Gold and Religion have always been symbolically linked in countless civilizations from antiquity to the present day. From religious artwork to religious symbolism, gold is unique among metals in being central to many of the world’s religions, and gold has long been associated with the divine sphere.
Gold In Christianity
During the festive season of Christmas, it is apt therefore to reflect on the importance of gold in religion. In the Christian tradition, gold appears in the story of Christmas and its association with the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. According to the Bible, when Jesus Christ was born to Bethlehem, a group of wise men (Magi) made a journey from the East to celebrate and worship the birth, bringing with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gift of gold was a symbol of wealth and power, but also, according to religious scholars, a symbol of Christ’s kingship on Earth.
In fact, throughout the Bible, gold is frequently mentioned, from the first book (Genesis) to the last book (Revelations), and everywhere in between. For example, the Book of Genesis refers to 4 rivers flowing out of the Garden of Eden, one of which, the Pishon, “flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.” (Genesis 2:10 and 2:11). And in the Book of Revelations, a description of a new Jerusalem describes “the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass” (Revelation 21:21).
While gold is attributed considerable value in the Bible and is frequently referred to as the most valuable substance on earth and the greatest form of wealth, it is also juxtaposed with spiritual value, so as to illustrate that spiritual value is beyond even the substantial material value of gold. For example, Psalm 119:127 says that: “Therefore I love your commandments more than gold, yes, more than fine gold!”
So it’s not surprising then that gold plays an important role in the Christian religion. In Christianity, gold has been extensively used to decorate churches, cathedrals and chapels, to fashion crosses, chalices and altar furniture, and as gold leaf to gild statues, adorn manuscripts, and to represent halos and divine light in Middle Age and Renaissance period art. Gold is also found on the gilded domes of some Christian Orthodox churches in Eastern Europe.
Gold’s Unique Role in Religions
But what does gold possess that gives it universal appeal to all the world’s major religions, and to ancient religious traditions throughout antiquity, such as in Ancient Egypt? And why in the hierarchy of metals, does gold take precedence over other all metals?
The reasons are many and varied. With its unique glow and yellow shine, gold is symbolic of the colour of the sun, and in religious art gold is associated with daylight and the energy of the divine.
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