A Relic of the Forgotten and Cold Wars (that now seem less forgotten and cold)

A MiG 17! I had seen it in the 1980s and was immediately interested. But I never had time to stop and my usual route changed. But things changed again (as they often do), it was still there I noticed, and finally I recently stopped to take a gander.

2018-06-13 14-35-20
MiG 17 nose and cockpit (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The MiG (Mikoyan-Gurevich) 17 was a development of (and visually difficult to distinguish from) the MiG 15, which was the first Soviet-built operational swept-wing fighter jet. The MiG 15’s combat debut in the Korean War stunned the United States Air Force, brought American daytime bombing raids to a halt, and signalled increased Russian interference in the Korean War (see that very interesting story here). Seventy years on, we are still having angst over North Korean acquisition of advanced military technology and getting evidence of Russian nefarious interference . . .

2018-06-13 14-28-56

MiG 17 alongside US 80 In Forney, TX (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

Produced in the U.S.S.R., and by contract in China and Poland, the MiG 17 (and variant designations) was a mainstay of Soviet Bloc and other communist countries’ air forces for much of the Cold War period. It did not achieve operational status during the Korean War, but was used in large numbers by the North Korean air force for years and is still in service there. The MiG 17 was operated by North Vietnam during the Vietnam War and scored several stunning victories over technically superior USAF fighters. 

2018-06-13 14-31-48c
MiG 17 on an antique row in Forney, TX; note the square painted-over emblems under the red star insignia (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

Back to the specific plane that occasioned this piece. It has greeted observant drivers since at least the mid-1980s alongside US 80 east of Dallas, among a stretch of antique dealers in Forney, Texas. The Mig is parked in front of De Ridder Antiques, which I found in June of 2018 with signs proclaiming “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS.”

2018-06-13 14-30-36c
MiG 17 in front of De Ridder Antiques, which has other oddities, including the “South Park” schoolbus with characters in the windows, a giant gorilla, and (inside) a very large architectural model of the Ulm Cathedral (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The plane sports the red star insignia of the U.S.S.R., visible from the highway. But on closer inspection, I saw that the red stars were painted over square patches of silver paint, covering other symbols. I surmised that the MiG 17 had once belonged to the Polish air force, which used a square insignia. My suspicion was heightened by a Polish word on one of the service covers under the fuselage and then confirmed by the proprietress of the adjacent store, who I take to have been Willie de Ridder. Sadly, my inquiry as to whether the MiG 17 was for sale was met with word that it was already sold. Whether the MiG stays alongside US 80 remains to be seen. I do hope it remains to be seen, as a reminder of past conflict and a warning against going there again.  

While something of a departure from my usual musings, I may do more with “derelict warplanes I have known” if there is sufficient interest.

Thanks for looking! cropped-adicon_square.png

The Talking Heads of Rapa Nui, part 2: Easter Island Moai and Ahu

Fulfilling a promise in my first post of this series, this bit takes up the well-known “heads”—more accurately, statues—of Easter Island. Properly called moai, they are the iconic images of the island, recognized my almost everyone, but generally without context.

The moai were indeed made as nearly full statues, complete with torsos but no legs. Nearly 1,000 examples are known on the 164 square-kilometer island. The famous images everyone recognizes of the “heads” are the better-preserved and more photogenic examples that remained upright in the quarry where they were produced. These were buried by scree and soil to various levels and present an eerie scene. Some 397 moai remain in the Rano Raraku quarry where almost all moai were carved. The map below shows the concentration of known moai in and around the quarry.

Rano Raraku
Moai buried to different extents on the outer slope of Rano Raraku quarry (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

Moai were made for display on large megalithic platforms called ahu.1 Ahu were constructed for ritual/ceremonial use and are similar to religious platforms on other Polynesian islands, the most familiar examples being the heiau of Hawai’i. Easter Island is literally ringed by over 300 ahu along its rocky coast, about half of those once featuring moai.

Rapa_Nui-Ahu_Moai
Ahu and Moai of Easter Island, with physical features and inset of location in the South Pacific (map © Daniel C Browning Jr)

Today, a number of ahu are restored with their toppled moai re-erected. Modern cranes were used for the restorations, which naturally begs the question of how the prehistoric period Rapanui (natives of the island) managed to do it. Thus we have one of the so-called “mysteries” of Easter Island. Another is how they were moved (as much as 9 miles). More on these things later, but . . .  << SPOILER ALERT >> . . . it was not Ancient Aliens!

