Ezekiel’s Wheels

“When I was thirty years old and living among the exiles by the Kebar River, on the fifth day of the fourth month, the heavens opened and I had visions of God.”

Thus opens the first chapter of the book of Ezekiel in the Bible.

Ezekiel has always fascinated me. Clearly, he’s fascinated others as well. A gifted writer and poet and dear friend, Adam Tritt, has written an excellent short story, “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” originally published in 2002 in the CrossTIME Science Fiction Anthology and soon to be released as an eBook from Smithcraft Press. His story, which was one of the winners of the Paul B. Duquette Memorial Short Science Fiction Contest, is about a Jewish eighth grade teacher . . . and Adam’s a Jewish eighth grade teacher . . . hmmm . . . who actually builds the wheels as Ezekiel describes them in his vision, with unexpected results.

The Talmud says, in one famous passage, “The story of creation should not be expounded before two persons, nor the chapter on the ezekial2.JPGChariot before even one, unless that person is a sage and already has an independent understanding of the matter.” This vision has stood as the central image of Jewish mysticism for a good twenty-one centuries; “merkabah mysticism” (which relates to the throne of God and the Chariot, or merkabah, that bears it) found its greatest voice during the Middle Ages and strongly influenced the development of the Kabbalah. Biblical scholars have long felt that this chapter is among the most difficult to translate in the entire Bible; the text abounds in obscurities and apparent confusion.

In re-reading my translation and its footnotes, I thought it might provoke some interesting discussion here, so here’s your Bible lesson for the day. Or month, or year.

The opening verses continue: “On the fifth day of the month—it was the fifth year of exile for Jehoiachin the ruler—the word of YHWH came to the priest Ezekiel ben-Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Kebar River. It was there that YHWH’s hand rested on me.” (The Kebar “River” was the Nari Kabari, or Great Canal, an irrigation canal that left the Euphrates above Babylon and flowed southeast before rejoining the Euphrates.)

“In my vision I saw a vast desert storm, a whirlwind coming down from the north—a huge cloud surrounded by a brilliant light, with fire flashing out of it. The center of the cloud—the center of the fire—looked like electricity.”

The Hebrew word here is hashmal, which is the modern Hebrew word for electricity. The ancient Hebrew word, however, may refer to an amber-colored, naturally occurring alloy of silver, gold, and copper called electrum, known for its high reflectability and electrical conductivity; or it could refer to amber, the resin gum of prehistoric pine trees, known from antiquity to have electrical properties when rubbed—indeed, the word “electricity” is derived from the elektron, the Greek word for amber.

The Jewish mystical tradition found hashmal a powerful concept. A passage in the Talmud says that hashmal may be interpreted as “speech without sound” or “speaking silence,” or may be viewed as a sort of acronym for the phrase “living creatures speaking fire” in Hebrew. Another passage cites the story of a child “who was reading at the home of a teacher, and suddenly apprehended what hashmal was, whereupon a fire went forth from hashmal and consumed the child” as the reason some rabbis sought to conceal or suppress the book of Ezekiel.

Now things get really interesting. “Within the fire I saw what looked like four living creatures in human form. Each had four faces and four wings. Their legs stood together rigidly as if they had a single straight leg, the bottom of which was rounded like a single calf’s foot, and the legs gleamed like glowing bronze. They had human hands under their wings on all four sides. And all four figures had faces and wings, and the wings touched one another. They did not turn when they moved—each went straight ahead, any direction that it faced. Each of the four had a human face, a lion’s face to the right, a bull’s face to the left, and an eagle’s face—thus were their faces.”

If Ezekiel’s description of the living creatures seems confusing to us, it may be that the vision was confusing to him as well. Though the term “living creatures” is feminine in the Hebrew, Ezekiel frequently employs masculine suffixes and verb agreements; this may indicate the difficulty Ezekiel had in describing the creatures’ androgyny—or even what they looked like. They clearly resemble the terrifying and gigantic Assyrian or Akkadian kabiru or winged sphynxes (in Hebrew, cherubim) in many details: they usually had a human head or torso, the wings of an eagle, the forelegs of a lion, and the hindquarters of a bull.

The number four—four faces, four wings, four creatures—symbolizes the four directions, that is, the omnipresence of divinity in the world and nature. These four may represent the four main “tribes” of land creatures: humankind, birds, wild animals, and domestic animals.

“Their wings spread upward; two of their wings touched the wings on the figures on either side of it, and two of their wings covered their bodies. They moved straight ahead, any direction they faced; whichever way the wind blew, they went, without turning as they moved. In the midst of these living creatures was a fiery glow like burning coals, or like torches moving back and forth between them—it was a bright fire, and lightning flashed forth from it. The creatures sped to and fro like thunderbolts.” (This last phrase could be translated,“kept disappearing and reappearing like lightning flashes.”)

