The Israeli artist who illuminates the Pentateuch
The largest Bible illustration project ever made was done by Israeli artist Avner Moriah, who will present the pope with the second book he illustrated, Exodus; the first book, Genesis, he presented to the former Pope in a project that began 12 years ago.
The illustration of the Book of Exodus and its writing took about two years. The book is part of a large project of illustrating the five books of the Torah that Moriah took upon himself, and has taken a dozen years.
Moriah makes the ancient biblical text more accessible with original, spectacular and refreshing illustrations. The book is unique in the impressive collection of dozens of original illustrations accompanied by the unique calligraphy of Izzy Pludwinski.
"It is a great honor for me to give two different popes the books of Genesis and Exodus, and thus join the monumental collection of artistic treasures in the Vatican alongside the greatest painters of all time," said Moriah, 63, a resident of Har Adar near Jerusalem.
The book contains dozens of illustrations relating to the biblical text, including the Ten Plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the revelation at Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments, the construction of the Mishkan and more. "One of the insights I reached from the illustration was that in the miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea, the narrative that unites us as a people actually begins," explained the artist.
Moriah finds the biblical text fascinating and unique in its editing. Despite his daily preoccupation with the biblical text for more than a decade, Moriah has not changed his secular outlook.
Both Books illustrated by Moriah were purchased by major libraries in the world and private collectors. His landscape paintings and Judaica are found in museums, institutions and private collections across the world and in the United States in particular, including the New York Metropolitan, the American National Library, the Jewish Museum in New York, the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the Harvard and Yale Universities' libraries.
Prof. Yair Zakovitch of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has been accompanying the project since its inception, said that Moriah created a contemporary and original image of the Midrash (ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures), and that the characters of the past and their fascinating stories receive renewed significance in his work.
Moriah recalled his meeting with Pope Benedict: "He looked at the illustrations of the Book of Genesis and said, 'Wow, it's human, and I think he summed it up very well. I was very pleased to receive an invitation to meet with Pope Francis who wanted to see the illustration of the Book of Exodus."
How do you know which illustration to choose?
"I've been working on this project for 12 years, and it started after my wife fell ill with leukemia and then passed away, and instead of getting preoccupied with my grief, I thought about how I could contribute my abilities in a totally positive way. I decided I would create a project mapping the entire Torah into visual expression."
The illustrations are your personal interpretation?
"Yes, I come from a completely secular world. Since I am not tied down by traditional restrictions of what is permitted and what is forbidden, I relate to the text in a contemporary manner. I float between words and images."
Who is the target audience of the book?
"Libraries and galleries, but I would very much like it if in the end, it would reach simple people and become a learning tool for adults and youth. These are not children's paintings, but art for art's sake, that can speak. It doesn't only speak to Jewish culture but to all cultures. My language is universal."
Moriah is a graduate of Bezalel's department of fine art, and Yale University's School of Art in the United States, and is known worldwide for his unique Israeli landscapes, but also for dealing with historical issues such as the War of Independence, the First Lebanon War, etc. He also painted a series on the topic of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the Holocaust.
This is his second meeting this week with Jewish officials after having met with a group of Hasidim headed by Rabbi Edgar Gluck on the destruction of Jewish cemeteries throughout Europe, as reported on the Yeshiva World News website.
(Translated and edited by N. Elias)