Fertile Crescent

Evolution of God in context of Middle East History

Most Christians know only the god of the bible, divorced from the historical context outside the Old Testament. Even many Muslims are unaware of the evolution of the god of the bible. The real ancient history of the Middle East provides a fascinating evolution of the original creator deity to the one recognised by the ‘big 3’ Abrahamic monotheistic religions. Understanding the past and the evolution of the deity billions worship around the world, helps us understand the past history, the present and even our own religions.

The Old Testament (or ‘Torah’ or Pentateuch, not to be confused with the Talmud, which Jews also call Torah) borrowed heavily from myths of much older, mature, civilisations, changing names and a few details here and there, to appropriate as their own and give themselves a lineage and history they did not actually have.

Genesis: Sumerian;
Flood: Sumerian;
Commandments/Laws: Babylonian;
El : Canaanite (correlates to the Mesopotamian gods Sin and Allah);
Elohim: Canaanite (used to describe their pantheon);
Baal: Canaanite;
Asherah: Canaanite;
Yahweh: Bedouin (1 of the 70 sons of El, the Canaanite moon-creator deity);
Monotheism: Egyptian.

Material from Dhushara.com

The Chaldean Astrologers of Babylon

In early Babylonia the moon-cult was the national religion: the name Chaldeans means ‘moon-worshippers’. (Briffault v3 79) In the bible Ur is referred to as Ur of the Chaldees.

In the Babylonian cosmology Sin, Shamash and Ishtar formed the second trinity of deities. The first trinity of gods were also absorbed into the lunar cycle becoming phases of the moon, thus giving the moon a supreme role as the connecting principle between the deities and mankind. “The moon is during the period of his visibility, in the first five days, the god Anu ; from the sixth to the tenth day, the god Ea from the eleventh to the fifteenth day, the god En-Lil” (Briffault v3 85). This trinity was also adopted by the Assyrians and the Hurrians alongside their patron deities.

Sin (Nannar) as father of both the Sun (Utu or Shamash) and of Inanna (Ishtar) the Queen of Heaven was the central astral deity. The sun was generally a subservient deity, despite being officially recognised during the time of Hammurabi, being identified with the hot, burning, sterile season (Briffault v3 85). This astral scheme extended to the seven “planets” of the lunar week, and the twelve signs of the zodiac, the ‘girdle of Ishtar’, representing the months. It is from this heritage that astronomy and astrology for which the Chaldeans became renowned developed.

The name Sin is the Semitic form of Sumerian Enzu meaning lord of knowledge. The Mesopotamians ascribed very great importance to him. It was he who governed the passing of the months through his waxing and waning. … The unvarying lunar cycle gave Sin a special connection with order and wisdom and with immortality. The number seven is lunar in origin and is applied to the seven days of creation, the seven levels of hell and the seven great planets, Moon, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

Sin and Ishtar: Rumblings of Descent

The relationship between the Moon God and his daughter Inanna of the Sumerians, Ishtar of Babylon, Athirat of Canaan, al-Uzza of Arabia, Hathor of Egypt and Hekate of Greece is complex and holds the key to the gender difficulties that have accompanied the emergence of the monotheism of Yahweh, the downfall from Eden and ultimately the patriarchal tradition of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Inanna, or Ishtar, although she is Queen of Heaven arose out of the sea as did Aphrodite the Canaanite Athirat and Mari the Goddess of the Sea from Cyprus, Crete and Syria, identifiable with Anath, so Sin is also in this sense God the father of the ‘virgin’ Mary.

“[Sin’s] supreme character passed in later times to his female counterpart, who finally replaced him. When the female aspect of the lunar deity came to displace the male, the wife of the moon-god became identified with the moon itself, while the goddess Ishtar maintained her association with the planet Venus. This identification is symbolically represented by the lunar crescent, enclosing the star within its horns, which is still the crest of Islam” (Briffault v3 78).

