Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jerusalem Postcard
Maimon Schwarzschild

I'm in Jerusalem, teaching a two-week course at the Hebrew University Law School - in English, I hasten to add.  It's an introduction to the US Constitutional system: the Israeli students are bright, interested, and very good in English.  (Would that I were as good in Hebrew...)

One of my hosts, a member of the law faculty who has been active in Israeli politics, had a party at his home a few days ago.  There were law professors, an Israeli Supreme Court Justice, and a lawyer for one of the parties in the "James ossuary" forgery trial which is ongoing in Israel.  Have you been following that story?  An "ossuary" - a kind of coffin for bones - turned up in 2002 with an inscription which seems to say that it's the ossuary of James the brother of Jesus of Nazareth.  This understandably created some excitement.  The Israel Antiquities Authority eventually concluded that the inscription on the ossuary, or at least the "Brother of Jesus" part, is a modern forgery; and a criminal prosecution followed.  Whether forgery or no is hotly contested.  There are experts on both sides.  (No doubt "peer reviewed", albeit none with the power to bully anyone into conformity with a dubious "consensus".)  It seems appropriate in Israel that the "trial of the year" - at least one of them; actually, the trial has been going on for several years - should be over the Jesus of Nazareth family.  These cases just don't turn up in southern California: or at least people don't often claim to have dug up such an ossuary there.

The other thing that struck me about this party was its modesty.  My host's family home was very unpretentious.  This is a senior law professor (at more or less the Harvard of Israel) and a prominent figure in Israeli politics: a comparable person in the US, or in Europe for that matter, would live much more expensively and expansively.   The guests sat in a circle in the small living room, everyone including the Supreme Court justice dressed simply, talking, munching raw vegetables, and sipping soft drinks.  It seemed to me a lot like the pioneer Israel of 50 years ago.  There are other cultures in Israel now, and accusations at least of large scale corruption in parts of the political and entrepreneurial elites.  But a simpler Israel still exists, and it's rather touching to see that it extends into the top level of the judiciary and academia.

As for James, brother of Jesus, the case is pending.  Stay tuned for the latest New Testament family developments.

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Maimon Schwarzschild


I think Tel Aviv might dispute the Harvard part. Actually, they're more like Yale, I suppose. It is definitely less formal than New England.

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