9. “To the victorious”

 

In Beth Shan Resheph has a very important epithet Mkl. In 1927 an expedition from Pennsylvania dug out a temple from 1350 B.C. While the northern part of the temple was dedicated to the snake-goddess already mentioned of, the southern part was, acc to a hieroglyphic inscription, dedicated to Baal m´k3r/l, but the god shown on the stele carrying the inscription is the typical Resheph. The inscription is translated by A.Rowe[1]:

“An-offering-which-the-king-gives to Mekal, the great god, that he may give to thee life, prosperity and health, keen vision, honour and love, a prosperous mouth, the footstep in its place, until thou reachest a venerated state in peace…”

In my opinion the most probable understanding of Mkl is to see it as a participle of jkl = “has victory”. Gen 30,8 & 32,28 “God-fights have I fought…and have been victorious ” & “You have fought against God and men and have been victorious” – in both the word jkl is used. Now while Esau is described as the “reddish”, the hunter Usu, Jacob is the shepherd and sun hero. Skinner in: International Critical Commentary to Genesis says to 32,28: “You have striven with God and with men”:

“This can hardly refer to the contests with Laban or Esau; it points rather to the existence of a fuller body of legends, in which Jacob figured as a hero of many combats, culminating in this successful struggle with the deity.”

The words are spoken as Jacob returns from his long exile. Exile and home-coming are well known motifs in the Phoenician novels: the hero of the novels is a reflection of the sun hero´s destiny. Every winter he/she must go into exile only to return with the blossoming spring.

The Mkl-title is the forerunner of the Hellenistic invictus/nikator epithet used about the sun (Sol Invictus = “the unconquered sun”), about the king as the epiphany of the sun-hero (Nicator = “the victorious”), and about the one who has completed his journey in the sun’s course, Rev 2-3, and has reached paradise, Rev 2,7. The name of the Hittite god Tarhund means “the victorious one”.

The translation “for the choir director”, Ps 4,1, goes back to Luther (“vor zusingen”) and was unknown to the old translations. Hieron. & Aq.: “to him who is victorious”. Theod. & Symm.: epiníkion/nikopoiós Latin: victori. This expression has to be understood on the background of the Syrian notion of “the unconquered sun”: at sunset the sun will go down into the realm of death, but at dawn it will force its way out of darkness and death, and after it has become weak and pale in the coldness of winter, it will return with new power in spring bringing healing to the sick and weakened nature, Mal 4,2. Also in the Psalms of David there is a going through night and darkness and Sheol (“the underworld”) to new life to a salvation brought about by God at sunrise: “He will bring us help when morning comes”. Cf. the Uri-call: “Rise, oh God - I will wake up the glow of dawn”. The symbolism of the Syrian Sol Invictus forms the background to the passage from death to life in the Psalms, and not the suffering king described as a Tammuz-type as claimed by the so called Uppsala-school.

Samson R.Hoisch, Psalmenkommentar, 1914 (p.108) translates lmnzh, Ps 4,1: “dem Siegverleiher” (= “to him who gives victory”). K.Bornhäuser[2] thinks that this must have been the understanding of lmnzh at the time of Jesus, which could be seen from the translation of lanêzah by Paul in 1.Cor 15,55: “Death is consumed into victory“. He even thinks that “he who gives victory”, 1.Cor 15,57, is a translation of the menazeah of the psalms[3]. He thinks that the translation of Septuaginta (the O.T.-translation into Greek) eis to télos must be understood as “to the final victory” and that this meaning should also be heard when the words teléô/teleiósis are used in the N.T. e. g. in the words of Jesus on the cross: ”It is fulfilled” (and Luke 18,31f. & 22,37; Heb 2,10 & 5,9f.[4].

 

C.B.Hansen[5] has shown that the phrase “after Glory (Hebrew: kabod)” Ps 73,24; Zech 2,12 must be understood as “rapture” following the Merkabah “the chariot of the sun”. He says: “You cannot be taken away after glory as a theological idea, a concept, but you can be taken away after a glorious, gleaming chariot of fire, flaming horses, or after Jahveh revealing himself in glory (Ez 1,28) with both wheels, wings and beams of fire”  and he compares Ps 73,24: “takes me after glory” with the rapture of Enoch and Elijah’s rapture in a chariot of fire.

