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Early Christian and Jewish Art Author(s): Erwin R.

Goodenough Source: The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Apr., 1943), pp. 403-418 Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press Stable URL: Accessed: 12/09/2008 10:45
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Yale University By ERWIN R. GOODENOUGH, WE SHALLnever agree about the nature of art. Perhaps when we have such a knowledge of unconscious motivation as does not now remotely exist, we may see that the artist who talks of symbolism is often fooling himself for some reason with excuses for his love of line and color, and that the man who will speak of art only in terms of composition is covering a furtive but passionate symbolism. Yet each of these approaches to art deeply offends the protagonist of the other, whether artist or historian of art. Of the artist I speak only indirectly. Of the historian of art I speak with deeper feeling, for I find myself asked to review a book written by a man whose great competence in the field is accompanied by a deep prejudice against what interests me. Professor C. E. Morey of Princeton has just published a fascinating account of early Christian Art' which symbolists will neglect at their peril, but which expresses, to say the least, slight interest in their work or

ways. Morey has traced the ramifications, developments, and disintegrations of the techniques and forms of Christian art, and given them an excellent running start from classical art. He has even made very clear the thesis for which his pupils have long held him in reverence, that behind the Old Testament iconography of certain illustrated parts of
I Early Christian Art: An Outline of the Evolution of Style and Iconography in Sculpture and Painting from Antiquity to the Eighth Century. UNIVERSITY PRESS, By Charles Rufus Morey. Princeton: PRINCETON 1942. Pp. 282, with 210 figures. 403



the Bible from the Christian Middle Ages lay a LXX iconography which was probably pre-Christian in origin, that is, Jewish. These points, it seems to me, he has now presented in almost final form. And since this is what his book set out to do, we cannot blame him too severely that he is quite inadequate when it comes to setting the art of either the classical (though this he does slightly attempt) or the Christian period in the background of the ideas of their environments. It is more surprising that, after years of insisting that Christian Old Testament iconography had a pre-Christian origin in LXX illumination, he should dismiss with only a few passing allusions the Jewish Old Testament art which has finally appeared in the synagogue at Dura. Hellenistic art, Morey points out, developed in two directions. Classic Greek art had tried to express a faith in the superman: but "devised to express a man that was master of circumstance, its occupation was gone when circumstance encompassed man" (p. 16). So during the Hellenistic Age in Greece, Asia Minor and Syria, the early creative urge gave way to imitation, what is called the Neo-Attic style, largely two dimensional. In the newly founded states of Alexander, notably in Alexandria itself, a new attempt was made, a new style formed, with the result that a "three-dimensional pseudo-realistic manner" emerged (p. 16). Neo-Attic art preserved the Attic types of figures, but put them into settings (as for example the figures standing before architectural niches on the troughs of sarcophagi) which limited the sense of space, curtailed the third dimension. Neo-Attic art was early affected, however, by oriental tendencies, to a marked degree in oriental outposts like Dura, much slower in being felt in such Greek centers as Antioch, but with the ultimate result of producing the



Byzantine style. Not that Antioch knew only the NeoAttic style: its earlier mosaics are quite "Alexandrian," a fact which shows, Morey says, that this latter term cannot be regarded as too strictly geographical. But the general trend of art in Antioch was a steady elimination of the third dimension and a stiffening of the human figures; at the same time the early hellenistic arrangement, which grouped the figures in such a way as to throw the central one into prominence, gave place to a rhythm of equally accentuated figures. What Morey calls the "Alexandrian" style (the quotation marks are his), unlike the Attic and Neo-Attic, was interested in giving to a scene a specific setting. The background shows mountains, buildings, trees. It is perhaps best represented in Pompeiian painting, where the Egyptian influence was in many ways marked. But Rome's coming into world supremacy made art under the Augusti turn to the Neo-Attic masters. This combination cut down, or eliminated 'altogether, the background, while it developed descriptive narrative at the expense of what was properly representational: it was more concerned with the continuum of time than with the proper artistic concern of space. Morey is particularly happy in describing this art as it appeared on the spirally fluted column of Trajan. "In such scenes we have the rapid enumeration of actions preliminary or complementary to the main theme, such as often open or close the chapters of Caesar: Caesar, castris positis, milites cohortatus,concilio convocato,etcetera. These tend to become in the sculptor's hands increasingly conventional symbols, undifferentiated, and no more than plastic ablative absolutes" (p. 52). This style, which in the second century had great power, rapidly degenerated until it became mere representation of sequence, with all naturalism quite lost.



