Sicily, Palermo by Ferdinando Scianna

Ferdinando Scianna

Sicily, Palermo, 1991, Photograph, © Ferdinando Scianna / Magnum Photos

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A Strong Craving

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This photograph might be called merely ‘fashion art’, but, here and elsewhere, Ferdinando Scianna chooses to juxtapose his model with episodes of everyday life. Contrasts of life and death, of poverty and wealth, fill his ‘fashion’ portfolio; here, a model and (being carried in the background) a huge side of meat!

What is our attention drawn to here, and why? Are we drawn to the youth and beauty and clothing of the model or are we drawn to the meat? Are we provoked by envy or sexual desire or driven by hunger? What does the difficulty in untangling these possible responses tell us about the tangle of desires inside us?

Likewise, the desire for meat in Numbers 11 presents to us not just our hunger but our taste, not just needed nourishment (which is met by the manna, vv.7–9) but desired satiation (vv.4–6). The ‘strong craving’ of the ‘rabble’ in verse 4 (followed soon after by the rest of the people in v.10) signifies the transition from grateful partaking to avarice, the transgression of the limit that keeps enough from becoming too much.

God never rebukes the people merely for wanting meat. He rebukes them for letting their want for meat push them into rejecting Him as their saviour and rescuer from Egypt (vv.18b, 20b).

Although the Lord gives them what they want in abundance (vv.31–32; Psalm 78:27–29), the people were told to consecrate themselves (v.18), to prepare to be grateful. There is no indication they ever did or were. Instead, they consume the meat without gratitude or thankfulness. They may even have succumbed animalistically to devouring the flesh without cooking it. Verse 32’s ‘they spread them out’ implies ‘that they ate the meat raw’ (Milgrom 1989: 92). So ‘while the meat was still between their teeth’, God sent ‘a very great plague’ (v.33 NRSV), killing ‘the strongest of them’ (Psalm 78:31).

Scianna’s photo can help to draw out this aspect of Numbers 11. As in Numbers 11, death intrudes into the picture. Looking anew at the passage and the photo together, do we see something attractive (the desire for variety in food, the glamourous model) or how ugly and debased our cravings for ‘more’ can be?

 

References

Davis, Ellen. 2001. ‘Greed and Prophecy: Numbers 11’, in Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (Lanham, MD: Cowley), pp. 202–08

Milgrom, Jacob. 1989. Numbers, JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America)


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