Friday, October 31, 2008

Photos of 3000 year old inscription

Oct. 26: Archaeologist Yossi Garfinkel displays a ceramic shard
bearing a Canaanite inscription at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Garfinkel says the ceramic shard containing five lines of faded
characters written 3,000 years ago at the time of the Old Testament's
King David, was found in the ruins of an ancient fortified town south
of Jerusalem and is the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered.
Other scholars contend it's not clear whether the inscription was
Hebrew or another closely related Canaanite dialect from the time.,4644,5514,00.html#2_0,4644,5514,00.html#1_0

Thursday, October 30, 2008

7th century BC seal found near Temple Mount,israeli-archeologists-find-rare-ancient-stone-seal.html

The seal depicts an archer from this period, with the name HGB (Hagab) in paleo-Hebrew script.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Karnak Temple (Luxor, Egypt)

An excellent digital tour and explanation of the Karnak Temple of Amon at Luxor in Egypt can be found at:

Although not directly related to the Temple of Jerusalem, it provides important information on the broader ancient Near Eastern context of Israelite temple worship and theology.

New Finds in First Temple era Jerusalem

A water tunnel

This may be related to what the excavator thinks could be King David's palace.

And allegedly the oldest extant Hebrew text

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ezekiel’s Vision 5: The Characteristics of the Cherubim

In the previous section we noted that in Ezekiel’s first vision he sees four strange ḥayyôt. In a later vision he explicitly equates the ḥayyôt with cherubim (kĕrubîm) (10:15, 20). In Hebrew cherub is singular, while cherubim is plural (the “–im” suffix indicates masculine plural in Hebrew; the occasional English “cherubims” is an anglicized plurization of a transliteration of an already plural Hebrew word.).

Later Christian tradition sees cherubs as a class of angels, as systematized in the angelic hierarchies found in Pseudo-Dionysius’ Celestial Hierarchies (c. AD 500). However, as far as I am aware, cherubs are never explicitly said to be angels in the Hebrew Bible, where they were probably understood to be part of the “sons of God” (bĕnê ĕlōhîm), or council of God (ĕlōhîm, ĕlîm). (See, for example, Ps 8:5 (6), which says that Man is “a little lower” than the ĕlōhîm, which the LXX translates as angelous/angels, as it also appears in the KJV. The Vulgate keeps to the Hebrew better: “paulo minus a Deo,” “a little less than God.” Furthermore, biblical cherubs should not be confused with the small winged children that appear frequently in late Renaissance and Baroque art, which are technically putti, Italian for “children.”)

In the Hebrew Bible cherubs usually play the role of guardians of the presence/throne of God. Indeed, they are never mentioned apart from the presence/throne of God, the Garden, or the Temple. In the Garden of Eden they guard the way to the Tree of Life (Gen 3:24). In Ezek 28:14-16 they are guardians of the “mountain of God.” God is “enthroned” upon cherubim (1 Sam 4:4; Isa 37:16; Ps 80:1, 99:1; 1 Chr 13:6, etc.), and “rides” upon them (Ps 18:10; 2 Kg 19:15; 2 Sam 22:11), exactly as described by Ezekiel. Images of cherubs are found on the curtains and walls of the Tabernacle and Temple (Ex 25:18-20; 1 Kgs 6:23-28), but no description of them are given in these texts, other than that they have wings. Most importantly, four cherubs are found in the Holy of Holies of the Temple; two on the ark of the covenant (Ex 25:20, 37:9), and another two large cherubs overarching the ark (1 Kgs 6:27, 8:6-7; 2 Chr 3:11-13, 5:7-8). Most importantly for an interpretation of Ezek 1 and 10, it is quite likely that the four cherubs Ezekiel saw are intended to be the four cherubs of the Holy of Holies of the Temple. Reinforcing this interpretation is the fact that only in the Holy of Holies and in Ezekiel’s vision are the wings of cherubs said to be touching each other (1 Kgs 6:27; 2 Chr 3:11; Ezek 1:9, 11). Thus, when Ezekiel enters the cloud and sees the cherubs, he is entering the Holy of Holies.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ezekiel’s Vision 4: The “Living Creatures”

Ezek. 1:5 (NRSV)
In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form.