Akivi
Ahu Akivi, with its seven restored moai (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

While the focus for observers is naturally the moai, the ahu themselves were impressive undertakings involving moving hundreds of tons of volcanic rock. Many “image ahu” (the ones with moai) featured “wings” extending the platform area significantly beyond the statues (perhaps for rituals displaced by the moai?).

Akivi
Ahu Akivi, from the side, showing the wing extensions and platform construction (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

One more quick fact: the moai are often erroneously said to be looking out to sea. In fact, on coastal ahu they always look inland; embodying the mana (divine power) of deceased chiefs as sentinels over the adjacent settlements. One of the most photographed ahu and moai is at Tahai, on the edge of Hanga Roa, the lone town on Rapa Nui:

Tahai: Ahu Ko Te Riku
Ahu Ko Te Riku, with its lone moai at Tahai (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

Are those eyes and a headdress? In a future installment, we’ll look at details and embellishments of moai . . . , but next in Part 3: how were they made?

Thanks for looking! cropped-adicon_square.png

[Updated 2 July 2018: better map!]


1Moai and ahu are both singular and plural.

The Places and Faces of St. Nicholas: St. Nick’s Not-So-Final Resting Place? Part 3 (Pic of the Day 2017-12-26)

“Santa is dead; I have been to all three of his tombs!” That tongue-in-cheek potential presentation title is the idea of beloved former student, now-former colleague, and fine scholar, J Mark Nicovich. The conundrum of three tombs (plus many other claimed relics) arises from the traditions that St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (now Demre in Turkey), was buried in that city but his remains were stolen on two different occasions and taken (ahem, . . . “translated”) to Bari in southern Italy in 1087 and Venice, in northern Italy in 1101. Thus, there are Churches of St. Nicholas in all three locations, each claiming to enshrine the resting place for the inspiration and namesake of Santa Claus. See Part 1 of this Trilogy on “St. Nick’s Not-So-Final Resting Place?” here (and Part 2 here).

So, which church/city possesses the real relics of St. Nicholas? As it happens, recent months have seen some significant developments in this question.

In early October of 2017 Cemil Karabayram, Director of Surveying and Monuments for the region in which Myra/Demre is located (Antalya), claimed in an interview that CT and radar scans had revealed an intact “temple” beneath the St. Nicholas Church. The exact location is not revealed by the article, but he indicated that the find is currently inaccessible “because experts have to first work on the mosaics.”1

2011-05-26 10-53-08.jpg
Interior of St. Nicholas Church, from the choir apse (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

Karabayram speculated, “maybe we will find the untouched body of St. Nicholas.” How can this be, given the two accounts of the “translation” of the Saint’s relics to Bari and Venice? “Traders in Bari took the bones. But it is said that these bones did not belong to St. Nicholas but to another priest,” he said, adding. “Professor Yıldız Ötüken . . . says that St Nicholas is kept in a special section.” “We claim that St. Nicholas has been kept in this temple without any damage. . . . If we get the results, Antalya’s tourism will gain big momentum.”2

Myra: Church of St Nicolaus
Choir apse of St. Nicholas Church, Demre (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The claim that Nicholas’ body has remained in Myra/Demre is significant; and the note that tourism would be boosted if it is found is telling. Are city status and tourist revenues a motivation? Bari and Venice surely took note . . .

Myra: Church of St Nicolaus
Dome fresco in St Nicholas Church of Myra/Demre (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Myra: Church of St Nicolaus
Decorated apse in St Nicholas Church, Myra/Demre (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

On 6 December (significantly, the date of St. Nicholas’ death and Feast Day), articles announced that relics of St. Nicholas subjected to Carbon 14 analysis by the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College’s Advanced Studies Centre dated to the fourth century; i.e., consistent with the AD 343 death of the historical bishop. Careful sifting of the published info reveals that the single bone tested is owned by an American priest in Morton Grove Illinois, who says he obtained the relic from Lyon in France.3 By inference, the Oxford University news release suggests that the bones in Bari and Venice therefore could date to the fourth century as well. There is no solid connection between the American relic and those in the Italian churches. But the Bari relics of St. Nicholas are missing part of the pelvis, of which the tested bone apparently comes.

