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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.

On Dagon, Anu, Ishtar

In the Assyrian inscriptions Anu is coupled with Dagan, “the exalted one,” whose female consort seems to have been Dalas or Salas.

Thus Assur-natsir-pal calls himself “the beloved of Anu and Dagon;” and Sargon asserts that he “had extended his protection over the city of Harran, and, according to the ordinance of Anu and Dagon, had written down their laws.”

Here Dagan or Dagon is associated with Harran, the half-way house, as it were, between the Semites of Babylonia and the Semites of the west. From Harran we can trace his name and cult to Phoenicia.

Beth-Dagon was a city of Asher, in the neighbourhood of Tyre and Zidon (Joshua xix. 27), and the fragments of Philôn Byblios, the Greek translator of the Phoenician writer Sankhuniathon, tell us expressly that Dagon was a Phoenician god.

That the statement is genuine is made clear by the false etymology assigned to the name, from the Semitic dâgân, “corn.” But it was among the Philistines in the extreme south of Palestine that the worship of Dagon attained its chief importance.

Here he appears to have been exalted into a Baal, and to have become the supreme deity of the confederate Philistine towns. We hear of his temples at Gaza (Joshua xvi. 21-30) and at Ashdod (1 Samuel v. 1 sp.), as well as of a town of Beth-Dagon, and we gather from the account given of his image that he was represented as a man with head and hands.

The goddess Ishtar, wearing the horned headdress of divinity, with spears and maces on her back. The goddess is winged, and stands with her foot upon a lion, her sacred animal.

The goddess Ishtar, wearing the horned headdress of divinity, with spears and maces on her back. The goddess is winged, and stands with her foot upon a lion, her sacred animal.

It is probable that the worship of Anu migrated westward along with the worship of Istar. The god and goddess of Erech could not well be dissociated from one another, and the spread of the worship of the goddess among the Semitic tribes brought with it the spread of the worship of the god also.

Detail of the goddess Ishtar. From a cylinder seal in the British Museum.

Detail of the goddess Ishtar. From a cylinder seal in the British Museum.

I am inclined to think that this must be placed at least as early as the age of Sargon of Accad. The worship of Istar found its way to all the branches of the Semitic family except the Arabic; and, as we shall see in a future Lecture, the form of the name Ashtoreth, given to the goddess in Canaan, raises a presumption that this was due, not to the campaigns of the early Babylonian kings, but to the still earlier migrations of the Semitic population towards the west.

Ishtar, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She appears frequently on seals, relief carvings, and in descriptions as a mighty warrior who protects the king.  Ishtar was associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion.  This iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar's astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus.  In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan. British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835. D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals (London, The British Museum Press, 1987) H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939) http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

Ishtar, goddess of sexuality and warfare. She appears frequently on seals, relief carvings, and in descriptions as a mighty warrior who protects the king.
Ishtar was associated at an early period with the Sumerian goddess Inanna and both deities are depicted with symbols of fertility, such as the date palm, and of aggression, such as the lion.
This iconography survived relatively unchanged for over a thousand years. Here, Ishtar’s astral quality is also emphasized: above her crown is a representation of the planet Venus.
In the first millennium BC more unusual stones were used to make seals: this one is made of green garnet, which may have come from northern Pakistan. British Museum, ME 89769, acquired 1835.
D. Collon, First impressions: cylinder seals (London, The British Museum Press, 1987)
H. Frankfort, Cylinder seals (London, Macmillan, 1939)
http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/me/g/garnet_cylinder_seal_ishtar.aspx

The old sky-god of the Accadians must have become the Semitic Anu at a very remote period indeed.

But it was the sky-god of Erech only. It does not follow that where the divine Ana, or “sky,” is mentioned in the Accadian texts, the god who became the Semitic Anu is referred to, even though the Semitic translators of the texts imagined that such was the case.

