« Art and the Church Art, Hebrew Artaxerxes »

Art, Hebrew

ART, HEBREW: The ancient Israelites accomplished practically nothing in the realm of art. They lacked the necessary natural gifts, constructive power, and creative imagination. In the ancient time, when images of gods were indispensable to worship, their native incapacity was supplemented by no outside influence, and the old Israelitic images were of the rudest kind. After contact with more artistic neighbors had given them technical skill, the peculiar hostility of their religion to representative art prevented its development. To such an extent was this hostility carried that all likenesses of living creatures, whether human or animal, were forbidden. Such a prohibition—which survives in Islam to-day—was manifestly possible only among a people of no artistic tastes or powers; it is inconceivable among the Greeks. There is no mention of Israelitic sculpture. The complete silence concerning statues or stone ornamentation of any kind in Solomon’s buildings indicates that nothing of the sort was found there. Stone sarcophagi, such as the Phenicians and Egyptians made, were not used. The maẓẓebhoth, the cultic pillars of stone, make the nearest approach to statuary; but while among other nations the stone pillars developed into true statues of gods, among the Israelites they always remained mere pillars. Such an expression as “goodly images” in Hos. x. 1 probably indicates that sometimes, as among other Semitic peoples, rude forms were chiseled on the pillars. Wood carving seems to have been practised. The teraphim certainly had something like a man’s head (I Sam. xix. 13). There were two cherubim of olive wood in Solomon’s temple (I Kings vi. 23), and in Ezekiel’s time the temple doors and walls were adorned with carving (Ezek. xli. 17–26; cf. also the later additions to the description of Solomon’s temple, I Kings vii. 18, 29, 35). Doorposts and the wainscoting of houses and articles of furniture, such as divans, tables, and chairs, were thus decorated in the time of the later kings. But it is noteworthy that the masterpiece of such work, Solomon’s throne (I Kings x. 18–20), was made by Phenician workmen. Metal work also developed under Phenician influence. Solomon had to send to Tyre for an artist to do the casting necessary for the temple (I Kings vii. 13–46). The art of overlaying with metal seems to have been better understood and to date from an earlier time. The ephod may have been made of wood or clay overlaid with gold or silver (see Ephod), and the calves of Dan and Bethel (I Kings xii. 28–29) were doubtless constructed in this way. A knowledge of gem cutting is ascribed to the time of the Exodus (Ex. xxviii. 21), and the patriarchs are said to have had seals (Gen. xxxviii. 18),—which proves at least that the art was familiar and old when the narratives were written. There is mention of an iron graving tool with diamond point (Jer. xvii. 1). Israelitic seals which have been preserved resemble the Phenician so closely that they can be distinguished only when they bear a distinctively Israelitic name (see Dress and Ornament, Hebrew, § 6). Hebrew pottery also has the same form as the Phenician; some of the specimens which have been found may be Phenician work. They are painted with geometric patterns (see Handicrafts, Hebrew). Manifestly there can be no thought of a Hebrew style in any of the departments described, distinct from that prevailing in Phenicia and all Syria, and this was not original, but borrowed from Assyria and Egypt.

I. Benzinger.

Bibliography: G. Perrot, and C. Chipiez, Histoire de l’art dans l’antiquité, iv., Paris, 1887, Eng. transl., History of Art in Sardinia, Judea, Syria, and Asia Minor, 2 vols., London, 1890; Benzinger, Archäologie, 249–271; Nowack, Archäologie, i. 259–208.

« Art and the Church Art, Hebrew Artaxerxes »
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