5. The Birth of the Child


In the poem by Nonnos (VII,22ff.), the old god, Aion, is begging Zeus that another, a young son, may “receive the rudder of life ever renewed”. While bending over Zeus, his mighty long hair floats out on the knees of the god. E.Will [1] has compared this with a small relief found in Tyre.


American Univers. Beiruth, inv. no. 4721.


A divine child is suckled by a hind by the foot at the burning tree with the snake. A woman is present, lying on a couch, and an eagle seems to supervise the scene. The child must be identified with Melqart born by Astarte. In Shiitic-Iranian gnosticism the heroic epos becomes a mystical epos. Here we read about the mystical castle of Kaug Dez in the utmost north or east, beyond the “heavenly pole”, in the heart, or at the top of the cosmic mount (or psyco-cosmic mount, the expression is taken from H.Corbin[2].) To reach it you must pass through medio mundi. Here the Simorgh bird is nesting in the Tuba-tree, and you will come to the place when you have traversed all valleys and mountains of the earth and reach the border of the world. It is a symbol of absolute existence. Here the child of light is born in the winter. It grows up in the desert, and is fed by a gazelle under the supervision of the Tuba-tree, and the Simorgh-bird protects it with its wings. The cosmic mountain is also called the emerald rock.

This is all old Oriental myth. Ptolemaios, son of Lagos, was put out in the wilderness, where an eagle protected him, acc to Suidas (ad. Lagos). Something similar is told about the birth of Gilgamesh by Claudius Aelianus (de natura Animalium 12,21.200 A.C.):

When Seuechorus was king of Babylon the Chaldeans foretold that the son born to his daughter would wrest the kingdom from his grandfather. This made him afraid and (if I may be allowed the small jest) he played Acrisius to his daughter: he put the strictest of watches upon her. For all that, since fate was cleverer than the king of Babylon, the girl became a mother, being pregnant by som obscure man. So the guards from fear of the king hurled the infant from the citadel, for that was where the aforesaid girl was imprisoned. Now an Eagle which saw with its piercing eye the child while still falling, before it was dashed to the earth, flew beneath it, flung its back under it, and conveyed it to some garden and set it down with the utmost care.[3]

J.H.Tigay[4] calls attention to the phrase “some obscure man”, the Greek term literally meaning “invisible”: “In similar classical legends, the father´s not being seen is due to his being a god who succeeds in impregnating the mother because he is able to enter invisibly”.

That the Greek Heracles really is the Oriental Melqart is seen from Pausanias IX,31,2: on Mt Helicon is seen a picture of Telephos, the son of Heracles, being suckled by a hind in the presence of an ox and the shepherd god, Priapos. It is the divine child, the young calf, born among shepherds, or seeking shelter from the chaotic god in the element belonging to the god of life fluids, the cattle, the water, or marshes. Carvings in ivory show the pictures of a calf being suckled by a cow in the thicket. It is the exact parallel to Horus, the divine child, being suckled in the thicket [5]. But the motifs, tree of life, stag, bull, calf being suckled by cow, lion, lion killing bull, are numerous among ivory carvings. Badische Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe, has bought a collection of carved ivory exhibited for the first time in Jerusalem 1965, and published the book Phönizische Elfenbeine, 1973. The motives are the same as by similar findings in Nimrod and Arslan Tash. They are not mere decoration, but religious motives showing us the most important themes of the folk religion.



Coins from Palmyra and Damascus show that it is the old highgod, the bull, that is reborn as the divine child suckled by a goat or a hind. (du Mesnil du Buisson, Tess. fig. 315,H.Ingholt,RTP,no.214.) The light ball and the beams in the hair of the child show that it is the birth of the young sun or sun hero. It is important that the divine child is always surrounded by a bucolic milieu. He is a shepherd Mic 5,3-5, and by the help of his 7 other shepherds he will guard his flock against Nimrod, gather them like sheep in the pen 2,12,clear a way out of the gate of Hades for them, 2,13. Is 7,14f can be compared with other promises with a similar wording:

“Lo, the young women is pregnant and shall give birth to a son / she shall name him Immanuel / Sour milk and wild honey shall be his food (food of shepherds)”

“Lo, you shall be pregnant and give birth to a son / and you shall give him the name of Jesus/…he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever”(Luke 1,31ff.)

G.Widengren[6] has shown, by comparing with Judg 13,3-5, the birth of Samson (“Lo you are pregnant and shall give birth to a son”), and a text from the temple of Amun-Re, where the sun god promises the birth of his son that there are everywhere the same “elements of stile”:

a) The conception is foretold

b) The name of the child is given

c) The achievements of the child are foretold.

The name of Samson is from Hebrew shamsh (= sun) with the ending -on. It is the birth of the sunhero, cf that the above mentioned son of Heracles is called Telephos = “He who shines through to the end/goal”. Also in Is 9,1 the birth of the child is like a great light, and he is called “Father of Eternity” and “Great Hero”. He is the old highgod reborn as the sun´s hero.

[1] Berytos 10,1950-51.

[2] "De l´épopée heroique a l´épopée mystique", Eranos Jahrbuch 35, 1966.

[3] Transl.by A.F. Scholfield, On the Characteristics of Animals,1-3,1958-9

[4] The Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic,1982,pp.252-5

[5] Mallowan, Nimrud, no. 514f.

[6] "Kraft från den Högste skall överskygge dig", in: Kungar,Profeter och Harlekiner,1961, p.72.