There were numerous temples in Chaldea into whose names the name of the deified sky entered, but in most cases this deified sky was not the sky-god of Erech. It is only where the names have been given in Semitic times, or where the Accadian texts are the production of Semitic literati composing in the sacred language of the priests, like the monks of the Middle Ages, that we may see the Anu of the mythological tablets.

Without doubt the Semitic scribes have often confounded their Anu with the local sky-god of the ancient documents, but this should only make us the more cautious in dealing with their work.”

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. 188-90.

Nebo, God of Prophecy

“A knowledge of Babylonian letters and learning was accompanied by a knowledge of the Babylonian god of letters and learning.

In Assyria, Nebo was honoured as much as he was in Babylonia itself. The Assyrian kings and scribes might be silent about the name of Merodach, but the name of Nebo was continually in their mouths.

His name and worship passed even to the distant Semitic tribes of the west. The names of places in Palestine in which his name occurs, proves that the god of prophecy was adored by Canaanites and Moabites alike. Moses, the leader and prophet of Israel, died on the peak of Mount Nebo, and cities bearing the name stood within the borders of the tribes of Reuben and Judah.

When the Israelites entered upon their literary era, the old name of roch, or “seer,” was exchanged for the more literary one of Nēbi, or “prophet.”

The Semites of Babylonia provided Nebo with a wife, Tasmitu, “the hearer.” She helped to open and enlarge the ears which received the divine mysteries her husband’s inspiration enabled his devout servants to write down.

The revolution which transferred the learning of the Babylonians from the Accadians to the Semites, transferred the patronage of the literary class from the old god Ea to his younger rivals Nebo and Tasmit.

[ … ]

The Semites of Babylonia thus closely resembled their brother Semites of Canaan in their fundamental conception of religion. As the Canaanite or Phoenician had “lords many,” the multitudinous Baalim who represented the particular forms of the Sun-god worshipped in each locality, so too the gods of Semitic Babylonia were equally multitudinous and local–Merodach, for example, being merely the Bel or Baal of Babylon, just as Mel-karth (Melech-kiryath) was the Baal of Tyre.

But the parallelism extends yet further. We have seen that the rise of the prophet-god in Babylonia marks the growing importance of literature and a literary class, just as the beginning of a literary age in Israel is coeval with the change of the seer into the prophet.

Now the literary age of Israel was long preceded by a literary age among their Phoenician neighbours, and its growth is contemporaneous with the closer relations that grew up between the monarchs of Israel and Hiram of Tyre.

What Israel was in this respect to the Phoenicians, Assyria was to Babylonia. The Assyrians were a nation of warriors and traders rather than of students; their literature was for the most part an exotic, a mere imitation of Babylonian cuiture.

In Babylonia, education was widely diffused; in Assyria, it was confined to the learned class. We must remember, therefore, that in dealing with Assyrian documents we are dealing either with a foreign importation or with the thoughts and beliefs of a small and special class.”

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. 119-122.

Prophecies of Isaiah

” … It is believed that Judah and other disaffected States were dealt with about this time. Manasseh had succeeded Hezekiah at Jerusalem when but a boy of twelve years. He appears to have come under the influence of heathen teachers.

For he built up again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he reared up altars for Baal, and made a grove, as did Ahab king of Israel; and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them….

And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger.

And he set a graven image of the grove that he had made in the house, of which the Lord said to David, and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever.

Isaiah ceased to prophesy after Manasseh came to the throne. According to Rabbinic traditions he was seized by his enemies and enclosed in the hollow trunk of a tree, which was sawn through.

Other orthodox teachers appear to have been slain also. “Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another.”

It is possible that there is a reference to Isaiah’s fate in an early Christian lament regarding the persecutions of the faithful:

“Others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword.”

There is no Assyrian evidence regarding the captivity of Manasseh.

“Wherefore the Lord brought upon them (the people of Judah) the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom.”

