The writing is on the wall

Rembrandt: Belshazzar's Feast (circa 1635-1638)

Rembrandt: Belshazzar’s Feast (circa 1635-1638)

“Belshazzar’s Feast is described in the Book of Daniel.” The Wikipedia article, Belshazzar’s Feast, gives only the barest outline of the story: “Babylonian king Belshazzar profanes the sacred vessels of the enslaved Israelites. As prophesied by the writing on the wall, and interpreted by Daniel, Belshazzar is killed and Darius the Mede succeeds to his kingdom.” But the article does include a comprehensive list of the many works of art and music which depict the story.

Wikipedia’s overarching article Belshazzar gives more detail, but you might also want to read Wikipedia: The writing on the wall, which explains that “As those at the feast profaned the sacred vessels pillaged from the Jerusalem Temple, a disembodied hand appeared and wrote on the palace wall the words, ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin’. The visionary Daniel was summoned and interpreted this message as the imminent end for the Babylonian kingdom.”

The Babylonian ruler (co-regent with Nabonidus, his father) is killed and his kingdom goes to Darius the Mede … and the Israelites remain in captivity. The Jewish Encyclopedia provides details of the sacrilegious ruler’s death.

The phrase, “the writing is on the wall” and its variants have passed into common usage – usually indicating awareness of some imminent and/or inevitable stroke of fate.

I find the Belshazzar’s Feast narrative interesting in terms of its structure. Would it occur to the wealthy – feasting in plush restaurants while their gated fortresses and garage doors are bombed by taggers – that they, like Belshazzar, are receiving messages from the Hand of God? Probably not. By the way, there is an interesting twist: it is the feast itself – and not the writing on the wall – which constitutes the act of desecration.

The images presented below were captured on 25 April 2014. Three shots of the same tag, they do not pretend to the divine; on the contrary, they endeavour to do nothing more than deconstruct an inter-textual artefact – emptying out the conflictual aspect of the tagger’s having defaced a wall previously painted to advertise and promote Orchestra Wellington and suggesting instead a new set of “artistic” values.

on the wall #01(25 April 2014)

on the wall #01 (25 April 2014)

on the wall #02 (25 April 2014)

on the wall #02 (25 April 2014)

on the wall #03 (25 April 2014)

on the wall #03 (25 April 2014)


2 thoughts on “The writing is on the wall

  1. My comment begins with my understanding of a traditional perspective of semitic religious thought. The narratives of semitic thought include the story of the Lord of the altars on the hills moving down to become the Lord of the one table/altar of the Temple of Jerusalem. Ultimately this one God is narrated also as the Lord of multiple and specific wars where a people sees themselves as becoming more free from their captors coming to serve this one God who becomes as a Lord of history. The writing on the wall, and its meaning, is his message. For the semitic mind it is for us who read it to seek how to understand that meaning.

    Now this can be turned on its head. Of course that is not really how it is, is it? We tell ourselves we seek, but really it is God who seeks us. Abraham Heschel wrote on this – God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism. Has change really happened? According to what we view as modern views of God, he/she is no longer the sole shaper of meaning; there is the new view: God who must be obeyed has shifted, lost that position of privilege. For this view, now God is literally one voice amongst many (our voices). The post-modern [viewpoint] privileges no-one, including the divine. The marks on a wall are to be read by he who reads; desecration is now to understand the text and pretend one does not know what is being said. God reads and never denies what is read.

    • You illuminate a pivotal point when you write: “desecration is now to understand the text and pretend one does not know what is being said.” Thanks for your remarks.

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