During restorations at Bari’s Basilica di San Nicola in the early 1950s, the tomb of St. Nicholas was opened for the first time since it was sealed by Pope Urban II in 1089. The bones were examined by Luigi Martino, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Bari, who found the skeleton was incomplete. A complete skull, however, allowed reconstruction of the ancient face—that of Nicholas, if the bones are authentic.4 In 1992, Martino was asked to examine the relics in Venice. The latter were all broken into smaller pieces, but he concluded that the Venice fragments were complementary to the bones in Bari and they are from the skeleton of the same man. A narrative that the Bari sailors in 1087 hurriedly absconded with the skeleton and left pieces behind to be found in 1099 by the Venetian raiders is thus possible.5  So, in a spirit of ecumenical peace, the Bari and Venice claims can coexist and they can share the reconstructed image of the Saint adored in both places. The logical—but unlikely—next step is to use DNA analysis to connect the bones of Bari and Venice, and either radiocarbon date them or include the Illinois fragment in the DNA analysis. This, however, would spoil the remaining mystery.

Meanwhile, back at Demre/Myra, we await further archaeological explorations in the Church of St. Nicholas. As for the image of St. Nicholas there, there is already some controversy, as the city has displayed four different images of the Saint in the last 35 years.6 From 1981 to 2000, the only public image was a statue of a Father Christmas-like figure with a bag over his shoulder and children huddled around him, as if seeking protection. It still stands in the courtyard in front of St. Nicholas Church. In my mind, this is the most appropriate one, given the controversy that followed (it might be noted that moving/replacing statues is not a new thing):

Myra:
“Father Christmas” statue near St. Nicholas Church in Demre/Myra (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

In 2000, a Russian sculptor and the mayor of Moscow presented Demre with a bronze statue of St. Nicholas in Orthodox style, which was placed atop a large globe on a pedestal in the town square, a block or so in front of the church.

2014-05-19 17-16-56
The bronze “Orthodox St. Nicholas” statue, now in a courtyard outside the entrance to St. Nicholas Church (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

In 2005, however, the Orthodox Christian St. Nicholas was replaced by the town council with a red-suited Santa Claus statue made of Bakelite (as I never saw the Santa statue in place, you can view a pic here). Demre’s mayor, explained “this is the one everyone knows;” plus, it was also less offensive to the city’s Muslim population.7 Nevertheless, complains were made, primarily by Russian interests, as St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia. Finally (for now), and perhaps in response to protests, a compromised was reached on Christmas Day 2008, when the current statue atop the pedestal was unveiled:

2014-05-19 17-39-12
The “Turkish Santa” now in the town square at Demre (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

It is a fiberglass “Turkish Santa” with a heroic stance and victorious mien, holding a small child on his shoulder and another by the hand, each raising a wrapped gift. Controversy aside; I like it.

Actually, I like them all. The changing images (and names) of St. Nicholas are a commentary on social roles of hero figures, cultural appropriation, tribalism . . . and really on human nature. Most Americans of recent generations experienced an evolution (or revolution) in their own concepts of Santa Claus while maturing, not so unlike the changes of statues in Demre. And as for the question of the travels (or not) of Nicholas’ bones; I am taken back to the catalyst for this series of posts: the NORAD tracking of Santa on Christmas Eve, mentioned in Part 1. While the notion that government technology could track his sleigh is exciting, and the website is visually impressive (and educational), I cant help feeling that it robs something from that childhood wonder at the mysterious how and unknown when of Santa’s anticipated arrival. Then I realized the technology and presentation didn’t really answer anything—there is always more mystery and wonder. So, that is why I rather suspect (and perhaps secretly hope) that the true fate of Nicholas’ remains will remain similarly unknown. Life is just more interesting that way.

