THE SYRO-ARAMAIC READING OF THE KORAN
"Scholars Are Quietly Offering New Theories of the Koran",
Mr. Alexander Stille's article appeared in the 2 March issue of the
New York Times.]
Christoph Luxenberg, however, is a pseudonym, and his scholarly tome ''''The Syro-Aramaic Reading of the Koran'' had trouble finding a publisher, although it is considered a major new work by several leading scholars in the field. Verlag Das Arabische Buch in Berlin ultimately published the book.
The caution is not surprising. Salman Rushdie's ''Satanic Verses'' received a fatwa because it appeared to mock Muhammad. The Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed because one of his books was thought to be irreligious. And when the Arab scholar Suliman Bashear argued that Islam developed as a religion gradually rather than emerging fully formed from the mouth of the Prophet, he was injured after being thrown from a second-story window by his students at the University of Nablus in the West Bank. Even many broad-minded liberal Muslims become upset when the historical veracity and authenticity of the Koran is questioned.
The reverberations have affected non-Muslim scholars in Western countries. ''Between fear and political correctness, it's not possible to say anything other than sugary nonsense about Islam,'' said one scholar at an American university who asked not to be named, referring to the threatened violence as well as the widespread reluctance on United States college campuses to criticize other cultures.
While scriptural interpretation may seem like a remote and innocuous activity, close textual study of Jewish and Christian scripture played no small role in loosening the Church's domination on the intellectual and cultural life of Europe, and paving the way for unfettered secular thought. ''The Muslims have the benefit of hindsight of the European experience, and they know very well that once you start questioning the holy scriptures, you don't know where it will stop,'' the scholar explained.
The touchiness about questioning the Koran predates the latest rise of Islamic militancy. As long ago as 1977, John Wansbrough of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London wrote that subjecting the Koran to ''analysis by the instruments and techniques of biblical criticism is virtually unknown.''
Mr. Wansbrough insisted that the text of the Koran appeared to be a composite of different voices or texts compiled over dozens if not hundreds of years. After all, scholars agree that there is no evidence of the Koran until 691 -- 59 years after Muhammad's death -- when the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem was built, carrying several Koranic inscriptions.
These inscriptions differ to some degree from the version of the Koran that has been handed down through the centuries, suggesting, scholars say, that the Koran may have still been evolving in the last decade of the seventh century. Moreover, much of what we know as Islam -- the lives and sayings of the Prophet -- is based on texts from between 130 and 300 years after Muhammad's death.
In 1977 two other scholars from the School for Oriental and African Studies at London University -- Patricia Crone (a professor of history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton) and Michael Cook (a professor of Near Eastern history at Princeton University) -- suggested a radically new approach in their book ''Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World.''
Since there are no Arabic chronicles from the first century of Islam, the two looked at several non-Muslim, seventh-century accounts that suggested Muhammad was perceived not as the founder of a new religion but as a preacher in the Old Testament tradition, hailing the coming of a Messiah. Many of the early documents refer to the followers of Muhammad as ''hagarenes,'' and the ''tribe of Ishmael,'' in other words as descendants of Hagar, the servant girl that the Jewish patriarch Abraham used to father his son Ishmael.
In its earliest form, Ms. Crone and Mr. Cook argued, the followers of Muhammad may have seen themselves as retaking their place in the Holy Land alongside their Jewish cousins. (And many Jews appear to have welcomed the Arabs as liberators when they entered Jerusalem in 638.)
The idea that Jewish messianism animated the early followers of the Prophet is not widely accepted in the field, but ''Hagarism'' is credited with opening up the field. ''Crone and Cook came up with some very interesting revisionist ideas,'' says Fred M. Donner of the University of Chicago and author of the recent book ''Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writing.'' ''I think in trying to reconstruct what happened, they went off the deep end, but they were asking the right questions.''
The revisionist school of early Islam has quietly picked up momentum in the last few years as historians began to apply rational standards of proof to this material.
Mr. Cook and Ms. Crone have revised some of their early hypotheses while sticking to others. ''We were certainly wrong about quite a lot of things,'' Ms. Crone said. ''But I stick to the basic point we made: that Islamic history did not arise as the classic tradition says it does.''
Ms. Crone insists that the Koran and the Islamic tradition present a fundamental paradox. The Koran is a text soaked in monotheistic thinking, filled with stories and references to Abraham, Isaac, Joseph and Jesus, and yet the official history insists that Muhammad, an illiterate camel merchant, received the revelation in Mecca, a remote, sparsely populated part of Arabia, far from the centers of monotheistic thought, in an environment of idol-worshiping Arab Bedouins. Unless one accepts the idea of the angel Gabriel, Ms. Crone says, historians must somehow explain how all these monotheistic stories and ideas found their way into the Koran.
