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by Rabbi Geoffrey W. Dennis
Hebrew merkavah. These vehicles of ancient elites were also envisioned as the transport of the gods. The Canaanites described Baal riding on a chariot of clouds. Astral cults envision the orb of the sun as being the wheel of a celestial chariot. In the 6th Century BCE a representation of a sun chariot was installed in the Temple in Jerusalem, a move condemned by the prophets.

God also rides a supernal chariot (Hab. 3:8). Like Baal, it is sometimes envisioned as a cloud (Psalm 104:3). One passage suggests God maintains a fleet of vehicles (Psalm 68:18). Elijah is transported to heaven is such a cosmic chariot. In the most detailed, abet confusing, description of Godís celestial chariot, it appears to be made of numinous creatures: Chayyot, Ofanim, and Cherubim (Ezekiel 1, also see II Sam. 22:11). A heavenly chariot, with Helios steering it, does appear in Jewish synagogue art.

According to Talmud, a mighty angel, Sandalfon, stands behind the chariot at all times, while Metatron stands beneath its wheels. The Sages often conflate the Chariot with the Throne of God, and the relationship between the two is unclear. Some mystical traditions declare the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be the Chariot of God, teaching that we likewise see ourselves to be God's chariot in the world. (B. Chagigah; Pirkei Heichalot)

Article copyright 2004 Geoffrey Dennis.

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