Saturday, May 14, 2016

More on the Dunhuang caves exhibition in L.A.

THOSE TREASURES FROM THE SILK ROAD: Artifacts from ancient Chinese cave temples head west for California exhibit. Situated on the edge of the Gobi desert, the Dunhuang caves features six miles of art many centuries old – and now an American audience will get a taste of it (Jordan Riefe, The Guardian). There's nothing really new in this article, but it gives a good overview of the historical background of the caves and their contents, which included Buddhist, Christian, and Jewish manuscripts in various languages.
You see Hindu deities in Cave 285 and there are Chinese mythological beings flying around the ceiling. I think the fact that Buddhism would incorporate elements of Chinese culture into its fabric really helped,” offers Gates, citing among the artifacts a Christian hymn, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, translated to Chinese in the 10th century. There are also mandalas from when Dunhuang belonged to the Tibetan empire during the years 781-848, and a fragment of an Old Testament psalm written in Hebrew. “It was not the purity of any one cultural tradition that gave Dunhuang its strength. It was the ever-changing mix, the fusion of cultures that gave Dunhuang the ability to renew itself over and over again for over a thousand years.”
My bold emphasis. This reference to a Hebrew Psalm fragment raises some interesting points. I was informed years ago (scroll down) that this fragment (assuming it is the same) is actually a page from the Slichot prayers ("the penitence oriented prayers recited around the High Holidays"), rather than the biblical Book of Psalms. But I have also read elsewhere that the Book of Psalms in a Syriac translation was found in the caves. I don't know if this is real or is a further misunderstanding of the reference to this Judeo-Persian prayer fragment. Does anyone know?

An earlier post on the Getty exhibition, with lots of related past posts, is here and links. Cross-file under Syriac Watch.