It was in the period of such decay that Christian art began. The new sect had little interest in reviving older skills by which the beauty of nature was presented, since Christianity was turning from natural to supernatural beauty, and the subjects presented from the external world had value only as they expressed a transcendental world within the soul (p. 59). But the art forms of the Hellenistic Age did not succumb to this new point of view until the post-iconoclastic period in the East and the Carolingian in the West. It is then with developments up to this period that early Christian art is concerned. The earliest preserved Christian art is that of the catacombs, and Morey clearly is bothered by it. It has been the happy hunting ground, as he points out, for symbolists from the earliest times, and Morey does not like this. That the fish, anchor, dove, the palm, as well as the Good Shepherd and the frequent Old Testament figures, had symbolic meaning he does not deny, but says that the symbolism must have been very simple since the Christianity of these people was simple (a large assumption in view of the fact that early Christianity produced the letters of Paul and the Fourth Gospel, to say nothing of the letter to the Hebrews). But those who try to get elaborate symbolic meanings for catacomb art, he says, are caught in their own evidence, since a given symbol, like Daniel among the lions, may represent, according to the Fathers, "the Resurrection, the Eucharist, prayer for the dead, the Passion of Christ, or an example of steadfastness in martyrdom" (p. 61). Herein Morey betrays his failure to grasp the inherent meaning of symbolism. A symbol of any importance is never an alternative way of writing a single word or conception, and limitation of its meaning to any one conception, as non-symbolists are constantly trying to do, is always impossible. To try, for example, to express



the religious value of a Menorah to Jews in a single word or idea which it "represents" will never satisfy more than a very few Jews, and those only in one mood. In Christian symbolism of the present, do the cross, the "angel of death" with its wreath, the cup of the Eucharist, to take only three symbols, represent triumph or defeat, glory or humility, death or life? Every "or" in that question is an absurdity. Each symbol can and does represent the resurrection hope, the Eucharist, prayer for the dead, the Passion of Christ, and the victory and hope of martyrdom, precisely the list Morey scorns for Daniel among the lions. It is true that each Christian teacher has always projected his own feelings into the interpretation of these symbols, and still does; and that many of the interpretations of symbols given to children now in catechetical schools have little historical connection with what might be found to be their original "meaning," or rather the meaning given them in some early Father's writings. Yet the Catholics are entirely right in their sense of continuity with earliest times in using these symbols, a continuity much deeper than the variant explanations. For that continuity is never in a "simple" meaning such as Morey wants to find; it is always a highly complex, paradoxical appeal to the conflicting longings of the human spirit, which can be satisfied only in paradox. Death becomes life for the Christian in the cross, or in the wreath of the angel of death, or in the cup of the Eucharist; humility is glorified, defeat is victory. These paradoxes, and the resolution of those desires, were as much a part of "simple" early Christianity as of scholasticism. The Christians put the paradoxical symbols on their graves because of the solace they found in them. They found the same solace, it is certain, in the Old Testament scenes, Daniel in the den, Moses drawing water



from the rock, Jonah saved from the whale, or Noah coming intact from an ark which is obviously a sarcophagus. These same incidents were referred to in early Christian prayers, and Morey feels that he has explained their appearance in the earliest Christian art by saying that they were painted because they were alluded to in the prayers. But why were they selected to be mentioned in Christian prayers? This Morey does not consider, but the answer can only be: because the experiences of these Jewish patriarchs were symbols of Christian hopes for life through death. Morey does not discuss the fact that such early Christian prayers almost certainly go back to Jewish originals (what I pointed out in By Light, Light) as do most of these Old Testament scenes in art representation. Morey skips hurriedly over the problem of the origin of the Old Testament scenes in the Christian catacombs. He intended soon to come to the fact that he believes, with every justification, that behind the early medieval LXX illustrations lay originals which were Jewish, and he mentions this Jewish art as a possible source for the catacomb figures, but only to reject the suggestion. His reason for doing so is that the Old Testament scenes in the catacombs are representations of single incidents, while the LXX art was continuous narrative of succeeding incidents. The early Christian scenes were devised, he thinks, by the several communities of the Dispersion, "each after its own fashion," from written and oral history (p. 65). Yet in spite of the differences of detail in representation of these incidents, there is a standardization of idea which does seem to me to indicate a common origin, an origin which could only have been in Jewish art. For it is by no means to be taken as natural that Christian art began with Old Testament scenes on its own initiative,



