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March 6, 2015 12:42 pm

The Story Behind Marble Moses in Netanyahu’s Speech

avatar by Anav Silverman / Tazpit News Agency

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Marble relief of Moses by artist Jean de Marco in U.S House of Representatives Chamber at the U.S. Capitol building.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referenced several cultural, political, and historical figures throughout his highly-anticipated speech to Congress on Tuesday March 3 – including Harry S. Truman, Queen Esther, Robert Frost, and Elie Wiesel – he concluded his historical address with the biblical figure of the prophet Moses.

The Israeli prime minister did not just mention Moses in passing, he also pointed to the image of Moses hanging over the gallery doors overlooking the lawmakers in the House of Representatives Chamber. Netanyahu spoke of the biblical leader, saying “Moses led our people from slavery to the gates of the Promised Land. And before the people of Israel entered the land of Israel, Moses gave us a message that has steeled our resolve for thousands of years.”

It was probably the first time that the marble relief portrait of Moses hanging in the House Chamber ever received such public acknowledgement.

The portrait, designed by artist Jean de Marco, is one 23 marble reliefs that depict historical figures noted for their work in establishing the principals that underlie American law, according to the Architect of the Capitol, a U.S. government website. The site is devoted to providing historic and current information about the function and architecture of the U.S. Capitol Building where Netanyahu gave his speech before a joint-session of Congress.

On either side of the portrait of Moses, there are 11 profiles in the eastern half of the chamber that face left and eleven in the western half that face right, so that all look toward the full-face relief of Moses in the center. He is described on the site as a Hebrew prophet and lawgiver, who transformed a wandering people into a nation and received the Ten Commandments.

The other profiles include writer of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the U.S., Thomas Jefferson; King of Babylonia, Hammurabi; Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Suleiman; Athenian statesman, Solon; Napoleon I, and Maimonides, among other significant leaders from different periods of history.

The images of Moses and other leaders of civilizations and societies have been hanging in the chamber for 65 years. Scholars from the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia Historical Society of Washington D.C. chose the subjects with the help of authoritative members of the Library of Congress six decades ago. A special committee of five Members of the House of Representatives and the Architect of the Capitol approved the selection, and the reliefs were installed when the House Chamber was remodeled from 1949-1950.

Prime Minister Netanyahu at the end of his speech quoted Moses from the Book of Deuteronomy, stating in Hebrew, “Be strong and resolute, neither fear nor dread them,” which were the leader’s parting words to the Israelites before they entered the land of Israel. For Netanyahu, they were words that highlighted the strength of friendship shared by the United States and Israel, two countries with a deep respect for the timeless road of history and the challenges along the way.

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  • Gerald Hill

    Julian, my prayer for you is that you will take an honest look at history and note that man-made religion is always where the problem lies. Where man pushes God out, he inserts himself as god. In this respect, isn’t atheism also a religion?
    History shows that God’s will prevails, even when we can’t understand it…always has, always will. I just hope you’re on the right side of eternity, when it’s all over for this world. It’s a choice…trust Jesus Christ and experience his promises, or decide not to and miss out on the hope of eternity. I didn’t say it…He did!
    His love DOES conquer all, including evil! Deep down, don’t you want to believe it?
    Remember…I’m praying for you, specifically that God will not let you rest until this one thing is settled in your heart!

  • Julian Clovelley

    With this constant ramming down peoples throats of mythology treated as history and fundamentalism is it any wonder that 58% of Jews in America are now marrying outside of their religion? (figures given since 2000 by Jeremy Kalmanofsky in JD Forward 23 March2015)

    I doubt if many are heading in the direction of Christianity, or if many of the “Gentile” spouses are heading for Judaism as genuine converts. although some may go through the motions

    I think it is more a sign that people of both faiths have decreasing regard for religion and the racial divisions it creates. I think they are right

    Love conquers all – including Fundamentalism. Like it or not secularism is the path of the future and in many ways the only home of rational faith. Zionism has besmirched Judaism to the point where it comes across as simply irrational.

    • BH in Iowa

      Go over to espn and complain about sports getting shoved down your throat. Or do you already?