Saturday, August 20, 2005

Identified Implying Object

` In July 28's eSkeptic (which I just now have gotten to) Tim Callahan writes about a NASA rocket engineer's idea about a bible passage in his article, The Spaceships of Ezekiel.
`
I myself am somewhat familiar with this interpretation: Years ago, the Discovery Channel had a show promoting the idea that Ezekiel saw an alien spacecraft.
` And yet, in the said passage, you find only the type of vision you'd expect an ancient Near-Easterner to have; there's nothing unusual about it at all.
` Here's the first part
:

` As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness round about it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming bronze.
` And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance: they had the form of men, but each had four faces, and each had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze.
` Under the wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another; they went straightforward, without turning as they went.

` As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man in front; the four had the face of a lion on the right side, the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and the four had the face of an eagle at the back. Such were their faces.
` And their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. And each went straightforward; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.
` In the midst of the living creatures was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro, like a flash of lightning. And the living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning.

` This is pretty typical of the things normally described in holy visions in his time and place - which frankly, fascinates me - though much of it may escape the casual reader.
` For example, zaphon, which is the word translated as 'north', also means 'hidden' or 'dark'. It's associated with the northern direction because the people at that time saw it as the direction of 'barbarians' - like the Cimmerians and Scythians - which were nomads who sometimes attacked civilizations.
` And so, for one, the cloud is meant to be mysterious and ominous. But also, Mount Zaphon is the home of the Canaanite gods, where the patriarch, El, merged with Yahweh and is referred to in the bible as Elohim or Yahweh Elohim, which is translated into English as 'The Lord God'.
` El's wife, Ashera was also co-opted into Yahweh, the images of which the strict Yahwist kings like Hezekiah and Josiah were removing from temples. (Kings 18:4 and 23:6.)
` It's no surprise that at that time, Yahweh's loyal worshippers would perceive Him as taking over Zaphon, the sacred mountain of the Canaanite gods. And so, this cloud in the vision would have not only been seen as a portent, but also holy.

` As for the creatures, they seem to be like men with two sets of wings, four faces, and calf's feet. This is precisely the type of thing you would expect from the mythology of the near east at that time.
` For one thing, depicting supernatural beings with four wings was commonplace, and the way the wings touched one another is very much like the cherubim in Kings 6:27 and 28, which Solomon overlaid with gold.

` The faces of the creatures are typical of those seen in cherubim - lions, bulls and eagles were a common theme. However, they were not always depicted the same way. Commonly, they were seen as having a man's head and a lion's or bull's body - or perhaps a combination of both - with the wings of an eagle on its back.
` This is because the eagle, lion and bull are the most important and foremost of birds, wild beasts, and domestic beasts. And when the images of such impressive animals are coupled with a human's head - or at least a human's face - they are seen as having human intelligence and therefore godlike powers.
` In fact, the word 'cherub' is translated from krubh, which is related to the Akkadian word karibu, for a divine messenger. This is why scriptures written in Greek use the word angelos, which means 'messenger'.

` In other words, Ezekiel is quite obviously describing angels in a way that had been completely ordinary; gleaming, living beings with human faces, eagle wings, and hooved feet.
` I take it they weren't consistently depicted in any one way because the symbology of human/bull/lion/eagle features combined was apparently more important than their exact appearance.

` Though angels are usually described as looking like human beings in this culture, you will notice that they still often retain their eagle wings.
` (I'm not sure, but some revamping Middle Ages may have been what changed angels from beast-like to human-like, while demons were often seen as the hooved, winged ones.)

` Now, the aforementioned engineer fellow, one Josef Blumrich, may have been accomplished in rocket science, but he actually didn't understand things Ancient Babylonian! If he'd been a biblical scholar, he wouldn't have thought it sounded the least bit unusual, and so wouldn't have even wondered if it could have been a spaceship in the first place!
` Instead, Blumrich took this vision at face value and interpreted it literally, thinking that Ezekiel must have seen an alien spacecraft and just wasn't very good at describing it.


` I suppose I could forgive him for thinking that this is some kind of mechanical vehicle, as it would appear that it had 'wheels' - though the word looks - to me, anyway - to be some kind of metaphor (as when we say 'cheese wheel') in this strange symbolism:

` Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them.
` As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction; their appearance was like the gleaming of chrysolite; and the four had the same likeness, their construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel.
` When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. The four wheels rims were so high that they were dreadful and their rims were full of eyes round about. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose.
` Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.


` Transparent, greenish-yellow wheels within wheels - or more accurately translated, wheels in the center of wheels, with eyes on their rims, are what is being described here.
` Of course, when you interpret this through a funhouse mirror, you get different results: Erich von Daniken, that wacky
Chariots of the Gods guy, said that; "what he saw was one of those special vehicles the Americans use in the desert and swampy terrain.”
` It should be noted that wheels that looked like they had wheels in the middle of them - rather than ones with spokes - were the kind put on temple carts. So these things are described as looking like the holy cart-wheels, except made of greenish crystal! They also had eyes, meaning... what? They were meant to be all-seeing, jewel-like holy cart-wheels?
` Something like that! Anyway, this is undoubtedly meant to be temple imagery.

