I have _not_ been successful in finding amongst Ancient Near Eastern Art Forms an example of a creature possessing ALL of the characteristics found in Ezekiel's description. The form is apparently unique to Ezekiel. My skecth employs "some concepts" from Assyrian and Babylonian Genii found in bas-reliefs and seals of the 9th-6th centuries B.C. Wheels with eyes are also unknown in ANE art forms of the 9th-6th centuries B.C.
Ezekiel's notion of a "flying" wheel asociated with Yahweh's throne as a form of locomotions is mirrored somewhat in Daniel who speaks of wheels associated with God's throne:
Daniel 7:9 RSV
"As I looked, thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of is head like pure wool; his THRONE was fiery flames its WHEELS were burning fire."
Some scholars have suggested that Daniel was written about 165 B.C. in the days of Antiochus Epihanes IV who ruled over Syria and who set up a Greek god in the Temple at Jerusalem for the Jews to worship. Could the notion of a flying wheel be indebted to an exposure to Greek concepts by Hellenized Jews? I have argued that as Ezekiel makes mention of Daniel, that his book may have been "edited" AFTER the Book of Daniel was written. Did Ezekiel "borrow" his imagery of a flying wheel throne from Daniel, who in turn got if from Hellenistic Greek Jews? The problem, however, is that neither Daniel or Ezekiel describe the flying wheeled-throne as possessing "wings."
Below, a Greek vase painting of the 5th century B.C. (the Persian Period) showing the Grain-god Triptolemos riding a chariot which is self-propelled with winged wheels ca. 465 B.C. (cf. Plate 31. Eva Parisinou. The Light of the Gods, The Role of Light in Archaic and Classical Greek Cult. London. Gerald Duckworth & Company, Ltd. 2000. ISBN 0-7156-2912-3)
Below, a drawing of the reverse of a small silver coin believed to have been issued for Gaza under the Persians in the 4th century B.C. The workmanship appears to me to be Greek in style described by Professor Langdon as showing Yaw (Yahweh) seated on a winged wheel throne holding a bird in outstretched hand, rather like Zeus holds an eagle. Langdon reads the inscription behind the bird as YHW, understanding this is the Hebrew god. (cf. pp. 43-44. Stephen Herbert Langdon. The Mythology of All Races, Semitic. Volume 5. Boston. Archaeological Institute of America. 1931). However, later scholars have challenged the reading as being YHW and have suggested it is to be read YHD, or Yehud, the Persian name for the province of Judah. Please click here for my article on the so-called "Yahweh wheel-throne-coin" and the scholarly controversy over its proper interpretation.
I will have to disagree somewhat with Langdon. The god is not Yahweh of the Jews, but rather the sea-god Yeou (Yaw) of Gebal/Byblos mentioned by the Hellenistic Phoenician writer Sanchounyathon.
I note that Gaza was a port city like Byblos which may have been under the influence of Phoenician seamen and traders and thus possessing a temple to this god. Phoenician/Canaanite myths at 13th century B.C. sea port of Ugarit state that Yaw was a god of the Sea and some Phoenician kings at Byblos bore Yahweh appearing names, like for instance Yehaw-melek "Yahweh is king" of the 5th century B.C. I understand that The Hebrew Yaw or Yahweh, is, in part, an aspect of the Phoenician god of the Sea, Yaw Yehaw Yeou.
Below, an artist's painting showing a "restored" gigantic wall mural found in the audience chamber of a palace at Khorsabad (Assyrian: Dur-Sharrukin, a residence of Sargon II) in Iraq 12 miles NE of ancient Nineveh of the 8th century B.C. built by the Assyrians. The scene is described as King Sargon II (reigned circa 722-705 B.C.) with his son the Crown Prince Sennacherib adoring the Assyrian god Asshur who stands atop a dais. Surrounding this scene is an arch bearing the images of 12 protective Genii who apparently accompany the god as his retinue of heavenly servants. Each of the Genii hovers over an object which _appears to me_ to resemble "a wheel-within-a-wheel", in scholarly language these radial designs are called "Rosettes" and they come in many different renderings. Perhaps Ezekiel's notion of the Cherubim who accompany God, each with his own wheel is recalling these Neo-Assyrian renderings, Ezekiel re-interpreting the "Rosettes" as wheels within wheels? Below the arch appear pairs of kneeling winged Genii presenting a pine-cone (?) to the rosette/wheel. (for the below pictures cf. p. 20. Paolo Matthiae. Geschichte der Kunst im Alten Orient. Die Grossreiche de Assyrer, Neubabylonier und Achameniden. Stuttgart. Konrad Theiss Verlag. 1999. [a German translation from the Italian La Storia dell'arte dell'Oriente Antico, I Grandi Imperi. 1996. Electa. Milano. Elemont Editori Associati]).