“As I looked at the living creatures, I saw four wheels on the ground, one beside each creature. The wheels glistened as if made of chrysolite. Each of the four identical wheels held a second wheel intersecting it at right angles, giving the wheel the ability to move in any of the four directions that the creatures faced without turning as it moved. The wheels were enormous, and they were terrifying because the rims were covered all over with eyes.

“When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures lifted from the ground, the wheels lifted. Wherever the wind moved, they would move, and the wheels moved as well, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the beings moved, the wheels moved; when they stopped, the wheels stopped. And when they rose from the ground, the wheels rose up as well, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”

In Hebrew, ruach means wind, spirit, or even breath; it is the animating and life-giving principle, the creative and healing activity of God that bridges the gap between the divine and the human; it is both kinetic energy and the spark of life.

“Over the heads of the living creatures was something like an expanse that glistened like a sheet of ice. Under this vault-like structure, their wings spread out toward one another, and each had a pair of wings covering its body. When the creatures moved, their wings made a noise like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Breasted God, like the din of a moving army, and a Voice came from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.”

What? “Breasted God”?? Yes, very possibly. The name El Shaddai is usually translated “the Almighty,” under the assumption that it derives either from the word shadad, which means “burly” or “powerful,” or from shadah, which means “mountain,” making the name mean “God of the mountains.” There is growing opinion from serious biblical scholars, however, that Shaddai may derive from the word shad, which means “breast”—thus El Shaddai may be a feminine image of God meaning “the Breasted God.” Then again, since mountains are frequently shaped like breasts, these two interpretations are not mutually exclusive.

“Above the vault over their heads there appeared what looked a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne sat a figure in the likeness of a human being. From the waist up, the figure looked like electricity, like metal glowing in a furnace; and from the waist down, it looked like fire surrounded by a brilliant light. The radiance was like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day. It looked like the appearance of the Glory of YHWH. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and heard a Voice speaking to me.”

An appropriate response indeed.

Most of the depictions of Ezekiel’s vision, at least in the contemporary era, are strongly UFO-centric, or else completely abstract. Before the twentieth century, artists like Raphael and William Blake emphasized clouds and a feeling of rapture. In 1973 the late Josef Blumrich, a NASA engineer who worked on the Saturn 5 rocket, the lunar lander, and Skylab, wrote a book called The Spaceships of Ezekiel. He felt that Ezekiel’s description of the Chariot of God as a spacecraft would fail under a rocket engineer’s rigorous examination, but said that it could be adapted into a practical design for a landing module launched from a mothership.

This explanation doesn’t thrill me. What I hear is in Ezekiel’s words is the experience of power and awe. The intersecting wheels don’t impress me as much as the terrifying eyes that covered their rims.

Reinterpret the vision as a dream. What do you see? What does it mean to you?

Categories: Christianity, Judaism, Writing | 26 Comments

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26 thoughts on “Ezekiel’s Wheels

  1. I am not one prone to reading Bible stories. But, of those I have read, the story of Ezekiel has always stood out.

    I have read this twice and will be reading it again when I have my head more empty than it is now.

    This post on Ezekiel prompted me to post my own, already to go, published in 2001 in Crosstime: Year’s Best SciFi.

    Happy Reading.

    Ezekiel’s Wheel


  2. indigo bunting

    Wow. My first, just-finished-editing-a-medical-textbook, utterly exhausted response is simply, I really haven’t read much of the Bible. In a long time.

    I have nothing impressive to say, although I can see why a shaman would be drawn to such an experience related in this way.

    It’s all so Natural.

  3. I do so want to rename that picture (ezekial2.JPG) “Tevye in Space.”

    I think I see Golde peeking from the ship.

  4. emanuel

    im no expert but that sounds like a DMT trip to me

    • on mushrooms back in 2004 long before i ever opened a bible to ezekiel i took a bunch of mushrooms and at the peak of it was blinded by an eye vortex that sounds alot like how the wheels are describer and everything was a strange alternating purple and gree

    • Anonymous

      That’s exactly what I thought. Just came looking at Ezekiel after hearing it mentioned in a Kabbalah video and thought “I wonder if anyone has noticed the similarity between self transforming machine elves and ezekiels wheel”

  5. mark harrison

    Thank you for your article on Ezekiel and his first vision. I love to study Ezekiel and have my own interpretation. Of some of the symbols in the vision I am not an expert, I just enjoy the studying.

