Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Stars of Abraham

Star of David art Zionism Star of David above Abraham in Ephraim Moshe Lilien (1874-1925) Illustrations to "Die Bucher der Bibel".
Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis from Texas is a fan of Lilien and on his blog I saw a nice collection of Lilien works. 

Lilien, phoenix

Lilien, phoenix Jewish star Photo is courtesy of "isotype75" who published it on Flickr.
Star of David in a circle framing the phoenix in Ephraim Moshe Lilien's logo for artistic journal for Jewish literature and art: The J├╝discher K├╝nstler Verlag Phoenix (1902) published in Berlin. The phoenix is a mythical bird that dies in flames and is reborn from the ashes. It symbolizes the rise of the Jews.

Goodenough's Three Important Insights

Morton Smith wrote an article titled Goodenough's Jewish Symbols in Retrospect which appeared on Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 86, No. 1. (Mar., 1967), pp. 53-68. Morton Smith brought there two important insights Goodenough had:

1. emotional reaction produced by a symbol is its "value" as distinct from its "interpretation" which is what the people who use it say it means. The value of a symbol is always essentially the same, the interpretations often change... So long as an object commonly produces its "value" in the observers, it is a "live" symbol. Once the "value" is no longer commonly produced, the object is a "dead" symbol. One social group may take over symbols from another. When "live" symbols are taken over, they retain their former values, but are commonly given new interpretations.

We can apply this insight to our Star of David and say that it is a "live" symbol taken over from another group and given new interpretations.

2. In the Greco-Roman world there was a "lingua franca" of "live" symbols, drawn mostly from the cult of Dionysus, which both expressed and gratified the worshipers' hope for salvation by participation in the life of a deity which gave itself to sacrificial death in order to be eaten by its followers and to live in them. The Jews took over certain of these "live" symbols. (In Palestine, before 70, because of the anti-iconic influence of the Pharisees, they took only geometric objects, vines, grapes, and the like; elsewhere -and, in Palestine, after 70, when Pharisaic influence declined -they took also figures of animals and human beings.)”

We can take this insight as an advice to search the source of the Star of David in the icons of Dionysus. E.g. the Gibeon wine jars stamped with hexagrams may indicate that they belonged to the God of wine - Dionysus.
Or the Minoan hexagrams found in Crete, which was known as one of the centers of the cult of Dionysus.

Erwin R. Goodenough wrote in The Art Bulletin, Vol. 28, No. 3. (Sep., 1946), pp. 139-159 an article titled The Crown of Victory in Judaism where he brings his heavy weight insight about the issue of keeping of the second commandment by the Jews in the Greco-Roman times
(Exodus 20:4 "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below):

3. …the Hellenistic Kingdoms and of the Roman Empire, civilizations so mingled that what in many ways may be called a single civilization… It is generally supposed that the Jews of the day succeeded in keeping themselves distinct, that they refused to be mixed: but the archaeological remains of Judaism in the period show that Jews used pagan symbols on their graves and synagogues almost as freely as did pagans and Christians. This fact, once clearly recognized, challenges all presuppositions about Jewish history in the period or we had been led to believe that under the guidance of growing rabbinic tradition Judaism had scorned the use of pagan images, the use of any images at all. Now we find the Jews not only with images, but with the very pagan images they supposedly denounced, with them at their official places of burial and worship.
Just what I mean by an "explanation" is obvious: it is what a modern Jew would say, for example, if one asked him why he uses the six-pointed star, the "Star of David,"
so often on his synagogues and graves. Actually, different Jews would give a considerable variety of explanations, no one of which would really justify the deep emotion with which they clearly regard the star itself. Similarly, if
Catholics were asked why they use the cross so widely and devoutly they could give many explanations, but from them no one strange to Catholic feeling would suspect the
depth of satisfaction they get from the cross. Explanations may develop into elaborate theology. But still, in contrast to them, and always of deeper importance, remains the emotional power of the object itself, which may be felt by
ignorant devotees quite as deeply as by one aware of its theological implications. It is this emotional power which I am calling the "value" of the symbol.