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Genesis in Jewish Art

The Six Days of Creation

The Six Days of Creation

The Sarajevo Passover Haggadah opens the biblical cycle with a depiction of the six days of creation, starting from right to left with the spirit of God moved upon the face of the Waters” (Gen. 1:2). The panels enclose arched heavens and some also a globe. The word of God, represented by golden rays gradually creates the world: The separation of light from darkness The division between the waters The gathering of waters and the appearance of dry land which brings forth grass.


The Sarajevo Passover Haggadah, Spain, Catalonia, 14th century
(Sarajevo, The
National Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina)

Days of Creation and the Sabbath

The creation of the sun and moon
The fish and birds
The creation of animals and man resting on the Sabbath.


The Sarajevo Passover Haggadah, Spain, Catalonia, 14th century
(Sarajevo, The
National Museum of Bosnia-Herzegovina)

The Days of Creation
 

The creation depicted in medallions representing the universe illustrate the opening word of Genesis, in the Harley Bible. The hand of God appears in each medallion from a sky segment. As in the Sarajevo Haggadah, the successive scenes are read from right to left, illustrating the first verse of Genesis: In the beginning God created the heavens and earth" (Gen. 1:1), followed by the creation of the second to the fifth days. The two last medallions enclose decorative motifs.

The legendary Leviathan


Wall painting above the Torah Ark, Sandomierz Synagogue,
Poland, end of 19th century

On the fifth day God created the great whales (Gen. 1:21), identified as the "Leviathan Crooked Serpent" and mentioned by the prophet Isaiah (Is. 27:1). This sea monster was killed by God in order to protect the world, and was kept in Paradise (BT. Baba Batra 74:1-2), to be eaten at the End of Days. This legend was frequently depicted in East European synagogues as above the Torah Ark in Sandomierz and the Bimah in Łancut.


Bimah, Łancut Synagogue, Poland, built 1712, painted in the 20th century

On the sixth day: “Let us make a man in our image…” (Gen. 1:26)

The miniature in the Sister Haggadah is a unique depiction of the creation of Adam by the angels. The biblical verse: “let us make” was interpreted as a creation by God together with the angels (inspired by Gen. Rabba 8:3).

The Two Wives of Adam


The Creation of Eve

The biblical story is told in two different versions (Gen. ch. 1 and 2). In the first, God created man "in his own image…” He created them male and female…" (Gen. 1:27). In the second, the woman Eve, was created out of Adam's rib (Gen. 2:21-22) as depicted in the Golden Haggadah.

Lilith, the First wife of Adam

Some legends explain the discrepancy between the two versions as two instances of creation. The first was identified as that of Lilith, the first wife of Adam who fled from him (Alphabet of Ben Sira, Babylonia, 9th - 10th C.). Lilith is believed to harm newborn and this amulet is supposed to protect them.

The Garden of Eden

The four medallions surmounting the opening word are dedicated to Adam and Eve and the serpent, illustrating the Temptation in the Garden of Eden. The extreme left medallion encloses the walled Garden of Eden.

The Temptation

Temptation and the Tree of Knowledge

The mural painting of the Bimah: Eve offers Adam (both represented by hands and legs) a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The legendary tree bears various fruit such as figs, vine and wheat (Gen. Rabbah 15)


Bimah, Łancut Synagogue, Poland, built 1712, painted in the 20th century


Detail:Bimah, Łancut Synagogue, Poland, built 1712,
painted in the 20th century


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Last Updated: 21 October, 2014
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