Monday, February 02, 2009

"Hashmal" in the Imagination of Anselm Kiefer

At the Boston SBL meetings, one of the most intriguing presentations I heard was a talk by Sally Norris of Oxford University entitled, "The Imaginative Effects of Ezekiel's Merkavah Vision: A Day in the Life of Hashmal" (SBL25-26). You will remember that in the book of Ezekiel when the prophet witnesses God's theophanic appearance, at the heart of the manifestation he sees "Hashmal" (חשׁמל). Peering into the dangerous, awful presence of God, he observes: "a great cloud with brightness around it and fire flashing forth continually, and in the middle of the fire, something like חשׁמל (NRS: 'gleaming amber'; NIV, NASB: 'glowing metal')" (Ezek 1:4; see also 1:27; 8:2).

Norris presented several interesting views of Hashmal from the reception history of the book of Ezekiel, but what caught my attention was her suggestion that Hashmal could be imagined and visualized in the modern art of Anselm Kiefer, in the collection entitled The Heavenly Palaces: Merkabah (1990; see the product-link below).

Below is a section of Plate 6 of the work. The figure of the woman here may represent the Shekkinah as a feminine mystical presence, as the power of cosmic creation and catastrophe. Is her "scream" that of ecstasy or horror or both? The stream of white preternatural substance released from her mouth may allow us to visualize Hashmal as a spewing field of transcendence. Comments on any of this are most welcome!

Anselm Kiefer, _The Heavenly Palaces: Merkabah_, plate 6

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