8.The Europa-Sara motif


W.Burkert[1] has made some important observations regarding a “goddess of nature” pictured on an urn from the burial place of Teke, from the middle of the 9th cent.B.C. (BICS 31,1984,96/J.N.Coldstream). Coldstream has already  underlined that the two pictures shown above must be seen as opposed to each other, both through the gesture of the goddess and the condition of the trees. In the first picture the goddess is seen with lowered wings and lifted arms. In the second with lowered arms and lifted wings. In the first the trees sprout with a lot of sprouts unfolding, in the second the leaf is hanging down withered and dried out. The first picture shows the goddess as the center of the vegetation, full of energy lifting up her birds. In the second picture she is in the process of letting go of the birds and lifting her wings to leave the scene.



Burkert has drawn our attention to a ritual celebrated in the Greek speaking part of Sicily in the town of Enyx. The feast was called Anagógia: “…because they say: that Aphrodite leaves the place to go to Africa, and all her pigeons leave together with her”. “But after 9 days a pigeon outstanding in strength and beauty is seen coming over the sea from Africa, and clouds of pigeons following her, and the people of Enyx celebrate a new feast called Katagógia”.[2]

 R.Merkelbach has created much discussion with his book Roman und Mysterium in der Antike, 1962. He has argued that the myth about Isis and Osiris has given both form and content to the Hellenistic novels when they tell the love-story of the young couple, their separation and final reunion. But also other mystery-cults like the cult of Dionysos and Mithras have created novels which are to be read as mystery-texts: The Shepherd-Novel of Longus and Heliodor´s Ethiopica. Merkelbach is following important suggestions already made by K.Kerényi[3], but goes much farther than Kerényi who has only pointed to traces of myth and mystery-cult in the novels. In his edition of the Jewish novel, Joseph and Asenath, M.Philonenko has tried to make use of Merkelbach´s insights in understanding this tale[4].

Now the oldest of the novels, Chariton’s Chaireas and Kallirhoe (1st cent.A.C.) has received a rather superficial treatment by the above mentioned scholars, while it quite obviously has no connection to either Isis-religion or mystery-cult. But if we are to search for the origin of the novels, we have to start with the oldest. But there are fragments of an even older novel coming from Syria, the novel about Ninos and Semiramis from perhaps 1st cent. BC. The main characters are here Ninos, his beloved Semiramis and her mother Derkia. We have here an interesting phenomenon that the names of gods are only changed a little in order to pass as names of humans: Derketo and Semiramis are two goddesses, mother and daughter, well known from Ashkalon (and both names are in the Ugarittexts used as epithets of ´Anat). Semiramis is the goddess ´Anat which can be seen from her youth (13 years), matching well with the virginity of ´Anat so often stressed in the Ugarittexts. In a fragment Ninos suffers as a shipwrecked castaway after his wife has been taken as a prisoner of war. He is thrown ashore and sees a shadowy grove and in the centre of the grove a great spring. (By Philo the “sons of the dioscours” are cast ashore at Mt.Cassios after their primordial attempt to sail the sea, I,10,20). All this could easily be understood on the basis of the Syrian belief in the sun hero sailing the sea towards the mountain of god with the well of life. Like the sun going down into the realm of death, he has to stand many tribulations, but will finally prove victorious. The goddess will be taken away by robbers (as the symbol of chaos) or a king (as the symbol of an older god), but will finally be liberated and bring back grace to nature: the birds and the flowers.

In Chariton´s novel, the cult of Aphrodite plays a most important role. It is during the feast for the goddess the young couple meets and falls in love, and the girl's similarity to the goddess is stressed over and over again. Such is her beauty that she is often taken as an epiphany of Aphrodite. Now we know from several myths that the beauty of the Syrian goddess was used to pacify a monster, who was the personification of sea and chaos, Hedammu in Hittite mythology, Jam in an Egyptian text working with Syrian myth, Andromeda put out to the Ketos-monster. This motif is found also in the novel where Kallirhoe is taken away over the sea by a gang of pirats led by Theron, whose men are named “people from the brothels and public houses”. But for a short moment they are struck with holy fear, because Kallirhoe looked like the goddess Aphrodite in person, II 2,14. She ends by falling into the hands of the High-king of Persia, but is liberated by a Dioscurical pair, Chaireas and Polycharmos (Castor and Polydeukos). Such pairs often carry names underlining their twin-like nature: Chaireas and Charmos. The name Theron is also found as the name of a man from Tyre (“son of Budastratos”, that is “servant of Astarte”) and Clermont-Gannau [5] thinks it is a translation of the Phoenician Sid = “hunter” (Jatansed, Abdsed, Sedjaton,Gersed and Sidon are some of the men and places named after this god). He is the god called Agreus (“hunter”) by Philo, and in Chartage he is closely attached to the great goddess Tanit (Sed-Tanit). When Theron is finally caught, he is crucified after being whipped and tortured at the theatre, and he dies hanged up by the sea which he has made dangerous by his robbing and stealing. It seems likely that there is some cultic ritual behind this acting at the theatre, a yearly feast at the theatre that ends the winter and greets the coming of spring. Also the final act of the plot is played out at the town-theatre VIII 7,1ff. R.Reitzenstein has already pointed out that the novel is structured like a drama in five acts[6].