Unfortunately, the Hebrew of Ezekiel is very terse and ambiguous, probably intentionally so. A more literal, though not necessarily more intelligible translation is:

And from the middle of it [were] the likenesses of four living [things] (ḥayyôt) and this was their appearance: the likeness of a human.

Ezekiel begins his description of the throne of God with reference to the “four living creatures,” in Hebrew, ḥayyôt. Ḥayyôt is the (grammatically feminine) plural of hayyāh, meaning something that is living or alive. In Gen 2:7, when God breathes of “breath of life” into Adam, he becomes a “living soul,” a nefeš hayyāh. In the Bible the term ḥayyôt generally refers to any kind of animal, but quite frequently wild animals or beasts of prey (HALOT = Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament). (Indeed, the Vulgate translates it as animalium; “animal” is a good semantic translation, since animal refers to something that is “animate” because it has an “anima,” Latin for soul.) It should be noted that Ezekiel 10:1-15 gives a lengthy description of the Cherubim (kĕrubîm), concluding that “these are the ḥayyôt” that he described in chapter 1. I’ll return to the question of the Cherubs later. When he first encounters them Ezekiel only knows them as strange “living beings” rather than Cherubim.

The next question raised by this passage is the location of the four “living things,” which I will call by the Hebrew word, ḥayyôt. The Hebrew says they are mit-tôk-âh, literally, “from the middle/midst of it [the cloud].” This can mean either that the four ḥayyôt came out of the middle of the cloud, or that they four ḥayyôt were inside the middle of the cloud. The same word is used in 1:4 referring to the amber light and fire. Are the light and fire in the middle of the cloud, or coming out of the cloud? Both ancient and modern translators have taken both positions. The LXX describe the ḥayyôt as en tō mesō (in the middle), while the Latin says ex medio (from out of the middle). This is an import distinction: is Ezekiel going into the cloud to see the throne of God? Or is God coming out of the cloud so that Ezekiel can see him? There is no way to know for certain in this case, but based on parallels with other biblical theophanies (Moses enters the cloud in Ex 24:18, vs. Ex 19:9 where the people only see God within the “dense cloud”) I believe that Ezekiel enters into the cloud to see the four creatures. This is, as I will later argue, the equivalent of entering into the Holy of Holies in the Temple.

Ezekiel first describes the four creatures as having the “form, shape, likeness” (dĕmût) of “living” things/beings/animals/creatures (ḥayyôt), and then in the very next line describes them as having the dĕmût of a human (ʾādām). At first glance this seems contradictory, but Ezekiel seems to be saying that these dĕmût have the general form of a human/ʾādām, but their wings, hoofs, and four faces (discussed later) mean they are not real ʾādām.

(It is worth noting that in Gen 1:25 the first human (ʾādām) has the shape/form/likeness (dĕmût) of God (ʾĕlōhîm), whereas here the ḥayyôt have the dĕmût of ʾādām. (The hidden implication of this may well be that these beings are part of the divine council to whom God said “let us make ʾādām in our dĕmût” in Gen 1:25. But that is another question.)

Finally, the LXX translates ḥayyôt as zōon (plural zōōn), from which our zoology, the study of living things. This same Greek term is used by John in Revelation to refer to the four creatures that surround the throne of God (Rev 5:6, 8, 11, 14; 6:1, 3, 5–7; 7:11; 14:3; 15:7; 19:4). In other words, John is saying that the beings he sees in his vision are the same ones Ezekiel saw in his. From this, the four ḥayyôt/zōōn pass into medieval Christian art as the four creatures that surround the throne of God with the heads of a lion, eagle, bull, and man. (See illustrations)

Image 1: Late 13C San Chapelle in Paris depicting Ezekiel in the center facing the four ḥayyôt (right). Above Ezekiel is Christ, the figure Ezekiel sees enthroned. Behind Ezekiel is Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem.

Image 2: 14C Winchester Bible (Winchester, England), showing on the right one of the ḥayyôt, and on the left, the four "wheels" (which I will discuss later).

Image 3: 6C Rabbula Gospel showing Christ (above) enthroned on the ḥayyôt with the "wheels within wheels".

