The Mandaeans are a contemporary religion with communities in Iraq and Iran, as well as an expanding Diaspora in Europe, North America, and Australia; their heritage reaches back to Late-Antique Mesopotamia. Most scholars of religion in Late Antiquity have ignored them, especially after earlier attempts to interpret key Gospel passages through Mandaean literature fell sharply, and deservedly, out of favor. In more recent scholarship, their importance for understanding pre-Islamic religion in Sasanian Iran is slowly being recognized. Yet major texts, such as the Mandaic Book of John, are not available in English translation. Professors Charles Häberl of Rutgers University and James McGrath of Butler University are producing a translation of this Book of John; their work-in-progress is helpfully posted on the project blog. Continue reading
This database of magical gems, named after Campbell-Bonner’s famous collection of 1954, is in fact far more extensive, containing over 1,000 items. These are drawn from over 30 collections, including the British Museum, and the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, which is curating the website with the University of Fribourg, under the direction of an international editorial board. According to the site, the database, which is currently expanding, contains “a fourth of the known corpus of magical gems.” Its search functions allow the user to browse the gems by collection, material, place of discovery (only a few of which are known), iconographical schemes and elements, vocabulary (gem inscriptions in Greek and Latin), names, voces magicae, Logoi, and Characteres. The entries themselves contain this information, when available, along with digital images of the gems; these can even be sent as electronic postcards! There is a small glossary and bibliography, which has the helpful feature of noting the gems referred to in each entry. Clearly this is a major resource, which will become even more important as the site grows.
American avant-garde composer Morton Feldman’s “Turfan Fragments” (1980), a piece on the famous (East) Berlin collection now largely available online, can be listened to on YouTube, as performed by the Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble, with conductor Petr Kotik:
As a connoisseur of fragmentary ancient texts, I found this agitated work unexpected and inspirational!
Elsewhere on YouTube, there is a documentary on Turfan (“A Heat Wave Called Turfan”), part of a 12-episode series on the Silk Road in English, with joint Japanese and Chinese production.