Jeremiah 49


Commentaries by Diana Lipton

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Cildo Meireles

Red Shift I: Impregnation, 1967–84, Installation, Collection Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporānea, Minas Gerais, Brazil; ©️ Cildo Meireles; Photo: ©️ Tate, London / Art Resource, NY

Seeing Red

Commentary by Diana Lipton

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Part 1 (pictured here) of the immersive art installation Red Shift (1967–84) by Cildo Meireles (b.1948, Rio de Janeiro) is a room with white walls in which everything else—fans, lamps, bookcases and books, art, fruit, flowers, the fish and the water in the fish tank, the tank itself—is bright red. Part 2 is a passage in which a large quantity of bright red liquid spills from a bottle far too small to contain it. Part 3 is a room with a tilting sink from whose tap flows a continuous stream of bright red liquid. By now, viewers have identified the source of the faint pouring sound they heard when they entered the installation. And, with the artist’s help, they have created their own circuit from the tap’s endlessly flowing liquid to the colour that permeates the first room.

Since Meireles was known as a fierce opponent of his country’s former fascist regime, critics speculate that he intended Red Shift to evoke the innocent blood that flowed in 1960s and 70s Brazil. But in a short-lived yet influential art journal he co-edited, Meireles resisted what he saw as a limiting tendency to label his work and that of his contemporaries as ‘political conceptualism’. Perhaps with this in mind, he described Red Shift as ‘chromo-poetics’ (Maroja 2016: 31).

Chromo-poetics, with Red Shift its flag-ship exemplar, could have been created as a hermeneutic tool to interpret biblical representations of the people and land of Edom, where redness is ubiquitous, but its source unclear. ‘Edom’ means ‘red’ in Hebrew. The biblical kingdom, located in what is now Jordan, included a valley flanked by red, purple, and yellow sandstone cliffs. In his 1845 poem, English Bible scholar John William Burgon called Petra, the capital city of the Nabateans, who gradually supplanted the Edomites in that region, a ‘rose-red city half as old as Time’ (Britannica 2021). 

Esau, Edom’s founding father, came out of the womb ‘all red’ (Genesis 25:25) and famously sold his birthright for a bowl of ‘red, red stuff’ (Genesis 25:30). Jacob’s usurpation of his brother’s rights (including their father Isaac’s blessing) creates another source of redness in their destiny: revenge—for revenge (a dish usually served hot in the Bible) is the colour of blood (see, e.g., Numbers 35:33–34).  



Maroja, Camila. 2016. ‘Red Shift. Cildo Meireles and the Definition of the Political-Conceptual’, ARTMargins 5.1: 30–58

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2021. ‘Petra’,, available at, [accessed 1 April 2022]


The Apennine (L'Appennino), 1579–80, Stone sculpture, Villa di Pratolino (now Villa Demidoff), Vaglia, Italy; Mondadori Portfolio / Electa / Sergio Anelli / Bridgeman Images

Mountain Man

Commentary by Diana Lipton

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Where Edom is concerned, the Bible presents a distinctive blend of person and landscape. Esau’s genealogy in Genesis 36 mentions Edom eleven times, three times with the emphatic ‘Esau, that [or ‘he’] is, Edom’ (vv.1, 3, 8), and concluding with the epithet ‘father of Edom’ (v.43). It is the inseparability of Esau the man from Edom the land that makes Edom unique and significant.

The fusion of man and landscape is a theme of a massive sculpture known as the Appennino (1579–80), created by Giambologna (Jean de Boulogne) for the garden of the Villa Pratalino in tribute to the nearby Appenine Mountain range.

The garden of Villa Pratolino, a residence built just outside Florence for Francesco de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was designed and executed by the Medici’s court architect, designer and engineer Bernardo Buontalenti. At the time of completion, (c.1581), the garden privileged surprise, drama, and novelty over natural harmony.

Following a visit to Pratolino in 1580, the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne wrote that the Medici duke must have ‘expressly selected an inconvenient site, sterile and rugged, and utterly without water, merely that he might have the pleasure of bringing the water from five miles off’ (Montaigne 1887: 282). Montaigne was amazed by the:

various musical instruments, which perform a variety of pieces, by the agency of the water; which also, by a hidden machinery, gives motion to several statues, single and in groups, opens doors, and gives apparent animation to the figures of various animals, that seem to jump into the water, to drink, to swim about, and so on (Montaigne 1887: 283).

