Visu­al Arts

The Brighton Beach Bible

Joel Sil­ver­stein

  • Review
By – March 4, 2024

Brighton Beach Bible gives bold mean­ing to the words we were all at Sinai.” In six­ty-four provoca­tive and wild­ly imag­i­na­tive paint­ings based loose­ly on bib­li­cal texts, Joel Sil­ver­stein — an artist with roots in sci­ence fic­tion, pop cul­ture, and fine art — brings all the strands of his art and per­son­al expe­ri­ence into the rev­e­la­tion at Sinai and how it has been passed from gen­er­a­tion to generation.

Silverstein’s fam­i­ly and friends are fea­tured in the Exo­dus sto­ry — the mod­el for Moses is a high school friend whose T‑shirt has Michelangelo’s Moses embla­zoned on it. The artist’s wife wit­ness­es the mir­a­cle of the snakes at a beach, the New York sky­line in the back­ground. Sil­ver­stein incor­po­rates the plagues, too: a mam­moth frog appears against the back­ground of the Coney Island Cyclone roller coast­er; an odal­isque in Abu Sim­bel is afflict­ed by boils; and a fierce fig­ure stands over a pile of bod­ies, rep­re­sent­ing the slay­ing of the firstborn.

The cov­er paint­ing, Brighton Exo­dus, com­bines a pro­fu­sion of ele­ments depict­ing themes from Silverstein’s life and art. In the fore­ground, there’s a crowd at the beach, and, slight­ly behind them, a gath­er­ing of Hasidic men, per­haps on their way to a wed­ding under the chup­pah in front of an Egypt­ian build­ing near the Cyclone. 

Sil­ver­stein con­tin­ues through the Bible, con­cen­trat­ing on the first five books and jux­ta­pos­ing styles inspired by com­ic books, Greek and Roman stat­ues, bib­li­cal and his­tor­i­cal fig­ures, and fam­i­ly mem­bers. Michelangelo’s Moses and Silverstein’s wife are both recur­ring fig­ures, under­scor­ing the cen­tral­i­ty of reli­gion and family.

Ori Soltes, a pro­fes­sor of civ­i­liza­tion at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty, pro­vides a lay­ered nar­ra­tion, explain­ing both the bib­li­cal text and the way Sil­ver­stein uses his art to explore and expand it. Both are vital for ful­ly under­stand­ing and appre­ci­at­ing Silverstein’s artis­tic autobiography.

Ambi­tious and auda­cious, Silverstein’s plunge into the waters of bib­li­cal com­men­tary is part of an ongo­ing Jew­ish tra­di­tion of inter­pre­ta­tion. He takes view­ers on a path-break­ing jour­ney through reli­gious art and Jew­ish com­men­tary — a jour­ney that may change the way we think about both.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions