Commentary Magazine

Ancient Jewish Art

To the Editor:

In Leo Steinberg’s “Bible Age Relics and Jewish Art” (August) are drawn startling conclusions about the art of the ancient Jews. Unproductive, imitative, untalented, naive, inept—are the judgments based on an exhibition which is the result not of thorough, careful archeological work, but reflecting rather “the hectic building activity in the new state.” I attest to the accuracy of the latter statement, having recently returned from Israel, and seen how simple it is to dig up Roman and Greek art-crafts especially along the seacoast.

But, to dismiss the art of a people who created the most deeply moving spiritual structures as imitative and puerile, on the basis of a hastily unearthed collection of artcrafts, does scant justice to scholarship and even less to this ancient people. To accept the theory that their feelings of awe and majesty of the human and divine they could only express in words and not in art symbols, is to say that these people were only half human.

There is ample evidence to the contrary. The chapters of Kings and Chronicles in the Bible are rich in description of the grandeur of the art products created by Jewish artists to the glory of their Faith. These descriptions are not fanciful tales by latter-day writers. In the book Ages in Chaos by I. Velikovsky is described the Temple of Deir el Bahari near Thebes, which pictures the gifts given by Solomon to Queen Hatshepsut (Queen of Sheba). [He also] describes the bas-reliefs on the walls of the Karnak Temple in Egypt, in which are pictured the treasures brought by Thutmose III after sacking the Temple of Jerusalem.

For the past hundred years, Bible criticism has tended to derogate the role of the ancient Hebrews as an obscure group whose memories and influence survived because of their passionate devotion to a religious and spiritual idea, but without important political, military, or cultural influence. . . . The time has come when serious art criticism should address itself to correcting another of the derogations which have clung so tenaciously to the memory of a people whose influence was great in its own day in all phases of the human spirit.

David Arons
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



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