Chariton, the author of the novel, was from Aphrodisias in Anatolia. The coins from this town show the goddess attended by a Dioscurical pair easily recognised by their piloi-hats. Chaireas and Polycharmos mean “joy” and “delight”, like Aphrodite attended by Eros and Pothos she is served by Joy and Delight. Her typical cult-idol is a pillar-like statue with pictures on the ephod of the goddess riding the sea on a kind of monster with snake-coils as its body - one more indication that she is a goddess taken away across the sea like the Sidonian goddess Europa. But while Europa is taken away on the back of the bull over the sea to Crete, Kallirhoe is taken from her hometown Syracus towards the East (Milet, Babylon). But after her liberation she is found on the island Arados in Phoenicia. On this island there was acc to the novel an old temple for Aphrodite. From there she is taken to Paphos on Cyprus, the hometown of Aphrodite, and finally returned to Sicily. When she is in the power of the Persian king, he orders a feast for 30 days to be celebrated in every street in his empire with eating, singing, and playing on the syringe. The king offers sacrifices to Eros and is the leader of a great hunt, which is described in great detail although it has nothing to add to the plot, in my opinion because it wants to picture the king as the great hunter, bringing sacrifices to the great hunter Eros. Dreaming he sees with his mind's eye Kallirhoe hunting like Artemis with her skirt bound up so her naked knees and naked arms are seen and he hopes that she as the female hunter will take up her position by his side VI,4.

But in the great fight between two navies she is taken back by Chaireas, who even conquers the Persian Queen Statira. The two women taken from the high god by a younger god is a Syrian motif: Uranos sends Hora and Heimarmene against El Cronos, but he takes them as his property. They are the symbols of “destiny (of the world)” and “season”.

A Persian New Year´s feast, Mithrakana, lasted for 30 days and celebrated the victory over a chaos king who is robbed of his two women/cows by a young hero. The cows are also symbols of water, cf. Kallirhoe´s name “beautiful stream of water”.

Like Kadmos who goes out from Sidon to seek his sister Europa and is guided by a cow with the picture of the moon on its flank to the place where he founds the city of Thebes, so Triptolemos during his search for Jo travels towards the east and founds Tarsos (Strabo), Jopolis better known as Anthioch by Orontes and Gordyene on the other side of Tigris (Steph Byz, Gordyaia). Johs. Malala (chron 2 pp.28ff. & other sources, see Cook, Zeus I, p.237n1) tells us that Jo was the mystical name the people of Argos gave the moon and that the beautiful princess was named after it. Her brothers were Kasos & Belos (Kush and Baal). There are many facts indicating that we are here dealing with a Semitic myth. Europa must come from ´rb “evening”,”west”, and Kadmos from qdm “east”. Europa is handed over into the care of Asterios. Jo is guarded by Argos, a man with eyes all over his body (Aesch.Prom. 569,679) and wearing a shaggy bull´s hide. In both cases a young god liberates Jo and Europa's double, Harmonia, whom Kadmos liberates from a dragon guarding her. The goddess is guarded by a creature who by his very name or by his 1000 eyes betrays that he is heaven = the high god. The goddess is kept in heaven united to the high god, the moon, she has to be brought down to earth, cf the seals where a girl is descending standing in a hut of wreaths on the back of a bull.

 (M.Jastrow, Bildermappe zur Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens, 1912, p.103 pl.151,no.187). Note the two sitting and drinking from cups filled by the bowl of the crescent moon. The young god with the morning star is leading a train of followers all dressed in the short kilt of the hunter. An altar with a holy flame is standing between them. 

At the time of our Saviour there was in Samaria a cult of Helene, the sister of Castor and Pollux [7]. Perhaps as a goddess giving inspiration to the gnosticism of Simon Magus.

