“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the testmony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” (Exodus 34:29) This passage, set for today in the lectionary, had an unforseen impact on medieval art. I knew that the images that I’d seen in manuscripts of Moses with horns coming out of his head had something to do with a mistranslation, but it was only this morning that I finally found out what: ‘radiant’ in Hebrew is related to ‘horn’, and so we get those odd pictures.
I must check some medieval commentaries to see what they made of this – did it make Moses more special and honourable or a bit odd and cow-like?
The whole radiance thing reminded me of a story about Jacqueline du Pré, the great cellist. Moses got a radiant face after his encounter with God. But as a child, Jacqueline was once seen racing down a corridor, blonde hair flying, cello in hand, face alight and radiant. Someone asked her – have you just performed on stage? “No” she said, “I’m just about to.”