About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


Apotropaic Seal of Love

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
    as a seal upon your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
    passion as fierce as the netherworld.

One more Sunday (at least for a while ;-) we will listen to the exquisite Hebrew love poetry of the Song of Songs. As I went looking for some nice examples of cylinder seals to illustrate the first two lines of this poem, I came across this one from a recent exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum.
On the left side is a small semiprecious cylinder stone (smaller than an inch) with a delicate  ancient engraving and on the right side is its modern impression in fine clay. Ancient people wore these seals on strings around their necks or wrists. They used them in place of a signature. Archeologists found hundreds and thousands of these all over the Ancient Near East.
    This particular one is from Assyrian Babylonia and is quite interesting. It is engraved with a scene showing a hero fighting with a lion over a calf. One is immediately reminded for instance of the Herculean Labors or, from our Biblical tradition, Samson or David fighting with lions. You see, no religion is an island! (To paraphrase old saying). Current religions would not be here without their ancient roots and no violence against ancient artifacts (which we now observe in the Islamic State) is going to change it. (And don’t be mistaken - it is not only about Islamic fanatics; violent religious nuts among Christians and Jews had and retain similar iconoclastic tendencies of suppressing inconvenient history!) 
    There is one more interesting feature in this seal which makes it a marvelous illustration for our text from the Song of Songs. Some time after the seal was made, a cuneiform inscription was written on it. The text reads “Belonging to Mabu-nadin-shumi, son of Ashur, may god Nabu grant him life!” This seal clearly had double function - it was also an amulet. This Sunday we will rejoice in this apotropaic (evil-averting), protective, function of the seal of love.