Our visit to Istanbul had moments of political significance, along with magnificent views and fine food.
One was trying to locate the inscription taken from the Siloam tunnel, King Hezekiah's project to assure a supply of water for Jerusalem in the event of siege (II Kings 20:20). The inscription provides one of the earliest examples of Hebrew writing, and describes how diggers approaching from opposite ends heard one another at work. An article in the distinguished journal Nature offers an analysis of material that links its construction with Hezekiah's period 727-698 BCE.
The correspondence between biblical account, tunnel, inscription, and scientific dating are among the answers to Muslim claims that the Jews never had a historic presence in Jerusalem, or were at most a footnote in a story that is Arab and Muslim.
The original inscription was crudely removed from the tunnel wall and its fragments taken to Istanbul during the Ottoman period. Against an Israeli request for its return, the Turkish government asserts that its ownership derives from the regime that prevailed at the time of its discovery and transfer.
Its home is the Archaeological Museum, located on one of Istanbul's iconic sites close to the Topkapi Palace. The several buildings of the museum display monumental items, some of great size, spanning the periods of Sumerian, Egyptian, Hittite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, and Turkish prominence.
None of the museum personnel questioned knew of the inscription's existence, or enough English to help us locate it. Going back and forth in the rooms allocated to Syria and Palestine, we could not find it on a wall or upright along with other inscriptions. A guard had moved a bench in front of a pedestal, and was resting her head on her arms that she had folded across its glass cover. Only when she took another position to relieve her boredom did we see that she had been using the inscription for her pillow.
The different sides of Turkey's relations with Israel also appeared in an encounter with a couple and their two young boys, dressed like others we saw in or near the mosques. They wore white shoes, pants, jacket, cape, sash, and plumed helmet, and carried a gold colored scepter. The parents were pleased to have them photographed, and we sought an explanation for the splendor.
The father's English was not up to the task, but when he learned that we came from Israel, he managed to say, while remaining polite, that he hated our country of killers. There was no point in carrying on a discussion through the language barrier, and we shook hands while continuing to pursue the reason for the boys' costumes through gestures. A bystander explained that the clothes were part of a celebration prior to circumcision. He pointed to his crotch and moved his fingers like scissors, but we understood without those gestures..
A website describes the fancy dress, along with a tour, party and music that are meant to distract Turkish youngsters from the time they must be held down for a surgeon to perform his job. http://www.turkishodyssey.com/turkey/culture/people.htm#CIRCUMCISION
Muslim friends here do not recognize the costume that I described, and tell me that "modern people" circumcise their sons shortly after birth, in the hospital.
The Turk who provided the explanation in Istanbul was pleased to meet us. He is a cadet in the air force, and looks forward to training in Israel on F-16s as part of the deal that allows Israeli pilots to use Turkish airspace for maneuvers.
Our few moments of politically relevant tourism did not depart from expectations appropriate to a Muslim country. We did not expect admiration, especially from families in the midst of a religious celebration. We never experienced personal antagonism when we mentioned our connection with Israel.
We found a bit of Jewish history barely visible in a museum department allotted to Palestine. It was nothing like the relics preserved from the ancient empires, but ours is a heritage of ideas more than conquests, statues, mosaics, or elaborate tombs. There was nothing in the Palestine department attributed to a Palestinian regime. The cadet expected to receive something of value from Israel, and was pleased that his country would compensate with a loan of the airspace that Israel lacks.
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Posted by Ira Sharkansky at May 25, 2009 02:20 AM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science