Ezekiel stated that one of the faces of the Cherubim was that of a man and these do have human faces. He also stated that when the Cherub arose off the ground its wheel accompanies it. In the below mural the winged Genii are shown hovering, _above_ Asshur, Sargon and Sennacherib and each has its Rossete/wheel accompanying it. _IF_ Ezekiel is "reinterpreting" Rosette/wheels as the flying wheels accompanying his Cherubim, could the "decorations" on the Rosette/wheels (cf. the panel of enlarged Rosette/wheels and their decorations below Asshur, Sargon and Sennacherib) have been reinterpreted as the "eyes" which cover the wheel's rims, note especially the reddish-color Rosette/wheel and its whitish dots (eyes?) near its outer rim positioned between the BACKS of the pairs of Genii (Note also there are TWO rows of said white dots, perhaps explaining Ezekiel's notion of a "wheel with a wheel" with eyes on the rims)? Note the Rosette/wheels between the FACING Genii have decorations which could be reinterpreted as the "spokes" of a wheel.
Ezekiel 1:18 RSV
"The four wheels had rims and they had spokes; and their rims were full of eyes round about. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels."
Ez 10:2, , RSV
"Go in among the whirling wheels UNDERNEATH the Cherubim...
I note that the 12 Genii are shown with Rosette/wheels UNDER them as they "hover" over Asshur and Sargon.
"...I saw a wheel UPON THE EARTH _BESIDE_ the living creatures, one for each of the four of them."
I note the panel below Asshur and Sennacherib shows a Rosette/wheel _BESIDE_ the Genii.
"...as for their appearance, the four had the same likeness, as if a wheel were within a wheel..."
I note that the Rosette/wheels appear to have several concentric circle designs which could be reinterpeted as rims within rims.
"And their rims, and their spokes, and the wheels were full of eyes round about..."
I note the decorations on the concentric circles could have been reinterpreted as "eyes."
Below, rosette/wheels as a border ornamentation with beardless Assyrian eunuchs (?) who were used as administrators to govern provinces by the Assyrian kings . (cf. for the below picture p. 84. Paolo Matthiae. Geschichte der Kunst im Alten Orient, Die Grossreiche der Assyrer, Neubabylonier und Achameniden 1000-330 von Christ. Stuttgart. Konrad Theiss Verlag. 1999. [translated from the Italian: La Storia dell'arte dell'Oriente antico i grande imperi. 1996. Milano. Elemont Editori Associati])
Below, winged Genii appear with buckets (of pollen ?) and pine-cones (?) in upraised hands to fertilize or pollinate (?) a sacred tree usually understood to a fanciful combining of a date-palm with vine tendrils and at times pomengranates or oppium poppy buds.(cf. p. 58. John Gray. Near Eastern Mythology, Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine. London. The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. 1969. SBN 600-036-383). The Griffin heads recall Ezekiel's notion of the Cherubim possessing an eagle's face.
Below, a winged bull-man with horns and bull's tail and cloven feet or hooves masters two other bull men who also possess cloven feet and bull's tails; Luristan, Persia, 8-7th century B.C.(cf. p. 202. Paolo Matthiae. Geschichte der Kunst im Alten Orient, Die Grossreiche der Assyrer, Neubabylonier und Achameniden 1000-330 von Christ. Stuttgart. Konrad Theiss Verlag. 1999. [translated from the Italian: La Storia dell'arte dell'Oriente antico i grande imperi. 1996. Milano. Elemont Editori Associati]). This image recalls Ezekiel's description of the cherubim possessing a bovine face (calf's face), wings, and cloven feet.