''There are only two possibilities,'' Ms. Crone said. ''Either there had to be substantial numbers of Jews and Christians in Mecca or the Koran had to have been composed somewhere else.''
Indeed, many scholars who are not revisionists agree that Islam must be placed back into the wider historical context of the religions of the Middle East rather than seeing it as the spontaneous product of the pristine Arabian desert. ''I think there is increasing acceptance, even on the part of many Muslims, that Islam emerged out of the wider monotheistic soup of the Middle East,'' says Roy Mottahedeh, a professor of Islamic history at Harvard University.
Scholars like Mr. Luxenberg and Gerd-R. Puin, who teaches at Saarland University in Germany, have returned to the earliest known copies of the Koran in order to grasp what it says about the document's origins and composition. Mr. Luxenberg explains these copies are written without vowels and diacritical dots that modern Arabic uses to make it clear what letter is intended. In the eighth and ninth centuries, more than a century after the death of Muhammad, Islamic commentators added diacritical marks to clear up the ambiguities of the text, giving precise meanings to passages based on what they considered to be their proper context. Mr. Luxenberg's radical theory is that many of the text's difficulties can be clarified when it is seen as closely related to Aramaic, the language group of most Middle Eastern Jews and Christians at the time.
For example, the famous passage about the virgins is based on the word hur, which is an adjective in the feminine plural meaning simply ''white.'' Islamic tradition insists the term hur stands for ''houri,'' which means virgin, but Mr. Luxenberg insists that this is a forced misreading of the text. In both ancient Aramaic and in at least one respected dictionary of early Arabic, hur means ''white raisin.''
Mr. Luxenberg has traced the passages dealing with paradise to a Christian text called Hymns of Paradise by a fourth-century author. Mr. Luxenberg said the word paradise was derived from the Aramaic word for garden and all the descriptions of paradise described it as a garden of flowing waters, abundant fruits and white raisins, a prized delicacy in the ancient Near East. In this context, white raisins, mentioned often as hur, Mr. Luxenberg said, makes more sense than a reward of sexual favors.
In many cases, the differences can be quite significant. Mr. Puin points out that in the early archaic copies of the Koran, it is impossible to distinguish between the words ''to fight'' and ''to kill.'' In many cases, he said, Islamic exegetes added diacritical marks that yielded the harsher meaning, perhaps reflecting a period in which the Islamic Empire was often at war.
A return to the earliest Koran, Mr. Puin and others suggest, might lead to a more tolerant brand of Islam, as well as one that is more conscious of its close ties to both Judaism and Christianity.
''It is serious and exciting work,'' Ms. Crone said of Mr. Luxenberg's work. Jane McAuliffe, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, has asked Mr. Luxenberg to contribute an essay to the Encyclopedia of the Koran, which she is editing.
Mr. Puin would love to see a ''critical edition'' of the Koran produced, one based on recent philological work, but, he says, ''the word critical is misunderstood in the Islamic world -- it is seen as criticizing or attacking the text.''
Some Muslim authors have begun to publish skeptical, revisionist work on the Koran as well. Several new volumes of revisionist scholarship, ''The Origins of the Koran,'' and ''The Quest for the Historical Muhammad,'' have been edited by a former Muslim who writes under the pen name Ibn Warraq. Mr. Warraq, who heads a group called the Institute for the Secularization of Islamic Society, makes no bones about having a political agenda. ''Biblical scholarship has made people less dogmatic, more open,'' he said, ''and I hope that happens to Muslim society as well.''
But many Muslims find the tone and claims of revisionism offensive. ''I think the broader implications of some of the revisionist scholarship is to say that the Koran is not an authentic book, that it was fabricated 150 years later,'' says Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of religious studies at Duke University, as well as a Muslim cleric whose liberal theological leanings earned him the animosity of fundamentalists in South Africa, which he left after his house was firebombed.
Andrew Rippin, an Islamicist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, says that freedom of speech in the Islamic world is more likely to evolve from within the Islamic interpretative tradition than from outside attacks on it. Approaches to the Koran that are now branded as heretical -- interpreting the text metaphorically rather than literally -- were widely practiced in mainstream Islam a thousand years ago.
''When I teach the history of the interpretation it is eye-opening to students the amount of independent thought and diversity of interpretation that existed in the early centuries of Islam,'' Mr. Rippin says. ''It was only in more recent centuries that there was a need for limiting interpretation.''
BARTHOLOMEOS LEAVES ISTANBUL, TALABANI ARRIVES IN ANKARA
(ZNDA: Ankara) Archbishop of Constantinople (Istanbul), New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew left for the US on Monday morning at the invitation of President George W. Bush. Patriarch Bartholomeos is due to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other high-level US administration officials. Before his departure, Bartholomeos said that the basic aim of his visit was to attend ceremonies to mark the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Orthodox Archbishop See in the US. His Holiness is the spiritual leader of 300 million Christians worldwide.
