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.
One of the most interesting things about preparing this podcast has been realising how closely the development of symbols is linked to prophecy. The visual symbol follows the prophecy! In the case of the symbols and flags of the twelve tribes of Israel, we have two prophecies – the one by Jacob on his deathbed, and the one by Moses before the tribes enter the promised land. This study is rather a ‘fun study’ – an aide memoire, exploring how the prophecies played out, in the historical characteristics of each tribe.
These symbols are used in many decorative designs by Israelis today – proving that, although Jews do not draw pictures of God, there are plenty of other things they draw!In our study of the icon, the beginnings of the language of revelation are very important. Two very important icon themes unexpectedly emerged – the Good Shepherd and the Guardian Angel. Without doing this visual Bible study, I would not have realised how deep the roots of these images are. It has made me realise that I need to pay much more attention to the visual character of the Old Testament prophecies in the roots of iconography.
* At the time of writing there is a slow load issue connected with some of these podcasts, which we are working on – meanwhile, just open the lecture and leave it ‘playing’ till the sound loads!
This is the first new unit I have managed to put up for sometime, owing to changed circumstances. I am now at an Orthodox monastery in Greece. The content of the new lectures on Judaism is very exciting – I am learning more and more myself about the relationship between Old and New Testament as I do it, and about the process of vision. I did not realise before how deeply visual images are aligned to prophecy – something which will come out in the subsequent lectures.
Although the unit is headed ‘Hellenic Judaism’ I found I had to go much further back, and ask the question: ‘Who are the Jews?”, uncovering a lot of source texts on the formation of the Middle Eastern nations in doing so. Although units follow an overall historical timeline, they explore various themes along the way in depth, linking the Old Testament event to the New Testament, and to it’s icon, where applicable.
The Apostles and Fathers of the post Apostolic Age were at the intersection of the Old Testament and the New Testament when they are excited about the ‘fulfilment of the law’ in Jesus: ‘Not one jot or tittle shall pass from the law till all is fulfilled’ (Matthew 5:18). This revelation is carried through in the sacraments and icons, and we shall explore this more deeply as we move through this section.