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Where Oh Where Are the Cedars of Lebanon?

James Wimberley writes:

The Reality-Based Community: Dem dry bones: James Wimberley: In Sunday's C of E lectionary, Ezekiel sees cedar trees like this in Israel (KJV):

17:22 Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent:

17:23 In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell.

God's silviculture here is peculiar.

You can't grow a cedar from a cutting.... [T]he natural reading is that... Ezekiel... went into exile in Babylonia with King Jehoiachin. The trees available in [Babylon] place were... fruit trees - olives, apricots - which can reproduce from cuttings.... It seems likely that Ezekiel (writing from 592 to 570 BCE) and his audience had never seen a forest of cedars; probably any forest.

Deforestation in the Near East started long before the time of Ezekiel. Richard Cowen of UC Davis tells the story.... I'll only lift two standard references from him.

In the world's oldest book... Gilgamesh (ca. 2000 BCE), the heroes Gilgamesh and Enkidu go on a destructive logging expedition to Anatolia.... Princes like Gilgamesh and Solomon needed timber for prestige buildings, but the real damage was done by inefficient charcoal smelting on a huge scale....

Plato showed a melancholy understanding of the changes in the Critias:

[T]here are remaining [in Attica] only the bones of the wasted body.... But in the primitive state of the country, its mountains were high hills covered with soil, and the plains... were full of rich earth, and there was abundance of wood in the mountains. Of this last the traces still remain....

The typical Mediterranean mountain landscape left by Bronze and Iron Age asset-stripping is denuded to Plato's skeleton.... Old forests are rare in the region - the Trodos forest in Cyprus was saved by a combination of conservative monkish landowners and a British colonial ban on goats; those of inland Sardinia by remoteness. The cedars of Lebanon are reduced to a few small stands.

Reafforestation in these conditions is painful and expensive.... A word you don't hear much in the climate change debate is hysteresis. Going back on a big environmental change is very hard work...

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