Unique in Rubin's oeuvre,
and an important milestone in his early career, is the painting By
the Rivers of Babylon. It was painted in 1914 in Paris, where Rubin
arrived after completing a year of studies at the Bezalel School in Jerusalem.
This is his first allegorical work; its theme – the lamentation over the
destruction of the Temple – was popular among Jewish artists. The painting,
representing the life cycle, is in fact a kind of mise en abyme of the
central themes that would later preoccupy the artist: the elderly man,
recalling Rubin's prophet figures, would become a major motif in his pre-Palestine paintings; the suntanned, muscular man would later appear as
the robust pioneer figure in his Land of Israel works; and the mother-and-child
couple would figure prominently in The Madonna of the Vagabonds (1922)
and in many Land of Israel paintings. The boy on the left – a David-like
youth – symbolizes the triumph over despair and the possibility of salvation,
which Rubin still sought in the Orient: the camel in the painting seems
headed in the direction of Palestine.