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The Mercy Seat. Mapping out a Multifaceted Iconography.
March 3, 2006 12:32 AM   Subscribe

The Mercy Seat. Described in the book of Exodus, the throne of mercy has quite a variety of meanings. Some contemporary Christians are interested in "reconstructing" an image based on Egyptian and Phoenician culture. In Judaism, the kisei rachamim is part of the narrative of Yom Kippur, as God moves from the seat of justice to the seat of compassion. In medieval Europe, and especially in Germany, the Gnadenstuhl was a perfect representation of the trinity, combining the cruxification, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit (usually a bird), into one image of mournful compassion. Nick Cave used the idea of the mercy seat as the frame for a song about murder, sin, capital punishment, and atonement/redemption, which was later covered by Johnny Cash (mp3 clip). The chair of mercy is even visually alluded to Jodorowsky's Montana Sacra, aka Holy Mountain. (Which have been inspired in part by the Ascended Masters of Mount Shasta, but that's technically another story - the bizarro California cultists story.)
posted by jann (25 comments total)

 
Sorry...what???

The perfect representation of The Trinity is some old dude on a throne, with a crucified midget-man between his knees, presumably His Tiny Son, The Saviour Of Mankind, with a bird jammed in at an angle into His Head?

I do not have the words to express how unbelievably fucked up that is.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:38 AM on March 3, 2006


"And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be. And you shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark; and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you."

Such detailed instructions. God sounds like a gay man speaking to his interior designer.

Nice post jann.
posted by three blind mice at 12:43 AM on March 3, 2006


Nick Cave's *The Mercy Seat* was written & recorded when he was in the midst of heroin addiction. I would argue that the song is about heroin more than anything else.

Into the mercy seat I climb
My head is shaved, my head is wired
And like a moth that tries
To enter the bright eye
I go shuffling out of life
Just to hide in death awhile

posted by UbuRoivas at 12:46 AM on March 3, 2006


Nick Cave neophytes say "WHAT?" Nice post jann.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:50 AM on March 3, 2006


will it freak you out less, if it's by Botticelli?

I agree, it's a strange image. But it was one of the main ways of depicting the concept of the trinity in the German world. If you do a google image search for "dreifaltigkeit" or "dreieinigkeit", you will find a mix of depictions, including among others the Gnadenstuhl as well as the disturbing triplicate Jesus face.

Honestly, I think the Gnadenstuhl is preferable to that.
posted by jann at 12:52 AM on March 3, 2006


Ps: that comment was in response to Jon Mitchell.
posted by jann at 12:53 AM on March 3, 2006


Great post. No mercy seat on Steven Spielberg's ark, though!
posted by Huw at 12:57 AM on March 3, 2006


Great, great post. So much there. Wow; Johnny Cash/Nick Cave, Egyptology, and The Sacred Mountain all in one post. I tip my hat to you, sir.

Can we talk about Jodorowsky just a bit? Maybe about the end of The Sacred Mountain, where

*SPOILER ALERT*

the cameras pull back, revealing the lighting, crew, and microphone booms, and the director comes out of character and addresses the audience directly? The movie as a whole seemed a bit ponderous to me (though the shit/gold scene was funny, at least), but that ending struck me as just a perfect metaphor for the artistic process...
posted by mr_roboto at 1:01 AM on March 3, 2006


Jon Mitchell writes "The perfect representation of The Trinity is some old dude on a throne, with a crucified midget-man between his knees, presumably His Tiny Son, The Saviour Of Mankind, with a bird jammed in at an angle into His Head?

"I do not have the words to express how unbelievably fucked up that is."



Take a look at this. I find it touching. Heartbreaking, even.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:03 AM on March 3, 2006


Nick Cave is good for this sort of thing. I'm trying to figure out how to work a mention of his song about Christina mirabilis into my medieval studies thesis ...
posted by bcveen at 1:13 AM on March 3, 2006


mr. roboto, re: Holy Mountain...

that movie is definitely extremely ponderous, but it pays you back in hilarity. I mean, "Rub your clitoris against the mountain! Give yourself to the WORLD!" almost became my personal tagline for awhile...

and man, it's rich in symbolism in the same way that an improvised childish "experiment" with condiments, liquids, ingredients, and a blender is rich in flavor.
posted by jann at 1:39 AM on March 3, 2006


oh I forgot: the throne of grace.
posted by jann at 2:02 AM on March 3, 2006


Riffing on "Mercy Seat", go!

