When the Spanish Inquisition expanded to


Rhonda Ballance News Editor. E-mail: Rhonda.Ballance@Scofieldinstitute.org

Rhonda Ballance News Editor. E-mail: Rhonda.Ballance@Scofieldinstitute.org

 

August 16, 2016

BY RICH TENORIO

‘Most people don’t think of the Inquisition operating in North America.’ But where conquest went, it followed

'A Hearing Before the Inquisition,' engraving by Mexican artist Constantino Escalante. (Public domain)

Centuries before New Mexico became a US state in 1912, it was a frontier of the Spanish Empire. In that role, it became a link in the story of the Sephardim — the Jews of Spain who were forced in 1492 to convert to Christianity or leave their homeland.

Now, in an unprecedented combination of the Old World and the New, a Santa Fe museum exhibition is telling the story of the Sephardim, with a focus on the conversos — Jews who formally converted to Christianity and their descendants — who escaped to the Spanish colonies of Mexico and New Mexico.

Fractured Faiths: Spanish Judaism, The Inquisition, and New World Identities is on display at the New Mexico History Museum through December 31. In this comprehensive exhibition, viewers can see artifacts borrowed from over 20 institutions from Europe and the Americas — many brought together for the first time.

Among the exhibition’s jewels is one of just two documented Spanish copies of the Alhambra Decree, the 1492 edict signed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who ordered the Sephardim to convert or leave within 90 days.

One of just two copies of the Alhambra Decree, declaring the expulsion of the Jews; Granada, Spain, 31 March 1492. (Courtesy)

One of just two copies of the Alhambra Decree, declaring the expulsion of the Jews; Granada, Spain, 31 March 1492. (Courtesy)

“It’s what started the whole movement, the diaspora,” said Josef Diaz, chief curator of the exhibit. “To think you had only three months to convert and change your entire belief system or flee. It’s very powerful. It’s a scary, powerful document. That’s the one that just moves me the most.”

There are other crucial images: architectural columns recalling the Moorish style of Santa Maria la Blanca, a 12th-century Toledo synagogue that became a church; Inquisition records of Dona Teresa de Aguilera y Roche, a 17th-century New Mexico governor’s wife jailed under suspicion of being Jewish; 20th-century gravestones from Catholic cemeteries in New Mexico with hints of Jewish roots.

“I think it’s essentially reifying an identity, through documents and artifacts, of the history of the diaspora,” said Frances Levine, a former director of the museum who helped conceptualize and develop the exhibit. “From the moment in 1492 when the writ of expulsion was issued, [it started a] chain of events and migrations that will ultimately bring you to New Mexico.”

The origin story

The origins of the Sephardim date to the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple in 70 CE, when Jews are recorded as having fled to the Iberian peninsula.

“It really speaks to why Spain is its own kind of biblical Holy Land, at least for this people,” said Roger Martinez-Davila, a guest curator of the exhibition and a professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Around the year 1000, he said, “Sephardic Jews were doing quite well under Islam, and to some extent Christianity.”

The exhibit begins with Golden Age glimpses, such as a copy of “The Guide for the Perplexed,” the philosophical document written by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides.

Beautiful handmade tiles once bedecked the El Tránsito synagogue, one of Spain's oldest. Turned into a Catholic church after the 1492 expulsion, it is now a museum in Toledo, Spain. The tiles show Islamic influences in their design. (Courtesy)

Beautiful handmade tiles once bedecked the El Tránsito synagogue, one of Spain’s oldest. Turned into a Catholic church after the 1492 expulsion, it is now a museum in Toledo, Spain. The tiles show Islamic influences in their design. (Courtesy)

Stucco fragments and tiles show the beauty of Nuestra Senora del Transito, a 14th-century Toledo synagogue. And there are the architectural details that evoke Santa Maria la Blanca.

“We have a wonderful designer for our museum,” Diaz said. “She dreams along with me. [It was a] wonderful thing to recreate, a fairly complex building with arches and capitals.”

But as Christian kings began the Reconquista, or reconquest, of Spain, the Jews’ situation worsened. After pogroms across Christian Spain in 1391, an estimated 100,000 Jews were killed, 100,000 converted and 100,000 emigrated. Martinez-Davila said that while these numbers are “probably incorrect,” they give “a sense of scale.”

Just over a century later, in 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Reconquista, conquering the last Moorish kingdom of Granada and its citadel, the Alhambra. The monarchs issued the Alhambra Decree on March 31, 1492.

Rabbi Neil Amswych of Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe has visited the exhibit three times. He recalled his shock upon seeing the decree.

