This is the beginning of a short series on the theme ‘Battle of the Gods.’ The Torah (Ex.12:12/Numbers 33:4) states that the plagues are selected explicitly to defeat and humiliate the gods and symbols of Pharaonic Egypt. It’s not kidding! When you go more deeply into this and, especially, follow the Jewish commentators and Midrash, you realise how incredibly well designed the Israelite religion was. Israel’s existence would become a direct challenge the multiple religions of the Mediterranean basin. the plagues are just the opening salvo!
Moses opens with the ‘Battle of the Rods’ – the miraculous shepherd’s crook from Sinai challenges the shepherd’s crook held by pharaoh in his formal statues. The serpent theme from Genesis to the Cross is explored. the apocalyptic weather conditions prefigure the rain of hail and fire in St. John’s Apocalypse. The devastation of crops happens at the time of the great festival of the rebirth of Osiris. the redemption versus the death of the firstborn leads from Egypt to Jesus the firstborn Son, and the theme of lamb sacrifice in the Liturgies of the Church is introduced.
This is a section rich in iconography, completed by the star vision of Abraham, on which the pagan prophet Balaam builds, in his famous prophecy of Christmas – ‘a star shall arise out of Jacob.’ In this lecture we are starting to explore how the events of the Old Testament lay the basis for New Testament iconography. A whole new understanding, of the Bible and Christian iconography, opens up when one approaches Bible study from a visual point of view.
I nearly called this ‘In and Out’! The leader who gets Israel into Egypt is separated, by nearly four hundred years, from the leader who gets Egypt out of Egypt! Joseph is a seer in the same mould as Daniel. Like Daniel in Babylon, his career is kick started by interpreting a seemingly incomprehensible dream for the reigning king! The dream about cows is not just agricultural – it is a national prophecy which asserts the primacy of the One God over the national gods. It opens the way for the Hebrews to settle in the fertile delta lands where – instead of being wiped out in Semitic infighting in Canaan – they were able to ‘prosper and multiply’.
The second half deals with the effect of ‘prospering and multiplying.’ the Hebrews had now become a national threat and another type of leadership was necessary. Moses, like Joseph, is a seer, but with a very different brief. Throughout the podcast, the slides put the two lives into context of the Egypt of their day, and introduce the sites and icons of the Sinai revelation. We study the important theophany – the revelation of the Name of God, and show how the Name of God is written in the early Septuagint manuscripts and in the icon, touching on the general contractions of Holy names in icons.