Thanks for looking! cropped-adicon_square.png


Notes

1 Salim Uzun, “Body of St Nicholas buried in Demre, claim officials,” Hürriyet Daily News, 4 October 2017. 
2 ibid; from what I can determine, all other news items giving this information cite/depend on this original English article.
3 “Could Ancient Bones Suggest Santa was Real?” http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2017-12-05-could-ancient-bones-suggest-santa-was-real, 5 December 2017. Note also the unwarranted sensationalism of the news release title; and from Oxford! Really?
4 See the concise and excellent overview at “Anatomical Examination of the Bari Relics, St. Nicholas Centerhttp://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/anatomical-examination/; including reconstructions of the face!
5Is St. Nicholas in Venice, too?,” St. Nicholas Center, http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/relics-in-the-lido-of-venice/.
6 Again, the best summary of this is found at the St. Nicholas Center site: “Four Faces of Nicholas—Who is He in His Hometown?,” St. Nicholas Center, http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/demre-statues/.
7 Karl Vick, “Turkish Town Exchanges St. Nick for Santa: Local Hero’s Statue Moved From Square,” Washington Post, 24 March 2005, p. A01.

The city of Myra in Asia Minor: St. Nick’s Not-So-Final Resting Place? Part 2 (Pic of the Day 2017-12-25)

This is a brief intermediate follow-up to “Part 1 of St. Nick’s Not-So-Final-Resting-Place,” before we get to the conclusion in Part 3 (that will make it a trilogy!). Here I will focus on the city where St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) was bishop and what can be seen there.

Ancient Myra was a typical Greco-Roman city of some regional importance. About 5 km away lie the ruins of Myra’s Mediterranean harbor town, Andriake. An ancient synagogue, identified by a menorah decoration and inscription, is of special interest.

Adriake: Synagogue
The synagogue at Andriake, the port for Myra (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Adriake: Synagogue
Menorah relief decoration (reproduction, I assume; original in the adjacent museum, not yet open at the time of the photo in 2015) in the Andriake synagogue (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The site of Andriake, recently opened to the public, also includes fine harbor buildings, restored monuments, a huge cistern, and ancient boat replicas. Given his reputation among sailors, Nicholas no doubt was familiar with Andriake.

Myra is located in Lycia, where the most visually unique ancient remains are tombs, with several types carved in the ubiquitous rock cliffs of the region. Not far from the Church of Nicholas, a nice array of such tombs can be seen above the ancient theater of the city.

Myra: western tombs
Myra: western tombs above the theater (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The theater with its backdrop of tombs is a major stop for the buses full of cruise-ship borne tourists:

Myra: Theater
Myra: Theater (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The Russian tourists I mentioned in Part 1, free from the religious atmosphere of the Church St. Nicholas, now typically indulge in over-the-top photo ops at the theater (NOTE: I did not obtain permission from any of these people to take/use their images, but given the very public nature of their exhibitionism, I assume I am okay—however, I have not included the more embarrassing or salacious pics I got that day in 2011):

Myra: western tombs
Stylish gesturing for the camera at the western tombs of Myra (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Myra: Theater
Seductive picture taking in the theater of ancient Myra (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Myra: Theater
Sexy picture taking in the theater of ancient Myra (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Myra: Theater
Shock by the ruins themselves (I feel the same way . . .  photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

For the visitor that does not like crowds or the “You Don’t Get This On the Bus Tour” folks, I suggest a visit to the other side of the hill, where only working agricultural fields lie below the Northern Tombs of Myra:

Myra: Northern tombs
The Northern Tombs of ancient Myra, isolated from the crowds (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

Meanwhile, back at the Church of St. Nicholas, we have not answered the questions posed in Part 1.1 We will address these and the question of Nicholas’ appearance in Part 3 (perhaps later today?) . . .

Thanks for looking! cropped-adicon_square.png


Notes

1 I.e.: Who has the real St. Nicholas? Bari or Venice? Or, could his remains remain in Myra (Demre)?

St. Nick’s Not-So-Final Resting Place? Part 1 (Pic of the Day 2017-12-24)

As I write this, it is Christmas Eve, and NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) is already performing its annual national defense duty: (that of tracking Santa on his rounds). It occurred to me that we can attempt to track Santa’s movements in antiquity—or at least those of his remains . . . .

