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7 - The artistic exegetical encounter

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2009

Edward Kessler
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

So far we have examined Genesis 22 from oral and written perspectives, but the purpose of this chapter is to consider the story from the perspective of the artist. Artistic interpretation has often been ignored in studies of biblical interpretation. Biblical commentaries, for example, rarely pay attention to figurative representation except on their front cover. This is partly because the question as to whether the artist has played a role in interpreting biblical stories is raised by the Bible itself. The well-known command in Exodus 20 has been interpreted to mean that Jews and Christians would automatically have opposed every form of figurative visual representation:

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God

(Exodus. 20.3 ff.).

These verses were discussed by Josephus, who was known for being hostile to images. Roman writers of the first century such as Tacitus and Pliny also remarked about the absence of statues and images in Jewish cities and synagogues. However, before it is too readily assumed that these writings demonstrate a lack of artistic representations, even Josephus reported that there existed groups, such as the Hasmonean family in the first century BCE, who produced figurative art.

Type
Chapter
Information
Bound by the Bible
Jews, Christians and the Sacrifice of Isaac
, pp. 153 - 174
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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