medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
I'm up to my ears in alligators that accumulated by taking time for this
thread, but my goodness, I have to send this. I do try, but still manage
to miss here and there to explicitly state something that to me is obvious:
it's the "doesn't everybody know that" syndrome. I should have caught it
after the misunderstanding. Talk about being at cross-purposes! In spite
of all my examples being illustrations of it, failure to explicitly state
the following registered on me only yesterday. Please accept my apologies.
To sum up:
As in the Semitic tradition, all early Christian use of the shape of the law
is on a *flat* background: drawn on codices and MSS, inscribed on funerary
markers cut to the right shape, etc. Even the front of a tunnel church is a
flat surface. (It is hard to think of more concrete evidence of where from,
why, and how the shape came into Christian use than the tunnel church.) Every
architectural use of the shape is merely flat outline in frontal view. All of
them, including the Gothic example of the soaring narrow windows topped by
the Semitic arch at Amiens, the colonnade on the Basilica, the statuary niches,
and the painted arches mentioned by Christopher Crockett are flat when viewed
from the front.
If anybody wants to separate Greco-Roman influences from the Semitic in the
Christian world in this respect, it is very easy to do.* Just be sure that
the item under examination is not post mid-14th to 15th century on the
Continent (depending on where) or post mid-17th century in England when the
symbolism was lost and it became this is the way we always do it.
1) The Semitic "hand of god" is a combination of the arched roof of the
'house of god' architecture set on top of the high place of the god.
The high place is represented by a "high" and narrow column. Whatever is
within or under the arch is also flat and, on stone, at most in low-relief
(as on the sculpture at the top on the Hammurabi stele or the Ninveh
2) The Etrusco-Greco-Roman "hand of god" is a combination of the pediment of
temple architecture and the sacred cave. The entry to a sacred cave is
represented by colonnades that shadow the entry portal. Within the temple
(i.e., inner cave as in, for example, the "Birthplace of Zeus" on Mount
Ida in Crete) artifacts are in-the-round.
In Christian statuary niches (hollows) the shape is still an in-the-flat
from frontal view Semitic arch of the shape of "The" Law. The Greco-Roman
addition is the niche itself, the "sacred cave."
Use of the niche is choice by affiliation. Please note that in the Greek
Orthodox Church in-the-flat under the arch was, and still is, the choice
by affiliation. (Aesthetics has nothing to do with the choice; religious
affiliation rules choices such as this. Aesthetics enters in execution of
the choice - this is not the same thing at all.)
Sorry folks for being such a clutz as to not state this loud and clear;
sure would have saved a lot of bandwidth.
* John, the answer to your question, "Rochelle, can you pinpoint
regional influence more closely than that?" is: Yes, of course
we can pinpoint much closer than unspecified generalizations.
** Chris, the Ninveh stele is a solid block in the shape of "the" Law
with Nimrud carved in low-relief. The edge is plain and simply a
frame left after excision. The other tablets are rectangular in shape
and signify the profane realm. Just as xenographic exchange was
sufficient to distinguish the sacred realm from the profane in writing,
the arched shape was considered sufficient to distinguish the sacred
from the profane in architecture, sculpture, and writing. The origins
of decorative "columns" lie elsewhere -- perhaps in Etruscan or
Zoroastrian conventions -- or both, depending upon affiliation.
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