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Partly it refers to the spiritual realm. In the ancient mind, the two images were blended and simple people, such as modern atheists, often imagine that modern believers still function at that Bronze Age level of cognition.
So, for instance, there is the famous story of Khrushchev scoffing that cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had not seen God in outer space. And, of course, there are those innocents today who bill themselves as New Atheists, pointing out to us childish believers that God is not an old man sitting on a cloud. The reply to this sort of confusion is that New Atheists really need to learn how to read books for grown ups—and to understand both the ancient and the modern religious mind a bit better.
What we see, particularly in the Old Testament, has been aptly described in the title of a book called Before Philosophy. The point of the book is that, in many cases, the distinctions that Western Man will make subsequent to antiquity and sometimes well after the start of the Christian era do not exist for many ancients.
There are no hard and fast categories for science, art, magic, religion, philosophy and math in remote antiquity because the universe is typically received as a connected whole rather than chopped up into academic fields of specialization.stephenhardy.me/map21.php
On earth, as in heaven: the key to The Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11) – An Informed Faith
So, for instance, Pythagoras whom we moderns are taught to regard strictly as a secular mathematician does not see mathematics cut off from the spiritual realm but as emblematic of it. After all, what are the two places where you encounter things that are absolutely real and yet which are not composed of either matter or energy, nor do they exist in time or space? Answer: Spirits and numerical values both have this strange quality.
It was all one to him. Similarly, the Babylonian Magi in the New Testament who studied the heavens saw no particular division between what we would later distinguish as astrology, astronomy, science and religion. It was all one, all connected.
And much the same idea was present in the minds of biblical writers. These images, in turn, refer us back to the vision of Ezekiel 1, in which the prophet in exile in Babylon some six centuries before John sees an identical vision. For the biblical writers indicate a high degree of familiarity with the constellations, with the exception that Scorpio was probably known to them as the Eagle.
The four cherubim mentioned in Revelation —7 are very likely the middle signs in the four quarters of the zodiac: The lion is Leo, the ox is Taurus, the man is Aquarius, and the eagle corresponds to Scorpio. John lists them in counter-clockwise order, backward around the zodiac. Rather, they thought the macrocosm of creation showed the glory of God writ large across the heavens just as the microcosm of the tabernacle and, later, the temple showed it on a smaller, more intimate scale.
What we are seeing, in fact, is a sort of embryonic sacramentalism whereby the invisible is made visible through the physical. For in the Old Testament cf.
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The hope of the twelve tribes of the Chosen People is that Israel is the beginning of the new order of things, whose destiny and divine authorship is symbolized by the twelve constellations. So, for instance, in Genesis , Jacob and his family are likened to the sun, moon, and twelve stars. But it seldom occurs to the ancient mind to probe the nature of the connection or distinguish the spiritual reality from the thing symbolizing it.
That minds sees the connectedness of things—and it sees something else: warfare—even in the heavenlies.
On Earth as It Is in Heaven: How the Lord's Prayer Teaches Us to Pray More Effectively
For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Eph