The Ancient of Days

Thrones were set up
and the Ancient One took his throne.
His clothing was snow bright,
and the hair on his head as white as wool;
His throne was flames of fire,
with wheels of burning fire.
A surging stream of fire
flowed out from where he sat;
Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him,
and myriads upon myriads attended him.

Book of Daniel, chapter 7

 

The Ancient of Days, William Blake, etching with watercolor, British Museum

The Ancient of Days, William Blake, etching with watercolor, British Museum

 

Ancient of Days, or Head of Days, is a name for God in theBook of Daniel: in the original Aramaic Atik Yomin; in the Greek Septuagint Palaios Hemeron; and in the Vulgate Antiquus Dierum.

The title “Ancient of Days” has been used as a source of inspiration in art and music, denoting the Creator’s aspects of eternity combined with perfection. William Blake’s watercolour and relief etching entitled “The Ancient of Days” is one such example.

 

In Eastern Orthodox Christian hymns and icons, the Ancient of Days is sometimes identified with God the Father or occasionally The Holy Spirit; but most properly, in accordance with Orthodox theology he is identified with God the Son, or Jesus Christ. Most of the eastern church fathers who comment on the passage in Daniel (7:9-10, 13-14) interpreted the elderly figure as a prophetic revelation of the Son before his physical Incarnation. As such, Eastern Christian art will sometimes portray Jesus Christ as an old man, the Ancient of Days, to show symbolically that he existed from all eternity, and sometimes as a young man, or wise baby, to portray him as he was incarnate.

The Ancient of Days. A fresco by Damiane from Ubisi, Georgia, 14th century

The Ancient of Days. A fresco by Damiane from Ubisi, Georgia, 14th century

This iconography emerged in the 6th century, mostly in the Eastern Empire with elderly images, though usually not properly or specifically identified as “the Ancient of Days.” The first images of the Ancient of Days, so named with an inscription, were developed by iconographers in different manuscripts, the earliest of which are dated to the eleventh century. The images in these manuscripts included the inscription “Jesus Christ, Ancient of Days,” confirming that this was a way to identify Christ as pre-eternal with the God the Father. Indeed, later, it was declared by the Russian Orthodox Church at the Great Synod of Moscow in 1667 that the Ancient of Days was the Son and not the Father.

In the Western Church similar figures usually represent only God the Father. Building his argument upon the Daniel passage, Thomas Aquinas recalls that some bring forward the objection that the Ancient of Days matches the Person of the Father, without necessarily agreeing with this statement himself.

From Wikipedia

Advertisements

Writing on the Wall

King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his lords,

with whom he drank.
Under the influence of the wine,
he ordered the gold and silver vessels
which Nebuchadnezzar, his father,
had taken from the temple in Jerusalem,
to be brought in so that the king, his lords,
his wives and his entertainers might drink from them.
When the gold and silver vessels
taken from the house of God in Jerusalem had been brought in,
and while the king, his lords, his wives and his entertainers
were drinking wine from them,
they praised their gods of gold and silver,
bronze and iron, wood and stone.

Suddenly, opposite the lampstand,
the fingers of a human hand appeared,
writing on the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace.
When the king saw the wrist and hand that wrote, his face blanched;
his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook,
and his knees knocked.

Then Daniel was brought into the presence of the king.
The king asked him, “Are you the Daniel, the Jewish exile,
whom my father, the king, brought from Judah?
I have heard that the Spirit of God is in you,
that you possess brilliant knowledge and extraordinary wisdom.
I have heard that you can interpret dreams and solve difficulties;
if you are able to read the writing and tell me what it means,
you shall be clothed in purple,
wear a gold collar about your neck,
and be third in the government of the kingdom.”

Daniel answered the king:
“You may keep your gifts, or give your presents to someone else;
but the writing I will read for you, O king,
and tell you what it means.
You have rebelled against the Lord of heaven.
You had the vessels of his temple brought before you,
so that you and your nobles, your wives and your entertainers,
might drink wine from them;
and you praised the gods of silver and gold,
bronze and iron, wood and stone,
that neither see nor hear nor have intelligence.
But the God in whose hand is your life breath
and the whole course of your life, you did not glorify.
By him were the wrist and hand sent, and the writing set down.

“This is the writing that was inscribed:
MENE, TEKEL, and PERES.
These words mean:
MENE, God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it;
TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting;
PERES, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Danie, Chapter 5

 

rembrandt-belsazar.jpg

Belshazzar’s Feast, Rembrandt, circa 1636-38, National Gallery, London

From the National Gallery website:

Rembrandt’s source for this painting, the Old Testament Book of Daniel (5: 1-6, 25-8), tells of a banquet Belshazzar, King of Babylon, gave for his nobles. At this banquet he blasphemously served wine in the sacred vessels his father Nebuchadnezzar had looted from the Temple in Jerusalem.

