Two of the questions we are often asked after our wildly successful lecture, The Old Testament’s Writings’ Influence on Mid-Twentieth Century Gimmicked Card Decks are “Hey, what about the Mene Tekel deck?” “We came to hear about Mene Tekel and you completely skipped it.”
We explain the need to keep the presentation pithy and succinct and thereby avoiding a maundering stroll through the arcane forest of the Hebrew Scripture’s books of the Ketuvim. Our lecture audiences are there looking for a light, cheerful summary of the remarkable relationship between biblical writings and the post-Erdnase / pre-TV Magic Cards world.
Our bible scholar fans correctly point to the passage in Daniel wherein the prophet translates mysterious handwriting on a wall in Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s unclean dining chamber. The wise but honest Daniel reads the writing out loud, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.”
Scholars have debated the meaning of these words, their proper translation, and their purpose in the Book of Daniel. Their presentation in the story sounds like a great idea for a magic trick:
Suddenly, opposite the lampstand, the fingers of a human hand appeared, writing on the plaster of the wall in the king's palace. When the king saw the wrist and hand that wrote, his face blanched; his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook, and his knees knocked.
(Daniel 5:5-6 from New American Bible)
It is from this passage that we derive the expression, "He read the writing on the wall" to mean, a sign of bad things to come.
We provide our gloss on the scholars’ work in a separate article here.
Ironically, we were repairing the paper-mâché head to the King Nebuchadnezzar puppet when we received word of Nathan Kranzo’s newest instructional DVD, Mene Tekel Miracles.
Mr. Kranzo belongs to the population of magicians who believe the Mene Tekel deck has value in today’s world of high-tech, expensive magic. Try as you might, it is impossible to make a Mene Tekel deck expensive. Its secret is its simplicity. Perhaps if it were more sophisticated, technical, or required incredible memory skills, it would be right up there with The Invisible, Svengali, or Stripper decks.
The DVD comes with two high quality decks to teasingly seduce the purchaser into the world of Mene Tekel.
There are many varieties of the Mene Tekel deck; spanning a spectrum from gimmicked to not gimmicked at all. Mr. Kranzo teaches effects for each type of deck in his usual clear and enthusiastic style. We are not sure what we expected, but we have such a deep feeling for the Mene Tekel deck. We would hate to see it given short shrift. Mr. Kranzo is one of us; he too is a devotee of the deck. The DVD is a great exploration of an under-appreciated classic of Magic led by a guide who knows the way.
The video quality varies as the DVD includes portions of Mr. Kranzo’s live show, shots from his or someone’s backyard and a studio but each segment is clear and helpful.
Mr. Kranzo provides demonstrates and teaches more than 20 effects using three varieties of the deck. We had favorite versions from each section but the impromptu Mene Tekel group stood out. Here is a “gimmicked” deck without gimmicks.