Human language

Today’s Gospel in Art – They Killed, You Build

Elijah kills the prophets of Baal, by Gustave Doré © Alamy / Christian Art

Source: Christian art

Gospel of October 14, 2021 – Luke 11: 47-54

Jesus said: “Alas for you who build the tombs of the prophets, the men whom your ancestors killed!

“And this is why the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them; some they will slaughter and persecute, so that this generation will have to answer for the blood of every prophet that has been shed since the foundation of the world. , from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was murdered between the altar and the sanctuary.

“Yes, I tell you, this generation will have to answer for everything.

“Alas for you lawyers who took away the key to knowledge!

When he left the house, the scribes and Pharisees began a furious attack on him and attempted to force him answers to countless questions, setting traps for him to catch him in something he might say.

Reflection on engraving

In our Gospel reading today we hear the words ‘kill, slaughter, persecute, blood, murder…’ It is often a comment made to us Christians that the Bible is full of violence. Sometimes the Old Testament in particular can be difficult to reconcile with the God of Love revealed to us in the New Testament. One way to explain violence would be that our human language is limited. We tend to attribute the emotions we experience in our own human lives to God. The Old Testament writers would have used their own experiences and projected them onto how God might think and act. This can be called “anthropomorphism”, the attribution of human traits, emotions or intentions to God.

But probably a better way to explain violence especially in the Old Testament is to look at Origen of Alexandria. Rooted everything in Christ, Origen says that Christ alone provides the key to interpreting the Bible. As Christ revealed that God is the God of love and mercy, we should read the Old Testament with this in mind. Thus, according to Origen, the “kill, cut down, persecute, blood, murder…” must be read metaphorically. The language paints these metaphors for the forces of evil. Of course, some of the battles and violent events took place from a historical perspective, but the language built around this in the Bible goes beyond the purely historical. The language is there to describe also (and above all) the great spiritual battles of the people of God.

Our 1865 engraving by Gustave Doré depicts Elijah killing the prophets of Baal. A man is about to be beheaded. A headless corpse falls from the cliff, while another body already floats in the river. The soldiers and spectators watch the cruel scene. The scene from the Old Testament is intended to convey spiritual truths about the need to eradicate sin. This is not a purely journalistic and historical account of what happened. History should be read first and foremost in the light of the spiritual truths it reveals.


Today’s story –
Christian art –

Key words: Christian art, Patrick van der Vorst, Gustave Doré

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