Rembrandt shows the moment when a divine hand appeared and wrote on the wall a phrase only Daniel could decipher. When transliterated the inscription reads: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This is the interpretation: ‘God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; your kingdom is given to the Medes and Persians.’ That very night Belshazzar was slain.

Rembrandt derived the form of Hebrew inscription from a book by his friend, the learned Rabbi and printer, Menasseh ben Israel, yet mistranscribed one of the characters and arranged them in columns, rather than right to left, as Hebrew is written. The picture, painted in about 1635, is an example of Rembrandt’s attempt to establish himself as a painter of large-scale Baroque history paintings.

Rembrandt’s handling of painting materials and his painting technique in Belshazzar’s Feast are both exceptional and do not compare to any of his other works. The palette of this painting is unusually rich encompassing such pigments as vermilion, smalt, lead-tin-yellow, yellow and red lakes, ochres and azurite.

 

Daniel Interpreting the Dream of Nebuchadnezzar

Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar:

“In your vision, O king, you saw a statue,
very large and exceedingly bright,
terrifying in appearance as it stood before you.
The head of the statue was pure gold,
its chest and arms were silver,
its belly and thighs bronze, the legs iron,
its feet partly iron and partly tile.
While you looked at the statue,
a stone which was hewn from a mountain
without a hand being put to it,
struck its iron and tile feet, breaking them in pieces.
The iron, tile, bronze, silver, and gold all crumbled at once,
fine as the chaff on the threshing floor in summer,
and the wind blew them away without leaving a trace.
But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain
and filled the whole earth.

“This was the dream;
the interpretation we shall also give in the king’s presence.
You, O king, are the king of kings;
to you the God of heaven
has given dominion and strength, power and glory;
men, wild beasts, and birds of the air, wherever they may dwell,
he has handed over to you, making you ruler over them all;
you are the head of gold.
Another kingdom shall take your place, inferior to yours,
then a third kingdom, of bronze,
which shall rule over the whole earth.
There shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron;
it shall break in pieces and subdue all these others,
just as iron breaks in pieces and crushes everything else.
The feet and toes you saw, partly of potter’s tile and partly of iron,
mean that it shall be a divided kingdom,
but yet have some of the hardness of iron.
As you saw the iron mixed with clay tile,
and the toes partly iron and partly tile,
the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile.
The iron mixed with clay tile
means that they shall seal their alliances by intermarriage,
but they shall not stay united, any more than iron mixes with clay.
In the lifetime of those kings
the God of heaven will set up a kingdom
that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people;
rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms
and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.
That is the meaning of the stone you saw hewn from the mountain
without a hand being put to it,
which broke in pieces the tile, iron, bronze, silver, and gold.
The great God has revealed to the king what shall be in the future;
this is exactly what you dreamed, and its meaning is sure.”

Daniel 2:31-45

 

Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's First Dream, Mattia Pretti

Daniel Interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s First Dream, Mattia Preti

 

We’ve looked at another work by Mattia Preti, his painting of John the Baptist.

From the Getty Museum website:

Although Mattia Preti (1613 – 1699) spent much of his life elsewhere, he is traditionally associated with the city of Naples. Together with Luca Giordano, Preti extended the reputation of Neapolitan painting throughout Italy and internationally. Originally from Calabria in southern Italy, Preti went to Rome around 1630, sharing a room with his brother Gregorio who had arrived about two years earlier. Gregorio may have been Mattia’s principal teacher, although they both also studied at the Accademia di San Luca.

While in Rome during the 1630s and 1640s, Preti achieved his first success. His easel paintings, particularly his early ones, are painted in the style of Caravaggio. His mature style, which reached its epitome in Naples from 1653 to 1660, is intensely dramatic, uniting a Caravaggesque realism and expressive chiaroscuro with the grandeur and theatricality of Venetian artists like Paolo Veronese and Tintoretto. In 1661 Preti went to the island of Malta, where he remained for the rest of his life. While receiving most of the island’s church commissions, he also worked for patrons from across Europe. Preti’s contributions to the late Baroque style in Naples greatly inspired later painters, notably Francesco Solimena.

Ishtar Gate of Nebuchadnezzar II

 

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah,
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came
and laid siege to Jerusalem.
The Lord handed over to him Jehoiakim, king of Judah,
and some of the vessels of the temple of God;
he carried them off to the land of Shinar,
and placed the vessels in the temple treasury of his god.

