30. The bringer of the water of life


The man with the two jars and the two stars, one on each side of his head, is, acc. to A.Parpola, paralleled by a similar figure on Syrian seals. Here he is not seen with a yoke and two jugs, but with the water pouring directly out of his shoulders. He is naked, only with a belt, and on some seals he has the curly hairdo characteristic of Gilgamesh[1]. 

On another seal the highgod is seen sitting enthroned under the moon with the water pouring out of his shoulder, and to the left and to the right two younger gods kneeling with water pouring out of their cups[2]. The last seal shows the high god enthroned with the cup of life-fluid in his hand, a life-fluid dripping from the moon, and in front of him the twin gods guarding the gate[3]. What we have here is a high god accompanied by his two sons, guardians of the sun gate, and his faithful helpers in pouring out the life-giving water. They are the sun heroes, more or less identified with the morning and evening stars, traveling on the same path as the sun, or more or less identified with the Gilgamesh-type the typical Mesopotamian guardian of the Gate, who thereby becomes identified with the morning and evening stars.


In the Bible it is Moses who is the giver of water on the way to the promised land[4]. In the last incident, Moses is judged harshly because he beats the rock twice with his staff instead of talking to it. In the non-biblical tradition the young hero acts very violently towards the symbols of primordial totality containing the fluid of life. Mithras kills the bull, and in its moments of death the juices of life are released. Heracles kills the Hydra, a motif also seen on Near Eastern seals[5].

This violent behaviour is condemned by the Bible in much the same way as the icon of the calf is condemned. When Jesus, the son of God, presents himself to the Samaritan woman he is sitting by the well and promises the water of life; he repeats this promise in John 7,37 as the culmination of the feast of Tabernacles with its water-libations, and in Rev 22,16-17 where he is also named the "Bright Morning Star".

The golden calf as the bringer of water is parodied in its being reduced to dust and strewed upon the drinking-water. Normally the calf is the young god, the sun hero, who goes ahead to clear the road. In the Bible the incident of the golden calf is followed by a long discussion of who will go ahead and lead the people to the promised land: an angel or the Lord himself?[6] The calf was hailed as “the god who has led us out of Egypt”[7].

Edm.Schopen tries to prove the existence of several “racial elements” in the art of the Catacombs[8]. The well-known fact that Jesus is mostly painted as a young shepherd and not as the elderly bearded man with long hair known from the 6th century and later on is seen in connection with the Near Eastern/Hellenistic mystery cult. Attis is most often pictured as a shepherd with pedum and syrinx (“curved stick and flute”). Tammuz, Dionysos, Osiris, Adonis are all seen as shepherds. This pastoral symbolism is the symbol of caring for nature and of living nature resurrected in spring after winter death[9]. The shepherd-god is the giver of life, symbol of the new sprouting life [10] and it goes together with other names like "gardener" and "fisherman" (Jesus is seen by Mary from Magdala as a gardener and the apostles are fishermen[11]). Acc. to Schopen it goes back to Sumerian myth, where also the king is "shepherd" and the moon is called "the Shepherd of Heaven". Water into wine is a miracle also believed to be brought about by both Osiris and Dionysos. Ichtys, "the Fish", is also the name of the son of the great Syrian Goddess. Schopen thinks that the young shepherd is the Nordic-Arian notion of God with links to Iran and the inward struggle between good and evil, and links to India with its mysticism and its ecstatic hope for unity with God, where the older bearded man is the symbol of the Semitic God and Semitic religion with its stress on right doctrine. The praying person so often seen in the catacombs is the symbol of a more Arian-coloured religiosity[12]. In another art. in the same periodical, another German scholar with Nazi-sympathies takes the fact that the Indo-germanic ruling classes and groups in the Near East so easily gave up their own gods and accepted the gods of the peoples they ruled, as a proof that they did not stress dogma, but their passion was more for tolerance and inner feelings and greater depth[13].