In Sparta Helene was not only the beautiful wife of Menelaos, but also a, goddess with two temples and a festival called Heleneia. Her crater is the bowl of the moon. She is as shown by Martin P. Nilsson (The Mycenaean Origin of Greek Mythology, 1932, pp.73-5) a pre-Greek goddess of vegetation who is abducted in much the same way as Persephone. Not only Paris is mentioned as her abductor but also Theseus who hid her in the castle of Aphidna. She was liberated by her brothers Castor and Polydeukos. The myth behind the Ilead is the old motif: the abduction of the goddess and the two brothers trying to bring her back (Menelaos & Agamemnon, the fair haired Menelaos being the sun hero and his brother Agamemnon being the god of life fluids killed in his bath tub.) An old Spartan relief shows the dioscures standing on each side of an ancient idol of a goddess[8].

The goddess Europa was also called Helene/Helle, for the name of her feast in Crete was Hellotis. During this feast she was honoured with a giant wreath of flowers, which was said also to contain her bones, perhaps an old simple woodcarving representing the goddess (Cook,Zeus,I,pp.525 & 644 with the beautiful picture of Europa with the flower basket) This is, as seen by Cook, the long wreath of flowers the goddess is seen holding in her hand on some Hittite seals. We can now see that Helene sought by a pair of brothers, Europa sought for by her brothers Kadmos, Phoenix and Cilix, and Helle abducted on the back of the golden ram are precious remnants of a very old and very important Near Eastern myth. Achilles Tatios´ novel starts with a beautiful description of a painting of Europa being abducted from a meadow full of flowers on the back of the bull. She is the goddess of the flowers. The picture is seen by the author in a temple dedicated to Astarte in Sidon. The same motif occurs in the novel of Jamblichos (Babylonica) where the heroine is abducted from a paradise-like meadow by a ghost-like he-goat, who has fallen in love with her (Acc. to the summery of the novel preserved by Photios Bibliotheca.) The titles of the Hellenistic novels, Ephesiaca, Babylonica, Phoenicica stand for traditions connected with the great annual festival where the abduction and return of the goddess is celebrated. In these festivals the town or area finds its identity. The goddess with the long wreath of flowers is a well known motif in Syria and is also found among the Antioch mosaics treated by D.Levi. The motif is even found on Egyptian-Coptic textiles (here after Levi,Antioch Mosaics I,p.267) The goddess is riding on a hippokamp in front of the long wreath carried by the small “karpoi”:



The hero and heroine of the novel by Jamblichos the Syrian are called Sinonis and Rhodanes, of course after Sin, the moon and Rhodos (“man from the sun-island”).

There is an old Phoenician tradition about the love between sun and moon: At the court of Carthage songs were sung about the “labours of the sun” (the 12 labours of Heracles) and the “vagrancy of the moon”. Syllas from Carthage told about the “seeking and vagrancy” attached to the moon. (Plutarch de facie in erbe lunae 26f.[9])

Hidden behind the legends around Cadmos and Europa/Harmonia we find the symbols of coincidentia oppositorum Europa is west and Cadmos east. At Cadmos´s and Harmonia´s wedding their car was drawn by a lion and a boar, under the spell of Apollo's lyre  united under the same yoke. They are duality brought together into union and at the end of their journey towards north-west they are in Illyria changed to two snakes. We have to interpret all this as the symbols of an ecstatic journey. (a)The jouney over the great sea on the back of the bull to the paradise-island Crete where Zeus is changed into an eagle, and where Europa under the holy plane tree gives birth to the primordial twins Minos and Rhadamanthys. (b)The riding in the wedding car is the ecstatic union of male and female pole in some kind of chariot of the sun, and finally C. and H. are changed into the symbol of the double-snake (c). The myth of Cadmos and Harmonia is a myth about the union of the two halves, male and female, the sun hero and the goddess as a symbol of earth and sea. Harmonia´s wedding dress given her by Cadmos is the beautiful cover of flowers given to the earth by the sun in spring.



A coin from Carthage shows on the obverse the goddess with the sign of the world mountain the so-called Tanit-sign and dolphins and a hairdo full of ears of corn. On the reverse the sun hero, identified with the morning star, riding on the horse of the sun, has reached the tree of life growing besides the mystical lotus. Falbe-Lindberg-Müller II, p.77, no.32


K.Kerenyi[10] has underlined the fact that Kadmos is acting as a kind of primordial man or shepherd by killing the dragon and founding the city of Thebes. To my mind he has to be seen as the sun-hero travelling towards the west finally coming to the centre of the earth where he kills the dragon guarding the world mountain and marries the princess who is an epiphany of the earth goddess.