or just because it was "a faith which in its early stages was no more than an heretical offshoot of Judaism" (p. 65). This is to suppose that the'early Christians began their art by inventing a symbolism or symbolic vocabulary in Jewish terms only that they might laboriously at once translate it into Christian typology. Christianity, unprompted, would have begun with New Testament iconography, as surely as Bolshevism at once made its own new symbols. Christianity would have begun by adapting Old Testament symbols to the new meanings and explanations only if the Old Testament symbols were already at hand. And this is precisely what a glance at the catacomb pictures shows was happening. For example, Jesus is clearly a figure adapted by Christians from representations of Moses. One of the earliest, if not the earliest, representation of Jesus to be evolved was of him as the giver of life through his raising Lazarus from the dead. But in doing so Jesus is in these early scenes always depicted with a rod, and a glance at the scenes shows that the figure is taken from representations of Moses striking the rock with his rod. That is, the figure of Moses was already at hand. When, as was relatively easy, one put the crude little house with the emerging mummy opposite this figure in place of the rock, behold one had the New Testament scene. The identity of the two figures in view of the rod is beyond debate. Moses is certainly the older use of this figure, for the rod is properly in his hands and the early Christian artist had so little creative skill that he could not even eliminate it when it was, as with Lazarus, utterly inappropriate. That is, the early Christian artists in the catacombs were, as later in mosaics and LXX illustrations, copying models, and these models, Old Testament ones, must also have been Jewish. We have not those models, any more than up to



ten years ago we had any Jewish Old Testament illustrations from the period at all. But the fact that we did not have them did not in the least affect the inevitability, as Morey himself made clear, that there had been such. Indeed, when discussing the multiplication of such scenes for use on the Christian sarcophagi (p. 68), Morey has recourse to his manuscripts again. It is not apparent why he should so rigorously exclude the same sort of beginning to the Old Testament scenes in the catacombs, since the scenes on the sarcophagi are quite as isolated incidents, as far from implying a rotulus composition, as the earlier frescoes. The latter part of Morey's chapter on the "Beginning of Christian Art" is devoted to an interesting and convincing presentation of his theory that an "Alexandrian" rotulus tradition lay behind much of the early Old Testament iconography, but at the end Morey returns to his point that the pictures in the Roman catacombs and the Dura synagogue had no connection with this tradition. A solution to the problem might be suggested from the nature of the rotulus tradition itself. The painter of the rotulus began not with his continuous movement of events but with a few stock figures and artistic devices which he used over and over for his scenes. Most important was a peculiar figure for a supreme hero or saint or what Morey calls the "Logos." We have just mentioned it as the figure of Moses which became the figure of Christ, but it is used much more widely than that in both Christian and Jewish art. It was the peculiar, and instantly recognizable, figure clothed in a white robe with specially marked stripes which first appears almost as a uniform in Egyptian mummy portraits of the Hellenistic and Roman periods. They were usually abbreviated into shallow bust portraits where only a bit of the robe and a few inches of the stripe would



appear, but they are also preserved in full length.2 The robe reappears in Pompeii for the priests of Isis, so that it was presumably the white robe of Osiris, the one which Apuleius put on at his final initiation. The face above this robe might be bearded or not: that detail was not standardized. This is the figure which reappears in Jewish art for Moses, or for Abraham, or Joshua, or Samuel, or Ezekiel, or whatever patriarch was the central hero of a sacred narrative, just as the type figure of "Christ" became recognizable in later art in every conceivable pose and situation. This holy figure is abundantly present in the mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiora, in the LXX illustrations, in the catacombs, as well as in the synagogue at Dura. It even reappears, crudely distorted but still recognizable, for Abraham, in the synagogue at Beth Alpha.3 The Abraham at Beth Alpha, the one over the Torah shrine at Dura, as well as the four isolated portraits just above this at Dura, show that the Jews used the figure not only in rotulus art but for isolated symbolic representations. So while it is true that, when the figure appears for Noah or Moses or another in the catacombs, it shows no trace of having come from a LXX rotulus, it none the less seems to have been a basic unit of Jewish art. Like the Egyptians, Jewish artists seem to have been indifferent as to whether this figure was bearded or not. With the same detail undecided, the figure became just such a unit in Christian art, first, as we have seen, for Christ himself, then for angels, the "Logos," and for saints in general.
2 A fine instance was published by Bauer and Strzygowski in the Denkschriften of the Vienna Academy, LI (1906), 149; another by R. Pagenstecher, Nekropolis, 1910, 92, A fine female counterpart, whose robe, most importantly for discussion of the robe as it appears at Dura, is fringed at the bottom, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 3 Eleazar L. Sukenik, The Ancient Synagogue of Beth Alpha, 1932, Plate XIX.