A register of blasphemers, heretics and Jews by the Holy Office of Toledo, Spain, 1632; Ink on paper. (Courtesy/ New Mexico History Museum)

A register of blasphemers, heretics and Jews by the Holy Office of Toledo, Spain, 1632; Ink on paper. (Courtesy/ New Mexico History Museum)

“[You] came face to face with the document that changed everything,” he said. “I must admit that I was not expecting to see it and was not surprised to quickly find myself holding back tears.”

“I don’t know what I would do if I was faced with that question, that option: stay and convert or flee,” Diaz said. “Those people who did stay and convert did practice in secrecy. Many did choose to flee.”

Sephardim left for Portugal, Amsterdam, the Ottoman Empire and North Africa. (Portugal expelled its Jews in 1497.) But as the 15th century ended, Sephardim also considered the New World that Columbus had reached across the Atlantic.

The number of Jews who left for the New World can only be estimated. That was because of the restrictions of 1492.

“After the Alhambra Decree is issued, it was illegal to be Jewish anywhere in the Spanish world,” Levine said. “[It was] on pain of death. If you were Jewish, you were quite clandestine anywhere in the Spanish Empire.”

Anyone suspected of practicing Judaism risked the wrath of a new, terrifying organization: the Spanish Inquisition.

Established in Spain in 1478, the Inquisition began active investigations in 1480. The next 40 years would see a wave of persecution of crypto-Jews, or conversos who secretly practiced Judaism, in Spain and to some extent in the Americas, Martinez-Davila said.

David and the Priest Ahimelech; Mexico, early eighteenth century; This piece by an unidentified artist is notable for its combination of the Arc of the Covenant, a menorah, and the respectful depiction of a Jewish priest. (Courtesy/ The New Mexico History Museum)

David and the Priest Ahimelech; Mexico, early eighteenth century; This piece by an unidentified artist is notable for its combination of the Arc of the Covenant, a menorah, and the respectful depiction of a Jewish priest. (Courtesy/ The New Mexico History Museum)

He added that Inquisition officials included “a lot of people of Jewish descent,” such as the grand inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada.

“They were the worst of turncoats,” he said.

A 1507 copy of the Libro Verde de Aragon from Belchite, Spain, shows names of those executed for heresy against the Catholic faith.

“A book naming all those killed by the Inquisition struck deep like the lists of Jews who were taken to concentration camps by the Nazis five hundred years later,” Rabbi Amswych said.

The Inquisition spreads to the colonies

“Most people don’t think of the Inquisition operating in North America, that it just operates in Spain,” Levine said. “But the power and authority of the Inquisition went with conquest. Anywhere in a Spanish colony, the Inquisition appeared with it.”

In Mexico City during the 1590s, a second wave of persecutions arose, stretching over a decade. Its victims included Don Luis de Carvajal, a colonial governor of New Mexico, and his family.

Carvajal Records: Manuel de Lucena, Carvajal Family Inquisition records, Mexico City, Mexico, 1594. (Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)

Carvajal Records: Manuel de Lucena, Carvajal family Inquisition records, Mexico City, Mexico, 1594. (Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)

“[Carvajal] was one of a family of Judaizers,” Martinez-Davila said, using a technical term with which the Inquisition charged crypto-Jews. “His whole family was executed, burned at the stake. Two escaped to the Ottoman Empire. He was the most celebrated case. We have letters from him. He fully confessed: ‘I was Jewish, I was holding Shabbat services, Friday night services.’”

Yet, Martinez-Davila added, “parts of [Carvajal’s] extended family were running the Inquisition. One side would be very Catholic, and to protect their position inside the Inquisition, and the royal government, [they would be willing] to execute family members.”

Carvajal died in prison in 1591. His family’s Inquisition records, from Mexico City in 1594, are part of the exhibit. In 1596, the Inquisition put 46 conversos on trial, including members of Carvajal’s family who were burned at the stake.

In 1601, 45 more conversos were executed. Between 1574 to 1603, there were 115 people accused of Judaizing.

“They are not enormous numbers, but they are pretty big, with colonial society being measured in the tens of thousands,” Martinez-Davila said.

Mexican paintings in the exhibit show autos-da-fe, “public processions [in which] those convicted of heresy [would be] either convicted or do penance or be executed,” Martinez-Davila said. “It must have really occupied society, with the horribleness of the gladiatorial games.”

Over a half-century later, another infamous trial in New Mexico

Dona Teresa de Aguilera y Roche was born in Italy, the daughter of the governor of Cartagena in present-day Colombia and an Irish mother. Young Dona Teresa was educated in Italy and Spain.

In the 1660s, the possibility of being Jewish placed her in an Inquisition prison.
Her husband, Don Bernardo Lopez de Mendizabal, was the governor of New Mexico, and according to Levine “quite unflattering” in general and “quite abusive” to his wife.