As is well known (and which will not be detailed here), Santa Claus is a derivative from Saint Nicholas, a quite real early Christian bishop from the city of Myra in southern Asia Minor (now the city Demre, Turkey). After a ministry that spanned the Peace of the Church, defending children, caring for the people in Myra during famine, protecting sailors, saving the falsely accused, and a purported action role at the Council of Nicea in 325, Nicholas died on December 6 (now his feast day), AD 343.1  He was buried in Myra where a church was built over his tomb after his remains were said to produce a healing liquid called manna. The church itself is difficult to appreciate as it is somewhat lower than the present ground level of that part of Demre, and the entrance is covered with scaffolding as part of a long-ongoing excavation and restoration project.

Myra: Church of St Nicolaus
Myra: Church of St Nicholas in 2011 (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

There are several graves in the church, but one is specially remembered as the tomb of Nicholas and greatly revered by Eastern Orthodox, especially Russians. This post and site cannot get a “You Don’t Get This on the Bus Tour” tag because when a cruise ship packed with Russian vacationers arrives, every bus hauls them to Demre, where they invade the church in varying states of inappropriate dress. Such was the case on my first attempt to inspect the tomb in 2011. Any hope of a decent pic of the grave was lost and even approaching it nearly futile. A modest glass barrier could not protect the top of the sarcophagus from the hands of the faithful:

Myra: Church of St Nicolaus
Tomb of St. Nicholas in 2011; note that the woman has reached between the glass and niche wall to caress the sarcophagus lid, as did almost everyone I saw (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

On a subsequent visit in 2014, there was no cruise ship and thus no hordes of Russians having a pious moment amidst their hedonistic vacation. So, I could get a decent pic, I thought. But I noticed with amusement that the modest protective glass was replaced by a significantly stouter defensive shield:

2014-05-19 17-18-43
Tomb of St. Nicholas in 2014 with more protective glass (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
2014-05-19 17-19-08
Myra: Church of St Nicholas, Tomb from the opposite angle (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

So, why is the sarcophagus clearly broken? And why is the title of this blog post: “St. Nick’s Not-So-Final Resting Place?” And what does this have to do with tracking Santa’s (remains) movements?

As it happens, St. Nicholas’ remains are revered in churches named for him in Bari and Venice, both in Italy, and in several other places around Christendom. How did this come to be? The short version is that after Myra fell to the Seljuk Turks in 1071, the maritime powers Bari and Venice each conspired to relocate the valuable relics of the Saint to their cities. Ships from Bari arrived first in 1087 and, quite against the will of the people and church at Myra, “translated” the bones of Nicholas to their city where they are venerated in a basilica to this day. In 1099, en route to Palestine on the First Crusade, ships from Venice stopped in Myra as well. They broke through the floor of the church and found an urn labelled to contain Nicholas’ remains. They took these and others with them and back to Venice in 1101, where they are revered in a basilica to this day.2

So, who has the real St. Nicholas? Bari or Venice? Or, could his remains remain in Myra? Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 . . .

Thanks for looking! cropped-adicon_square.png


Notes

1 For interesting and informative info on Nicholas, his history, and transformation into Santa Claus, see the St. Nicholas Center.

2 The most accessible sources are found at the St. Nicholas Center.

Pic of the Day 2017-12-14: Books are a Good Thing

This post and Pic of the Day is inspired by an article that I shared on Facebook earlier today. The article claims (and I am not going to argue with the premise) that a large personal library with an increasing number of unread books is a good thing. This made me feel better, as I am in the midst of organizing and integrating the ungodly quantity of books from my former office—too long in storage—into my home office (and the rest of the house by necessity).* Meanwhile that process had made me somewhat melancholy over the fading use of repositories of physical books in our increasingly digital society. With sadness I noted that I have even had difficulty giving away books to younger folks who assume that all knowledge is a click away.

With that thought, and keeping with the theme of my blog, I offer a couple of pics of lost libraries from the past. Of course, the supreme example of a lost storehouse of knowledge is the great ancient library of Alexandria, Egypt.1 Sadly, its exact location is lost, and more sadly, I have not been to Alexandria. So, and more appropriately, I present some lesser-known and more-forgotten ancient libraries.

