Except as you and I know, it really isn't. Why are there four living
creatures, four wheels? For the Ptolemaic system, there ought to be
eight; aren't the gnostics always rhapsodizing about the 'Ogdoad'? Or
nine, if you count the outermost sphere separately. We have the sun and
the moon, the five planets known to antiquity, Mercury, Venus,
Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, and the sphere of the fixed stars (the rapid
mover). The original answer, that this structure is some sort of
throne-chariot, is far more likely.
What is clear is that the Ptolemaic system was greatly admired in
its hey-day. The gnostics adored it. It's time in the sun has long
since passed, because there ain't no spheres.
It is a mystery to me why Spinoza got kicked out of the
synagogue, when this man didn't:
"What I desired to state in this chapter is this:
According to the hypothesis and theory accepted, it is God that gave
will to dumb animals, freewill to the human being, and natural
properties to everything; and as accidents originate in the
redundancy of some natural force, as has been explained [by
Aristotle] and are mostly the result of the combined action of
nature, desire, and freewill: it can consequently be said of
everything which is produced by any of these causes, that God
commanded that it should be made, or said that it should be so. I
will give you instances, and they will guide you in the
interpretation of passages which I do not mention. As regards
phenomena produced regularly by natural causes, such as the melting
of the snow when the atmosphere becomes warm, the roaring of the sea
when a storm rages, 'He sendeth his word and melteth them' (Ps.
cxlvii. 18); 'And he saith, and a storm-wind riseth, and lifteth up
its waves' (ibid. cvii. 25)." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the
Perplexed, p. 284).
The Deists were religious enthusiasts compared to Maimonides. Moses
Maimonides all but venerated Aristotle, who was of course a geocentrist.
It is striking that there is one feature of Ezekiel's vision he doesn't
even notice: the central fire. There is a central fire! See: "In the
midst of the living creatures there was something that looked like
burning coals of fire. . ." (Ezekiel 1:13); "And a cherub stretched
forth his hand from between the cherubim to the fire that was between
the cherubim, and took some of it. . ." (Ezekiel 10:7). Now, who was it
that flourished in the sixth century B.C. whose astronomy incorporated a 'central
fire'? Pythagoras! The obvious explanation for the central fire is heliocentrism, although some interpreters thought Pythagoras' central
fire was something other than the sun. The presence of epicycles is not
inconsistent with heliocentrism; Copernicus still had epicycles, they
were not discarded until Kepler. Is it possible that Ezekiel saw an
armillary sphere, built according to Pythagorean specifications, in the
land of exile, and was then granted a vision of the God of Israel
sitting enthroned atop this symbolic representation of the world? It's
possible, but I doubt it. If not, then what is it? Good question.
One can well imagine the Jews must have had a bad case of colonial
envy respecting Greek science. Make no mistake, Ptolemaic astronomy is a
scientific theory with high predictive value; it is not mythology.
However, there was a demand for the product; if you ask, Ptolemy can
tell you where the planets were thirty years ago. And why would anybody
need to know that? To cast horoscopes. In other words, to practice pagan
After the Rabbis adopted the Ptolemaic system, we start to hear
about the 'seven heavens,' which aren't Biblical, and we also hear
the catch-phrase, 'God made the world in six days and ascended the
throne.' The fact that, if you squint, you can see the Ptolemaic
system, or at least a scale model of it, in Ezekiel's vision, made
possible all kinds of things, like heavenly journeys and
peregrinations not hitherto feasible, because the region had not yet
been mapped. Unfortunately, the area was already densely populated.
. .with pagan gods. The genial old sun was known as Helios,
Hyperion, Apollo, Ra; Mars and Venus are an item; these are the 'powerful rulers.' Are they