in our e-book Cherubwheels by H. Peter Aleff
The northern night sky on an ivory cherub
and the spirit in its wheels
1.2. From Cherub arcs to star chart
This scenario of a Damascene origin fits the internal evidence from the Cherub itself, but before we explore the links of this carving with that city, let us look at the wheels that define its shape and display its spirit.
These circles illustrate Ezekiel’s description that the wheels on the cherubim
Multiple eyes were a common symbol for the myriads of stars in the night sky19; even today this intuitive and poetic metaphor appears, for instance, in the book title “Night has a Thousand Eyes: A Naked-Eye Guide to the Sky, its Science, and Lore”20.
The cherubim Ezekiel saw shared their profusion of celestial eyes, or stars, with the Cherub because the location of the 34 surviving circle centers on that carving matches the distribution of the major stars in the northern night sky.
A comparison of the two pictures above show a strong visual similarity between the groupings of major stars and of Cherub centers.
The carver’s criterion for including a star among the Cherub centers seems to have been its apparent magnitude, so I listed also this measure of observable brightness next to the star names.
The nomenclature in this magnitude system goes back to the Hellenistic Greek astronomer Hipparchos (c. 190 to 126 BCE) and is all backwards to modern eyes. It assigns the lowest numbers to the brightest stars, and each increase by one unit means the star is 2.5 times fainter.
In this topsy- turvy system the most prominent stars wind up with size zero, and even negative magnitude numbers, because Hipparchos had lumped together all the brightest stars and planets in his magnitude 1 and left us no other digits open for further distinctions between these. The dimmest objects that good naked- eye observers can discern in clear dark skies are about magnitude 6.
Except for one apparent omission to which we shall return, the Cherub chart includes all the major stars in its area down to magnitude 3.75. Then it continues selectively to 4.54 Kappa Böotis which is about four times brighter than those barely discernible sixers.
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