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Old Testament Essays

versión On-line ISSN 2312-3621
versión impresa ISSN 1010-9919

Old testam. essays vol.25 no.2 Pretoria  2012


The dark side of beauty in the Old Testament



James Alfred Loader

University of Vienna and Unisa





Speaking of the dark side of beauty implies a bright side as well and therefore points to an ambivalence in the concept of beauty. Whereas this can perhaps be most clearly seen in the nineteenth-century romanticist idea of the beauty of repugnance, ancient Israel never regarded "the ugly" as beautiful. But she could and did consider as straight-forwardly beautiful that which conventional Western images would regard as failing beauty (e.g. the decay of old age). While this serves as a reminder of the historical and cross-cultural relativity of the topic, Israelites did find a dark side in what they themselves found beautiful. The focus of this article is on this ambivalence experienced by Israel itself. What it could delight in, could also be fearsome and what it could celebrate, could simultaneously have a dangerous dark side. This is investigated from several angles: as the moral danger of erotic beauty, the religious danger of cultic beauty, the gloomy and even terrorising mental effect of beauty, and the transience of beauty. Although the usual claim that ancient Israel had no abstract concept of beauty is not challenged, it is concluded that beauty was not regarded as a mere "concrete" thing either. Rather, beauty is the image(s) of an ominous force behind it. The images can manifest the threatening character of that lurking energy just as strongly or even more than its gratifying effects.



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Prof. Dr. James Alfred Loader
Faculty of Theology, University of Vienna, Schenkenstrasse 8-10, A-1010 Vienna. He is Professor Extraordinarius in the Department of Bible and Ancient Studies
P. O. Box 392, Unisa, 0003, in the Department of Ancient Languages and Cultures as well as the Faculty of Theology at the University of Pretoria

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