Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Jewish Lamp with David and Goliath's Names in Greek Letters

Last week I was reading volume one of, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, by Erwin R. Goodenough (1893–1965. Goodenough was a professor at Yale University in Jewish Studies. He was born in Brooklyn, New York into a Methodist family, but he did not practice any religion. While studying at Harvard from 1917 – 1920 he was influenced by George F. Moore, a Christian Harvard professor who was expert in the Talmud and Judaism of the first centuries. Goodenough earned his Ph.D from Oxford University in 1923. While preparing his doctoral thesis, published as The Theology of Justin Martyr (Verlag Frommannische Buchhandlung : Jenna, 1923). In the preface he departs from the conventional wisdom that Judaism and Hellenism are mutually exclusive. He states that many Hellenistic elements of early Christianity were derived not from the pagan world, but directly but from the already Hellenized Judaism In his, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period, he seeks to show the influence of Hellenism on the Jews and document the art and symbolism of the Jews. He examined artifacts and documents from many libraries and museums. He said that seeing artifacts is like a pictures without understanding the context that a text offer.

The section I read, chapter 1 of volume 1, The Problem,” he describes a lamp with seven openings for wicks. On the upright back of the lamp (a 1913 gift of Rebecca Darlington Stoddard)[1] is a picture of David (ΔΑΥΙΔ) and Goliath (ΓΟΥΛΙΑΔ) with the names in Greek letters. He has a black and white reproduction of the lamp in a later volume. The catalog was created by Paul Bauer (published in Yale Classical Studies, I (1928) p.4-5) says that the style of letters fits the 1st century. Bauer dated the lamp as 3rd-4th century Christian. When Goodenough saw this description, wrote Baur for an explanation. Bauer said that since everyone knows the Jews had no art; it had to be a Christian artifact. Since Christians didn’t exist in the first century, the lamp had to be from a later time. Goodenough later explains (volume 5 pages 105-107) that the palm tree and the idea of a seven wick lamp are Jewish symbols and are reminders of the Temple of Jerusalem. He found 182 examples of the use of the seven branched menorah. This lamp was the inexpensive version of a seven branch menorah. If the lamp was created before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, it could be argued that the David and Goliath were symbolic of the Jewish struggle against the Romans. If created after the destruction its seven lights are a remembrance of the Temple that was already destroyed.

The seven branched menorah (candelabra) was a symbol used in the Temple. When the Temple was destroyed the rabbis said making an exact 3D menorah reproduction was forbidden. Flat pictures and sculptures without the full branches are allowed. Today the symbol is found in almost every synagogue. The middle branch is replaced or topped with a Star of David or a blank spot.

When I saw Goodenough’s discussion, I had to investigate. I found a color photograph on the web site of Yale University Art Gallery. ecatalogue.art.yale.edu/detail.htm?objectId=2288. The letters are not clear, but are legible. The web site still had the incorrect description of Paul Bauer. I wrote to the museum stating that the mistake was written about in 1953 and that should be enough time to fix it. They answered back acknowledging the mistake was based on the bias of Paul Bauer. Today the web site no longer has the word “Christian” on it, but still has the 3rd-4th century as the date. I can’t argue with them about the date as I have never seen the item. The museum has no record of the item’s providence before it was presented to the museum.

Goodenough’s careful scholarship has largely been ignored. Very few scholars today realize that he brought together pieces of the story of confrontation of Greek and Roman society with Judaism that previous scholars never knew existed. He wanted to understand how the symbols contribute to our understanding of ancient Judaism. Some claim that his work was over shadowed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. While I knew about his books for many years, I never read them. The copy I acquired sat on a library shelf for more than 50 years and looks as if no one had ever touched them. Now some 45 years after his death, scholars should start to understand the fresh approach to the study of Jewish interaction with other civilizations and how Christianity was following some Hellenistic Jewish trends and not taking over some of the ways of pagans.

1. The Preliminary Catalogue of the Rebecca Darlington Stoddard Collection of Greek and Italian Vases was published by Yale University in 1914. This lamp (item 654) was part of the collection. The catalog is available online : www.archive.org/details/preliminarycata00baurgoog.

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