13. The god as old as time

 

El in Ugarit is called ´ab snm “Father of Years”. The most common epithet is tr “bull”. R.Dusseaud  has called our attention to the important fact that Baal never enjoys that epithet but is called “the bullcalf”[1]. Widengren[2] has proved that “The bull El” is found also in the Mandaean texts as Taurel-Uthra “The man who dwells by the hidden place of the water” – an obvious parallel to El´s epithet in the Ugarit texts “He who dwells by the double fountainhead of the waters”. But Taurel-Uthra is also, as proved by Widengren, represented as an Aion-god:

“It (the head) for the 366 skinas is called Anan-Nsab, but also Taurel-Uthra” (Lidzbarski, Ginza, p.144,26f.).

We would like to support the argument of Widengren with another quotation from Mandaean scripture: the Mandaean macr´anthropos Adam-Shaq-Ziwa is baptised with 360 baptisms and seals himself with 360 names, is baptised extra 7 times by which operations his body took form sending out light for thousands of thousand of years being alone in the universe, before the cosmogonic processes began. This macrocosmic Adam is primeval reality containing both time, year- and week-cycle[3]. Acc. to J.A.Montgomery[4] the Hellenistic god Aión has a Semitic origin cf. Gen 21,33: ”El Olam”= “God of Eternity”. A certain Mochos writes that acc. to Phoenician cosmogony the first principles were “ether” and “air” (Damascius, de primis princ. 125 ter. Ruelle), and out of it Ulomos (“eternity”) was born. Augustin tells us that the inhabitants of Cartage called Saturn “the old one” (senex) and were afraid to pronounce the name of the planet (de cons. ev. 1,16). Before Muhammad the Arabs honoured a statue of the god Hobal put up in the Kaba. He was pictured as an old man, and 360 idols were put up around him and in his hand he held 7 arrows, symbols of the days of the week (Pococke, Specimen hist. Arab., pp.97ff., ed. White). Perhaps he was identical with Aud “eternity” (ibd. 102, 137ff.), cf. Is 9,6: Abi-´ad = “Father of Eternity”. Movers mentions an oath from an old Arab poet: “I swore by the blood smeared Aud and by the pillars of Seir”[5].

The West Semitic highgod was “endless time”, and this god was also acc to Movers called Belithan of ´ithan (= “constant, everlasting”). Strabo mentions the memorial of Belithan in Babylon (XVI 1,) and the Punic promontory Ammon-Baal-Ithon (XVII,3). Xerxes destroyed the memorial,by Aelian called the memorial of “the old Bel”(var. hist.XIII 3). Movers has also drawn attention to the Chaldaean Oracles calling Chronos aiônion and both “young and elderly”(Proclos. Plat.in Tim. III 40,21).

The epithet of El in Ugarit “Father of years” is by Widengren compared with the Mandaean resh alma (Lidzbarski, Ginza 371,25 & 375,5,) which can be translated “Head of the World” as well as “Head of endless time”.

P.Friedländer [6] has tried to reconstruct the following picture of a painting in Gaza on the basis of the descriptive poem of John of Gaza: We find the Dioscuric pair Hesperos and Phosphoros and the mystical bird Phoenix (Johs. 208ff.): “the swift bird of the sun, whom eternity gives everlasting youth”. This triangle: The divine brothers, morning and evening star as opposites and the giant bird as the symbol of mystical union is a very common Syrian religious symbol, and we will return to it later.

Under it we find Aión sitting on a mountain “Olympos” and called “sower of… years” (137). He is the highgod sitting on the world mountain, but looking down on the birth of the young sun hero “Helios”. The child is by Uranos (“Heaven”) handed over to the two women Arete and Sophia (“virtue and wisdom”) who put the child on the back of Atlas. The world-column Atlas surrounded by the minor “supporters” Arete and Sophia is certainly a new variation of the world-pillar flanked by the two Heracles-pillars, symbols of cosmic law and order. They are the world-pillars separating the sea of Uranos from the sea of Oceanos.

