Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Tibetan bowl: a circumcised Alexander at the Tree of Life?

ICONOGRAPHY: Ancient Bowl From Tibet Shows Alexander the Great – the Jewish Version. That’s not Homer: Jews on the Silk Road came up with their own ‘Alexander Romance’ in which the boy king reached Paradise, which required a certain surgical procedure (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).
And there you have it. A beautiful young man with classic artistic hallmarks of the young conqueror plus a very clearly circumcised penis, among incense trees, attended by servants. If Dan and Grenet are right about the identification of the iconic man on the bowl and about its origin, then this bowl – a “unique visual representation” of Alexander’s legend in the Jewish context – is also the earliest attestation of the Alexander Romance in the Indo-Iranian world, Grenet says.

The bowl was manufactured at the time of the Sassanian (aka Neo-Persian) Empire, which ruled from the year 224 to 651 C.E, in its eastern regions, which were already dominated by the Huns called “Hephtalites” who occupied Central Asia between 457 and 565 C.E.

The earliest manuscript of the Alexander Romance does date to the third century CE, but its composition may have been much earlier. Richard Stoneman, the foremost expert on the work, thinks the original, rather pedestrian, historical version was composed before 300 BCE, within a few decades of Alexander's death. The second and then third recensions evolved over many centuries and are progressively more entertaining and outlandish.

PaleoJudaica has many posts on the Alexander Romance. Start here and follow the links. If you like entertaining ancient literature, it is worth a read:

Richard Stoneman, The Greek Alexander Romance (Penguin, 1991)
For additional PaleoJudaica posts on the historical and legendary Alexander the Great, see here and many links.

The connections between the Tibetan bowl and the Alexander Romance are indirect. The direct connections appear in the Babylonian Talmud and in the Sefer Toldot Alexandros ha-Makdoni (according to the Haaretz article - I haven't checked them). But in the Alexander Romance you can read the accounts of his visit to the Land of the Blessed, where he found the spring of immortality but failed to drink from it, in II.39, and of his visit to the oracle in the Indian city of the Sun in II.44.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.