Schopen ends up in a distinction between 3 elements in Christianity: Hellenistic mystery cult with its roots in early Babylonian-Sumerian nature-myth, Arian mystic religion and Semitic dogma. But the real roots are to my opinion reaching far beyond Sumer and early Indo-European migrations. The two first roots go back to the earliest agricultural society at Catal Hüyük. Here we find the shepherd riding the bull, the symbol of life victorious, living even beyond death, here we find the symbols of mystic vision and ecstasy as a melting together of male and female nature, a raising of the coiled snake. Biblical dogmatism is not meant as an attack on mystic vision, but it warns against a certain "tantric" "left hand" way of attaining this vision: the ways of the snake and the great hunter. Nordic religion is one great tragic myth about the tragedy of the Lord of the wolf-warriors, his fatal friendship with the master of tantric magic and the death of the gods (Ragnarok) the gods being killed by the wolf-nature growing to frightening dimensions and Loki, the magician's raising of the coiled snake.



Mystical ascent


The journey to heaven is an old motif, just as old as the stepped pyramids in Mesopotamia. Through seven levels the divine hero will climb the pyramid-tower, and on its top be united to a woman.

    Rapture and mystical vision is also the main motif in the Enoch/Son of Man literature[14]. Already Ps 8,5f sings about the little "Son of Adam/Man" being made equal to God and crowned with glory. In 3.En, Enoch is taken up to heaven and changed into a status almost similar to God, and is even given a curtain of the same sort as the curtain covering the throne of God[15]. He is also enlarged to "the length and width of the world"[16] and given 365 eyes (Aión-symbolism), i.e. changed into macroanthropos, and his flesh is changed into fire.

    Stefan Schreiber[17] has shown that "Enoch functions as an example and a figure of identification for the reader (eine Beispielrolle)" of 1.En. "In the position he is raised to by God the man Enoch anticipates the salvation that can be reached by all Jewish believers living their lives in righteousness". He quotes J.J.Collins[18] who understands Enoch as the "paradigm of righteousness". The main theme in 3.En is the vast difference between little earthly man and the mighty threatening angelic powers. Over against these eternal creatures Enoch is called na´ar ("youth"), but nevertheless given command over all the hosts of heaven. In 1.En 70f, where Enoch is taken up to heaven and changed into the "Son of Man", God's viceroy, the title, "Son of Man", must be interpreted on this background, and has the same function of deepening the wonder of a man intended to rule over angels and heavens, and the title should only be translated by "Man", "Human".

    That the Son of Man is raised to a position of lordship over all the angelic powers is an important argument in some of Paul´s letters. The letters to the Colossians and the Galatians have this as a theological argument against serving the law of Moses: It was given by angels but Christ is higher than all the angels and as the believer is united to this “head of all power and authorities”, Col 2,10f, he is raised high above the angelic powers, Gal 4,3-11, cf. Phil 2,9f.

    As already stressed by H.Odeberg (3 Enoch, 1928), the background of the Enoch-literature is a "mysticism" where man's hopes are directed towards mystical ascent. Finally Enoch-Metatron shows rabbi Ishmael a place where all kinds of opposites (ex.: fire-snow) are kept in balance and union by different magic names of God. This is the famous mystical APEIROS ("eternity without borders") known as the primordial state of cosmos by both Philo of Byblos and Anaximander, and even hinted at in the vision of the burning bush (vegetation surviving in the midst of fire).

    In early Jewish Kabbala, cosmogony starts with the ten sefirot, originally described as the first five pairs of opposites: beginning and end, goodness and badness, height and lowness, east and west, north and south[19], all ruled by "a single (jhid) Lord". "Their vision is as swift as the flash of the lightning, and their boundaries (are) not in them a limit" (§8), i.e. when seen in mystic vision they flare up in one single light without internal boundaries (?).

     It is important to understand that early Christianity centred round the Son of Man's enthronement in heaven by God's right hand is sprung from the same soil as the Enoch-Metatron literature. The Son of Man is even made judge over living and dead as is his disciples, Luke 22,30. The road to the enthronement goes (as in the Mandaean religion) through rituals like baptism and sacred meals. John and James ask to be enthroned with Jesus and are asked if they can undergo the same baptism and drink the same cup Marc 10,38ff. Early Christian mysticism is a "Christ-mysticism" effected by the sacraments.