Below, a "close-up" of a somewhat similar but different wall mural of two 8th century B.C. of "beardless" Assyrian winged Genii holding miniature sacred tree amulets (?) or "pollenation devices (?) in both hands, between them a rosette/wheel suggesting _for me_ "wheels within wheels" envisioned by Ezekiel. The sun was sometimes associated with the sacred tree in Assyrian art, hovering over the tree. Could the rosette/wheel be a sun-symbol as suggested by some scholars ? The sun is said to have crossed the heavens in a chariot in some myths. Was the chariot wheel envisioned as a rosette/wheel ? (for the below image cf. p. 86. Paolo Matthiae. Geschichte der Kunst im Alten Orient. Die Grossreiche de Assyrer, Neubabylonier und Achameniden. Stuttgart. Konrad Theiss Verlag. 1999. [a German translation from the Italian La Storia dell'arte dell'Oriente Antico, I Grandi Imperi. 1996. Electa. Milano. Elemont Editori Associati])
As noted earlier, I have not found a rendering in the Ancient Near Eastern art forms posessing "all" of the characteristics enumerated by Ezekiel. Being a Secular Humanist, my understanding is that it was quite "common" for individuals of this period of time to reinterpret and transform earlier religious ideas, concepts and symbols, giving them "a new twist". So, I would argue that Ezekiel "probably" combined and reinterpreted the features of the various above demi-gods or Genii as well as the rosette/wheels which accompanied them, into the Cherubim with accompanying flying wheels.
I wonder if the Rosette/wheels being pollinated (?) by the Genii in the wall mural at Khorsabad (cf. above) represent, symbolically speaking, "flowers"? Usually these bearded Genii with their upraised pine cones and buckets are shown pollenating (?) the sacred tree, a fantastic tree combining the date-palm, vine tendrils, and blooms. That is to say, these winged bearded Genii may have been seen by the Assyrians as _Wind-gods_ that "carry" pollen in the air, depositing it on flower-blooms that are the first step in the production of fruits? Thus the Rosettes at Khorsabad are actually "fantastic" flower-blooms rather like the fantastic Sacred Tree? Date-palms appear as male and female trees. In the wild, the pollen of the male is carried or borne by the wind which deposits it on a nearby female's flowers, fertilizing them to create dates. If this hunch is correct, then the Bible's statement that God flew upon a Cherub, likened to "riding on the wings of the wind" (Psalm 18:10) _would tie into somewhat_ the Assyrian notion of winged Genii generating winds carrying life-giving pollen to all manners of flowering fruit-bearing flora, especially pollen from male date-plams to female date-palms? Why are the Genii holding a pine cone? Pine trees have male and female appendages. The female is fertilized by wind-borne pollen from the male. Thus I suspect that the pine-cone may have symbolized for the Assyrians, the whole process of "wind-borne life-giving pollination", seeds from fertilized/pollinated pine cones falling to the earth creating pine trees. (for the below picture of a sacred tree adored by Asshurbanipal II, ca. 883-859 BCE, who is accompanied by bearded winged Genii holding upraised pine cones (?) and pollen (?) buckets cf. p. 58. John Gray.
Near Eastern Mythology. London. The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. 1969)
Below, Lion-headed demons, possessing a human form, wielding daggers. Their feet however are not cloven bull's feet but the talons of a bird of prey (cf. fig. 12 of the photographic plates section at the back of the book. Gwendolyn Leick. A Dictionary of Ancient Near Eastern Mythology. London & New York. Routledge. 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998. ISBN 0-415-19811-9. paperback). Ezekiel described the Cherubim as possessing -in part- a lion's face and a cloven feet (from an ox?). The below example shows the feet to also be of a different creature, the talons of a bird of prey, rather than lion's paws. That is to say, Ezekiel's vision of the Cherubim "somewhat" follows along with the Ancient Near Eastern conventions of imaginary creatures possessing heads and feet of _different_ animals along with a human body.