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ezekiel’s Vision 3: The Storm Theophany

Ezek 1:4
And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of the midst thereof as the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire.

Ezekiel’s vision begins with a distant storm coming from the north to the south including a cloud and a flashing fire—probably lightening. This phenomena is known to scholars as a “storm theophany,” that is to say, a manifestation of God (theophania) in (or as) a storm.

It is important to note that at the time of his vision Ezekiel is in Mesopotamia on the Chebar River (1:3), a tributary to the Euphrates. The appearance of the storm from the north may be present an indirect indication that it is meant to come from Jerusalem, since at the time of Ezekiel communication between Mesopotamia was not direct from east to west (across the Syrian desert), but travelers would go north and then south, a longer but much easier root. More on the implications of this later. Another way to read “from the north” is from ṣāfôn, which does mean north, but is also the name of the sacred mountain of the Canaanites. Thus, the storm may be coming from the mountain of the gods.

Storm theophanies are quite common in the Bible, most prominent in Ex 19, where a God appears in a storm on Mt. Sinai (e.g. Nah 1:3; See Anchor Bible Dictionary “Theophany in the Old Testament”). The appearance of God in a cloud is also a common motif (eg. Ex 24:15-20, 40:34-38, Num 9:15-23, etc.), and is related to the appearance of God in a cloud at the Transfiguration of Jesus.

The cloud of the storm theophany is symbolically reproduced in the Temple by the burning of incense, so that God appears in the Holy of Holies “in the cloud upon the mercy seat” (Lev 16:2, 12-13). The important point to note here is that in the Temple or outside of the Temple, God frequently appears in a cloud, and to enter into the presence of God, one must pass into this cloud, either the cloud of incense in the Temple, or the storm cloud outside the Temple (Ex 24:15-18; Mt 17:5). In the Temple the flashing light or the shinning glory of the Lord (Mt 17:2) the light of the menorah and the burning coals of the incense altar, while the thunder of the storm is the sounding of the trumpets (šōfār) (Ex 19:16-19). Thus, in the Temple context, storm-cloud, lightening and thunder are incense-cloud, menorah/coals and trumpets.

On the context of importance of storm gods and storm theophanies in the ancient Near East, see:
Green, A. The Storm-god in the Ancient Near East, (Eisenbrauns, 2003)
Cross, Frank, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, (Harvard, 1997)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rebuilding the Temple?

The Jerusalem Post has a long article on Third Temple movements.

(PS I'm really not obsessing on this issue. Every year at the time of the fall Jewish holidays the Temple Movement do demonstrations and processions trying to get onto the Temple Mount, and so get in the news for a week or two.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Barker's Gate of Heaven

Margaret Barker's 1991 book The Gate of Heaven: The History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem, which has long been out of print, has recently been reprinted by Sheffield Phoenix Press (2008), ISBN 1906055424, available on Amazon.

Christian Zionists

Evangelical Christian Zionists celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles in Israel

Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount (Oxford, 2002) gives an interesting account of the various Christian, Jewish and Muslim movements and their struggle for the Temple Mount.

Randall Price gives the Evangelical perspective on Third Temple movements in: The Battle for the Last Days Temple (2004) and The Temple and Bible Prophecy (2005).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ritual Golden Plates

The Orphic golden plates are ritual texts buried with initiates as a tool to facilitate passage to the afterlife. A recent book provides complete translations, commentary, and a study of these fascinating texts.

F. Graf and S. Johnston, Ritual Texts for the Afterlife: Orpheus and the Bacchic Gold Tablets (Routledge, 2007)

From the Blurb:
"Fascinating texts written on small gold tablets that were deposited in graves provide a unique source of information about what some Greeks and Romans believed regarding the fate that awaited them after death, and how they could influence it. These texts, dating from the late fifth century BCE to the second century CE, have been part of the scholarly debate on ancient afterlife beliefs since the end of the nineteenth century. Recent finds and analysis of the texts have reshaped our understanding of their purpose and of the perceived afterlife.