This identification of Ishtar with the moon and the evening star throws an interesting light on the origin of goddesses. It … derives from the common idea, … that the morning and evening stars are the two wives of the moon . When the morning and evening star came to be identified they became in Ishtar her two complementary aspects: love in the evening and death in the morning (Briffault v3 82).

This diverging relationship between the Moon God and the Fertility Goddess becomes pivotal in understanding the breakdown in relations between Yahweh and his Asherah later in Old Testament times. The Fall from Eden is specifically associated with the sacrificial cycle of Inanna and Dumuzi. Dumuzi becomes the dying Adam, doomed to mortality by the original sin of Eve, in accepting the advice of the Serpent and eating the Fruit. This re-fomented the link between male death and sex, the original sin of Eve, human sacrifice, which reverberated in the vulnerable line of patriarchal inheritance. In the above cylinder seal we see the four key components of the Eden myth, Dumuzzi and the Horned Inanna, the serpent and the [Sumerian] seven-limbed Tree of Life from which the Menorah is derived, both reflected in the seven days of the lunar week and the seven levels of the descent. The three days of the descent also represent the three days between the old and new moon. Sin himself is the chythonic ‘green one’ (Briffault v3 90) and is threatened by the seven devils of the underworld (Green T 196).

The God of the Semites
Islam symbol: Star and crescent
Islam symbol: Star and crescent

The moon was from earliest times the foundation of all theological development among the whole Semitic race, even after the Semites had become agriculturists. Moses Maimonides expressed this by saying that moon-worship was the religion of Adam; and the crescent is still the badge of Islam, as it was once the emblem of Israel. Arab women even now insist that the moon is the parent of mankind. Herodotus said “Arabs have no other divinities than Dionysius and Urania” (Ishtar or Aphrodite), both lunar deities”. (Briffault v3 78)

“In the faith of ancient Arabia,” remarks Prince Teano, ‘in the cult of the moon, regarded as supreme male deity, conceived as a cause to which all worship refers, there lies manifestly the germ of monotheism, although only the Jews first, in Judaism and in Christianity, and Muhammad afterwards in Islam, attained to a clear enunciation of the monotheistic formula’. There are abundant indications,” observes again Prince Teano, ‘which seem to demonstrate that the Jehovah of the Hebrews and the Allah of Islam are merely transformations of the primitive lunar deity of Arabia’ ” (Briffault v3 106). Genesis 9:26 specifically concedes the god of Noah is the God of Shem – i.e. the universal god of the Semites and therefore Sin.

Harran, City of the Moon God

At the Northernmost end of the Sumerian empire the city of Harran likewise had the Moon Deity as patron God, under the name of Sin. From about 2000 BC to 1200 AD Harran continued an evolving tradition of Moon God worship. Harran is the place of Abraham’s family and ancestors and the centre of many of the early events of genesis, including the naming of Israel. As described by Ezekiel 27:23, Harran along with Sheba and other cities were traders ‘in blue clothes and broidered work, in chests of rich apparel , bound with cords and made of cedar.’

The status of Sin was so great that from 1900 BC to 900 BC his name is witness to the forging of international treaties as the guarantor of the word of kings.

Genesis 11:31-12:2 states that Abraham originated from Ur and journeyed with his father Terah to Harran, setting out for Canaan only after Terah died. Ur is near the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates, Haran is in Southern Turkey, the northern limit of the valley of Mesopotamia, suggesting this journey was a meaningful one related to the common deity of the two centres. Many of his relatives and ancestors lived in the vicinity of Harran. Several key names in Abraham’s family, Terah (compare Yerah of Canaan), Laban, Sarah and Milcah are derived from worship of the Moon Deity (Bright 80, 91).

The deification of Ab-ram, which in the earliest documents is a synonym for Ab-Sin (Briffault 3:108) is consistent with the ancestor worship associated with the Moon God in Aramaic cultures in which rites were regularly held to worship ancestors in cities stretching from Mari to Canaan. The Alillat Ibrahim, or religion of Abraham, was widespread among Semitic peoples. He was worshipped at the Ka’aba (Briffault v3 108).