 

Acc. to a certain Hieronimus (quoted by Damascius, de primis princ. 123bis), at the beginning the first existence was water and slime, then earth, and born from these elements the Dragon with a head as a bull and a lion and in he middle on the body a face as a god and with wings on its shoulders. Together with him and with him constituting a androgynous primeval principle was also a female goddess, Ananke-Adrasteia - in unphysical embrace of the male god. Now the dragon called itself “Chronos, never growing old” and “Heracles”. A.Ed.Chaignet [7] thinks that this Hieronimus was the one mentioned in Josephus antiq. jud.1, 3, 6, 9 -an Egyptian who was the author of a Phoenician History.

The idea of 4 main species united to a primeval creature is also found in the biblical idea of the cherubim. But in the Phoenician idea, the three heads are united to a snake's body together with the wings of the bird. The snake shaped body shows that this primeval creature is seen as pure kundalini-energy. This primeval god produces an egg containing male and female elements plus a multitude of different seeds plus the god shown to the right with bull's heads attached to his flanks and on his head a snake monster similar “to all kind of wild animals”. The god with “the golden wings” emerging from the cosmic egg is the sunrise as “the wings of the glow of dawn”, the sun-warrior as the pillar separating heaven and earth originally being united in the cosmic egg separating the two halves so that light can expand, and like the world-pillar in Baalbek he is guarded by the two bulls with the snake twisting along his body. We have here the two gods of Tyre: The mystical god of eternity and time Chronos, and the young god, Heracles-Melqart. The complex monsters are more Semitic than Hellenic[8].

 

A.Alföldi [9] has dealt with the development from the oriental idea of Aion to the Roman cult of the divine emperor. On many North African coins from the Roman period we find a picture of the young sun god and on the reverse an old bearded god of the Baal-type. The young god is often seen with three halos around his head. This tripartite halo  is by Alföldi seen in connection with the three stages of the sun in the Malak-bel altar in the Museum of Capitol. It shows first the rising sun as a shepherd carrying a lamb on his back born out of a pine decorated with a streamer: the sun-hero is born among shepherds. He is the son of the highgod, the god of the woods and the vegetation, du Mesnil du Buisson, Tess., p.116, fig.70:

Second the sun is mounting his chariot as the sun of the clear day. Third the sun as the sinking evening sun = Saturn. The obverse of the coins shows the sun in his tripartite nature, the reverse the sun of the night, Baal-Saturn. When both are armed with the trident of Neptun it must mean that the young and the old god is one, and A. quotes Servius Aen. I,729: Belus, the first king of Assyria was both Saturn and Sun, and he quotes Martianus Capella 1,70 who describes the coming of Saturnus Frugiferus Aion to the assembly of the gods: He carries in his right hand the Ouroberos-snake and the fact that the god in spite of his age can be seen as a little boy shows that it is Saturn-Sun our North African writer describes.

The fact that the God of eternity can be reborn as a young man is also by Alföldi found as the background for Dan.7, where the “Old of days” with white hair leaves the kingdom to someone younger: The Son of Man. This must be compared with Rev 1,18: the vision of the same god with hair as white as snow and with the sevenfold light in his hand presenting himself with the word: “I am the first and the last and he who lives, and I was dead, but lo I live in eternity of eternities”. Alföldi does not mention the Mithraeic Aion with keys in his hand and Nonnos´s description of how the old white-haired god Aion with “the keys of birth” is relieved by the young god Dionysos. Alföldi has also drawn attention to the “old one” with the boy puer exoriens, a pair often mentioned in the liturgical texts of the old church from the late Roman empire. Acc. to Kantorowicz[10] the Orthodox church makes use of this symbolism in the feast for the old Simeon´s encounter with the divine child. Simeon sees the child Jesus as the “Old of days” and K. points to the Aion-cult in Egypt as a possible background. It is certainly true that Alexandria and  the cult of Aion there is the background for the saeculum -ideology used by the Roman emperors. But the similar Christian ideas must be rooted in old Syrio-Palaestinian folk-religion.

