What about the Byzantine Double-headed Eagle?

There are many public postings about the Double Headed Eagle on the internet with explanations of its original use shrouded in antiquity. Preceding Christian and political use, some ancient cultures of the Old Testament used the double headed eagle symbolism as one of the eagle’s head focusing on God and the other head focusing on humanity.  Sorting out the political usage from the mix, one can see how the double eagle head became of use in the Christian world because of the original ancient premise, but is there scriptural basis for?

Eagles are mentioned 26 times in the RSV of the Old Testament; 5 times in the RSV of the New Testament and 14 times in the Apocrypha. Gleaning scripture, one passage stands out for me as the most significant, Ezekiel 17:1-24, where the two Eagles and a Vine are presented in the Scripture. 

Looking at the double headed eagle and Ezekiel 17 from an Orthodox Christian perspective, the two eagles are separated but joined in one ultimate focus and some theologians believe the scriptural passage of Ezekiel 17:1-24, is actually a parable which was fulfilled historically when Israel was in the Babylonian captivity:  The first eagle representing Nebuchadnezzar (verse 3) and the second the Pharaoh (verse 7).  The branches of the vine were planted by the Eagle on the mountain of the Israelites, and the Gentile Church (humble tree) grew out of earthly Israel (the high tree) – Two eagles joined in a single thought, the salvation of mankind.

Eagle references throughout the Old and New Testament are frequently equated with God.  As such, the two faces of the double eagle could easily also signify the two natures of Jesus Christ, both fully human and fully Divine, protecting the faithful under the shelter of His wings to bring them to salvation.  One hears this reference in various passages of the Bible as well. All in all, one can surmise that when applied to the Orthodox Christian Faith, the double-headed eagle represents God’s power and His mighty Work for the salvation of His people.

Exodus 19:4 – You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  This is the first reference to the salvation of God’s people brought out of bondage on eagles’ wings.

Proverbs 23:5 – When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes to itself wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven. (RSV)

Psalm 103:5 – who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Isaiah 40:31- but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles……


RSV; KJV; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Old and New Testament, Intervarsity press Downers Grove, Il; The Orthodox Church, Timothy Ware, Penguin Books 1993; Byzantine Art, Robin Cormack, Oxford University Press 2000