The tablets belonged to those who had been initiated into the mysteries of Dionysus Bacchius and relied heavily upon myths narrated in poems ascribed to the mythical singer Orpheus. After providing the Greek text and a translation of all the available tablets, the authors analyze their role in the mysteries of Dionysus, and present an outline of the myths concerning the origins of humanity and of the sacred texts that the Greeks ascribed to Orpheus. Related ancient texts are also appended in English translations. Providing the first book-length edition and discussion of these enigmatic texts in English, and their first English translation, this book is essential to the study of ancient Greek religion."

Golden plates, afterlife, and ritual initiation! Who could ask for anything more?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Priestly Blessing at Western Wall

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Third Temple Movements

Small but vigorous Jewish movements are afoot in Israel seeking to rebuild the Temple, often with the help of eschatologically oriented evangelical groups. Nearly every year during the Jewish holy days surrounding Rosh ha-Shanah, some of these movements have demonstrations at or around the Temple Mount. This years demonstration is associated with attempts to make the bronze laver for the new temple, as described at

The two most active Third Temple movements are the Temple Institute

and the Temple Mount Faithful

For more information and bibliography see Hamblin and Seely, Solomon's Temple (2007), pp. 197-203

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The World's First Temple?

The Volume 61 Number 6, November/December 2008 issue of Archaeology, just off the press, has an article by Sandra Scham, entitled "The World's First Temple." An abstract of the article (with photos) can be found at:

It discusses the site of Göbekli Tepe near modern Urfa (ancient Edessa) in Turkey, not far north of the border with Syria. Additional information can be found at:öbekli_Tepe

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Was There a Biblical Esotericism?

The concept of esoteric—“inner”—teachings or practices has an important role in the history of religions. The fundamental idea is that there are certain exoteric beliefs and practices that are public taught and widely known, while there are other esoteric ideas and practices that are restricted to the prepared, enlightened, initiated, educated, or spiritually advanced.

The English terms esoteric and exoteric derive from Greek roots, but are cognate with the more straightforward Latinate interior and exterior, or more generally in English, inner and outer. The Greek terms esōteros and esōterikos, however, were rarely used for inner and out religious teachings in classical antiquity.

From the biblical perspective, however, the Greek term esōteros is a rare term with a very special technical meaning. This can be seen in its major occurrence of the word in the New Testament in Heb 6:19. Here Paul is discussing Christ, as the Great High Priest, entering the Holy of Holies of the celestial Temple.

In the KJV it reads: “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil

The NRSV reads: “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain

The Greek for the bold face phrase here is esōteron tou katapetasmatos. Katapetasma is the technical term in both the LXX and the New Testament for the veil or curtain of the Temple. Esōteron means literally, as the KJV has it, “that [place/thing] which is within,” and, as noted earlier, is the Greek root from which we draw our word esoteric. (The meanings of these words are taken from the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd ed., and the Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint, 2nd ed.)

However, as the NRSV rightly translates esōteron more technically as the “inner shrine behind” (or better “within) the curtain/veil (katapetasma).

The NRSV translates esōteron as the “inner shrine behind/within” because Paul is, in fact, quoting a technical use of that phrase from the description of the Day of Atonement ritual in Lev 16, where the Holy of Holies within the temple veil is consistently described in the Septuagint as esōteron tou katapetasmatos (Lev 16:2, 12, 15). In biblical Greek, then, esōteron tou katapetasmatos is a technical phrase meaning “[the place of the Holy of Holies] within the veil/curtain.”

Esoteric, then, in its original biblical meaning, refers to the teachings and practices done within the veil of the Temple. This concept helps us understand that in the biblical world view there were public, exoteric rites and teachings performed in the outer court of the Temple in view of all the people, and there were private, esoteric rites and teachings performed within the Temple building and restricted to the priests or even the High Priest alone.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ezekiel’s Vision 2: Preliminary Bibliography

I’m listing below some of the many articles and commentaries on Ezekiel that I may reference occasionally throughout the forthcoming series, which I will cite by author name and page number. Others will be added to this bibliography as my study progresses, so this bibliography will be periodically updated.

The most useful commentary I have found is Othmar Keel’s Jahwe Visionen und Siegelkunst, unfortunately only available in German. Keel is probably the greatest living scholar of ancient Near Eastern iconography, and his book includes illustrations of nearly all ancient Near Eastern parallels to the types of things Ezekiel seems to be discussing.

