Notes on Ezekiel's Vision

(chapters 1 and 10 of the Book of Ezekiel; King James Version at times edited by myself to weed out archaisms)

Below is a verse-by-verse (brief) running commentary on Ezekiel's vision in regard to whether what he saw was some sort of extraterrestrial craft or not.  Mike's view is that all the elements of the Ezekiel vision referring to beings or objects can be accounted for in the iconography of the ancient near eastern world.  Ezekiel was borrowing divine images familiar to the Babylonians (and which exiled Jews would no doubt see) to "inform" his audience that the God of Israel was the true God and still active (i.e., HE, YHWH, was still enthroned on the cherubim, not some Babylonian god, despite Israel's circumstances).  Using ancient near eastern images and literature for theologically polemic purposes was a common practice for biblical writers (cf. the Baal epic and the face-off between Elijah and the prophets of Baal).  Images used below come from a book by the great German scholar, Othmar Keel Jahwe-Visionen und Siegelkunst:  Eine neue Deutung der Majestatsschilderungen in Jes, Ez 1 und 10 und Sach 4 ("Visions of Yahweh and Seal Art: A New Interpretation of the Majestic Portrayals in Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and 10, and Zechariah 4"), Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, Stuttgart, 1984-85).

I should also point out that Ezekiel 1 and 10 are considered to be among the most problem-filled chapters in the entire Old Testament when it comes to text-critical problems and manuscript disagreements.  I've avoided dealing with that since most readers will not know Hebrew or will never have done textual criticism.  If you want to know the relevant problems, see the textual discussion section of Leslie Allen, Ezekiel 1-19, Word Biblical Commentary, and the article by Daniel Block,

Ezekiel 1 (I'm going to try and keep the description of the creatures and the platform they are supporting together and so the verse below will be out of order).  The "wheels" and the "wheelwork" are apparently part of / inseparable from the creatures.  I'll group those verses together as well.

 The Creatures and the platform:

4 And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a flashing fire, surrounded by a radiance, and in the center of it (the center of the fire) a gleam as of amber

 obviously, there are no mechanical parts spoken of yet.

5 Also in the center of it (probably the cloud) were the figures of four living creatures. And this [was] their appearance; they each had the likeness of a man. 6 And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. 7 And their feet [were] straight feet; and the sole of their feet [was] like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the color of burnished bronze.  8 And [they had] the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides; and they four had their faces and their wings. 9 Their wings [were] joined one to another; they turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward. 10 As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. 11 Thus [were] their faces: and their wings [were] stretched upward; two [wings] of every one [were] joined one to another, and two covered their bodies.

 Here we see "beings" for the first time.  Note the images below of statuary that account for these figures (save for the luminosity, they do not resemble any "occupants" in UFO related sightings).  The relevant features are:

Human / humanoid appearance
Four animal faces
Four wings
Straight feet
Calf's feet

12 And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; [and] they turned not when they went.

They apparently moved (had to move?) in tandem

13 As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance [was] like burning coals of fire, [and] like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures ran and returned as the appearance of a flash of lightning.

This apparent contradiction to the above (they either moved in tandem or not; they either had their wings touching or not here they are described as moving about to and fro) has given rise to the notion we are dealing perhaps with two different sets of creatures.

22 And the likeness of the expanse upon the heads of the living creatures

here we see there is some sort of platform above the heads of the creatures; they are supporting the platform.

[was] as the color of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above. 23 And under the expanse [were] their wings straight, the one toward the other: every one had two, which covered on this side, and every one had two, which covered on that side, their bodies. 24 And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of an host: when they stood, they let down their wings. 25 And there was a voice from the expanse that [was] over their heads, when they stood, [and] had let down their wings. 26 And above the expanse that [was] over their heads [was] the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne [was] the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. 27 And I saw as the color of amber, as the appearance of fire round about within it, from the appearance of his loins even upward, and from the appearance of his loins even downward, I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and it had brightness round about. 28 As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so [was] the appearance of the brightness round about. This [was] the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw [it], I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke.

