2. Moses and Mt Sinai

 

That the journey to God's mountain is a spiritual journey is seen from the splendid story about Elijah travelling to the sacred Mt Horeb in the southern deserts: after receiving a supernatural meal he is able to travel without resting for 4o days and nights, and thereby finally reaches the mountain.

The 40 days are somehow connected to the 40 days of Jesus fasting in the desert and the 40 years of Israel wandering in the desert. The number 4 is the sacred number of totality, and 10 are the numbers up to 4 added together (1+2+3+4).

A similar play on the number 3 is seen in the temples of Catal Hüyük in the arrangement of horns on a western wall, but also on a pillar added to the pyramids showing ecstatic ascent by uniting duality: 3 times are shown the 3 steps, and each time the steps are ended by the mystical flower representing the number 4 (and shown 4 times). As the symbol of totality it is shown both at the top and the bottom of the arrangement.

Two signs of the Punic goddess Tanit.  (From Hours-Miedan, Cahiers de Byrsa 1, 1951, t.5.6.7) The 3rd sign shows the world pillar rising above the twin-peaks of the Heracles-pillars, and at its top the mystical flower:

 

 

 

The sign of Tanit is a pyramid, and at the top the union of sun and moon: the mystical union of the duality of night- and day-light. Both the pyramid and the union of sun and moon are symbols of two becoming one, symbols of mystical union. The same meaning can be seen behind the heart turned upside down. Another version of the Tanit-sign is the pyramid, and on top of it the sun coming into the universe through the gate of the two Heracles-pillars.

An idol for the goddess Allat from Ramm in North Arabia shows the same union of sun and moon, but at the center of the symbol the holy cube. ( R.Savignac, RB 43 1934,p.584, fig. 7 cf. the quadrangle idol ibd. 587, fig. 10 also from Ramm.)

 

 

There is a constant play on the number four and the four corners being united to one. 4 is the holy number of the world mountain in the center of the universe, the Saphon = the “out-look”-mountain, the culmination of the temptations of Jesus, Matt 4. But not only the quadrangle also the cube and the pyramid. The pyramid and the pentangle is four with the dimension upward added to the four.

The station before Mt Sinaj is called Rephidim (raphad = “stretch out”, rephida = the back of a couch, Latin = reclinatorium, perhaps it stands for the physical rest/trance required for setting the spirit free). Here Israel is attacked by the Amaleqites. They seem to be attacking during the night, for Joshua is given the command to choose some men and meet the attack, and when morning breaks Moses will stand on the hilltop raising his arms to heaven. His arms are supported by Aron and Hur, and so he is able to keep them in a raised position until sunset. The raised arms are not only a sign of prayer, they are raised at dawn and lowered at sunset: the sun warrior has to keep heaven and earth separated for the light to shine, therefore his is accompanied by the two Dioscuric helpers who are personifications of the Heracles-pillars, and often they are pictured as Atlas-figures with their raised arms supporting the heavenly vault.

 

A very interesting grave-stele from South Arabia (after D.H. Müller, ZDGM 30,1876,t.by p.114) shows the deceased on his last journey followed by a servant or helping spirit. On the third scene the head of the deceased placed between the horns of the bull form the sign of mystical light: the sun in the crescent moon and, like the typical sun-hero, he is followed by two helpers, all three forming a kind of trinity. The two helpers are forming the gate of the sun by holding up the heavenly vault with their two sticks. They are personifications of  the Heracles-columns. The bull is full of dots probably the stars of heaven: The high god, the bull, the symbol of heaven, is accompanied by the dioscuric pair of divine brothers, shown as opposites, one riding a camel, one a horse.

 

 

An altar from South Arabia shows the cube, the great symbol of primordial unity marked with another symbol of unity, the sun resting in the crescent moon placed on the top of the frustum of a pyramid. The pyramid is marked with the symbol of the tree of life [1]. The cube is certainly an important symbol.