Allen, L. Ezekiel 1-19. Word Bible Commentary, vol. 28 (Dallas: Word, 1994).
Block, Daniel, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24, (Eerdmans, 1997)
Greenberg, Moshe, Ezekiel 1-20, Anchor Bible, vol. 22, (Doubleday, 1983)
Joyce, Paul. Ezekiel: A Commentary, (T & T Clark, 2007)
Keel, O. Jahwe Visionen und Siegelkunst, (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwek, 1977)
Nicot, Daniel, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 1-24, (Eerdmans, 1997)
Zimmerli, Walther, Ezekiel 1, Hermeneia Commentary (Fortress, 1979)

Allen, L. C. “The Structure and Intention of Ezekiel 1” Vetus Testamentum 43 (1993) 145-161.
Barrick, W. “The Straight-Legged Cherubim in Ezekiel’s Inaugural Vision (Ezekiel 1:7a),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 44 (1982) 543-550.
Borowski, E. “Cherubim: God’s Throne?” Biblical Archaeology Review 21/4 (1995) 37.
Greenberg, M. “Ezekiel’s Vision: Literary and Iconographic Aspects,” in History, Historiography and Interpretation, ed. H. Tadmor and M Weinfeld (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1983), 159-168
Halperin, D. “Merkabah Midrash in the Septuagint,” Journal of Biblical Literature 101 (1982) 351-363

Ezekiel’s Vision 1: Introduction

The question of the interpretation of the meaning of the “Chariot/Throne” in Ezekiel’s Vision (Ezek 1:4-28 and 10:1-22) is one of the most vexing, yet important topics in biblical exegesis, with significant implications for understanding the “temple theology” of ancient Israel. Probably the first thing to note is that Ezekiel never actually uses the term “chariot” (merkābāh) in his visionary texts in chapters 1 and 10, though the term became the traditional way to reference Ezekiel’s vision in later Jewish esoteric traditions.

In the next few weeks I will be examining some of the temple motifs found in this extraordinary and difficult vision. But I must begin with a caveat that my interpretations here will necessarily be somewhat speculative, as in fact, all interpretations of these passages must be, due to the esoteric nature and ambiguity of the text. Nonetheless, I will try to base my interpretation squarely on contextualized ancient evidence, both biblical and non-biblical, and to clearly indicate when I am stepping beyond the bounds of the evidence.

My plan is to examine each of the elements of Ezekiel’s vision in the order he describes them, and then to attempt to synthesize all of the elements into a coherent symbolic and systematic whole. Unfortunately, many of the commentaries spend a great deal of time telling us what Ezekiel says, but far less time telling us what Ezekiel means, which is a much more complex, difficult, and important question. Ezekiel’s vision is so far removed from the world-view of modern readers as to render it almost incomprehensible, especially to non-Hebrew readers. (On the other hand, the Hebrew often makes the text even more inscrutable.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sarcophagus of High Priest family found

See Report here (with links to larger photos):

The Hebrew inscription reads ben ha-kohen ha-gadol = "son of the high priest"

Friday, October 3, 2008

Book on the Temple Veil

A new book includes a detailed study on the meaning of the veil in Israelite and Jewish religion.

Daniel M. Gurtner
The Torn Veil: Matthew's Exposition of the Death of Jesus
Cambridge University Press, 2007
ISBN-10: 052187064X

From the blurb:
Daniel M. Gurtner examines the meaning of the rending of the veil at the death of Jesus in Matthew 27:51a by considering the functions of the veil in the Old Testament and its symbolism in Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism. Gurtner incorporates these elements into a compositional exegesis of the rending text in Matthew. He concludes that the rending of the veil is an apocalyptic assertion like the opening of heaven revealing, in part, end-time images drawn from Ezekiel 37. Moreover, when the veil is torn Matthew depicts the cessation of its function, articulating the atoning role of Christ's death which gives access to God not simply in the sense of entering the Holy of Holies (as in Hebrews), but in trademark Matthean Emmanuel Christology: 'God with us'. This underscores the significance of Jesus' atoning death in the first gospel.