Carve two tablets of stone like the first and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you shattered. (Exodus 34-1)
This mysterious painting has confounded Rembrandt scholars. There are those who contend that Moses is holding the tablets just prior to smashing them before the eyes of the nation. Others argue that Rembrandt has portrayed the second descent of Moses on his way to bring the new set of tablets to the children of Israel. The angle of the tablets might imply the former position. Moses was instructed to descend the mountain with the tablets and break them in full view. But consider the expression on Moses’ face. He does not appear enraged. His contemplative gaze would seem to imply that he is battle weary and lost in thought. It is far more likely that Moses is on his way down the mountain to deliver the second set of tablets to the people in accordance with the command of God- ‘Carve two tablets of stone like the first and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you shattered.’
Dr. Bryna Jocheved Levy
Photo courtesy of Gemaldeegalerie der Staatlichen Museen, Berlin.