in our e-book Cherubwheels by H. Peter Aleff
The northern night sky on an ivory cherub
and the spirit in its wheels
1.6. Stars missing on the Cherub chart
With the Big Dipper and the “pole guardians” as well as the ancient pole so nailed down, the rest of the Cherub centers fall into place. Of course, there are differences due to the distortions inherent in map projections, to the carver’s artistic freedom in reproducing groupings of visually related stars, and to the constraints in constructing these center locations that we will explore in the next chapters. Despite such minor discrepancies, most of the wheel hubs on the Cherub are easily matched up with stars, and vice versa.
The only major star in the sky area covered by the Cherub that does not appear in its star chart is Rastaban, magnitude 2.78. This star shines just below Eltanin, the 2.22 bright head of the modern Dragon. Eltanin is #2 on the carving, the center of the circle around the flower or palm behind the crown.
However, the omission of Rastaban may be only apparent: it looks as if there was once a separate center for the circle defining the now mostly destroyed middle of that flower. Only traces of that flower middle are discernible on the photograph, not enough for me to measure its circle. From the little that can be seen, my guess for its location is that the center was somewhere near the outline of a diamond that I placed on Figures 1-3 and 1-9 just below Eltanin.
Such a close pairing of Eltanin and Rastaban would echo the way the carver moved Kochab and Pherkad closer together; if this separate center could be confirmed on the artifact, it would then account for Rastaban as companion of Eltanin, a mirror image to the Kochab- Pherkad pair reflected across the dividing line between them from Eta Draconis to Zeta in the same constellation.
Similarly, two less prominent stars are not represented among the Cherub centers I found, but they may have been there originally. The missing inner part of the flower around #33 may have marked the small star Chara, magnitude 4.26, that the SkyMap shows near 2.89 Cor Caroli there. These two stars are alone together as the most visible in a large field of much lesser stars, so the carver may again have treated them as closely paired.
The other no- show on the Cherub chart is the small star in the tail of the modern Dragon constellation, between 3.84 Giausar above the pan end of the Big Dipper and 3.64 Thuban over its handle. That star is Kappa Draconis, equally faint with a magnitude of 3.87. It seems probable that it was marked on the Cherub chart by the now missing outer curve for the broken- off tail segment, and you will find a hypothetical reconstruction of that tail in Figure 1-10 below.
That reconstruction is based on the Cherub having the tail of a lion, and this assumption requires some comments.
After Borowski first brought this Cherub to public attention, a controversy developed among readers of Biblical Archaeology Review about the shape of that tail, whether it drooped like that of a bull or rose in the leonine manner. A bovine tail, as proposed by Borowski, would make the Cherub one of the cherubim in Ezekiel’s first vision by combining the four elements man, lion, ox, and eagle (1:10).
On the other hand, a lion’s tail would match the body, legs, and paws of the creature and make it indistinguishable from a winged sphinx but also from the cherubim in Ezekiel’s second vision (10:14) in which the four elements became cherub, man, lion, and eagle.
Ezekiel further said that the second cherubim were the same as in his first vision (10:15, and again 10:20-22), so cherub equals ox in the symbolism he used. He had been ordered to speak in allegory and parable (17:2), and in this context the equation makes sense: people in his time and region addressed many of the major gods as mighty bulls and represented them with that animal’s horns.
Cattle horns were an easily understood sign of divinity and holiness throughout the Bronze and Iron- Age Levant. The biblical golden calves as statues of God underline this meaning, and Moses himself, after destroying one such metal- cast image, used the verbal image of a wild ox and his horns as a symbol of majesty and nations- goring power (Deut. 33:17).
Biblical altars had horns (e.g. Exodus 27:2, Lev. 4:7, 1 Kings 2:28), including the four horns a cubit high that surmounted the altar in Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple (43:15). Altars represented the deity, as implied, for instance, in Exodus 24:6-8, or they were points of access to the deity, comparable in that to the role of the cherubim as intermediaries. Similarly, in the ancient number mysticism that led to the Kabbalah29 and its spiritual interpretations of the Hebrew alphabet, the symbol, letter, and word for God the “One”30 was simultaneously the symbol, letter, and word for “ox”.
The sages and artists of ancient Canaan probably imported this symbolism of divine oxen or bulls, together with many elements of their artistic style, from Egypt.
From the earliest recorded times on, Egyptian kings were consistently identified with bulls, in life as on the Narmer Palette, and in death as in the Pyramid Texts. After they died, these kings became “living gods” and ascended to the northern stars; similarly, the Canaanite gods met on a mountain “in the far recesses of the north” (Isaiah 14:13), and the Lord of Israel had his city on a hill in “the farthest reaches of the north” (Psalms 48:2).
Ezekiel’s language confirms the Egyptian connection. He called the cherubim the “living creatures”. The term the Egyptians used from Middle Kingdom times on to designate their sphinxes ended in “ankh”, the well-known word and hieroglyph for “life”, and it meant “living image of ...”31.
Further confirming the equation, sphinxes had the same symbolic meaning as bulls. Beginning with the reputed Sphinx- carver Khafre (about 2520 to 2494 BCE), many Egyptian kings had themselves represented in the form of a lion- bodied and pharaoh- faced sphinx.
Consistent with the above discussed guardian function of these creatures, such a sphinx was the embodiment of royal power, and it was often shown smiting the king’s enemies, or trampling on them32. Sometimes these sphinxes had wings, just as the mortuary rituals provided the pharaohs’ souls with wings from a whole zoo full of species. The Egyptian formula:
bull = divine king among northern stars = sphinx,
is then easily translated into Ezekiel’s
ox = heavenly being in the northern sky = cherub.
The pharaonic double crown of the Cherub can thus be seen as a symbol of the bovine/ divine element that equally stands for the cherub itself and so would make a grafted- on bull’s tail redundant.
A reconstruction of the Cherub’s tail as that of a lion gets support from many pictures of similarly front- skirted and Egyptian- crowned cherubim or sphinxes in the same general style that show an upcurling lion’s tail.
For instance, the cherub or sphinx in Figure 1-11 below was enameled on a glass tile found in Fort Shalmaneser at Nimrud, also from the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III. This tile is now in the British Museum; it is 4.2 cm wide and was probably made, like the ivory plaque, as one of a set to decorate furniture33. The tail on its cherub bends upward in an S-curve and touches the underside of the wing.
The half- torus above the rump of the ivory Cherub is similarly attached under the wing, although a little lower. I used this tile therefore as a model for the reconstruction of the missing tail segment34 in Figure 1-10.
The photograph of the ivory carving does not show the lower spot where the tail had broken off from the rump. My reconstruction of the tail thickness at the root is therefore only a guess, but it shows the general area where the center of that outer tail curve would have been. This area coincides well with where one might expect the artist to have mapped Kappa Draconis, the star that was then closest to the pole.
If we draw the missing level section of the tail with a slight curve, in an attempt to blend in with the elegant circles of the overall design, then the reconstruction yields two bonus stars that extend the area covered by the Cherub chart. The centers of the upper and lower curves for the horizontal part of the tail wind up approximately where the SkyMap program places two of the three stars in our Little Dipper between Kochab and Polaris. These two extra stars for the Cherub are Zeta Ursae Minoris, magnitude 4.32, and 4.23 Epsilon Ursae Minoris.
The now broken- off uraeus cobra that once graced the Cherub’s forehead may also have added one or two small arcs to the design. Several small to medium size stars in the vicinity of Vega and in the constellation Hercules below it could have been possible centers for these arcs. However, knowing their locations does not tell us where the artist might have placed them to suit the design and its manifold constraints.
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