The villa was abandoned and eventually demolished, but in 1820 the garden was re-designed in the English Romantic landscape style. Although many of its original statues were removed, the Appennino remained. Detached from the naturalistic man-made rocky promontory from which it once emerged, the colossus had also lost some of the features that no doubt impressed Montaigne: the jewel and shell encrusted grottoes (his internal organs?); a water organ (his voice?); and hidden jets that soaked unsuspecting visitors. But its striking blend of assertively man-made artifice and subtle imitations of nature survived.

Esau has long been separated from Edom, but his presence in that red landscape is indelible.



Hazlitt, William (trans.) and Orlando Williams Wight (eds). 1887. Works of Michael de Montaigne: Comprising His Essays, Journey Into Italy, and Letters, vol. 4, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company), pp. 282–84

Smith, Webster. 1961. ‘Pratolino’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 20.4: 155–168

Richard Mosse

Idomeni Camp, Greece, 2016, Digital c-print on metallic paper (Optium plexi, Duratrans film backed with Dibond), 1016 x 3048 mm; ©️ Richard Mosse; Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

Seeing Infrared

Commentary by Diana Lipton

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According to the prophet Obadiah, the Edomites failed to come to Israel’s aid when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple (Obadiah 1:11). They stood by gloating and then rushed to join the looters (v.12). Worst of all, they prevented survivors from leaving the war-torn city (v.14). In short, the Edomites were callously indifferent to the plight of displaced people.

The events described in Obadiah resonate with ‘Heat Maps’, an ambitious documentation project by photographer Richard Mosse, first shown in New York and London in 2016. Mosse deploys a military-grade infrared camera, designed as a weapon of war, to capture scenes from the migrant trail, from the Persian Gulf to Germany and from northern sub-Sahara Africa to France.

Cameras usually record light and shadow. Mosse’s infrared camera used heat, rendering humans and animals as glowing figures. ‘Heat Maps’ is not Mosse’s first experiment with infrared. In ‘Infra’, a series about war-torn Congo exhibited in 2011, he used Kodak Aerochrome, a type of film intended for aerial reconnaissance that registers a spectrum of light invisible to the naked human eye. It renders usually green landscapes in jarring shades of pink and red.

Mosse created Idomeni Camp, Greece by blending hundreds of shots into a single image. The backdrop of campaign tents and scrubland could be almost anywhere. As for the figures, details are blurred, and individuality erased. Are we viewing migrants or citizens, aid workers or security officials? Our inability to gauge what’s happening is exacerbated by another feature of this series: almost every image is shot from far away and above eye-level. We’re seeing displacement and despair from a safe distance, but at the same time, we’re looking from an unfamiliar, and unsettling, perspective. Photographers who want to awaken viewers to the plight of migrants often focus on individuals—a mother, a child. Mosse makes us see the big picture, the terrain. It’s not enough to make a donation to help a single family. We’ve been drawn into a military-style campaign that demands a broader sense of collusion and responsibility.   

Numbers 20:14–21 reports that, despite their promise to keep to the highway and pay for water, the king of Edom refused to let the Israelites pass through his territory on their way to the Promised Land. Indeed, in stark contrast to Mosse’s compassionate visual embrace of the plight of refugees, he came out armed for attack.

Cildo Meireles :

Red Shift I: Impregnation, 1967–84 , Installation

Giambologna :

The Apennine (L'Appennino), 1579–80 , Stone sculpture

Richard Mosse :

Idomeni Camp, Greece, 2016 , Digital c-print on metallic paper (Optium plexi, Duratrans film backed with Dibond)

Beyond the Pale

Comparative commentary by Diana Lipton

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Jeremiah 49:7–22 is one of several prophetic oracles (Isaiah 34:1–17; 63:1–6; Ezekiel 35:1–15; Obadiah 1:1–16) addressed to the nation of Edom. Parallel themes, images, motifs, and language suggest mutual awareness between these prophets, and shared common traditions about Edom. To different degrees, they all resonate with themes that arise in the Bible’s first five books: historical enmity between Esau, father of Edom, and his brother Jacob (Genesis 25, 26); Edom as Esau’s God-given inherited homeland (Deuteronomy 2:5); the strong connection between man and land in Esau’s genealogy (Genesis 36:1–43); and Edom as a nation that denied Israel a safe passage during its wilderness wanderings, causing Israel to have to skirt around it  (Numbers 20:14–21; Deuteronomy 2:1–8).

The artworks presented here reflect these themes.

