Blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh

Marc Chagall, Blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh, 1931. Gouache and oil on paper, Musée national Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, France.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985) was born to a devout Jewish family in Russia. In the 1930s Chagall traveled to Palestine, where he immersed himself in Jewish history. During this period he produced many of his most influential religious works, including this one. Chagall’s narrative depiction shows Joseph standing, eyes closed, with a hand covering his face in frustration. His father Jacob, in white robes, is blessing Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph wished for Jacob to bless his oldest son Manasseh with his right hand, denoting the blessing of the firstborn, but Jacob switches hands and gives the blessing to Ephraim, the younger son. The swirling clouds in the background seem to mirror Joseph’s frustration with the mix-up. According to the Hebrew Bible, Ephraim and Manasseh would later form two of the twelve tribes of Israel.  

Marc Chagall, Blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh. Gouache and oil on paper, 1931. Musée national Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, France.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

(tribe, not king) One of the "Joseph tribes" of the northern kingdom of Israel, the other being Ephraim. All the other tribes are named after the sons of Jacob, but Ephraim and Manasseh, geographically the largest of the tribes, are named after his grandsons, the two sons of Joseph.

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

Another name often used for the area of Israel and Judah, derived from the Latin term for the Roman province of Palaestina; ultimately, the name derives from the name of the Philistine people.

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