The coin below (A.Parrot,Les Phéniciens,fig.209) shows the sun-hero riding in the course of the sun and finally reaching the mystical lotus and the symbol of the mystical union of all light: the sun resting in the crescent moon. A gold-medallion from Carthage (7th-6th cent.B.C.) shows the cosmic mountain covered with golden stars and guarded by two uraeus snakes. Earrings from the same period with the same motif, but without snakes (ibd.fig.192f.)




In Egypt the immortality of Pharaoh is closely connected with his arrival after death to the island of the primeval god in the centre of the universe surrounded by the “Ring-channel” (See the chapter "Die Himmelreise des ägyptischen Königs" in: M.Riemschneider, Augengott und Heilige Hochzeit, 1953).

W.Bousset thinks that the Kadmos-Harmonia-Europa-legend is evidence of a Phoenician myth about the liberation of a goddess disappeared or abducted, and he draws attention to Nonnos Dion 40,346ff.: in Tyre was shown the “House of Agenor”(father of Europa) and the “Bridal chamber of Kadmos”. This myth lives on in the gnosticism of Simon the Magus and the Valentinian gnosis, where Achamoth is liberated by the Saviour[11].



8a. Ruth


Acc to Bousset, the Phoenician goddess is often split into two: sister and wife. Europa and Harmonia. Something similar seems to be the case in the book of Ruth closely connected to the Jewish harvest festival, the Pentecost. M.Astour [12] points out that the goddess of harvest here as in Eleusis is split into two aspects, mother and young woman (Demeter/Noomi) and (Kore/Ruth). The role of Eleusis is played by Bethlehem = “The house of the Bread”. To this town comes the old lady mourning over the loss of her two sons and her talks with the women at the well are similar to Demeter´s words at the well in Eleusis Homer Hymn 90-117. Noomi is connected to the word na´ama= “the graceful/lovely” and Ruth´s son gets the name Obed = “worker”. Although he is the son of Ruth, it is said “A son is born for Noomi”

There is even hinted at a love scene on the threshing floor between Bo´az (cf. the name of the morning star ´Azizu) and Ruth. Ruth´s first husband, Mahlon, has a name acc. to Astour derived from mehille “cave, underworld”.



8b. Phoinicica


Small papyrus-fragments of a novel from about 200 A.C. were ed. by A.Henrichs in 1972, Die Phoinikika des Lollianus [13]. The novel of Lollianus seems quite close to the well known work of Achilleus Tatius  Leukippe and Cleithophon: a fragment tells about a ritual murder, where Egyptian robbers from the delta of the Nile kill and eat a young boy, a striking parallel to the scene in Ach. Tat. where robbers from the delta seemingly sacrifice the heroine and eat from her entrails. It is reasonable to assume that they are from the same period.

Acc. to Henrichs the fragments support the interpretation of the Hellenistic novels as mystery-texts put forward by Kerenyi and Merkelbach.

The first fragment speaks about some boys, somebody fasting, a roof, and women dancing. Henrichs thinks it is tempting to see this scenery in connection with the Phoenician feast for Adonis, which was a feast prepared by the women, who put out the so-called Adonis gardens on the roofs. After that, the main male character of the novel is led to a hidden chamber where the girl Persis is waiting. ”And there I made my first experience  in the field of love”. Henrichs stresses that this girl can not be the heroine but must be a more anonymous character, probably playing the same role as Melitte in the novel of Ach.Tat., a mature woman who comes to the hero while he is chained and persuades him to have sexual intercourse with her, and the “Wolf-woman” in the novel of Longus, who also gives the hero live information about the mystery of sex. Persis carries a golden chain, and this makes her an epiphany of the goddess of love acc to Henrichs, and he points out that the origin of the often used phrase in the novels of love as a “mystery” must lie in some kind of religious vocabulary.

The symbolism of initiation is also the key to the human sacrifice: this awful act is performed by a naked man (except for a purple loincloth - red is the colour of the hunter. Henrichs mentions the purple scarves the initiated into the mysteries of Samothrake tied round their loins). The heart is taken out of the victim, and the robbers swear an oath on the entrails that they will never leave the group or betray it, not even if they are tortured. Henrichs compares this with the oath of the soldiers and the mystery-oath where one has to swear never to reveal the secrets of the mysteries. The sacrifice of the young man is compared by Henrichs to the Cretan-Minoan myth about the divine child Dionysos-Zagreus. “It is a law by us that those who are to become members of the mysteries as the first task have to perform the ritual sacrifice”, says the chief of the robbers in Achill.Tatios 3,22,3 and in Lollianus (fr.B,line 14): “…he gave of the heart to the initiated” (myumenoi  - present term.: “those who were in the process of being initiated”[14].)