    First, Ezekiel was thirty, the age when he should have been serving in the temple, being of a priestly family, and no doubt would have been aware of the cherubim embroidered on the temple curtain—the wings touched, symbolizing unity of purpose. When the moved, they moved as one: he would have identified them and the rainbow over God’s head as belonging to his God as opposed to the Babylonian idols. The fact that the temple was destroyed was devastating to the Jews but here was someone more important than the temple and he was still working with his people: God was showing he was more important than the temple, and he was not fixed to one spot.

    The four heads to me represent the kings of the different species. The wheels full of eyes: eyes represent knowledge and understanding. The wheels are the wheels of justice forever turning round as eternal justice of God is. At one point a cherubim reaches in to the coals and cast them down to the ground as a type of the judgments of God. The four heads: later, Eusebius will use the four heads to identify four gospels but this has possibly more to do with his attempt to restrict the canon of scripture than any real symbolic meaning. And electricity, as you put it, under the throne is God showing his dominion over the elements. When it moved it was not moved by the wheels but by God’s spirit; it moved at his will in any direction. Ezekiel was to be called “the son of man” as he would be a representative of mankind—son of man or ben ‘adam, son of Adam.

    I’ve never put any thing on the Net before, my spelling and grammar let me down. But I enjoyed your comments on Ezekiel. I don’t think there’s a spaceship analogy, just God bringing the elements of his work to tell his people he has not given up on them even if they have given up on him.

  6. Mark, thanks for your comments. I cleaned up your spelling and grammar a bit.

    We agree on some things, we disagree on a few others, but that’s not important. Your post was thoughtful, and I’m glad you contributed it.

  7. et bien ce qui me frappe est le lien avec les descriptions des dieux faits par les hindous… ces dieux à multiples têtes. Aussi les sumériens en droite ligne, les anunaki, dieux ayant des “casques d’aigles” pour voyager dans l’espace… étrangement nous pouvons comprendre pourquoi les amerindiens ont repris cette manière de coiffer les guerriers.Nous voyons aussi clairement pourquoi les dieux égyptiens ont des visages d’animaux: ce sont des casques qu’ils mettaient ensuite pour impressionner les humains sous le règne de Marduk-Ra qui les mystifia.

    “le livre perdu d’Enki” un JOYAU traduit par Zecharia Sitchin

    le livre que l’ange des eaux donne à manger à St.Jean lui donnant ses visions de la fin des temps avec cette notion d’Enki que le futur est dans le passé. Oui… s’il y a eu une calaité nucléaire au début de l’âge du bélier on peut comprendre pourquoi on a eu l’impression que toute l’histoire commençait à babylone.

    mais peut-être bien qu’il fallait attendre que l’humanité trouve elle-même les outils techniques pour comprendre ce texte. Car avant une ère de technologie avancée qui aurait pou comprendre des termes comme “missiles lancés” ou “place des chariots célestes” ou “liens terre-ciel” “arbre de vie” (ADN génétique)…

  8. Translated, as best I can:

    and what strikes me is the link with the descriptions of the gods by Hindus … these gods with multiple heads. Also in the Sumerian line, the anunaki, gods with “eagles helmets” to travel in space … strangely we can understand why the Americans have taken this approach to override warriors. We also see clearly why the Egyptian gods had faces of animals: they are then put their helmets to impress people during the reign of Marduk-Ra that mystifying.

    “the lost book of Enki” a jewel translated by Zecharia Sitchin

    the book that the angel of water fed St.Jean giving his visions of the end of time with this notion of Enki as the future is in the past. Yes … if there was a nuclear Calaita early age of the ram can understand why we had the impression that the whole story began in Babylon.

    but perhaps he should wait until humanity finds itself the tools to understand the text. Because before an era of advanced technology which can include terms as “missiles” or “place of celestial chariots” or “links land-sky” “tree of life (DNA Genetics) …

  9. thanks for the translation

    sorry for the error… nuclear calamity

    was the word


  10. last paragraph

    perhaps we had to wait theat humanity finds the same technologys to be able to understand what the text describes. because befor advanced technology who would have been able to understand words like “lounched missiles” “celestial chariots” “bond heaven-earth” or “tree of life” (DNA genetics)


  11. wendi

    hi you may think this to be unbelevible but i myself at the age of thirty or thirty one had a dream i was on a chariot with the four living creatures with coals below me towards the end of the dreama man in armor on another chariot rode up i took his hand sat on his chariot then i noticd i was dressed in sackcloth there is alot more of the dream i left out but i figured it would take alot of typing and im just starting to learn about the computer

  12. Wendi Babyy,

    The four creatures were the four kinds of punctuation marks. The glowing coals represent the burning need to learn to use them. The chariot represents the swiftness added to comprehension if punctuation is properly used. The sackcloth shows the poverty all who pay no heed to punctuation end up experiencing.

