Thursday, January 30, 2014

‘The Return of the Knapp-Hall Tarot’

The University of Philosophical Research, the higher education arm of the Philosophical Research Society founded by Manly P. Hall in 1934, announces the publication of The Revised New Art Tarot. Originally published in 1929 by J. Augustus Knapp, who famously painted the art in Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages, this deck is considered one of the great modern tarots to come out of the early twentieth century. (Hall’s name would be added to the deck’s copyright in subsequent printings.) Read more about that here.

This deck has been out of print, I think, since the 1980s. Used and new old inventory copies fetch several hundred dollars each today.

For ordering information, send an e-mail to inquiries(at)


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

‘Thomas Wijck’s alchemists’

Another great program at Observatory will be presented Friday night: a discussion of Thomas Wijck’s paintings of alchemists led by a Wijcks scholar.

An Alchemist by Thomas Wijck.

From the publicity:

Painted Alchemists:
Thomas Wijck at the Intersection
of Art, Science, and Practice

A Presentation by Elisabeth Berry Drago

Friday, January 31 at 8 p.m.

543 Union Street

Admission: $10
Presented by Phantasmaphile

Dutch images of alchemists in the laboratory have long been overlooked by art historians as moralizing satires catering to a disbelieving audience. This project examines afresh the alchemical pictures of Thomas Wijck (1616-77), seeking to understand how artistry and alchemy met and merged in the early modern studio and laboratory. In addition to iconographical and historical concerns, emphasis is placed on Wijck’s paintings as transformative objects produced in a studio-workshop: raw materials, pigments, and chemical processes will shed light on the practices of painters and their role in a greater “Golden Age” of discovery.

Elisabeth Berry Drago is a Ph.D. candidate in art history, specializing in 17th-century Netherlands. Her dissertation centers on Thomas Wijck, whose pictures of alchemists in the laboratory offer new perspectives on early modern science and artistry. Berry received her M.A. in art history from Temple University in 2010, and holds a B.A. in fine arts from SUNY Fredonia. In her free time she enjoys volunteering with the Fleisher Art Memorial, a community arts organization, and the Free Library of Philadelphia, teaching youth workshops in painting and drawing, comics, and picture-book illustration.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

‘Taste of Yeats’

It’s a bit early for an announcement, especially since the program for the event is yet to be announced, but since today is the 75th anniversary of the death of William Butler Yeats, here goes:

New York University and the WB Yeats Society of New York will co-host a daylong celebration of Yeats on April 5 at the university’s Glucksman Ireland House in the Village. From the publicity:

Taste of the Yeats Summer School
Saturday, April 5
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Glucksman Ireland House
New York University
One Washington Mews
New York City

William Butler Yeats
Every summer, aficionados of the poet William Butler Yeats come from all over the world to enjoy two weeks of lectures, readings and theater in Sligo, Ireland, and to tour nearby “Yeats Country.” Here is an opportunity to sample the Yeats International Summer School for a day in New York. Along with a full day of programs, there will be information on the Yeats Summer School in County Sligo.

Speakers will include Geraldine Higgins, C.L. Dallat, and Anne-Marie Fyfe, as well as the Spiral Theatre’s production of “Gonne/Yeats.” (Professor Higgins also will speak at Glucksman Ireland House on Thursday, April 3 on “News That Stays New: The Future Life of W.B. Yeats.”)

The full program will be available online in late February. To receive an e-mail notification when program and registration information is available, contact

Then, we will send you an alert when registration with the WB Yeats Society is available. (All registration will be through the Yeats Society of New York.) Glucksman Ireland House NYU members will receive discounted registration rates.

Presented by the WB Yeats Society of New York in partnership with Glucksman Ireland House NYU. For queries about the event, please contact the Yeats Society at info(at)

All events are supported by members of Glucksman Ireland House. Click here to become a member.

If you wonder why Yeats might be important to the world of Western esoteric wisdom, this very special event may answer that. I have been told that 1) as of now there is no speaker booked to discuss Yeats and his spiritual life, but that 2) there is room in the program for one more lecture, so maybe that can be arranged. (It was the WB Yeats Society that brought Keith Schuchard to Manhattan for that very purpose a few years ago.) Ill share the details here when theyre announced.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

‘Life as a Spiritual Teacher’

Sounds like a great opportunity coming this week to the Rosicrucian Cultural Center. Julian Johnson led the very instructive discussion of Martinism there (which I still have to tell you about) last November. From the publicity:

Life as a Spiritual Teacher
with Julian Johnson

Tuesday, January 28 through Friday, January 31
Nightly from 6:30 to 7:30

Rosicrucian Cultural Center
2303 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard
New York City

There are many sources of wisdom to aid us on the spiritual path. The Rosicrucian teachings, the holy books of the major religions, writings of illumined individuals, poetry, art, and many other sources all can serve as important guides. Life also presents each individual with a personalized guide for spiritual development. Life’s wisdom is perfectly timed and exactly fitted for our stage of evolution. Through this series of discussions we will explore how to discern life’s unique wisdom for each of us, and how to use it to speed our spiritual evolution.