     In Mandaean religion the saviour Hibil Ziwa's ascent is "the pattern for the ascent of the individual soul"[20]. Hibil is Abel, the primordial shepherd. When entering heaven he is baptised, dressed in a shining shirt (alba baptismalis) and "made firm" = "eternally standing" in the Shkina ("hut") of the highest god called Life and he who is "baptised with Hibil Ziwa's baptism" "will stand with him", "be like him" and "live in his world"[21]. There is a perfect correspondence between Hibil and the believer receiving his baptism. And, as already pointed out by H.Odeberg, there is a perfect parallel between the ascent of Enoch and the ascent of Hibil Ziwa.

     Also the Testament of Job is a witness to an early Mercabahmysticism. Job says: "My throne is in heaven and its Glory and its splendour is to the right hand of my Father." "Mine is the Kingdom in eternity and the Glory and its splendour, on the chariot (mercabah) of my father are they"[22].



The vision of god Ez 1 as a mystic vision


Plato´s world of perfect ideas is a part of his mystical theology: they are all united in one idea, the idea of "good". In the mystical experience everything, love, beauty, goodness, justice, is experienced in its perfect form united in the supernatural light. Also the symbol of the cherubim, the perfect "living beings", hayyoth, is a symbol of 4 perfect faces/forms united into one (together with 3 forms of limbs: human hands, a bird's wings and even the hooves of a calf) surrounding the supernatural light Ez 1,4ff. Two of their wings are resting and two being lifted (like El Cronos in Byblos - the third unity, the unity of flight and rest). The "Tree of life" is also a symbol of mystic vision with its seven-fold light as crown, cf Zech the seven times seven-fold light in the candle seen in the gate of paradise. It is the place where the sun during its nightly journey renews its strength in the mystical source of all light.

    In later mystical literature the "Living creatures" (hayyoth) are often described as singing celestial songs of praise. These same hymns are the ones the mystic is instructed to sing before and during his ecstatic ascent[23]: the singing mystic is changed into one of the composite singing creatures before the throne. All these hymns end with the trishagion the  "holy"-singing of the cherubim, Is 6,3[24]. It is our opinion that the hayyoth-symbol already in its early stages was the symbol of mystic unity, of the unity of all forms and matrixes. Acc to Plato it was by looking at "the four ideas of life" in the "perfect Living Creature" that the god was able to create gods, birds, animals that live in water and animals that go on dry land[25].

    The sea of crystal (or perhaps ice), Ez 1,22, is the water of life in its primordial perfect state of immobility before movement in time and space was created. The sea of crystal or glass is also mentioned together with the seven fold light in Rev 4,5f. Movement is symbolized by the great wheels rolling beside the cherubim; they symbolize the "Celestial Equator" and the regular movements of the stars, and the Zodiac and the irregular movements of the planets. The state of the cherubim symbolizes a level of consciousness outside the heavens, i.e. transcending the physical universe and mastering it. The superiority of the cherubim is symbolized by their spirit ruling the movements of the wheels, 1,21. In Oriental Hellenistic art some gods are seen standing on top of the globe-like sphere marked with the characteristic X symbolizing the Zodiac and the Celestial Equator.[26] In Plato's dialogue Phaedros (247B-C) the final goal of the soul is the journey to the place outside the heavenly sphere, for in a brief moment, to get a glimpse of the regions beyond heaven: "It is there that true being dwells, without colour or shape, that cannot be touched; reason alone, the soul's pilot, can behold it, and all true knowledge is knowledge thereof." In Timaeos (37D) Plato stresses the eternity and immobility of the perfect Living Creature: created universe and time was made as an eternal moving image of this eternity. In Plato the "Perfect Living Creature" is the great symbol of unity and mystic vision (the vision of nous) containing all the perfect patterns of life and beauty. In fact, this "Living Creature" is a Pythagorean import from the Middle East.

    Immobility as a primordial mystical state before movement came into being is also the key to the Zophasemin in the cosmogony of Philo of Byblos[27]. The word means "contemplater of heaven", and we have to look on these creatures as lost in mystical trance, but "by the sound of thunder they were woken up and began to stir as male and female". H-P.Müller[28] thinks this passage has to be understood on the background of a motif in Greek Philosophy: opposite to the animals man walks upright because he is meant to look at the sky and contemplate the beautiful order of cosmos and the regular movements of the stars. But in our opinion it is yet another example of the primordial world as coincidentia oppositorum: in primordial time the human consciousness was a union of male and female lost in mystical trance and immobility.