Ostracon, Berlin Mus. (Leclant, "Astarté a Cheval") SYRIA 37,1960,pp.1ff.,pl. III,A


On the reverse of the paper telling about the sacrifice there is a description of an orgy: “…they started singing and drinking and making love to the women just in front of him”. But 11 men kept sober as they had been picked out for a special task (?): by midnight they threw some naked corpses out of the window, and now they dressed like ghosts from the underworld, some in white gowns and with their faces painted in white, others in black gowns with blackened faces. This important fragment tells that there was a nightly arrival of the spirits of the dead in connection with the feast for Adonis. They come attracted by the orgy and the chaotic behaviour.

We have already mentioned Melitte, the female landowner, asking the hero to make love to her. Merkelbach has compared this scene with the attempt of Isis to become pregnant with her death-lamed husband. The origin of the scene must be sought in the old idea that the goddess of the earth has to be healed/made fruit-bearing  by love: Melitte asks the young man for a “medicine”(pharmakon) for her sick soul V,27,2, and Cleithophon continues his story with the words: “When I had healed Melitte”. In the gnosticism of Valentine “healing (íasis) for her sufferings” is given Achamoth by the Saviour (Ir.adv.haer.I 4,5 cf. Clem. exc. ex Theod. 44,2 & 45,1) cf. Iasion´s (= “Healer”) sexual act with Demeter “on the trice-ploughed fallow field”. Also in the novel of Jamblichos, the hero is approached by the “daughter of the farmer”. She has sex with him, and she has shorn locks like Isis.

Achill.Tatios's novel starts with the praise of Eros and his ruling over “heaven and earth and sea” I,2,1. This praise is the purpose of the novel, and it must be seen on the background of the cosmic wedding between sun hero and goddess celebrated in early spring and also felt as the background to the Song of Songs.

Important in the novel is also the description of the bulls to be sacrificed as “Egyptian bulls with horns as the sickle of the crescent moon”. Later in Egypt after being shipwrecked, Leukippe is taken captive by robbers called “shepherds” and living in the delta. This is a remnant of the goddess taken away to heaven by the divine bull. The island of El, ”the bull”, is, acc. to the Ugarittext CTA 3,6,14 situated in the delta of the Nile. “The shepherds” or “robbers” must be some secret societies being active on the chaotic side of the spring-festival. The members of the old Iranian men´s societies as well as of the Islamic  futuwwah-brotherhoods were called “robbers”[15]. Leukippe is the goddess taken away, her beauty was as that of “Selene on a bull” (I,4), but she is liberated by the young hero from a strange dementia brought upon her by the Egyptian sorcerer Gorgias.

The robber and cannibal from which the young couple has to escape in the novel of Jamblichos is Saturn/Molok demanding human sacrifices. From his burning house they escape by throwing their donkeys on the fire and using them as a bridge. Behind this dramatic act we are able to see the sacrifice of children to Saturn by “letting them pass through the fire”. The donkey is a symbol of the body being burnt while the spirit is set free.


Figurines dug out in Neirab, Persian period, SYRIA 8,1927 pl. LII: Man and woman seem united to the horse to a kind of centaur.



8c. Xenophon: Efesiaca


The love story of Habrocomas and Anthia

The antique novel has its root in cult-legend. It is repetition, imitation of the account of the suffering of the god. How he is given into the hands of his enemies, is tortured and killed, and how he, nevertheless, is able to pass through all the sufferings alive and victorious. On their journey through life Habrocomas and Anthia experience – like all other young couples in the antique novel – the destiny of Isis and Osiris. The divine life and the divine suffering is pictured in human destiny, the teaching and experience of the mystery religions is reflected in the figures of two heathen “saints” – these novels, on the surface so simple and naive, have religious depths which the modern reader is barely able to fathom.

In this way the novel about the travelling of the two lovers expands into the picture of man’s journey through life. What is experienced by the initiated becomes picture…[16], becomes symbols of the dangerous road of life and the all conquering power of love, of divine providence and assurance of a happy ending. “Comfort in all the tragedy and mourning of this world”. Nothing in the novel is told for the sake of a good story, “everything is hieroglyph”(ibd.).

