"The Hands"--or, one hand gesture in particular--is probably the easiest
thing I ever solved.
I was walking through Bruge, Belgium the other day, and a sign in the
window of the Snuffel Sleep Inn declared "Dit cafe is Oke." There was a
graphic for that country's hand gesture for O. K.--not the familiar thumb and
index finger together in a circle, but the thumbs up. (I provided citations
for the O. K. hand gesture on this list earlier this year.)
Perhaps the most important hand gesture in Western art doesn't really
have a name, but is called simply "the hands." As explained in the
DICTIONARY OF SYMBOLISM by Hans Biedermann, pg. 163, "The right hand with
three fingers extended (thumb, index, and middle finger) symbolizes an oath:
'As God is my witness....'" An illustration is given on the same page.
The gesture dates from around the time of Christ. In John Ferguson's
THE RELIGIONS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, figure 56 shows "a bronze hand with magic
symbols in honour of Sabazios." Pg. 102 states "His cult is most clearly
seen in the votive offering of bronze right hands decorated with magic
symbols, representing the god's benevolent power. These are found throughout
the imperial period; inscriptions suggest that the second and third centuries
AD were the period of the god's greatest popularity."
"Decorated with magic symbols?" No explanation of them??
"The Hands" can be found in the British Museum. It's not explained
A book on "The Hands" was published by E. J. Brill (Leiden), one of many
green-clothed books on the religions of the Roman Empire. Photos of "the
hands" from many collections are provided, but still no explanation of the
This past week, I saw Van Eyck's "The Adoration of the Lamb" in a church
in Ghent. The painting's Jesus used the same hand gesture. Again, there was
no written explanation. I listened to two tourists guides, and neither
explained the gesture at the very center of the painting.
I then went to the Royal Museum of Art in Brussels. In a room of 16th
century paintings, I saw the gesture used again. And again! And again! And
again! Six times!!
Always the right hand. Almost always used by Jesus. First three
fingers up, last two fingers down. Used all the time! Never explained!
Richard Nixon does a hand gesture, or Winston Churchill--it's
explained! But here you have something called "the hands," and that's all it
is, and no one provides a clue!
The explanation to this is so pitifully easy, it's embarrassing.
People counted on their hands.
I got out Karl Menninger's NUMBER WORDS AND NUMBER SYMBOLS: A
HISTORY OF NUMBERS. Page 203 (from a 1494 edition) and also pg. 207 (from a
1727 edition)--both from the work of the Venerable Bede, who died AD 735.
The right hand gesture represents the number 800.
The numbers in Greek were represented by letters. What letter would
this be? Page 265 tells us--it's the Omega, the last letter of the Greek
Jesus, of course, would teach of the Alpha and the Omega--the
beginning and the end.
"The Hands" represent the Omega--the end.
Makes a lot of sense.
I solved this in about a minute, many years ago, way before I solved