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Tag: Goddess of Fertility

Boaz and Jachin, and Pillars of Emerald and Gold in the Temple of Melkarth in Herodotus

“Within the last few years, bas-reliefs have been found in Sicily and Tunisia representing persons in the act of adoration before a small triad of stone. We are here on Phoenician territory, and it is not strange therefore that classical writers should speak of the βαίτυλοι or Beth-els, the meteoric stones which had fallen from heaven like “the image” of Artemis at Ephesos, and were accordingly honoured by the Phoenicians.

In the mythology of Byblos, Heaven and Earth were said to have had four sons, Ilos or ElBêtylos or Beth-elDagon and Atlas; and the god of heaven was further declared to have invented the Baityli, making of them living stones (Eusebius of Caesarea: Praeparatio Evangelica (Preparation for the Gospel), Tr. E.H. Gifford (1903) — Book 1, Chapter 10).

Bethuel is connected with Aram in the Old Testament (Genesis xxii, 21, 22); and we all remember how, on his way to Haran, Jacob awakened out of sleep, saying, “Surely the Lord is in this place,” and “took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it, and called the name of that place Beth-el.”

In Palestine, however, the Beth-els were arranged in a circle or Gilgal, rather than singly; the isolated monuments were the cones of stone or the bare tree-trunks which symbolised Ashêrah, the goddess of fertility, and Baal the Sun-god. The sun-pillars and the ashêrim meet with frequent mention in the Biblical records; and we may gain some idea as to what the latter were like from the pictures we have on coins and gems of the famous conical stone that stood within the holy of holies in the temple of the Paphian Aphroditê, as well as from the description given of it by Tacitus.

On a gem in the British Museum, Sin, “the god of Harran,” is represented by a stone of the same shape surmounted by a star. The “pillars of the Sun” were also stones of a like form. When the Phoenician temple in the island of Gozo, whose ruins are known as the Temple of the Giants, was excavated, two such columns of stone were found, planted in the ground, one of which still remains in situ.

We cannot forget that even in Solomon’s temple, built as it was by Phoenician workmen, there were two columns of stone, Boaz and Yakin, set on either side of the porch (1 Kings vii. 21), like the two columns of gold and emerald glass which Herodotos saw in the temple of Melkarth at Tyre (Herodotus, The Histories, ii, 44).

The sacred stones which were thus worshipped in Arabia, in Phoenicia and in Syria, were worshipped also among the Semites of Babylonia. There is a curious reference to the consecration of a Beth-el in the Epic of Gisdhubar.

When the hero had been dismissed by the Chaldean Noah, and his sickness had been carried away by the waters of the sea, we are told that “he bound together heavy stones,” and after taking an animal for sacrifice, “poured over it a homer” in libation.

He then commenced his homeward voyage up the Euphrates, having thus secured the goodwill of heaven for his undertaking.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 408-10.

The Avarice of Ishtar

“Away from Accadian influences, in the Phoenician lands of the west, the character, like the name, of the goddess was more closely accommodated to Semitic ideas. Istar had become Ashtoreth, and Ashtoreth had put on the colourless character of the Semitic goddess.

Hence it was that, just as Baal became the common designation of the male deity, Ashtoreth was the common designation of the female. By the side of the Baalim stood the Ashtaroth–those goddesses whose sole right to exist was the necessity of providing the male divinity with a consort.

Ashêrah, the southern Canaanitish goddess of fertility, alone retained some of the independence of the Babylonian Istar.

In the second place, there is a very important difference between the Istar of Babylonia and the Ashtoreth of Phoenicia. Ashtoreth was the goddess of the moon; Istar was not. It was in the west alone that Astartê was

“Queen of heaven with crescent horns;

To whose bright image nightly by the moon

Sidonian virgins paid their vows and songs.”

It was in the west alone that the shrine was erected to Ashtoreth Karnaim, “Ashtoreth of the double horn;” and Greek legend described the wandering Astartê, the name of Eurôpa, crossing the celestial sea on the bull that Anu had created for her so long before to punish the disdainful Gisdhubar.

In Babylonia and Assyria, however, Istar and the moon were separate one from another. The moon was conceived of as a god, not as a goddess, in conformity with pre-Semitic ideas; and the Moon-god Sin was never confounded with the goddess Istar.

I am unsure of the provenance of this drawing of a seal impression.  The goddess Istar appears at far left, the vault of the heavens at her back, identified by her idiosyncratic eight-pointed star atop her head.  The Moon God Sin is depicted at center, denoted by his inverted crescent moon.

