3. Petra and the two tablets inscribed with the world order

 

In a niche on the highs surrounding Petra we find the world-mountain, the massive block of stone standing between the two Heracles-stelai and flanked by the semeion, the world-pillar with the crescent moon.

The song of Deborah (Judg. 5) is mostly seen as belonging to the oldest layers of tradition in the Old Test.: Here the Lord is seen as coming out of the mountains of Seir and he is called JHVH zeh Sinai. This use of zeh is not common in classical Hebrew as pointed out by E.A.Knauf[1], but common in Arabic (dzeh =<*du: Du-Shara).

The altars and obelisks situated on the mountain massive surrounding Petra show that all the Shara-mountains are considered a holy landscape. Petra is the old center of a cult honouring the holy mountain which is primordial omphalos and paradise, but also this primordial unity split into two, the two world pillars. On seals belonging to the Hittite king we find the important symbol of the two pillars supporting the sunbird/the winged disc of the sun. The rosette almost always with 8 petals inscribed in the sunbird shows that it is the mystical unity of all the light of heaven, not only the sunlight. Between the two world pillars are often seen the undivided mountain with the two handles so well known from the Sumerian world-pillars. In a way the same motif is found much later in Nabataean art (from Jebel Druze, Nelson Glueck, Deities and Dolphins,1965,pl.138): the sunbird at the top uniting the female light of the moon with the male light of the sun and flanked to the right and left by the two contrasting twins (the symbol of duality). Note that they are both by their haircut and beards made into contrasts. (One with a close-cut beard and hair and one with untrimmed hairdo). A snake is coiling in a branch over the head of each “twin”, they are the double snake which when raised, is a symbol of ecstatic union, but here split into duality and coiling flat along the horizontal branches. The eagle at the top of this arrangement, is the mystical bird of Baalshamen, the unity of all diversity. It is also in Nabataean art seen on the top of the head of the deceased. The sun has two snakes coiling up his breast. As a traveller on the route of the sun to paradise he is also a traveller on the road to risen “kundalini-power”:

 

 

Mt Sinai has been identified with a lot of different locations as listed by J.J.Hobbs[2]. The problem is that acc to the books of Moses it was forbidden to the Israelites even to draw near the place, so it cannot have been a goal of pilgrimage in the early times, as suggested by some scholars. Its location was unknown, also to the early settlers of the promised land. It was a mythical mountain. E.Anati has found many indications that Mt.Karkom in the Negev was honoured as a holy mountain[3], but his many thousand findings must be dated to a period much earlier than the Exodus from Egypt. Most important is the fact that Moses is linked to the Midian priest, Jetro. Certainly he has some connection with the Midian tribes who were one of the main elements in what later became the Nabataeans. Therefore the traditions connected to Seir about the two stelai, one of clay, and one of stone, able to survive universal fire and universal flood, and therefore able to preserve wisdom from time immemorial, and the tradition of the gate of the sun certainly being the reason for the two impressive obelisks cut out of the mountain top south of Petra, all this proves that the two tablets in which the ten commandments were carved and given to Moses at sunset[4] are to be understood on the basis of local traditions from the Seir-Midian area. The most important element in Midian-Nabataean religion seems to be the massive rock: out of this rectangular stone the god Dusares was born. The rock was the cultic representation of the cubic, primordial, massive darkness split by the new-born Dusares, as seen on the two sculptures (below) showing a winged, strong child separating the two serpents who, intertwined, were the symbol of massive darkness. He is pictured as a very strong baby grasping two snakes rising from the earth between two winged lions. The lions are also putting their paw on the snake thereby helping the god in keeping them apart. The picture wants to show the god as the master of the helping lion-demons. Another stone slab shows the same picture of the god as a winged child keeping two sphinxes apart with snakes formed as scimitars. The winged sphinxes have tails that are coiling back into themselves, creating the form of 8 – a very unnatural shape for a leopard´s tail. The sphinxes symbolise death and massive darkness kept at a distance by the kundalini power used as the scimitar splitting up primordial massive matter. The coiled tail makes the sphinx not only a symbol of death, but also the symbol of kundalini in its lowest aspect as massive matter closed/coiled around itself. Dusares is the sun hero creating a path for the light in primordial massive darkness.

