Detail of the San Vitale Abel and Melchizedech Mosaic: the burning bush

The two scenes here are taken from Exodus 3:1-5. In the lower scene a youthful Moses is tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro. Just a few hundred yards away in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia is a 5th-century mosaic of Christ the Good Shepherd that is strikingly similar. Both figures wear classical dalmatics and identical sandals, both are blond and youthful, and both are hand-feeding a lamb. Clearly, the present image is intended to emphasize the typology in which Moses prefigures Christ.

In the scene above, Moses has seen the burning bush, gone to see what it is, and God (the hand in the upper left) has told him to remove his sandals because the place is holy. The story continues in the corresponding panel on the facing wall, where Moses is commissioned to go to Egypt and lead his people to freedom.

This image is paired with a portrait of Isaiah on the right; together, they represent the Law and the Prophets – the Old Testament – while the New is represented by the evangelists Matthew and Mark above them.

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Photographed at the basilica by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.