As to Morey's slight reference to the synagogue at Dura (p. 77), he is certainly right that the pictures there betray an admixture of Asiatic and Neo-Attic detail which is far from pure Alexandrianism. He is right, too, in contrasting most of the Dura pictures, with their episodic treatment, with the narrative cycle of the rotulus. But that continuous cycle treatment is certainly not without trace in Dura. The scene of the Migration from Egypt moves from right to left (as do some of the reversed turns of the Vienna Genesis, for example p. 23), but is still a cycle, and full of "Alexandrian" details. The robe of the leader has already been mentioned. Egypt in the Dura picture, is a typically "Alexandrian" city wall, and the single little child held there by one hand by its mother reappears, inter alia, in the Octateuchs.4 Morey (p. 148) recognizes this child as an important detail when it appears in Santa Maria Maggiora and the Paris Psaltar at the same place. The massing of heads for the multitude is altogether "Alexandrian." The passing of the Red Sea at Dura, for all its differences, has clearly a common ancestor with that in Santa Maria Maggiora.5 For the peculiar scene at the well which closes this cycle, I have seen no "Alexandrian parallel," but the technique is quite the same as in the other two scenes. From these we pass to the four figures of Moses, as I persist in calling them, which from having been Osirian mummy portraits are here Jewish saints; they were later to become the standing portraits of the evangelists, which Morey (pp. 80, 121, 166) takes to be an important contribution of the "Alexandrian"' school. These figures are so much like the "Alexandrian" representations of Moses,
4 Vatican, fol. 88 vo; Smyrna, fol. 79 vo. s Cf. Morey, pp. 73 and 141, together with the Paris Psaltar representation at his fig. 62, the Octateuch tradition at his fig. 63, and the same tradition on a sarcophagus at his fig. 138.



as we have them in Christian copies, that from the preliminary photographs of the first season I called the badly mutilated figure on the upper left "Moses receiving the Law on Mt. Sinai," because of the pose of the legs, the light streaks which seemed to represent the mountain, and high shoes beside him. When the Yale archeologists returned to Dura the following year to make more accurate study, they found in the faded upper right corner of the picture traces of the table of the law being given Moses by the dextra domini.6 In these cycles the giving of the law is often followed, as is true I am sure at Dura, by the reading of the law to the people, though at Dura we have only Moses reading the law, not the crowd before him.7 The fourth figure I have said was the ascension of Moses. This last identification must be discussed where there is more space, but at least the figure itself is indisputably "Alexandrian," as a glance at the Octateuch representations of Abraham viewing the starry vault of heaven will show. It is impossible to go the rounds of the Dura pictures to point out all their "Alexandrian" features. But that a
6 For these details see for example the Constantinople Octateuch,

fol. 209 vo.; the Paris Psaltar (Gr..139), fol. 422 vo.; Cosmas Indicofol. 45 ro., 61 vo. The latter is especially interestpleustes' Topography, ing for showing the bush and the receiving of the law together, while the high laced boots belong to both scenes. In the AshburnhamPentawith God" begin teuch (fol. 76 ro.) the four successive "communications with the burning bush and end on Sinai. 7 See the Bible of the Convent of Paol. at Rome, fol. 30 vo. The same continuity, as Morey notices (p. 148) appeared in the mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiora and the Octateuchs. The original of these two scenes lay behind the double ascension scene of the ivory plaque from Munich publishedby Morey, fig. 144. Here Jesus speakingto the women before the sepulchre was originally Moses giving the people the law, and behind this figure as it is presented in the Bible of the Convent of Paol. is an architectural gable which correspondsto the tomb on the ivory plaque. I should guess that a "tabernacle"of some sort stood in the picture which lies behind both. This is another sample of the sort of thing Morey does not attempt, the tracing of New Testament iconographyto its originalsin Jewish Old Testament iconography.



scroll may have lain behind the Ezekiel cycle on the north wall seems incontestable. In view of a mass of such details as these, and of the fact that Morey casually admits (p. 127) that the figures on Christian gold glass actually have their best parallels among the Old Testament figures of the Dura synagogue, it is strange that he finds it unnecessary to give those Jewish pictures any serious attention for the light they might throw on Christian art.8 The details of the development of Coptic peculiarities and the formation of the Asiatic style need not detain us. Morey has here a body of interesting material most convincingly assembled. In discussing the "Orientalizating of Latin Style" he comes to the mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiora, and explains them as reproductions of LXX illustration after it had been cut up into codex miniatures. His evidence is wholly convincing. He even here makes fleeting concessions to the symbolists, for while he rightly rejects the attempt of Richter and Taylor to connect these scenes with the allegories of Justin Martyr, the symbolic stylization of the scenes is so much beyond dispute that Morey even uses the phrase "Philonian abstraction" for one of the figures (p. 150). He and all students of the field will understand this art better when they can refer to Philo less timorously. For example, he is perplexed at a possible
8 An interesting example of Morey's attempt to escape ideological difficulties is in his translation (p. 128) of the 7rte 'Taats written on Jewish and Christian gold glasses. The words mean "Drink, thou shalt live." This in view of the sacred setting commonly given the words by both religions, at least suggests a sacramental cup and drinking. But Morey simply says that the words mean "Drink and good luck to you." For an excellent discussion of the phrase as it appears on Christian glasses (pagan instances are only dismissed, and Jewish ones not mentioned at all) see "Pie Zeses," by Leclercq in CabrolLeclercq, Dict. d'archeol. chret. (1939), XIV, 1024-1031; see also F. Cumont, After Life in Roman Paganism, 1922, 204.