Locket with Inquisition emblem, Mexico, seventeenth century, Unidentified artist; Silver, gold, and oil on copper. (Courtesy)

Locket with Inquisition emblem, Mexico, seventeenth century, Unidentified artist; Silver, gold, and oil on copper. (Courtesy)

The governor clashed with Father Alonso de Posada, the father-custodian of the Franciscans, who sought revenge when Don Bernardo’s term ended in 1662.

“The incoming governor took the side of Father Posada, and arrested governor Mendizabal and Dona Teresa, as well as four of Mendizabal’s allies,” Levine said. “In a way, Dona Teresa [faced] guilt by association… Father Posada says, at one point, that her crime is being married to [Mendizabal].”

And, Levine said, accusing her of being Jewish was the “only way Posada could act [through her] against the governor.”

The former governor and his wife were imprisoned in Mexico City, where Don Bernardo died in September 1664. One of his sergeants faced humiliations of his own.

“Surgeons discussed whether marks on his foreskin indicated he was circumcised,” Martinez-Davila said.

This Purim noisemaker from 17th century Mexico is small enough so as not to make much noise. It could also pass as a Catholic 'matraca.' (Courtesy)

This Purim noisemaker from 17th century Mexico is small enough so as not to make much noise. It could also pass as a Catholic ‘matraca.’ (Courtesy)

Dona Teresa’s struggles had only begun.

“The crimes she was accused of were failures of religious practice,” Levine said. “Changing linens in her house on Friday as preparation for the Sabbath. [Using] onion skins on her feet seems to her maid [like a] ritual. She was accused of being harsh with her maids when they go to church, speaking ill of the friars, and accused of being a Jew.”

“She is tenacious,” said Levine, whose biography of Dona Teresa was published in July. “She was educated, well-traveled, had certainly seen more of a worldview than anyone [else] did. She was the daughter of a colonial governor, from a very highly-placed, highly-connected family. That — her education and family connections — gave her exposure, confidence.”

A circa 16th-century Sephardic Torah scroll from Spain. (Courtesy)

A circa 16th-century Sephardic Torah scroll from Spain. (Courtesy)

Dona Teresa made many appearances before the court, and personally wrote her defense dossier, displayed in the exhibit.

“One page is in her very own handwriting,” Levine said. “You almost feel, it’s palpable, she’s in her own prison cell, writing furiously, crossing out [words].”

Although the museum opened in 2009, it has a link to Dona Teresa — it operates alongside the Palace of the Governors, a 17th-century adobe structure that was Spain’s base in the American Southwest.

“She was arrested [in] 1662 in the very building where I had my office and worked for 12 years,” Levine said.

On Christmas of 1664, the Inquisition dismissed Dona Teresa, not finding her guilty or innocent. She sued the Inquisition for recovery of property, and sought to clear her name and that of her family from the charge of being Jewish.

Levine said that neither Dona Teresa nor her family were Jewish, although Martinez-Davila said she came from Jewish lineage.

“I don’t know if we ever will know,” Martinez-Davila said.

Trying to find the pioneer Jews

Previous exhibitions in the museum have attempted to discover the elusive ancestries of the Jews of New Mexico.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Palace of the Governors held an exhibit on the Jewish pioneers, which helped advance a conversation about identity.

“People were asking for more, audiences were asking for more,” Levine said. “That exhibit was about European Jews. They wanted us to look at conversos, Sephardis, Sephardic Jews in the New World.”

Frances Levine, former director of the New Mexico History Museum. (Courtesy)

Frances Levine, former director of the New Mexico History Museum. (Courtesy)

Levine calls the subject “a very, very contentious, very important topic in New Mexico history.”

Around that time, Levine traveled to Toledo and visited the Museo Sefardi at Santa Maria la Blanca.

“Standing in front of the writ of expulsion, for the first time I understood what began the Jewish diaspora from Spain and Portugal,” she said. “It might have been that moment in Spain, 2002, 2003, standing in front of the writ of expulsion, where the seed was planted.”

In 2010, she and Diaz began working on their exhibit, eventually bringing in Martinez-Davila. They borrowed 95 percent of the materials from institutions that included the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana in Madrid, the Museo Sefardi, the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City, and the Hispanic Society of America and the Jewish Museum in New York.

“Because Spain only allows documents out of the country for six months, we had to shorten the exhibit,” Diaz said. “We were hoping for one year. Six months is what the government allowed us to do.”

Martinez-Davila said the curators had considered a traveling exhibit, “but there were very, very demanding contracts and loan agreements. We can’t keep many pieces past December.”

And, the Spanish institutions had individual requirements.

