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Concealment, Revelation, And Gender: The Veil Of Moses in The Bible And in Christian Art

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image of Religion and the Arts

Moses's wearing of a veil (Exod 34:25-39) remains a puzzling and relatively obscure biblical episode. This article interprets Moses's veil as a sign of divine communication and prophecy. Through analysis of the passage, commentary, and images from the history of art, I trace the legacy of the veil as a symbol of the problem of divine revelation itself. For written commentary and artistic tradition, I argue that the veil is concealed, repressed, and transformed in order to ease an anxiety about the veil that is also an anxiety about the text. Christian interpreters (following 2 Cor 3:7-18) associate the veil with Jewish blindness to the gospel. In artistic tradition, the veil of Moses is often linked to the allegorical female Synagogue, who wears a blindfold. The veil, which originally enables Moses to act as a prophet, is thus concealed by religious polemic and linked to the Christian feminization of Jewishness. At the same time, the ambiguity and uncanniness of the veil images evoke the mysterious quality of Exodus 34:29-35. The veil of Moses may thus be seen as a meta-text that alternates between presence and absence, concealment and revelation.


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