Thursday, 13 August 2020


'Notisias dos Judeos de Cochim'-Mosseh Pereira de Paiva's famous Portuguese report from 1687 (English translation by Monsignor F. Fegueiredo and published by S. S. Koder, 1968), attributes the legendary origin of the Jewish community of Kerala to two waves of migration. Thus, the first batch arrives from Mayorca/Majorca (Modern Mallorca is the largest island in the Balearic Islands of  Spain in the Mediterranean) to the coast of Malabar in the year 4130 (370 AD) amounting to '70 to 80,000 souls (Israelites)', 15,000 of them settles in Cranganore with their leader Joseph Rabban and the remaining 'famous Rabbis, men with means and others settles down in Maday, Peryapatnam and Cherigandaram'; and the second group comes in the year 4250 (499 AD) from an unknown land.

Paiva, then shares a fanciful legend about Mayorcan Jews bringing with them two of the original trumpets used in the Second Jerusalem Temple to Cranganore, and further expands on the circumstances leading up to its fatal destruction in a dispute over its handling between conflicting factions. To quote the full text which reads thus: "The Myorcan Jews brought with them two trumpets with the Ineffable Name engraved on them from the Holy Temple. The Levites used to sound the trumpets to announce the approach of the Sabbath (Friday after sunset). On one occasion when the sun was about to set, the Levites had not arrived, the members sounded the trumpets; this enraged the Levites and they broke them into pieces. Thus a celebrated relic of our ancient glory was lost". It is certain that Paiva received these legends from the Paradesi Jewish community who also hosted him during his stay in Cochin from 21st to 26th November, 1686. There is no denial that the numbers and dates are all messed up with mythical proportions in these accounts. For the time being, let’s focus on the origin of the tradition and see if there are any documents before Paiva which discuss specifically about this trumpet story?

We have a report from 1676, in the form of a Hebrew letter written by the wealthy Jewish merchant leader, David Rahabi, describing this trumpet legend. The letter penned a decade before 'Notisias', to the Parnassim (communal leaders) of Sephardic Jews in Amsterdam, has most probably provided the impetus for Paiva's delegation to visit Cochin. He however avoids any reference to the destruction of the trumpets, but instead gives a tradition involving famous Jewish religious personalities from the 12th century visiting Cranganore. David Rahabi’s account runs as follows: "After the Second Temple was destroyed, which I wish may speedily rebuilt in our days! our Fathers dreading the conquerors wrath, departed thence, being above 10000 men, women, priests and Levites, and came into these parts….During the space of this 1000 years (the reign of 72 Jewish rulers of Shingli), some Jews that were banished from Spain came hither, because they had heard of this principality which was granted to the Jews. There came also R. Abraham Ben Ezra, and that man of great wisdom R. Samuel, a Levite of Jerusalem, and his Son R. Jehuda Levita (Judah Ha-Levi). They brought with them hither into Singili (Shingly), the Silver Trumpets made use of at time of the Jubilee, which were saved when the Second Temple was destroyed; and we have heard from our Fathers, that there were ingraven upon those Trumpets the Letters of Schem hamphorash, that is of the ineffable Name of God". David Rahabi makes it clear that the trumpets were made of silver and used for the Jubilee Year (once every 50 years), details however absent in Paiva’s account. Nevertheless, Rahabi and Paiva agree that the Holy Name of God was engraved on the instrument. According to Rahabi the date of writing down of their famous ‘Copper Plates’ was in the year 4250 after creation (490 AD), but Paiva assigns an earlier date near 4130 (370 AD).  Anyway, it should be noted that the Jewish Copper plates are dated by modern scholars to the early 11th century only. While narrating his community’s origin, Rahabi is silent about Paiva's twin migrations to Cranganore, instead he gives the credit to 10,000 Jews, who after the destruction of the Second Temple (70 AD), left the Holy Land directly to India. The same version is repeated by his son, Ezekiel Rahabi, in a Hebrew letter dated 1768 to Tobias Boaz, a Jewish merchant in Amsterdam. It is pertinent to note that, according to Paiva, the Jerusalem Trumpets arrive Cranganore with a Mayorcan Jewish migration to Malabar in 4th century, while Rahabi's account would postpone the event to at least the 12th century, and in the story he involves Judah Ha-Levi (c. 1075-1141), one of the greatest Spanish Hebrew poets of his time. Interestingly, the other two Rabbis mentioned in the legend are also from Spain. Rabbi Samuel-the father of Judah Ha-Levi belonged to a prominent Jewish family in the Castile region of Spain, but why he is introduced as 'a Levite of Jerusalem' is not clear. The distinguished Jewish philosopher, Abraham Ben Ezra (c. 1089-1167), a colleague and close friend of Judah Ha-Levi was also from the same region. It is known that both were well aware of India, while Judah Ha-Levi was strongly critical and extremely harsh on Hinduism and the Indians in general, Abraham ben Ezra acknowledged explicitly the primacy of Indian astrology and science; nonetheless, historical evidence backing their visit to the Malabar region has not come out yet. Notably, the 1676 Hebrew letter from David Rahabi is considered the first documentary evidence to the existence of an inscription on copper plates in the possession of the Jewish community of Cochin. Though the original Hebrew letter of Rahabi is lost or misplaced, extracts in Portuguese (late 17th century), Latin (1698) and English (1699) exist. I haven't come across any reference before David Rahabi corroborating the trumpet legend, even the Shingly letters of 1496, 1502/03 and 1503/04 are silent about them (Arthur M. Lesley, 2000). Likewise, the trumpet legend does not get a mention in the writings of native Jewish or European authors, who were diligent in recording the origin stories and were aware of “Notisias”, which include reports of Jacob Canter Visscher (1723), Leopold Immanuel Van Dort (1757), Ezekiel Rahabi (1768), Adriaan Moens (1781), Samuel Abraham (1790) etc., all written down within a century after Paiva's visit. Dutch Scholar Adrianus s’Gravezande is perhaps an exception, he quotes the legend from Paiva twice in 1778 and 1780. 