On the same day Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), arrived in Ankara. Talabani will meet with Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Ugur Ziyal and officials from the Office of the Chief of General Staff this week. Since Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit was unable to make an appointment with Talabani due to his busy schedule, Talabani is expected to be received by Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz. Among the issues to be discussed during Talabani's meetings are the developments in the wake of a possible US intervention in Iraq and security in North Iraq. Ankara will also convey its concerns to Talabani about terrorist PKK's new political activities as well as recent efforts to establish an independent Kurdish state in the region. Reports from Ankara indicate that the government of Turkey may be willing to recognize the Assyrians as an official minority group in Turkey.
SULEMAN'S MEN SPEAK UP
(ZNDA: Sydney) Last week Karl Suleman and two of his agents gave an account of how they collected six-figure sums from investors some of whose names they could not recall and handed the money to KSE, hardly bothering to keep any records.
The two agents, Robert Barkho and Sam Babanour, gave an insight to
KSE's liquidator during a Supreme Court examination into how the pyramid
investment scheme worked, as well as the large volume of money collected
from their friends and relatives for a 10 to 17 per cent commission.
Mr Robert Barkho, unemployed but studying electronics, received $532,000 in sales commissions over three months for his role in introducing investors. Mr Barkho, told a Sydney court Mr Suleman phoned him in California after probes into the collapse of Mr Suleman's $130 million scheme had started, and told him he had done "nothing wrong" but urged him to keep away from Australia and to try to "get the wife and kids out". Under examination Mr Barkho confirmed he received about $106,000 a month in investment dividends despite having outlayed only $200,000 on top of the commissions.
Mr. Barkho collected money from several people including Leon Sarkis,
someone whose last name was Naji, "John something, Jacko I think,"
and others he could not remember. He also invested $45,000 himself ($50,000
less his 10 per cent commission). By July last year Mr Barkho had invested
$150,000 in KSE.
Asked by James Thomson, counsel for the liquidator, if he had brought in $1.4 million from investors, Mr Barkho replied ``yes''. But he had kept no records. He said he handed money and cheques over to the KSE office where it was put into a drawer, or left on the floor, for banking by someone else later.
He kept no records himself as to who invested or the amounts, merely "pieces of paper", some of which were left at the office, others were thrown away.
Another investor gave him $25,000. Mr Barkho said that investor was lucky because the investment was returned and did not end up in KSE but was returned via the investor's brother-in-law, who he thought was called Alec John or Johns.
Cash and cheques flowed into Karl Suleman's Liverpool office in wads of six-figure sums last year via another well-connected agent and former truck driver Sam Babanour. Mr. Babanour had invested $200,000 in KSE and earned $1,100 every two weeks from KSE. Asked where that money came from, Mr Babanour replied "from bank".
Mr Thomson: ``Which bank?
Mr Babanour: ``I don't know the name exactly.''
He said Jesse George, an associate of Mr Suleman, organised the loan, which was secured by his house. Asked if the lender was Australian Wholesale Mortgage, Mr Babanour said "yes".
A further $100,000 earned "through gambling" was invested on behalf of his father in KSE in July last year but only $70,000 was actually put into the scheme. Asked where the $30,000 balance was, Mr Babanour said: "At home."
Mr James Thomson took Mr Babanour to line 14 of a list of investments. A contract for $400,000 was referred to. Mr Thomson asked him whether this came from Anthony ``whose name you don't know. How did he pay?''
Mr Babanour thought it had been by cheque.
Asked if Anthony had a surname, he said he met Anthony after the investment was made and did not know his last name.
Mr Thomson: Where does he live?
Mr Babanour: In Sydney.
Mr Thomson: Do you know where in Sydney?
Mr Babanour: I believe he is in uni.
Mr Thomson: Do you have a telephone number for Anthony?
Mr Babanour: Yes.
Mr Thomson: Do you have it with you?
Mr Babanour: No, it is on my mobile. It is [turned] off.
When Mr Thomson asked him if he could get Anthony's telephone number, Mr Babanour said he could but he would have to call all of the four or five Anthonys on his mobile to find out which made the $400,000 investment.
The evidence became more bizarre.
Mr Thomson: Where were you when that money was given?
Mr Babanour: In Karl's office.
Mr Thomson: How was it given?
Mr Babanour: In a plastic bag, a normal shopping bag. He did not, however, count it because he believed his cousin, who brought it, that the money was right.
Mr Thomson: How was it made up?
Mr Babanour: $100,000 first, and a second $100,000.
Mr Thomson: When you had $100,000 in the shopping bag what did you do with it?
Mr Babanour: I gave it to Karl Suleman in the office.
Mr Thomson: And the second $100,000, did you give that to the office too?
Mr Babanour: I don't recall where it was given.
