Jerusalem’s 'Israel Museum' is world-renown – including the ‘Shrine of the Book’ (housing the Dead Sea Scrolls), an intricate Second Temple Model, an impressive Judaica collection, and some outstanding works of art. But few of the artworks deal with Christian themes, let alone the central figure in Christianity – Jesus.
“Behold the Man – Jesus in Israeli Art” is a groundbreaking new exhibit, which opened last December to critical reviews and is drawing large crowds. And this is no small thing, considering that, Jews and Christians have a somewhat ‘complicated’ relationship for hundreds of years. Today, whilst Israel is home to many Christians, their religious beliefs are not usually taught in schools, nor is their culture widely understood. In turn, Jews have often regarded Jesus as a source of their suffering, having, for centuries, been blamed for his death.
This new and ambitious exhibition, curated by Amitai Mendelsohn, tackles the subject of Jesus head on, displaying works by a number of prominent artists, including Maurycy Gottlieb, Marc Chagall, Menashe Kadishman and a number of modern artists.
Gottleib (born in Poland) was arguably the most important Jewish painter of the 19th century. His painting “Christ Preaching in Capernaum” (1879) depicts Jesus in a talit (Jewish prayer shawl), but with a halo around his head. Standing on the pulpit of a Greco-Roman synagogue, he is preaching – as well as ‘bridging’ the religious divide.
Marc Chagall’s painting is no less interesting, especially when you understand that “Crucifixion in Yellow” (1943) was painted after the German invasion of the USSR. Jesus, on the cross, is wearing tefillin but around his head, as with the Gottleib picture, is a halo. A large Torah scroll is next to his right arm and beneath him are scenes of catastrophe – Jews fleeing pogroms in the shtetls. No doubt Chagall also had the holocaust in mind when he painted it.
“Behold the Man” also has on display a number of contemporary pieces, including “The Last Supper” (1999) by Adi Nes, an Israeli who has a whole new take on Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece. “Bedouin Crucifixion” (1982) by Igael Tumarkin depicts a hybrid cross (made of iron and wood) and Via Dolorosa by Motti Mizrachi (1973), is an unusual act of engagement – identifying with frailty and pain, particularly because the artist himself is disabled.
“Behold the Man” is an unusually thought-provoking exhibit…connecting Jews to Christians through universal messages of suffering and hope, transgression and salvation, and well worth a visit. It closes on 22nd April 2017.
The Israel Museum
Derech Ruppin (opposite the Knesset Building), Jerusalem
Tel: 02 670-8811