Jewish Iconography Explored: The Work of Leopold Krakauer
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How do we define the Messianic Faith? What is the difference between calling oneself a Messianic believer and a Christian?
Signs and Wisdom––The Power of God and the Wisdom of God
Key Verses: 1 Corinthians:
22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,
23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
We need to talk about what these 3 verses mean––According to a biblical perspective the human race is divided into two distinct groups of people––Jews and Gentiles. The Jewish people were the original chosen people with whom God made his covenant. Subsequently, after the advent of Yeshua/Jesus, Gentiles were also invited to join Israel and become the new family of God made up of Jews and Gentiles. Consequently, there is now a third group of people that are called ‘the people of God.’ This issue of Jews demanding a sign means that the only sign that they would be given was Yeshua’s resurrection from the dead––the sign of Jonah who was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, so the Son of Man would be in the tomb for three days and three nights. Just as the whale vomited Johan up onto dry land after that time, even so the grave/tomb could not hold him and he would arise from the dead after the three days. The Jewish sign is the resurrection of Yeshua who triumphed over death and is alive forevermore––hallelujah. For even during his earthly lifetime when Yeshua perofmed miraculous signs his fellow Jewish leaders accused him of sorcery or being posed of a devil. Though many of the common people believed in him, particularly the Second Temple Leadership led by the High Priestly clique rejected him––subsequently their poisonous attitude permeated throughout the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria and this negative attitude spread out widely. And Greeks/ Gentile seek wisdom––Greek and Roman Gentile culture was based upon the wisdom and philosophy of the Greek philosophers. There was a long tradition of following the great Greek thinkers––
- Pythagoras of Samos (570-495 BCE)
- Zeno of Elea (c.
- Democritus (c.
- Socrates (c.
- Plato (428-327 BCE)
- Aristotle (c.
- Diogenes of Sinope (c.
- Pyrrho (c.
- Epicurus (c.
- Zeno of Citium (c.334-262 BCE)
- First First Century of the Common Era (C.E.)
We see how that Greek philosophy permeated Judaism and even the emergent Messianic faith shows the influence of Philo a Helenised Jewish philosopher––John’s Gospel and Pauline thinking particular shows the Greek way of thinking about the world and life––John’s LOGOS and Paul’s view of life shows the Greek influence fused together with the Hebraic Jewish way of thinking.
A very Jewish Jesus –– Leopold Krakauer: A Mere Symbol or Messiah and Lord? What is the significance in the fact of who Jesus was in his earthly life and how does that matter today? In Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art Leopold Krakauer (!890-1954) who was born in Vienna and moved to Palestine in 1924 as an architect and European Jewish Expressionist illustrator left his mark on Israeli art. What was particularly significant was his portrayal of Jesus. Leopold like many fellow Jewish artists exhibited a fascination in the luminous figure of the Nazarene––and this is particularly with those pioneers who returned to the land Jewish hope. British Mandated Palestine and subsequently the State of Israel post 1948. As previously explored in my Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art series, there appeared to be a link between Jesus and the motif of Jewish re birth and hope with the return to the land of Israel. This was exemplified in the work of Reuven Rubin––Man of Sorrows and Zionist Messiah. So too in the work of Leopold Krakauer we witness a Jewish artist grapple with the enigma of the Jewish Jesus. Leopold was singularly unimpressed with most of the artefacts made for Christian pilgrims fashioned out of olive tree wood––they were on the whole poorly made and did little if any justice to the subject matter of Jesus on the cross or other related subjects. Equally, such a noble sacred wood of the olive tree need to be made with greater care and respect for both the subject of Jesus and the precious wood from the olive tree that has such an enduring history and connection to the land ofIsrael. While Leopold was not a sculptor but his training as an architect meant that his artistic expression was made through very detailed mainly pencil drawings that often depicted the figure of the ‘suffering Christ,’ in which the person of Jesus and the olive tree were almost fused into one. Seen below Jesus/tree 1941 which is a copy of the original brown chalk on woven paper depiction in which the figure of Christ blends into starkly rendered olive tree. According to Amitai Mendelsohn in Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art, are pantheistic in nature with the approach to the landscape in which the story of Jesus took place with dialogue with the European artistic tradition that Krakauer had been exposed to.
