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July 5, 2015 / 18 Tammuz, 5775
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The Color of Prophecy


The Bride of Hoseashtein: Betrothal and Exile (2007) (24” x 36”), oil on canvas by Nahum HaLevi
Courtesy the artist

The Bride of Hoseashtein: Betrothal and Exile (2007) (24” x 36”), oil on canvas by Nahum HaLevi Courtesy the artist

Nahum: The Comfort of Vengeance (2007) 24” x 36” oil on canvas by Nahum HaLevi
Courtesy the artist

Vengeance is sweet against our oppressors and the prophet Nahum seemed to specialize in this volatile attribute. Nahum: The Comfort of Vengeance (2007) 24” x 36” depicts the destruction of Assyria and its capital, Nineveh in a starkly horrifying image. The prophet himself, in the lower left corner, is in a trance, his eyes rolled up and absorbed in the power of God’s words. Swirling above the entire scene and approaching the ruined and burning palace is a howling purple whirlwind; “Hashem – His path is in a storm and in a tempest (Nahum 1:3)” ready to finish for good all remnants of this evil power. The burning foreground is littered with symbols of Assyria’s former glory. The lion, once the pride of Assyrian prowess, lies shot through with arrows of the Lord. It looks in terror to the decapitated royal head of the famous winged guardian bull that used to “guard” the palace. Ironically emblazoned on its headdress is the prophecy “Nineveh is destroyed.” Nahum, the comforter, comforts Israel with the knowledge that God’s justice will finally prevail.

Haggai’s Home Improvement (2007) 24” x 36” oil on canvas by Nahum HaLevi
Courtesy the artist

Finally after humiliating military defeat and harsh exile God is ready to relent and proclaims to the prophet Haggai, “It is the time for the Temple of Hashem to be rebuilt!” (Haggai 1:2). The painting Haggai’s Home Improvement (2007) 24” x 36” conceives of the new Temple as literally emerging out of the prophet’s mind. As it grows and expands, we see his hands attempt to shape the building, his left hand appearing over the roof on one side while his right hand punctuates the windows of the other. Perched on clouds floating by are snippets of his prophecy establishing the Divine authority by which the Jewish people dare to rebuild the House of the Lord. This vision takes place in the elaborate framework of the court of the Persian King Darius who allowed the Jews to return to their land. While we know that the Second Temple was actually built five years after Haggai’s prophecy, this vision seems to be taking place in a universe of clouds, further expressing the initially ethereal nature of the newly conceived Temple. One could well imagine that after years of defeat, suffering and exile, the notion of rebuilding seemed like a dream. It might even seem so when we will be commanded to prepare for the Third Temple sometime soon.

In distilling the often complex, mysterious and mind-bending language of the Hebrew prophets into 15 visual images the artist Nahum HaLevi has accomplished a remarkable feat. Prophecy, because of its proximity to the Divine, is by its very nature complex and enigmatic. HaLevi, by the fervor of his vision and urgency of his message, has made our prophets more accessible and understandable in his visionary paintings.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


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