It is well known that the Nabataean celebration of the birth of Dusares has a parallel in Alexandria, where the birth of Aión was celebrated in the same night (between the 5th & 6th of January). F.Cumont[11] thinks that the birth of Dusares must be understood similar to the birth of Aion and mentions a text presented to the scientific world by R.Eisler [12]: An Arab author from the 10th cent. A.C. (Pseudo Ibn Wahshijja) mentions as a feast of the Nabataeans a celebration of the “Birth of Time” (Milad az-Zaman). The possibility of some influence from Sabaean-Hermetic gnosticism on this late author can not be excluded [13]. But the graves in Medain Saleh call mostly upon Dusares to punish future grave-molesters, and one of the inscriptions talks about MR ´LM: “Lord of Aión”, so we have good reason to assume that Dusares is a god of the Aión type. Dusares is an epithet (“He from Shara”). His real name is acc. to du Mesnil du Buisson [14] A´ara. He is probably the god called Theos Ares by Suidas:”The god Ares in Petra in Arabia”. In Imtan a stele was consecrated to “Dusara A´ara… dwelling in Bosra”[15]. J.Pirenne[16] underlines that Dusares is a variant of the old Semitic Highgod El=al-´Ilah whose name means simply “The God” and has the Bet-el as his “sign/relic/house”. Dusares is the “Lord of Time” and this is acc to Pirenne affirmed by a small calendar also found among the graves at Medain Saleh and having some similarity with a small relief of the god from the same location[17].

 

 

This and similar figures are acc. to Pirenne the god made into a symbol of the sun, the moon and the morning star united in the top of the world pillar. In Islam simplified into the symbol: the star in the crescent moon. Pirenne does not mention the symbolism of the world mountain: the world pillar and the two Heracles-pillars here almost melting together in the breast of the god.

“Helios and Selene” was acc. to Horapollo (Hierogl.1,1) the sign for “Aion”[18]. From Palmyra come several coins where Baalshamin is shown as opposite to another god, Malakbel, and always Baalshamin is shown with a lot of hair and beard in contrast to the other god shown as a beardless youth (from du Mesnil du Buisson, Tess., fig. 320.318 are taken the examples below). Some even show Baalshamin as world pillar with kalathos and a thick wreath of locks. Also the North African Baal-Saturn has an abundant amount of hair and a bushy beard, below right, from Tinga, Mauritania (Falbe-Lindberg-Müller, p.146, no.231f.). The hairy appearance shows that also Ammon from the Shiwa oasis is understood as the old high god (ibd. Suppl.pl. I):

 

 

The North African Saturn is often carrying a veil and an uncut hairdo (see the pictures below from M.Leglay, Saturne Africain. Monuments 1,1961,pl.VIII,3;II,4;VI,2 & 3,III). The long hair marks the god as an ecstatic, and the hand often supporting his forehead shows the great visions he has. He is often seen in a resting, dreaming position (dreaming the world order, see below), or he is shown with cymbal and pinecone or a big bowl of wine in his hand, and in some pictures he has enlarged eyes: wide open they seem to look past the spectator into a higher world.

 

 

We have found in the Hellenistic period a transcendent high god who is represented as a visionary, a mystic, and one with primordial totality (the bull) and the blue sky (the veil) and a younger, active god, the sun warrior, his messenger. We can find these two gods in Anatolian Hellenistic religion as Theos or Zeus Hypsistos and the Divine Angel, his messenger. Remember how Barnabas was taken for Zeus and Paul for Hermes. In Palmyra as Bel and Malakbel = “Bel´s angel”. In the New Test. it is only in Heb 3,1 Jesus is called apostle, but in Syrian Christianity the “apostle” of God plays an important role both in the mainstream Christianity and in Gnostic sects [19]. In Fayoum, Egypt a painting from the Roman period has been discovered. The motif is two gods and a quite small goddess and an even smaller negro. That the three of them are gods can be seen from the pink aureole surrounding their faces. The god to the left is armed with spear and double axe, and his hair and beard is rather wild compared with the other god, but the most impressive is his great staring eyes. He is the Saturn of the North African iconography. He is the world pillar, which can be seen from the kalathos making him support the upper part of the frame and the snake not coiling up his body but more discretely coiling up his spear. To the right a god surely to be identified with Helios, to judge from the round Helios-head on his armour. He is carrying a scroll – he is the philosophic Melqart. Coins from Tyre shows an owl carrying a crooked staff, and on the reverse Melqart riding the hippocamp (sea monster) across the Great Sea towards the sunset. This “Helios-Melqart” is accompanied by an Ethiopian, showing that he comes from the land of the sun, where the nearness of the sun burns the people to dark complexion, cf the name of the sun hero Kadmos  meaning “the man from the east”. (In the mysteries of Mithras, the name Mithras is the name of the god from the land of the sunrise.) On the painting the old god Saturn and the young active sun hero have become two brothers. In Egypt the name of this sun hero is Heron. That he is also thought of as a king can be seen from the purple paludamentum he wears. Melk-qart means “king of the city”. The other god carries a blue cloak, cf the North African Saturn carrying the blue veil and the Oceanus/Saturn of the mysteries of Mithras a red-blue[20]. The next picture is also Egyptian, from Pnepheros´ temple in Theadelphi. It shows Heron, the sun hero who has reached the tree of life with the snake, and in the background the high god with the same weapons as before, but this time also sprouting with vegetation. The sun hero has the triple arrangement on his head of the world pillar flanked with the two Heracles-pillars. (The two pictures below are from F.Cumont, "Un dieu supposé, associé a Héron en Egypt", in: Melanges Syriens offer a Rene Dusseaud.) The snake coiling up the spear is acc. to Cumont not the uraeus-snake, but perhaps the snake of Asclepios or Sabazios [21]. But all four snakes are witnesses to the old kundalini-icon.

