer sells its products on-site. For 100 shekels (26 euros), the visitors went home with a vial of 5 ml of perfume. It has so far sold four kilos of his honey in bottles of 30 grams and hopes to increase its production. “These products have a history, a specificity, they are unique”, he says, convinced to live on a gold mine and not a minefield for export.