God Images on Rock Art

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God images from the Fertile Crescent and rock art

In rock art, we see the earliest recorded thoughts of man, long before ink and paper were invented.  When viewed in the proper context, rock art can provide a glimpse into how things were perceived in the past and provides us the ability to see early images before they were contaminated by later ideas.   Such is the case of god image. Where did it originate and how did people see 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 him, they ascribed to him the Milky Way image. His image represents a major god in all Near East cultures as shown in Fig.1, a direct copy of the giant in the sky, the Milky Way.

Rock art research news. Near East gods images and their resemblence to the Milky Way
Fig. 1 God figurines from Fertile Crescent, left to right: Pharaoh Narmer Egypt, Hadad – Phoenicia, Teshub – Kingdom of the Hittites, Baal – Canaan,  Negev Desert rock art Israel, Milky Way image projected on the globe. Such posture refers in literature as a “smiting god”. Notice their resemblance to the Milky Way image.

The image of the Milky Way, Fig.1, is imagined as an enormous giant that spans the heavens. He stands strong and glamorous, his legs slightly apart, commanding importance, 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! All god’s images illustrated in Fig.1 share the mentioned characteristics. Such unusual iconography must have originated from daily objects used to create a verbatim image of the 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 is derived from the same template, the Milkyway image.

rock art research. god image rock art negev desert
Fig.2 Creation rock art with the god figure on left,  an image directly copied from the Miky Way.

 

Bibliography

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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