Shazam! Jewish Biblical Texts Transformed by the Power of Pictures, A Four-Part Lecture/ Workshop Series


Ben Schachter, Artist in Residence, Jewish Studies Program, University of Pittsburgh

Jewish tales are often imagined in words. Yet, stories become storyboards and books become comics. The purpose of this four-part lecture is to demonstrate how visual storytelling enriches our understanding of Jewish narratives and ideas. There is a commonly shared belief that there are "seventy faces of Torah," or, in other words, that there are many ways to interpret Jewish texts. This series of lectures will contribute to that idea by examining how visual storytelling can be and often is another form of interpretation. More specifically, we will see how elements of well-known and less well-known stories are maintained and adapted. We will read selections from comic books and graphic novels and see how these images compare to storyboards used in the pre-production of movies.


Bible Stories Then and Now

Thursday, February 18 @7:30 p.m.


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The first presentation focuses on narrative elements that are maintained in retelling. Focusing on the Exodus as it appears in comic books, illustrated educational texts, and film pre-production images, we will see how plot, character, and setting are maintained. Examples shared in this lecture include: The Ten Commandments (film, 1956), and Exodus: Gods and Kings (film, 2014). We will pay close attention to elements of the written text that remain in the final product.


Goshen in Goloshes: Biblical Adaptations

Thursday, March 4 @7:30 p.m.


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The second presentation focuses on the ways in which stories are changed in their retelling. This lecture examines stories such as Noah and the Ark and Abraham's early life. Examples will come from graphic novels and film adaptations. Examples include Titan A.E.(film, 2000), Young Abraham (film, 2011), and the graphic novel and film entitled Noah (2014). Adaptations can change the genre of the story and incorporate rabbinic interpretations, traditionally called midrash, that are not found in the biblical text.


Akhnai Pizza: A Tasty Talmudic Debate

Thursday, March 18 @7:30 p.m.


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The third presentation focuses on Jewish texts that are not commonly represented in comics and graphic novels. These include representations of Talmudic debates. Schachter will present how he wrote and produced Akhnai Pizza (2020), a comic book that sets a debate between rabbinic figures in modern day Pittsburgh. This work stays true to the narrative outline of the original story and highlights the emotional effects of interpersonal animosity.


In the World to Come: An Emerging Genre

Thursday, March 25 @7:30 p.m.


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In the fourth presentation, Schachter proposes the idea that a new genre of storytelling is emerging. Artists, illustrators, and designers use the methods and strategies of comics and graphic novels to retell biblical stories. Like previous visual stories, the new genre retells old stories in ways that captures the contemporary imagination. Yet, the new genre has one significant difference. Any changes to the original text are made transparent. How are innovation and tradition maintained together in the same illustration or publication? Come find out!