The Extraordinary Work of Balage Baloge
by James Tabor
I wanted to highlight for all my readers the extraordinary artistic work of Balage Baloge and in particular his contributions to our visualization of the ancient Roman World of Jesus and early Christianity. He specializes in paintings and murals. I first encountered his work in the wonderful volume by John Crossan and Jonathan Reed, Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts. There one finds dozens of his striking color reconstructions of ancient scenes and cities such as Caesarea, Tiberius, Jerusalem, Capernaum, and Nazareth. I found his work meticulously accurate in terms of our historical texts and our archaeological sources, while at the same time breathtakingly beautiful in layout, composition, and imagination. The Crossan/Reed book is worth the dime on its own right, but Baloge’s paintings alone justify getting a copy.
Balage Baloge was born in Budapest, Hungary where he studied at the Institute of Fine Arts and at the Academy of Fine Arts. He immigrated to the United States in 1989 and lives in Baltimore. Although his artistic work is wide ranging, he has become especially fascinated with ancient history, the Bible and archaeology. He lived in Israel for a number of years and began working with archaeologists and scholars to recreate the ancient past. In addition to The Jesus Dynasty and Excavating Jesus he has done illustrations for The World of the Old Testament, The World of the New Testament, and A Guide to Jerusalem. His paintings have been displayed at the Israel Museum and several are owned by the Albright Institute and Hebrew University.
Back in 2004 when I was writing The Jesus Dynasty I contacted Balage and asked him if I could commission him to do seven special color paintings for me, specifically designed to illustrate aspects of the book that I wanted to include: Sepphoris as viewed from Nazareth; Aerial Shot of Herod’s Sepphoris; Herod’s Jerusalem looking East to the Mt of Olives showing the Herodian Palace Grounds; The “Jesus Hideout” in Jordan at Wadi el-Yabis; Jesus Before Caiaphus in the Priestly Mansion in the Jewish Quarter; Jesus Before Pilate’s Judgment Seat at the Praetorium; and finally, Jesus Crucified on the Mt of Olives. The three here highlighted relate to my own interpretations of events in the life of Jesus about which I have written on this blog.
All of the illustrations Balage did for me were amazing, really breathtaking. Unfortunately, due to printing costs, only two appeared in color in the original hardcover edition, as part of the front and back end papers inside the cover, and the rest were B&W and rather small on the page, in the text of the book itself. In the paperback all are B&W, and also rather small. If we ever publish a “Deluxe Illustrated” edition of The Jesus Dynasty, they will surely be included in full color plates.
You can happily browse his web site here and see a full range of his work related to the Bible and Archaeology, including the paintings I commissioned in full-color. Beyond his work on Biblical themes Balage has turned his considerable talent to a variety of other themes. His more general web site, now under construction, is here. It is clear he does not always have his head stuck in a Bible. His politically oriented VIP murals hanging in the high-end eatery Sax in Washington, D.C. were controversial enough to cause a bit of a stir on the local scene and have now been toned down a bit. You can follow the story here. Here he describes his artistic vision in his own very moving words:
My principal artistic direction is towards representing the Spiritual and the Nostalgic as it is lived and as I see it in the variegated forms of human experience. History provides the context, my encounters with its footprints call out the form. To be perceived is the potent force generated by the individual’s aspiration to the highest or simply the holiness of mundane existence. Journeying around the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Asia one is saturated with feelings and visions of the Timeless Drama where myths still have a tangible vibrancy. I am inspired to convey an experience of musical quality emanating from these stopping points and from these actors of the eternal tale that radiate the ambiance of the Ancient and the beauty of Today. Some of these images are nothing but an afterthought for a reality that is no more. The collection of oil paintings now for display seeks to embody these impressions and encounters that strike the senses with an archaic quiet unexpectedly evoking regressive memories in many a viewer. Magic may lie in the experience of being transported to a world where antiquity and the present live on in a timeless continuum. That is, indeed, what I wish to share.
Flash update: I would dearly like to commission Balage to do a series of color paintings based on the two Talpiot “Jesus” tombs that would recreate vividly Jewish burial in such cave tombs, and specifically the the burial of Jesus and his family as well as the hopes of his followers expressed symbolically in Patio tomb, see The Jesus Discovery book. Right now I can’t afford it but I am hoping it can happen in the future. I believe it would be one of the most powerful and incredible sequences ever done related to the archaeology of Jesus and his times.