Efesiaca is closely connected with the cult of Artemis in Ephesos, but an Artemis in the course of time being fused with Isis and other goddesses. Anthia´s name means “flower-girl”. She is the goddess with the flower basket, abducted, but returning in spring. There is also a young man, Hyperanthes, the beautiful Adonis-type killed and mourned for. The name of Habrokomas´s father is Lykomedes (“the one with thoughts like a wolf”). Habrocomas means “the one with radiant hair”. In IV,1 he tells the old fisherman about his “wanderings”. Especially important is the oracle of Apollo at the beginning of the plot I,6: it speaks about a pharmacon (“a medicine”) which can be obtained only after they have fled over the sea, have been chained “by men mingling with the waters”, have been buried in a grave and destroyed by fire. Exactly the same is experienced by Baal in his fights with Jamm and Mot. Habrocomas is the sun hero who, through many struggles, and even a near-to-death experience, is able to return in spring strengthened by the pharmakon of paradise, the plant of life that brings revival to all nature. The journey through many countries brings H. to Southern Italy, where he toils hard as a worker at the harbour, suffering through many “labours and fights”,V,10, cf. the “labours” of Heracles. Finally, in Rhodes, the island of the sun, he is united to his female partner. When H. is nailed to the cross, he is the god of vegetation fastened to the tree. Two times he is threatened by fire, but saved by water, I,12 & IV,2. But he is also the hunter: as the first of the many skills he has to learn is mentioned “hunting”, I,1. Like Hippolyt he has great contempt for Eros and as the typical ecstatic his very existence and power are threatened by the confrontation with the female gender. He is totally lost when he meets Anthia, who “revealed what she could of her body, that Habrocomas should see it” I,3. The result is that poor H. is afflicted by a mortal disease.

But the real Seth-figure is the homosexual Hippothoos, who, with his robbers, makes a raid into Egypt on the southern border. Like Seth, who has to carry the dead body of Osiris through the sea to the land of the far west, Hippothoos swims with the dying youth Hyperanthes on his back. He ends up as the faithful helper and steady companion of Habrocomas.



8d. Apollonios of Tyre


A statue is erected in Tarsus showing him standing in the prow of his ship with his right arm around his daughter Tarsia trampling on the pimp, who is the bad guy of the story.

He sails out from Tyre as the young sun hero, and like Resheph and Baal he is praised for his fantastic ability to play the lyre. He knows the remedy of renewal, he anoints the king of Lybia with an unction of revival. Like the old Saturn with long hair and beard untamed for many years, he returns with a ship full of grain. But his soul is totally shrouded in darkness and he hides in the darkest cabin of the ship under deck. Now Tarsia´s fight to make him “step out into the light” begins, “she urged him to return to the light”. “In the darkness” she poses him several riddles, all of which he is able to answer, and finally she is able to rekindle his wish to live.

All of this is understandable in the light of the Tyrian cult where Melqart has to be “aroused”, or made energetic, from his sleep of death in the underworld. Or (which is the same) be reborn from the dark starry sky of Saturn.

The trampling on a person is also seen on a wall-picture from Dura, from pronaos A in "the temple for the gods of Palmyra", where the male Tyche (“fortune”) of Dura and the female Tyche of Palmyra are enthroned on both sides of the mystical rosette, both trampling on a river god, the personified river that runs through the town [17]. The motif seems to have some importance when the goddess of “destiny” is pictured. Originally it was probably a motif stressing the cruel nature of the hunter/huntress, and this is perhaps the reason why the same motif is used in India in the iconography of Shiwa and Kali. M. Avi-Yonah[18] has shown how the Roman art has humanitas as one of its characteristics. Even the death of the enemies of the Empire is often depicted with a pitying touch. When a deceased officer on his memorial is represented in the act of dispatching a barbarian, ”the latter is rendered in a pathetic last appeal which characterizes this feeling of common humanity, transcending nationality”. In Near Eastern art “any feeling of pity for the vanquished foe is entirely absent”(ibd.). The god or goddess is hailed for their ecstatic cruelty transcending any notion of good and evil.



8e. The woman liberated from a demon


We meet with this motif in the book of Tobit, where the young hero with his divine comes, Raphael, travels to the Far East and liberates the girl with the help of some ingredients taken from a great fish. He has first eaten the flesh of the fish, and now burns its heart and liver to scare the demon away. This must be a very faint survival of the fish orgy which made the chaos dragon unfit for fight. The demon flies to Egypt. Tobias´ father is blind but is healed, cf. Ps 13,4: “Enlighten my eyes…” The sun-hero is just as much Raphael (“God’s healer”) who carries a name that makes him quite similar to Iason (“healer”) travelling in the sun-boat Argos to the copper mountain (Cholkis) to take the princess there as his wife.