Below, two men possessing a ox's (bull's) head, from a cylinder seal impression (cf. p. 42. Henrietta McCall. Mesopotamian Myths. Austin, Texas. University of Texas Press. [in cooperation with the British Museum, London]. 1990, 1993. ISBN 0-292-75130-3). Ezekiel described one of the faces of the Cherubim as that of an ox (Ez 1:10).
Below, a close-up of the above Rosette/wheels between the bearded Genii who hold a raised pine cone (?) in one hand and a small bucket (of pollen?) or purse/pouch in the other, said act usually shown with an Assyrian sacred tree between them as standing figures and surmised to be an act of pollination.
So, if the Rosettes at Khorsabad are symbolic of flowering trees or flora that receive wind-borne pollen from Wind-Genii, it is still possible that Ezekiel, in the Exile could have seen similar art work and _reinterpreted_ the Rosettes as wheels-within-wheels that flew in the air alongside the Cherubim, who in Psalms are associated with creating winds (Ps 18:10). That is to say it is not to be expected that a Jew in the Exile would necessarily "understand" the symbolism represented in another nation's art-forms, he may have seen "wheels-within-wheels" instead of flowers being pollinated by Wind-Genii.
A clarification on the pine cone: Date-palms are NOT fertilized by dipping a pine cone into a bag or purse of pollen. A pollen laden cluster is cut from a male date-palm and tied to a female cluster, then shaken by hand to release the pollen. It would be rather ineffecient to use a small pine cone to cover in pollen a female date-palm's flowering clusters. _I understand_ that the pine cone (?) held by the Wind-Genii (?) is merely "a symbol" of the fertilizing power of pollen-laden winds. The pine cone is ultimately itself "the end product" of wind borne pollen from the male to female appendages found on the pine tree and thus a suitable symbol of wind borne fertilization in the Wind-Genii's hand.
In the Mesopotamian myth called "Adapa and the South Wind," Adapa who is a priest and fisherman for the god Enki/Ea at Eridu in southern Mesopotamia, has his boat overturned by a wind while fishing. He utters a curse breaking the South Wind's _wing_ thereby ending the breeze. That is to say the Mesopotamians understood wind to be caused by the beating or fluttering wings of invisible creatures. Thus the wings of the Wind-Genii create wind. The Pine cone only symbolizes the pollen carried by the wind. So when Yahweh rides a Cherub, that Cherub's wings, in accordance with Mesopotamian myths, produces wind:
Psalm 18:10 RSV
"He rode on a cherub, and flew; he came swiftly upon THE WINGS OF THE WIND."
Of course, we know today through Science and Meteorology that invisible creatures called Cherubim do NOT create wind with their wings. The Hebrew's notion that wings create wind was not unique, other nations had the same idea, the Egyptians, Mesopotamians and later Greeks and Romans portrayed wind as coming from invisible beings whose "wings" generated breezes.
Below, Egyptian wind gods (cf. pp. 295-296. Vol. 2. "The Gods of the Four Winds." E. A. Wallis Budge. The Gods of the Egyptians. New York. Dover Publications. 1969. 2 vols. [reprint of 1904. The Open Court Publishing Company, London]).
Note that the North wind is _alternately_ rendered possessing an animal's body (a Ram) and a human body. _Perhaps the Cherubim could also be so conceived?_ That is to say, the Cherubim could _alternately_ possess animal bodies like bulls and lions with human features like a face (as for example the Late Bronze and Iron Age Winged Lion-Sphinx thrones of Canaan, Phoenicia and Egypt) and on other occassions possess human bodies with animal faces like Ezekiel's Cherubim ? So, Ezekiel is describing the Cherubim with human bodies as an _alternate_ form they could assume instead of possessing an animal's body like a bull or lion. From an Ancient Near Eastern point of view then, there is _nothing contradictory_ in Cherubim having "alternately" animal bodies and human bodies. The present confusion over whether a Cherub has an animal's body (winged lion-sphinx) or human body (Ezekiel's description) is caused by modern 21st century "mindsets" _unaware_ the creature could apparently assume _both forms_ alternately in the ancients' imagination.