Many of the names of the early tribal deities indicate a close link between ancestor worship and the deity, in which the god becomes patron of the clan deified in the person of the ancestor. We thus have the Mighty One of Jacob and in Gen 31 when Laban pursues Jacob, each swear by their gods, Jacob by the God of Abraham by the fear of his father Isaac and Laban by the God of Nahor.

Before the time of the [supposed] Exodus, the deities were worshipped collectively as the Elohim, the many forms of ‘deity’. El meaning simply ‘god’ is also identifiable with the kind old grandfather god of Canaan, who is horned like Sin but expresses more specifically the primal male fertility characteristics of inthyphallic gods Nabu and Hermes. As heavenly scribe, these are both also bearers of the covenant. El’s many forms include El-shaddai – the Lord of the Mountains; Bethel ‘the house of god’ is mentioned in Jeremiah 48:13 as a god. Baityl, like El is one of the four founding Canaanite deities (Kraeling 88); El-Elyon – god the most high; The Elohim even included two forms of the Great Goddess as shown in the blessing of Jacob.

The Blessing of Jacob for the twelve tribes (Genesis 49), probably the oldest passage in the Bible (Freedman 1987 322) , specifically blesses Joseph “Even by the god of thy father who shall help thee, and by the Almighty (El -shaddai) who shall bless thee with the blessings of heaven above (Sin), blessings of the deep that lies under (the underworld, the primal chaos – Tiamat, Shekina) , blessings of the breast and womb (Asherah – the creatrix of living things) prevailing from the everlasting mountains to the eternal hills.” This emphasis on the eternal is characteristic of the resurrecting moon deity of immortality.

Hathor maintained a special presence in Sinai on the high places such as Serabit, where the nomadic mining tribes worshipped her. (Maspero 354, Petrie 85). In Egyptian inscriptions, “Qadesh beloved of Ptah” appears as the Syrian and Canaanite fertility goddess known from terra cotta figurines from many sites in Palestine. Hathor is also known as The Lady of Byblos and is thus Ashtarte or Athirat. The twin curled headdress is characteristic of all three goddesses.

Hathor is the sacred cow of heaven. In the excavations at Gezer, in Palestine, a number of figures of bulls have been found, the usual representation of Yahweh, and with them the corresponding figures of cows (Briffault v3 187), consistent with Hathor assuming the role of consort of Yahweh as the Queen of Heaven.

Lydus expressly asserts that “the Chaldeans called their god Yaho”. A Babylonian text reads “The god Ib is my god Yau” (Briffault 3:108). The real names of gods were often kept secret. Yahweh told Moses he was the God of Abraham but under another name, and said instead “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh – I am that I am” (Exod 3:14) – he was “god whom no one can name” just as Nannar was (above), as was the taboo in Old Testament times (Lev 25:16). This statement is traced to the Elohistic author writing after the separation of Solomon’s kingdom (Flanders et. al. 76). Yaho is also referred to by Diodorus Siculus, the Valentinian gnostics, the Kaballa and Yahuq among pre-Islamic Arabs. A stele from Byblos, specifically cites Yaveh-Melek, ‘Yahweh the King’, [who] worships the Queen of Heaven. “It may well be that, … the name of the god of the Levites as it appeared in their cult cry Hallelu Yah was the true name of the semitic god in all his local forms…. The first part of this cry is still used as a salutation to the new moon among the Bedawi and in Abyssinia” (Briffault v3 110).

Just as Naram-sin and Ishtar were horned, so it appears that Moses became horned when he ascended Mt. Sinai, met god face to face and returned with the tablets. Exod 34:29: “And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.”

