Photo: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

One of the things that makes us human, I think, is an aesthetic sense, an appreciation of beauty. We like pretty things: it’s a part of who we are, and there’s nothing new about it.

Archaeologists working at Tel Megiddo, an ancient city in north-central Israel, found a couple of nested bowls back in 2010, and inside the smaller bowl was a jug that appeared to be packed with earth. It was sent to a lab for careful analysis, and when the dirt was teased away, an assortment of gold jewelry and precious stones emerged. 

Take a look at the gold earring in the picture: the craftsmanship in the braided rope border and the ibexes in the middle is superb — and it dates to the 11th century B.C. — around the time of Israel’s King Saul. I find it amazing that something so fine could be made using much more primitive tools than those available today.

Woman’s head adornments from Ur. Photo: Oriental Institute, Univ. of ChicagoBut, look further back, to the Royal Tombs of Ur — hundreds of years before Abraham walked the city’s streets, kings and queens were buried with gold finery that showed an exceedingly high level of craftsmanship, a clear appreciation of beauty — 4,500 years ago.

Visitors observe the first artifacts from the carved caves in Dordogne, France (AFP/File, Patrick Bernard)Even those treasures are young, however, compared to a find, recently displayed, of the oldest known wall art. The engravings and paintings of horses and other images were first discovered in 2007 at Abri Castanet, a cave in southwestern France. Beads and pierced shells were also found at the site — where the artwork was carbon-dated to about 37,000 years ago.

The creation story found in Genesis 1 portrays a staged developmet of the heavens and earth as we know them, of the earth’s inhabitants, both plant and animal. At every stage, the author insists, “God saw that it was good.” When all was done and humans — created in God’s image — had joined the ranks of creation — God judged that “it was very good.”

The human inclination to appreciate beauty, to copy it in art, to enhance it with jewelry or fashion, has its roots in a God who appreciates beauty, too — not so much in the way we look, but in the way we live.

It’s worth asking whether God would ever be inclined to put any of us on display in a heavenly hall of beautiful lives.  


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