Elsewhere the Hebrew Bible suggests that wind is God's breath (Ez 37:1-10). Again, this notion is NOT unique to the Hebrews, the Mesopotamains ALSO had the notion of wind being a god's breath.
Ezekiel 37:1-10 RSV
Thus says the Lord God to these bones: "Behold, I will cause BREATH to enter you, and you shall live..."Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the BREATH, prophesy, son of man, and say to the BREATH, Thus says the Lord God: COME FROM THE FOUR WINDS O BREATH AND BREATHE upon these slain, that they may live."
Dalley on the god Ea's (Sumerian Enki) breath being conceived of as wind:
"Winds -Four winds of the compass points: South Wind, sutu, capricious and female, ALSO KNOWN AS 'EA'S BREATH'; North Wind, sadu, literally 'mountain wind'; West Wind, amurru..." (p. 331. "Glossary: Wind." Stephanie Dalley. Myths From Mesopotamia, Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh and Others. Oxford & New York. Oxford University Press. 1989, 1991. Paperback. ISBN 0-19-281789-2)
Of interest here is that the god Ea (Sumerian Enki) is portrayed in various Mesopotamian myths as:
For images of conjoined faces or heads please click here for Phoenician crafted scarabs (seals) of the Persian and Hellenistic periods, the 6th through 1st century BCE, showing multiple faces/heads of humans and various animals (Note: by clicking on the images one can ENLARGE them for better viewing). This art form might be what Ezekiel's multifaced Cherub is an example of?
Black and Green on the "cone and bucket" held by the winged genies:
"In Neo-Assyrian art, objects resembling a pine cone and a bucket (or occasionally a bucket alone) are held as attributes by a number of different genies, often in association with the stylized tree; the cone is held up in the right hand, the bucket held down in the left...The cone has been interpreted as a fir cone (Pinus brutia), as a male flower of the date palm or as a clay object in imitation of such. The bucket has been thought to have been of metal or wicker, and to have contained either water or pollen...Written sources on the matter are few, but it seems clear that the bucket and cone were associated with purification, for they are known respectively as banduddu (bucket) and, significantly, mullilu (purifier), and figurines of genies holding these attributes were among the types placed within buildings for protection from malevolent demons and disease..." (p. 46. "Bucket and Cone." Jeremy Black and Anthony Green. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia, An Illustrated Dictionary. London & Austin, Texas. University of Texas Press [in association with the British Museum]. 1992)
For an interesting article with color photos on the Omani Arabs "traditional" method of pollinating female date palms via a male date palm please click here.
20 August 2008 Update:
Where is Ezekiel possibly getting his imagery from regarding his description of God's throne as possessing four cherubim who are associated with four flying wheels?
In addition to the above research I suspect he is possibly conflating and misunderstanding earlier verses found in the Hebrew Bible and constructing his own version or "vision" of God's throne in his imagination.
Here are the verses:
King David mentions a "golden chariot of the cherubim" to be dedicated to Yahweh and erected in association with Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 28:18). Here we have some of the motifs appearing in Ezekiel's "vision": (1) The fact that there are cherubim, "-im" being a plural form and the verse does _not_ say how many cherubim are acting as the locomation for God's chariot, allowing Ezekiel to envision four cherubim instead of two; (2) A chariot would possess wheels and again it is not stated how many wheels it has, allowing Ezekiel to envision four wheels instead of two wheels.
Another pre-Ezekiel motif is the statement that God's throne in the Temple is a cherubim throne, with a winged cherub on either side facing each other (Exodus 25:18-20). Contra Ezekiel, the cherubim are described as being two, not four (however in addition to the two cherubim on God's throne there exists another two colossal cherubim standing over the Ark of the Covenant (1 Kings 8:7), so actually four cherubim are to be found within the Holy of Holies, which might have led Ezekiel to envison four cherubim as associated with God's mobile throne. Ezekiel describes the cherubim as possessing four wings (the number of wings is _not_ given in the pre-Ezekiel verses, allowing Ezekiel to envision the cherubim as possessing four wings instead of two wings).
