Judas Maccabeus, The Warrior by Jack Levine

Jack Levine

Judas Maccabeus, The Warrior, 1963–64, Etching, 248 x 197 mm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Gift of Deborah B. Brown in memory of Aida and Boris Mirski, 2014.2314, Copyright: © Estate of Jack Levine; Photo: © 2020 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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None Who Trust in Him Will Lack Strength

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The son of an orthodox Jewish-Lithuanian shoemaker, Jack Levine (1915–2010) became one of the leading figures of post-war Boston Expressionism. Although best known for his biting visual commentaries on social injustice, Levine also showed a profound interest in Judaic themes. He produced dozens of works—drawings, engravings, and paintings—depicting rabbis, biblical kings, and heroes. One of these was this small and striking etching: Judas Maccabeus.

Levine’s exceptionally direct depiction of Judas as a fearless soldier reflects 1 Maccabees’ praise of his military prowess, first conveyed in chapter 2. At chapter’s close, the dying Mattathias, Judas’s father, utters these last words: ‘Judas Maccabeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the people’ (vv.66–67).

Immediately following the patriarch’s death, the author embarks on a poetic description of Judas as a hero ‘putting on his breastplate, girding on his weapons, waging war and protecting his camp by his word’ (3:3).

Through an extraordinarily economical rendition of his subject, and just a few, nervous lines, Levine captures precisely this image—a tenacious warrior, one hand holding the sword, the other a shield. Rather than the breastplate featured in the text, the artist depicts Judas’s naked, muscular torso, as though to emphasize his fearlessness and strength. The focus on Judas’s chest and face—staring out at the viewer with a stern gaze—conveys his steely determination in the face of death, a demonstration of his faith in God.

 


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