Platter With Scenes Of Moses, labeled Nove (ceramic center, c. 1700-1900) by the National Museum in Warsaw

This curious platter, dated between the 18th and 20th centuries, features scenes from the Biblical life of Moses. One’s eyes might be drawn to the peculiar centerpiece of the platter, where it looks as if two lazer beams of light are exploding out from Moses’ head. Oddly enough, this was once a common way that Moses was depicted in art. The peculiar look came from a pesky translated 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. Many other artists, such as the craftsman of this platter, fused the two interpretations together, opting for awkward horns of light.

Written by C. Keith Hansley


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