Daniel 1:1-2

One of the most magnificent artifacts from the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar is the Ishtar Gate.

wpid-73ec6813504f8ab1a76ef392b30eeebc.jpg

From Ancient History Encyclopedia:

The Ishtar Gate was constructed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II circa 575 BCE. It was the eighth gate of the city of Babylon (in present day Iraq) and was the main entrance into the city. The Ishtar Gate was part of Nebuchadnezzar’s plan to beautify his empire’s capital and during the first half of the 6th century BCE, he also restored the temple of Marduk and built the renowned wonder, the Hanging Gardens as part of this plan. The magnificence of the Ishtar Gate was so well known that it made the initial list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, it was later replaced by the Lighthouse of Alexandria, but some authors (Antipater of Sidon and Calliamchus of Cyrene) wrote that the “Gates of Ishtar” and “Walls of Babylon” should still be considered one of the wonders.

THE ISHTAR GATE & DEITIES

The Ishtar Gate is named so, because it was dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, although Nebuchadnezzar pays homage to other Babylonian deities through various animal representations. The animals represented on the gate are young bulls (aurochs), lions, and dragons (sirrush). These animals are symbolic representations of certain deities: lions are often associated with Ishtar, bulls with Adad, and dragons with Marduk. Respectively, Ishtar was a goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex, Adad was a weather god, and Marduk was the chief or national god of Babylon.

 wpid-display-738.jpg
wpid-724.jpg

MATERIALS & CONSTRUCTION

The front of the gate is adorned with glazed bricks with alternating rows of dragons and bulls. The beasts are furnished in yellow and brown tiles, while the bricks surrounding them are blue. The blue enameled tiles are thought to be of lapis lazuli, but there is some debate to this conjecture. The gates measured more than 38 feet (11.5 m) high with a vast antechamber on the southern side.

Through the gatehouse is the Processional Way, which is a brick-paved corridor over half a mile long with walls over 50 feet tall (15.2 m) on each side. The walls are adorned with over 120 sculptural lions, flowers, and enameled yellow tiles. The Processional Way was used for the New Year’s celebration, through which statues of the deities would parade down and the path paved with red and yellow stones (rows of red stone on the outer layers and a yellow row in-between). Each one of these stones has an inscription underneath: a small prayer from King Nebuchadnezzar to the chief god Marduk. It was this processional way that led to the temple of Marduk.

wpid-display-735.jpgModel of the Ishtar Gate

Model of the Ishtar Gate

DEDICATION PLAQUE

On the Ishtar Gate, there is a dedication plaque written from Nebuchadnezzar’s point of view that explains the gate’s purpose and describes it in some detail.

Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the faithful prince appointed by the will of Marduk, the highest of princely princes, beloved of Nabu, of prudent counsel, who has learned to embrace wisdom, who fathomed their divine being and reveres their majesty, the untiring governor, who always takes to heart the care of the cult of Esagila and Ezida and is constantly concerned with the well-being of Babylon and Borsippa, the wise, the humble, the caretaker of Esagila and Ezida, the firstborn son of Nabopolassar, the King of Babylon.

Both gate entrances of Imgur-Ellil and Nemetti-Ellil following the filling of the street from Babylon had become increasingly lower.

Therefore, I pulled down these gates and laid their foundations at the water table with asphalt and bricks and had them made of bricks with blue stone on which wonderful bulls and dragons were depicted.

I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars length-wise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings.

I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder

I let the temple of Esiskursiskur (the highest festival house of Marduk, the Lord of the Gods a place of joy and celebration for the major and minor gods) be built firm like a mountain in the precinct of Babylon of asphalt and fired bricks.

wpid-6166646179_8074bef4e7_b.jpg

EXCAVATION & RECONSTRUCTION

The Ishtar gate was excavated between 1902 to 1914 CE during which 45 feet (13.7 m) of the original foundation of the gate was discovered. The material excavated by Robert Koldewey was used in a reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way. In 1930 CE, the reconstruction was finished at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Due to size restrictions at the Pergamon Museum, the Ishtar Gate is neither complete nor its original size. The gate was originally a double gate, but the Pergamon Museum only utlizes the smaller, frontal part. The second gate is currently in storage. Originally, the gate had a door and roof made of cedar and bronze, which was not built for the reconstruction. A smaller reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate was built in Iraq under Saddam Hussein as the entrance to a museum. However, this reconstruction was never finished due to war.

There are several museums in the world that have received portions of the Ishtar Gate: the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, the Detroit Institute of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Louvre, Munich’s State Museum of Egyptian Art, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Oriental Institute of Chicago, and many others.

Brittany Britanniae. “Ishtar Gate,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified August 23, 2013. http://www.ancient.eu /Ishtar_Gate/.