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date: 26 September 2023

Nomadic Shelters, Mystical Staircases, and Cosmic Chambers in Iberoamerican Artlocked

Nomadic Shelters, Mystical Staircases, and Cosmic Chambers in Iberoamerican Artlocked

  • Barbara von BarghahnBarbara von BarghahnDepartment of Art History, George Washington University


When Jesus used the phrase “in my Father’s house” in speaking to Jews of future hospitality in paradise, he deliberately invoked a complicated expression, which suggested both a range of types of dwellings as well as an expansive notion of the familial. The domestic metaphor that Jesus invoked was so pregnant with meaning, in fact, that it continued to inspire artists and patrons—among others—many centuries later, and those subsequent Christian generations often imagined the biblical expression at least in part in terms of the contemporary houses and homes that they saw around them.

This article directs attention to some of the tension in that phrase from John 14:2, which reminded Jesus’ audience of Abraham’s history. In Genesis 12, God directed the patriarch to abandon his land, birthplace, and “father’s house” and go “to the land I will show you.” Note that Abraham refers, too, to God removing him from “my father’s house” when he spoke with the Gerarite king Abimelech in Genesis 20, and to his own servant Eliezer four chapters later. The Hebrew letter yud (“my”) suggests possession, while “father’s” (aba) implies the house belongs to another, and thus there is a dual tension hinting at the way that Abraham, in many ways, could have been a stranger in his own idol-worshiping father’s house.

Abraham renounced his paternal inheritance to chart his own monotheistic course, and, of course, the father to which he refers in each of those biblical passages is an earthly one. If anything, the Jewish patriarch could be said to be upgrading a pagan earthly father’s home for one associated with his heavenly “father,” who, incidentally, promises Abraham that he himself will in turn “father many nations” (Gen. 17:4).

Jesus, meanwhile, invokes his Father’s house as only a son could who is heir to, and implicated in, that same home, rather than fleeing it as Abraham did. To put it differently, Jesus reverses the direction of Abraham’s use of the term; where Abraham returns repeatedly to his exit from his father’s earthly house, Jesus invites his followers into his Father’s heavenly abode. As will be shown in the article, the range of homes that Jesus has in mind include several irregular, or at least impermanent, ones, which adds to the richness of the metaphor and its lesson.


  • Religion and Art

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