Jewish Calendar - Tishrei - Rosh Hashanah
The ram's horn (shofar) was a very common motif in ancient Jewish art.
It appeared in reliefs, capitals, floor mosaics and various implements. It was
often depicted near the base of the seven-branched menorah, sometimes coupled
with the incense-bowl, the palm branch (lulav) and the citron (etrog),
all of which are reminiscent of the objects used in the Temple and of the holidays
celebrated within it.
The act of blowing the ram's horn and the trumpet made of metal was part of
the ritual, and was to be found among many other civilizations as well. It was
a means of making important announcements, rallying the forces to battle and
proclaiming the coronation of kings. The horn, or pair of horns, assumed several
symbolic meanings. They were frequently mentioned in the Bible, often in a context
of strength and power. "The horns of the nations, which lifted up their
horns over the land of Judah to scatter it."
In the prophecies of Restoration which promise that Jerusalem will be redeemed,
the ram's horn serves as a symbol of honor and distinction. The bond between
the ram's horn and redemption is underlined whenever the horn is mentioned in
connection with the days of the Messiah.
allusion connects the symbolic value of blowing the ram's horn with the
handing down of the Torah to the Jewish people.
The messianic symbolism attributed to the act of blowing the ram's horn,
inspired as it was by the imagery of kingship and redemption, was given
further meaning by later Jewish traditions. Legends which gained currency
in the Middle Ages referred to the prophet Elijah who will blow the horn
three days before the arrival of the Messiah. The resurrection of the
dead will also be announced by the blowing of a horn. Kabbalistic influences
were instrumental in turning the sound of the ram's horn into a symbol
of the harmony between the forces of justice and the forces of mercy.
The horn motif was to become firmly associated with the Biblical story about
the Binding of Isaac. God commanded that the (horned) ram be sacrificed instead
of Isaac. According to tradition, the Binding took place on the Jewish New Year
on Mount Moriah, and it is this tradition that accounts for the link between
the ram's horn, the New Year and the site of the Temple.
In contrast to its popularity as a symbol in ancient Jewish art, the ram's horn
was to become increasingly rare as an isolated motif in the painting or embossing
of later periods. In the Middle Ages, it was used primarily as an element in scenes
of the prophet Elijah as he announces the redemption at the gates of Jerusalem.
later medieval Jewish art, on the other hand, there appears another
symbol, also related to the ram's horn motif; namely, an imaginary animal,
usually resembling a goat or a white horse, with one white horn in the
middle of its forehead. It appears in illuminated Jewish manuscripts,
in paintings within the synagogues, and later on ceremonial objects
as well. This imaginary creature, known as the unicorn, developed in
European Christian art. Christian sources regarded it as embodying speed,
courage and purity.
It was often associated
with the Virgin Mary and even with Jesus. The unicorn, and especially
its horn, were said in Christian legend to possess miraculous powers,
among them the purification of poisoned waters. Like the horn, so, too,
the unicorn was seen as an ambivalent symbol, a power capable of attack
and a receptacle.
Jewish art adopted the unicorn and assigned to it some additional symbolic
associations. Thus, the unicorn was identified with the wild ox mentioned frequently
in the Scriptures. The wild ox and its horns, as depicted in the Bible, was
a fierce, supernatural force. Talmudic legend adds to its superhuman traits
by depicting it as equal in size to Mount Tabor and attributing to it various
miraculous deeds. In some instances, it is described as being in confrontation
with the lion: "Save me from the lion's mouth; for thou hast heard me from
the horns of the wild oxen." This
verse was accorded various commentaries, interpretations and legends. In some
of these legends, the lion and the wild ox are described as two forces possessing
savage strength, which can only be controlled by divine authority. Their behavior
is sometimes associated with that of King David.
From the fifteenth century, Jewish art made frequent use of the
confrontation between the lion and the unicorn. In combination with other symbols,
such as the gate and the Tree of Life, these two animals assumed a symbolic,
messianic dimension which defies rational explanation.
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