Another altar carries the symbol of primordial mystical light at the top of the pyramid. The pyramid is the ladder to heaven, to mystical light. In South Arabia “the crescent moon & the disc of the sun" is a very old and very often used symbol on altars and steles. The crescent moon is often seen resting on a pyramid as its foundation [2]. D.Nielsen draws attention to the monthly conjugation of sun and moon in primitive myth seen as a wedding [3]. I am not able to see this as the right explanation.

 

 

The picture above shows the upper part of an altar from Sirwah (South Arabia). A very old remnant of pre-Moslem cult are some stone-steles found in South Arabia. They date from the 8th cent.B.C. In the Arabian tongue they are called qyf =“circling around". They are world mountains seen as the world axis, the cosmic center, where there is mystical ascent to heaven. Therefore the top of the qyf carries the symbol of the mystical light: the duality of sun-light and the light of the moon coming into one. Certainly the circling of the qyf, symbol of the world-centre, is the forerunner of the circling of the Kaaba in Mecca. (A.Jamme: “Inscriptions des alentours de Mareb”, Cahiers de Byrsa 5,1955, pp.265f. Augustus brought an obelisk from Heliopolis in Egypt to Rome and erected it on the spina, i.e. in the centre of the circling horserace at Circus Maximus.) Two others were erected at his mausoleum. The small stele in the centre of the big one is a doubling of the navel symbol: we look at the centre in the centre.

The pyramid-shaped altar is often with a dice-shaped top. The compact dice is the symbol of primordial totality before duality coming into existence.

South Arabian altar, now

in the possession of the Louvre

Mus.Paris, Grohmann fig.87

 

The square and the cubic dimensions are symbols of primordial totality: in Babylon the great temple, Etemenanki, had cubic dimensions. Its name means “House - Basis of Heaven & Earth”. It had the dimensions 15 GAP for side, front and height.

For different attempts at reconstructing its dimensions, see O.E. Ravn, Herodots Beskrivelse af Babylon, 1939pp.50-5, pl.14f.

 

 

In the Song of Deborah (assumed to belong to the earliest parts of the Old Test.) Yhvh “went forth from Seir ... from the fields of Edom”(Judg 5,4f), “rose up from Seir ... shone forth from Mount Paran”, Deut. 33,2; cf. Hab. 3,3: “God comes from Teman ... from Mount Paran”. (Teman is one of the sons of Esau, Gen. 36,11 & 16.) All these epiphanies are parallels to the phrase of Gods coming from Sinai. So it seems that Mount Sinai must be situated somewhere in or south of Edom.

In two temples in ancient Nubia we find lists of a number of territories belonging to the Shasu-bedouins. One of these regions is called Seir. Another name which figures on the list is “land of the Shasu Jhw”[4]. In this phrase Jhw is clearly a toponym[5]. Midian, the land of Moses and Jetro must be this area from the mountains of Seir down to old Madyan, east of the Akabah Bay.

 In the old story about Hanno´s expedition, the Punic fleet comes to the “Horn in the West”, after that to a coast smelling of incense, finally to the “Horn in the South”. Between these two locations it passes the mighty pillar of fire reaching the sky and called “Chariot of the Gods”. Acc. to the novel “Marvellous Things beyond Thule”, the main character of the novel finally comes to the island of the moon. At the end of the journey the traveller moves into some sort of mythological landscape, for his journey to the end of the world is also a spiritual journey towards apotheosis/the paradise mountain. Acc. to Phoenician belief the drink of immortality was contained in the bowl at the top of the world tree, the bowl of the crescent moon: the Israelites finally come to the desert of Sin (the moon) where they receives a sort of ambrosia, a food falling from heaven. Acc. to another Middle Eastern belief, ambrosia, the food of the gods, was produced on the moon. Israel has truly come to the land of the gods, Elim, Exod 15,27 clearly pictured as a paradise with wells of life and trees of life, 12 wells and 70 palm trees. The Sinai mountain itself is the place where man transcends to the sphere of God and God descends to the sphere of man. The journey through the desert to the hidden/forbidden mountain of God is a spiritual journey, the journey of man towards an ultimate goal, a meeting face to face with god. Before our inner eye we have to recall the shape of the typical Phoenician semeion, the world pillar = the ladder to climb the heavens, and at its top the crescent moon. The journey towards the holy mountain is also an ascension towards the peak of earthly existence, and the fire connecting the top of the mountain with the highest sky is the mystical fire, the splendour and glory connected to mystical vision, but also the normal bonfire always stretching its flames and smoke upwards as if it wanted to reach the sky.