St. Jerome’s commentary states : ‘Moses also went up into a cloud and a fog in order that he might contemplate the mystery of God, which the people left behind could not see. Finally after forty days the common people with their clouded eyes could not look at Moses’ face because it had been “‘glorified,”‘ or as it says in the Hebrew, “horned”.’ Jerome had two different translations for the Hebrew qeren   available to him: “‘glorified” (shining) in the Septuagint, and “horned” in the Aquila version.’ Familiar with both (he drew material from many different sources’), perhaps in his scholarly search for what he believed to be the original word, he chose “horned.” Jerome’s own comments make it eminently clear that he made a conscious choice, not a simple translation error; and furthermore, that he thought of “horned”‘ metaphorically (Mellinkoff 77). The alternative definition of queren  is rays of light. These are also portrayed emanating from Moses.

shining + horned = moon

One cannot but lament at Yahweh’s fit of jealousy by the springs of the goddess Qadesh, but likewise one cannot but marvel at this journey of Moses from the Mountain of Sin to the Mountain of Nabo as being as graphic as Abraham’s journey from Ur to Harran, regardless of occasional conjecture that these place names could have derived from later Assyrian conquests.

The tradition teaches that for the sake of their refusal to give their jewellery to the making of the Golden Bull-calf at Sinai, the women of Israel were given by God an exemption from work on Rosh Hodesh – the renewing of the moon at the beginning of the Jewish lunar month. … The first four chapters of Exodus lay out a female-male rhythm of the first stage of the liberation of the Mitzrayim in which women are crucial. It is they who take the initiative and teach men the process of freedom, because they know the mysteries of birth. Thus the midwives save the baby boys; Miriam and Pharoah’s daughter Moses; Moses must flee to seven women and a well, marry Zipporah, and have a child before he can experience the Burning Bush; and Zipporah must complete the birth by teaching him to circumcise his son before he can reenter Egypt to become the liberator. Zipporah was not Jewish. Was she a celebrator of the moon? (Note her association, like that of Rivkah and Rahel, with a well.) (Waskow 265).

As Freud has pointed out, this disconnection indicates a fracture of the tradition, corresponding to an overthrow of the religion of Moses by a nascent tribal cult, probably worshipping a form of Baal or Hadad, a more Zeus-like Ba’al-shamin (Lord of Heaven), thunder god of the skies and mountains, an event which continues to contribute a strange angst to the Hebrew psyche.

In a Talmudic tradition, the moon complains to Yahweh that he has lost his pristine importance. “O Lord of the world, Is it not possible for two kings to wear the same crown?” But Yahweh says “Begone and become thou smaller” (Briffault v3 77). Jewish tradition still celebrates the new moon by commemorating dead ancestors as in the tradition of the Moon God with the saying “David, King of Israel is alive and flourishes” (Malamat 106). Jewish women are not forgetful of the immemorial object of Semitic cult, and when the new moon appears they recite reverently a prayer, saying: “May God cause thee to increase and mayest thou be enabled to bestow upon us a blessed month” (Briffault v3 117).

“The light of the moon shall become like the light of the sun.” Isaiah 30:26

Babylonian Sin and the dying moon parallels Talmudic tradition (Briffault v3 112).

Yahweh: God incorporating all deities

The nature of Yahweh underwent one of the most advanced literary inflations to occur in human history. This happened early as a core part of the religious tradition and lent Yahweh multidimensionality lacking in pre-literate deities.

Many verses in the Psalms describe God in ways which clearly identify him as a God of thunder and of weather and the oceans. A stormy god which strides forth in thunder and bathes the land in spring showers. Vengeful and verdant as Ba’al was. Psalm 77

These characteristics broadened to that of a creator deity of the Earth and heavens, still significantly imbued with the storm god character with clouds as chariot, chambers in the waters and a voice of thunder. Psalm 104

In earlier verses Yahweh is clearly identified as merely the Lord of Hosts of the community of deities, not as the sole God not without which there is no other. Psalm 82

Yahweh was also identified strongly with Canaanite El in later apocalypses from Daniel to Enoch in which God becomes the Ancient of Days with white hair like wool. Daniel 7:9

This passage indicates old man El clothed in the fiery chariot of the Sun god. By later centuries, particularly after the Persian era, Yahweh was to adopt all the characteristics of the Sun God drawn across the skies in his chariot, as in Isaiah. Isa 66:15

The patriarchal ascendancy thus accomplishes by syncretic assimilation into one deity all the manifestations of Sin, Nabu, the ancient Canaanite gods El the grand old man and Ba’al the god of the mountains and weather, who rides in a storm cloud and a verdant shower of rain and the Persian sun-god of light of which Ahura Mazda forms the archetype. However this deity is not god manifest on earth in history, but rather a series of unashamed cultural assimilations accruing to one male godhead all the diverse powers traditionally ascribed to the many ecosystemic parts of the polytheistic assembly.