I am unsure of the provenance of this drawing of a seal impression.
The goddess Istar appears at far left, the vault of the heavens at her back, identified by her idiosyncratic eight-pointed star atop her head.
The Moon God Sin is depicted at center, denoted by his inverted crescent moon.

It must have been the same wherever the worship of Sin extended, whether in Harran in the north or in Yemen and the Sinaitic desert in the south. But the worship never made its way to Canaan. Sin failed to establish himself there, and the moon accordingly remained the pale mirror and double of the mightier Baal.

The Semites of Phoenicia were too distant from the cultured kingdoms of the Euphrates to allow their religious instincts to be overridden and transformed. The name and cult of were indeed introduced among them, but a new interpretation was given to both. Istar sank to the level and took the place of the older goddesses of the Canaanitish faith.

Perhaps you will ask me what is the meaning of the name of Istar? This, however, is a question which I cannot answer. The Babylonians of the historical age do not seem to have known what was its origin, and it is therefore quite useless for us to speculate on the subject.

Iraq Akkadian Period Reign of Naramsin or Sharkalishari, ca. 2254-2193 B.C. Black stone Purchased in New York, 1947 Oriental Institute Museum A27903 This cylinder seal was dedicated to a little-known goddess, Ninishkun, who is shown interceding on the owner's behalf with the great goddess Ishtar.  Ishtar places her right foot upon a roaring lion, which she restrains with a leash. The scimitar in her left hand and the weapons sprouting from her winged shoulders signify her war-like character. https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Iraq
Akkadian Period
Reign of Naramsin or Sharkalishari, ca. 2254-2193 B.C.
Black stone
Purchased in New York, 1947
Oriental Institute Museum A27903
This cylinder seal was dedicated to a little-known goddess, Ninishkun, who is shown interceding on the owner’s behalf with the great goddess Ishtar.
Ishtar places her right foot upon a roaring lion, which she restrains with a leash. The scimitar in her left hand and the weapons sprouting from her winged shoulders signify her war-like character.
https://oi.uchicago.edu/collections/highlights/highlights-collection-mesopotamia

Its true etymology was buried in the night of antiquity. But its earliest application appears to have been to the evening star. This is the oldest signification that we can assign to the word, which by the way, it may be noticed, does not occur in any of the Accadian texts that we possess.

The legend of the assault of the seven wicked spirits upon the moon tells us pretty clearly who the goddess Istar was primarily supposed to be. Mul-lil, it is said, “had appointed Sin, Samas and Istar, to rule the vault of heaven,” and,

“…along with Anu, had given them to share the lordship of the hosts of heaven.

To the three of them, those gods his children, he had entrusted the night and the day; that they cease not their work he urged them.

Then those seven, the wicked gods, darted upon the vault of heaven; before Sin, the god of light, they came in fierce attack; Samas the hero and Rimmon the warrior turned and fled; Istar set up a glittering throne by the side of Anu the king, and plotted for the sovereignty of heaven.”

Thus once more the mythologist gives the goddess an unfavorable character, though it is easy to see what the story means. When the moon is eclipsed, the evening star has no longer any rival in the sky; it shines with increased brilliancy, and seems to meditate ruling the night alone, in company only with the heaven itself.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 255-8.

Interpretations of the Myth of Ishtar and Tammuz

“A truly allegorical elucidation of the myth of Ishtar’s descent into Hades would depict Ishtar, as the goddess of fertility, seeking in the underworld for her husband, the sun-god, slain by the icy breath of winter. During her sojourn in the nether regions all fertility ceases on the earth, to be resumed only when she returns as the joyful bride of the springtide sun.

The surrender of her clothing and jewels at the seven gates of Aralu represents the gradual decay of vegetation on the earth, and the resumption of her garments the growing beauty and verdure which mark her return.

Another hypothesis identifies Ishtar with Dawkina, goddess of the earth, wife of Ea and therefore mother as well as consort of Tammuz. According to this view Ishtar represents not the fertility of the earth, but the earth itself, deprived of its adornments of flowers and leafage by the approach of winter, or variously, by the burning heat of summer.

The waters of life, with which she sprinkles and restores her husband,[8] are the revivifying rains which give to the sun-god his youthful vigour and glory. Against this view it has been urged (e.g. by Sir James Frazer) that “there is nothing in the sun’s annual course within the temperate and tropical zones to suggest that he is dead for half or a third of the year, and alive for the other half or two-thirds.”

Alternatively it is suggested that Tammuz is a god of vegetation, and that Ishtar doubles the role. The slaying of Tammuz and the journey of Ishtar would thus represent two distinct myths, each typifying the decay and subsequent revival of vegetation. Other instances may be recalled in which two myths of the same class have become fused into one.

