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Monday, July 24, 2006

Marc Chagall, Jews and Jesus

Jews for Jesus is sponsoring a couple of Marc Chagall art shows this week in New York on Friday July 28 and on Saturday July 29. The theme? "Marc Chagall: Reflections on Jesus."

Before we reflect on what Chagall reflected about Jesus, it pays to reflect on Chagall himself. Chagall was not a believer in Jesus, as far as we know. But as a Jewish artist, I've argued that Chagall

seems to be sympathetic to the continuity between what is commonly called the Old and the New Testaments. Such continuity is dramatically present in paintings such as The Sacrifice of Isaac, where Y'shua, carrying the Cross, is placed in the background of the Akedah. Moreover, the red color covering Abraham streams down from the Crucifixion scene in the top right hand corner of the picture, richly suggestive of blood. In both Old and New Testaments blood is God's provision for atonement for sin. Thus not only is the Akedah joined together with the Crucifixion, but the suggestion of Jesus' death being an atonement is present as well. When one considers that the Sacrifice painting is part of a series called Biblical Messages, it becomes apparent that Chagall understood the association of the images.


Chagall's idea of Jesus was that he was a symbol, perhaps the symbol, of Jewish suffering and martyrdom. In Judaism, let's not forget, martyrdom can have atoning value, as in Christianity the death of Jesus atones for sin. Chagall's conception of Jesus may not have been that of Messiah or Savior, but he was willing to risk the displeasure of many in the Jewish community by utilizing images of Jesus, and some of his critics were sure that he went well beyond Jesus-as-martyr into more forbidden territory.

My take on Marc Chagall's Jesus imagery is here. Maybe there will be a different perspective at the Chagall showings in New York. If you're up in the Bronx or Westchester area, you might stop in and check them out.

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