Painting the Bible
Date: June 7, 2013
The immense popularity of the History Channel’s new miniseries The Bible comes as no surprise to Nathan Moskowitz, whose own passion for the Old Testament has led to his creation of a remarkable series of oil paintings depicting the stories within the Scripture’s 15 books of the prophets.
“The Bible is about a particular people who encapsulate the story of all humankind,” observes Moskowitz, (HS; fellow, neurological surgery, 1985-90; active part-time faculty, neurosurgery, 1990-present). “Every conceivable emotional and psychological aspect of the human condition is illustrated and illuminated, covering the spectrum of love and hate, longing and desire, envy and revenge, and hope and loss…. There’s a large audience for that.”
Moskowitz’s paintings, which technically would be classified as “visionary art”—works created by a self-taught individual who has never received any formal training—are vibrantly colored and intense.
The vision in Moskowitz’s paintings—compiled now in a new book, The Color of Prophecy: Visualizing the Bible in a New Light—is extremely personal. He published it under the name Nahum HaLevi, which is based on an acronym for his initials, N.C.M., which transliterated is pronounced “Nauhum”; HaLevi means “The Levite” in Hebrew, and Moskowitz is descended from the biblical tribe of Levi, one of the 12 sons of Jacob. He felt that signing his paintings using English characters would diminish their “Hebraic authenticity.”
In the commentaries on the prophets that he wrote after completing each painting, Moskowitz makes few and only fleeting references to previous rabbinical analyses; his interpretations are entirely his own. “One of the reasons I started to paint the Bible is because I love the Bible, and I wanted to make it my own; that is, I wanted to start from scratch and understand it on my own terms,” he says.
A practicing neurosurgeon in Rockville, Md., Moskowitz spent three years of his spare time completing the 15 paintings of the prophets, finishing them in 2010. He spent the next several years writing his commentaries. “It is only after I paint the painting that I understand the text visually—then I go back and reinterpret the story textually based on the imagery,” he says. NAG