Facilitating this workshop will be longtime Rosicrucian and EGL Board Treasurer Julian Johnson.

Preceding each workshop will be our Council of Solace ritual at six o’clock, which we hope you can attend.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

‘New Joseph Campbell book’

The definitive work of Professor Joseph Campbell was his mapping of the “monomyth,” that single, common theme that shapes seemingly unconnected legends and myths from throughout human history around the globe. Because of Campbell, it has come to be known as “The Hero’s Journey” by name; it involves a man’s quest in which he reluctantly envisions, then pursues, and inevitably realizes his destiny. (I would say Luke Skywalker is the easiest understood modern example of this, which is no accident because George Lucas had Campbell and his Hero’s Journey very much in mind when writing the Star Wars story decades ago.) Campbell shared his findings with the world in 1949 with the publication of his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, but he never did author a book that did the same for the females of myth and legend.

Until now, kind of.

Safron Rossi, Ph.D., curator of collections at OPUS Archives and Research Center, the repository of Campbell’s work, did the legwork to compile this brand new book Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine. She dug and sifted through decades-old manuscripts, lectures, papers, notes, and other documents and recordings to compile the mass of research that Campbell undertook and presented between 1972 and 1986. It is she in 2014 who publishes it under a single title for the first time, making her a sort of heroine herself.

I have a stack of books to get through, but I’ll read this before long. As the late John Priede used to say, “I will add it to my bookshelf.”

Friday, January 10, 2014

‘Flashback Friday: Perspectives on Mystical Union’

You’ve heard of Throwback Thursday? Well, this is Flashback Friday, the second post of a hopefully weekly feature that will discuss topics from the past that I didn’t get around to writing about in a timely manner.

Today we revisit October 16 of last year on the campus of New York University, where the Mindfulness Project at NYU hosted the Psychology Department’s Dr. Zoran Josipovic, who presented “What Is Nonduality: Perspectives on Mystical Union” to an audience of about thirty students of neuroscience—and me. I ask that as you continue reading, please know that I am no scholar of any kind on this amazing subject, and that any errors discerned by the knowledgeable reader are attributable to me, and not to Dr. Josipovic.

Okay, so what is Nonduality? The Nonduality Institute says:

Nonduality is understood as the realization of a very subtle, non-conceptual, unbounded consciousness that is experienced as the essence of one’s own being and of all life. This is a mutual transparency of self and other, in which everything, including one’s own being, is revealed as made of a single, vast expanse of consciousness. It arises together with phenomena; it pervades the movement of perceptions, thoughts, emotions and sensations. This nondual consciousness is not known as an object separate from ourselves; rather, it knows itself.

This level of consciousness has been regarded as the source of positive qualities of being, in the sense that such qualities as compassion, insight, joy and equanimity manifest spontaneously when one realizes it. These qualities are experienced as non-referential, in other words, not a specific compassion for someone, but an open-ended state of compassion that pervades one’s entire field of experience….

Approaches to nonduality that focus on recognizing and dissolving mental constructions also de-construct the notion of the self. Any fixed ideas of the self, such as "I am a teacher" or "I am a good person" will obscure our realization of nondual consciousness. However, when we realize nondual consciousness pervading our body and environment, we uncover a qualitative, authentic sense of our individual self. Nonduality is neither the subject nor the object of experience. It is the unity, the oneness of subject and object.

Courtesy Dr. Zoran Josipovic
Buddhist monk exits MRI machine as part of the
neuroscience research of 
Dr. Zoran Josipovic, at right.

If you’re like me, you had to read that a few times, and that is largely because we Westerners are imbued with a tradition that makes us dualists by default. It dates back to the ancient Persian religion Manichaeism, a belief that existence is starkly divided into two struggling forces: spiritual light of good versus material worldly darkness. Manichaeism spread far, taking root throughout the Near East, in Africa, and even China. In the early centuries of the Common Era, Manichaeism was the principal rival to Christianity as inheritor of the pagan world about the Mediterranean. While it did not outdo either Judaism or Christianity, it did influence both to varying degrees; so it is in our collective consciousness today. (I won’t go into manifestations of Manichaean belief in esoteric symbolism, but it’s there.) Perhaps Manichaean thought is illustrated best by the archetypal image of the little angel on one’s shoulder imparting moral guidance while the little devil on the other shoulder encourages something else. I don’t mean to say Nonduality is exactly the opposite of Manichaean duality because Nonduality aims for the transcendent—achieving oneness with the world.

Powerpoint slide courtesy Dr. Zoran Josipovic.

Back to the Nonduality Institute:

Nondual awakening is not dependent upon a particular spiritual lineage. When we realize nonduality, we are not realizing Buddhism or Hinduism. We are realizing our own fundamental nature—the spiritual foundation of our being is self-arising. It is naturally there, and it appears spontaneously as we become open enough to uncover it. Although the different spiritual lineages describe nondual awakening in different ways, the arising of nonduality itself is unmistakable.

And now back to the lecture.