  13. Erk

    I am not religious but I had a dream when I was younger after my mom died. It was as though I was falling inward and before me was two wheels intersecting each other It made me feel really vulnerable since it was like four stories wide. I t told me something I cant remember and I turned around and woke up. Years later I discovered the passage from a request for scriptual art from an acquaintnce? Wierd coinsidance?

  14. Jean Edwards

    I have spent much of my life dedicated to matters of the spirit. What comes to me is this dream is a religious experience of Oneness. The one foot of all, humans, domestic animals, wild animals, and animals of the air are all one with spirit.(wings). The wheel was showing how they are all powered by spirit, the turning wheel with eyes. Today we can experience this oneness ourselves and know that we are powered by the creative force that runs through everything. We are all part of the oneness, belonging to the Tree of Life and powered by spirit. A beautiful vision for all to experience in their own unique way.

  15. One spends their time analyzing the four creatures and wheels and almost ignores the “rider” of the chariot who is more amazing and significant than any of the other phenomena.

    It is the rider that is the focus of the passage and not the “wheels on the bus”.

  16. Stumbled into this blog at a great time. I am currently going through the Book of Ezekiel as well as an old commentary called Ezekiel by William Greenhill for a personal project. I am bringing Jung’s extensive study of archetypes along with me. The possible DMT flash relation is interesting. I will have to check out that line of thought. I have done some research previously concerning DMT. Terence McKenna was a huge proponent of DMT and had some great ideas that he gleaned from repeated use.

  17. James

    I am curious to know who made the collage, the top image, that is used in this post. It is really awesome.

  18. That’s an excellent question, James. It’s been five years since I wrote this essay, and I’m afraid I no longer recall where I came across the image. I just did a recursive search via TinEye and didn’t find any other occurrences of it on the Internet.

  19. Bobbie Arrington

    Some years ago I had a vision that had similar elements. Due to my own experience -I tend to shy away from the belief that what Ezekiel saw was a UFO. I often wonder, how Ezekiel would describe his vision today, using our modern day paradigm.
    My vision only a a few of the elements but was similar enough to make me take notice when I came across Ezekiel’s vision sometime later.

    I was (in the body or out of the body – i don’t know) suddenly in the presence of a very bright light. This light had the brilliance of the sun. I was surprised that I could look at the light and it not hurt me. The light sprang forward and turned- perpetually moving – I believe in a clockwise direction. (it was a bit like the way a light shines out from a flashlight and if that light turned in on itself – in a somewhat spiral motion) and on the outer edges of the light were changing colors – from burnished orange, to lavender.
    Beyond this brilliant light was perhaps a platform. There were three bodies of pure white light. I could only see the torso and legs. The bodies were very still, the legs very straight. They also were pure white light. The rest of their bodies were covered in this billowy white light (like a cloud with the sun shining through it). There was a body, a space, and then two more bodies. Coming from above the bodies was a head – pure white light.

    It’s missing some key elements of Ezekiel’s vision – but it’s made me – in my own mind debunk the UFO theories and see Ezekiel’s vision as more of that seen by the shaman – full of symbolism and messages – that perhaps only Ezekiel or those of his time could unfold.

  20. mike

    I read the bible a lot because i love god a lot he has shoes me wonderful things Eziechiele wheels is most defiantly ufo but the devil has tricked people in to believing that aliens made them to steal any hope that they may have.the destruction starts at the third and final temple its the stone cut out without human hands that destroys the hole earth its also Daniels vision sens they did not love the truth i will send them a great delusion that they shell believe the lie. it is the other gods that god of Abraham isic and jacip keeps referring to throwout the old testament that’s why the all seeing eye is on our money 2012 is the Antichrist receiving his spirit he gos in to perdition into a man then very short war middle east then 7 year piece treaty then temple built then Eziechiele wheels at third and final temple.2012 return of the gods foilin ones that’s why 4 angels is bound in the great river ufraighties and all will be judged new heaven new earth. i am sorry about my righting i just read gods word i daunt never right much.MAY GOD BLESS ALL HOW STUDY HIS WORD.

  21. Pingback: Ezekiel’s Wheel | Adam Byrn Tritt

  22. I have a totally new concept of Ezekiel 1: and Revelation 4: that will confound the theological and secular communities. So simplistic is my interpretation that it makes all other views of these chapters look elementary.I am looking for the right forum to reveal my vision;are you interested?

  23. You’re welcome to post anything you wish—so long as you’re open to other readers continuing the dialogue and even arguing (in a collegial way) any points you might raise. I’m distrustful of any claim to “confound the theological and secular communities,” but I’m happy to read it.

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