Zech 2,12: “After glory has He sent me to the nations” must then be interpreted as:

“Following the route of the Merkabah, I, the messenger, will travel through the world to all the nations”. (The same idea is found in Syrian religion. El Cronos travels through the world, Zeus, acc to Euhemeros, travels through the world, even Dionysos and Triptolemos, in a magic chariot, travel through the whole world to teach the nations agriculture and civilisation.)

Important is the story of Enoch: After walking with God in the cycle of the sun (365 years) he is taken up to God, Gen 5,23f.

B.Reicke thinks that the Qumran society had a system of prayers following the sun: At sunrise and sunset, at the beginning and end of the night and at the culmination of the darkness and the light (at 12 noon, and 12 midnight) (1 QS X,1ff.[6]). In the old Caldaean Breviar there are only prayers for the night hours: evening, night and morning, not the usual 7[7]. Typical of the Syrian mystic Bar Hebraeus are the many Psalms prayed from 4 in the morning until sunrise, cf. the phrase from the book of Psalms: “I will awaken the glow of dawn”.

In my opinion it is reasonable to assume that the lmnzh-psalms were used in a nightly vigil, where night and sickness and despair melt together to a cosmic power of darkness conquered by the arrival of the Lord at his temple at sunrise. In the very first of them the enemies of the singer are asked: “For how long will you continue to violate my glory (kabod)?”, Ps 4,3. The singer is identified with the sun to such a degree that he, like the sun during the night, is imprisoned in Sheol. Now, essential to the antique understanding of the world is that the sun needs room to shine, heaven and earth have to be separated by the world pillars so that the sun can have open space, Ps 4,2: “You provided space for me..” Cf. 118,5: “I called upon the Lord when I was oppressed. He answered and led me out into open land.”

Every night the universe will sink back into impenetrable darkness, and to some degree it returns to its primordial state of massive amorphous matter. The night is also the time for both criminals and demons and both man and animal sink back into this helpless state of inactivity, the sleep, which is the brother of death: “send light to my eyes, that I do not sleep on into death”,13,4. Therefore, in the temple of the Lord, there must be people on watch, praying that the light may come back and be victorious. In the next psalm it is said: “Early I will present you my case and be on the look-out (for your epiphany)”5,4.

Just as Melqart is awakened from his sleep in the realm of death, so there was the Uri-ritual in the temple calling out for the kabod of Jahveh to rise and fill the universe, “all the world” with light. Note the phrase qol ha´ares Ps 108, found again in Is 6,3. But also the kabod of the singer is thereby risen from the realm of death. Especially Ps 57,5: “My soul in the midst of lions. I go to sleep among flaming sons of men”. The lions and the flames show that the singer is in the power of Resheph, the prince of death, but then a call sounds:

 

               “Wake up my kabod (= glory)

               Wake up harp and zither

               I will awaken the glow of dawn”

 

This calling is a piece of a ritual, for it is word for word repeated in Ps 108:

 

               “My heart is firmly grounded

               I will sing and play

               Wake up my kabod!

               Wake up harp and zither!

               I will wake up the glow of dawn…

               Your Kabod is over all the earth.”

 

Cf. with Ps 7,3-6:

 

               “that he shall not render my soul to pieces as a lion

               my kabod will he (the enemy) force to stay in the dust

               Arise … wake up my God.”

 

Ps 16,9:

 

“My kabod is jubilant

You will not leave my soul in the realm of death

You will not let your faithful one see the pit

There is saturation of joy before your countenance

Loveliness[8] in your right hand until the end.”

 

The liberation of the sun at dawn from its imprisonment in Sheol is also the liberation of the kabod of the singer. For when the Kabod of Jhvh is revealed, the community of the faithful is also filled with light, Is 60,1ff.:

 

               “Arise, become light, for your light has come

               The Kabod of Jhvh has dawned upon you

               See darkness has covered the earth…

               But over you Jhvh has risen.”[9]

 

Now, what makes this kabod-glory-symbolism really interesting is that it has survived until New Testament times and is the central theme in the gospel of John with both the initial introduction to the theme:

 

“And we saw his Glory, a Glory as the only begotten has it from his father”

 

and the final summing up in the last prayer of Jesus John 17,1.5.10.22.24.