Zoran Josipovic, Ph.D., is the director of the Contemplative Science Lab in the Psychology Department at NYU, and an adjunct assistant professor for cognitive and affective neuroscience. He is the founding director of the Nonduality Institute in Woodstock, New York. His research interests are states of consciousness cultivated through contemplative practice, what these states can tell us about the nature of consciousness and its relation to authentic subjectivity, and the relevance they have for understanding the global and local organization in the brain. He is a long-time practitioner of meditation in the nondual traditions of Dzogchen, Mahamudra and Advaita Vedanta.

The substance of the lecture explained how mindfulness exercise, or meditation, helps reorganize the brain. It is not a secret that Buddhist monks achieve higher attentional skills, and greater tranquility and happiness thanks to their meditations. Josipovic’s research into the neuroscience of all that is unlocking the very real secrets of blood flow in the brain and other activities of the cerebral cortex during the act of meditating. In other words, the human brain is capable of Nonduality; the question is, how to master the practice of achieving it.

Powerpoint slide courtesy Dr. Zoran Josipovic.

The neural networks in experienced meditation practitioners change as they lower the psychological wall between themselves and their environments, Josipovic explained, and this “reorganization” in the brain is believed to cause what meditators describe as the harmony between themselves and their surroundings that they enjoy. Scientists refer to this as the brain’s “default network.”

Powerpoint slide courtesy Dr. Zoran Josipovic.

Josipovic defined the brain as being two networks: the extrinsic, which concerns things like motor skills, and the intrinsic—or default—network, which is actuated by mental reflection and emotions. The two do not work in conjunction for most people, and take turns in being active. They are in competition. This permits people to focus intently, being free from daydreaming, but can this competition be affected by cognitive strategy, such as meditation? Among the Buddhist monks participating in Josipovic’s research, there is evidence of the two networks being active together during their meditations, the key to the monks’ sense of oneness with their environs.

Powerpoint slide courtesy Dr. Zoran Josipovic.

Additional benefits to this research include gaining greater understanding of Attention Deficit Disorder, in which the internal goes uninterrupted with no balance with the external; and of autism, which is somewhat the opposite in that there is no internal awareness. Study into Alzheimer’s Disease also profits from this work.

For further reading into Josipovic's research, especially the specifics on the cognitive exercises, see his paper, Influence of Meditation on Anti-Correlated Networks in the Brain here.

Powerpoint slide courtesy Dr. Zoran Josipovic.

Powerpoint slide courtesy Dr. Zoran Josipovic.

Powerpoint slide courtesy Dr. Zoran Josipovic.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

‘The Tramp and the Fool’

“God hath chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise…For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

Corinthians 27:3

Sure, I wish the History channel would incorporate historical documentary into its programming, but I don’t think that’s “in the cards” any more, and I do enjoy some of its popular shows, like Pawn Stars. The episode broadcast this evening caught my eye thanks to an Al Hirschfeld caricature of Charlie Chaplin that was shown. To wit:

Titled “The End,” this is the final work of the artist intended for sale. I had no idea Hirschfeld was a lifelong friend of his subject. That story is explained here:

Al Hirschfeld and Charlie Chaplin were life-long friends. And Chaplin was the subject of Hirschfeld’s pen many times in Hirschfeld’s long career. The affection and respect that Hirschfeld had for Chaplin is fully evident in this and every other Chaplin that Hirschfeld drew.

Charlie Chaplin, The End was the last edition that Hirschfeld signed. And there is something else that is very important about Chaplin: In the 1930s Hirschfeld took a sojourn around the world as a passenger on successive commercial cargo ships. It was not comfortable, no, but as a young artist, Hirschfeld didn’t mind. The cargo ships carried him around the world, and when Hirschfeld found a port of call to his liking he would disembark and then continue his journey when the wanderlust grabbed him again.

When his ship docked on the isle of Bali, Hirschfeld fell in love with the magic he found around him. During the weeks that he stayed there, it was his routine to set up an easel near the piers and capture his surroundings with his brush.

Hirschfeld became used to the crowds of passengers from luxury liners who would often gather around him as an audience, onlookers over the artist’s shoulder. On one particular afternoon, Hirschfeld could feel the crowd thinning behind him as usual, but he was aware that one person still lingered to watch him work. Not wanting to be distracted by idle conversation, Hirschfeld was determined not to turn around. Hirschfeld continued to watercolor.

His fan kept watching. After what seemed to be an interminable amount of time, the man spoke: “Tell me how much money it would take for you to support yourself for one full year, so that you can continue to be an artist without worrying about money.” Hirschfeld took this question as idle chatter and fired back an unconsidered answer as he continued to work. A few moments later, Hirschfeld saw a hand reaching over his right shoulder. In that hand was a piece of paper. “Take this,” the man said. The piece of paper was a check made out in the exact amount that Hirschfeld had cited. The signature read: Charles Chaplin.

It was the beginning of a life-long friendship.

It brings tears to my eyes, still, that Hirschfeld’s first patron would also be the last portrait that Hirschfeld would ever sign, on January 20, 2003. The name of that portrait had been settled before Hirschfeld even began the working on it. Its title: “The End.”

Margo Feiden

(Emphases mine.)

