Estelle Brettman (1925-1991)

Estelle Shohet Brettman was the daughter of a doctor who inspired in her a love for Judaic Studies and the ideals of ecumenism. She was a graduate of Girls' Latin School and majored in sciences at Radcliffe, from which she was graduated in 1945. She began her career as a marine biologist, but by the late 1960s and early 70s, an interest in antiquity led her to become an expert on the iconography of ancient gems and seals, and a docent and lecturer on the subject at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She also had a thriving business in antique jewelry, for which she made frequent trips to Europe (especially Italy) and North Africa to buy antique and exotic pieces.
The Classical background of her high school years, the fascination with ancient gems that led her to study symbolism and iconography, her travels, and her own heritage came together in preparation for what became the passion of her later life. Her art lover's eye and researcher's intellect were stimulated by the decoration of ancient structures, especially the catacombs, and the inscriptions she sometimes literally stumbled over at ancient sites. Wanting to know more about what she was seeing, she had to delve ever deeper and find her way to original sources.
She set out to learn all she could about the life and beliefs of the people who had created or were commemorated by the ancient remains. She was impressed that for a time under the Roman Empire, Classical paganism, Judaism, and early Christianity existed side-by-side, mingling influences, until the differences between them became the ruling issues and common roots were ignored and lost sight of. To Estelle, the common roots were the keys to reconciliation.


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