The money from there apparently was dealt with by the office accountant, either Debbie Lock, or George Sabri, both of whom will be examined at a later date on their recollections of what happened to shopping bags of money delivered to KSE's office.
As well as receiving commission of $4000 every other week for his efforts in bringing in six-figure contracts, Mr Babanour was asked if he received any other benefits. He said he asked Mr Suleman if he could have the Mercedes 280SL owned by Mr Suleman.
``As a friend, he give it to me. Gave the keys the same day I asked for it,'' he told the court.
Mr Babanour had the registration changed with the transfer certificate registering a value of $33,000 on the vehicle, even though it was a gift.
``He said take the car and go,'' Mr Babanour said of Mr Suleman.
Mr Thomson asked what happened to the car. Mr Babanour said he sold it for $70,000 to Rick Damelian, a prominent car dealer, in December. Asked what happened to the $70,000 proceeds, Mr Babanour said he took it to the ANZ bank and intended to buy another car with $50,000. However, troubles with his wife drove him to Star City casino and other clubs, where he lost all except for $7,000 to $8,000.
Mr Thomson: What happened to that money?
Mr Babanour: I still got it.
Mr Thomson: Where do you keep it?
Mr Babanour: In my pocket.
Evidence was also given that money came from another relative of Mr Babanour's in the US, sent to family in Sydney where Mr Babanour picked it up. Asked that relative's name, Mr Babanour said he could not immediately recall it before remembering a few minutes later it was Joseph, a second cousin living in the US.
Mr David Varda, a former blood collector who worked in KSE's office, told the court he did not keep any cash receipt books for clients' contracts, or any other records, and did not have contracts for his own investments.
In the past two years he has bought a unit at Drummoyne for $548,000 and another in Pyrmont for $430,000, but appeared vague about where the money came from.
Mr Suleman said he had never paid anybody to introduce investors to the failed pyramid-style scheme.
Counsel for the liquidators of the scheme, Ms Kim Burke, questioned him about the role of Mr David Varda, one of the first investors in KSE, who she said had quite significant responsibilities, including handling investors' cash and cheques.
Mr Suleman said Mr Varda was a friend who received money as a "gift" and not as an employee.
It appears that Suleman paid a lawyer, Philip Pham, some $A 100,000 to set up the Internet services provider, Froggy Holdings. Mr Phillip Pham, who first had contact with Mr Suleman in 1998, told the hearing he asked Mr Suleman if he had a dealer's licence for the activities of the investment scheme and was told there was nothing to worry about. He said he had no reason to doubt Mr Suleman.
Mr Suleman's answers to many questions were vague, or simply "I have no idea". He told Ms Burke that she should direct her question about cheques made out and loans extended to KSE's accountant Phillip Pham or to other operatives in the company, including Debbie Lock, Sevior Sabri and an accountant, Roger Hyde.
The court was told Mr Hyde received three $100,000 loans or payments last year, the last in October, but Mr Suleman was not sure what they were for, although one was either equity or a loan for a hair removal process he was involved with. About $500,000 went to pay the deposit to Princess Yachts for the luxury cruiser. Money also went to buy two Mercedes cars for Froggy Music executives because "the industry they were in needed some sort of presentation''.
KSE started out as a shopping trolly collection contractor, and moved into selling loans or investment contracts featuring returns of 17 per cent per month, without Mr Suleman having the required licence or prospectus to permit the gathering of investment funds. While KSE was gathering funds from investors, mostly from the Assyrian community, Mr Suleman was setting up a series of Froggy companies, including Froggy.com and Froggy Music.
Mr Suleman told the court that Mr Pham was behind some of the corporate structures set up and told him that investors would be paid out eventually by Froggy becoming "a wealthy company" that could be floated for between $200million and $300million.
Asked if he knew that he should have had a dealer's licence before inviting investors to invest in his company, Mr Suleman said that his solicitor Susie David went to Mallesons Stephen Jacques but said that the advice received had mainly to do with loan agreements and "contracts and how the scheme was set up by [Mr] Pham".
Pressed that he understood that at this time that a dealer's licence was required for KSE's activities, Mr Suleman answered "yes". But then he said that the investments were really loans and were thus not investments that required a dealer's licence.
Some other findings from last week's court appearances were the following:
Yesterday, a repossession sale of 80 classic luxury and sports cars was being held in Sydney. The auction, held at the Convention Centre, Darling Harbour, attract between 1,500 and 2,000 people. Karl Suleman's cars were also among the vehicles in the sale, including a late model red Ferrari 360 Modena which is priced at $A 350,000.
This morning Karl Suleman pledged $2,400 he won at the Trinity Bar
in Sydney on poker machines to his investors.
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT REMINDS TURKEY OF 1915 GENOCIDE
(ZNDA: Ankara) Last Thursday Turkish lawmakers attacked the European Parliament for a resolution that accuses Turks of massacring Armenians in 1915. The European Parliament resolution on the future of the relationship between the EU and Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia had a one-sentence reference to a 1987 European Parliament resolution which asked for recognition of the Armenian "genocide."
