Professors Mark Roncace and Patrick Gray's book Teaching the Bible through Popular Culture and the Arts , in its chapter on Art , discusses the use of paintings in Bible education. Among the artists brought as examples are Michelangelo, Durer, Doré, Chagall, and.....Avi Katz, in the Alien Corn Series. Here is the relevant part of the chapter:
Judah Meeteth Tamar by the Roadside; Samson and Delilah; The Angel Comforteth Hagar
If students tire of Baroque and Renaissance paintings, a series of works on biblical characters created by Avi Katz called The Alien Corn series can offer fresh perspectives. Since 1990 he has been the staff artist for the Jerusalem Report, illustrated over one hundred books, and helped found the Israel Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy. This eclecticism, and especially the interest in science fiction is obvious in his work for The Alien Corn series, which renders all of its subjects in bright, almost neon, colors and in futuristic settings. In so doing, Katz defamiliarizes these figures, and allows students to approach them in a very different environment
For example, in Katz’s piece titled, Judah Meeteth Tamar by the Roadside,we see a bleak terrain with only two figures in the fore. One is wearing what appears to be armor from Old Spain, driving a vehicle that resembles a Land Speeder from Star Wars. This figure, who we know from the title is Judah, is leaning out of the right side of his craft, beckoning the other figure, Tamar, to enter. She is dressed in an outfit reminiscent of the 1980s TV show Miami Vice, with her bikini top, large sunglasses, and “pageant hair.” Her right hand is lifted, and she seems to be gesturing for Judah to come to her, as well. In the top right corner of the piece we see a short snippet—in both Hebrew and
English—from Gen 38, so that we can identify easily the scriptural context of the image, even without the accompanying title. Genesis 38 is notoriously difficult to understand, in terms of its place in the surrounding Joseph novella as well as the intentions and possibly scandalous behavior of Tamar. By placing this scene in such a novel context, Katz allows students to come to the story with fresh eyes. Students can ask questions about Tamar’s behavior and dress, as well as Judah’s role in the incident, so that new stock can be taken of thisnarrative.
An even more provocative rendering is Katz’s Samson and Delilah, in which we see the brief narrative of Judg 16 transplanted into a seedy-looking motel. Samson is completely naked on the bed, with a very satisfied look on his face. Delilah is wearing nothing but a negligée, and her position in the frame makes it obvious that she has just finished sexually gratifying Samson. As Samson rests, Delilah signals to a robot standing in the doorway to come in. The robot’s torso is shaped and colored like an old barbershop pole, with red and white swirls, so the viewer knows that Samson is about to be sheared. In depicting the scene in this fashion, Katz allows us to ask various questions: What is Delilah’s role? Does she cut Samson’s hair, or does someone else? In the Masoretic Text, it is clear that even though Delilah “calls to a man,” she is the one who does the cutting. However, in the Septuagint and Vulgate, this man is called a barber, and it is he who does the shaving, so the textual evidence is sketchy. Does Delilah seduce Samson? The Masoretic Text (Hebrew Bible) tells us, “She made (or let) him sleep on (or between) her knees,” but does not tell us anything about intercourse. In sum, by portraying Delilah in this way, Katz counters the biblical text, and students can be asked to compare and contrast the text and image, as well as be queried as to the history of interpretation of Delilah that may have influenced this depiction.
A final example will suffice. In his work The Angel Comforteth Hagar, Katz bucks the dominant depiction of Hagar in Western art by focusing not on Gen 21, but rather on Gen 16 in which a pregnant Hagar runs away from Sarah’s rather brutal treatment (16:6). His work depicts Hagar as a runaway, pregnant teen waiting at what appears to be a bus stop. Hagar has removed her roller skates, but looks extremely depressed as she sits on the bus bench, fountain drink in hand. Next to her sits what we presume to be the angel, but this angel looks more like a robot, or even a bit player from Tron, than the typical angel in Western art. Nevertheless, the angel puts its arm around Hagar in a show of comfort that contrasts with the command in 16:9 to return to Sarah so that she can abuse Hagar more. As such, Katz has provided ample material here for students to return to Gen 16 and 21 and ask newly formed questions about (1) Hagar’s status as an unwed, pregnant woman in the ancient world; (2) Sarah’s treatment of Hagar; and (3) the fate of this notable, yet often overlooked
character in the Torah.
In short, Katz’s series—which also depicts Esau as a red Wookie and Ruth as a sexually charged Vulcan—takes familiar biblical characters and resituates them in the far reaches of the galaxy. In so doing, students’ imaginations can be fired to (re)approach these figures from alternative vantages with innovative interrogations, so that their investigations into the biblical texts can be deeper and more rewarding.