Ezekiel from the Knesset Menorah by Benno Elkan

Benno Elkan

Ezekiel from the Knesset Menorah, 1956, Bronze, Jerusalem, Israel, Gavin Hellier / Alamy Stock Photo

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The Politics of Prophecy

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Richard McBee

War and strife set the tone for the subjects on the Knesset Menorah.

This is a 4.5-metre-high bronze by the British artist Benno Elkan (1877–1960) situated directly opposite the parliament building in Jerusalem, Israel. Utilizing biblical narratives, symbolic figures, and historical events (including some very recent ones) in twenty-nine relief panels, the dominant theme of this seven-branched menorah is the foundation of the modern State of Israel. Moses towers over the seven ascending panels of the central column with the vision of Ezekiel 37 firmly planted in the middle, just exactly above eye level.

Elkan’s vision of Ezekiel’s prophecy concentrates on the role of the heroic prophet himself, seen here as a prime mover in the resurrection of the Jewish people. The prophet is young and energetic, coolly caught up in the matrix of the unfolding prophecy as the animating wind sweeps down from the sky above. That there is a Divine voice commanding the prophet to address the bones is not easy to discern. It is barely reflected in the prophet’s calm gaze. Below him the skeletal bones are struggling in an agony of revivification, death literally still clinging to their substance. Their skulls grimace in the pain of re-awakening, as though reflecting the daily struggles of Israeli pioneers labouring to forge a new Jewish state in the face of economic hardship and hostile regional resistance.

This youthful, clean-shaven prophet looks much like the ideal Zionist kibbutznik, emerging heroically from the skeletal figures who seethe beneath him, and who seem still attached to the earth itself. Ezekiel advances through the field of stirring bones, his outstretched hands in reassuring gestures; collecting the reborn together while offering a peaceful blessing that extends to all the visitors who view the menorah.

 

References

McBee, Richard. 2009. ‘A Light Unto The Nation: Benno Elkan’s Knesset Menorah: Review, 14 January 2009’, www.JewishPress.com, [accessed 4 November 2018]