Turkey furiously rejected charges that Ottoman Turks systematically killed 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 and has fought hard to block scores of international attempts to raise the issue.
A joint statement issued by all six parties in the Turkish parliament said they had noted the European decision "supporting false Armenian claims with sorrow."
"If this ugly attack is an attempt to push Turkey to abandon the determination to become a full European Union member that Turkey has pursued with sacrifice and self-denial, we state that it is misguided and will fail," they said.
Turkey says both sides suffered losses during fighting in what is now eastern Turkey as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.
A Turkish newspaper reported this morning that a delegation of women Turkish deputies announced yesterday that they were postponing a trip to Armenia which had been scheduled for this Friday. They said that the trip, organized by the Turkish-Armenian Women Communication Group, was being delayed due to the recent decision of the European Parliament concerning the so-called Armenian genocide.
For more information on the 1915 Seyfo Genocide visit www.beth-il.com/genocide/Introduction.htm.
TURKISH GOVERNMENT PRESSURES MIRAMAX RE "ARARAT"
(ZNDA: Washington) Last week the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) said the Turkish government, "consistent with its long-standing campaign of genocide denial", is pressuring Miramax, to censur the film "Ararat" which it will distribute world-wide. This highly anticipated new film by award-winning writer-director Atom Egoyan, is expected to be released in May of this year and educate millions around the world about the 1915 Seyfo Genocide, commonly referred to as the Armenian Genocide. As many as 750,000 Assyrians lost their lives between 1915 and 1923 due to the Ottoman Empire's policies of deportation and mass killing of Christian populations.
For more information about "Ararat" visit:
[Zinda Magazine asks its readers to send a letter of thanks to Miramax for distributing "Ararat" and ask that it reject efforts by the Turkish government to censor this film. Write your letter directly to "Chairman Harvey Weinstein" at 375 Greenwich Street , New York, NY 10013 U.S. or call Miramax at (212) 941-3800 and ask for Mr. Weinstein's office.]
KEIKYO INSTITUTE REQUESTS PRAYER FOR ASSYRIAN CHRISTIANS
Courtesy of Keikyo News Service
(ZNDA: Tokyo) The Keikyo Institute, an organization dedicated to the protection of Christians in Asia, on Saturday extended an "urgent prayer request for an estimated 2.5 million Assyrian Christians suffering deep persecution in their former nation in Northern Iraq."
The following is the text of the Keikyo Institute's Press Release:
LECTURE AT UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
THE CANADIAN SOCIETY FOR SYRIAC STUDIES
Lecturer: Dr. Stephen Westphalen
RUINS OF AN OLD ASSYRIAN CHURCH ON LAO-TZU'S TURF
of the New York Times (Feb 24); article by Leslie Camhi
While translating a collection of these documents for his book ''The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity,'' published last year by Ballantine Books, Mr. Palmer came across a faint map published by a Japanese scholar in the 1930's. It was probably the work of spies posing as archaeologists while charting China's rural defenses in preparation for Japan's 1937 invasion. (In 1933, Chinese scholars also toured the ruins, but their findings were inconclusive.) The map listed no place names, but it marked a pagoda near the Lou Guan Tai temple, calling it ''Da Qin,'' one of whose meanings is ''from the Roman Empire."
"Imagine a church in the middle of rural England, called the Tang Dynasty Chinese Temple,'' Mr. Palmer said. ''It's that much of an anomaly."
Mr. Palmer's suspicions regarding the building's Christian origin were heightened when, climbing a hill overlooking the pagoda, he realized that the entire site was laid out, not on the north-south axis traditional for Chinese temples, but rather facing east, as befits a proper Christian church. Local lore, in the person of a Buddhist nun said to be 115 years old, confirmed this interpretation. ''Of course!'' she exclaimed when told of his insight. ''This was the most famous Christian monastery in China."
The monastery -- only traces of which remain -- was probably destroyed in 845 during a period of persecution begun by the Confucianists against foreign religions, including Buddhism and Christianity. Around 1300 the pagoda was converted into a Buddhist temple and then was sealed in 1556, when damage from an earthquake caused it to lean perilously. The Chinese authorities, notified of the site's significance, immediately set about restoring it. When they reopened the building, they discovered a 10-foot-high mud, plaster and wood grotto on the second floor.
"It's a traditional Chinese scene of the five sacred mountains of Taoism," Mr. Palmer said. "And set right in the heart of it are the fragmentary remains of a nativity scene, with the Virgin Mary and Christ." On the third floor they found a six-foot-tall sculpture believed to represent Jonah lying outside Nineveh, and seventh-century graffiti carved into a brick by a homesick monk in Syriac, the liturgical language of the Church of the East (as Latin was for the Church of Rome).
