Abstract of Strange, John. “The Idea of Afterlife in Ancient Israel: Some Remarks on the Iconography of Solomon’s Temple.”

Strange, John.  “The Idea of Afterlife in Ancient Israel: Some Remarks on the Iconography of Solomon’s Temple.”  Palestine Exploration Quarterly 117 (January 1985): 35-40. [Near East/Egypt/Israel/Solomon/Symbolism/Furnishings/Tree of Life/Kingship]

Strange begins his examination of some of the iconography of Solomon’s Temple with the underlying assumption that the temple itself “is derived from the Syrian-Phoenician ‘Langhaus-temple.’” (p. 35)  Therefore, it is not surprising that his explanation of four symbols found on and in the temple according to 1 Kgs. 6:18-34–buds, cherubim, palmettes, and calyxes–are derived from Near Eastern religious symbolism in general and Egyptian religion in particular.  The connections are both fascinating and illuminating.

First, in these scriptures the cherubim are only mentioned together with the palmettes which Strange says represent the Tree of Life with its guardians the cherubim “known all over the Near East from the fourth millennium to the first millennium B.C.”  (p. 35)  The motif is found on pottery, ivories, seals, cult stands “and other artefacts.”  In Mesopotamia the tree was planted in a garden and watered by the gardener Tammuz, who was also the Tree of Life (compare 1 Ne. 11:14-25).  In addition, Strange argues another “important aspect in connection with divine kinship and the Tree of Life is the idea of afterlife and resurrection.”  (p. 36)

Getting at the meaning of the calyxes is more convoluted.  It is generally agreed, according to Strange, that calyxes come from the Hebrew “piture sisim” or open flowers.  Through a combination of linguistic and grammatical usage in the Old Testament and etymological similarities in other Near Eastern languages the term probably refers to the open lotus flower whereas the bud is a closed lotus.  In almost Nibleyesque style Strange then shows the variety and importance of these symbols in Egyptian iconography.  Combined the images are taken as fertility symbols with the open lotus as a womb or giving off life-giving fragrance, or representing the Creator-God, the Sun God, or the king, “but also of abstract ideas like afterlife and resurrection or love.”  (p. 37)

In Syria-Palestine all these images and meanings coalesce and Strange concludes “When Solomon used the same ideas for decorations on the walls of his temple, he used them in a deliberate attempt to merge the Israelite religion with the religion of his indigenous subjects, and that he created a syncretistic Yahwe-El-Ba’al religion.”  (p. 38) Thus, ideas regarding the afterlife and resurrection ultimately derive from Egypt.  For Strange, in the Old Testament only the Debir or Holy of Holies in the temple was a unique Israelite contribution but he makes nothing further of that observation.

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