Moses

More than one way to view Moses with horns.

Moses by Michaelangelo

Moses, marble, c. 1513-1515, Michelangelo, 1475-1564

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

After Moses talked with God on Mt. Sinai, he returned to his people but was not aware that his face was glowing. Because of his radiance, people were reluctant to approach him, but when he called they came closer to hear what the Lord had commanded. Moses placed a veil on his face but removed it while in the presence of God. The veil was placed on his face again when he returned to the Israelites.

While he was still a young man, Michelangelo’s stone carving skills were recognized and he was invited to study at the Medici workshop in Florence under the patronage of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Commissions followed and at age twenty-four, the well-known Pieta (now in St. Peter’s Basilica) was carved. His next major commission would be a statue of David for the City of Florence.

Pope Julius II was impressed with David and invited Michelangelo to Rome to design what would be, in effect, a grandiose monument, a tomb that he envisioned for himself. After Michelangelo began carving figures for the tomb, he was not pleased when he was redirected to paint frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was working again on the tomb when Julius II died (a year after the ceiling was completed). By then funds had depleted and the size of the tomb was scaled back. It was during this period that the Moses was carved.

Giorgio Vasari, Michelangelo’s biographer, described the sculpture of Moses to be “…unequalled by any modern or ancient work. Seated in a serious attitude, he rests with one arm on the tablets, and with the other holds his long glossy beard, so difficult to render in sculpture, being soft … that it seems the iron chisel must have become a brush.” Although Michelangelo’s Moses displays remarkable carving skills, is engaging in its formal relationships, and is of psychological interest, tourists tend to be unduly preoccupied with the horns on his head.

Errors sometimes occur when languages are translated, and at times they lead to unusual descriptions (e.g. Cinderella’s “glass” slippers). In the fourth century, Jerome translated the Bible from Hebrew to Latin, and found that the word, keren had various meanings. One meaning was, “horn.” In translation, Jerome described Moses’ face as being, “horned,” which was to say it was “glorified” or “radiant.” At the time of translation, Jerome was well aware of the multiple meanings of, keren, but elected to use “horn” as a metaphor for strength and power. Medieval artists took the words of the Latin Bible literally and depicted Moses with actual horns. Michelangelo knew, of course, that Jerome’s use of “horned” had been misinterpreted but he chose, nevertheless, to place horns on Moses’ head to impart a sense of strength and authority. Other historical figures have been given horns to suggest strength. Alexander the Great and Attila the Hun have been depicted with horns, and images of warriors with horned helmets are very familiar to us.

Depictions of a “horned” Moses decreased during the Renaissance and was seldom seen beyond the sixteenth century.

Hovak Najarian © 2017

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Image: Pvasiliadis at Greek Wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons

What would Jerome think? St. Jerome, that is.

Today (9/30) the church remembers Jerome, “Priest, and Monk of Jerusalem,” who died in 420 CE. Among his many accomplishments was the translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into the common (vulgar) language of Latin. The Vulgate version of the Bible remains a standard text in the Roman Catholic Church and has a respected place among contemporary biblical scholars and church historians. Thus, the question, “What would Jerome think?”

Yesterday (9/29) the Episcopal News Service posted an article about a new English translation of the Bible (from Hebrew and Greek). This newest Bible is the Common English Bible (CEB). What Jerome did in his study in the early 5th century was today accomplished by “120 scholars drawn from 24 denominations” at the cost of $3.5 million over the course of 4 years. In addition, “More than 500 readers in 77 groups later field-tested their work” according to the article. Read the entire post here: New Common English Bible translation draws on expertise of 17 Anglican, Episcopal scholars.

So what would Jerome think about the choices made? What do you think? How did some of your favorite verses fare in the new translation?

Probably most of us “know” that Genesis 1:1 begins like this “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth …” (KJV) The Common English translation? “When God began to create the heavens and the earth—”

One more example, a favorite of many, Psalm 23. The final verse, which is the most powerful to me when this Psalm is used in a Memorial Service (Ps 23:6): “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (KJV) and “Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the LORD’s house as long as I live. ” (CEB) You can read the entire Psalm here: King James Version and Common English Bible

Thank you for being part of the Sunday Morning Forum (in real time or online). Like Jerome, we take seriously our study of the Word of God. Whether you like or appreciate the newest translation of the Bible, I do hope you appreciate how the Live Word of the Living God continues to demand our study and our best efforts to know and apply its God inspired wisdom. Leave a comment or two (below) to continue this conversation. What do you think about all this?

For further reflection and study

  • Common English Bible — official website of the Common English Bible. You will find many options to fully explore this new bible and to learn more about how it was produced.
  • Bible Gateway — a site with many different translations of the Bible including the Common English Bible; you can compare translations pretty easily.
  • Bible Study Tools — another site with an assembly of different versions of the Bible including the version we use in worship: the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

Art for September 30:Jerome; Priest, and Monk of Bethlehem

GRECO, El
(b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

St Jerome as a Scholar
1600-14
Oil on canvas, 108 x 89 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Click to open Web Gallery of Art display page.
Click on their image to enlarge/fit page etc.

St. Jerome, who gave us the Latin (Vulgate) Bible, led a diverse life and is portrayed in many ways. For a variety of images of Jerome, click for the Web Gallery of Art Search Page. Type ‘jerome’ in the title field and click Search! button.