 Dusares is a god of the sun warrior-type creating space for the sun to run its course. In the chapter mentioned above, where Moses receives the two tablets, he receives the promise of God that he will follow Moses on the road through the desert and the unknown land. The God making the “king's highway” through the desert safe, providing water, is the typical sun-warrior who passes Moses at dawn and by his glory (Hebrew: kabod) makes the face of Moses shine.

 

 

 

A Mesopotamian tradition tells about Zisuthros (Zis & Uthra = “soul”), who hid the writings describing “the beginning, the middle, the end” before the great flood. They were found again after the flood[5]. Zis-uthra is also called Atra-Hasis and Zius-udra. He is Zas/Kassios defeating Typhon/Jam, the heavy flooding of winter rain.

Acc to Josephos[6] the descendants of Seth inscribed their knowledge on two stelai, one of clay to withstand world wide burnings (ekpyrôsis), the other of stone to withstand cosmic floods. The stone stele still exists in the “land of Seiris”. Gnostic texts  also talk about the “Stelai of Seth”[7]. There is an old tradition connected with the land of Seir about the two stelai inscribed with old wisdom. Manetho (ap. Syncellus 72) also talks about stelai situated in the land of “Seriadike”, inscribed with a holy language by Thot, and after the flood translated by Agathodaemon.

A holy symbol very typical of the Seir-Petra area is the three slabs of stone: a big one flanked by two smaller. It is the massive world mountain and the split mountain inscribed with the laws of cosmos. G.Dalman[8] brings this example from Wâdi Mûsa. A.Jeremias[9] has paid attention to the role played by the two mountains, Garizim and Ebal: “The two mountain tops G. and E. represent, according to the old cosmic symbolism, the twin peaks of the world mountain … or both halves of the world … as Blessing and Damnation”. All the commandments of the law have to be written on stelai erected on one of these twin peaks, Ebal[10].

 

 

The famous Greek writer, Euhemeros, was a diplomat in the service of the Macedonian king, so it is very likely that he has learnt from Syrian traditions when he introduced his theory of the gods as originally being mere humans, but later, because of their fame, worshipped as gods. We know that Melqart´s grave was shown in Tyre, and his bones transferred to Gades. Bel’s grave was shown in Babylon, Adonis’s in Byblos. Euhemeros (FGH, F 2 & 63) tells us, that after its departure from South Arabia his ship, after sailing several days, reached the point where the sun stands at high noon. Here were some islands in the middle of the vast Oceanos. One was called Panchaia and was completely dedicated to the gods, and here on a mountain ridge was erected a very high temple for Zeus Triphylios built by himself while he was still among humans and governed the whole earth. In this sanctuary there was a golden stele with an inscription recounting the most important deeds accomplished by Uranos, Cronos and Zeus: Uranos was an astronomer watching the movements of the sky and the stars from the top of the mountain called after him “Seat of Uranos”. He was a very modest and kind man. After him Cronos reigned as king, and later Zeus. He went to Babylon where he took the name of Bel, and from there he reached the island of Panchaia, where he put up an altar to honour his grandfather, and Pan showed him the mountain called “Seat of Uranos”. From there he looked out over the whole earth and the universe. When he came back through Syria, he visited a local king, Kassios, after whom Mt Kassios is named, and defeated a local prince in Cilicia (probably Typhon). Through his many visits to numerous nations, he was greatly honoured, and finally proclaimed a god.

 What we have here is the typical Near Eastern notion of the top of the world mountain from where you can see all the world, and even heaven. This holy mountain is more or less identified with the Highgod, also called Hypsuranios. It is his seat because he is the personification of it. He is kind and good to all, but often dethroned by a younger god, the hunter, who is even seen burning him, lying on the mountain.[11]

The eagle-man as the symbol of unity/ecstasy is blessing the primordial brothers as the symbol of duality.

 

 

Zeus-Bel is the sun warrior travelling through the world, finally coming to the mystic mountain with the inscriptions. The title of Euhemeros´s book, "Holy Inscription", shows that these inscriptions made on the golden stele and on the mountain are the vital centre of the whole story. The inscription made by Uranos was a description of the mechanism of the heavenly movements, the world order. The local prince is probably Typhon defeated by Kass/Zas/Sandan, with the help of Zeus.

The world pillar or world axis is the representation of world order. When Plato describes the ideal society, Atlantis, this country has as its centre a holy Orychalkos-pillar on a holy island, situated on an island inside yet another island. On the pillar the old laws by which the 10 kings of Atlantis have to govern are inscribed.

