Ezekiel: Resurrection (1980) by Richard McBee presents a bleak monochromatic landscape, reminiscent of a post-war battlefield shorn of foliage and life.
Along the curved horizon suggesting an omniscient view, cragged, burnt trees are outlined along with silhouetted guard towers and the regular verticals of barbed wire fences. Ghostly skeletal shapes stir along the bottom edge; some just awakening, others slowly rising up as though a breeze of life is animating them. One blackened figure gestures while a surprisingly fleshy couple seem to have ascended to a standing position. While the female clasps her hands to her chest and looks imploringly at her mate, the male is reaching out to a third figure. His gesture simultaneously embraces her while lending life-giving support to the ascending figure whose skeletal bottom half is contrasted with a skinny pink-coloured torso and head.
In this depiction of Ezekiel’s Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones there is clearly a glimmer of hope in an otherwise harsh and sombre present; and yet the prophet himself is nowhere to be seen.
McBee is haunted by the victims of the Holocaust in this image, part of a series of biblical paintings that date from early in his career. That interest in the biblical narrative seen through contemporary eyes continues to the present day. The two subjects that preoccupied his work in the 1980s were the Binding of Isaac and the Vision of Ezekiel, both of which he saw as reflections of the Jewish Holocaust experience. For the believing Jew the notion that God had somehow abandoned his people to the Nazi fury feels all too similar to God’s horrific command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Equally, the creation of the State of Israel in the shadow of the Holocaust summons up Ezekiel’s vision of the resurrection of the Jewish people after the first Babylonian exile.
37 The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; it was full of bones. 2And he led me round among them; and behold, there were very many upon the valley; and lo, they were very dry. 3And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, thou knowest.” 4Again he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8And as I looked, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host.
11 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. 14And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.”