Illuminated Psalms

Illuminations and Commentary by Debra Band
Literary Analysis by Arnold J. Band
Foreword by Harold S. Kushner

About the Book
The Book of Psalms, Tehillim, challenges us today – perhaps 2500 years since their composition – with an anthology of some of the most vividly euphoric and searingly painful poetry that humankind has recorded. Shouts of joy and gratitude alternate with the pleas of huddled men and women worn by anxiety and desolation, yet all are suffused by the hope that the Creator’s strong hand and outstretched arm will ever protect them. Likely originating as ritual song in the days of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, some perhaps indeed dating to the days of the First Temple, when we read these poems we encounter emotion as fresh and relevant to our own lives as to those distant generations who composed them.
Yet, how often do we really read these poems for what they are? Although Psalms play a central role in the public and private devotions of both Jews and Christians, that very familiarity can breed… well, boredom. Their rote recitation can lead to sentimental assumptions about what we assume they mean – without focusing on the words’ real meaning. Unfettered joy, profound gratitude to God, emotional anguish, hope from the depths of human despair, and even simple satisfaction at observing one’s flourishing family – all these feelings pour from the Psalms.

Surprisingly, few artists have attempted to express the emotion and thought of the psalms in visual form. Medieval Christian art is replete with magnificent psalters and books of hours; Jewish tradition includes many beautiful prayerbooks, bibles and haggadot, yet while these works offer decorative presentations of the Psalms, they rarely attempt a visual expression or interpretation of the emotional and spiritual content of these texts so central to both public and private devotions. I Will Wake the Dawn: Illuminated Psalms offers perhaps the first visual interpretation of a wide selection of these poems. The work presents a varied and representative sampling of the emotional and spiritual expressions embodied in the 150 psalms. The 36 illuminated psalms includes: 1,8, 18, 19, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 32, 42, 49, 79, 90, 91, 92, 96, 98, 103, 104, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 121, 122, 126, 128, 130, 133, 137, 145 and 150 This anthology offers psalms of personal and communal joy, rejoicing and gratitude, anguish and inspiration, notably including several of the psalms singled out for healing by the Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Bratislav. The anthology incorporates psalms expressing the love of and longing for Jerusalem, psalms included in daily, Sabbath and festival liturgies for both public synagogue and private home use, including the entire Hallel cycle, several Psalms of the Day, psalms included in mourning rites, the introductory psalms for the Grace after Meals, and finally, a number of psalms from which Jewish tradition derives popular folk songs sung at weddings and other life- cycle celebrations. The commentary materials for each illumination mark the particular uses of each psalm in both Jewish and Christian prayer liturgical traditions.

I Will Wake the Dawn: Illuminated Psalms uses the intimate medium of the illuminated manuscript, wherein text and artwork merge within inches of the reader’s eye, and concise literary analysis to probe the subtle meanings of these poems. This work, published by the Jewish Publication Society in Fall 2007, continues to develop the concept of visual midrash that I developed in my acclaimed The Song of Songs: the Honeybee in the Garden, published by the Jewish Publication Society in May 2005. An exhibit of the original paintings is now traveling around the United States. Please see my talk schedule at the link above for an upcoming talk near you.

I invite you to begin our journey together through the Psalms with the following essays and images drawn from the book.

Foreword by Harold S. Kushner
Beyond Literary Form: Introduction to Psalms as Poetry (Arnold J. Band)

I Will Wake the Dawn
Webcast of Psalms talk at the Library of Congress – January 2008


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