Leopold Krakauer on Jesus and related themes
How might we understand these depictions of Jesus by a Jewish artist? From a Jewish perspective a most significant shift began to take place when European Jews started to reconnect with the Land of Israel––while there had been a growing interest in the19 century with the emergence of the modern Zionist movement, what began as trickle developed into a gradually widening stream among both Jews and certain Christian groups that believed in the restoration of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland. While people like Reuven Rubin explicitly used Christian symbolism and particularly focusing upon the person of Jesus as a symbol of hope and resurrection of the Jewish people after nearly 2,000 years of Jewish exile from Eretz Yisrael. Leopold Krakauer equally sought to give expression to his hopes and dreams through the use of similar symbolism––let me explain: As already mentioned, those who came from Europe had been exposed to numerous Christian motifs in Europe art that they began to reinterpret from a Jewish perspective. I as a Messianic Jew fully appreciate what it is that they were seeking to express. The prophets of Israel, Bible stories viewed Christologically, and particularly Jesus of Nazareth. Leopold Krakauer’s specific fascination with the olive tree, thorns and thistles and also the figure of Jesus needs further consideration: Under the Ottoman Turks most trees in Palestine were cut down due to a tree-tax that land owners had to pay to the Turkish rulers––but the olive tree survived because if the fruit of the olive that was used to produce olive oil that was a vital source of food and fuel. Olive wood when properly used produce beautiful objects and artifacts. The thorn and thistle were also a source fascination to Leopold Krakauer. Together with his landscape illustrations the thorn and thistle were important images that he drew showing the harshness and difficulty in Palestine during the Mandate era––it is also symbolic of pain and suffering that many early Jewish emigrants were experiencing in an often hostile environment where neither the British or Arabs were happy with their presence. Biblically, thorns and thistles symbolise The Bible refers to “thistles and prickles” as a symbol of desolation or wilderness and about 20 different words relate to some kind of prickly or thorny plant. They are one of the most common wildflowers in Israel, rapidly taking over any open patch of wasteland or untended meadows. These thorns and thistles were also used to symbolise Jesus’ suffering and desolation at the end of his earthly life leading up to his crucifixion––while this was not explicitly said by Leopold Krakauer, a picture is worth a thousand words.
A crown of thorns was fashioned at his mock trail and end suffering.
“Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee”— Genesis iii. 18.
THIS was not the penalty which might have been pronounced upon Adam. This observation by Charles Haddon Spurgeon help explain the place that thorns and thistles layout in both the physical and equally the spiritual life of humankind as consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve and consequently to all humankind.
And, first, A GENERAL, FACT is here stated. This fact we will consider. Ever since that first sin of our first parents, this has been generally true of the whole human race, not only of the earth literally, but of everything else round about us, “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.”
Now, I am not going to say any more about this general fact, a fact which I suppose most of you know quite as well as I do, that thorns and thistles, trials and troubles, abound in this sin-cursed world.
Similarly, Leopold Krakauer describes the desolation and suffering that had afflicted the Land of Israel during the long period of Jewish exile.This same suffering had come upon not only the land but also its people. European Jews knew all too well the suffering of exile and the thorn and thistle symbolised this.
In the first reference to armed plants in the Bible, Genesis 3:18, “It [the cursed ground] will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” The word translated thorn is qots. … These “thorns” are probably thistles as a woody plant would not grow as fast as an annual plant. These wild plants so readily grew in place of fruitful plants and crops when the land is left deserted and desolate.
The Messianic Hope ––Yeshua the hope of Israel:
Jesus is inescapable––Jewish people have attempted in vain to flee from him, but like the detective that is doggedly on the case, there is no getting away from him––we may attempt to flee to the mountains, wilderness of depths of the sea, yet he will not only pursue us till he finds us, but when he does he is there as our deliverer and redeemer. This reality is so well illustrated in Jewish fascination with his person and work of redemption. Leopold Krakauer exemplifies this mentality:
Thorns appear as a symbol of exile in the work of E. M. Lilien––notice the figure of the Jewish man with the thorns rising up out of his caftan, with almost down cast eyes that tell of his being and exile in the land of Egypt. Lilien makes an ideological comment between the thorns in exile and in another picture of wheat standing high in the land Israel. Krakauer in contrast uses the thorns to convey the harshness of life in Palestine and the difficulties of acclimatising to it.
In the picture Ring of Thistles, represents a fragile yet threatening evocation, this time with no human presence. Yet the very absence of Jesus, focuses our attention to the symbol itself, floating in the void, and its Christian meaning. While many of Krakauer’s contemporaries restored Jesus to Eretz Yisrael, he reinstates him in its landscape.
The missing part: Jesus comes back to his own people as they take tentative steps towards restoring him within a Jewish context.
E. M. Lilien –– Besah, Berlin 1900