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Chanukah by the numbers

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The ancient Greeks borrowed from the Hebrew by turning aleph and bet (the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, respectively) into alpha and beta, which is where the English word originates. Centuries later, Jews would repay the compliment by appropriating the Greek word geometry and creating the word gematria, which is Hebrew for "numerology."

The concept of gematria is quite simple: each Hebrew letter is assigned a number so that alef = 1, bet = 2, gimel (the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet) = 3, and so on. Through these associations, Rabbis and scholars have been able to find DaVinci-like symbolism and meaning in the words of the Torah, which often create fascinating connections between two stories, two people, or even two events sometimes separated by thousands of years or more.

The gematria 25 serves as a perfect example. Tomorrow is the first night of Chanukah. Traditionally, we're taught that Chanukah begins on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev because that's the day the Maccabees reclaimed and rededicated the Temple after defeating King Antiochus' Syrian army. The word Chanukah means "dedication." But looking at the word through gematrian-glasses, we can split it into two words, Chanu, which means "they rested" and kah, which is comprised of the Hebrew letters, kaf and hay. The numerical equivalent of kaf = 20, while hay = 5, giving us a sum of 25. So another translation of Chanukah might be "On the 25th of Kislev they rested from their enemies."

And there are more.

The 25th word in the Torah is ohr, which means "light," as in, "Let there be light." What is Chanukah if not a festival of lights? And in the appropriately gematrian-titled book, Numbers, you'll find a list of places the Jews camped in the desert on their way out of Egypt. The 25th place listed is Hashmonah. This should ring a bell as the Macabees were also called the Hasmonaim, part of the Hasmonean dynasty.

While it may be that these numerical connections are nothing more than coincidence and projection, certainly gematria adds interesting commentary to an already rich historical tapestry dotted with inspirational symbolism"¦ and not only for Jews, if we consider another Biblical figure thought to have been born on the 25th of December, which, of course, sometimes falls on the 25th of Kislev.

Two Unknown Paintings by Raphael Discovered on the Vatican's Walls

The Vatican Museums are home to numerous famous art treasures, created by masters like Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Now, artnet News reports, the galleries can add two previously unattributed paintings by Italian Renaissance painter Raphael to their list.

Inside the Palace of the Vatican is a suite of four frescoed rooms called Raphael's Rooms. During the early 16th century, they served as Pope Julius II's apartments. The Pope commissioned Raphael and his pupils to paint the rooms, and they adorned each one with a different theme.

Three of the rooms contain paintings by the master himself. But experts didn't think that the fourth—and largest—chamber, called the Room of Constantine, bore Raphael's personal handiwork.

The Room of Constantine depicts four significant moments in the life of Emperor Constantine I, who's credited with converting the Roman Empire to Christianity. Experts had always believed that Raphael had sketched plans for the frescoes, and his pupils finished them after Raphael's sudden death on April 6, 1520. But new restoration efforts prompted experts to take a closer look, and they noticed that two allegorical figures in the frescoes appear to have been painted by Raphael.

One fresco depicts the Vision of the Cross, the moment Emperor Constantine claimed to have seen an image of a holy cross in the sky before a decisive battle. At the edge of the large-scale painting floats a woman who represents Friendship, Smithsonian reports. A second scene, which depicts the battle between Constantine and his pagan brother-in-law Maxentius, shows the figure of Justice. Experts now say that Raphael painted both images.

Italian newspaper La Stampa was the first to break the news, which they reportedly received from a YouTube video released by the Vatican’s press office.

"By analyzing the painting, we realized that it is certainly by the great master Raphael," said restorer Fabio Piacentini, according to a translation provided by artnet News. "He painted in oil on the wall, which is a really special technique. The cleaning and removal of centuries of previous restorations revealed the typical pictorial features of the master."

"We know from 16th-century sources that Raphael painted two figures in this room as tests in the oil technique before he died," added art historian Arnold Nesselrath, who serves as the Vatican Museums' technical and scientific research head. "According to the sources, these two oil painted figures are of a much higher quality than the ones around them."

"Raphael was a great adventurer in painting and was always trying something different," Nesselrath continued. "When he understood how something worked, he sought a fresh challenge. And so, when he arrived in the largest room of the papal apartment, he decided to paint this room in oil, but he managed to paint only two figures, and his students continued in the traditional method, leaving only these two figures as autographs of the master."

[h/t artnet News]

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