Tag Archives: apocalyptic literature

More illustrations of apocalyptic imagery

We mentioned in earlier posts on apocalyptic literature that composite images were common among the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians. This was also true of the Hittites who lived in the upper Euphrates area. The Anatolian Civilization Museum at Ankara contains many of the reliefs from Carchemish on the Euphrates. The one below shows two human-headed sphinx standing. There is also a winged horse standing between them. They appear to be dancing.

Human-headed sphinxs standing; winged horse standing. Photo by F. Jenkins.

Human-headed sphinx standing; winged horse standing. Photo by F. Jenkins.

This drawing from the Museum may show the image more clearly. Notice the bird head on the tail of the sphinx on the right.

Drawing of the human-headed sphinx and standing horse.

Drawing of the human-headed sphinx and standing horse.

This one is of special interest. It shows a lion with wings and a human head.  The tail shows the head of a bird. There are four images in composite form. This basalt orthostat also comes from Carchemish.

Three-headed sphinx.

Three-headed sphinx.

Judeans who were taken captive to Babylon traveled in this region on their way to their place on the Chebar (Kebar) River in southern Mesopotamia. We know that Nebuchadnezzar made his headquarters at Riblah in the land of Hamath. Because this region was part of the Fertile Crescent we can be sure that the Judeans traveled in the area on their long trip from Judea to Babylon. See 2 Kings 25:6-7.

We are not saying that Ezekiel borrowed his composite creatures from the culture around him. We are saying that such was common and that it would not have been unusual or strange to Ezekiel or his hearers/readers.

Notice, again, Ezekiel’s description of the creatures he saw:

These are the living beings that I saw beneath the God of Israel by the river Chebar;  so I knew that they were cherubim.  Each one had four faces and each one four wings, and beneath their wings was the form of human hands.  As for the likeness of their faces, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the river Chebar. Each one went straight ahead. (Ezekiel 10:20-22 NASB)

For the images in the book of Daniel we could show numerous composite creatures from Babylon.

Apocalyptic imagery is not strange

Visits to the great museums of the world provide many illustrations that help us understand the background of biblical images. This is especially true when we think of the apocalyptic imagery in Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation. The Greek name of the Book of Revelation is apocalypsis. In the opening sentence of the book we are told that it is an apocalypse.

In two previous posts we have called attention to the cherubim of the Bible. In this post I want to further this discussion and call attention to the multi-headed creatures that we encounter in apocalyptic literature. In the great throne scene of Revelation 4 we see four living creatures.

The first living creature was like a lion, the second creature like an ox, the third creature had a face like a man’s, and the fourth creature looked like an eagle flying. Each one of the four living creatures had six wings and was full of eyes all around and inside. They never rest day or night, saying: “Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God, the All-Powerful, Who was and who is, and who is still to come!” (Revelation 4:7-8 NET)

In Ezekiel we see figures representing four living beings with human form. Each living being had four faces and four wings. Each face was of a different creature.

Their faces had this appearance: Each of the four had the face of a man, with the face of a lion on the right, the face of an ox on the left and also the face of an eagle. (Ezekiel 1:10 NET)

One notes immediately that in early Christian art the Four Evangelists (or we might say, the four writers of the gospels) were likened to the same creatures.

Andre Parrot, in Babylon and the Old Testament, calls attention to the imagery used in Ezekiel. He provides two drawings of images uncovered by the archaeological spade in Mesopotamia. One shows a two-faced image; the other a four-faced image.

Drawings from Parrot, Babylon and the Old Testament.

Drawings from Parrot, Babylon and the Old Testament.

The location of the images is not given. The four-faced image seems to be an image that is now on display at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. This is a museum you must not miss if you visit the Chicago area. Here is a nice photo made by David Padfield.

Four-faced image from Mesopotamia. Photo by David Padfield.

Four-faced image from Mesopotamia. Photo by David Padfield.

One notices immediately that these two-faced and four-faced images all have human heads. We need only turn to the sculpture of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia to find many composite creatures bearing features of four or more creatures. That will have to wait for another time.

In closing I must return to the title of this post. “Apocalyptic imagery is not strange.” That is, it was not strange to those to whom the apocalyptic books of the Bible are addressed. It may be strange to us at first glance, but that can easily change by investigating the culture in which these books were written and read.

More about the Cherubim

To the illustration from Byblos included with W. F. Albright’s article I would like to add a few photographic illustrations that might be helpful in understanding the concept of the Cherub as well as the general concept of composite beasts in the Apocalyptic books of Ezekiel, Daniel,  Zechariah, and Revelation.

Throne of King Idrimi of Alalakh. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Throne of King Idrimi of Alalakh. Photo by F. Jenkins.

The photo above shows the front of the Statue of King Idrimi of Alalakh, now displayed in the British Museum. An associated cuneiform inscription tells that this king, following a popular revolt, was forced into exile. He went first to Emar on the Euphrates, then to Canaan, where he joined other refugees from Syria and lived with the Hapiru. Seven years later he recaptured the district of Mukish and was acclaimed king of Alalakh.

King Idrimi of Alalakh. Photo by F. Jenkins.

King Idrimi of Alalakh. Photo by F. Jenkins.

The drawing on the left (above) shows the suggested reconstruction of the throne of King Idrimi of Alalakh (1570-1500 BC) . Alalakh is located in North Syria, near the Orontes River. Due to political changes, Alalakh, Tell Atshana [Açana], is now in southern Turkey. See The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology or The Biblical World for more information about the excavations at Alalakh.

This photo on the right (above) shows the right side of the statue as it is displayed in the British Museum.

Right side base of throne of the King of Alalakh.

Right side base of throne of the King of Alalakh.

The photo above shows the base of the right side of the statue. The front and hind feet of the “creature” upon which the throne stands are clearly visible.

Left side of the throne.

Left side of the throne.

The photo to the right shows the left side of the throne. The front and hind legs of the animal can be seen.

Recall these references from the Bible describing the LORD as riding on a cherub.

And He rode on a cherub and flew; And He appeared on the wings of the wind. (2 Samuel 22:11)

He rode upon a cherub and flew; And He sped upon the wings of the wind. (Psalm 18:10)

These are the living beings that I saw beneath the God of Israel by the river Chebar; so I knew that they were cherubim. (Ezekiel 10:20; see entire chapter)

We are saying that images such as the one discussed here provide an idea of the imagery involved in the biblical description of the cherubim.

Perhaps later we will be able to include some photos of representations of the cherubim upon the ark of the covenant.