It was, however, in keeping with the policy of Esarhaddon to deal in this manner with an erring vassal. The Assyrian records include Manasseh of Judah (MenasÍ of the city of Yaudu) with the kings of Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre, Ashdod, Gaza, Byblos, &c, and “twenty-two kings of Khatti” as payers of tribute to Esarhaddon, their overlord. Hazael of Arabia was conciliated by having restored to him his gods which Sennacherib had carried away.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 473-4.

Human Sacrifice in Ancient Babylon

” … All the younger gods, who displaced the elder gods as one year displaces another, were deities of fertility, battle, lightning, fire, and the sun; it is possible, therefore, that Ashur was like Merodach, son of Ea, god of the deep, a form of Tammuz in origin.

His spirit was in the solar wheel which revolved at times of seasonal change. In Scotland it was believed that on the morning of May Day (Beltaine) the rising sun revolved three times. The younger god was a spring sun god and fire god. Great bonfires were lit to strengthen him, or as a ceremony of riddance; the old year was burned out.

Indeed the god himself might be burned (that is, the old god), so that he might renew his youth. Melkarth was burned at Tyre. Hercules burned himself on a mountain top, and his soul ascended to heaven as an eagle.

These fiery rites were evidently not unknown in Babylonia and Assyria. When, according to Biblical narrative, Nebuchadnezzar “made an image of gold” which he set up “in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon,” he commanded:

“O people, nations, and languages… at the time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of musick… fall down and worship the golden image.”

Certain Jews who had been “set over the affairs of the province of Babylonia,” namely, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego,” refused to adore the idol.

They were punished by being thrown into “a burning fiery furnace”, which was heated “seven times more than it was wont to be heated.” They came forth uninjured.

In the Koran it is related that Abraham destroyed the images of Chaldean gods; he “brake them all in pieces except the biggest of them; that they might lay the blame on that.” According to the commentators the Chaldaeans were at the time “abroad in the fields, celebrating a great festival.”

To punish the offender Nimrod had a great pyre erected at Cuthah.

“Then they bound Abraham, and putting him into an engine, shot him into the midst of the fire, from which he was preserved by the angel Gabriel, who was sent to his assistance.”

Eastern Christians were wont to set apart in the Syrian calendar the 25th of January to commemorate Abraham’s escape from Nimrod’s pyre.

It is evident that the Babylonian fire ceremony was observed in the spring season, and that human beings were sacrificed to the sun god. A mock king may have been burned to perpetuate the ancient sacrifice of real kings, who were incarnations of the god.

Isaiah makes reference to the sacrificial burning of kings in Assyria:

“For through the voice of the Lord shall the Assyrian be beaten down, which smote with a rod. And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which the Lord shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps: and in battles of shaking will he fight with it.

For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared: he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood: the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.”

When Nineveh was about to fall, and with it the Assyrian Empire, the legendary king, Sardanapalus, who was reputed to have founded Tarsus, burned himself, with his wives, concubines, and eunuchs, on a pyre in his palace. Zimri, who reigned over Israel for seven days, “burnt the king’s house over him with fire.”

Saul, another fallen king, was burned after death, and his bones were buried “under the oak in Jabesh”.

In Europe the oak was associated with gods of fertility and lightning, including Jupiter and Thor. The ceremony of burning Saul is of special interest. Asa, the orthodox king of Judah, was, after death, “laid in the bed which was filled with sweet odours and divers kinds of spices prepared by the apothecaries’ art: and they made a very great burning for him” (2 Chronicles, xvi, 14).

Jehoram, the heretic king of Judah, who “walked in the way of the kings of Israel,” died of “an incurable disease. And his people made no burning for him like the burning of his fathers” (2 Chronicles, xxi, 18, 19).

The conclusion suggested by the comparative study of the beliefs of neighbouring peoples, and the evidence afforded by Assyrian sculptures, is that Ashur was a highly developed form of the god of fertility, who was sustained, or aided in his conflicts with demons, by the fires and sacrifices of his worshippers.”

Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria, 1915, pp. 348-51.

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