Cover of Frances Levine's new book, 'Dona Teresa Confronts the Spanish Inquisition.' (Oklahoma University Press)

Cover of Frances Levine’s new book, ‘Dona Teresa Confronts the Spanish Inquisition.’ (Oklahoma University Press)

“Crates had to be a certain temperature, [certain] age requirements, with special planes and trucks to hold that humidity,” Diaz said. “Oftentimes we had to have exclusive couriers, members from an institute in Spain on the same jet.”

“I’m so proud to be associated with what [Diaz and Martinez-Davila] brought together,” Levine said, calling the exhibit “masterful.”

Rabbi Amswych agrees.

“I feel that the exhibit asks questions not just of people of faith — particularly Jews — about how they might respond in the face of terrible choices, but also questions to all of us about our own humanity and how quickly we can forget the humanity of others,” he said. “It is a moving and powerful exhibit that graces and enriches Santa Fe with its presence.”

Of the three experts who helped create the exhibition, two are now elsewhere.
Levine is in St. Louis, where she has been the head of the Missouri History Museum since 2014. Martinez-Davila is in Madrid, as a fellow at the Universidad Carlos III.

They both returned for the opening. Levine returned again on July 24 to discuss her new book, “Dona Teresa Confronts the Spanish Inquisition.”

'The Five Commandments in Hebrew Letters,' shows Jewish influence in a Catholic cemetery in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, 1905. Photo by Cary Herz. (Courtesy)

‘The Five Commandments in Hebrew Letters,’ shows Jewish influence in a Catholic cemetery in the Middle Rio Grande Valley, 1905. Photo by Cary Herz. (Courtesy)

“They had to turn people away and sold all the books the store had,” she said. “It is gratifying that people seem hungry for more than even the Fractured Faiths exhibit holds. Doña [Teresa’s] voice lives long after her sad trials.”

New Mexico has tried to turn a page on its colonial past. Today, Santa Fe is home to a Jewish population that includes Temple Beth Shalom and Rabbi Amswych. And the exhibit, in its last section, examines Jewish traces in the state population from the 19th century onward. These include images from the late New Mexico photographer Cary Herz, such as the “Five Commandments” on a 1905 gravestone in a Catholic cemetery.

“I think it is a continuing story,” Diaz said, adding that people in New Mexico are “just now self-identifying, realizing through family research, genealogical research, that they do come from a converso background, a family of Jewish descent. They trace it back to Spain.”

In February 2014, the Spanish government passed legislation allowing the descendants of the Sephardim to pursue dual citizenship. However, Martinez-Davila said, “then they changed the rules. There was an examination on the constitution, and a language exam. So as quickly as the door opened, it practically closed.”

But in Santa Fe, the doors to the Fractured Faiths exhibit are wide open.

“We took the story, which is so difficult for people to talk about, which had been ridiculed,” Levine said. “We embraced their identity, this moment in history, and it’s at the state history museum of New Mexico. It’s huge.”

 

Times Of Israel

Who’s your daddy? Conference traces Jewish DNA back to Holy Land


Rhonda Ballance News Editor. E-mail: Rhonda.Ballance@Scofieldinstitute.org

Rhonda Ballance News Editor. E-mail: Rhonda.Ballance@Scofieldinstitute.org

 

 

 

05/17/2016

Founders of this year’s IAJGS forum in Seattle, WA, promise even newcomers will geek out about discovering their genetic history

International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conference co-chair Phyllis Grossman at a Jewish cemetery in Osova Ukraine, 2015 (Sergiy Omelchukl)

SEATTLE — If you’ve ever wondered how Jews got to Finland, Scotland or New Zealand, there’s a speaker who can answer that question at this summer’s International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conference in Seattle, Washington.

The six-day event with 325 venues, a Jewish film festival, and a new track — Genealogy for Educators — will spark your curiosity and help you on your genealogical journey, whether you’re sleuthing for ancestors or sending your DNA by mail hoping for a match.

Last year’s conference was held in Jerusalem, and though organizers can’t promise such a rain-free experience this August in the often-overcast Pacific Northwest, they do warn that once you dabble in this ever-expanding science, in any case you won’t want to leave the building.

“People have used the word obsession and they’re not far off,” said conference co-chair and senior research manager for Salt Lake City-based Ancestry Pro Genealogists, Dr. Janette Silverman.

“It’s costly, for sure — and those TV shows are highly addictive — but genealogical research places our family in the saga of their history and times. If we can find something that speaks to us, we can make the history personal,” said Silverman.

This year’s conference features a global mix of researchers from groups like the Jewish Records Indexing in Poland, the Lithuanian State Historical Archives, the Center for Jewish History, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee Archives.

Conference co-chair and senior research manager for Salt Lake City-based Ancestry Pro Genealogists, Dr. Janette Silverman (courtesy)

Conference co-chair and senior research manager for Salt Lake City-based Ancestry Pro Genealogists, Dr. Janette Silverman (courtesy)

Each will bring the latest research on Jewish migration to and from Europe, the Sephardic Jewish experience in America and into the American West, the Jews in South America, Australia, and South Africa, and the Jews’ return to Israel.

