Sunday, August 20, 2017

Exodus 1.8-2.10: Forgetting and Remembering

And there arose a king who did not know Joseph. That is the chilling beginning of the Israelites' changing fortunes in Egypt. Originally welcomed as the family of Joseph, who saved Egypt from famine, the Israelites are known to this new king only as a threat to his position of power. He doesn't care what happened in the past or what was promised to these people. So the king decides to neutralize the threat. That's the beginning of the reading from Hebrew scripture for Proper 16(21)A/Pentecost 12A (Exodus 1:8-2:10).

Probably no contemporary artist has devoted more time and energy to the art (and necessity) of remembering the past than Anselm Kiefer. Born in post-war Germany in 1945, Kiefer has continued to prod his own and the world's remembrance of Germany's legacy of World War II.

Anselm Kiefer. Fur Paul Celan: Aschenblume. 2006. Oil, acyrlic, emulsion, shellac, and books on canvas. Private collection. For Anselm Kiefer, see:

Kiefer's Für Paul Celan : Aschenblume is a large-scale work (more than 10 feet tall and 25 feet long), includes various paints, shellac and burned books. Books, for Kiefer, symbolize the storehouse of human history and knowledge. Burned books are a reminder of Nazi book burnings and can also be a reference to the linguistic root of the word holocaust. Holocaust comes from the Greek holokauston, related to the Hebrew olah ("burnt whole").

George Santayana (Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás) gave the world the eminently quotable aphorism Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Kiefer's work demanded (and still demands) that the past be remembered. What are the dangers we face when we "do not know Joseph"? And who will be Shiphrah and Puah when Joseph has been forgotten?

For thoughts on how the gospel reading intersects with the reading from Hebrew scripture, click here.
This week on Facebook, consider how many artists "know Joseph" in their paintings of the Exodus. Click here

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