It was Chaplin’s character, the Little Tramp, which made him an international superstar and Hollywood’s first millionaire actor. As iconic as any personality ever invented for film, the Tramp magnificently portrayed the eternal outcast—socially undesirable and suffering all manner of dangers and degradations, yet triumphant in the end thanks to his quick wittedness and happy adaptability. Like any of the fools in Shakespeare’s tragedies, Chaplin’s Tramp sees the truth, because he is not foolish at all, and he speaks the truth when truth is needed most. We’ve all seen him ambling about in his distinctive, humorous gait, with his cheap bamboo cane, and finding a flower to display in his scruffy lapel to attain some semblance of dignity and beauty.

Now consider The Fool of the Tarot:

Author Gordon Strong in his The Five Tarots writes:

The Fool has no identity; he is the phenomenal element, one always at odds with the causal. And we must never neglect his sense of the absurd for he refuses to accept any conventional or absolute truth. He also teaches us that humor is a path to the transcendental. We must never be too serious where transcendental matters are concerned, for this makes us heavy-hearted and it is impossible for our joy to take wing. The Fool thrives on improvisation, spontaneity—making the moment exclusively his own. He does not reflect or employ reason, yet his elevated state of awareness enables him to grasp the unity within chaos—the apparently haphazard events which make up existence. The Fool is every one of us, but he is also beyond our understanding. From that place originates his power—he is part of the unknown.

He carries in his left hand a white rose, the Rosa Mundi—soul of the world. The most perfect of flowers, the bloom of Eden—it sustains purity and passion, life and death… The rose is a sign of paradise, that of expanding awareness—its five petals representing the five senses… The Tarot Fool never causes sorrow by committing a rash deed; he is without guile. He never hides the truth from us; it is there for all to behold—if we have the sense to recognize it. It lies always within us, if only we could acknowledge it.

(Again, emphases mine.)

Charles Chaplin in City Lights, 1931.

I have no idea if Charlie Chaplin had any interest in hidden wisdom of any kind, let alone the Tarot, but the Rider-Waite deck, with its illustrations by Pamela Coleman-Smith, was published for the public and began its ever rising popularity in 1910, only five years before Chaplin stars in The Tramp, indelibly imbuing the collective consciousness with that loving and lovable symbol on celluloid.

Not making a point. Just an observation.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

‘Cosmos Becomes Man’

I had been planning on checking out the open house at the Center for Symbolic Studies at New Paltz on Saturday—a program on neuroscience on the agenda—but instead I’ll stick to the city, and return to Centerpoint. You should check it out also. The second installment of the “In the Midst of Life” lecture series will be presented. (The temperature is forecast to rise to a tropical 42 degrees, so there’s no problem there.)

From the publicity:

Mr. Eugene Schwartz
Eugene Schwartz will continue his four-part lecture series “In the Midst of Life: Understanding Death in Our Time” on Saturday evening at seven o’clock. In case you missed the first lecture, here’s the overview of his whole series: Rudolf Steiner spoke frequently about the importance of understanding the role of death and the Dead, but the subject remains unpopular among American anthroposophists. Eugene explores Steiner’s often surprising and sometimes counter-intuitive indications about the nature of life after death, and suggests how much help they may provide as we face the challenges of modern life.

Lecture 2: “Cosmos Becomes Man” – This lecture will focus on the “second half” of our life after death, beginning with what Rudolf Steiner termed the “Midnight Hour” and ending with our new birth. As we examine this lengthy descent into matter, Steiner grants us insights into such issues as heredity and individuality, love and gender, and karma and human freedom.

Lecture 3, titled “Life Against Death,” is scheduled for Saturday, April 5.

In other news is this announcement:

Ryan Freeman and Paul Hertel are launching a new weekly study group Wednesdays, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. (following the St. Marks Group), “to begin humble, slow, but reverent work with the supersensible.” The first text is What is Anthroposophy?

The New York City Branch of the Anthroposophical Society is located at 138 West 15th Street, between Sixth and Seventh avenues.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

‘Spiritual Laws Discussions’

The Rosicrucian Cultural Center in New York City will host Dr. Lonnie Edwards again for a week of discussions on “Spiritual Laws” later this month.

Monday, January 20 through Friday, January 25, daily from 3 to 7:30 p.m. The Cultural Center is located at 2303 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, at 135th Street, in Manhattan.

From the publicity:

It is important for us, as students of spirituality and mysticism, to become aware and acquainted with the tremendous resources that are available to make our lives more harmonious.

Once we learn to tap these inner resources, living will be an invigorating affair, continuing and picking up where we left off in previous life experiences, and thereby advancing and expanding the consciousness.

We need to keep foremost in our consciousness certain principles, conditions, and laws to gain access to spiritual tools and to arrive at permanent solutions to life’s challenges.

Through lectures, participation in meditation, and visualization exercises, we will be given the opportunity to experience the value of discussing these principles in a group setting.

Facilitating the discussions will be Dr. Lonnie Edwards, Vice President of the EGL Board of Directors, and author of Spiritual Laws that Govern Humanity and the Universe.

