Part 13 in the Series:
The Bezalel Blueprint
By Don Enevoldsen
Considering my love of art, including film and television, it’s ironic that during my days in Bible College in Los Angeles, the school did not allow us to go to movie theatres. Of course, at the time, I didn’t really know I would end up writing for film. So rather than fight it, we found other, less religiously offensive recreations for our weekends.
One of my regular activities was to visit Forest Lawn. If you’ve never been there, understand that it is far more than a cemetery. All Forest Lawns have collected a wide variety of museum exhibits and art. One can easily spend a day enjoying a relaxed and contemplative journey through paintings, sculpture and architecture.
My favorite Forest Lawn is the one in Glendale, especially the Great Mausoleum. One of the most curious pieces of art I’ve ever seen is there. “The Moses of Michelangelo” is a copy, but still impressive. The original stands in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome. Which does not lessen the grandeur of the experience in Glendale.
The curious part of the statue is the set of horns protruding from the top of Moses’ head. Even more curious is the fact that Michelangelo was not the only one to portray Moses in this fashion. For a period of time, many artists who sculpted or painted Moses added horns.
This amusing rendition of Moses resulted from a desire of numerous artists to be biblically accurate. When they read the scriptures, it told them that “when Moses came down from the mount Sinai, he held the two tables of the testimony, and he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation of the Lord.” (Exodus 34:29 Douay-Rheims Bible) One cannot be too careful in the pursuit of accurate detail.
Of course, if you look up that verse in whatever modern translation you favor, you will find that it doesn’t say anything about horns. It describes Moses’ face as “radiant” or that it “shone.” And those of you who have studied art very likely already know how Michelangelo came to be confused.
We can blame it on Jerome, who produced the Latin translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate in the late third century. The original Hebrew word proved difficult to translate. The term is qaran. The problem is that Hebrew has no vowels, so if we transliterate the actual letters, it would be spelled qrn. This root could also be read qeren, which means horn. The only way to tell which word was intended is with the context. There is a similarity in the words in that rays of light can be likened to horns.
The evidence indicates that Jerome did not actually intend to portray Moses as literally having horns. He associated the word qaran with the idea of being glorified. The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament widely used in the first century, used the word “glorified,” and Jerome made the same association. For the most part, Bible scholars of the Middle Ages knew what Jerome meant.
However, around 1200 A.D., artists began using the literal sense of the Latin translation, and for the next three or four centuries, horns popped out all over the place. Hence, the statue at Forest Lawn.
What an artist knows—or doesn’t know—makes a difference.
The Road to Knowledge
Thus knowledge overlaps both wisdom and understanding. The Hebrew word is da‘ath, meaning knowledge, perception, skill, discernment and wisdom. Clearly there is more to this than simply knowing stuff.
So what does it mean when God said he filled Bezalel with knowledge? There are at least three obvious aspects of his knowledge, in addition to the things we’ve discussed in previous parts of this series about wisdom and understanding.
1. Bezalel knew his craft.
He had the skill and the knowledge of how to make things necessary for the Tabernacle. That must have included a wide range of talents, including sculpting metal, engraving precious stones and embroidering cloth. He may not have been proficient in every one of those areas, but he understood them well enough to create the designs that would eventually be implemented.
I spent many years working in the printing industry before I made a career in writing. I have knowledge of how books are printed and bound. I also got a taste of the publishing world and learned what goes into marketing books. None of this knowledge is directly connected to writing a book, but knowing what will happen to that book after it’s written makes me that much better suited to adapt my work, my art, to the finished product.
In the same way, one of the best things an aspiring screenwriter can do is learn what producers and directors do. They are able then to write things that their knowledge of the process tells them will translate well to the screen.
Knowledge of a craft is more than just the mechanics behind the art.
2. Bezalel also knew his history and his culture.
The work of art for which he was responsible, the Tabernacle, was more than just a decorative temporary building. It reflected the essence of God’s redemption of Israel. Volumes have been written about the symbolic representations within the Tabernacle design.
Each of the pieces of furniture portrayed visually a variety of things from redemption by sacrifice to cleansing to God’s provision. Every piece of the design down to the tent pegs had significance. Above all, Bezalel undoubtedly knew what led up to his calling to build. God said to Moses, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8) The “why” behind the art was in his mind the entire time the Tabernacle was under construction because he had knowledge of the history behind it.
Without knowing the dynamics behind the symbolism, Bezalel would have been ill prepared to put all the pieces together.
In my experience, artists are naturally curious people—about everything. As artists they observe—everything. Look at the library of any artist and you will likely find an eclectic and diverse collection. My own library is very typical of what I’ve seen of every artist I know. I love history, and while certain areas dominate my attention, I also grab books that just seem like they would be interesting. They are as diverse as a study of weaving practices in pre-history, or a history of how the game of chess developed. Artists just love knowing things, because you never know when some bit of information will be useful.
3. Bezelel accumulated knowledge.
The Bible doesn’t state this directly, however, at the root of knowledge is “know.” And at the root of knowing is a desire to learn.
“The discerning heart seeks knowledge.” (Proverbs 15:14)
This might be the most significant aspect of knowledge for an artist. No one will ever know everything, but the characteristic of curiosity that drives artists to keep learning is what brings inspiration and ideas.
Knowledge implies curiosity. And curiosity keeps the work of an artist fresh, energized, relevant and accurate. According to Hosea, rejection follows those who reject knowledge.
“My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)
A healthy desire to learn might just keep you from sticking your horns where they don’t belong.
Next, Part 14: The Art of Self Deception
Go to the beginning of the series, The Bezalel Blueprint: Part 1, The Artist Bezalel
Do you have an additional thought on this subject? Please join the discussion and share your insights.