Cildo Meireles’s Red Shift helps us to notice the extent to which formative episodes in the lives of Esau and Jacob will ever after colour relations between them and between their descendants. Esau is born red all over (Genesis 25:25) and, like a kind of King Midas, everything he touches will henceforth be red.

Redness seeps into his language. When he comes home to find Jacob making lentil soup, he is unable to articulate his desire with reference to ingredients, taste, or texture, but only colour. In Hebrew, this is emphasized by his childish repetition: Give me some of that ‘red, red stuff’ (Genesis 25:30). Notoriously, Jacob agrees, but at a price: Esau’s birthright. Later, Jacob tricks their father into giving him the blessing due to Esau with the aid of a dish of red meat.

Though less chromo-centric than the others, read alongside Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Obadiah, Jeremiah’s oracle against Edom is (to recycle an old joke about newspapers) black and white and red all over. The bozrim (grape-gatherers) in Jeremiah 49:9 evoke Isaiah’s shocking image of God coming up from Bozrah (Edom’s capital city), his robes, stained crimson with Edomite blood, resembling the juice-stained garments of grape-pressers (Isaiah 63:1–3).

Giambologna’s colossus draws our attention to the complex connection between Esau the man and Edom the land. All four prophets who address Edom pay particular attention to the physical characteristics of the land of Edom. It is craggy and mountainous—the kind of place where eagles nest. Indeed, in Jeremiah’s oracle, eagles signify Edom’s overweening pride and the futility of attempting to evade punishment: ‘Although you make your nest as high as the eagle’s […] I will bring you down’ (49:16, 22).

Jeremiah has another depiction of revenge: God will come up against Edom ‘[l]ike a lion coming up from the thickets of the Jordan against a perennial pasture’ (49:19–20). Aided by Isaiah’s near-pornographic list of sacrificed and slaughtered animals (34:5–7), and Ezekiel’s threats of a blood-soaked land (35:6), we can picture the bloody carnage that awaits Jeremiah’s lost sheep when they encounter God’s lion. More redness.

Jeremiah does not specify the crime that Edom committed to deserve these punishments. To an extent, it’s just another stage in the rise and fall of fortunes that all nations experience—exacerbated, perhaps, by Edom’s exceptional belligerence.

Obadiah is more forthcoming. Edom showed no compassion to the Israelites when they were driven from Jerusalem by the Babylonians as refugees, and even took advantage of their weakness. Richard Mosse’s Idomeni Camp, Greece, which evokes compassion for migrants and refugees even as it displays them as if a military problem, not a human one, helps spotlight Edom’s grave sin of belligerent indifference.

Ironically, God had initially shown strong protective impulses towards Edom: ‘be very careful not to engage in battle with them, for I will not give you even so much as a foot’s length of their land’ (Deuteronomy 2:4–5). God gave them a well-appointed land, as intimately bound up with their own history and destiny as the land of Israel’s was with its.

And the reason was simple: their kinship with Israel (Deuteronomy 2:8; 23:7). Thus, what pushes the Edomites’ behaviour beyond the pale is the fact that they were belligerently indifferent towards their own brother. Jeremiah merely hints at this by using Esau and Edom interchangeably, but Obadiah underlines it: ‘On the day that you stood aside, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you too were like one of them’ (1:10–11). It’s hard not to see this as another manifestation of Edom’s refusal to let Israel pass through its land during its wilderness wanderings. On that occasion too, their kinship was underlined: ‘Thus says your brother Israel’ (Numbers 20:14).

This made the Edomites’ ruthlessness especially galling—justifying, perhaps, God’s especially bloody revenge.

Next exhibition: Lamentations 1

Jeremiah 49

Revised Standard Version

49 Concerning the Ammonites.

Thus says the Lord:

“Has Israel no sons?

Has he no heir?

Why then has Milcom dispossessed Gad,

and his people settled in its cities?

2Therefore, behold, the days are coming,

says the Lord,

when I will cause the battle cry to be heard

against Rabbah of the Ammonites;

it shall become a desolate mound,

and its villages shall be burned with fire;

then Israel shall dispossess those who dispossessed him,

says the Lord.

3“Wail, O Heshbon, for Ai is laid waste!

Cry, O daughters of Rabbah!

Gird yourselves with sackcloth,

lament, and run to and fro among the hedges!

For Milcom shall go into exile,

with his priests and his princes.

4Why do you boast of your valleys,

O faithless daughter,

who trusted in her treasures, saying,

‘Who will come against me?’

5Behold, I will bring terror upon you,

says the Lord God of hosts,

from all who are round about you,

and you shall be driven out, every man straight before him,

with none to gather the fugitives.