Devin Naar, the Sephardic Studies program chair at the University of Washington in Seattle, will deliver the keynote address, “Sephardic Family History as Jewish Family History.”

Conference co-chair Silverman, a self-described hater of history class throughout high school, has since uncovered links to more than 15,000 family members tracing back to 15th Century Europe.

“One of the things that motivate me is the people that died in the Holocaust,” said Silverman, who teaches classes on how to research using online archives. “Part of what I do gives them life and helps keep their names alive.”

‘It doesn’t matter whether you’re Ashkenazi or Sephardi, you look the same on the Y chromosome’

Whether you start with Internet databases like JewishGen.org, Genealogy.org.il, or Ancestry.com — or whether you decide to use a DNA test — most genealogists would probably agree: just get started.

For around $100, an autosomal DNA test kit will analyze one of 22 chromosomes — minus the sex chromosomes — and can find relatives that are related to your great, great, great grandparents.

For roughly $200, another DNA test can uncover mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA which is passed down virtually unaltered from mother to daughter.

And for a few hundred dollars, more or less, a Y-DNA test can analyze the male-inherited Y chromosome passed down nearly unchanged from father to son.

Bennett Greenspan, founder of Family Tree DNA, will be speaking at this year's IAJGS conference in Seattle (Robin S. Greenspan)

Bennett Greenspan, founder of Family Tree DNA, will be speaking at this year’s IAJGS conference in Seattle (Robin S. Greenspan)

“I think everyone should buy the autosomal test because autosomal DNA matches you up, very reliably, against an aunt-uncle, niece-nephew, half siblings, first, second, and generally, third cousins, very well,” said Bennett Greenspan, a conference speaker, entrepreneur and an admitted life-long evangelist for Jewish genealogy.

Greenspan founded Family Tree DNA in 2000. The company is one of the most recognized non-medical DNA testers in the world.

Greenspan will be presenting several sessions at the IAJGS conference including “DNA and The Jewish People,” which, he said, is guaranteed to provoke conversation.

To date, Greenspan has amassed the male-inherited Y-DNA profiles of nearly 15,000 Jewish men in his database, reaching what genealogists call “critical mass.”

These numbers of Jewish men allowed Greenspan to compare the genetic signatures found in Middle Eastern populations with those from European populations.

Greenspan found that Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews and Muslim Arabs are a nearly perfect genetic match and he hypothesizes that both, quite likely, originated from the same tribe, long ago, in the Middle East.

“The Jews are from the Middle East and it doesn’t matter whether you’re Ashkenazi or Sephardi, you look the same on the Y chromosome,” said Greenspan. “There is almost no difference between Ashkenazim, Sephardim, and Muslim Arabs.

‘It’s forcing the Arabs to understand that we are from the Middle East as well and that we are not moving to a place that we never were’

“It’s forcing the Arabs to understand that we are from the Middle East as well and that we are not moving to a place that we never were,” said Greenspan.

The maternal or mitochondrial DNA is not nearly as simple or as accurate as the male Y-DNA, said Greenspan, because Jewish women were often sent to other countries as brides for single Jewish men or non-Jewish women were converted in order to marry the Jewish bachelors in that land.

“I think every man should do a Y chromosome [test] because it’s clear and unambiguous,” said Greenspan, who is eager to compile a census of the Jewish people for his next project.

“Either you match someone with your same last name, which means you’re related to them, or you do not match someone with your same last name and the reason is you’re not related to them,” said Greenspan.

A Ukrainian Jewish graveyard marker with Hebrew engraving. The engraving reads: 'Nehemia son of Yaakov Kappel, an honest and God-fearing man, passed on 20 Shevat, 5,666 [1906]' (Phyllis Grossman)

A Ukrainian Jewish graveyard marker with Hebrew engraving. The engraving reads: ‘Nehemia son of Jacob Kappel, an honest and God-fearing man, passed on 20 Shevat, 5,666 [1906]’ (Phyllis Grossman)

The Times of Israel

Still, for IAJGS 2016 conference co-chair Phyllis Grossman, a retired publisher and another genealogy devotee who caught the research bug in 1995, there’s no substitute for one-on-one oral histories.

Finding a deed, a passport, or a long lost relative from a town renamed over time to suit the language of the conquering army can tell you a lot.

“DNA by itself won’t do anything,” said Grossman. “You really have to do the research. Usually the very first step is to talk to your oldest relatives. Start with yourself, then start working backwards, one generation at a time.”

