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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Original Ideas

Many years ago I made the acquaintance of Dr. Zeev Goldmann when we both attended a symposium at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At the end of the day Zeev offered me a lift home in his car, which, without thinking I accepted, though I soon had second thoughts. At the time he was in his late nineties, and somehow had managed to retain his driver's licence in spite of his extremely advanced age and poor eyesight. Not wanting to offend him, I took my chances. The short drive was one of the longest in my life. It was rather like taking a car trip with the semi-blind cartoon character, Mr Magoo. He was oblivious to the existence of traffic lights and to most other cars on the road. Nonetheless I got home safely and from that time began a very warm friendship with him which continued until he passed away several years later at the age of 105.

Like myself, Zeev was an archaeologist, and among the sites he had excavated a half century earlier, was the refectory of the Hospitaller compound in Akko, then known as "the Crypt" because it was at the time still buried under a vast quantity of sand. When it had been cleared he wrote a brief publication in which he made two interesting proposals. One was that the building had been built exactly at the time of the transition from the Romanesque to Gothic style, and that it combined within it both styles; with massive, three metre thick Romanesque walls and columns, and with a lightly constructed Gothic rib-vaulted roof. He went further, suggesting that, as King Louis VII was at Acre in 1148 during the Second Crusade, the building may have been under construction at that precise time, and that in the king's honour it was completed in the new, royally-favoured French Gothic style.

The second, no less interesting proposal regarding this building and Louis VII, related to two consoles supporting ribs on the refectory's eastern side wall. Zeev suggested that the fleur-de-lis design on these stones, a symbol that had been in use in the Holy Land at least since the Second Temple period when it was to be found on coins and as funerary and architectural decoration, was also used here in honour of the king, and that this is the earliest known use of the symbol that Louis adopted as the heraldic emblem of the French monarchy. He proposed that these consoles, like the Gothic roofing were additions made to the structure in honour of the king.

Zeev had studied medieval architecture and had written his Ph.D dissertation on medieval sculpture before he fled Nazi Germany in the 30s. Symbols and emblems were a topic that interested him throughout his life (indeed, he was writing on this up to the time of his death). I am not an art historian and would myself be hesitant to state an opinion on either of these issues, but, whether or not his ideas hold water, I can easily admire his originality and boldness. Those of my colleagues that I most admire, and there are more than a few, are the ones who are willing to take risks, and make well-considered and reasonable, but bold and thought-provoking proposals.

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