A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

“no other explanation”

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 27, 2008

When H and I entered Beiteddine’s interior courtyard, we found a mid-40s man assembling what tourists there were for a look into its reception halls. Since Lebanon’s independence, the living quarters of Beiteddine have been used as the president’s summer residence (yes, I know, I’m thinking the same thing: better hurry up and elect someone if the residence isn’t to sit empty all summer!), so the rooms are otherwise off-limits.

The reception halls were beautiful, with interiors that ranged from late 18th-century lacquered wood inlays with roses and other flora painted on them (as well as several rather primitive buildings), to an elaborate 1908 (? maybe 1904 – I can’t remember) extravaganza of mosaic, painting and stained glass windows.

(I don’t have any photos of these rooms, sorry – we weren’t encouraged to take photographs.)

The ceiling of one of the smaller halls in particular caught our eye. It was decorated with a series of six-pointed stars, large and small, and the theme was carried over into the wall panels as well. It even carried through to the hall’s more contemporary wooden doors, which I felt were fair game for a photo since they were 1) not antique and 2) technically in the courtyard:

We’ve been interested in the evolution of the six-pointed star from Muslim world decoration to Star of David – it seems to have been a “neutral” decoration here for much much longer than in Europe. Two older buildings in my neighborhood – late Ottoman or at best early Mandate period – have six-pointed star windows, but we don’t think that they were Jewish-owned buildings.

Ask him, I whispered to H as our guide motioned us towards another building. The man had kindly decided to overlook my obvious foreignness and speak to us both in Arabic, but I didn’t want to push my luck by actually asking him a question. Instead, I whispered commentary to H and he patiently passed my questions on.

But since the six pointed stars interest H too, he didn’t need my encouragement.

We’ve noticed that this room has a particular star decoration, H said diplomatically. Is there any reason for this?

The guide smiled kindly. Evidently he has heard this question before. Its a design for decoration, he said. Ma fi tafsir tani – there is no other explanation.

What I didn’t see in these halls was any prevalence of the five-pointed star that I associate with the Druze, although the late 20th century eternal flame sculpture in the main courtyard does have a five-pointed star as its base. I don’t know the history of that star, or when it became associated with the Druze. Perhaps it too is a 20th-century phenomenon.

4 Responses to ““no other explanation””

  1. Leila said

    I enjoy your blog very much, Diamond. Your latest entry promoted me to google “Star of David”. Here are some basics from wikipedia:

    The earliest archaeological evidence for the Jewish use of the symbol comes from an inscription attributed to Yehoshua ben Asayahu in the late 7th century BCE, in Sidon, in what is now Lebanon. [1]
    The exact origins of the symbol’s relation to Jewish identity are unknown. Several theories were put forward. According to one hypothesis[citation needed], the Star of David comprises two of the three letters in the name David. In its Hebrew spelling (דוד), it contains only three characters, two of which are “D” (or “Dalet”, in Hebrew). In the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, the standard alphabet for writing Hebrew before the Babylonian captivity, this letter was written in a form much like a triangle, similar to the Greek letter Delta (Δ), with which it shares a sound and the same (4th) position in their respective alphabets, as it does with Latin. The symbol may have been a simple family crest formed by flipping and juxtaposing the two most prominent letters in the name.
    A popular folk etymology has it that the Star of David is literally modeled after the shield of the young Israelite warrior David, who would later become King David. In order to save metal, the shield was not made of metal but of leather spanned across the simplest metal frame that would hold the round shield: two interlocking triangles. No reliable historical evidence for this etymology exists.

  2. Leila, welcome and thank you for the wonderful comment! I had meant to google “star of David” but good intentions, alas, went nowhere. What you have found is fascinating, and the idea of creating a “family crest” with two deltas is very intriguing.

    So it must have been known as a “Jewish symbol” in the region before the 1900s – and this must have been merely an interesting fact, rather than any kind of deterrent when it came to decor. Very, very interesting!

  3. […] Brass and other metal table-tops are a dime a dozen in Syria, where they range from inexpensive plain disks to intricately carved, beaten and burnished masterpieces. (And where many sport a beautiful star of David in the center – another instance of the artisanal openness we noticed at Beiteddine.) […]

  4. zeevveez said

    You are invited to read my blogs about the “star of David” in Islam where it is called Solomon’s Seal (see http://star-of-david.blogspot.com/. Biblical king Solomon is a holy man for the Muslims. His ring protected him from demons.
    Beiteddine in Hebrew means House (beit) of Justice (din)
    The Druze in Israel use the six-pointed star – maybe they are influenced by the Jewish national emblem.

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