Visotzky Burton L. - Aphrodite and the rabbis

Author : Visotzky Burton L.
Title : Aphrodite and the rabbis How the jews adapted Roman culture to create judaism as we know it
Year : 2016

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Chapter 1. Greek, Roman, Hellenist, Jew Beneath the streets of Rome, below even the subterranean layer of buildings still awaiting the kiss of the archeologist’s spade, lies a silent city of the dead. Its web extends in a collection of catacombs that served as Christian and Jewish burial grounds in the late second through fourth centuries. The Christian catacombs are the more famous; they have long been open to visitors who are willing to travel a bit beyond the walls of the ancient city to the sites on the famous Appian Way. Church authorities supported the cleansing of their catacombs, removal of corpses, ventilation of the tunnels, lighting, buttressing, and other safety measures that make a trip there as tourist friendly as a visit to an underground tomb can be. Alas, this is not the case with the Jewish catacombs, which are generally closed to the public. I visited the Jewish catacomb of Villa Torlonia by special arrangement in 2007. A fistful of euros having changed hands, I am led through the catacomb, its entrance curiously located on the grounds of a villa once inhabited by Mussolini. My tour guide for the day is the city electrician who checks monthly on the exposed wiring, left over from earlier failed attempts to improve the site. We wear miners’ caps, beams of light wobbling before us. In one hand we each carry a lantern. Our other hands alternately follow the wire or gently mark a path along the porous tufa walls. The soft stone made it easy for the ancients to dig the tunnels and rooms that made up the warren of catacombs. But it is moist to the touch and leaves the humid air with a taste of rot that does not improve my sense of otherworldly claustrophobia. Nor, to be frank, do the bones and skeletons that still lie dormant upon their shallow platform graves dug into the walls. Furtively, I summon my courage and touch, ever so gently, the remains of the dead. I am more than startled when the bone yields to my finger, spongy rather than ossified. Deep breathing ensues on my part, but the fetid air does not exactly help matters. I finally calm myself by reading, which almost always positively affects my emotions. What am I reading in the murky confines of the catacombs? Beside nearly every body, either grafittied onto the tufa stone or mounted as a marble inscription, are the epitaphs of the departed. Not surprisingly, given that we are in Rome, the names of the Jewish dead are recorded mostly in Latin, sometimes in Greek. But unlike on the headstones we might find in Europe or even in an American Jewish cemetery, there is nary a word of Hebrew. ...

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