Saturday, October 15, 2005

Riding Cherubim

"Hashem, Master of Legions, God of Israel, enthroned upon the Cherubim, it is you alone who is God." (Artscroll's Yom Kippur Machzor, Shomeah Tefillah prayer, page 107)

Artscroll has a little star next to this item and indicates that it means that God rests his Shechinah in between the Cherubim on the Ark. That's more or less in line with the Torah's general view on it as well. Alls well, but it could it mean something closer to this? Or this? Don't worry I'll explain later.

"He flies upon His Cherub, and responds to His intimate people." (Artscroll's Tom Kippur Machzor, Aider Y'kar Aili, page 383)

Rides on a cherub? Can this be taken literally? Well, surely not according to Artscroll which has another star by this verse, but could it be something like this? Or like this?

Also take note of verses in Tanach, like 2 Samuel 22:11 and Psalms 18:10 which go "And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind."

Sure that can also be taken non-literally, but do archeological discoveries suggest otherwise? See here for details.

Even without the oddities of Ezekiel's visions recorded in Ezekiel 10, the archeological evidence surely seems to indicate the the cherubim were not angelic childlike figures in Grecian style, but a more griffin-like figure with a fully animal body, walking on four animal legs, with bird-like wings and perhaps a human head.

Israelite culture and religion did not spring from a vacuum. Its predecessors and contemporaries in Egypt, Phoenicia, Canaan, and Assyria likely had a great degree of influence. Certainly the traditional childlike form is suspicious because remarkably no memory whatsoever in post-Biblical Jewish history is there of what the cherubim looked like.

14 comments:

Prince Imrahil said...

What is with this speculative nonsense?
Someone proposes a theory thousands of years later to explain phenomena that have not been observed in a millenia and we're interested? The very conception of the Cheruvim by the nation was obscure and esoteric. Those that had first-hand knowledge of it (Anshei Keneset Hagadol) barely mention it and this writer captures the essence of it?

What we know of the Keruvim is actually reflected in our knowledge of the golden calf. Remember that the calf was by itself, singular - male, young, with wide eyes, and built from timeless gold. The Keruvim were two - young also, but facing each-other and in embrace. The fault of the calf was that it was self-involved. A worship of potential for its own sake, a purely male preoccupation with youth, beauty, and desire. The Keruvim are understood by the deeper sources to be a rectification of that. Male and female, in relationship to each other.

The crass cross-referencing of Isrealite history with their pagan neighbors is quite a hapless exercise (trust me, I've suffered through it). For sure there are parallels in some instances with ancient mythical atories. No doubt. But the Torah is so absolutely unique in its presentation and material that it has driven scholars mad - trying to interpret the origins of it. Don't forget - the Torah has words of condemnation for the very mouthpiece it relies on - Moses! Unbelievable!

Prince Imrahil said...

What is with this speculative nonsense?
Someone proposes a theory thousands of years later to explain phenomena that have not been observed in a millenia and we're interested? The very conception of the Cheruvim by the nation was obscure and esoteric. Those that had first-hand knowledge of it (Anshei Keneset Hagadol) barely mention it and this writer captures the essence of it?

What we know of the Keruvim is actually reflected in our knowledge of the golden calf. Remember that the calf was by itself, singular - male, young, with wide eyes, and built from timeless gold. The Keruvim were two - young also, but facing each-other and in embrace. The fault of the calf was that it was self-involved. A worship of potential for its own sake, a purely male preoccupation with youth, beauty, and desire. The Keruvim are understood by the deeper sources to be a rectification of that. Male and female, in relationship to each other.

The crass cross-referencing of Isrealite history with their pagan neighbors is quite a hapless exercise (trust me, I've suffered through it). For sure there are parallels in some instances with ancient mythical atories. No doubt. But the Torah is so absolutely unique in its presentation and material that it has driven scholars mad - trying to interpret the origins of it. Don't forget - the Torah has words of condemnation for the very mouthpiece it relies on - Moses! Unbelievable!

Orthoprax said...

Prince,

I don't know if this writer is on the ball, but it sounds possible and is worth considering.

And I actually consider more likely than your semi-mystical approach.

The Torah may be unique - but I would also love to be able to see some of the religious writings of the Canaanites, if they had them, and compare.

Prince Imrahil said...

