Book Notes

2 10 2011

Two new acquisitions, discovered at Berkelouw’s this afternoon:

• For only $17.50:
Moses Margoliouth’s The Fundamental Principles of Modern Judaism Investigated; Together with a Memoir of the Author, and an Introduction: to which are appended a List of the Six Hundred and Thirteen Precepts: and Addresses to Jews and Christians (London, 1843);

• For only $12.50:
W.M. Thomson’s The Land and the Book; or, Biblical Illustrations drawn from the Manners and Customs, the Scenes and Scenery of the Holy Land (London, 1868). This 799-page book is replete with fascinating illustrations, and recounts the author’s travels through Palestine in the 19th century. A Christian, he frequently waxes lyrical over those places where once Jesus lived or went, though sometimes berates himself in a more sombre tone and reconsiders the virtue of “hero worship”. He is particularly concerned with what strikes him as the Arabs’ denigration of women, and considers himself superior to the locals in every respect. A highlight, and one that demonstrates his world-view:

Even the women assembled daily at the fountains, performing their ablutions, and going through their genuflections and prostrations beneath the noble walnut-trees which adorn the hill sides of beautiful Jebaah. Nowhere else have I seen Moslem women thus pray in public, and the whole performance is immodest and disgusting. They are a sallow, forlorn, and ill-conditioned generation, every way inferior to the Christian women who dwell by their side. It is religion that makes the difference, even though the Christianity known there is little better than a caricature of the religion of Jesus.
Before leaving these Metawelies, I must call your attention to the remarkable resemblance between them and the Jews. They have the Jewish contour and countenance, and even cultivate their love-locks after the same fashion. They are also alike in one other respect: though both are afraid to associate with you lest you contaminate and pollute them, they are both so intolerably filthy in all their habits and habitations that it is no great trial to avoid and be avoided by them.
– §13, “Tyre” (p192)

Well, indeed! He does go on to remark, somewhat more usefully, upon the extent to which local Jews are observing Levitical dietary law, and his expertise in biblical literature and Semitic languages makes for some excellent reading. Curiously as well, the book plate notes that it was once “Alan and Sadie Crown’s book”. Small world! Or at least, a small sub-section of Sydney’s Inner West that comprises the four blocks between the late professor’s office and Berkelouw’s Books… But I’m still impressed.

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