8f. And the woman liberated from herself


The Jewish novel Joseph and Asenath is both by C.Burchard[19] and M.Philonenko[20] dated to 1st cent. A.C.: Asenath is a very pretty, but very unapproachable virgin, living surrounded by jewels and infinite luxury in a tower, and in her heart full of contempt for all men. She refuses in the strongest possible way when her father suggests Joseph as a suitable husband. But she changes her mind when she has seen him, for his appearance was like that of “a god’s son”. The description of Joseph depicts him as the sun-hero: He drives into the courtyard of Asenath’s father through the eastern gate in a chariot drawn by 4 horses white as snow and on his head is a crown with 12 beams of gold and in his hand an olive branch with fruits. He has a heavenly comes (“companion”, in Roman times used about Hercules as comes of the Emperor) coming from the morning star.(Like the apostle Thomas and his heavenly twin, Jesus, on their journey to India, the land of the sunrise).

Asenath is the goddess living in the tower-high world mountain surrounded by 7 handmaids called “pillars”. She is dressed in sorrow and black, but when Joseph comes she changes into a bride’s dress.(Cf the symbolism of Harmonia getting a bridal dress from Cadmos, Xthonie getting a dress from Zas. They are symbols of the earth rejoicing in spring.) Like the Near Eastern goddess Asenath is the symbol of the country or the town. “Behind your walls shall nations find protection”, it is said. But also the symbol of the people, the religious community, the soul, in this novel the symbol of the soul converted to Judaism (Like Mirjai in the Madaean religion). She is even saved by two Dioscuric brothers.

A beautiful Egyptian fairytale from the 19th dynasty is the tale about the “Prince and his foreseen Destiny”[21]. We will concentrate on a single motif in the plot: the prince gets a chariot and with all kinds of weapons and followed by his dog, he heads north hunting the wild animals of the desert. He comes to the king of Naharin (Naharayim, a kingdom situated between the upper part of Euphrates and Orontes, the meaning of the name being “Two rivers”). The king keeps his daughter locked up in a tower, and only he who is able to ascend to the window at a height of 70 yards can get her as his wife. After having his sore feet treated and healed, the prince is able to reach the window and is married to the girl.

This is a typical Syrian myth. In the high North is found the Saphon-mountain as world pillar, and in it the goddess is sitting by the window as Aphrodite Parakyptousa, and it has the symbolism of seven attached to it. Naharin is not only the Aramean kingdom, but also a mythological place: the mountain of El by the two cosmic water streams. The sore feet of the sun-hero are due to his long journey to the end of the world.



8g. The Struggles of the Blessed in Estrangement


Such is the title of two important articles by the Norwegian scholar M. Ravndal Hauge[22]. Hauge asks the important question: What is the main purpose of these stories about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Perhaps the most important motif is the motif of the “chosen one”: Abel is the chosen one, Cain flies to the land east of Eden, Abraham is chosen by the Lord and is called out of Babylon and sets out on the long journey to the promised holy land. But he will only be the owner of his grave there. Lot chooses an area east of the Judean Highland. Isaac is the chosen son, his half brothers are denied access and get their home “towards the east, in the land of the East” (Gen 25,6). The sons of Lot and Esau are given room on the other side of Jordan “in the mountains”, Ishmael “in the desert”. Joseph is the chosen son, predestined to rule over his brothers. As the only one he gets his grave in the holy land just like his father (47,29-31 & 50,4-14.24f). The life of the patriarchs is a life constantly being on the road, a life in exile, in estrangement from the holy Judean Highland. Hauge has shown that the patriarch- and Moses-stories are full of exile- and home-coming motifs. To the exile-motif is often tied a wife-motif, to the home-coming a death- or substitute-sacrifice-motif. The blessed is staying at a place with a name connected to the word gur (= exile). Abraham is  in exile in Egypt and loses his wife, Sarah, but regains her with increased wealth. His wife is taken from him by Abimelek in Gerar, but he wins her back with increased wealth. Jacob gains two wives for himself in exile plus great wealth. Joseph gets a wife in Egypt plus riches. Moses gets a wife while exiled to the desert. Even more visible is the death motif connected with home-coming. Jacob must fight with the angel before coming home, and is struck so hard that he becomes an invalid. Joseph can only return as dead. Moses is threatened by God when he returns, but his wife presents a bloody substitute. Abraham must give his son as a sacrifice when coming to Mt. Moria, but God provides a substitute, a ram. At the exodus, Israel must present a substitute, the paschal lamb, and on the arrival at Jericho, the whole of Israel has to be circumcised. A whole generation of Israelites  has to die in the desert before they can enter the holy land.