However, the story gets more attention after Rev. Dr. Claudius Buchanan visits the Jewish community of Cochin in 1807. Upon inquiring about their antiquity, Buchanan receives a narrative in Hebrew language from the Paradesi Jews regarding their arrival in India, which they claimed were handed down to them from their fathers (Christian Researches in Asia, 1811, p. 171-173). Based on the content of the text and the words used in Buchanan’s account, it can be easily deduced that the document presented to him was a copy of David Rahabi's Hebrew letter of 1676. The English translation of the Hebrew letter excerpted in Buchanan’s work became so popular that the text gets quoted in its entirety in several accounts that were published by Christian missionaries in the 19th century about the Jews of Cochin. Transcripts of Elijah Hoole (1847), Charles Foster (1854), James Henry Lord (1883), George Milne Rae (1892) etc., are a few to cite. Regarding the trumpet legend in Buchanan’s account, it reads thus: "Soon after our settlement, other Jews followed us from Judea; and among these came that man of great wisdom, Rabbi Samuel, a Levite of Jerusalem, with his son, Rabbi Jehuda Levita. They brought with them the SILVER TRUMPETS, made use of at the time of the JUBILEE, which were saved when the second temple was destroyed; and we have heard from our fathers, that there were engraven upon those trumpets the letters of the ineffable Name. There joined us also from Spain, and other places, from time to time, certain tribes of Jews, who had heard of our prosperity". The text in Buchanan has some minor variations from the Rahabi’s original. For instance, Rahabi estimates the number of Jews migrated to Malabar from Jerusalem to 10,000 people, while Buchanan generalizes the statement by writing "numerous body of men, women, priests and Levites". Notice also, how Buchanan excludes Abraham Ben Ezra from the list and narrates the importing of the trumpets directly from Judea by Rabbi Samuel and his son Rabbi Judah Ha-Levi. In Rahabi's version, trumpets arrive with a wave of Jewish exiles from Spain, whereas Buchanan records the Spanish migration only after the trumpets were brought into Cranganore (See also an observation in ‘Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany’, Volume 6, 1831, p. 7). However, in either case it is not explained how an important relic such as the 'Silver Trumpets' of Jerusalem Temple come into the possession of Spanish Rabbis of Middle Ages. Attached as a footnote to this passage is an inference that says: "It is not necessary to suppose that these trumpets belonged to the Temple; for it is well known, that in every considerable town in Judea there were Jubilee trumpets".