The importance of these findings was underlined last March, when the Taliban destroyed the Great Buddhas of Bamiyan, two towering, 1,500-year-old statues carved into a cliff in Afghanistan that were priceless examples of Gandharan art, which combines Greek and Buddhist iconography. ''The only other known place in the world where Western and Eastern artistic traditions met in antiquity and created joint works of art is in that pagoda in China,'' Mr. Palmer said.
Both places drew from the flourishing culture of the Silk Road, a mercantile network that linked Changan (then the largest city in the world), across the Gansu corridor in northwestern China and the ancient kingdoms of Central Asia, to Antioch and Byzantium. Art and artifacts in the exhibition ''Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures From Northwest China, Fourth to Seventh Century,'' organized in November by Annette Juliano and Judith Lerner at the Asia Society in New York, overlapped with the period of Da Qin's construction. ''There was a synergy between religion and trade on the Silk Road,'' said Colin Mackenzie, associate director of the Asia Society, ''that carried Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Nestorian Christianity along its routes. Our exhibition told the story of how we think Chinese civilization was virtually transformed by these foreign influences.''
The Da Qin monastery and pagoda have been added to the 2002 World Monuments Fund watch list of 100 most endangered sites, along with the Ohel Rachel Synagogue in Shanghai, an early-20th-century building that served the city's swelling population of Jewish refugees from Europe during the 1930's. Henry Ng, executive vice president of the World Monuments Fund, said, ''With all the discussions about religious tolerance in China, and Beijing's negotiations with the Vatican about opening up full diplomatic relations, it's very interesting to see these two foreign faiths coming to China at different points in its history, and finding a home there.''
The Chinese response has been positive so far. The Chinese director of the Da Qin project was the keynote speaker at a symposium on early Christianity in China, organized by the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing in October, and several Chinese scholars plan to visit the site.
Working with the Chinese authorities, Mr. Palmer hopes to conduct more excavations and further restore the pagoda, the monastery and surrounding sites. He also plans to create a Museum of the West in China. ''Just as, sadly, a lot of people in the West view China as a monolithic, totally foreign entity, so many Chinese feel the same way about the West,'' he said. ''The purpose of the museum would be to challenge these views, to say the West has been in China for 1,400 years. It helped shape China and China helped shape the West.''
Tim Barrett, a professor of East Asian History at the University of London, suggests that a growing need for alliances against the spectacular rise of Islam during the seventh century may have fostered Tang dynasty tolerance of Christianity. And since Lao-tzu was reportedly heading west when he disappeared, Professor Barrett said, ''Taoists were perfectly willing to see any culture imported from the West, including Christianity, as a reflection of his teachings.''
Such logic seems to find echoes today. Mr. Palmer has worked closely
with the China-Taoist organization for many years. ''They're fascinated
by my findings,'' he said. ''They wrote me that this confirms their
suspicion that Jesus should be classified as a grand Taoist master.''
Jack Baba is in tune with an object that many people have never heard of, an obscure, Middle Eastern stringed instrument called an "oud." For the past 15 years, Baba has had a hobby that is almost a passion -- making and repairing ouds in his workshop at 35 Woodside Lane.
With his recent retirement from Torrington-Fafnir Bearings in New Britain, Baba probably will find more time to spend producing the instruments, as well as other handmade items.
Known to some as the "father of the lute" and the "grandfather of the guitar," the oud has a unique, pot-bellied box attached to a short neck that is the fingerboard for 11 nylon strings. But unlike the guitar and other stringed instruments, an oud has no frets, the lateral ridges fixed across a fingerboard to regulate the fingering.
The exact origin of the oud is unknown -- it has been traced back as far as 680 A.D., Baba said-and there are primarily two varieties: Arabic and Turkish. He makes the Turkish oud, which has a smaller body.
"Its sound resembles a classical guitar, only its [the oud's) sound is deeper," Baba said. "A good violin player or mandolin player could learn to play it [in] no time."
In his workshop, Baba has used his skills as a tool and die maker to produce 37 ouds in the past 15 years, and number 38 will be finished soon.
"Mechanically, It wasn't difficult for me to do this," Baba said, holding the unfinished shell of an oud that bears a custom label with his name and a number 38 printed on it. "Each one will sound a little different," he said, cradling its hollow body. "I can't explain it."
It takes about two months for Baba to make an oud -- that's four to five hours of work a day, he said. However, he said, he does not make the instrument for profit.
"I don't make them in advance to sell. If I find myself with no activity to do, I will occupy myself in the workshop," Baba said. "Or if someone comes along, say a friend who wants an oud, I'll make them one.
"Let's face it, it's not going to buy me a Cadillac or a Lincoln," he said. "I'm not the kind of guy who's going to spend his time in a bar or gambling. This is my interest."
