In a message dated 4/26/01 6:59:27 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
[log in to unmask] writes:
For anyone who might be interested in the (very) early possible
origins of this motif, Prof. Otmar Keel has suggested that imagery in
Revelations, et al. probably derives from the Mesopotamian Lahamu, a
guardian spirit/creature with the body of either a bull or lion, the face
(or faces, up to 4) of a man, and eagle wings. The protectiuve and
divine qualities of this creature(s) may have been the inspiration for
the Old Testament imagery in Ezekiel, then translated into the New
Testament. The one composit creature dividing into four may account for
the variations of the textual description in the earlier literature.
For what it's worth,
This is something I've heard about a lot, but only in a very general
way--that many images in the older parts of the OT are reworkings of images
from even older Mesopotamian (especially Sumerian?) texts. About the only
concrete example that's widely mentioned is the derivation of the story of
Noah and the Flood from the Sumerian story of King Ziusudra and the Flood. It
does indeed seem to me that the OT story is simply the Sumerian story altered
by the addition of a moral...that the Flood was sent to punish human
Now I can add Lahamu to the list. But is this a generally Mesopotamian figure
or specifically Assyrian? I've seen the Assyrian stone carvings of winged
bulls with human faces (Metropolitan Museum) and, as you say, they seem to be
guardian figures. But I don't recall seeing that figure often or elsewhere.
Winged lions with human faces are the sphinxes, seen in Egyptian art and in
Greek art (where they're traced to the story of Oedipus and the sphinx). I
don't recall Mesopotamian winged lions.
The Sumerians, or perhaps the Elamites, seem to have developed the composite
beast that combines parts of one creature with parts of another. And as the
Bible says Abraham came from Ur (a Sumerian city), I'd suspect the early
Hebrews would be familiar with Sumerian myths and Sumerian art, or might
actually have branched off from the Sumerian ethnic and cultural mainstream.
There's a Jewish folk-tale--I don't know the source--that Abraham, as a small
boy in Ur, is taught to worship Sumerian "idols" as gods. He breaks an idol
to show that it actually has no power (and can't punish him for breaking it).
This of course is taking us back to a period well before the middle ages. But
if one begins thinking about iconology--the manner in which an image
develops--one really has to go back to the beginning. So many links, of
course, are always missing. In this case, Ezekiel was a prophet at the time
of the Babylonian Exile--he actually lived in Babylon or had been taken
there. So he could have seen Babylonian guardian figures of Lahamu, and we
don't need to assume he knew the Assyrian figures. As for John the Divine, he
so often refers to OT imagery that I'm convinced he was thinking of Ezekiel's
vision, and maybe looked back no farther than that.