 Yahweh, the deity, is atop the platform being supported by the creatures

Summary so far:

The relevant features (we'll assume the luminosity, since we only have dull stone statues left to us) altogether are:

Human / humanoid appearance supporting some sort of platform
Deity atop the platform
Four animal faces of those supporting the platform
Four wings on those creatures wings touching each other
Creatures have straight feet that look like calf's feet

 Illustration 1 Note the four faces

 Illustration 2 Note the four wings and hoofed feet
Of the creatures "bearing up" the god of the sky (who
can fly anyway!)

 

 

Illustration 3 Note the (four) wingtips of the
creatures touching each other as they
 support the god and his throne (see Ezek. 1:22ff.)

 

 Illustration 4 Note the same here
(only two wings are visible in reclined position)

 

 

 Illustration 5

 Note the hoofed feet at the base of the throne

 

 

 Illustration 6 - Note that in ancient near eastern iconography,
there could be a variety of creatures which supported the throne
 of the god(s).  Below is a sampling (if you want more, please
 refer to the source above).

 

  

What about those Wheels?

15 Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures, with his four faces.

 Here's one wheel introduced to us out of the blue.  It's clearly ON the ground

16 The appearance of the wheels and their work

now we have more than one wheel and some sort of "wheelwork" (Hebrew, GALGAL) described below

 

was like gleaming beryl: and they four had one likeness; all four had the same form; the appearance and structure of each was as of two wheels cutting through each other.  17 When they moved, they could move in the direction of any of its four quarters; they did not veer when they moved. 18 As for their rims (the wheel rims) they were tall and frightening, and the rims were full of eyes all over. 19 And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. 20 Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither [was their] spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature [was] in the wheels. 21 When those went, they went; and when those stood, they stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creatures [was] in the wheels.

 

Illustration 7 Note the following:
(1) a platform with wheels; (2) bovine heads with touching wings
and there are 4 wings some touch at top, others folded on the
body of the creature; (3) hoofed leg-bottoms adjacent to the wheels

 

 

 Illustration 8 While not as precise as the picture above,
The image below shows deities being transported on
Wheeled platforms / chariots which could also fly

 

 

What about the eyes on the wheels?

1:18 As for their rims (the wheel rims) they were tall and frightening, and the rims were full of eyes all over

 While I've seen at least one iconographic representation of an "eyed" platform, it isn't in the sources I have as yet (hopefully I'll be able to find it again).  However, we know the vision of Ezekiel 1 is incomplete the same vision in chapter ten adds some interesting details:

 Eze 10:9 And when I looked, behold the four wheels by the cherubims  (here we find the creatures in chapter 1 were "cherubim"), one wheel by one cherub, and another wheel by another cherub: and the appearance of the wheels [was] as the color of a beryl stone. 10 And [as for] their appearances, they four had one likeness, as if a wheel had been in the midst of a wheel. 11 When they went, they went upon their four sides; they turned not as they went, but to the place whither the head looked they followed it; they turned not as they went. 12 And their whole body, and their backs, and their hands, and their wings, and the wheels, [were] full of eyes round about, [even] the wheels that they four had.

Interestingly, the cherubim ALSO were covered with eyes (where are the UFO / alien descriptions matching this).  I do have a couple of images where the winged creatures / cherubim is covered with eyes.  The best one is below:

 Illustration 9 Note the eyes, the four wings, the humanoid
appearance (complete with phallus), and the human hands

 

 

The point of all this is to note the fact that none of the elements of Ezekiel's vision are foreign to religious iconography of the times (or before Ezekiel's era).  The cloud / storm element of the vision is very common to the Old Testament, and is chiefly aimed at Baal, the king of the gods at Ugarit (the storm god), which is outside Babylon, both terribly common to Israelite thinking.  Hence the vision of Ezekiel, in many respects, is an amalgam of familiar (early) Israelite theophanic portrayals of Yahweh and Babylonian elements, all designed to put Yahweh "in the picture," ousting the pagan god(s).