Baba has even received a request for an oud from the director of the music department at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada.
To make an oud, Baba said he spends more than $100 for supplies. He will only use perfect pieces of wood, which he buys from distributors in Chicago or New York. Among Baba's favorite woods are mahogany, maple, walnut and an African variety called amaranth. Those types, he said, give the instrument its best resonance. Baba always uses Alaskan spruce for the sound board and ebony for the tuning pegs.
Baba, who is of Assyrian descent, said he first became interested in the oud after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. It was while he was in the Navy that Baba started playing the mandolin. "I couldn't play a note, but I liked the instrument," Baba said. "A fellow from Bridgeport showed me some chords and we played hillbilly music."
When he returned to the United States, Baba said some friends from New Britain, who played other instruments, persuaded him to buy an oud. "I took a trip to New York City and bought it for $40, and after a couple of months I managed to do very well," he said.
Soon after, Baba and his fellow musicians formed a group that occasionally played at parties and for local organizations.
The musical influence in Baba's life became so powerful that his two sons began playing with him at home. One played percussion and the other played the clarinet.
The license plate on Baba's car is "OUD-MKR," for oud maker.
Another reason Baba said he became attracted to ouds are their sounds. No two sound exactly alike, he said, and when he is making an oud "it's difficult to say which combinations of wood will give them the best sound."
To play the instrument, a long thin pick -- about the length and width of an emery board -- is used to pick individual strings or strum chords.
Ouds are primarily for listening, Baba said, although some forms of belly dancing -- traditionally done to the Greek bouzouki -- are performed to its musical variations.
For Baba, playing and making ouds are only part of the fun. "Somedays I'll come home from work down and out and make myself a tall drink," he said, listening to a tape recording of classical oud music. "I'll just kick off my shoes, put some of it [music] on and I'll forget everything."
To contact Mr. Baba write to:
During excavations in the Assyrian capital Assur a collection of clay tablets was found, which is known as 'archive 14410'. A large number of letters contained in the archive had been written by Babu-ahu-iddina, chancellor under a few Assyrian kings. The names in his letters however are inconclusive as to which king was meant. Several Assyrian kings used the same names. It is now believed that these names refer to Adad-nirari I (1297-1265 B.C.), Salmanassar I (1265-1235 B.C.) and Tukulti-ninurta I (1235-1198 B.C.), i.e. father, son, and grandson, respectively.
Conclusive evidence against Rohl's proposed New Chronology, van der Land
(A.D. 4TH Century)
Saint (Mar) Zaya builds an enormous church at the foot of a 12,500 ft mountain to the east of the Jilu district in northern Bet-Nahrain. Mar Zaya's feast is celebrated on the first Wednesday of January.
Assyrian Chaldean Christians in Eastern Turkey & Iran, Sanders
Share your local events with Zinda readers. Email us or send fax to: 408-918-9201
UNIVERSITY OF LONDON LECTURE
"King Nabonidus, Babylonian Politics, Royal Philosophy
& the Darkened Moon"
A SEMINAR FOR ASSYRIAN WOMEN
The Assyrian Ladies Bible Study Group of Los Angeles Presents:
2:00 - 6:00 PM
Florence Eshagh-Sarkis of Bet-Eil Assyrian Church in San
Jose will be the guest speaker at this seminar and will focus on the Book
of Ruth and its practical applications for modern Assyrian women.
(Absolutely No Children)
CANADIAN SOCIETY FOR SYRIAC STUDIES LECTURE
La Societe Canadienne des Etudes Syriaques
"Resafa-Sergiupolis: From A
Roman Desert Castle to A Christian Metropolis"
University of Toronto
[Zinda Magazine is a proud Corporate Sponsor of CSSS.]
THE NIMRUD CONFERENCE
Clore Education Centre, British Museum.
BOAT CRUISE & PARTY
Entertainment: Professional D.J.
For tickets contact:
WILLIAM DANIEL BIRTHDAY COMMEMORATION
A BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION FOR AN ASSYRIAN LEGEND
The Assyrian American Association of San Jose proudly invites you to a special function organized by William Daniel's students to commemorate his birthday. Join us in this memorable event in celebration of an Assyrian writer, poet, composer, and musician.
AGATHA CHRISTI & THE ORIENT
Revealing Agatha Christie the archaeologist and how her discoveries in the Near East influenced her detective writing.
The hitherto unknown interests and talents of the great crime writer are told through archaeological finds from the sites on which she worked with her husband Max Mallowan at Ur, Nineveh and Nimrud. Important objects from these sites in the Museum's collections are combined with archives, photographs, and films made by Agatha Christie herself.