Hauge has not given any explanation of these motifs. But at least for Sara and Rebecca abducted by Pharao and Abimelek, it is obvious that the background is the West Semitic Europa-myth: The goddess as the symbol of fertility abducted and brought back. The background to the death motif is the sacrifice brought to secure the sun-hero’s return from the realm of death. Egypt plays the role of the Far West, the land of imprisonment. To secure exodus from this kingdom of death, a substitute must be given: the lamb. It is all part of the celebration of spring, the return of the sun at Easter-time. Hauge also draws attention to the return of those exiled in Babylon and the death of the suffering servant of the Lord, Is 53.

The drama developing between the hero and the heroine often becomes a triangle, the third person being a king:


Pharaoh – Sara – Abraham

The local king – Mygdonia – Thomas, the apostle

King Abimelek – Rebecca – Isaac

The king of Babylon – Sinonis – Rhodanes

Zeus/king Asterios - Europa/Harmonia – Cadmos

The old king – Stratonice – his son, Lucian, de dea 17f.

Uranos, king of heaven – Hora & Heimarmene – El Cronos



W.Daum (Ursemitische Religion) found the background to this structure: A young god liberates the female force of fertility from the sphere of the high god. But perhaps it is safer to say that she is liberated from being held captive in a passive state of primordial union. The dragon or coiled snake is often seen as her guardian, and it is the symbol of amorphous matter, or, in its raised state, a symbol of mystic vision. As the front cover for his book Daum has a picture from a South Arabian temple of the young god fighting the dragon to liberate a goddess surrounded by vegetation. A young hero liberating a female fertility power from a dragon is also the motif of the oldest Iranian New Years feast acc. to G. Widengren[23]. The Bible talks about liberation from exile and slavery, cf Bo´az as the “liberator” (go´el) for Ruth and Noomi, the name Noomi being a parallel to the Greek charites, Latin graces.


[1] “Katagógia-Anagógia and the Goddess of Knossos”, in: Early Greek Cult Practice, ed.Robin Hägg, N.Marinatos & G.C.Nordquist, 1988, Skrifter utgivna av Svenska Institut i Athen,4,XXXVI,pp.81-8

[2] Ael.Na. 4,2. M.P.Nilsson, Griechische Feste, 1906, p.374

[3] Die griechisch-orientalische Romanlitteratur in religionsgeschichtlicher Beleuchtung,1927

[4] Joseph et Aséneth, Introduction, texte critique, traduction et notes,1968, see Introduction and pp.89f. An evaluation of the interpretation of Philonenko is D.Sänger, Antikes Judentum und die Mysterien, 1980

[5] Recueil d´Archéol.Orient. I,1888,p.190.

[6] Hellenistische Wundererzählungen, 1906, pp.95f.

[7] G.Quispel, Gnosis als Weltreligion, 1951, pp.62ff. L-H.Vincent, “Le culte d´Hélène a Samarie”, RB 45,1936, pp.221-32.

[8] Roscher I,p.1167.

[9] About this tradition H.Y.Priebatsch in Ugarit 8,1976, pp.327f. & 332f.

[10] Die Heroen der Griechen, pp.36ff.

[11] Religionsgeschichliche Studien, 1979, p.61 = Pauly-Wissowa, Bd. VII/2 pp.1517f.

[12]  Hellenosemitica, 1965,pp.278f.

[13] Papyrologische Texte und Abhandlungen 14.

[14] Henrichs p.117.

[15] G. Widengren, Religionsphänomenologie, p.606n56.

[16] B.Kytzler in his German transl. of Xenophon, Die Waffen des Eros,1968, p.121

[17] F. Cumont, Fouilles de Doura-Europos, 1926, t.L

[18] Art in Ancient Palestine,1981,pp.183f.

[19] Untersuchungen zu Joseph und Asenath,1965,pp.148-51.

[20] Joseph et Asenath,1968.

[21] Romans et Contes égyptiens, transl. by G.Lefebvre.

[22] St.Th. 29, 1975, pp.1-30 & 113-46

[23] Die Religionen Irans,pp.42.45f.