Grossman is on the board of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State, the host of this year’s conference. Her search for family members led her to Ukraine three times where she eventually found them in the town of Trochenbrod, which was the subject of the 2005 movie, “Everything is Illuminated.”

“Find out what people know, what they remember,” said Grossman. “You don’t want just names and dates, but the stories. You want to fill in the stories about who they were and how they lived.”

 

 

Hebrew inscriptions, jewels of Palmyra’s Jewish past, may be lost forever


Rhonda Ballance News Editor. E-mail: Rhonda.Ballance@Scofieldinstitute.org

Rhonda Ballance News Editor. E-mail: Rhonda.Ballance@Scofieldinstitute.org

 

 

With Islamic State now in control, fears grow for archaeological gems that point to the ancient city’s resonant Jewish history

 

The Islamic State flag raised on top of Palmyra castle, May 22, 2015. (The website of Islamic State fighters via AP)

Among the archaeological gems from Palmyra, the pearl of Syria’s desert, at risk after the Islamic State’s takeover last week are vestiges of its Jewish past, including the longest Biblical Hebrew inscription from antiquity: the opening verses of the Shema carved into a stone doorway.

Western archaeologists who visited the site in the 19th and 20th century discovered Hebrew verses etched into the doorframe of a house in the ancient city. But whether that inscription is still at the site is unclear.

The last time a European scholar documented it in situ was 1933, when Israeli archaeologist Eleazar Sukenik of Hebrew University photographed it.

“What may have happened to it since is anyone’s guess,” Professor David Noy, co-author of Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis (Jewish Inscriptions of the Near East), said in an email on Friday.

Three views of the Shema inscription found in a doorway in Palmyra, taken in 1884 and printed in Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis. (S. Landauer)

Three views of the Shema inscription found in a doorway in Palmyra, taken in 1884 and printed in Inscriptiones Judaicae Orientis. (S. Landauer)

Palmyra was one of the Roman Empire’s major cities, rising to prominence in the first centuries of the common era as a vassal state and entrepôt connecting West and East. Situated at an oasis in the desert frontier separating the empires of Rome and Parthia, Palmyra grew to an estimated population of 150,000-200,000 at its height in the third century CE. Textiles, perfumes, spices and gems came from India and the Far East, and metals, glass, wine and cash from Rome passed overland, bypassing the longer Red Sea trade route.

Eleazar Sukenik, photographed in 1951 (Eldan David - National Photo Collection / Wikipedia)

Eleazar Sukenik, photographed in 1951 (Eldan David – National Photo Collection / Wikipedia)

Because of its unique location, Palmyrene culture and art exhibited a fusion of Roman and Persian traditions. Traditional Mesopotamian mud bricks comprised the majority of the city’s architecture, Jørgen Christian Meyer, an archaeologist from the University of Bergen explained, but temples to Semitic gods such as Bel, Baalshamin and Al-lat were constructed in Classical style with stout columns hewn of stone.

When the city was abandoned following its destruction in 273 CE and left to the elements, the mud brick disintegrated, leaving behind a petrified forest of stone columns.

During its centuries of prosperity and decline it was home to a thriving Jewish community.

“What we see in Palmyra is a multicultural, and possibly also a multi-identity city,” Meyer, who headed a Norwegian-Syrianarchaeological excavation at the site in 2011, just as the civil war started heating up. “Here we’ve got this mixture of Greek, Aramaic, Middle Eastern, Roman culture. This is fantastic.”

“That’s why it’s a unique place from a historical point of view, a cultural point of view,” he said.

Solomon’s Tadmor

That fusion included Jews. Two locally produced terra cotta lamps found next to one of the great pagan temples bear menorahs on either side of a conch, suggesting close integration of Jews and gentiles.

Solomon and the plan for the First Temple. (Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Co.)

Solomon and the plan for the First Temple. (Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Co.)

Known in Hebrew and Aramaic as Tadmor, Jewish legend attributed the city’s construction to King Solomon. Josephus Flavius, writing in the first century CE, ascribed its construction to King Solomon, saying that the city of Tamar referred to in Kings I was the “very great city” Josephus’s contemporaries knew in the Syrian Desert.

“Now the reason why this city lay so remote from the parts of Syria that are inhabited is this, that below there is no water to be had, and that it is in that place only that there are springs and pits of water,” the Jewish Roman historian said. “When he had therefore built this city, and encompassed it with very strong walls, he gave it the name of Tadmor, and that is the name it is still called by at this day among the Syrians, but the Greeks name it Palmyra.”

Modern scholars, however, dispute the veracity of Josephus’s claim that it was built by Solomon. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Classical city of Palmyra didn’t predate the first century BCE, and the biblical city of Tamar was likely in today’s Negev Desert.