 

The burning bush: Normally fire will consume the vegetation, but in divine unity, in the mystical centre of the universe these two opposites are held together in balance. It is exactly the same motif as the burning tree in Tyre.

Mt Sinai is a symbol of a place where all the strife and pain, discord and fights of earthly existence is dissolved into a higher union, a supernatural harmony. As when a climber finally reaches the top and feels his heart and mind raised high above all earthly matters and sorrows. The supernatural elements in the story about Elijah tracking through the desert show, that it is impossible to distinguish between what is fact and what is fiction, what is vision and what is reality in this “event”. It is a sacred motif: to travel towards the holy Mountain of God, a motif becoming the very symbol of religious life. The mountain itself is hidden somewhere in an unknown dimension, untouchable, with the column of fire from its top reaching the stars. It is the location where eternity touches time. An old symbol of the mystical centre of everything, as old as mankind. The centre from where life eternally goes out, is created and to where it finally returns. It is eternity reflected in the eternity of the massive rock, in the bedrock lying unmoved for millions of years.

In Gen 1 creation is seen as the tracing of borderlines and limits in a primordial universe without boundaries. By this setting of barriers duality comes into existence: 

 

1.day: between light and darkness.

2.day: between the waters over the vault and the waters below.

3.day: between sea and dry land.

4.day: sun and moon.

 

In the Middle East the great duality is between summer heat and the water of life giving life to the vegetation, but also threatening with wild, chaotic flooding. In the philosophy of Anaximander these extremes of heat and flooding were held together in the divine “apeiros” (=without border). The world mountain in the centre of the universe is the location of primordial unity.

The two pillars which are the first splitting up of the unity are often seen as primordial twins or brothers of opposite nature and character fighting each other: Kain and Abel.

But duality comes already with the fruit from the tree giving “knowledge of both good and evil”. Adam and Eve tasting the fruit become aware of the most profound duality in life: between Good and Evil. And between male and female - they discover their nakedness.

 

 

2a. The Shepherd and the Seven Sisters

 

Acc. to Philo of Byblos, El Cronos had 7 daughters with Astarte, together with the two sons, Eros and Pothos (“Love and Lust”), seen as important cosmic forces. In the Ugarit texts Krt loses his family, 7-8 brothers and 7 wives. He is ripped of his royal power (Gibson’s transl. CTA 14,i,23). Job loses 7 sons and 3 daughters. He is ripped of his royal power 29,9ff. The key to both the Ugarit-poem about Krt and the book of Job is the important fertility symbol: the graces, the charites. The Krt-story starts with Krt losing all his women; but with a giant army he proceeds to ‘Udm and demands princess Huraj as his wife. She gives him 7 sons and 8 daughters. All the names of the girls are given, but only few of the sons are mentioned. Like Job he is accused of injustice, and is on the point of dying. In both stories there is an Elhu/Elihu. Also Job is given new sons (7) and daughters (3), but only the names of the daughters are mentioned: Jemima (a name containing the word for “water”), Kezia (used for the production of aromatics), Keren-Happuk (“horn for make-up”) and they are highly praised for their beauty. The names of the Greek charites, Aglaia, Eufrosyne,Thalia, show that they represent fertility and beauty. Acc. to the big Baal Epos, Baal in Ugarit has 7-8 servants called “boars” and 3 daughters, only the daughters mentioned by name.

