Behold, the Man

Exergue of the book on the exhibition

Several of us went to see a remarkable painting exhibition -a ”first” in Israel- on Jesus seen through the eyes of Jewish painters. We were impressed by the impact of the Cross on these painters. One of them had lost his wife during the birth of their child, who died three years later. He tought to express his pain through all sorts of Jewish themes… and finally it was the Cross of Jesus that inspired him. Several paintings bear the stamp of Christian anti-Semitism, and associate the death of Jesus and the Shoah in most painful way. In general, as it has been well stated in the article that follows (the exergue of the book on the exhibition), the event is significant and positive. Indeed, the interest stirred by Jesus touches us deeply. (Anne-Catherine)

Behold, the Man

What does Jesus – for centuries regarded by Jews as a tabu – have to do with Israeli art? This publication offers a close look at a rarely discussed subject: the presence of Jesus in the work of Jewish and Israeli artists, demonstrating how lack of belief in the divinity of Christ did not prevent them from identifying with Jesus the man. Beginning with the European painters Maurycy Gottlieb and Marc Chagall, through such pillars of Israeli art as Reuven Rubin, Igael Tumarkin, Moshe Gershuni and Menashe Kadishman, to a prominent contemporary generation that includes Adi Nes and Sigalit Landau, the works of these artists and many others are examined through the prism of the figure of Jesus. Their engagement takes multiple approaches: for some, Jesus represented the victimization of the Jew by Christian anti-Semites; some interpreted the story or his resurrection as a symbol of Jewish national rebirth; and others related to the universal ethical messages he preached. The image of an outcast tormented Jesus battling the establishment served as a model for socio-political protest and for personal identification. And in some cases, his dual nature in Christianity – both frail human and sovereign of the universe the incarnation of abstract divinity – paralleled the tension between the suffering involved in the creative process and its promise of redemption and immortality.

“Behold the Man” is based on the doctoral research of Amitai Mendelsohn, Senior Curator of Israeli Art at The Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Through a chronological and thematic discussion, he unveils for the first time a wealth of direct or implicit references to Christianity by Israeli artists. In their work, the figure of Jesus – both alien and intensely familiar – gives voice to conflicting principles but also serves as a point of encounter and, perhaps, reconciliation.