Creatures on the shrine doors in the Egyptian pharoah Tutankhamun's tomb. Since they’re more-or-less contemporary with the Bible narrative, they probably provide a good idea of what the cherubim over the Mercy Seat were intended to look like.
I read four chapters of the Bible every day, and when I get to the end I just flip back and start again at the beginning. (This is hardly brilliant for exegesis, but it works for me.) Right now I’m at the end of Exodus, reading the story of the building of the Tabernacle.
Bezalel was named the chief artisan of the Tabernacle by God himself. Not only was Bezalel a skilled engraver in his own right, he was versatile enough to be put in charge of artisans and apprentices in all the other crafts. He had an assistant, Aholiab, who was described as a master of carpentry, weaving, and embroidery—a strange combination to modern readers.
According to Exodus, Bezalel was called by God to direct the construction of the Tent of Meeting and its sacred furniture, and to prepare the priests' garments and the oil and incense required for the service. That’s a pretty wide remit; it’s probably similar to running a major design house today.
Moses and Joshua In the Tabernacle, by James Tissot, c. 1896. Even the best painters seem to go haywire trying to interpret the instructions in Exodus. It's hard to see where Tissot got anything right.
The Bible is clear that both his remit and his talent came from God: “I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft.” (Ex. 31:3). The “divine spirit” mentioned is the Elohim Ruah, or the breath of God Himself.
This representation of the Ark of the Covenant was sculpted in the fourth century AD. From a synagogue in Capernaum.
There is great disagreement on the age of the Torah, but it’s clear that Moses was an historical figure and that Exodus records the origins of the Jews as a people. (How literally is a question for the reader to decide on his own.) That means that early in human history, an artist was elevated for his skill and his value to his civilization. I’m all for math, science and engineering, but next time you're thinking of discouraging a kid from pursuing a career in the arts, remember that some of us are called to be artists, and our contribution hasn’t been negligible.
Message me if you want information about next year’s Maine workshops. Information about this year's programs is available here.