 

 

 

The philosopher Maximus of Tyre (2.cent A.C.) says: there is great praise of the traveller who has seen the marvels of Egypt, the Ganges river, and the ruins of Babylon, and Homer gives Odysseus the name of a wise man due to his long travels. But all this is only earthly and transient. For what could be compared with the view offering itself to the philosopher? With a dream most real (by the help of Zeus), where the body does not participate, but where the soul wanders over the sea, travels through the whole world and in a flight through all aerial spaces, where it accompanies the sun and the moon in their circles, and where it is united to the dances of the choir of stars, almost makes itself the partner of Zeus in ruling and creating order in everything: “Oh dreams full of truth”(XXII,6,Dübner).

In the background are felt the travels of the sun hero, Melqart, the philosopher, who creates world-order in the universe by clearing the path of the sun and setting up the pillars. He is the great ideal of the philosopher, but he is one with the high god, Saturn/Baalshamim, cf the following quotation from Maximus: ”God always grounded (firmly erected) in the same place (katà chôran hidryménos) guides heaven and the whole order of the celestial bodies” (XIV,8). Hidrymenos  must here be the translation into Greek of Semitic kvn = “ground firmly, erect to firm standing”. The Hebrew name for a priest, cohen, is from the same stem and means “he who stands (before God)”. Above Phoenician graves outside Arad (E.Renan, Mission de Phénicie,pl.XI.) They must be understood as models of the world mountain. At the bottom the massive cube, symbol of earth, the pillar as symbol of the world pillar and the pyramidion at the top, a symbol of the top of the world mountain. The Maenander pattern must symbolize the dance of the sun. Bardesanes (Syrian Christian author from the 2.cent.A.C. quoted Stob.I.3) tells us that in a mountain of vast dimensions in the centre of the world, there is a cave made by nature. In it is found a statue of a god, 10-12 yards high: it is a standing man with both arms stretched out as if crucified. The right half of the person is a man, the left a woman. On the right part of the breast there is a picture of the sun, on the left a picture of the moon. And under the arms is pictured the whole multitude of angels and whatever else could be found in the world, mountains, rivers, animals, plants. This picture was given by God to his son as a model when he had to create the world. The material from which this model is made is unknown. It is neither stone nor metal, and it is similar to some very hard sorts of wood, but it is not wood, for by the slightest scratch blood will flow, and when it is hot, the pillar will be full of sweat. If you penetrate deeper into the cave, you will be surrounded by total darkness, but at the end there is a door, and from underneath water gushes forth. He who has led a clean life can enter the door and will reach a cool, refreshing spring. (The world mountain with the well of life).