Alternatively, a slightly refined version recorded from the same period, reports Jews of the Benjamin tribe, after the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus, escape with the silver trumpets and other implements from Temple, settle first in Arabia and gradually come down the Malabar Coast to Cranganore, but the destruction of the relics is blamed on the Portuguese (The Literary Panorama, and National Register, 1808, p. 1025; Annual Register or a View of the History, Politics and Literature for the Year 1808, 'Characters', p. 31). When Louis-Marie Prudhomme published a Nouvelle (New) French Edition of the well-known survey of world religions by Jean Frederic Bernard and Bernard Picart, ‘Cérémonies et Coutumes Religieuses de tous les Peuples du Monde’ (9 Volumes, 1723-1743) in 12 volumes (1807-1810), Paiva’s report was excerpted and the trumpet legend was included (1809, Volume 10, p. 349). A few decades later, J. Douglas Lord (1879) arrives at a similar conclusion with Buchanan and writes: "but it is more than likely that those were not the real Temple trumpets, since every Jewish town of any importance had trumpets". By the time the story is referred by A. I. Simon (1947, p. 10), the trumpets become made of gold instead of silver! In 1968, when the Paradesi Synagogue celebrated its 400th anniversary, 10 paintings were commissioned to highlight their history and the trumpet-conflict was one of the themes (the 6th painting; for a photo of the painting see this blog entry here).

Why are these trumpets so important in Jewish traditions? According to the Holy Bible, God directed Moses to make two trumpets of silver for summoning the congregation and for journeying the camps during their 40 years long sojourn in the desert after having left Egypt (Numbers 10:1-4). The trumpets were blown to sound a battle alarm (Numbers 10:9) and used at the time of customary offering of sacrifices (Numbers 10:10). The Bible is specific when it gives the right to blow the trumpets only to the priests or Cohens (Numbers 10:8). The Hebrew word used for trumpet in all these verses is Hatzotzerah (חצוצרה). We find the Cohanim (Priests) with 120 Hatzotzeroth at the time of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 5:12), so there could be a possibility that more of them were added after Moses. However, Bible mentions about another type of trumpet called Shofar (שופר). Hatzotzerah is long, straight, flared at the end and made of hammered silver, whereas Shofar is crafted out of ram's (wild goat) horn and is curved or bent in shape. Hatzotzerah can only be blown by the priests, while Shofar has no such restrictions. Shofar was used for special occasions such as Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Jubilee Year etc. In fact, Shofar is first introduced in the Bible as a trumpet to announce the arrival of the Jubilee Year in which slaves are freed and the land was given rest from farming cycles (Leviticus 25:9-11). The first century Jewish historian. Flavius Josephus describes the Hatzozerah in detail as follows: “Moreover Moses was the inventer of the form of their trumpet; which was made of silver. Its description is this. In length it was little less than a cubit. It was composed of a narrow tube, somewhat thicker than a flute; but with so much breadth, as was sufficient for admission of the breath of a man’s mouth: it ended in the form of a bell, like common trumpets. Its sound was called in the Hebrew tongue, Asosra. Two of these being made: one of them was sounded when they required the multitude to come together to congregations” (Antiquities of the Jews, 3.12.6). Josephus also records that the Hatzotzerot were blown from the Jerusalem Temple to announce the beginning and ending of every Sabbath (Wars of the Jews, 4.9.12). What the Jews of Cochin are boasting is that the Hatzotzerot of Jerusalem Temple were brought to Cranganore, but unlike what they claim, Shofar was the type of trumpet used to announce the Sabbath (that is the case at least outside the Holy Temple of Jerusalem) and in proclaiming the Jubilee Year. In any case, both the Bible and Josephus are silent about God's sacred name being engraved on the instrument. 

According Flavius Josephus, when Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in 70 AD, the Temple treasures were brought to the city of Rome and deposited in the newly built Roman Temple of Peace. He doesn't specify if the trumpets were included in the lot, but mentions vaguely, He (Vespasian) also laid up there in those golden vessels and instruments that were taken out of the Jewish temple (The Wars of the Jews, 7.5.7). The famous ‘Arch of Titus’ (built in 81 AD) in Rome has a relief depicting the fall of Jerusalem with the spoils taken from the Holy Temple, consisting of the seven-branched Menorah (Candelabrum), the Table of Shewbread, the fire pans for removing ashes from the altars and a pair of Trumpets. The two trumpets are clearly depicted (see 3 in figure below) leaning against the Table of Shewbread confirming their relocation to Rome from Jerusalem. What happened to the spoils of Jerusalem Temple after it was brought to Rome is a mystery? One of the most sought out religious articles of all time, the Ark of Covenant was part of Solomon's Temple treasure, but not depicted in the Arch of Titus.  

               Relief of 'Arch of Titus' (built@81 AD) depicting the spoils of Jerusalem Temple