This identification with the sun God continues from the Persian to the Essene and finally Johanine dichotomies of light versus dark principles. The Essene calendar is also predominantly solar as opposed to the lunar calendar, although despite its pretensions to the founding tradition, dates to no earlier than 600 BC. As the sun of righteousness, Jesus is the son of the sun. As the light of the world, he is likewise.

The cost has been specific – the loss of virtually all the feminine attributes, particularly in regard to fertility sustainability and the physical responsibility for the continued nuturing and welfare of existence. Despite the fact that Yahweh variously portrays himself as a wifely, or even a fatherly-motherly god, these attributes are generally by analogy only and definitely not a presentation of the female as a manifestation of divinity.

From theology.edu:

The Ugaritic Pantheon

The prophets of the Old Testament rail against Baal, Asherah and various other gods on nearly every page. The reason for this is simple to understand: the people of Israel worshipped these gods along with, and sometimes instead of, Yahweh, the God of Israel. This Biblical denunciation of these Canaanite gods received a fresh face when the Ugaritic texts were discovered, for at Ugarit these were the very gods that were worshipped.

El was the chief god at Ugarit. Yet El is also the name of God used in many of the Psalms for Yahweh; or at least that has been the presupposition among pious Christians. Yet when one reads these Psalms and the Ugaritic texts one sees that the very attributes for which Yahweh is acclaimed are the same for which El is acclaimed. In fact, these Psalms were most likely originally Ugaritic or Canaanite hymns to El which were simply adopted by Israel, much like the American National Anthem was set to a beer hall tune by Francis Scott Key. El is called the “father of men”, “creator”, and “creator of the creation”. These attributes are also granted Yahweh by the Old Testament.

For instances, read KTU 1. 2 I 13-32 and compare it to many of the Psalms. Also, read Ps 82:1, 89:6-8mn!).

In 1 Kings 22:19-22 we read of Yahweh meeting with his heavenly council. This is the very description of heaven which one finds in the Ugaritic texts. For in those texts the “sons of god” are the sons of El.

Other deities worshipped at Ugarit were El Shaddai, El Elyon, and El Berith. All of these names are applied to Yahweh by the writers of the Old Testament. What this means is that the Hebrew theologians adopted the titles of the Canaanite gods and attributed them to Yahweh in an effort to eliminate them. If Yahweh is all of these there is no need for the Canaanite gods to exist! This process is known as assimilation.

Besides the chief god at Ugarit there were also lesser gods, demons, and goddesses. The most important of these lesser gods were Baal (familiar to all readers of the Bible), Asherah (also familiar to readers of the Bible), Yam (the god of the sea) and Mot (the god of death). What is of great interest here is that Yam is the Hebrew word for sea and Mot is the Hebrew word for death! Is this because the Hebrews also adopted these Canaanite ideas as well? Most likely they did.

One of the most interesting of these lesser deities, Asherah, plays a very important role in the Old Testament. There she is called the wife of Baal; but she is also known as the consort of Yahweh! That is, among some Yahwists, Ahserah is Yahweh’s female counterpart! Inscriptions found at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud (dated between 850 and 750 BCE) say:

I bless you through Yahweh of Samaria,

and through his Asherah!

And at ‘El Qom (from the same period) this inscription:

Uriyahu, the king, has written this.

Blessed be Uriyahu through Yahweh,

and his enemies have been conquered

through Yahweh’s Asherah.

