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

Moses and the Burning Bush | Art for Lent 3C

Exodus 3:1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed

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Moses and the Burning Bush (with the artist’s self-portrait), c. 1150,
Stained Glass, Master Gerlachus, 12th century

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Moses and the Burning Bush (with the artist’s self-portrait), c. 1150, Stained Glass, Master Gerlachus, 12th century

The basic ingredient of glass is silica which melts at a very high temperature (over 3,000 F). The melting point is lowered when a flux is added but for ancient artisans there was still a problem of how to control glass in its fluid state. In the first century BC, a minor industrial revolution occurred in the Near East when a person placed a blowpipe into molten glass, gathered a blob, blew into it, and formed a bubble (like blowing a soap bubble). Artisans learned to attach a pontel rod to where the base of a container would be and then cut the bubble from the blowpipe. While still fluid and workable, the open end (where it was cut from the blowpipe) was made wider to make a bowl or other usable form. The pontel then was snapped off and the glass was cooled slowly as it became a solid. During the late Romanesque period, artisans such as Gerlachus were heirs to a great deal of empirical knowledge which included how to make sheets of glass by cutting elongated bubbles lengthwise then opening and spreading them flat.

Today, the term “stained glass” is used interchangeably with “colored glass” but they are not technically the same. Colored glass contains coloring agents (oxides) within it, whereas staining is done by painting an oxide onto the surface to add details. After sections of glass are painted, they are returned to a furnace and the stain is fused. Then, H-shaped strips of lead called “came” are used to surround each section as a window is being assembled. The came is soldered where their ends touch to hold the glass in place.

“Moses and the Burning Bush” is one of a series of windows depicting the life of Moses; in it, the black, even-in-thickness came can be seen as outlines between the large sections of glass. Details such as the faces of Moses, God, the artist, their clothes, and the burning bush, are all stained by being painted with iron oxide and then fused to the glass. Instead of using many small pieces, Gerlachus’ windows were made from large sections of colored glass on which he painted clarifying details of his subject.


While Master Gerlachus was working in Germany, Abbot Suger began rebuilding the Abbey Church of St. Denis in France. Abbot Suger called for stained glass to be used much more than it had been used previously. Light entering the church through stained glass not only displayed brilliant images that were related to a parishioner’s faith but also the colors were a sensual delight. In defense of its use, it was pointed out that light represented the divine and light coming through glass symbolized the Holy Spirit which was capable of passing through solid objects. The Abbey Church of St. Denis set in motion the direction that was taken by builders during the Gothic Period that followed; a time when there was even greater use of stained glass.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

B Lent 4, Art for Readings for March 18, 2012

(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

The Brazen Serpent
Fresco, 585 x 985 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican
Click to open Web Gallery of Art commentary page. Click image again for extra large view.

This imagery, serpent & pole, seems widespread in a variety of cultures. Click for myriad images relating to the brazen serpent.

Click for wikipedia article on The Nehushtan.

Click for wikipedia article on the Rod of Asclepius.

Click for wikipedia article on the Caduceus.

Are you ready for another timely word?

Words are important. We use a lot of words in the Sunday Morning Forum. We hear a lot of words—from scripture and from each other. In Sunday’s Gospel account (12/4/11) we heard that John “appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 1:4. Once again the SSJE brothers give us a word:


“Repentance is one of the essential words of the Scriptures. It’s found on the lips of the prophets, it’s found on the lips of John the Baptist, and it’s found on the lips of Jesus himself…. We’re almost programmed to expect words like hellfire and brimstone to follow, and sometimes they do, but we can’t avoid it or do without because it is one of our essential words—and practices.”

-Br. Kevin Hackett via Brother, Give Us A Word a ministry of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE) in Boston, MA (members are also known as “The Cowley Fathers”)

More on the word:

Repentance: A change of mind or behaviour; this may be attributed even to God in OT (1 Sam. 15: 11). It was demanded of the people whose repentance was often merely formalized in cultic actions and as such condemned by prophets as inadequate and empty (Amos 4: 6; Hosea 6: 4; Isa. 1: 10–17) and without the radical change demanded by the Law. The hope lay in the possibility that one day God would give his people a new heart (Ezek. 36: 26–31) and there would be forgiveness to all who repented (Isa. 1: 18–19). In the NT repentance is called for by John the Baptist (Matt. 3: 9–10) and is to be validated by baptism. The call is repeated by Jesus (Luke 5: 32) and sometimes Paul (e.g. Rom. 2: 4) and in Rev. (2: 5).

