Biblical Archaeology Review 22:3, May/June 1996

Magnificent Obsession: The Private World of an Antiquities Collector

By Hershel Shanks

The first time I telephoned Shlomo Moussaieff I naturally began by introducing myself. “I’m Hershel Shanks, editor of—”

“I know who you are,” he interrupted. “I’ve been avoiding you for 20 years.”

He has a high-pitched, almost whiny voice, heavily-accented with his native Jerusalem Hebrew. He has lived in London for over 30 years, but still speaks English poorly. From his voice, I imagined him a wizened old man, small, slight and twisted. When I later met him, I found that the only thing that matched his voice was his shuffle: He never lifts his heels, as if it were too much effort. But when he opened the door of his immense apartment overlooking Grosvenor Square—formerly the London pied-à-terre of Jordan’s King Hussein, who gave it to him, Moussaieff says, as a gift—I found a youngish-looking man for 72, of medium height, not unpowerful build, with large tortoise-shell glasses and strong enthusiasms expressed with that same high-pitched voice that now somehow seemed stronger. One of the world’s major collectors of Near Eastern antiquities, Shlomo Moussaieff had decided to let the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review into his world.

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