"That's a funny thing to call your commode."
"That's all I need to complete the set, I already have the Wrath Dresser, the Jealousy Endtable and the Charity Bed."
"It's an ugly person's version of a love seat."

Hm, only three jokes before I ran out of steam, I'm slipping.
posted by JHarris at 2:12 AM on March 3, 2006


I would argue that the song is about heroin more than anything else.

That may well be the case, and it's certainly not an uncommon way of seeing that song, but "The Mercy Seat" was also written during Nick Cave's preparation for his role as a death row inmate in "Ghosts... of the Civil Dead". He was further developing a previously evident (see "Knockin' on Joe", on "The Firstborn is Dead" for example) interest in death row itself.
Oh, and William Blake has this to say:

Mutual Forgiveness of each vice,
Such are the Gates of Paradise,
Against the Accuser's chief desire,
Who walk'd among the stones of fire.
Jehovah's Finger wrote the Law;
Then wept; then rose in zeal and awe,
And the dead corpse, from Sinai's heat,
Buried beneath His Mercy-seat.
O Christians! Christians! tell me why
You rear it on your altars high?

posted by bunglin jones at 2:33 AM on March 3, 2006


A perfect post. Excellent!
posted by acrobat at 5:04 AM on March 3, 2006


Interesting post. Thanks.

When I hear talk of the trinity, recreating and rebuilding things mentioned in the old or new testament (temples, arks etc.) all I can think of is the theologian Rudolph Bultmann and his writings on demytholgizing the bible. In a similar vein, Thomas Jefferson decided to do a little editing of the bible to get to its essence without all the mythology. The result was the Jefferson Bible.
posted by bim at 5:36 AM on March 3, 2006


nice post, jann! I've always been a fan of the Ultra Vivid Scene song Mercy Seat (circa '88)

So bind me to the Mercy Seat
and heal me
I promise not to flinch
and ring that bell as loud as you please
it can only make me well
there's only one way
to bring a new day
help me to recall I'm just a man
and that's all I am
posted by shoepal at 6:30 AM on March 3, 2006


"The perfect representation of The Trinity is some old dude on a throne, with a crucified midget-man between his knees, presumably His Tiny Son, The Saviour Of Mankind, with a bird jammed in at an angle into His Head?

I do not have the words to express how unbelievably fucked up that is."


*facepalm*

Forget it, Donny, you're out of your element.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:10 AM on March 3, 2006


Damn, someone beat me to the UVS reference!
posted by kuperman at 8:52 AM on March 3, 2006


I adore posts such as these. thanks.
posted by vacapinta at 9:05 AM on March 3, 2006


I'm with Jon here. Taken as art it's lacking spirit. Taken as something spiritual it's lacking art.

What you've got there is three hopelessly cliche pieces of one god's posse pie depicting procedural sectarianism colored by the stained glass of faux mercy.

Really deep, yes, in the sense that the velvety gums of the Dionaea Muscipula may appear warm and inviting to a passing fly.

Disturbing to the undeluded.
posted by Emotive Adamantium at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2006


Here's another great collection of Gnadenstuhl depictions.

Emotive, I don't know what standards you are using, but I find the Gnadenstuhl to be a fairly powerful devotional image, along the lines of the Man of Sorrows and more interesting to me than the more modern things like the Immaculate Heart.
posted by jann at 9:41 AM on March 3, 2006


Dang, some of you have some real hang-ups. This thread is incredible. Thanks, linkers!
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:56 AM on March 3, 2006



I do not have the words to express how unbelievably fucked up that is.

That pretty much sums up the trinity doctrine for me. The sad thing is how many people think it is a scriptural teaching rather than what it is, a veiled attempt by the church of the third century to "christianize" earlier "extra-biblical" origins (some would insert the word "pagan") and thus broaden their appeal. See: http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/beliefs/trinity.htm

Nice post, by the way.
posted by spock at 10:15 AM on March 3, 2006


Cool post jann.
posted by bardic at 11:01 AM on March 3, 2006


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