Orthoprax,
Lets see what we could make of Ezekial's vision of a flying chariot with rotating wheels and shifting faces based on the reconstructed (being generous) history of Canaanite forms of locomotion and hallucinogenic, visionary literature . Silly.
I agree, it is interesting to contrast and compare the Torah's typology and phraseology to its neighbors, particularly against the social and religious backdrop from which it surfaced. But I think we should be prudent and naturally skeptical in our stance; in evaluating the scholastic reductionist approaches to historical phenomenon that are most definitely mysterious. These approaches, if you allow me a broad sweep, are certainly not free from historically biased conjecture and tendencies to over-reduce to the point of inanity. Please, I allow you more purposive mysteriousness and thoughtfulness in your blog-entries than they would in the Bible & Midrash!
What your calling semi-mystical. I don't know what it matters what someone thinks is a more likely scenario. Based on what? Is there a consistency and gracefulness to these interrelated concepts within the framework of historical Torah or does it come across as haphazard and slipshod, an obvious hoisting of various religious imagery and concepts from the surrounding culture? I submit that if anyone has seriously studied the corpus of Torah literature and other religious and spiritualistic bodies of knowledge, he can't help but marvel at the structuration of Torah concepts and elegant interweaving of linguistic motifs and locutions all across its complex development. Are there peculiarities? For sure - we should explore them with the same evenhanded poise we devote to all research.

I find the same problem in modern biblical criticism. The fact that within Jewish (and non-Jewish) literature there has been considerable research and analysis of some of the catch-phrases that scholars pontificate upon is of no consequence to them - and that amazes me. I have no truck either way - I just would appreciate if the 'outside' theories took into account what the internal sources have explored for millenia instead of sweeping it under the rug of religious apologetics when its nothing of the sort - if they actually read them.

Seems this topic is only of interest to theoreticians like you & me...

Anonymous said...

Biblical Criticism relies on texts (parts of the Bible) that it claims are the originals and yet have never been seen E, P, etc. and when something doesn't fit in they then change these texts to force fit them. They also misinterpret the literal meaning of the Bible many times. They have also been guilty of distorting Israelite history for political agenda. Certain things about the surrounding culture are also known only from the Bible like human sacrifice amongst the Canaanites. It doesn't occur to the Bible critics that they can learn about the surrounding cultures from the Bible. Realistic descriptions are ignored despite the absence of a mythical quality to them. Myths as stories have points to them. Prosaic description do not always have a point within the story. Israelite religion is presented in evolutionary terms that are highly dubious requiring taking out of context words and ignoring that it is contradicted by the fact that the Bible puts beliefs in eras in which according to the evolutionary theory they shouldn't fit for instance in the Psalms recited in the Hallel prayers saying that the idols have ears but don't hear, eyes but don't see etc. The fact that books are added to even from the testimony of the Bible is being ignored but is demonstrated from for instance by the quote about the long day in the book of Joshua from a book that is quoted elsewhere in the Bible and so don't fit the idea that any seemingly later quote indicates the origin of a book completely from that time.
Yisrael Asper
yisraelasper@yahoo.com

Orthoprax said...

Yisrael,

Granted, there are often times when Documentary theoriests overplay their hands and make sweeping conclusions and wild suppositions for which they have nothing to show for.

However, the fact remains that when obvious and basic contradictions are found in the text or when stories are found repeated, but with a twist, or when different focuses in a narrative switch back and forth at irregular intervals, it is not a huge jump to consider the likelihood that the author or redactor had been relying on contradictory storylines or texts from which the whole arose.

This type of thinking is hardly unique to Biblical scholarship for there are similar claims, with somewhat convincing evidence, for works like the Gilgamesh Epic as well, for example. And since it is unlikely that these texts were written through completely different means, it stands to reason that works for one ought to work for the other.

Prince Imrahil said...

Orthroprax,
What is wrong with contradictions, life is filled with them.
Take the 'two' Creation stories. They are so obviously different that they Must mean different things. To suppose that a mysterious editor had no mind to try and merge two contradictory stories in order to pass them off as one coherent narative is ludicrous. If I give a speech and make reference to a particular theory in three or four different ways, are you going to assume that I'm patching together different accounts of this theory or that I must mean something subtly different each time I reference the theory in a particular way? The point is that Biblical critics have already assumed that the Old Testament is nonsense so their assumptions are biased to explain nonsense instead.
Presumably, people that accept these crackpot theories haven't really learned Torah (don't take this as an insult, its a challenge). If someone has learned Torah and studied it extensively and comprehensively, there is no way not to be blown away by the two different names of God in each Creation story. It is simply astounding.
How could someone put together or edit the Five books of Moses without mentioning Jerusalem! Incomprehensible!

