Yahweh-Elohim's Wings?

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M. A. Ed.

21 August 2005

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Several statements about Yahweh's "wings" appear in the Bible. Some scholars no doubt would dismiss these as merely "metaphorical" hyperbole. I suspect that these statements may in fact preserve some very archaic imagery of a winged God.

Ruth 2:12 RSV

The Lord recompense you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!"

Psalm 17:8

Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of thy wings, from the wicked who despoil me...

Psalm 36:7

How precious is thy steadfast love O God! The children of men take refuge in the shadow of thy wings.

Psalm 57:1

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in thee my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of thy wings I will take refuge...

Psalm 61:4

Let me dwell in thy tent forever! Oh to be safe under the shelter of thy wings!

Psalm 63:7

...for thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of thy wings I will sing for joy.

Psalm 91:4

...he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge...

Malachi 4:2

But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.

The word God in English Bibles is sometimes translated fom Hebrew word El. Late Bronze Age texts found at modern Ras Shamras, ancient Ugarit, mention a supreme god called El, actually "Bull El." A stele found at the site has been identified as representing El and shows him bearded (with no wings), and seated in a chair (a throne with footstool). He wears a helmet of bull's horns. He was called ab 'adm "the father of man." Please click here for a picture of the Ugaritic El.

I have noted that Egyptian and Mesopotamian art at times renders gods and goddesses with and without wings. Thus while a Late Bronze Age El at Ugarit does not possess wings he apparently does in later Phoenician art forms of the Iron Age and Hellenistc eras (cf. the below examples).

Langdon noted a god at Phoenican Byblos (ancient Gebal) called El and his followers the Eloheim, citing a Hellenistic writer who attempted to preserve ancient Phoenician myths called Sanchounyathon. Langdon suggested that these gods might be precursors of the later Hebrew God, El/Elohim.

Langdon on El of Gebal or Byblos:

"El was the name of the principal deity of Gebal...From Uranos and Ge sprang Ilos, called Cronos...Ilos or Cronos drove his father Elioun from the kingdom and founded Byblos (Gebal). The comrades of Ilos are called Eloehim in this source, a transcription of the Phoenician or Hebrew elohim "gods"...That El was the special name of the "Baal of Gebal" as he was called by the Egyptians, is proved by the emphasis laid upon this title by the inhabitants of that city in thier proper names. El-ba'al, "El is lord," is the name of an ancient king. In the Persian period names of kings of Gebal are Elpa'al, "El has made," 'Ainel, "Eye of El"...On coins of Gebal El is represented with six wings, two pair extended from his back in flight, and one pair below, drooping at rest.

Fig. 38, obverse, of the year 80 BC, has the head of Astarte or Beltis of Gebal with mural crown, identifying her with Tyche. The reverse has the winged El, characteristic of the coins of the period of the Selecudiae, from Antiochus Epiphanes onward. He holds a long wand or scepter. Sanchounyathon thus describes this deity: "He has four eyes, two behind and two before, two of which are closed in sleep. On his shoulders are four wings, two in the act of flying, and two reposing at rest. The symbol meant that while he slept, he also watched, and while he flew he rested." (pp. 67-68. fig. 30. Stephen Herbert Langdon. Mythology of All the Races, Semitic. Vol. 5. Boston. Archaaeological Institute of America. Marshall Jones Co. 1931)

Below, a winged god identified as El, appears twice, with lotus blossoms and a winged sun disc, as found on a bronze cheek-piece for a horse (length: 51 centimeters) from a tomb at ancient Salamis on Cyprus dated the end of the 8th century BCE. These tombs exhibited art motifs from Egypt, Phoenicia, Assyria and Greece. ( cf. p. 122. Abb.[fig.] 224. for the drawing and tafeln [plate] 48 for the black and white photograph. Vassos Karageorghis. Salamis, Die zyprische Metropole des Altertums. Gustav Lubbe Verlag. Bergisch Gladbach. Deutschland. 1970, 1975. ISBN 3-7857-0050-4 [original title: Salamis in Antiquity. London. Thames & Hudson, in New Aspects of AntiquitySir Mortimer Wheeler. 1969].
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Klingbeil in a footnote (196, p. 222) on the above seal notes:

"The seal has been published by Bordreuil (1986: no. 58). The interpretation of the scaraboid has presented a number of difficulties: the Hebrew inscription seems to have been added later on and is not clearly distinguishable, reading a highly doubtful yh[y]hw[s]lm (Uehlinger, 1993:275). Furthermore, the seal is unique in its iconography and thus should be used cautiously for far-reaching conclusions: "To remain with our example, B 58 [figure 54] shows a religious representation in which its Judaean owner might [his italics] have recognized Yahweh and the 'Queen of Heaven', possibly identified with Asherah...But as the seal remains unique for the time being, we have no other documentary evidence to test such an hypothesis against other documentary evidence." (Uehlinger, 1993:276)"

I have noted that some Phoenican kings appear to me to have names which suggest they may  have worshipped some form of the Hebrew God Yahweh. Professor Pritchard on Phoenician kings of Byblos (emphasis mine) :

"This inscription records the dedication of a new building, possibly a temple, and is now quite generally dated in the 10th century BC. It was found in Byblos in 1929."