“repentance.” In A Dictionary of the Bible. , edited by W. R. F. BROWNING. Oxford Biblical Studies Online (accessed 07-Dec-2011).

Wilderness is the word. Ever been there?

Wilderness is a word that marks the Second Week of Advent 2011. In Sunday’s Gospel selection we heard that “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness” (Mark 1:4).

In your meditations this week consider the word, WILDERNESS. From the timely meditations offered by Suzanne Guthrie let these words help you:

Meditation One (introit)
the inner desert

There is a physical desert, inhabited by a few exceptional men and women who are called to live there; but more importantly, there is an inner desert, into which each one of us must one day venture. It is a void; an empty space for solitude and testing.

-Frere Ivan The Desert and the City quoted from The Desert, An Anthology for Lent

He [John the Baptist] is in the wilderness. Obviously because he finds these surroundings appropriate to his life- the parched solitude, the endless spaces, where no one can feel at home. Inevitably we keep discovering that we too are in the wilderness, the wilderness of a great city, the wilderness of isolation, a wilderness that seems to have no center, a wilderness we cannot feel at home in. And we are also men and women who would live in a wilderness if we have to give our outward environment the shape of that which is within us.

-Karl Rahner 1904-1984 sermon for Advent 3(B) from The Great Church Year

From Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat Advent 2 (Year B) | At the Edge of Adventure blog

Have you ever been in the wilderness? Physically? What did you learn? Spiritually? What did you learn? Are you there now? What are you learning?

Are you ready for a timely word?

In the Forum over the last several weeks we have talked about and learned from Moses, our great ancestor in the faith. Brother Give Us A Word is a daily word of wisdom delivered via email. Here is today’s word, as if Br. Geoffrey was listening in to the Forum discussion:


“Why have you laid the burden of these people on me…? I’ve had enough. I can’t do it anymore. I cannot carry all these people on my own. They’re too heavy for me. I’m so miserable, I’d rather die…” How is it that Moses…dared to speak to God with such a bold and forthright prayer? It is because Moses had, over time, come to know God in a very intimate way. We are told that Moses walked with God and, a couple chapters later in the Book of Numbers, God says, “I am pleased with you Moses. I know you by name….” Moses talked with God in this way because he was God’s friend.

-Br. Geoffrey Tristram via Brother, Give Us A Word | Subscribe to a Daily Meditation from the SSJE Brothers.

A Proper 25 Art for Readings October 23, 2011

(b. ca. 1450, Cortona, d. 1523, Cortona)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

Moses’s Testament and Death
Fresco, 350 x 572 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican
Click to open Web Gallery of Art display page. Click on their image to enlarge/fit page etc.

A Proper 22 Art for Readings October 2, 2011

Note: Be sure to turn on your sound then click the play arrow. I could only find this on youtube so at the end of the clip youtube will present a variety of other video suggestions. Click them at your own risk.

What would we do without Jewish comics?!

Of course the Ten Commandments are not the whole Law but one of the great summations of the Law in the Bible. Others include:

Deut 6:4-9
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 22:37-39
He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

A Proper 20 Art for Readings September 18, 2011

(b. 1518, Venezia, d. 1594, Venezia)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

The Miracle of Manna
c. 1577
Oil on canvas, 550 x 520 cm
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice
Click to open Web Gallery of Art display page.
Click on their image to enlarge/fit page etc.

Manna as communion wafers (Christ.)
Click for an article on typological interpretation.

A Proper 19 Art for Readings September 11, 2011

(b. 1439, Firenze, d. 1507, Firenze)
Click to open Web Gallery of Art Artist Biography and to explore other works by this artist.

Crossing of the Red Sea
Fresco, 350 x 572 cm
Cappella Sistina, Vatican
Click to open Web Gallery of Art display page. They mistakenly say Miriam is holding a drum, probably following the text which says tambourine. Artistic license has given her what looks like a type of zither. By including Miriam this painting works for both the Crossing of the Red Sea and the Song of Miriam – alternative readings for today.
Click on their image to enlarge/fit page etc.

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