But all stress can also be put on the two Hercules-pillars forming the gate of the sun: Apollonios of Tyana says that he read the holy inscriptions on the Hercules pillars put up in the temple of Melqart-Hercules in Gades, but the Egyptian Heracles did not allow him to reveal the content. Heracles made these inscriptions “when he was in the house of the Moerai (“fate”), that no strife should rise among the elements, nor should they dishonour the love they have for each other”. It is the eternal laws of cosmos Heracles has written on the pillars.

"Such pillars, on which the ordinances of Heaven … the decreta astrorum (Manetho Apotelesm.V 2,3) were inscribed, and which were found by Sanchunjathon in the Adyton (most holy chamber) of Phoenician temples, and from which he took the genuine teaching of Taaut, were also found by Apollonios, acc to Philostratus (V,5)” says Movers (p.97).

Strabo (with reference to Poseidonios) mentions that copper plates were put up in the temple of Gades “8 yards high” (III,5,5), but they were only inscribed with the costs of building the temple.

Most important is the tradition of Taaut mentioned by Movers. Philo of Byblos is translating an older work made by a Jeu-priest, Sanchunjathon, and S. draws upon the inscriptions made by the god, Taaut (the Egyptian god Thot), on some Ammuneôn found in the temples. So at least it is told by Philo. Now these Ammuneon must be the well known hammanim. This cult-object also mentioned in the Bible must be “sun pillars”, the Heracles pillars, sometimes also the world pillar seen as a pillar of fire pictured in the fire burning on the altar[12].

Procop.de b.vand, 2,10 conveys the interesting information that by the town of Tigisis in North Africa there were two stelai made of white stones and inscribed with Phoenician letters. Two tablets of destiny are mentioned by Nonnos XII,1ff. They are located “by the sunset” and inscribed by Phanes. The first contains the story about Uranos, Cronos, Zeus, and Ophion fighting about the kingdom of heaven, the other is about the creation of man and the great flood. But here the motif is enlarged with other tablets foretelling the future.

The most important symbol adorning the many memorials hewn into the rocks surrounding Petra is the stepped pinnacle, often divided into two halves. It is the symbol of the split world mountain, the symbol of resurrection: during the night the sun is resting in the realm of the dead, but in the early morning it will be born again and rise above the paradise mountain in the far east, thereby cutting the mountain into two with its golden saw. The sun rising above the twin peaks of the split world mountain is a very important Egyptian symbol.

The Nabataeans got their god Dusares from the Edom tribe. The name of the god means “He from Shara”, the mountains surrounding the old Edomite capital Rekem/Petra. Characteristic for this god is that his name is not mentioned. He has no picture, but is present in a black stone with the dimensions 4 times 2 times 1. This black box-shaped symbol with mystical dimensions reminds us of the holy of holies in the temple of Salomon, the cubic chamber at the end of the biggest chamber called hekal = “throne-room”. The cubic form is also found in the Caaba in Mekka. The black cubic form is a symbol of primordial massive totality closed around itself, the nightly sky, the mountain of darkness black and towering. The meteor fallen from the sky is in its heavy blackness a lump fallen from this mountain of eternity. The god who lives in the stone is identical with the god who lives in the great mountain-massive surrounding Petra. The Se'ir mountain is an earthly trace of the psycho-cosmic mountain also seen as a ladder to high heaven, cf the coins from Roman times showing the holy stone topped by seven flat discs together forming a pillar on top of the stone. A.B.Cook (Zeus III,p.908) asks if it is loaves offered on an altar? But in my opinion it is the world pillar, the ladder to zenith with its seven stages of ascension – one for each of the seven planets, also the Cheops pyramid has two main chambers and on the top of the king's chamber five minor rooms for each of the 5 planets. The pyramid is both a model of the primordial mountain and the ladder to heaven. The ladder symbolism is also stressed by a real ladder leading to the base of the altar. The two minor stones flanking the symbol are the Heracles-pillars with the characteristic disc at the top (for carrying the heaven-ceiling).

 

Cook, III, fig.759, fig.757, fig.760, fig.761

 

This three-fold symbol consisting of the world mountain between the split world mountain = the gate of the sun is seen on a lot of Nabataean monuments[13]. This symbol is also the key to Solomon's temple with the two pillars Jakin and Boaz on each side of the entrance to the closed debir (Hebrew for the inner chamber). Here was the cherubic throne of God wrapped in eternal darkness[14], cf. the phrase “the throne of Dusares” probably the mystical square black stone[15].