As Baal gets his weapons from the divine smith and El Cronos in Byblos from the divine inventor, Tautos, so the divine smith, Hephaistos, has to produce new weapons for Achilleus before the crucial battle with Hector (= Aktor, Aktaeon). Hector has black hair, Achilleus has fair hair. He is the young god of spring-time, and his double, Patrocles, is the Adonis-type whose death is hailed with a weeping of almost cosmic dimensions, even the goddess Thetis and 33 nereides are participating in the great weeping for the dead youth: ”He sprouted like a proud plant” (Iliad, beginning of the 18th song).

But the most important motif is Achilleus losing his woman in the first song, and therefore withdrawing from the battle, but in the 19th song he gets 7 women, and as the 8th Brisëis. After this he goes back into action and chases poor Hector round and round (like the movements of the sun). Both Job, Krt and Achilleus represent the sun-warrior who is bereaved of his graces, descends to the realm of death, but returns with fertility and grace reborn.

 In the 21st song there is the usual fight against the chaotic sea. Achilleus, the sun-warrior, is attacked by the river Scamandros, who tries to drown him, but at the last moment he is saved by Hephaistos creating a giant fire to stop the flooding. The cosmic balance between water and heat is a very important prehistoric motif, and the main motif of the Ugarit-epos about Baal fighting cosmic flooding and summer-heat. The sun-warrior creates order in a chaotic universe, cf. the shield of Achilleus, which is clearly a cosmic IMAGO (Iliad 18th song).

As Patrocles fighting and dying as Achilleus’s double, clad in his armour, is mourned for in a mourning of cosmic dimensions, so Krt is lamented both by the Phoenix-bird, Hol, and Mt.Saphon (acc. to M.Dahood [6]). The Hol-bird is also mentioned in Job 29,18. It is part of the symbolism surrounding the sun-warrior.

 

 

2b. The Shepherd and the three girls

 

Jane Harrison[7] brings the following picture of the three dancing “daughters of dew” in Athens. (Also the daughter of Baal are called “daughters of dew and fog”, CTA 3,C,5ff.) The next pict. shows the three charites led by Hermes in dance while the bull man, Pan, is piping. Harrison directs our attention to the story about the three goddesses led by Hermes to the shepherd Paris. This motif was so common in the art of the Antique world that Harrison asks: “Did not the myth itself in some sense rise out of the already existing art form, an art form in which Paris had no place, in which the golden apple was not? That form was the ancient type of Hermes leading the three Korai or Charites” (ibd., p.297 with the picture below of Hermes leading the three goddesses. They are pictured as perfectly identical and Hermes is carrying a huge and rather irrelevant sheep. He is the shepherd leading the three girls in dance.).

 

 

The three Horai were originally goddesses watering the earth with the life giving rain and thereby bringing forth flowers and fruits. In Athens they were two; Thallo bringing forth flowers and Carpo bringing fruits. Acc. to Hesiod they were three presiding over the order of cosmos: Eunomia, Dike and Irene. In the early Christian text “The Shepherd of Hermas” the shepherd is followed by 7 girls, personifications of different virtues. On Mt Helicon Apollo, the god of spring, is leading the dance of three times three Musai.

