17 July 2004 Revised & Updated 10 Sept 2004, 11 Dec 2004
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Below, two winged Victories (Latin: Victoria, Greek: Nike), one with a victor's palm-branch, present victory wreaths to the Emperor Constantius II, who on this commemorative gold coin or medallion reigned ca. 337-361 A.D. Note "the Halo" about his head to show his piety; on rare occasion the Romans showed their gods with halos centuries before they adopted Christianity in the mid 4th century A.D. under the Emperor Constantine the Great (ca. 308-337 A.D.) and his successors. Apparently the "Romanized Christians" took the halos of the pagan gods, especially the sun-god and transferred them as "a mark of piety" to images of Christ, the Apostles, and Angels, including the Emperor (the Byzantine Emperors and their queens are also portrayed with halos). Note the exposed right breast of the Victory on the viewer's right. The Romans frequently showed Victories as partially clad. Later Christian "modesty" would require the Cherubim and other Angels to be fully clad. (For the photo cf. p. 31. Christa Schug-Wille. Art of the Byzantine World. New York. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publisher. 1969). Special Note: Schug-Wille has in error attributed this medallion/coin to Constans. Cf. Johnathan Williams, et al. for the correct attribution which has been followed here (p. 58. Jonathan Williams, Joe Cribb & Elizabeth Errington. Money, A History. New York. St. Martin's Press.1997).
Below, a silver platter showing the Emperor Theodosius I (the platter is dated ca. 388 A.D.) with a halo about his head, holding court. Note the two Cupids (also called Erotii or Putii), nude children with wings bearing gifts to either side of the Emeror's head. (cf. p. 71. Christa Schug-Wille. Art of the Byzantine World. New York. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publisher. 1969).
Below, a semi-nude winged Roman Victory holding a victor's wreath in her right hand and victor's palm-branch in her left. As noted above, Christians would later transform her into an "Angel," eliminating her erotic aspect of being nude or semi-nude. (cf. p. 335. figure 9. Arnold Toynbee. Editor. The Crucible of Christianity, Judaism, Hellenism and the Historical background to the Christian Faith. New York & Cleveland. World Publishing Company. 1969)
Below, the Syrian Sun-god called "Sol" by the Romans -who became popular with Roman soldiers and the emperors in the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. with a halo in which are radiate rays. The monument is probably 3rd century A.D. The Emperor Constantine the Great worshipped Sol and honored him as Sol Invictus "the Unconquerable Sun." Apparently with Constantine's conversion to Christianity on his deathbed, solar imagery and trappings [the halo] came to be transferred to Christ and his entourage. (For the photo cf. p. 243. Arnold Toynbee. Editor. The Crucible of Christianity, Judaism, Hellenism and the Historical background to the Christian Faith. New York & Cleveland. World Publishing Company. 1969).
Below, an ivory of the 5th/6th century A.D. showing the Arch-Angel Michael with staff and globe (cf. p. 266. Arnold Toynbee. Editor. The Crucible of Christianity, Judaism, Hellenism and the Historical background to the Christian Faith. New York & Cleveland. World Publishing Company. 1969).
Below, a manuscript illumination of God [the blond beardless Christ being portrayed as God, in his role as "The Logos" or "The Word"] stationing the Cherubim at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, to deny mankind access to the Tree of Life, from a 17th century copy of the 5th century A.D. "Cotton Genesis" which was burnt in the 18th century. (cf. p. 266. Arnold Toynbee. Editor. The Crucible of Christianity, Judaism, Hellenism and the Historical background to the Christian Faith. New York & Cleveland. World Publishing Company. 1969).
Below, a sarcophagus of the Roman era, ca. 4th-5th century A.D., showing two winged Victories holding a ring in which lies a Jewish candelabra called a Menorah. (For photo cf. p.63. Arnold Toynbee. Editor. The Crucible of Christianity, Judaism, Hellenism and the Historical Background to the Christian Faith. New York & Cleveland. World Publishing Company. 1969).
Below, 19th century Christian artists, following in the above traditions of Angel iconography "borrowed" from the Hellenistic Greco-Roman Nike and Victory images of the 1st-4th centuries A.D., would render the Cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant as winged Angels in flowing gowns. (cf. p. 53, "Ark of the Covenant." William Smith [Rev. F.N & M.A. Peloubet, editors]. A Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Zondervan Publishing House.  1967, 1976)
Contrary to the above images of the Cherubim being humanlike, many scholars today understand that they are four legged beasts, possessing a lion's body, wings and human head, known as Sphinxes derived from exemplars found in Late Bronze (ca. 1560-1200 B.C.) and Iron Age (ca. 1200-586 B.C.) art forms of the Ancient Near Eastern world, most particularly, Egypt, Canaan, Phoenicia and Syria, as well as Mesopotamia, including Assyria and Babylonia. For all the details please click on the following url "Cherubim Origins."