The symbol of the split world-mountain in the east over which the sun rises is the key to the Nabataean graves as seen clearly from the Nabataean graves in Medáin Salih (half way to Mecca, the picture from C.M.Doughty): a split stepped pyramid is flanking the small grave on top of the ridge, at the bottom a much bigger monument, also crowned with the split stepped pyramid and between the two halves the eagle is rising. The gate of the sun is the split world mountain or the two Heracles pillars, I.Browning mentions the two detached pillars “The Faroun pillars” in Petra[16].

 

 

A tripartite symbol can also be seen among the grave-monuments in Petra. On the great al-Khazneh, at the entrance to the holy city of Petra, the second floor is roofed with a split pyramid, and between the two halves a round  tower like building, a so-called tholos. Lars-Ivar Ringbom has shown that the tholos is a symbol of the mystical centre of the world, paradise as axis mundi[17]. The round world-pillar flanked by the two halves of a split pyramid is a symbol of unity flanked with the symbols of duality. The symbol of unity carries the goddess of fertility and plenty (with the horn of plenty), the symbol of duality carries the goddesses of division with an axe in their hands.

The eagle, the horse and the winged Nike are all important symbols in the Syrian Sol Invictus religion. Obviously, the split is the space where Nike can fly upwards on her wings.

 

 

Nike, the goddess that gives victory with wreathes of victory in her hands lifting the deceased high above the top of the world pillar marked by the unity of sun, moon and morning and evening star (From a grave in Palmyra. The motif crowning three girls lifting three rings of apotheosis is Achilleus at the court of Scyros, dressed in women’s clothes, i.e. as a symbol of mystic androgyny.)

The moon receives its light from the sun, which means that the enlightened part is always the part closest to the sun, turned towards the sun: the sun resting in the bowl of the crescent moon is an impossible constellation – the horns of the crescent will always be turned away from the sun.  The symbol so often used as a symbol of the unity of all light is mere speculation, a sign never observed.

 

 

The many coins from the Nabataean area showing the triune symbol of the world mountain standing between the two halves of the split world mountain, indicates that the tholos is the united world pillar standing between the symbols of the split world pillar. The split symbol bear on its two halves an amazon with an axe, and in the centre, on the tholos, is a woman with a horn of plenty. The hunter with the axe is the symbol of heat destroying the vegetation, the horn of plenty is the symbol of life and vegetation in abundance. This symbolism is here combined with the symbolism of holy primordial unity, and creation as the splitting into two of this unity (and unity and duality forming together a sort of divine trinity). Crowning the roof are two obelisks hewn into the solid rock, and together with the split “world mountain” forming two majestic pillars on each side of the entrance to the dark tomb; at their foundation they are guarded by the divine twins so typical of Arabian religion, and a most important symbol of duality. The idea of this design comes close to the design of the temple of Solomon: the two pillars, Jakin and Boaz, and behind them the inner sanctuary whose cubical form shows that it is a symbol of primordial massive darkness, like the black stone of Dusares.

 

The mountains surrounding Petra were looked upon as part of the Seir-mountain complex as part of the primordial mountain in the centre of the world. Isis was, acc to Hellenistic sources, from Seirios Ge and she is called Seirias[18]. Seir is the land of holy origin, and the long narrow chasm (in modern Arabic called the Siq, a 1,2km long gorge hemmed in by cliffs going up to a height of 100m) leading to the capital of the Nabataeans was the primordial split cutting reality into two, giving room to the splendid oasis of Petra. In the inner chamber cut into the holy, mystical mountain the dead were resting, waiting like Dusares, the sun, to be born again out of the rock from which the town got its name like Tyre from Tsor = “rock”, the myth of Tyre is centred in the Ambrosian rocks with the mystical, burning world tree in their centre.

But the “true centre” must be Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock, or the rock of Calvary where the cross was erected, and where the scull of Adam was said to be buried! M.Rosen-Ayalon[19] has proved the paradise motifs filling the Dome of the Rock, perhaps the most beautiful tholos-building in the world. The world tree with the winged disc at the top and the well of life at its root is here a multitude of winged trees sprouting out of preciously adorned jars, and filling the walls with an abundance of green leaves. "And it shall come to pass by the end of the days that the mountain with the house of the Lord shall be made standing firm (nakôn of the stem kvn, the term. techn. for the worldpillar & the planet Saturn) on top of the mountains", Is 2,2. Mt Zion will stand forward as the worldpillar in the cosmic centre. From it cosmic order and the final revelation will spread, 2,3ff.

