Book of the Week

This week, in honor of the Jewish High Holidays, and the beginning of the year 5783, the book we have chosen is Ben Shahn’s The Alphabet of Creation. Here, Shahn retells and illustrates a legend from the Sefer Ha-Zohar, a mystical text written in medieval Spain, that relates how each letter of the Hebrew alphabet vied to be the one through which God creates the world. Each letter presents an argument, only to be rejected for one reason or another. Only Aleph does not argue her case and is thus rewarded with a place of primacy.

The book was originally published in 1954. The copy shown here is a facsimile published in 1982, which is part of the MTSU Art and Design Historical and Teaching Collections.

Cover of the 1982 facsimile publication.
Detail of cover of the 1982 facsimile publication.

The cover illustration, with its arrangement of Hebrew letters, became an important image for Shahn, who often used it as a kind of printer’s mark, above his signature.

Later use of the image on a print from 1965.
Title page of the 1982 publication.

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