Below, from a Phoenican crafted platter of the 8th/7th century B.C. are two Cherubim, winged sphinxes, smelling the fragrant aroma of a sacred tree and guarding it. This motif is understood by some scholars to lie behind Genesis' Cherubim guarding the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. This tree is a composite of Egyptian Lotus and Papyrus blossoms (aquatic plants, NOT trees), creatively "re-interpreted" by the Phoenicians and Canaanites into a Tree of Life. In Egyptian myths the Sun-god was reborn each day of a huge Lotus blossom which grew in Nun, the Primordial Sea from which arose all life, including the gods; Egyptian tomb inscriptions expressed the desire of the dead to possess immortality like the Sun-god, they too would rise each day from the Underworld, via the great Lotus to enjoy eternal life. Often the occupant of the tomb is shown seated holding a Lotus blossom near his nose smelling its life-giving aroma. The great Sphinx of Giza which guards the pyramids was called in Egyptian Heru-khuti "Horus of the Horizon," meaning he was an aspect of the rising Sun-god, so the Sphinx too arose each day -achieveing immortality- from the great Lotus blossom. In Egyptian myth Sphinxes were defenders of Egypt against her enemies and they guarded sacred gardens attached to temples.
Below, a Canaanite king or prince of Megiddo seated on a Cherubim throne, after an ivory found in the Late Bronze Age palace ca. the 13-12th century B.C. In his hand he holds a Lotus blossom. Canaan was a part of the Egyptian Empire from ca. 1560 to 1130 B.C., and thus a number of Egyptian motifs came to be borrowed and reformatted by the peoples of Canaan, including the Hebrews, who are mentioned in Egyptian annals as being defeated in a Canaanite rebellion ca. 1206 B.C. by Pharaoh Merneptah. By 1130 B.C. Egypt withdrew from Canaan under Pharaoh Ramesses VI permitting the Egyptian-unopposed "rise" of Israel.
For, _my_ "interpretation and rendering" of the Ark of the Covenant and its Mercy Seat, click here.
Freeman has suggested that the halo may be a symbol of imperial power rather than holiness:
"Another symbol of imperial power is the halo, representing the sun. It is not necessarily a mark of holiness -in the neighbouring church of Santa Maria Maggiore, Herod himself is shown on a mosaic wearing one- so its appropriation in this early context suggests imperial rather than religious power."
(p. 200. Charles Freeman.The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason. New York. Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher. 2004. ISBN 1-4000-4085-X)
Of interest is the god Dionysus as a "Divine Child" with a halo about his head in a mosaic from Cyprus of the fourth century BCE (cf. fig. 27. Charles Freeman. .The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason. New York. Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher. 2004. ISBN 1-4000-4085-X)
The reader may find of interest _a very fine_ illustrated brief history of "the Halo" in Pre-Christian Art as well Christian times at the following urlhttp://www.lope.ca/halo/
Finally, let it be noted: Ezekeil's very detailed description of the Cherubim (Ez 1:5-12) does _NOT_ agree with the "common" Christian representation of Cherubim Angels modeled after the above examples of Greco-Roman Nikes and Victories; NOR does his description agree with the winged sphinxes suggested by Archaeology's findings of winged sphinx thrones of the Late Bronze Age (1540-1200 B.C.) or Iron Age (1200-560 B.C.) found in Phoenica and Canaan. For a picture of Ezekiel's cherub and its possible Ancient Near Eastern "prototypes"please click here.
The above semi-nude erotic rendering of Victoria or Victory by the Romans is probably indebted to the occasional Hellenistic Greek renderings of a semi-nude Nike. Below, a winged Nike, half-naked with bared breasts, in chiton dress hanging from her hips, presents a victor's wreath to a trophy consisting of captured enemy armor. The inscription below her is Greek. This silver tetradrachm was issued ca. 310-306 B.C. at Syracuse, Sicily by the Greek Tyrant Agathocles. The Greeks had colonized and settled the lower penninsula of Italy and the nearby island of Sicily, which were then called "Magna Grecia" (cf. p.289 for text & Plate XXII.1 for the image. Harold Mattingly. Roman Coins From the Earliest Times to the Fall of the Western Empire. Chicago. Quadrangle Books. 1962 reprint of the 1928 edition printed by Butler & Tanner Ltd., Frome and London).
Below, a 3rd century A.D. Roman mosaic titled "The Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite." Note the halos about their heads. In myth, Neptune, king of the Sea, fell in love with the sea nymph called Amphitrite, who rejected his marriage proposal. Later, a dolphin succeeds in getting her to change her mind. As a reward Neptune has the dolphin made into a star constellation in the heavens called Dolphinus. Note the dolphins in the sea below the sea-horses which pull Neptune's Shell-Quadriga or Chariot (The Mosaic is at Istanbul, formerly Roman Constantinople). Note also the two winged children holding a billowing veil over the affectionate couple; they were associated with "love," and called the Eroti, and would become transformed in later Christian art into "Cupids" or "Cherubs/Cherubim" on Valentine's Day cards.( cf. the following urls for the images of Neptune and Amphitrite: http://www.hp.uab.edu/image_archive/ulf/mosaic01.jpg and http://web.uvic.ca/grs/bowman/myth/images/haifa/h84.jpg )
Below, a close-up of the halos about the heads of Amphitrite and Neptune.