"The Parallel Lives of Early Jewish/Christian Text and Art"


Ruth Clements

The Orion Center, Hebrew University


The increasing number of sessions at the SBL that invite exploration of the representation of biblical stories and texts in art or “media other than silent print” testify to the increasing recognition by biblical scholars of the importance of non-textual media in the cultural creation and transmission of meaning for biblical texts. At the same time, the recent work of classicist Jocelyn Penny Small, along with that of historians of Christian art like Paul Corbey Finney, reminds us that artistic representations of biblical scenes cannot be understood by taking a direct sighting from biblical text to visual icon.

This presentation explores facets of the early Jewish and Christian representations of the figures of Isaac and Noah, along with a brief foray into Christian depictions of Exod 17:8-16 (the battle with Amalek) and Num 21:6-9 (the serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness). The goal of the paper is suggest some of the methodological guidelines and possible pitfalls in “reading” Christian and Jewish art as an indicator of extra-textual cultural agendas that shape the reading of biblical texts.