Click here for more on Dr. Edwards.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

‘Rosicrucian Digest for download’

Rosicrucian Digest, the periodical of the Rosicrucian Order, has made its most recent issue (Vol. 91, No. 2) available on-line. Click here.

Titled simply “Rosicrucianism, this issue appears to be (I’m not through reading it) the ideal primer for people like me, the perpetual novice. It features sixteen essays and other articles that trace the legendary and factual histories of the Order from the 1600s through 1801.

As the editors put it:

Courtesy AMORC
Each issue of the bi-annual Rosicrucian Digest provides readers with a compendium of materials regarding the ongoing flow of the Rosicrucian Timeline. The articles, historical excerpts, art, and literature included in this Digest span the ages, and are not only interesting in themselves, but also seek to provide a lasting reference shelf to stimulate continuing study of all of those factors which make up Rosicrucian history and thought. Therefore, we present classical background, historical development, and modern reflections on each of our subjects, using the many forms of primary sources, reflective commentaries, the arts, creative fiction, and poetry.

Contents include:

Rosicrucianism: An Introduction,
The Rosicrucian Manifestos,
The Tomb of Christian Rosenkreuz,
The Rose Cross. Rosicrucian Invocation,
Living the Rosicrucian Life,
The First Rosicrucians in America,
Benjamin Franklin as a Rosicrucian,
Be a Rose-Croix!,
various pieces on Rosicrucian symbols, and more.

Friday, January 3, 2014

‘Flashback Friday: Holy Texts at NYPL’

You’ve heard of Throwback Thursday? Well, this is Flashback Friday, the inaugural post of a hopefully weekly feature that will discuss topics from the past that I didn’t get around to writing about in a timely manner.

Three years ago, the New York Public Library hosted a magnificent exhibition titled Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, consisting of 200 religious texts. There were Torahs, Tanakhs, and Talmuds; Gospels and Epistles; Korans, Kabbalah, and keys to the unknown. Halahkah and Hadith; Midrash and medieval art; prayer books and legal interpretations; translations and commentaries. Calligraphy and illumination; woodcuts and bejeweling; scrolls of animal skins, and books of paper bound in silver, bound in gold. Possibly every expression of Abrahamic religious thought, from advice to Zohar, was on display, presented not in contrast, but in community. This is why I bring it here, albeit belatedly.

I didn’t even get to see everything, because it took so long to make my way around the Wachenheim Gallery of the Schwarzman Building—trying to take in the sites and sneak all this photography, which the library doesn’t permit—that closing time struck before I completed the circuit. (Although I did score a great parking spot right on 42nd Street, a personal best.)

Sorry for the blurred photographs; nearly everything was protected under glass, and—thanks to the photography ban—I had to be pretty quick. (Sorry NYPL, but there’s really no valid reason to prohibit non-flash photography.)

The captions below each photo contain solid information provided by the curator and, in certain cases, some of my own editorializing. Remember, if you want a closer look, click on the image for a larger portrayal.

Book containing the Gospels, in Armenian and in a silver binding with enameling, dates to 1623. The central panel on the front cover here shows the infant Jesus being presented to the High Priest in the Temple forty days after His birth. The dozen roundels surrounding the scene depict, in pairs, Hebrew prophets, with rays of revelation falling upon them. Enameling in blues and green.

Muslim prayer book from the 19th century Ottoman Empire. Such books often featured images with religious themes. This one caught my eye. The scales here, according to the explanatory card next to the book, serve to remind the faithful of the weighing of souls that will take place at the end of time. I'm no authority on the Koran, but the image also may remind one of Surah 55: "He has set up the Balance in order that ye may not transgress balance, so establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance." A concept familiar to all.

Torah scroll, 18th-19th century Ottoman Empire. Pentateuch written by hand on specially prepared animal skins by a professional scribe. Moses penned the first Torah scrolls, thirteen in all; a dozen distributed to the Twelve Tribes of Israel, with the remaining scroll placed inside the Ark of the Covenant with the Ten Commandments. Shown here, appropriately, is Exodus 14:28-21:7, including the Decalogue.

Koran, on paper, 11th-12th century. This Koran's paper and penmanship reveal it originated in the region of today's eastern Iran/Afghanistan not long after paper began to replace vellum in Koran publishing. Its use of red dots is to indicate vowels, an archaic feature.

The Babylonian Talmud, printed by Daniel Bomberg, Venice, 1528. Although not Jewish, Daniel Bomberg was the most prominent printer of Hebrew books in the 16th century, and the crowning achievement of his career was his Babylonian Talmud, the first edition of which was published in 1519. The lengthy handwritten note at the bottom of this page was added in 1618 by a grateful scholar in Yemen, expressing his thanks for having this text available.

"That which is hateful to you,
do not do to your fellow;
this is the entire Torah.
The rest is but commentary.
Go and learn it."

Babylonian Talmud,
Tractate Shabbat 31a

Page of the Talmud dating to medieval Europe. Due to the mass killing of Jews and the burning of their holy texts by Christians in medieval Europe, only one complete copy of the Talmud dating to that period and continent is known to exist today. Some vellum leaves escaped the pyres by being reused for other purposes, as is the case with the page shown here, written by a scribe named Judah.