    In C.G.Howie, The Date and Composition of Ezekiel[29], Ezekiel is seen as a mystic of the visionary type. God of the Bible is not a construction of the human mind and reason. He is a god who reveals himself in visions[30].

     In a rather horrible Danish periodical RELIGION[31] Ivan Z.Sørensen in the article: "The Truth is...", tries to see all religion as merely human "constructions". It seems to me that this is a return to the Pre-Socratic criticism of religion. Acc. to the dialogue Symposion Socrates was often delayed because he had these moments of inner rapture where he would stand as if frozen to the spot.

     But God not only reveals himself in visions, but also in the suffering creature. The sacrificial bull is a symbol of the god: the bull sacrificed in Athens is the symbol of Zeus. He is a suffering god: In Egypt the bull going to be sacrificed is a symbol of Seth, and the goat hinted at by the Greek word tragodia ("tragedy", originally "song over the goat") is the suffering Dionysos. In the Yom Kippur ritual the name of JHVH is mentioned over the bull. He can even be seen as the gentle lamb carrying all the sins of the world. But of course a direct identification of JHVH with a bull is impossible: in 1.En the "white bull" is the symbol of the chosen one from Adam to Jacob. After Jacob the chosen people is spoken of as "the sheep", but in the new world a white bull will be reborn.

[1] Ward, The Seal Cylind. 1910, p.276, Porada, Collect. Pierpont Morgan Libr. 979

[2] ORIENTALIA 16, 1947, pl. XVII, fig. 2,in an art. by E.van Buren

[3] ibd. XXXIV fig. 1b

[4] Exod 17 and Num 20

[5] G. Rachel Levy, "The oriental Origin of Heracles", JHS, LIV, 1934, pp.40-53 with the picture

[6] Exod 33, 2+14

[7] Exod 32, 4

[8] “Das Christentum der Katakomben”, ARW 37, 1941-2, pp.329-54

[9] p.334

[10] p.336

[11] p.333n2

[12] "Die Verkörperung jener geistigen Erhebung innerer Gottschau, die zum Gotterfülltsein, vom Sprechen mit Gott zur Vereinigung mit ihm führt, zum mystischen Einssein mit dem Göttlichen, wie es bei den Mystikern des späten Mittelalters... wiederkehrt", p.346

[13] H.Schmökel, "Eigene und fremde Götter in der Religion des frühöstlichen Indogermanentums", ARW 37, pp.1-11

[14] Dan 7; 1.En 70f; 2. & 3.En and Acts 7,56

[15] X, 1

[16] IX, 2-4

[17] "Henoch als Menschensohn", Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 91, 2000, pp.1-17

[18] Ideal Figures. Profiles and Paradigms, ed. by Collins & Nickelsburg, 1980, pp.111-33

[19] Séfer Yezirá § 7, cf Eph 3,18

[20] Geo Widengren, Der Mandäismus, 1982, p.142; 144

[21] E.S.Drower, The Baptism of Hibil Ziwa, 1953, p.59

[22] 33, 2+9

[23] G.Scholem, Jewish gnosticism, Merkabah mysticism, 2nd ed., p.20

[24] ibd. p.21n. 2

[25] Timaeos 39E-40A

[26] Cf. the pict. of Aion above in the chap. on Baalbek. A number of Mithraic artworks depict Mithras in various ways as having control over the universe. For example, one scene shows a youthful Mithras holding the cosmic sphere in one hand while with his other hand he rotates the circle of the zodiac.

[27] Praep. ev. I, 10, 2

[28] Der Welt und Kulturentstehungsmythos des Philon Byblios, ZAW 112, 2000, pp. 161-79

[29] JBL monograph vol. IV, 1950, chap.4

[30] Is 6, Acts 9. Luke 9,28ff, Gen 28, 12ff

[31] April 1994, pp.8-15