The most-photographed of ancient libraries is no doubt the Library of Celsus at Ephesus (built about AD 135),2 as it is the most striking (and reconstructed) building in Turkey’s most popular archaeological site:

Paul-3MJ-Ephesus15-2009-03-19 02-34-55-
Library of Celsus at Ephesus (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The crowds are too big at Ephesus, so I prefer the quiet surroundings of the rarely-visited library at Nysa, a lovely Roman city in the Meander Valley of Asia Minor (modern Turkey):

2014-05-17 15-41-40
Ruins of the Library at Nysa (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

A huge number of visitors walk by the remains of the library at Pergamum, also in Turkey. But they do so without notice of the nondescript remains and without realizing they are adjacent to the second greatest repository of knowledge in the ancient world:3

2014-05-16 10-37-05
The main reading hall at the library of Pergamum (there are three other rooms), with the remains of the Temple of Athena (goddess of wisdom) in the background (below the dark tower) (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

While the remains of the library at Pergamum are not so inspiring in themselves, the spirit of learning makes the site worth noting. Also . . . the view from just outside and around corner is better than any of the other libraries:

2014-05-16 10-58-32
Theater at Pergamum; the library is off screen to the left of the (same as in the previous pic) tower (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

Thanks for looking! cropped-adicon_square.png


*Today’s Footnotes are all from physical books in my own library

1 See Roy MacLeod, ed., The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World (London: Taurus, 2004); and Luciano Canfora, The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World (Berkely: Univ of California Press, 1989).

2 On this edifice, see Lionel Casson, Libraries in the Ancient World (New Haven: Yale, 2001), 114-18.

3 Casson, 49-52; Canfora, 45-50.

Pic of the Day 2017-12-12: The Light of Freedom

Tonight marks the beginning of Hanukkah, so it seemed appropriate to dedicate a Pic of Day post to some Menorot (singular, Menorah) I have photographed in situ at ancient sites or in museums. I’ll include a few bulleted notes among the photos—some general info, and a couple of random observations I have made over the years.

  • The Menorah is closely associated with Hanukkah because of the miraculous burning for 8 days of a single day’s supply of consecrated oil (presumably in the Temple Menorah) at the Temple’s re-dedication.
Jerusalem; Israel Museum
Portions of a Menorah depicted in plaster from a Jerusalem house destroyed in AD 70 (now in the Israel Museum) and one of the oldest depictions known (photo: Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Hanukkah is the major feast holiday of the Jews that is not specified in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. It is, therefore, less familiar and less understood to Christians.
Capernaum: Synagogue
Menorah and other Temple service items in relief on a capital from the 4th century AD synagogue (the “White Synagogue” at Capernaum (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Hanukkah means “dedication,” which is how the holiday is known in the New Testament (John 10:22). The holiday celebrates the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem following its desecration at the hands of the Seleucid King Antiochus IV and his suppression of Judaism—acts which sparked the Maccabean Revolt and resulting in the liberation and re-dedication for which the holiday is named.
Ostia: Synagogue
Menorah motif in the synagogue remains at Ostia, the port of Rome (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • Even as a child, I noticed that every Christmas season, there was a seemingly-obligatory news story about Hanukkah, explaining that it celebrates the miracle of the 8-day burning oil. This provides the Menorah connection (and the alternate name Festival of Lights), but glosses over the real importance of the holiday—a celebration of deliverance from oppression and restoration of free worship. Making Hanukkah about burning oil is akin to making Christmas about giving gifts.
2014-05-18 15-34-04
Laura Scovel looks at a Menorah carving in the synagogue ruins at Priene in Asia Minor/Turkey (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
  • The Menorah appropriately became the symbol of Jewish identity as a minority people in the Roman world—perhaps all the more because of the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70.
Boğazköy Museum
A Menorah on a Jewish tombstone from north central Turkey, now in the Boğazköy Museum (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)
Beth Shearim:
Large Menorah in the 2nd-3rd century AD “Cave of the Coffins,” a Jewish underground cemetery at Beth Shearim, Israel (photo © Daniel C Browning Jr)

The Menorah represents many things;* among them is the light of freedom. May it illuminate our own times.

Thanks for looking! cropped-adicon_square.png


*For further reading, try Steven Fine’s new-ish book, The Menorah: From the Bible to Modern Israel (Harvard University Press, 2016).