This view, then, presents some elements of probability; not only Tammuz but most of his variants appear to possess a vegetable significance, while the Ishtar type is open to interpretation on the same lines. Thus Adonis is associated with the myrrh-tree, from whose trunk he was born, and Osiris with the tamarisk, used in the ritual connected with his cult, while Attis after his death became a pine-tree.

Tammuz himself was conceived of as dwelling in the midst of a great world-tree, whose roots extended down to the underworld, while its branches reached to the heavens. This tree appears to have been the cedar, for which the ancient Babylonians had an especial reverence.

One feature which leads us to identify the deities of this class, both male and female, with gods of vegetation is their association with the moon. Osiris is regarded, and with much reason, as a moon-god; in one of her aspects Aphrodite is a lunar deity, while a like significance belongs to Proserpine and to the Phoenician Ashtoreth. Ishtar herself, it is true, was never identified with the moon, which in Babylonia was a male divinity; yet she was associated with him as his daughter.

Among primitive peoples the moon is believed to exercise a powerful influence on vegetation, and indeed on all manner of growth and productivity. The association of a god with the moon therefore argues for him also a connexion with vegetation and fertility.

It may be remarked, in passing, that a lunar significance has been attached by some authorities to the story of Ishtar’s descent into Hades, and to kindred myths. It is held that the sojourn of the goddess in Aralu typifies a lunar eclipse, or perhaps the period between the waning of the old moon and the appearance of the new.

But, as has been said, the ancient Babylonians saw in the luminary of night a male deity, so that any lunar characteristics pertaining to Ishtar must be regarded as of merely secondary importance.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 136-8.

Lady Ishtar, Goddess

Ishtar was undoubtedly a goddess of Semitic origin and symbolized the fertility of the earth. She was the great mother’ who fostered all vegetation and agriculture.

It is probable that her cult originated at Erech, and in the course of centuries and under many nominal changes dispersed itself throughout the length and breadth of western Asia and even into Greece and Egypt. It is probable that a number of lesser goddesses, such as Nana and Anunit, may have become merged in the conception of this divinity, and that lesser local deities of the same character as herself may have taken her name and assisted to swell her reputation.

She is frequently addressed as ‘mother of the gods,’ and indeed the name ‘Ishtar’ became a generic designation for ‘goddess.’ But these were later honours. When her cult centred at Erech, it appears to have speedily blossomed out in many directions, and, as has been said, lesser cults probably eagerly identified themselves with that of the great earth-mother, so that in time her worship became more than a Babylonian cult.

Indeed, wherever people of Semitic speech were to be found, there was the worship of Ishtar. As Ashteroth, or Astarte, she was known to Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Greeks, and there is some likelihood that the cult of Aphrodite had also its beginnings in that of Ishtar. We shall enquire later whether she can be the Esther of the Scriptures.

Astrologically she was identified with the planet Venus, but so numerous were the attributes surrounding her taken from other goddesses with which she had become identified that they threatened to overshadow her real character, which was that of the great and fertile mother. More especially did her identification with Nin-lil, the consort of En-lil, the storm-god, threaten to alter her real nature, as in this guise she was regarded as a goddess of war.

It is seldom that a goddess of fertility or love achieves such a distinction. Gods possessing an agricultural significance are nearly always war-gods, but that is because they bring the fertilizing thunder-clouds and therefore possess the lightning arrow or spear. But Ishtar is specifically a goddess of the class of Persephone or Isis, and her identification with battle must be regarded as purely accidental.

In later times in Assyria she was conceived as the consort of Asshur, head of the Assyrian pantheon, in days when a god or goddess who did not breathe war was of little use to a people like the Assyrians, who were constantly employed in hostilities, and this circumstance naturally heightened her reputation as a warlike divinity.

But it is at present her original character with which we are occupied, indeed in some texts we find that, so far from being able to protect herself, Ishtar and her property are made the prey of the savage En-lil, the storm-god.

“His word sent me forth,” she complains; “as often as it comes to me it casts me prostrate upon my face. The unconsecrated foe entered my courts, placed his unwashed hands upon me, and caused me to tremble. Putting forth his hand he smote me with fear. He tore away my robe and clothed his wife therein : he stripped off my jewels and placed them upon his daughter. Like a quivering dove upon a beam I sat. Like a fleeing bird from my cranny swiftly I passed. From my temple like a bird they caused me to fly.”

Such is the plaint of Ishtar, who in this case appears to be quite helpless before the enemy.”

Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria, 1917, pp. 123-5.

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