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Capital letter M. Exodus 18:5

CAT 36  Capital letter M.  Exodus 18.5. Taferelen.  BA 46.jpg

CAT 35. Capital letter M. Printed as the first letter of Tableau 9 (from Exodus 18:5) in Taferelen der voornaamste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament. The Hague: Pieter de Hondt, 1728, 1:107. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

Exodus 18: “[5] And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God: [6] And he said unto Moses, I thy father-in-law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two sons with her. [7] And Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent. [8] And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done unto Pharoah and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the Lord delivered them. [9] And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.”

This engraving packs a lot of information within and beyond the large letter M, with the tents on the right and the mountains in the center framing the moving reunion in which Moses bends to embrace his father-in-law. Moses’s wife, the sons, and the ass are clearly depicted around the left side of the letter M. The fragment of Dutch text on the verso of this image includes the word “Amalek,” whom the Israelites had defeated in Exodus 17 (as illustrated by Hoet in the full-page illustration for this tableau).

Melville alludes to Jethro in his prose sketch “Rammon,” where he imagines the “magnificence and luxury” of the court of Jerusalem as having been introduced by “the son of Jethro the shepherd” (NN BBO 229).