Ahmad al-Nayrizi's calligraphy. There was a famous calligrapher in the 18th century named Ahmad al-Nayrizi whose work was highly prized, but also embellished by owners of later generations. This manuscript had added to it a hadith, a statement attributed to Muhammad, about the revelation of the Koran. A marginal note says this book was endowed to an institution in 1891.

The Zohar. This is the central work of Jewish mysticism, and actually is a body of 20 works of literature grouped under this single title. (My own copy of the Zohar spans 23 volumes, including an index, and resembles a set of encyclopedias. Even the index has an index within it.) Traditionally attributed to Simeon bar Yohai, a cherished sage of the 2nd century, the Zohar is more rationally thought to have been authored by Moses de Leon (1240-1305), a kabbalist in Spain. The Zohar can be called a mystical midrash, an elaboration on the Hebrew Bible meant to impart lessons into God, the universe, and the role of humanity. This specimen dates to 1559.

And this is a vernacular Zohar. It's hard to believe today, when Kabbalah texts are printed in English and sold on-line, but during the Middle Ages there was potent disagreement over the wisdom of publishing esoteric works like the Zohar. In time, two competing versions would be available: the traditional, as shown in the previous photo, and the vernacular, shown here. Despite the existence of the printing press, the custom of transcribing by hand continued. This book was penned in the 19th century in Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish idiom.

An Orchard of Pomegranates: the Sefirot. In Kabbalah, there are ten divine powers called Sefirot. Scholars have wondered whether they are expressions of the essence of God, or are vessels used to achieve God's earthly purposes. This book is from 1591 Krakow. Moses Cordovero (1522-70) was the scholar credited with reconciling the various beliefs concerning Sefirot.

Kabbalah for the layman — Kabbalah is a Jewish encyclopedia compiling ritual, ethics, and mysticism into a seamless whole. This book, from 1649 Amsterdam, is an example of a “popular” version of Kabbalah, deliberately intended to wrest control of the mystical text from rabbis and scholars. An abridged version published in 1693 put Kabbalah practically into the public domain as it was reprinted fifty times in the coming two centuries. Shown here, on the right page, is a poem in the form of an acrostic using the letters of the authors name, a literary device used frequently by medieval Jewish poets.

Mafatih al-Ghayb (Keys to the Unknown) — Transcribed by Muhammad al-Mawhib in Syria or Egypt, 1364. This volume contains commentary on the seventh through ninth suras of the Koran, cited in short segments, often a verse at a time.

Koran with Persian translation from Iran, 1754. During a period of intense interest in the Koran, many manuscripts were refurbished, having added to them illumination, Persian translations, and marginal notations. This copy shows the religious merits of reciting particular passages of the Koran. Advice is offered about the time and manner such recitations are most appropriate, per the authority of the Imams, such as Ja’far al-Sadiq, who was believed to have had esoteric powers.

"The Iman Ja'far al-Sadiq has said: Whoever recites the Surat al-Rahman in their daily prayers, ... God will honor them ... and say to them: 'Enter Paradise and take your place wherever you like.'"

The Discoverer of the Truth About the Revelation, Vol. 3 (Syria or Egypt, 13th century)  This volume contains comments on suras 13 through 24 of the Koran, and is opened to the commentary on the 19th, titled Sura of Mary, and focuses on the life of the mother of Jesus and her submission to the will of God. Subsequent verses describe the birth of John the Baptist.

The Glossa Interlinearia  Bible, in Latin, from Strasbourg, c. 1480. The Christian standard commentary on the Bible enjoyed a long success throughout the Middle Ages but this, the 'Interlinear Commentary' first written by Anselm of Laon was a further development, and this edition in particular offers color illustrations. Shown on the right page is God as Creator dividing the land from the waters, as related in Genesis.

Christian Hebraism  There is a vast wealth of Christian mystical tradition that ought to occupy the self-described knights and such of chivalric Christian orders, but instead they sometimes seem to prefer tapping into Jewish tradition, thanks, I suppose, to what was called Christian Hebraism. This movement was an offshoot of Renaissance humanism, and was popular among the esotericists of Europe in earlier centuries. It involved the adaptation, often inaccurate, of Jewish texts and scholarship to achieve a better understanding of Christianity and its antecedents. On the plus side, this has led to modern disciplines like comparative religion and Jewish studies. Shown here is a Dutch picture book of the Mishnah, dating to 1698-1703. Willem Surenhuis (1664-1729) worked closely with contemporary Jews who helped him with translation and actually contributed the engravings used to make this book.

Questions and Answers: This is Halakhah, a comprehensive code of rules and regulations based on the 613 commandments in the Torah. Halakhah incorporates the Talmud, and has been the purview of rabbis exclusively because of its massive scope and highly specific commentaries. The questions answered in this volume were submitted from all over the Jewish world to Solomon ibn Adret (1235-1310) in Barcelona. It was published in Rome(!), 1469-72.

