A halo is a shape, generally circular or rayed, usually above the head of a person and indicative of a source of light. Found in numerous depictions of Jesus, angels, and other biblical characters in the history of art, many wonder what the Bible says, if anything, regarding halos.
First, the Bible does not directly speak of halos as observed in religious art. The closest expressions are found in examples of Jesus in Revelation described in glorious light (Revelation 1) or when He changed at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17). Moses had a face that shone with light after being in the presence of God (Exodus 34:29-35). However, in none of these cases is the light involved described as a halo.
Second, it is clear that the use of halos in art existed before the time of Jesus. Art in both secular and other religious contexts utilized the idea of a circle of light above the head. At some point (believed to be in the fourth century) Christian artists began to incorporate halos in their artwork involving holy people such as Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (the holy family), and angels. This symbolic use of halos was to indicate the holy nature or significance of the figures in the painting or art form.
Over time, the use of halos was extended beyond biblical characters to include saints of the church. Further divisions were also later developed. These included a halo with a cross in it to refer to Jesus, a triangular halo to indicate reference to the Trinity, square halos for those still living, and circular halos for saints. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the halo has traditionally been understood as an icon that offers a window into heaven through which Christ and the saints can be communicated.
Further, halos have also been used in Christian art to distinguish good from evil. A clear example can be found in Simon Ushakov's painting The Last Supper. In it, Jesus and the disciples are depicted with halos. Only Judas Iscariot is painted without a halo, indicating a distinction between holy and unholy, good and evil.
Historically, the concept of the halo has also been associated with a crown. As such, the halo can represent majesty and honor as with a king or victor in battle or competition. From this perspective, Jesus with a halo is an indication of honor, an honor extended to His followers and angels.
Again, the Bible does not indicate any specific usage or existence of halos. Historically, halos existed in art before the time of Christ in a variety of religious settings. Halos have become one artistic expression used in religious art as a way of drawing attention or honor to Jesus or various other religious figure from the Bible and Christian history.
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