Orthoprax said...

Prince,

When I referred to contradictions I was not referring to large scale different versions of heavy metaphor, but of clear inconsistencies of characters and events who did what and when and why. Hard to explain with a single author (much less a divine one) or a single tradition, much easier to explain by supposing competing traditions.

In any case, I think you are severely shortchanging the general hypothesis as I am fairly certain that there are scholars who do study in this way and do not think the Bible to be nonsense.

"How could someone put together or edit the Five books of Moses without mentioning Jerusalem! Incomprehensible!"

Jerusalem only becomes really important after the time of David and the rise of the first Temple. So if it didn't exist at the time the stories were supposed to be taking place, it wouldn't make sense to include it. And although it is not mentioned by that name, it is likely referred to as Salem earlier on. Either way though, I don't think you can base any conclusions on its absence.

Prince Imrahil said...

Orthropax,
I obviously wasn't basing any conclusions on the glaring omission of Jerusalem proper in the Chumash. I was just pointing out a peculiar thing. And seriously, if some master editor at the time of Ezra or later (that is being generous) compiled these disparate traditions why would he not enshrine Jerusalem as the captital, especially being that there was a long-standing battle for the heart of Jerusalem and the nation by the two kingdoms. It is nigh inconceivable that some mysterious group of priests chose not to write about Jerusalem and instead refer to the 'place I will choose'.

You must understand, there is no 'general hypothesis'. The work of Biblical Criticism hasn't changed an iota. It, along with post-modern revisionist histories and archeology (I assume your familiar) endeavor to discredit and delegitimize the history and culture of the Jews (and accredit and applaud Palestenian history).

Friend, there is no ancient religious document whatsoever that does not mention at all the hereafter, the next world, heaven whatever you want to call it. That unique approach is so crucial to the Torah that to sweep it away unawares is a grand mistake.

Orthoprax said...

Prince,

"It is nigh inconceivable that some mysterious group of priests chose not to write about Jerusalem and instead refer to the 'place I will choose'."

Unless it was well known that Jerusalem was not the first place where the ark rested. Though, yes, you do raise a valid point.

"You must understand, there is no 'general hypothesis'. The work of Biblical Criticism hasn't changed an iota."

I disagree. Earlier criticism dealt more with imagined specific texts which were copied from judiciously one verse at a time in a patchwork manner. More modern work has shown that that kind of behavior is unlikely and general analyzation of the the text has shown a more unitary composition in style and direction.

Modern Biblical Criticism is more into the understanding of different traditions of stories and views that may not have ever actually been written down and were later compiled and unified into a single document which was then, perhaps, edited or added to further down the line.

"Friend, there is no ancient religious document whatsoever that does not mention at all the hereafter, the next world, heaven whatever you want to call it."

The Torah does imply something of it, "gathered to his ancestors." And I'm not sure that no ancient religious document is not similar in that way. I don't know much ancient religious literature that well.

Prince Imrahil said...

Orthoprax,
Trust me there isn't. Have you opened up the New Testament lately? Or the Koran? Or the Bahgavadgita?
Ve'Asaf Le'Amav - gathered to ancestors - is an allusion, correct. But no explicit mention whatsoever. The covenant has nothing to do with heaven, hell, or in-between. Btw, you know today is Chag Ha'Asif - gathering day, mortality day. Can you find the connection?

Orthoprax said...

Prince,

"Trust me there isn't. Have you opened up the New Testament lately? Or the Koran? Or the Bahgavadgita?"

The NT and Koran hardly count as ancient religious texts. The Bhagavad Gita, I am not intimately familiar with. But what of the Vedas or Avesta or Upanishads or Tao-te-ching or Purvas or The Analects? I certainly haven't scanned them all.

"Btw, you know today is Chag Ha'Asif - gathering day, mortality day. Can you find the connection?"

Not just today, Succos in general. It's the harvest season.

Anonymous said...

the rectification of the shattered vessels and the healing of the world requires each human being to become rectifed...be childlike and have the development of the female and male aspects of the personality, the balance of the left and right brain, a complete human being......after repentance, pure like a child, with both the courage of a strong male and the empathy of a strong female...

Anonymous said...

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