M.Leglay has published pictures of the many stelai dedicated to Saturn in North Africa (Saturne Africain, Monuments I-II, 1961-6 & Histoire, 1966, pl. IIf.). The typical stele is a miniature of the universe. At the top Saturn with sun and moon (or the divine twins as horsemen, the morning and evening star riding from east to west), on the ground level the bull going to be sacrificed, in the middle the gate of the sun (the two Heracles-pillars), and in the gate the sponsor of the stele standing, offering incense on a small altar. We will show a few examples (Monuments II, pl. XXVII,5;I, pl.XVI,4;II pl.XXII,1, I pl.XVIII,6) The first shows the veiled Saturn resting. Underneath the sponsor offering incense to a pillar-like altar with the coiling snake, and with the other hand offering grapes to a young Amor (the symbolism of fire contra vegetation). Some stelai show the sponsor standing on the altar as part of the pillar of incense going up to heaven. He becomes one with the pillar even to a degree where he is stylised into a symbol of the triple world pillars, the central pillar flanked with the two Heracles-pillars (II, pl. XL,5),  or the smoke from the incense mingles with his figure (du Mesnil du Buisson, Tess., p.205). The last picture (from Palmyra) shows the sponsor standing on a base, the base of the world pillar guarded by the two bullocks.

The novel about Alexander the Great is pieced together from different sources of which the letters are mostly seen as the oldest part (100 B.C. acc. to B.P.Reardon[22]. The letter sent by A. to his mother is interesting seen from our purpose: by the river Atlas it was no longer possible to see neither earth nor heaven. They sail on to the city of the sun on an island. After walking for seven days they come to a very high mountain (after passing through the meadow of Nysa) III,28. The mountain is, acc to Reardon[23], the world mountain. On the mountain was a round temple with 100 pillars of sapphire building a circle. Everywhere there were reliefs of a Dionysiac train, and at the centre of the temple a man on a couch, a golden chain of 100 pounds, and a golden wreath. A. could not see what the man looked like, for he was completely covered.

This veiled god resting at the top of the world mountain is certainly Saturn surrounded by the columns or obelisks constituting his essence as “the standing one”, the firmly grounded. We have already seen the symbolism of the wreath of victory. The chain of Saturn is mentioned by Epiphanios (Anchor. 104) “The devotees of Cronos admit that the god is kept imprisoned by iron chains”.

 

 

 



[1] "Les combats sanglants de Anat et le pouvoir universel de El", RHR 118,1938,p.153.

[2] “Det sakrale kungadömet bland öst- och västsemiter”, Religion och Bibel 2, 1943, p.66.

[3] E. S.Drower, The Thousand and Twelve Questions, pp.227f.

[4] "The Highest, Heaven, Aeon, Time, etc. in Semitic Religion", HTR, 31,1938,pp.146f.

[5] Die Phönizier, p.263ff.

[6] Johannes von Gaza und Paulus Silentiarius,1912.

[7] Damascius le Diadoque II, 1898, p.125n.

[8] Cook, II, p.1023.

[9] “From the Aion Plutonios of the Ptolemies to the Saeculum Frugiferum of the Roman Emperors”, in: Greece & the Eastern Mediterranean, Studies presented to F.Schachermeyer, ed. K.H.Kinzl, 1977, pp.1ff.

[10]  E.Kantorowicz, Selected Essays, 1965 & "Puer Exoriens", Perennitas, R.Thomas Michels OBS z. 70. Geburtstag, 1963, pp.118ff

[11] “Natalis Invicti”, CRAI 1911 & RHR 78, 1918

[12] „Das Fest des Geburtstages der Zeit in Nordarabien”, ARW 1912, pp.628-35.

[13] L.Massignon ap. A.J.Festugière, La Révélation d´Hermès Trismégiste I, 1944, p.396).

[14] Tess.,p.338.

[15] R.Dussaud, Voyage archéologique au Safa et dans le Djebel ed-Drûz,1901,pp.167ff.,no.36.

[16] "La Religion des Arabes", Al-Bahit. Festschrift J.Henninger, 1976,pp.191-214

[17] A. Jaussen et R.Savignac, Mission archéologique en Arabie, 1909, fig113 & 201f.

[18] F. Cumont, Etudes Syriennes, 1917, pp.81,188f.

[19] G.Widengren, Muhammed, the Apostle of God, UUÅ, 1955, pp.65ff., cf. A.J.Wensinck, Acta Orientalia II, pp.171ff.

[20]  A.Alföldi, Aion in Merida und Aphrodisias, 1979, p.25.

[21] p.3n1.

[22] Collected Ancient Greek Novels, ed. by, 1989, p.650.

[23] p.729n93.