W.J.Horwitz[10] has pointed out, that the development in the Ancient Middle East seems to go from a belief reaching back into Megalithic time, of man conquering death by living on after the bodily death as a fertility-giving spirit, one of the rephaim (2.millenium B.C.), to a belief in death conquering man (1.millenium B.C.). In the great Ugarit-epos about Baal and his fights it is finally said at the end of the poem:

“Oh Shapash (“sun”), the rephaim are together with you, with you are the gods” (ilnym). Eternal life among the gods is to follow the path of the sun. In Egypt, to be together with the sun in the “boat of a million years”.

The suffering servant of the Lord in Is 53 is not a Tammuz-type, but must be understood on the background of the sun-symbolism permeating Is 40-55. God is greeted with the ritual call used to awaken the sun-rise in the temple in Jerusalem, and he is hailed as he who made a road through the great sea of chaos symbolised by the dragon, Is 51,9f. (the road for the sun to run its course through primordial sea - although Is. also hints at the Exodus from Egypt, the words chosen are the vocabulary of the cosmogony). This path of the sun from east to west, made even by the Lord is mentioned Is 40,3ff. On this road the epiphany of the Glory will go forth: “Every valley shall be made high, every mountain, every hill shall be lowered… The Glory of the Lord will reveal itself, all flesh shall see it.” He leads the captives up from the realm of death and darkness 42,7 after having broken to pieces the copper gates of Sheol 45,2. Like the sun he gives new light to the eyes of the blind, and carries away the treasures of the underworld 42,7 & 45,3. He evens the road for Cyrus 45,2, and by opening a passage for his blind flock, he is creating light in primordial darkness 42,16.

“Through the desert I make a road…the wild animals shall honour me, jackals and ostriches. For water I will spend them in the desert” 43,19f. Here we recognise Heracles and Orion taming/conquering the wild animals, and Mithras and Gilgamesh providing water in the wilderness. The symbol of the shepherd occurs in 40,11. The suffering servant of the Lord is a figure who, with the sun has been lying in the sepulchral chamber of Sheol, but at sun-rise (hailed by the Uri-Uri-calling) ”ascends, is uplifted, exalted on high” 52,13 cf. 53,9 (the Uri-call 51,17 & 52,1). 

Behind the texts we are able to detect an old mysterion, the epiphany of Lord Jhvh coming to Mt.Zion in the sunrise, filling his cult community with the light of life, leading them out from captivity, darkness and death. The singers have travelled with the sun through the darkness of night and Sheol to dawn, and now at sunrise they stand on the holy paradise mountain on the eternal rock before the countenance of the Lord.

M.Ravndal Hauge[11] has made some observations on Ps 118, and especially the entry through the “gate of justice” v.19f. The entry through the “gate from time immemorial” Ps 24,9 is a symbol of the entry into paradise. In the feast of the Tabernacles, paradise and primordial time are present. The entry into the sacred precinct on the holy mount through the primordial gate of the sun after a confrontation with darkness and Sheol in the Gehenna valley below is an entry into the presence of the God of life. It is acc to Hauge (p.108) “a passage from one type of human condition to another type of condition called Just”. In Ps 118 there is acc. to Hauge, both a group coming in through the gate and an “I” going from death to life.



[1] The Topography and History of Beth-Shan,1930

[2] Das Wirken des Christus durch Taten und Worte,1921,pp.212f.

[3] ibd p.310

[4] ibd.pp.221f.

[5] In an article in Danish: “Bagefter Herlighed”,DTT 1950, pp.77-87.

[6] see the transl. into Swedish by Reicke in: Symbolae Biblicae Upsaliensis 14,1952,p.89.

[7] J.Molitor, Caldäisches Brevier. Ordinarium des ostsyrischen Stundengebets, 1961.

[8] ne´imot, the word also used about the gardens of Adonis acc to the dictionary of Gesenius-Buhl.

[9] zrh can only refer to the sunrise.

[10] "The Significance of the Rephaim", Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages VII, 1979, pp.37-43.

[11] NTT 82