"Building Inscriptions, YEHIMILK OF BYBLOS :
A house built by Yehimilk, king of Byblos, who also has restored all the ruins of the houses here. May Baalshamem and the Lord of Byblos and the Assembly of the Holy Gods of Byblos prolong the days and years of Yehimilk in Byblos, for (he is) a righteous king and an upright king before the Holy Gods of Byblos!" (p. 215. James B. Pritchard.Editor. The Ancient Near East, An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. 1958. Princeton University Press)

"YEHAWMILK of Byblos.
This ex-voto has been known since 1869, but a fragment completing most of its lower right-hand corner was found only 60 years later. It appears to be from the 5th or 4th century BC. The identity of the second of the the three main objects which Yehawmilk here dedicates to his goddess has not been fully cleared up. Instead of an engraved object, it might have been a door.

"I am Yehawmilk, king of Byblos, the son of Yehar-ba'l, the grandson of Urimilk, king of Byblos, whom the Mistress, the Lady of Byblos, made king over Byblos...May the Lady of Byblos bless and preserve Yehawmilk, king of Byblos, and prolong his days and years in Byblos, for he is a righteous king...." (pp. 220-221. Pritchard. 1958)

I "suspect" that the name Yehaw-milk (alternately rendered Yehi, and perhaps even Yehar ?) may mean "Yehaw is king," perhaps _Yehaw/Yehi_  is but the Phoenician form of Hebrew Yah/Yahweh/Yahu ? An image of the Phoenician/Canaanite sea-god Yaw or Yeuo exists on a coin from Gaza made in the Persian period of Greek craftsmanship, Langdon has argued that this is an image of the Hebrew God, Yahweh. Please click HERE for the image, then scroll down to the bottom of the page for the coin.

The Phoenicians were famed as builders of the Temple of Solomon, and perhaps they too worshipped Yahweh, but under the name of Yehi-milk (10th century BCE) or Yehaw-milk (5th/4th century BCE) ? 

Not only do the Phoenicians have kings appear to be bearing Yahweh form names, the Phoenicians also show their male and female gods seated on winged sphinx thrones, which have been identified by some scholars as prototypes behind Yahweh's Cherubim throne in the Jerusalem Temple. It should come as no surprise then that if the kings of Byblos bore Yahweh names, and showed their gods seated on Cherubim thrones, that perhaps Phoenicia is one the sources for the Yahweh imagery appearing in the Bible.

The late Professor Albright on Cherubim being human-headed winged sphinxes:

"...in Syria and Palestine it is the winged sphinx which is dominant in art and religious symbolism. The God of Israel was often designated as "He who sitteth (on) the cherubim" (I Sam 4:4. The conception underlying this designation is well illustrated by the representations of a king seated on a throne supported on each side by cherubim, which have been found at Byblus, Hamath, and Megiddo, all dating between 1200 and 800 BC. One shows king Hiram of Byblus (period of the Judges) seated upon his cherub throne."

(William Foxwell Albright. "What Were the Cherubim ?" pp. 95-97. G. Ernest Wright & David Noel Freedman. Editors. The Biblical Archaeologist Reader. 1961. Quadrangle Books. Chicago. Note on p. 98 is a line drawing of Hiram's seated on his Cherubim throne, from a stone sarcophagus)

In Phoenician/Canaanite myths preserved at Ugarit (13th century BCE) Baal-Hadad fights his brother Yam/Nahar (Sea/River) for dominion of the earth, and Yam is called dotingly, by his father, Bull-El, my son _YAW_ ! For me, from my Secular Humanist viewpoint, Yahweh of the Bible and his struggle against Baal (Baal Hadad) is nothing more than the continuation of Late Bronze Age (ca. 1560-1200 BCE) myths of Yaw (Yahweh?) vs. Baal for supremeacy of the earth in Iron Age times (ca. 1200-587 BCE).


The Bible's allusions to "God's wings" may not be just simple metaphorical language, they might recall very archaic images of El (Elohim or Yahweh) in Iron Age times (1200-600 BCE). A winged god "identified" as El appears at Salamis with Phoenican motifs ca. the 8th cntury BCE (Iron Age II) and he apparently was recalled into Hellenistic times on coins (ca. 80 BCE) and the history of the Phoenicians by Sanchounyathon. El is not the only god appearing at Phoenician Gebal/Byblos, the kings of this port not only bore El names but also names suggesting the possible worship of some form of Yahweh (Yehimilk & Yehawmilk). Did Solomon pick Phoenicians to build Yahweh-Elohim's temple and decorate it because these peoples also worshipped a form of the Hebrew God as El and Yehi/Yehaw? Finally, there is the Judaean stamp seal which "may" show a winged Yahweh on a Cherub accompanied by a winged Asherah.
Below a stamp seal bearing what some scholars have identified as a winged Yahweh on a Cherub, accompanied by a winged goddess, Asherah, hovering over a sacred tree. The inscription is understood to be Hebrew. (cf. fig. 54. p. 222. Martin Klingbeil. Yahweh Fighting From Heaven, God as Warrior and as God of Heaven in the Hebrew Psalter and Ancient Near Eastern Iconography. University Fribourg, Switzerland. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Gottingen. 1999)