“The place had certainly existed and had been referred to centuries before. But there is nothing in the archaeological record to show that there was any settled occupation of the site through the Hellenistic period,” wrote Fergus Millar in The Roman Near East. “Suggestions of a phase of urban development in Palmyra before the disturbances of the late Hellenistic period can only be speculation.”

The ancient Roman city of Palmyra, northeast of Damascus, Syria, released by Syria's official news agency SANA, May 17, 2015. (SANA via AP)

The ancient Roman city of Palmyra, northeast of Damascus, Syria, released by Syria’s official news agency SANA, May 17, 2015. (SANA via AP)

Nonetheless, during Palmyra’s height during the Roman era, the city became home to a substantial Jewish community, as testified in Jewish texts. Two 3rd century CE Jewish tombs in Beit Shearim, outside Haifa, identify individuals as the interred sons of Palmyrenes. A passage in the Mishnah, compiled in the first to third centuries CE, also refers to one Miriam of Palmyra as living in the city during the first century CE.

Palmyra's Theater (Jerzy Strzelecki)

Palmyra’s Theater (Jerzy Strzelecki)

“It’s clear that there was a serious Jewish community. Jews from [Palmyra] brought them for burial [in Israel] and wrote on the sarcophagus that they were from there.” Daniel Vainstub of Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev said. “We know from the Talmud that some of the locals converted to Judaism.”

But most significantly, etched into the doorway of a house in central Palmyra, northeast of its main colonnaded street, were the four opening lines of the Shema, one of the central Jewish prayers, verses from the book of Deuteronomy. Scholars have debated whether it was an entryway to a synagogue, but now they lean toward it having been a private home.

Partial view of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra in Syria, March 14, 2014 (AFP/Joseph Eid, File)

Partial view of the ancient oasis city of Palmyra in Syria, March 14, 2014 (AFP/Joseph Eid, File)

The Biblical passage differs from the traditional text only inasmuch as it substitutes God’s name Yahweh for adonai — my Lord.

On the sides of the doorway were two other apotropaic inscriptions in Hebrew script believed taken from Deuteronomy as well. It was last photographed in the 1930s, and scholars contacted by the Times of Israel couldn’t ascertain whether it was still at the site, or whether in the intervening decades it was destroyed or sold on the black market.

“They’re part of the limited but clear evidence for Jews at Palmyra,” Tawny Holm, a Jewish Studies professor at Pennsylvania State University, said of the missing finds. They likely dated from before the 6th century CE, possibly from before the city’s destruction in 272-3, but “the inscription could have been added later,” she noted.

The queen of Palmyra

Queen Zenobia's Last Look Upon Palmyra, by Herbert Gustave Schmalz. (Original on exhibit, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.)

Queen Zenobia’s Last Look Upon Palmyra, by Herbert Gustave Schmalz. (Original on exhibit, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.)

In one of its more thrilling episodes, Palmyra was briefly ruled by Queen Zenobia, who launched a rebellion against Rome. After taking the throne from after her husband’s death in 267 CE, she succeeded in conquering much of the Levant, including Judea, and by 271 had taken Egypt.

Though Christian accounts claimed she was Jewish, there was no contemporary Jewish acknowledgement of such. In fact, Judeans sided with Rome, and Rabbi Johanan bar Nappaha, who lived in the Galilean town of Sepphoris during Zenobia’s rise and fall, is quoted in the Mishnah saying, “Happy will he be who sees the fall of Tadmor.” (He died happy in 279, a few years after the city fell to Rome in 273.)

Evidence of Jewish inhabitation of Palmyra tapers off after the 4th century, Vainstub said, when the re-inhabited city was a shadow of its former glory. Centuries later, after the Muslim conquest, Palmyra began its slow decline into obscurity. At some point a Jewish man, one Tsadik the Cohen son of Eliezer, carved his name into a column of the Temple of Bel, which had years before been converted into a church and then abandoned.

Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, a 12th century Spanish Jew who chronicled his travelsthrough Europe, Asia and Africa, visited Palmyra during his travels around Syria in the late 1160s or early 1170s. Describing Palmyra, he compares it to the ancient ruins he saw at Baalbek in Lebanon.

Benjamin of Tudela in the Sahara (Dumouza, 19th-century engraving)

Benjamin of Tudela in the Sahara (Dumouza, 19th-century engraving)

“At Tarmod (Tadmor) in the wilderness… there are similar structures of huge stones,” he wrote. Cataloguing Jewish communities he visited, Benjamin of Tudela said Palmyra was hope to about 2,000 Jews — Damascus at the time had 3,000 and Jerusalem he said only had 200.

“They are valiant in war and fight with the Christians and with the Arabs, which latter are under the dominion of Nur-ed-din the king, and they help their neighbors the Ishmaelites,” Benjamin of Tudela wrote.