source for one scene in which the boy Moses disputes with Egyptian teachers (p. 148); the scene, as I have pointed out elsewhere, is elaborately described by Philo (Vita Mosis, i, 20-24). Indeed that scene, highly important for the thought of Moses in hellenistic Judaism, may already have been painted in Philo's copy of the LXX, for there is ample evidence that he was using, whether in rotulus or codex form, a LXX with these illustrations in it. Sufficient indication of this in itself is Philo's description of the scene of the Burning Bush in Vita Mosis, i, 65, 66, which I quote in Colson's excellent translation.9 Now as he was leading the flock to a place where the water and grass were abundant, and where there happened to be plentiful growth of herbage for the sheep, he found himself at a glen where he saw a most astonishing sight. There was a bramble-bush a thorny sort of plant,Io and of the most weakly kind, which, without anyone's setting it alight, suddenly took fire; and, though enveloped from root to twigs in a mass of fire, which looked as though it were spouted up from a fountain, yet remained a whole, and, instead of being consumed, seemed to be a substance impervious to attack, and, instead of serving as fuel to the fire, actually fed on it. In the midst of the flame was a form of the fairest beauty, unlike any visible object, an image supremely divine in appearance, refulgent with a light brighter than the light of fire. It might be supposed that this was the image of Him that IS; but let us rather call it an angel or herald, since, with a silence that spoke more clearly than speech, it employed as it were the miracle of sight to herald future events. The LXX and Hebrew account of this event simply says that an angel of the Lord (&y'eXos Kvptov) was
9 Philo, in the Loeb Series, VI, 311. 0I This is Colson's accurate translation. The fact that an acanthus was a thorny plant comes out importantly in the succeeding allegory. The LXX simply tells us that Moses saw a 3T&roS in flames; Philo's description of that "bush" is that it was aKav6SOes rL 4vr6v, "some plant like an acanthus."



revealed to Moses in a burning bush, with the implication that the miraculous flame was itself the revelation of divine presence, the thing that was seen, for no attempt is made at describing the angel otherwise. So only the flaming bush appears beside Moses in the Dura representation of the scene. And in the Bible the bush is only a bush, not, as Philo says, an acanthus bush," while Philo's description of the fire gushing up from the ground into the bush as though from a spring has no biblical warrant whatever. A glance at the accompanying picture from the Vatican Octateuch12 shows clearly all these details. The bush, even in this medieval copy, still has the unmistakable acanthus leaves, and the fire might well be described as spouting like a fountain from the ground. Even more remarkable is the angel in the lower picture, whose truncated form shows that it must have originally been on the ground, and presumably within the bush. Also the upper picture shows Moses leading his flocks beside a mountain, to be sure (the Bible reads that he "came to the mountain"), but in a valley beside the mountain, the very valley which Philo adds to the story. I do not see how there can be any doubt that Philo had before him an illustrated copy of the LXX, and that he has here given us a description of this particular picture as he had it. I am convinced that close study would show that Philo was often drawing his details from such a source which already was deeply affected by allegorical interpretation. What Morey, in speaking of the mosaics in Santa Maria Maggiora, calls the "symbolic prepossession of the mosaicist" (p. 146) seems
See the preceeding note. From the Octateuch at the Vatican Library, gr. 746, fol 157 ro. Reproduced by permission from the Princeton Index of Christian Art. See also Cosimo Stornajolo, Miniature delle omilie di Giacomo Monaco, Rom, 1910, pl. 21.
I 2



to go back to a long tradition of symbolism which, like the art itself, antedates Christianity in Jewish usage, antedates Philo himself. The reconstruction of that symbolic tradition is quite as important for history as the brilliant reconstruction of the continuity of art forms which Morey has produced.



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