Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word

Editor's note:

Begins at 10:30 am London time (6:30 am NY time)

To sign up for the talk, please use the below link:


October 29, 2020

Cosmic Creatures and Heavenly Portals: Art and Intent in Hebrew Illuminated Manuscripts.

IFA PhD Candidate Elizabeth A. Eisenberg will be speaking at the British Library (via Zoom) next Thursday, October 29 at their Study Morning on Hebrew Manuscripts, programmed in conjunction with their current exhibition, Hebrew Manuscripts: Journeys of the Written Word.  The program begins at 10:30 am London time (6:30 am NY time)

The mythical silver-scaled Leviathan and the imposing Gates of Mercy are concepts invoked during the Jewish holidays of the current autumn season. Upon leaving the Sukkah at the conclusion of Sukkot—the Feast of Tabernacles, one prays to sit next year in the Sukkah of the Leviathan, a reference to the coming of Redemption, when apocalyptic sources explain that the sparkling skin of the Leviathan will be draped over the walls of Jerusalem. In the opening blessing of the morning prayers on Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement, the supplicant petitions God to “Open for us the Gates of Mercy.”

In Medieval illuminated manuscripts, these concepts find their pictorial counterparts in holiday prayer books and imagery of the End of Days. Both these iconographies are simplistically understood as derived from the Christian illumination tradition—the Leviathan from the Bestiary’s moralizing fable of the whale, and the Gates from a common framing device. A more incisive look reveals that these images comprise a deliberate and sophisticated iconographic tradition that is uniquely Jewish. The individualized Leviathan is shaped by Biblical, Talmudic, and Midrashic sources, while the deceptively simple Gate imagery refers to medieval pilgrimage and ancient Temple practice. A study of these images is a fascinating journey into the rich and unique visual tradition of Jewish manuscript illumination.