In 1400, Turkic Muslim conqueror Tamerlane sacked the city and razed it, effectively ending centuries of Jewish inhabitance in Palmyra.

With the site’s conquest to 21st century Islamist warriors, however, archaeologists and historians are fearful for the ruins of the ancient city. The Islamic State may destroy them for the sake of propaganda as they did the antiquities of Hatra and Mosul in Iraq in recent months. UNESCO chief Irina Bokova called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and for the international community “to do everything in its power to protect the affected population and safeguard the unique cultural heritage of Palmyra.”

“No harm has really happened to the ruins of Palmyra, until now,” Meyer, the Norwegian archaeologist who excavated the site, said on the phone on Wednesday. “What will happen now is quite another thing.”

“What I fear now is that ISIS will also use the ruins in Palmyra in their psychological warfare, and that means the destruction of the place,” he said.

 

The Times of Israel

The (Golan) Heights of Insolence


Rhonda Ballance News Editor. E-mail: Rhonda.Ballance@Scofieldinstitute.org

Rhonda Ballance News Editor. E-mail: Rhonda.Ballance@Scofieldinstitute.org

 

 

05/05/2016

 

 

The Obama administration has the effrontery to reject Israel’s ownership of the Golan Heights.

That upstart nation with less than a quarter of one millennium of history presumes to rule on whether or not land that verifiably belonged to Jews for centuries thousands of years ago is rightfully theirs today!

May the LORD God of Israel humble America – a mighty country that has tragically forgotten the Judeo-Christian rock from which it was hewn, the roots out of which it grew.

Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday April 17 was held – historically – on the Golan Heights. It was, of course, not the first Jewish gathering on the high ground that IDF forces brought back into Jewish hands – as ordained and foretold by God – in the Six Day War.

The Golan Heights is saturated with Israel’s history – as recorded in the Bible and since.

For hundreds of years it formed half of the inheritance of the Israelite tribe of Manasseh.

It was included in the kingdoms of the great Jewish kings, David and Solomon

Two thousand years ago it was an integral part of the Galilee – which was a region in the Roman-occupied Land of Israel called Judea.

Jesus travelled near and likely even on the Golan, as the New Testament tells us of His presence in the region of Caesarea Philippi in the northern foothills of the plateau.

The large and formidably fortified Jewish town of Gamla – known as the Masada of the North – sits on the southern Golan. Its conquest by Titus and his legions in AD 67 is both recorded by Josephus Flavius – formerly the Jewish commander of the Galilee during the Great Revolt and the man responsible for directing the construction of the town’s defences – and thoroughly verified in the excavation of the site by Israel that began in 1967.

At least 20 Jewish villages and synagogues from the Talmudic and Mishnaic periods bear witness to the existence of vibrant Jewish life across the region up to 500 years after Christ.

Along with the Land of Israel, the Golan Heights was conquered and occupied by various Arab and other Muslim groups down the centuries. For 400 years it was part of the Ottoman Empire’s province of Palestine until it was liberated by the Judeo-Christian forces led by the British Empire in World War 1.

The Golan Heights was included in the area designated in the Balfour Declaration as intended for Jewish close settlement in readiness for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people.

It was only after Great Britain and France later modified the borders in designing the modern Middle East that the Golan was included in what would become a modern Arab country called Syria – one of many brand new Arab states that, unlike Israel, had never existed before in history as national Arab lands.

(Most of the Arab states are newcomers created post-World War 1. The Jewish state, on the other hand, has four millennia of history dating back to its founding fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Israel.)

Syria became an independent country in 1945, just two-and-a-half years before Israel was reborn.

From 1948 until mid-1967, Syria utilised the Golan Heights exclusively as a platform from which to fire on Jewish communities in the Huleh Valley below. A generation of Jewish children grew up with bomb shelters their bedrooms as often as not.

In June 1967, Israel drove the aggressors off the Golan in a self-defensive war, finally returning the plateau to Jewish control. Arab Syria had had possession of the Heights for a mere 22 years. They have been under modern Israel for more than twice that length of time, on top of the centuries when they were part of ancient Israel as outlined above.

In 1982, Israel passed the Golan Heights Law, which applied Israeli “laws, jurisdiction and administration” to the Heights, effectively extending sovereignty over the Golan.

This act, whether State Department official John Kirby – who on April 18, 2016 declared that “those territories are not part of Israel” – and his bosses are able to swallow it or not, simply brought the Heights back under the ownership of the aboriginal people of the land.

Who, then, do the President of the United States, and those Americans who support him, think that they are?

Of course, such statements and sentiments coming out of the White House and State Department simply accentuate the by-now universally obvious hostility towards Israel of the Obama administration, and put it and America on the wrong side of Israel’s God.

 

Kehilanews