Another pre-Ezekiel motif is the description of God riding a cherub whose wings were a source of wind or breezes (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalm 18:10). Here is possibly the origin for Ezekiel of a cherub being _under_ God and providing locomotion in the heavens as well as Ezekiel's assocaition of a stormcloud (winds being associated with storms) the cherubim appear in.
So, to recap the pre-Ezekiel motifs which probably underlie Ezekiel's vision:
(1) A cherub provides locomotion for God in the heavens, implying an act of flying (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalm 18:10).
(2) Winds are associated with the cherub God rides and God is associated as moving about over the earth in storm clouds as witness his manifestation at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:9, 16).
(3) That more than one cherub is associated with God's throne is drawing upon the cherubim harnessed to a chariot (1 Chronicles 28:18) and the cherubs associated with God's throne in Solomon's Temple and the colossal cherubs standing over the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple (four cherubim being in the Holy of Holies, 2 Chronicles 5:8).
(4) That a cherub possesses four faces, (1) cherub, (2) ox, (3) lion, (4) eagle might be drawing from 1 Kings 7:29 which mentions lions, oxen and cherubim on bronze wash basins in Solomon's Temple. The notion that one of the cherub's faces is that of an eagle may be that as wings are associated with birds and cherubs possess wings thus Ezekiel may have envisioned a bird as one of the cherub's features.
(5) Ezekiel's throne wheels are drawn from the golden chariot of the cherubim (1 Chronicles 28:18) which carries God about in the heavens. That God's throne has four wheels may be drawn from the four wheels on the portable bronze wash basins (1 Kings 7:27--38) in Solomon's Temple (similar four-wheeled basins have been excavated in Cyprus in Iron Age contexts).
From all of the above I draw the conclusion that Ezekiel, despite his being a prophet, _never_ actually saw for himself the Cherubim which were in the Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple. His "vision" of them and of God's throne is most likely the result of his conflation and misunderstanding of (1) Cherubim providing heavenly locomation for God; (2) a wheeled cherubim chariot; (3) a cherubim throne; (4) _four_ cherubim being in the Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple; (5) _four-wheeled_ bronze wash basins in Solomon's Temple bearing images of cherubim, lions and oxen.
I understand that the pre-Ezekiel descriptions of the cherubim, cherubim throne and cherubim chariot can be traced to motifs from Late Bronze Age (15640-1200 B.C.) and Iron Age times (1200-587 B.C.). Please click here for pictures of Cherubim chariots and thrones from Late Bronze Age and Iron Age archaeological findings in Egypt, Canaan and Phonecia, the cherubim being in these ages lion-bodied, winged, human-faced four-legged creatures.
Below, the East Wind with a scarab beetle's body and ram's head, and _alternately_ as a human body with ram's head.
Below, two Neo-Assyrian beardless eunuchs (?) carrying what appears to be a wheeled-throne in the form of a chariot with a yoke to hitch two horses to from a basrelief found at an Assryian king's palace at Khorsabad of the 8th century B.C. (cf. p. 66. Paolo Matthiae. La storia dell'arteOriente antico i grande imperi. 1999. Milano, Italia. This photo is from the German edition published by Konrad Theiss Verlag GmbH, Stuttgart, Deutschland. 1999 titled Geschichte der Kunst im Alten Orient.). Could this 8th century B.C. "wheeled-throne" be what is behind Ezekiel and Daniel's notion that God possesses a "wheeled-throne"? Alternately, perhaps Ezekiel (Ezek 10:6) and Daniel (Dan 7:9) understood that because God's heavenly locomotion was accomplished by riding upon a Cherub (2 Samuel 22:11) and King David had a plan for a chariot to be _drawn_ by_ Cherubim_ (1 Chron 28:18), they consequently "morphed" these two verses' descriptions into a wheeled throne whose locomotion was accomplished by Cherubim accompanied by flying wheels? Please click here and scroll down for a picture of King David's "chariot drawn by the Cherubim"
(1 Cron 28:18) to be placed in King Solomon's Temple.