Personal memorabilia and souvenirs of travel in a more leisurely age are only some of the exhibits which range from first editions of those novels inspired by her other life to a sleeping compartment from the Orient Express, from a lethal 1930s hypodermic syringe to a priceless first millennium ivory of a man being mauled to death
Admissions £7, Concessions £3.50
West Wing Exhibition Gallery Room 28
KHA B'NEESAN PARTY WITH WALTER AZIZ
Assyrian American Association
KHA B'NEESAN PARTY WITH EVIN AND RAMSEN
Assyrian American Association of San Jose Proudly Presents
Evin Aghassi & Ramsen Sheeno
Ticket Prices: $25 pre-purchased / $30 at the door
AAA of San Jose
KHA B'NEESAN PARTY WITH WALTER AZIZ
Bet Nahrain Organization
KHA B'NEESAN PARTY WITH JULIANA JANDO
Organized by the Assyrian American Association of Houston, Inc.
Unforgettable Night of music, dancing and fun with Juliana Jando
8:00 PM to 2:00 AM
Sheraton Suites Houston (near the Galleria)
Tickets: VIP Tickets: $75
Contact: Samir Khamou at
LECTURE AT THE AMERICAN ORIENTAL SOCIETY MEETING
212th American Oriental Society Annual Meeting
The J. W. Marriott
Visit the following website for further topics in ancient Assyrian & Near Eastern studies: http://www.umich.edu/%7Eaos/2002/program2002.html
KHA B'NEESAN PARTY WITH WALTER AZIZ
Assyrian Aid Society of Arizona Presents For the First Time in the Desert:
Dinner at 8:00 PM (served promptly)
Tickets (includes dinner): $35.00 per Person / $25.00
for children under 14
For Reservation Call:
Third International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East
Purpose: To promote cooperation and information exchange between archaeologists working in the ancient Near East, from the eastern Medi-terranean to Iran and from Anatolia to Arabia, and from prehistoric times to Alexander the Great.
Contact: Victoria de Caste, Secretariat,
CANADIAN SOCIETY FOR SYRIAC STUDIES LECTURE
La Societe Canadienne des Etudes Syriaques
"Bar-Hebraeus & His Time:
The Syriac Renaissance & the Challenge of a New Reality"
University of Toronto
[Zinda Magazine is a proud Corporate Sponsor of CSSS.]
ASSYRIAN INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
The Editorial Board of “Melta” Bulletin and a committed group of Assyrians
in Russia plan to hold a two-day International Scholarly Conference “The
Assyrians Today: Issues and Perspectives.” The Conference program
will highlight the following aspects:
PLEASE SUBMIT THE FOLLOWING REGISTRATION INFORATION:
Family name: _________________________ First name(s):
Hotel accommodation: Hotel Rossiya (about 2 blocks from
the Kremlin). Per day costs are given in US dollars at the conference
rate, include breakfast, and are as follows:
Send this information to:
Melta Bulletin: P.O. Box 18, Moscow, 129642, Russia
Roundtrip fares – New York/Newark to Moscow - are available on all major airlines. Mid-week fare structures for the period of the conference begin at $625 (Alitalia) and range to $660 (Swissair). Weekend fares are about $20 more. These fares do not include taxes and are based on availability. They are available now through Rafih Hayek (Service Plus Travel) at 800-256-2865. Mr. Hayek’s travel service will be able to make similar special fares available to Moscow from all major US gateways.
Roundtrip fares - Chicago to Moscow - are available on Delta at $793 and on Luftanza at $814. The Chicago information comes from Shlimon Khamo of Bablyon Travel (773-478-9000). Cheaper group fares may be available also if a club or group of friends wish to make joint arrangements.
[Travel & Conference information courtesy of Melta Magazine and the Assyrian Star Magazine.]
AAA OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GENERAL MEETING
THE SOCIETY FOR IRANIAN STUDIES LECTURE
"Identity and Institutions Among
Assyrian-Iranians in the United States"
An examination of the patterns of departure and arrival from Iran, the discovery of an expanded Assyrian identity in a milieu that began to include refugee Assyrians from other parts of the Middle East, tied by religion but not language, to Iranian Assyrians.
Due to special efforts exerted over the past twenty years at Harvard University and at the Ashurbanipal Library in Chicago, a record of printed materials and photographs affords an opportunity to study the issues facing the Assyrians from Iran as they settled in New York, New England, Chicago, and California.
The conference will be held at the Bethesda Hyatt Regency. Arrangements have been made for reduced rates. To make hotel reservations, contact Hyatt Regency Hotel directly at 1-800-233-1234 or the conference site at the following address:
Bethesda Hyatt Regency
July 1-4, 2002
48TH RENCONTRE ASSYRIOLOGIQUE INTERNATIONALE
"Ethnicity in Ancient Mesopotamia"
Registration Form: http://www.let.leidenuniv.nl/rencontre/mailform.html
MIDDLE EAST STUDIES ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE
Marriott Wardman Park Hotel
Zindamagazine would like to thank:
Dr. George Kiraz
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