Sunday, January 18, 2009

Doodle Penance:
"elijah and the widow bread craft"

This week's "Doodle Penance" post comes to us from an anonymous Google-searcher (aren't they all anonymous?) who wanted to find "elijah and the widow bread craft."

I can understand why this searcher must have been frustrated. The encounter between Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath comes up fairly frequently in history paintings, as in this piece by Bernardo Strozzi

—but there are relatively few paintings of Elijah's first, rejected plea for the widow's son's resuscitation.

You see, the Bible leaves a lot of these details out, but after the widow's son dies, Elijah improvises a solution with a few slices of bread and some crusts, hoping that God will breathe the boy's soul back into a new, healthy body:

The widow is apparently not satisfied with this undeniably big favor. So Elijah has to pray again, getting the soul into the boy's old body, along with the additional request that the old body not be sick any more. What a hassle, right?

One thing the Bible leaves out, but this image makes clear, is that there was a big mess to be cleaned up when the widow wigged. Because, you see, that jug of oil was blessed in such a way that it would never be empty. When she dropped it on the floor, it kept pouring out oil until the whole room was ankle-deep in deliciousness.

But fictive things wink as they will, don't you know.

I haven't been able to track down the original Renaissance painting of this image with Google, so I guess our google-searcher will have to console him- or herself with my cartoon rendition. Still, here are a couple of notes I took when I was looking at it.

Okay, Mike— What have you got?

...Okay, Isaac! I'll show you soon! (But first, I will violate protocol to say that I really like your doodle--indeed, I LOL'ed.)

Truth be told, I understood the search term a little differently. Everyone knows the story of Elijah's departure in a mystical vessel, the chariot of fire. And many believe that someday Elijah is fated to return, to herald the coming of the Messiah. Some of those who think they know who the Messiah is have called that figure "the bread of life." So what more appropriate vessel could Elijah use for his later, annunciatory visit than a vessel made not of fire but of the staff of life, bread, itself? And what more symbolic emblem to fill the sails of the One who will overturn Death than the deadly hourglass of the black widow spider, thereby reclaiming a terrible image just as the cross, that tool of capital torture, was reclaimed as the token of resurrection to the life everlasting? comes Elijah, sailing with word of the Messiah on the S. S. The Widow, a craft made of bread. I'm sure that's what our Google-seeker was looking for.


Matt said...

I've actually seen a robed graybeard riding the waves near what used to be called the Sandwich Islands. Unlike Elijah, however, that feller prefers pumpernickel

Ben Towle said...

I'm gonna have to give the advantage here to Mike for incorporating an actual piece of bread!

Am I crazy, or does this while Elijah bit get incorporated somehow into freemasonry?

Isaac said...

Doodle penance is not a contest.

I mean, last week's was.

But Doodle Penance is just about making our blog more useful to the community, by publishing little-known facts.

(I ask you: what's the point of having two Yale Ph.D.s on a blog if there aren't little-known facts involved?)

I don't remember Elijah getting mentioned in From Hell, so maybe he's not in Masonic lore ... do you know more, Mike?

Mike said...

Matt: re: "Sandwich Islands"? Well played.

Ben/Isaac: There is mention of a widow's son in Masonic lore, but that's usually associated with Hiram Abiff, architect of the Solomonic Temple. My Mason-literate friends tell me that the phrase "Will no one help the widow's son?" is a coded Masonic plea for help, which Masons are honor-bound to answer if they hear it. I don't think bread (or Elijah) is usually involved...

B.BarNavi said...

I've always anachronistically pictured Elijah, in full biblical garb, with the widow from צרפת in 1920s French widow's garb. (Think black with a lot of lace).

Mike said...

B.BarNavi, since you have said it, I have thought it!

(For the non-Hebrew-literate out there: צרפת is the Hebrew-character spelling of "Zarephath" and is also the modern Hebrew term for "France." Hence B.BarNavi's anachronistic imagining!)