The Vision of Ezekiel
Ezekiel's Vision, Raphael, 1518, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence
by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson October 24-30: Ezekiel 1–3; 33–34; 36–37; 47
We read in Ezekiel 1:4:-5, 10: “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 colour of amber, out of the midst of the fire. Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man…As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.”
I have heard some people place a fantastical, futuristic interpretation onto Ezekiel’s vision – suggesting that he was seeing the future where his wings and wheels were airplanes and helicopters (c.f. Ezekiel 1:15-19). However, I like Michael S. Heiser’s essay from a year ago, “What Does the Vision in Ezekiel 1 Mean?” He stated, “The four faces of the four animals or cherubim correspond to the iconography of the Babylonian zodiac. Each represents a seasonal constellation in Babylonian astrology, and each face or constellation also represented one of the four directions (N, S, E, W) or quadrants of the sky… Information about the stars was laid out on Mesopotamian astrolabes, clay tablets whose concentric circles could well correspond to the ‘wheels within wheels’ imagery… Ezekiel’s imagery sends a message to the Jews in exile—and to their Babylonian captors: …Yahweh has not been defeated, nor has he turned away from his people, Israel. He remains seated in his chariot throne at the center of his domain—the entire cosmos.” (logos.com/grow/vision-ezekiel-1-mean; retrieved 17 October 2022). Such a concept, that Ezekiel chapter 1 represents four of the Babylonian zodiac signs, had been proposed earlier by Ethelbert Bullinger (1837 – 1913).
Babylonian astrology was the first known organized astrological system, apparently originating in the second millennium BC. The Babylonian calendar was a lunar calendar of twelve months. During the 6th century BC, around Ezekiel’s lifetime (he was a contemporary of Jeremiah and Daniel), the captive Hebrews adopted the Babylonian month names for their own calendar. The Hebrew lunar year is about 11 days shorter than the solar year, which is the basis of our calendars. As a result, to bring the Hebrew lunar calendar into line with the solar year, an intercalary month was added every two or three years, for a total of seven times over nineteen years.
In astrology, the twelve months of the Babylonian-Hebrew calendar, as well as the twelve zodiac signs, as is also the case for the solar calendar, are divided into three sets of four months each. The Babylonians divided the fixed stars into the three groups of Anu, Enlil and Ea. In modern astrology, they are referred to as the cardinal, fixed, and mutable signs; and the four fixed signs were zuqaqīpu (The Cutter), urgulû or nēšu (The Lion), alû/lê (The Bull of Heaven), and ṣinundu, ku-ur-ku or rammanu, (The Great One). When those four zodiac signs were later transmuted into the Greek zodiac signs, the bull (alû/lê to Taurus) and lion (urgulû or nēšu to Leo) were transferred more or less intact, whereas zuqaqīpu was replaced by Scorpio and ṣinundu, ku-ur-ku or rammanu was replaced by Aquarius.
With this background in mind, let’s take another look at Ezekiel’s vision. One of the four beings of his vision had the face of a lion and one had the face of an ox. These match almost completely the two Babylonian-Hebrew zodiac signs, Taurus and Leo, transferred intact to the Greeks. The other two faces that Ezekiel saw were that of a man and that of an eagle – according to the King James Bible. However, according to Strong's Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon, the word “man” in the King James Bible was originally אָדָם֒ (’ā·ḏām), meaning ruddy, or human being (biblehub.com/ezekiel/1-10.htm; retrieved 19 October 2022). Interestingly, דָם֒ (’ā·ḏām) can also be translated as “ground” or “earth,” especially “red earth,” or even “tiller of the earth.” Is it possible that zuqaqīpu, “The Cutter” could also mean “Tiller?” I have not seen any suggestion of that broad of interpretation – but what if? What did the term “cutter” mean to the Babylonians?
Likewise, ṣinundu, ku-ur-ku or rammanu in the Babylonian zodiac is interpreted as “The Great One.” What did that mean to the Babylonians? Apparently, the image for this sign was sometimes a sea serpent or dragon. Was this sign ever shown as an eagle? The Greek Aquila (associated with Aquarius, which replaced ṣinundu, ku-ur-ku or rammanu in the Greek zodiac), is probably based on the Babylonian constellation of the Eagle. Furthermore, the sixth constellation of the Babylonian zodiac, according to the first twelve lines of Iqīšâ's kalendartexte, is “Eagle-head.”
It is interesting that Ezekiel saw four faces, the same number as in the zodiac set of four. It is also interesting that two of those four faces are almost exactly the same as two of the fixed zodiac symbols. A third face is that of a man, whereas the a third Babylonian zodiac sign is also a human (?) “cutter.” The forth sign is that of a “great” animal - a sea serpent or dragon, or maybe even an eagle.
No matter the exact identity of the four images, Ezekiel saw, “And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne…[and on that throne was] the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.” (Ezekiel 1:26-28) Therefore, what the first chapter, and the rest of the book of Ezekiel is telling us is that no matter all the astrology and pantheon of Babylonian gods, the Lord, God is still above all.
Trent Dee Stephens, PhD
Where science meets religion and the scriptures.
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