The religion of Petra is the cult of the holy stone. Out of it the Lord Dusares is born. The holy stone is a symbol of eternity and the primordial mountain, a symbol of the cosmic mountain of the night in Ugarit called Lel (cf.: Hebrew layla = “night”).

The same paradox as the birth of the sun god Dusares from massive stone is hailed in the song of Solomon at the consecration of the temple: “God has set the sun in the sky, but for himself he has chosen to dwell in the darkness”.

Toufic Fahd[20] is right when he says that it is not impossible that the cubic form of the cella of the Ka’ba in Mecca is a reproduction of the form of the sacred stone. The building clothed in the precious black cloth is the magnified form of the stone, p.119f. There is a kind of identity between the whole building and the famous black stone set near the eastern corner and kissed by the believers. He also deals with the legend of Isaf and Na’ila (p.115), young lovers who were petrified as a punishment for their making love to each other in the interior of the Ka’ba. The Ka’ba is a symbol of primordial union including the union of male and female gender.

In Phoenician religion the Baityl is a holy standing stone worshipped as “the House of God” (Bet = “house” & El = “God”). On the heights surrounding Petra we found the Baityl standing almost in the dark interior of the holy mountain massive, flanked with the two pillars of the sun-gate, an arrangement very similar to the temple of Solomon with the cubic Debir (the inner sanctuary) as the ultimate source of reality, the primordial centre, the mystery and the entrance to it flanked with the two free-standing pillars, Jakin and Boaz. Now, obviously the deserts around the Seir mountains is a better place to seek the origin of the Old Testament belief in JHVH than the tablets found in Ugarit.

The idea of Mt Sinai as somehow connected to the symbolism of the moon (Sin: Babylonian-Semitic name for the moon) and an ascent to heaven is in our opinion quite relevant. Also the Babylonian word, Tiamat (the chaotic sea) can be found in the region bordering on the Red Sea, Tihama[21].

                                                          

Nowhere do we find such likeness as between the cultic stage in Jerusalem and in Petra. In Jerusalem the dark cubic chamber, in Petra the dark, square stone obviously placed in the rear chamber in the mighty Kasr el Bint temple. The back-wall of this temple is divided into three rooms fiting the tripartite symbol, the black stone flanked by the two Heracles-pillars. Two standing pillars of impressive dimensions are found to the south of the Temenos at whose western end Kasr el Bint is situated. In front of Kasr el Bint, a great altar like the holocaust-altar in Jerusalem, and like the Nicanor-gate in Jerusalem, a great eastern gate leads into the Temenos. The east-west orientation of entrance and adyton is the same as in Jerusalem.

 

The typical tri-partite symbol. From C.M.Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta, 1921.I.p.120 fig.1-3.

 

On the top of the surrounding mountain is the typical “high place": an altar situated on the highest mountain ridge. A little southeast of it, two giant obelisks created by cutting away all the rock around the 20 feet high stone pillars. As I.Browning says: a truly Herculian task.



[1] Midian,1988,pp.48f.

[2] Mount Sinai,1995 pp.48-56

[3] Mountain of God, 1986

[4] Exod 34,2

[5] P.Schnabel, Berossos,1923,pp.264ff.

[6] Ant.Jud. I,2,3,69

[7] J.Strugnell in: The Rediscovery of Gnosticism II,ed. B.Layton,p.493n72

[8] Petra,p.79

[9] Das Alte Testament im Lichte des alten Orients,4.ed.,1930,p.453

[10] Deut 27

[11] Ur Excavations No. 394, See E.Douglas Van Buren, "Battles of Gods", ORIENTALIA 24,1955,pl.XIII-XVI

[12] H.Ingholt, in: Melanges off. a R.Dusseaud

[13] R.Dussaud, Notes de mythologie syrienne,1905,pp.169-74

[14] 1.King 8,12

[15] I.Browning,Petra,p.233

[16] p.191

[17] Paradisus Terrestris,1958,pp.243-65

[18] Roscher II,pp.388,408,455

[19] Early Islamic Monuments of al-Haran al Sharif Qedem 28,1980

[20] Études d´Histoire et de Civilisation Arabes,1997

[21] Fahd,p.116