That Yahwists worshipped Asherah until the 3rd century before Christ is well known from the Elephantine Papyri. Thus, for many in ancient Israel, Yahweh, like Baal, had a consort. Although condemned by the prophets, this aspect of the popular religion of Israel was difficult to overcome and indeed among many was never overcome.

As had already been mentioned, one of the more important lesser deities at Ugarit was Baal. Baal is described as the “rider on the clouds” in KTU 1.3 II 40. Interestingly enough, this description is also used of Yahweh in Psalm 68:5.

In the Old Testament Baal is named 58 times in the singular and 18 times in the plural. The prophets protested constantly against the love affair the Israelites had with Baal (cf. Hosea 2:19, for example). The reason Israel was so attracted to Baal was that, first of all, some Israelites viewed Yahweh as a God of the desert and so when they arrived in Canaan they thought it only proper to adopt Baal, the god of fertility. As the old saying goes, “whose land, his god”. For these Israelites Yahweh was useful in the desert but not much help in the land.

There is one Ugaritic text which seems to indicate that among the inhabitants of Ugarit, Yahweh was viewed as another son of El. KTU 1.1 IV 14 says:

sm . bny . yw . ilt

“The name of the son of god, Yahweh.”

This text seems to show that Yahweh was known at Ugarit, though not as the Lord but as one of the many sons of El.

Among the other gods worshipped at Ugarit there are Dagon, Tirosch, Horon, Nahar, Resheph, Kotar Hosis, Shachar (who is the equivalent of Satan), Shalim/Shalem and Shachar (twin gods of dusk & dawn. The “salem” or “shalim” in Jerusalem does not come from the word for “peace,” as is circulated.  “Shalim” is the god associated with the city’s founding by the Canaanite Jebusites [“Uru-shalim,” the city or foundation of the god Shalim, cited in ancient Egyptian texts] )

The folks at Ugarit were also plagued by a host of demons and lesser gods. The people at Ugarit saw the desert as the place which was most inhabited by demons (and they were like the Israelites in this belief). KTU 1.102:15-28 is a list of these demons.

One of the most famous of the lesser deities at Ugarit was a chap named Dan’il. There is little doubt that this figure corresponds to the Biblical Daniel while pre-dating him by several centuries. This has led many Old Testament scholars to suppose that the Canonical prophet was modelled on him. His story is found in KTU 1.17 – 1.19.

Another creature which has ties to the Old Testament is Leviathan. Isaiah 27:1 and KTU 1.5 I 1-2 describe this beast. Also see Ps 74:13-14 and 104:26.

The Old Testament also celebrates the enthronement of Yahweh (cf. Ps 47:9, 93:1, 96:10, 97:1 and 99:1). As in the Ugaritic myth, the purpose of Yahweh’s enthronement is to re-enact creation. That is, Yahweh overcomes death by his recurring creative acts.

Yet another interesting parallel between Israel and Ugarit is the yearly ritual known as the sending out of the “scapegoats”; one for god and one for a demon. The Biblical text which relates this procedure is Leviticus 16:1-34. In this text a goat is sent into the wilderness for Azazel (a demon) and one is sent into the wilderness for Yahweh. This rite is known as a “eliminatory” rite; that is, a contagion (in this case communal sin) is placed on the head of the goat and it is sent away. In this way it was believed that (magically) the sinful material was removed from the community.

KTU 1.127 relates the same procedure at Ugarit; with one notable difference — at Ugarit a woman priest was involved in the rite as well.

In many of the Ugaritic texts El was described as a bull, as well as a human form.

The Israelites borrowed art, architecture, and music from their Canaanite neighbors. But they refused to extend their art to images of Yahweh (cf. Ex 20:4-5). God commanded the people to make no image of himself; and did not forbid every kind of artistic expression. In fact, when Solomon constructed the temple he had it engraved with a great number of artistic forms. That there was a bronze serpent in the temple as well is well known.

The Israelites did not leave as many artistic pieces behind as did their Canaanite neighbors. And what they did leave behind show traces of being heavily influenced by these Canaanites.

One thought on “Evolution of God in context of Middle East History”

Leave a Reply (Comments are moderated)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s