Moses with the Tables of Law, painted by Pieter Gaal (c. 1768-1819)

This painting, created by the Dutch artist Pieter Gaal (c. 1768-1819), depicts Moses—the lawgiver of the Abrahamic religions—with the Ten Commandments, a code that forbade actions such as murder, adultery, theft and false accusations, as well as emotions such as envy, and also condemns idolatry, blasphemy and polytheism. Besides the inscribed tablets of stone, upon which the commandments were written, the artist Pieter Gaal also included in his painting the addition of peculiar rays of light jutting out from Moses’ head. This interesting detail comes from a pesky line in the Book of Exodus that caused great annoyances for churchmen who wished to commission artistic renditions of Moses. The line in question is Exodus 34:35, which claims that Moses’ followers “saw that his face was radiant.” Early translators faced a dilemma regarding this line, as the Hebrew word for “radiated light” (Keren) could also be translated to “grew horns.” This latter interpretation of “grew horns” was unfortunately used in the 5th-century Vulgate Bible, produced by St. Jerome, and his awkward translation inspired many an artist to add horns to the top of Moses’ head. Pieter Gaal brought both interpretations together for this painting, choosing to grace his subject’s head with horns of light. In contrast, the famous artist, Michelangelo, opted for much more realistic horns in his masterful statue of Moses (see more about that HERE).


Written by C. Keith Hansley



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