God Images on Rock Art
God images from the Fertile Crescent and rock art
We see in rock art the earliest recorded thoughts of a man much before ink and paper were invented. In the right context, rock art can reveal a glimpse of how things were envisioned and gives us access to early images before they were tainted by later ideas. Such is the case of god image. Where it originated and how people saw it? It’s a mystery that lingers over millennials. And, a partial answer can be found in the ancient god’s figurines from the Near East. In ancient times, there was a custom where each city-state in the Fertile Crescent had its protecting god. He was their ruler, people worshiped him and in return, their god would protect them. They credited him with magical powers that affected both the national and the cosmic levels. How did he look? Xenophanes of Colophon 475 BC, a Greek philosopher, described it eloquently:
“But if cattle and horses and lions had hands or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do, horses like horses and cattle like cattle also would depict the gods’ shapes and make their bodies of such a sort as the form they themselves have.” And, so did people!! They created a god image of their own and to glorify they awarded him the Milky Way image. His image represents the major god in all Near East cultures as shown in Fig.1, a direct copy of the giant in the sky, the Milky Way.
The image of the Milky Way, Fig.1, imagined as an enormous giant that spans the heavens. He stands there, strong and glamorous, his legs slightly apart and his hand extends the stars. His left foot bent forward in a moving or action expression. He raises his hand in a motion to strike, thus his name ‘the smiting God’. He wears a funny cone hat instead of a crown! The gods’ images illustrated in Fig.1 share the mentioned characteristics. Such unusual iconography must have roots in daily objects projected into a verbatim image of their god. Indeed, the god’s figurines resemble the giant in the sky, a scenery presiding over people dominating the night sky.
God image on rock art
The rock art in Fig.2 shows an engraving of creation. It shows the major forces participating in the creation process. On the left side, the standing figure is an image of a god initiating creation. He creates the godly wind by turning the giant time wheel powering the motion of the stars around the North Star. As can be seen, this god figurine derived from the same template, the Milkyway image.
Cornelius, I. (1994) The Iconography of the Canaanite Gods Reshef and Ba’al: Late Bronze and
Iron Age I Periods (c 1500 – 1000 BCE)
More deciphering, in a new book Rock Art in Israel, available online.
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