And speaking of Mishnah, here is a version with the Commentary of Maimonides from Naples, 1492. This is the first printed edition of the complete Mishnah, the compilation of Oral Law codified in six orders by Judah the Prince, c. 200. Maimonides began writing his Commentary on the Mishnah as a young man, penning for each order an extensive preface and expositions on eschatology, the afterlife, ethics, and Jewish dogma. The illustrations show on these pages depict his understanding of how public and private properties are distinguished, and were the standard concepts for later books of Jewish law.

Luther's New Testament  Translated into German by Martin Luther, Wittenberg, 1522. This is the first edition of Luther's translation, which he based on Erasmus' edition of the Bible in Greek. His translation of the complete Bible appeared in 1534. Shown here is the Gospel of Matthew. The woodblock historiated initial was colored by hand; it depicts St. Matthew and his Evangelist symbol, an angel. The opposite page is a kind of table of contents. Luther, with this translation, accomplished for the German language something akin to what the KJV did for English a century later.

The Holy Bible, Conteyning the Old Testament, and the New  What can you say? The King James Bible and the First Folio of Shakespeare's collected works are the foundations of modern English. The KJV was first published in London in 1611. It is the fruit of the labors of some fifty scholarly Anglicans, sometimes called 'God's secretaries,' who attempted to create a single authoritative English translation of the Scriptures. Here it is opened to Psalm 23.

New Testament in Middle English  Published in England at the end of the 14th century by John Wyclif, this is a vernacular translation, and after it gained some popularity it was suppressed by church and royal authorities opposed to vernacular Bibles. Wyclif (1330-84) was an Oxford scholar, diplomat, and reformer.

Judaism in the New World  This is a prayer book for the Sabbath, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, published in New York by John Holt in 1766, based on a translation by Isaac Pinto. While London in 1766 was home to the largest English-speaking Jewish community, this first English translation of the Hebrew prayer book was printed in British Colonial New York City. Translator Isaac Pinto writes: 'It has been necessary to translate our Prayers, in the Language of the Country wherein it hath pleased the divine Providence to appoint our Lot. In Europe, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews have a Translation in Spanish, which as they generally understand, may be sufficient, but that not being the Case in the British Dominions in America, has induced me to attempt a Translation in English.'

A Bible for Native Americans  Published in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1663, this Bible was intended for the conversion to Puritan Christianity of the native people near the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Algonquin Indians. It also served the purpose of showing the authorities back home in England how their funds were being used.

The Koran in Federal America  You may have noticed I have chosen to spell Koran thusly. It's just a preference for simplicity. In Federal America (c. 1790-1830) the standard English spelling was Alcoran. This book was published in Massachusetts in 1806, and is based on the London version of 1649. Shown here is Sura 22, concerning the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Illustrated Guide  To explain Jewish ceremonies of the Temple period to Christians, woodcuts were made, such as these depicting the Altar of Burnt Offerings and the High Priest in full ceremonial vestments. These pages are within the first Calvinist vernacular Bible printed in Poland, 1563. This particular copy was owned by Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), son of George III of England.

The Apocalypse of Saint John, from either Germany or the Netherlands, c.1465. Published for the illiterate, this book combines color pictures with text to allow a literate reader familiar with Revelation to share the story with those who could not read. The technology, frankly remarkable for the mid 15th century, is called blockbook. It derived from textile printing, and was used even after the invention of movable type. Words and pictures are transferred by manual pressure on the blank reverse of each page, the face of the page having been placed on an inked woodblock or woodblocks.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse  One of 15 woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer, Nuremberg, 1522. The individual import of each horseman—War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death—is debated even today, but this is the image of them that permanently impressed itself upon the public imagination.

The Gutenberg Bible. Again, what can you say? The appearance of the Christian Bible in print marked the great achievement of the second millennium of the Common Era. The mechanical reproduction of St. Jerome's translation into the Latin Vulgate, the standard text in the language universally accessible to the literate of the period, heralded a new age and the wide dissemination of this version, from which so many others would flow.

Tetro Evangelie (Moscow, 1606) is a printed edition of the four Gospels in Church Slavic. Lavishly illuminated by hand in gold and colors, it reflects the "Orientalism" of 17th century Muscuvite design. This illustration, enlarged below, depicts St. John, inspired by divine revelation, dictating his Gospel to Saint Prochoros.

A wonderfully preserved copy of the Bay Psalm Book, Massachusetts, 1640. Named for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, it is the first book printed in English in America. To say its style is plain would be an understatement; in keeping with the monochromatic lives of its Puritan creators, the book uses types brought from England, but does so without any discernible order. However, it is the first to employ Hebrew type in America, denoting a scholarly motivation among the Puritans.

The Good News in Africa 
Published by American missionaries in west-central Africa in 1879, this St. John's Gospel is printed in the Dikele language of the Bakele people. A Reverend Preston, in a letter dated January 1865, revealed how he had translated John's Gospel into Dikele years previously, but it is not known if this is a product of his work.

Title page of a small Jewish prayer book named Small Offering. The title alludes both to the book's own diminutive size and to its popularity as a parting gift to travelers. The text went through several print runs during the mid 19th century in America, as tens of thousands of Jews fled central Europe. This copy is dated 1860.