 

Hiding among the shepherds, the divine child, Krisna, escapes the persecution of the chaos-king. He is very fond of the gopas and dances with them. In the same way Moses hides with Jetro in the desert, helping his seven shepherd-daughters, marrying one of them. Also Apollo has to be born in secret, hiding from the chaos-dragon (cf. Rev 12).  He is born under a great light among many flowers and cared for and washed by goddesses. In the Homerian Hymn to Apollo he is followed by the "goddesses of the year", the charites, Hebe, Harmonia & Afrodite who form a chorus, dancing with the god leading the chorus. As we shall see, there are mostly 3 women following the shepherd of spring and sunshine (3 graces, the horai). Baal is followed by his 3 daughters and often called Hadu, the shepherd. The girls following the young god are often personifications of the forces bringing fertility and beauty to nature. Baal's daughters are symbols of the rain and dew and fog.  

a) Male children being killed by the evil king ruling (to prevent one of them from taking over the kingdom) is a feature common the Exodus-story, Matt 2 and the myth of the birth of Krisna.

b) Moses finally saved by his being adopted by the daughter of the evil king Pharaoh is paralleled in Phoenician myth by the pregnant wife of the highgod being given to Dagon, the brother of El Cronos, and her child finally being the successor of the evil king El Cronos on the heavenly throne.

 

Myth and history mix in a way that makes it quite impossible to separate the two. The symbol and the mythical language is the way of the folk religion to try to find suitable expression for the ineffable. The same pattern is repeated again and again and all lines in this great pattern run together in the story of Jesus, persecuted by the evil tyrant Herod growing up to become the Good Shepherd sacrificed but sought and bevailed by the women. 

 

 

2c. The child exposed to the river or the wilderness

 

In a large article, Donald B.Redford[8] has collected 32 variants of “The literary motif of the exposed child (cf. Exod 2,1-10)”. This motif occurs in ancient Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, Greece, as well as in Rome. Strangely enough, he does not mention the important Cretan-Minoan variant of the theme: the Zeus-child is hidden from Cronos, the demonic divine King, and is nursed by the goat Amalthea. In our opinion the motif is so old and wide-spread that it must go back to the oldest period of agriculture. It is connected with the struggle for kingship-of-heaven motif: after the killing of the high-god, the goddess must fly and hide her child from the demonic god in a sphere which does not belong to him, but to the high-god (the bucolic environment with shepherds & goats, the environment dominated by the life-fluid). Mother and child fly and hide in the sea. (Leucothea flies from Lykurgos and hides herself and the Dionysos-child at the bottom of the sea. During her flight from Typhon, the Syrian goddess comes to the Euphrates and hides there with her child, Eros.) Or they hide in the rush-grown marshes (Isis and Horus hide from Seth). The child may also be committed to the river in a small basket or box (a late version of the Horus-legend, dealt with by Redford p.223).

 The child may also be exposed to the wilderness and grow up among shepherds and be nursed by a cow or a goat. For Perseus and Romolus and Remus the two motifs are combined: the child saved by the sea/ the river and in the bucolic environment, both experiencing the sailing in the box/the trough and the hidden upbringing among shepherds. Sargon's birth-legend is meant to legitimate the king as the son of the god of life.

It is characteristic of the stories about Moses that they contain the exposure of the child to the life-fluid of the Nile as well as the hidden life among shepherds in the wilderness (with Jetro).

Redford has not been able to see this origin of the motif in the fight between the god of life and the god of chaos and death. He argues that the motif of the child exposed to the river arose in the Euphrates-Tigris area, the child who is exposed to the mountains is, acc to R., a motif from Armenia or from the northern part of Zagros.



[1] Photo in A.Fakhry, An archaeological Journey in Yemen I,1952,p.126,fig.77,III,t.XLVII

[2] A.Grohmann, "Göttersymbole und Symboltiere auf südarabische Denkmälern" Denkschriften d.Akademie d.Wiss.Wien phil-hist.K1asse,58,Bd.1,Abh.1914.)

[3] Handbuch der altarabischen Altertumskunde, I, 1927.pp.2o7ff.

[4] R.Giveon, Les bèdouins Shosou des documents Egyptienne, 1971, pp.27ff.,74ff.

[5] L.E.Axelsson, The Lord Rose up from Seir, 1987 pp.59f.

[6] The Catholic Bibl. Quaterly,36,pp.85-88.

[7] Prolegomena, pp.290f.

[8] Numen 14,1967,pp.209ff.