The Glassmakers An Odyssey of the Jews


1991 Samuel Kurinsky, all rights reserved

The book enlightens both Jewish and glassmaking history. The Jews were integrally associated with the art of glassmaking over several millennia. They were the exclusive glassmakers in the world for much of that time. The peculiar parallel between Jewish movement and of the art of glassmaking through the Diaspora reveals startling historical connotations.

Many myths are shattered in this book in the course of following the adventurous path of the art of glassmaking and the Jews from their common Akkadian roots through Canaan, Egypt, Persia, Rome, China and the West. The author draws upon a wealth of archaeological, biblical, archival and historical material. A beam of light is cast into the dark recesses of history in which subject peoples suffer the indignity of having their accomplishments obliterated by their conquerors, a process the author terms "Institutionalized Obfuscation."

During his association with the Venetian glassmakers, the author uncovered an intriguing symbiosis between the Jews and the art of glassmaking. The revelation impelled him to launch an eight-year campaign of research that led him across three continents and 4000 years of human history. He discovered that the art of glassmaking, born in Mesopotamia, was introduced into the world at large by the Jews, an enthralling odyssey that has never been told.

Until now!


The mysterious circumstances under which a community of glassmakers appeared during the early 12th century in the rugged Appenine Mountains of northwestern Italy lured the author into an investigation of the origin and identification of the members of that community. The glassmaking commune appeared in a period for which records are few and information is scarce. The revelations that erupted from the author?s search produced more questions than answers, as is inevitably the case with research. Every new discovery opened new areas of inquiry which in turn became subject to an ongoing investigation. The search propelled the author on an odyssey that spanned a good portion of three continents and led him back through 4000 years of human history.

For many years the author was associated with the art of glassmaking as a marketing consultant for various Muranese vetrerias. No one associated with the art can remain unaffected by it. The drama of vitric production enthralls the observer; the magical transformation of stony silicates into an ethereal material is a spectacular process and the transformation of that material into delicate artifacts by the artistic tour-de-force of the masters of the art is an intriguing, awe-inspiring event. The consummate skill with which the masters gather from white-hot crucibles the yellow-hot metal (as the mass of molten material is called), the deftness with which the glowing, viscous material is transformed into exquisite works of art with the crudest of tools, captivate all attendant to the process.

It is an art with which one truly falls in love. Once bitten by the bug, fascination of the process becomes part of one?s psyche, an enchantment to which all who have been associated with the art will willingly testify.

The process of vitrification is unique among the arts in that it was invented only once in all of human history. The knowledge of that process wound its way out into the world in ever-widening spirals with the people who developed it and passed their knowledge on to succeeding generations. Lithic craftsmanship, pottery-making, weaving, metalsmithing, basketry, and, in fact, all other arts spawn independently within human societies and define the cultures of the peoples which compose humanity. These arts ineluctably grew in sophistication in a predictable, evolutionary process. Cultures are measured by the amount these arts attained along this human scale.

The art of glassmaking is missing among these measures. Its appearance occurred at times irrespective of, and often at odds with, the magnitude of the maturity of the cultures in which it appeared.

Therein lies our story. The research into this puzzling history revealed a symbiotic relationship between the wandering Jews and the art of glassmaking that had hardly been noted. Still further, it exposed gross historiographical mythology and warranted a new ordering of accepted concepts regarding the technological evolution of western civilization.

This book is frankly and consciously written from the protagonist position of one who seeks to fill the voids in the substantial and significant contribution the Jews have made to western civilization and to the world. It makes no pretense of presenting a balanced rendition of history but merely seeks to span the particular gaps that pertain to the Jews and to the art of glassmaking. Those gaps are considerable, enough to fill many more such volumes.

Jewish slaves built the Colosseum in Rome and mined the iron and copper of Sardinia, Spain, and Sicily. Jewish artisans introduced silk agronomy and industry into Europe. They were the smiths and dyers and weavers and tanners and shoemakers and tailors and loggers and wagoners. They minted coins for European nobility. They were merchants at the local markets. They formed the core of international trade, inasmuch as they were uniquely able to issue a letter of credit in one country and be assured of its being honored in another country months and even years later. They were also the doctors and the accountants. They were councillors to kings. Yes, they were also moneychangers and bankers, occupations whose transactions were placed on record and largely preserved, for taxes had to be paid and they often involved the finances of the various states. The Jews who were involved in financial activity thereby became far more visible than did the millions of Jews engaged in the other mundane activities of which records are sparse and indeterminate.

Kings often implored the Jews to emigrate into their countries, offering extraordinary enticements to gin the benefits of the skills and knowledge and the literacy possessed by the Jews and lacking in the native populations. Just as often the Jews were discarded, or worse, when disposal of the Jews served the ruler?s purposes, or when the Jews, unbudgeable from their democratic and religious precepts, thereby became considered a threat to authority or the rival religions. It was learned, to the author?s great astonishment, that glassmaking was deemed a "Jewish trade" from ancient times well into the present era. Unusual enticements were proffered to glassmakers to encourage their immigration into various realms, for it was a secret trade, and only the Semitic migrants were privy to its secrets. It was none other than St, Jerome who complained that glassmaking was among the trades with which the Semites "captured the Roman world"!

The art of glassmaking appeared during the latter part of the 3rd millennium BCE. The art was associated with the progenitors of the Jewish people, who derived mainly from that Mesopotamian milieu. The spread of the art into both the eastern and western worlds may be attributed in no small measure to that common genesis. The path of the dissemination of the art is peculiarly parallel to the dispersion of the Hebrew people. It seems that wherever relevant facts emerge, that art and that people merge. When the two histories are placed side by side, a parallel pattern appears in which the association between the people and the art becomes plainly apparent.

From their beginnings in Akkadia, westward across Arameia into Canaan, eastward back into Persia and across the desert into China, across North Africa into Iberia, across Anatolia into Greece and Italy, up the Seine and Rhine valleys and across the Hungarian plains, across Germany into the Pale of the Polish and Russian plains, Jews sought opportunity or refuge, carrying their arts, science, philosophy, religion, and the art of glassmaking with them.

This book is out of print and no longer available.