The Divine Comedy: Timing with Isaactitude

The Divine Comedy: Timing with Isaactitude
Type: Oil Pastel
Dimensions: Width/Height (in inches) 24/18
Year: 2006

This pastel is about Abraham and Sarah’s visitation by God and his three angels, and their prophetic proclamation that within a year Sarah will give birth to Isaac. The work takes off on the description of God and the angels at the beginning of this encounter narrated in Genesis XVIII, verses 1 and 2: “And God appeared to him (Abraham) in the trees (buh elonay) of Mamre, and he was sitting at the tent opening in the heat of day. And he lifted up his eyes and saw that there were three people standing before him”.

This work interprets Abraham’s vision of God “in the trees of Mamre” quite literally and transcendentally i.e. he saw God as well as three additional extensions of God within the trees of Mamre. This understanding is based on defining the Hebrew preposition “buh” as “in” or “within”, instead of the less accurate, yet the traditional “at” or “by” (the trees of Mamre).

God and his divine extended modes, the angels, are portrayed as a series of four interconnecting trees (an arboreal tetragrammaton). God, the main tree is in the shape of an anthropomorphized hand with extended blessing fingers which branch and sprout three other angel trees. The angels are sprouting out from the branches above, and the roots below. This is visually similar in concept to a Menorah, and theologically analogous to Moses’ future transcendent apprehension of God within a burning bush. Like tree branches and leaves, the angels can fall off and exist independently, but nevertheless they retain their resemblance to and essence of the whole. It should be noted that the word “elonay” (trees) has the word “el”, “god”, incorporated with in it. The word “Mamre” which is a geographic location sounds like a combination of the Hebrew words “Mamarot” (sayings or words) and “yarey” (and he saw/feared). Thus the words “eloney mamre” could be interpreted as “the trees in nature wherein God is visually perceived and his words heard”.

The narrative seamlessly interchanges both the visualization and the voice of God, with that of the three angels’, giving the distinct impression that God and the three angels are somewhat interchangeable, each representing different yet analogous modes of the same divine essence. This is made clear when one of the angels states: “When I return to you when the season comes around, there will be a son for your wife Sarah”. Sarah then laughs to herself because of the absurdity of this prediction. After she laughs, the narrative continues: “God said to Abraham why did Sarah laugh (saying to herself) how can I give birth, I have aged? Is not anything possible for me to perform? When the season comes around Sarah will have a son!” Note that the first statement which predicts that Sarah will have a son when the season comes around is articulated by one of the angels, after which Sarah laughs. God then rebukes her laughter to Abraham repeating the same statement with words just mouthed by the angel (when the season comes around Sarah shall have a son), as though he himself, not the angel said these words to begin with. This clearly establishes that God’s words and those of the angel’s, and by extension their essences, their appearances, are all one and the same. Thus, Abraham sees and hears God in the multiple branched extensions of a unified expanse apprehending the unity of all things. On the one hand this may represent the earliest and most primitive divine anthropomorphic transformation of nature common to many native religions. On the other hand this may represent a rather advanced pantheistic cognition of God, extremely similar to Spinoza’s conception, and to the Kabbalistic pantheistic view of multiple sphirot; concentric (or branching) divine emanations. One of the earliest visual medieval renditions of the ten divine kabalistic emanations is an illustration of an upside down tree with multiple branches feeding each other with sap energy.

Written horizontally across the tree branch fingers of God in the pastel are the words “trees of Mamre”. Sarah is portrayed on the left inside her tent. She just baked the cakes for the God-angels. Abraham is kneeling before the Lord pouring milk into his scary mouth. Abraham is also pointing to the tasty soft young calf prepared by the lad. The lad is holding up an alter on top of his shoulders on top of which is a burning simmering calf offered as a sacrifice to the God-angels for consumption. According to the Medrash this lad is none other than Ishmael.

The pastel is also inspired by another Medrash which surmises that each of the three angels came to accomplish three distinct tasks. One angel came to proclaim the birth of Isaac, another came to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and another came to save Lot from destruction. This pastel kabbalistically interprets Abraham’s vision. The very tall purple angel to the left is holding on to Sarah blessing her with fertility. The embryo which has just been conceived is seen gestating in Sarah’s belly. Written on this angel is the word “Chesed”, representing the kabbalistic divine emanation of “compassion”.

The fierce red angel behind Abraham with extending blessing hands represents the divine emanation “Din” or “Justice”, the angel who will destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. The tall blue angel on the right with blessing hands is named “Yesod”, or “foundation”, the angel who will save Lot.

In the background, the sun is beating down on Abraham who apprehends or dreams this vision under the unforgiving heat of the desert sun. The sun which is behind Sarah also represents divine light granting her fertility in old age.