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

The Zeal of Mattathias

 

The officers of the king in charge of enforcing the apostasy
came to the city of Modein to organize the sacrifices.
Many of Israel joined them,
but Mattathias and his sons gathered in a group apart.
Then the officers of the king addressed Mattathias:
“You are a leader, an honorable and great man in this city,
supported by sons and kin.
Come now, be the first to obey the king’s command,
as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah
and those who are left in Jerusalem have done.
Then you and your sons shall be numbered among the King’s Friends,
and shall be enriched with silver and gold and many gifts.”
But Mattathias answered in a loud voice:
“Although all the Gentiles in the king’s realm obey him,
so that each forsakes the religion of his fathers
and consents to the king’s orders,
yet I and my sons and my kin
will keep to the covenant of our fathers.
God forbid that we should forsake the law and the commandments.
We will not obey the words of the king
nor depart from our religion in the slightest degree.”

As he finished saying these words,
a certain Jew came forward in the sight of all
to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein
according to the king’s order.
When Mattathias saw him, he was filled with zeal;
his heart was moved and his just fury was aroused;
he sprang forward and killed him upon the altar.
At the same time, he also killed the messenger of the king
who was forcing them to sacrifice,
and he tore down the altar.
Thus he showed his zeal for the law,
just as Phinehas did with Zimri, son of Salu.

Then Mattathias went through the city shouting,
“Let everyone who is zealous for the law
and who stands by the covenant follow after me!”
Thereupon he fled to the mountains with his sons,
leaving behind in the city all their possessions.
Many who sought to live according to righteousness and religious custom
went out into the desert to settle there.

1 Maccabees 2:15-29

Mattathias Slays the Apostate, Gustave Dore Bible illustrations

Mattathias Slays the Apostate, Gustave Dore Bible illustrations, 1865

 

From Catholic Resources

The Artist:

Gustave Doré was an Alsacian artist who specialized in book illustrations.  Born in Strasbourg, France, on January 6, 1832, he began his artistic career in Paris when he was only 15 years old.  His drawings and illustrations were groundbreaking and very popular, although he never won the acclaim of the artistic elite in France.  In his later years, he spent much time in London, where he also opened a very popular gallery.  He died on January 23, 1883, at the age of 51.

Doré is probably most famous for his depictions of numerous scenes from the Bible, but he also produced illustrations for many other books, including Milton, Dante, La Fontaine, Don Quixote, Baron Munchhausen, etc.  [See below for links to websites with a more detailed biography and some reproductions of his non-biblical illustrations and paintings.]

The Bible Illustrations:

Doré and the artisans in his studios produced hundreds of different woodcuts illustrating scenes from a wide variety of biblical stories from both the Old Testament (including the Apocrypha) and the New Testament.

His biblical illustrations were first published in 1865 in France and reprinted in the late 1860’s in various German, English, and other editions. These large-folio multi-volume Bibles (with about 240 illustrations each) were very heavy and expensive, but smaller editions were soon also published. Most of the illustrations are identical in the various editions, but some illustrations are not found in certain language editions, and in other cases as slightly different illustration is found for the same biblical passage.

Doré’s illustrations were extremely popular in both Europe and America in the last decades of the nineteenth century. For example, over 1.5 million people visited the Doré Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1896.  Several publishers also printed smaller collections of his biblical illustrations without the complete text of the Bible in so-called “Doré Bible Gallery” editions.

His artistic style greatly influenced some of the early biblical films, especially those of D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. In fact, some of the scenes from DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923 & 1956) look remarkably similar to the corresponding biblical illustration by Doré.