Monday, July 18, 2011

A Picture a Day: A Mystery Picture -- Where Are These People Going?

A procession -- but to where?
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"A Jewish procession to Absalom's Pillar" is the caption on the Library of Congress' photo, dated sometime between 1898 and 1946.  That's a huge window of time.  The procession is walking down a ramp from the southeast corner of the Old City wall into the Kidron Valley. Presumably the hundreds of Jews came out of the Old City through the Dung Gate or the Zion Gate.

Why was there a procession to the tomb of King David's rebellious son, Absalom?  It's not a very popular destination for Jerusalemites today.  Some historians relate that there was a custom to take children to the shrine and throw rocks at it to remind the children to behave.  Were there so many mischievous children?  The long dresses on many of the people in the procession suggest many women were also involved. 

An enlarged segment of the
procession picture
Luckily, the Library of Congress site provides a TIFF download that permits enlarging the photo and provides incredible detail.  And the enlargement shows that the procession consisted almost entirely of ultra-Orthodox men wearing their long caftans. 

The funeral near Absalom's Pillar
Also fortuitous was discovering another picture elsewhere in the collection entitled "Various types, etc. Jewish funeral."  It shows a funeral party at the bottom of the Kidron Valley moving up the Mount of Olives.  It may very well be the "flip side" of the same procession, with two photographers on either side of the valley.  The shadows suggest that the time of day -- morning, with the sun shining in the east -- was nearly the same.  The second picture, however, does include women walking up the ramp from the Valley.  And yes, the women are Jewish. Despite the dark scarves on their heads, they are neither nuns nor Muslims.
Women heading back
to the Old City

Lastly, while the Library curators recorded a number, 4340, on the first negative, they missed that the second photo, dated between 1900 and 1920, had the number 4343, suggesting that the two were part of a series. 

This match was pointed out to the curators who will finally pair the two photos after almost 100 years.

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