6 But afterward I will restore the fortunes of the Ammonites, says the Lord.”

7 Concerning Edom.

Thus says the Lord of hosts:

“Is wisdom no more in Teman?

Has counsel perished from the prudent?

Has their wisdom vanished?

8Flee, turn back, dwell in the depths,

O inhabitants of Dedan!

For I will bring the calamity of Esau upon him,

the time when I punish him.

9If grape-gatherers came to you,

would they not leave gleanings?

If thieves came by night,

would they not destroy only enough for themselves?

10But I have stripped Esau bare,

I have uncovered his hiding places,

and he is not able to conceal himself.

His children are destroyed, and his brothers,

and his neighbors; and he is no more.

11Leave your fatherless children, I will keep them alive;

and let your widows trust in me.”

12 For thus says the Lord: “If those who did not deserve to drink the cup must drink it, will you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, but you must drink. 13For I have sworn by myself, says the Lord, that Bozrah shall become a horror, a taunt, a waste, and a curse; and all her cities shall be perpetual wastes.”

14I have heard tidings from the Lord,

and a messenger has been sent among the nations:

“Gather yourselves together and come against her,

and rise up for battle!”

15For behold, I will make you small among the nations,

despised among men.

16The horror you inspire has deceived you,

and the pride of your heart,

you who live in the clefts of the rock,

who hold the height of the hill.

Though you make your nest as high as the eagle’s,

I will bring you down from there,

says the Lord.

17 “Edom shall become a horror; every one who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its disasters. 18As when Sodom and Gomorʹrah and their neighbor cities were overthrown, says the Lord, no man shall dwell there, no man shall sojourn in her. 19Behold, like a lion coming up from the jungle of the Jordan against a strong sheepfold, I will suddenly make them run away from her; and I will appoint over her whomever I choose. For who is like me? Who will summon me? What shepherd can stand before me? 20Therefore hear the plan which the Lord has made against Edom and the purposes which he has formed against the inhabitants of Teman: Even the little ones of the flock shall be dragged away; surely their fold shall be appalled at their fate. 21At the sound of their fall the earth shall tremble; the sound of their cry shall be heard at the Red Sea. 22Behold, one shall mount up and fly swiftly like an eagle, and spread his wings against Bozrah, and the heart of the warriors of Edom shall be in that day like the heart of a woman in her pangs.”

23 Concerning Damascus.

“Hamath and Arpad are confounded,

for they have heard evil tidings;

they melt in fear, they are troubled like the sea

which cannot be quiet.

24Damascus has become feeble, she turned to flee,

and panic seized her;

anguish and sorrows have taken hold of her,

as of a woman in travail.

25How the famous city is forsaken,

the joyful city!

26Therefore her young men shall fall in her squares,

and all her soldiers shall be destroyed in that day,

says the Lord of hosts.

27And I will kindle a fire in the wall of Damascus,

and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-haʹdad.”

28 Concerning Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor which Nebuchadrezʹzar king of Babylon smote.

Thus says the Lord:

“Rise up, advance against Kedar!

Destroy the people of the east!

29Their tents and their flocks shall be taken,

their curtains and all their goods;

their camels shall be borne away from them,

and men shall cry to them: ‘Terror on every side!’

30Flee, wander far away, dwell in the depths,

O inhabitants of Hazor!

says the Lord.

For Nebuchadrezʹzar king of Babylon

has made a plan against you,

and formed a purpose against you.

31“Rise up, advance against a nation at ease,

that dwells securely,

says the Lord,

that has no gates or bars,

that dwells alone.

32Their camels shall become booty,

their herds of cattle a spoil.

I will scatter to every wind

those who cut the corners of their hair,

and I will bring their calamity

from every side of them,

says the Lord.

33Hazor shall become a haunt of jackals,

an everlasting waste;

no man shall dwell there,

no man shall sojourn in her.”

34 The word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah the prophet concerning Elam, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiʹah king of Judah.

35 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, the mainstay of their might; 36and I will bring upon Elam the four winds from the four quarters of heaven; and I will scatter them to all those winds, and there shall be no nation to which those driven out of Elam shall not come. 37I will terrify Elam before their enemies, and before those who seek their life; I will bring evil upon them, my fierce anger, says the Lord. I will send the sword after them, until I have consumed them; 38and I will set my throne in Elam, and destroy their king and princes, says the Lord.

39 “But in the latter days I will restore the fortunes of Elam, says the Lord.”