The book’s English name nods to the two censuses taken of the Israelites at God’s command. However, its Hebrew name– “Bamidbar”– or “In the Desert”— encapsulates both the physical and spiritual place of the People of Israel at that time. 

The desert is a recurrent biblical motif– a geographic feature of the region, a metaphor for endurance and transition, and the ultimate test of faith. In Numbers, this faith is repeatedly challenged by the hardships of the journey to the Promised Land, as Moses struggles to transform the people into a nation. Ultimately, the crisis is so deep that the entire generation is denied entry to the Promised Land, and fated to die in the desert.

As they near Canaan, the Israelites encounter foreign cultures and religions. While the Israelites had one omnipotent God, the surrounding peoples worshipped a main god with a female companion goddess, and multiple designated gods.  These encounters highlight monotheism as the fundamental feature of Judaism that set it apart from the religions of the time.

The Book of Numbers is the fourth and penultimate book of the Torah. The book’s English name nods to the two censuses taken of the Israelites at God’s command. However, its Hebrew name– “Bamidbar”- or “In the Desert”— encapsulates both the physical and spiritual place of the People of Israel at that time. 

The word “Midbar”- Desert- is first mentioned in Genesis, when Hagar, the Egyptian maid who bore Abraham’s firstborn Ishmael, was banished with her son to the desert, where the two were spared death by an angel who led them to water.

Indeed, the desert is a recurrent biblical motif– a geographic feature of the region, a metaphor for endurance and transition, and the ultimate test of faith. In Exodus, the Israelites put their fears aside and their faith in Moses, and followed him into the desert and the unknown. In Numbers, however, this faith is repeatedly challenged. Ultimately, the crisis is so deep that the entire generation is denied entry to the Promised Land, and fated to die in the desert.

I try to depict the biblical motifs both as stand-alone stories as well as overarching themes.  The snake from the Garden of Eden, for example, returns in Numbers in several different and even contradictory contexts, becoming a meaningful symbol rather than a mere character.   My own ongoing journey into the texts and their visual interpretation echoes a similar process of parts becoming a whole.  Like the Israelites, I too have known twists and turns of events in my personal and artistic path. These separate moments of wilderness and revelation have woven together to create a comprehensive tapestry of my life and art, enriched and driven by these experiences as a whole.

On the journey from Mt. Sinai to the Promised Land, Moses was to transform the people into a nation, bound by legal and ritual systems. However, challenges abound. The lack of food and water presents an ongoing existential crisis. As the people doubt the ability and even authority of Moses to provide and lead, this evolves into a crisis of faith. These lead to the overall breakdown of faith, when the Israelites doubt God’s promise to deliver them the land of Canaan.

As they near the Promised Land, the Israelites encounter foreign cultures and religions. While the Israelites had one omnipotent God, the surrounding peoples worshipped a main god with a female companion goddess, and multiple designated gods.  These encounters highlight monotheism as the fundamental feature of Judaism that set it apart from the religions of the time.

 While researching for the illustration of the High Priest engaged in ritual, I was struck by another singular aspect of early Judaism– the absence of the female companion goddess depicted in the spiritual artifacts of the surrounding Mediterranean and Middle Eastern religions. The male and female elements of deity were merged into a single identity of the one God, obliterating the natural female aspect from Judaism.