` Depending on the translation of the bible you're looking at, they looked like they were made of chrysolite - which is the yellow-green type of olivine - or beryl - which comes in different colors inculding yellowish-green. The actual Hebrew word used is tarshiysh, which can also mean topaz, or any other exotic gemstone.

` There is also a city in Spain called Tarshish, which symbolically stood for the western end of the earth. Perhaps the word symbolizes a gem from a faraway place?
` Whatever the heck it meant, this doesn't sound at all like it could be part of a spacecraft - transparent, yellowish wheels that follow flying, bull-lion-eagle-humans that Ezekial recognized as angels? (Later on, he does identify them as such!)

` Anyway, there is also the matter of the cherubim (angel)'s feet. Depending on the way you translate the word for their feet - egal - it could mean a bull's or male calf's feet, but it also means round. It's been suggested by some 'UFO nuts' - like our engineer friend - that they could be described as round because they were actually column-shaped.
` If this was the case, then what about the wings - could they be like airplane wings? The word is translated from the word kanaph, which can mean specifically a bird's wing, an edge, or a flap of clothing, so this would seem to be inconclusive.
` I think he would have had his answer if he'd just looked ahead, in Ezekiel 10, there is another vision that is very similar to this one! This time, however, it explicitly says that the beings are cherubim, and that these were actually the 'living creatures' which Ezekial had seen in this vision!

` Going further on, it is important to note that the arm rests of Phonecian kings' thrones were often in the shape of cherubim, much in the way that God (Yahweh) was depicted above a firmament (which was the dome that the sun, stars and moon were thought to slide across) - over the 'living creatures' in the last part of Ezekial's vision:

` Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament, shining like crystal, spread out above their heads. And under the firmament their wings were stretched out straight, one toward another; and each creature had two wings covering its body.
` And when they went, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of many waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of a host; when they stood still, they let down their wings. And there came a voice from above the firmament over their heads; when they stood still they let down their wings.

` And above the firmament over their heads there was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and seated above the likeness of a throne was a likeness as it were of a human form.
` And upward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as were gleaming bronze, like the appearance of fire enclosed round about; and downward from what had the appearance of his loins I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was a brightness round about him. Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about.

` Such was the appearance of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face and I heard the voice of one speaking.

` Oh, it was only God (after all!) who says; "Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak to you." Oh, that God, He always called Ezekial 'son of man' (ben adam), though I've always thought of him as 'Ol' Zeke' myself.
` Really, there's no mistaking that this passage was meant to describe one of many typical visions of
God Himself sitting on a contraption made of symbols from Ezekiel's culture.

` The bottom line is, all of the contents of this vision would have been entirely familiar to Ol' Zeke's peers in exiled Babylon. Sure, it may seem strange to most of us, now, but that's because we didn't grow up alongside him!
` Ignorance, then, is what makes it possible for people like Josef Blumrich - and the Chariots of the Gods guy, von Daniken - to make their flying-saucer assumptions about such depictions.
` It's also the reason why so many people believe them!

` This mass-ignorance also explains how we can have TV shows like one I once saw in which von Daniken was freely misinterpreting an ancient Mayan bas relief: He was saying that the king's (perfectly normal-looking) ceremonial headgear was clearly a head-mounted breathing apparatus, and that the maize at the bottom was supposed to be fire from a rocket engine, etc.

` Frankly, I find other cultures - ancient and modern - to be utterly fascinating, since not all of them are very similar to the one I live in! It escapes me how some people would even want to make inferences like that without first trying to understand what they're seeing!
` It happens all the time, but you just can't do that! Alien spaceships, indeed.
` Maybe it has something to do with the fact that some people only have eyes for aliens and whatnot; they're so obsessed that they don't want to think of anything else.

` Anyhow, in closing, this is what my character 'Waldo the Wise' might say as a word of advice:

` "Sorry, reality doesn't work that way. The plain and simple fact is; symbols of other cultures don't revolve around you! Your cultural familiarities were not what was in mind when they were created!"

` I like Mr. Waldo, when he's not being controlled by... alien-thingies... which I can tell you are perfectly fictional, in any case, and have nothing to do with anyone's preconceptions of what otherwordly beings might be like.
` That said, I'm going to get some sleep.

4 comments:

Galtron said...

Way to go, S E E Quine! I have no real comment of my own to leave, so I will post someone else's instead... a guy named Xeno on Best and Worst wrote:
"The worst I can recall reading is Chariots of the Gods by Erich Von Daniken. I was a gullible little kid and fascinated with the UFO phenomenon and thought this piece of trash was good at the time but soon realized it was just a bunch of bunk."

S E E Quine said...

Um, thanks!

Beth said...

S E E Quine,

Hey! Nice critique! Isn't it amazing how people today can take an ancient idea (or any idea for that matter!) and twist it and spin it until it has been morphed into so many different things that it is hard to tell what the writer's original intention was? And, I might add, the Bible has been common fodder for this tomfoolery for centuries! I have often wondered what the biblical writers would think if they knew what had happened with their writings over the centuries... hmmm...

Keep at it!
Beth

S E E Quine said...

` Wow! Thanks! :) I think it's cool that you have a whole website about biblical wordplay, etc. I'll definitely be reading it.
` You know, makes me think of what people in ages to come will think of my work, as weird as it is.

*Suddenly has to do something, comes back later.*

` Oh! I meant to post this.