Found in translation: The word targum means translation in Aramaic, and usually is used to refer to the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, known as Targum Onkelos. This small Pentateuch was designed specifically to allow for the fulfillment of the Talmudic dictum that each individual read the weekly Torah portion twice in the original Hebrew, and once in Aramaic.

The first Bible printed in Spanish, 1553. The Ferrara Bible was based on the Ladino version of the Tanakh used by Sephardic Jews at a time when Jews were not permitted to live as Jews in Spain. Their choices were conversion to Christianity or expulsion from the land. Many opted to keep their faith to themselves while living outwardly as Christians; one version of the Ferrara was printed for Christian readers.

A Hebrew-Yiddish glossary from 1604, titled A Good Lesson. It is arranged in order of the sequence of Biblical texts. Shown here on the left are terms from the opening of Proverbs; on the right is a polemical work by David Kimhi (c.1160-1235) refuting Christian interpretations of the Hebrew Bible.

The Bible in Japanese, published in 1955. Bibles in Japan and the rest of Asia were nothing new by the mid 20th century, although in Japan, toleration of Christianity varied between persecution and some acceptance between the 16th and 19th centuries. After the Second World War, with a national constitution penned by the American-occupation government, Christianity gained actual popularity.

Epithets of God — From 18th century Iran, this selection of texts was compiled for the use of religious students more comfortable with Persian than with Arabic. The traditional epithets of God, recited as a devotional exercise, are given in both languages, and also are rendered numerically.

More from al-Nayrizi 
The calligrapher of this book of prayers also was Ahmad al-Nayrizi. The book, from mid 18th century Iran, contains prayers for every day of the week, and is open here to Friday and Saturday.

Anthology of Suras and Prayers from Iran, 1732. The work of Ahmad al-Nayrizi again. Features prayers in Arabic partially translated into Persian. This duality offers the user prayers appropriate to a wide variety of personal circumstances.

Epithets of the Prophet, Medina, Arabia, 1847. Manuscripts devoted to praises of the Prophet were created for personal use in many parts of the Ottoman Empire. This copy of Dala'il al-Khayrat is a handsome example of such. It is open to a list of names by which the Prophet may be addressed, which often is recited as a litany.

Manual of Divination, from North Africa, 17th century. This contains two medieval Hebrew treatises on the geomantic arts. Geomancy is the practice of divination by means of interpreting a series of dots or points. In standard geomantic practice, 16 different configurations are arrived at by the construction of four horizontal rows, with each element consisting of one or two dots, based on the outcome of a particular chance procedure. The patterns are analyzed, often in conjunction with astrological charts, to allow the practitioner to ascertain the answer to a yes or no question, or to decide between alternatives. (The Biblical prohibition against divination is circumvented by the addition of a layer of mathematical calculation in determining the outcomes.)

Ashkenazic Mahzor — The spread of Judaism around the world results in different prayer rites for different Jewish communities. Ethiopia, China, India, Brooklyn. Though they share the same essential contours, the rites reflect local customs and traditions. Developed in France and Germany, the Ashkenazic rite spread across central and eastern Europe. The architectural gateway shown here frames the text "Who opens the Gates of Mercy," an especially resonant theme during the period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

And an Italian Mahzor, from the late 15th century. Jews lived in Italy since at least the 2nd century BCE. Due to its geographic centrality, Italy served as a point of intellectual contact between Jewish communities as far east as Babylon and as far west as the Iberian Peninsula. Italian Jewry had the Roman rite, which combined several distinct modes of prayer, including the Ashkenazic rite, the Sephardic rite, and that of Greek-speaking Jews. The tree depicted here represents the bitter herbs of the Passover Seder liturgy, and is the only known use of a tree to depict the maror.

Altar Gospels, with gilt binding, from the reign of Catherine the Great. The binding is the work of French-influenced Muscovite craftsmen in 1795. It intentionally draws attention to the Word of God and signals the importance of the Gospels. This text would be placed on the church altar during divine liturgy, and would have been held aloft for the congregation to see prior to that day's Gospel reading, ergo its alternate name: Elevation Gospels. The magnificent binding is heavily gilded silver, with five enameled miniatures in surrounds of green semiprecious stones. Christ, at center, is depicted as a Russian bishop, and the four Evangelists occupy the corners. Not seen here are the clasps, which represent Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Phoenix and Sun: Beneath a crest evoking the phoenix and sun imagery associated with the Amsterdam Sephardic community is the signature of the artist: "Rephael Montalto created this in 1686." The emblem is supported by two mythical female creatures comprising a hybrid of human and plant forms similar to those depicted along the borders of the scroll. They also hold a fleur-de-lis, closely associated in the public consciousness with France, in recognition of Rephael's grandfather, Elijah Montalto, who served as physician and advisor to Marie de Medici, Queen of France.

I shot more than 150 photographs, but you get the idea. This was a once-in-a-lifetime (at best) opportunity to enjoy centuries worth of treasures. I hope you enjoyed this too brief pictorial.