NARRATOR: The first five books of the Hebrew Bible are known collectively as the “Pentateuch,” the Torah, or the books of Moses.
BETH MORRISON: This imposing image of a lion comes from the Book of Genesis. The lion looks like it’s leaning over and breathing into the face of a baby lion, and that’s exactly what’s happening. According to the medieval bestiary, lion cubs are born dead. And after three days, the father lion comes and breathes into their faces, literally breathing life into them.
NARRATOR: Though most commonly associated with the Christian account of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, the story of the lion has been adapted here in this Hebrew Bible to reference Abraham and Isaac. God commanded Abraham to kill his son Isaac in order to test his faith, but stopped at the last minute.
BETH MORRISON: According to some rabbinical commentaries on this portion of the Book of Genesis, Abraham actually killed Isaac, and Isaac was later brought back to life. Here, the Christian imagery is serving a different purpose.
NARRATOR: Since Jewish artists were not allowed to join painting guilds in the 13th century, it’s likely that a Jewish scribe was working with a Christian illuminator. It’s possible that the scribe told the illuminator what was happening in this text and the Christian illuminator thought the story from the bestiary and thought it would be appropriate.
BETH MORRISON: It’s clear from the use of bestiary imagery even in the Hebrew Bible that the bestiary stories extended far beyond the Christian west and really permeated other religions and other geographies as well.