Wednesday, 21 November 2012


The city of Gebal was, according to myth, founded by El himself.  The city is extremely old, and this will be its history.

Long ago, a small fishing village consisting of a few small huts was founded along the coast by the ancestors of the Canaanites.  It soon developed into a town and then a city, and by the time of the Canaanites it was named Gebal.  Before long, Gebal had developed into an important trading city, shipping timber and cedar wood to Egypt.  It was not long, however, before the Amorites emerged from the deserts in the east and attacked the cities of Canaan, burning Gebal to the ground.  The Amorites then settled in the land, and the city was rebuilt.

Gebal once again became wealthy through trade with the Egyptians.  Large temples were built for Resheph and for Baalat Gebal.  Gebal at this time was heavily influenced by the Egyptians, and the Egyptians held quite a lot of power over it and the Canaanites living there.  King Rib-Hadda of Gebal began writing letters to King Akhenaten of Egypt asking for military assistance against the conquering Habiru, and the Habiru rebels began sweeping across the land.  Also around this time, the Sea People began their invasion of Canaan, Egypt, and Anatolia.  An obelisk from Gebal mentions the Lukka, and one of them called Kukunnis.  The Lukka were one group of Sea People who were attacking the Egyptians along with the Alashiyaites from Kittim (Cyprus), before finally settling in Anatolia.  The scribes of Gebal began developing the first alphabet, which soon spread far and wide.

It was after this time that Egyptian influence in Gebal began to decline and wane.  The Egyptians began to become more interested in Sidon and Tyre, and began trading with them instead.  Gebal did continue to benefit from trade, however, and this continued for many years to come.

By the time of the Assyrians, King Sibittibaal of Gebal began offering tribute to Tiglath-Pileshar III of Ashur.  During the reign of King Urumilki, the Assyrians under Sinherib began conquering all of Canaan, and Gebal fell into their hands.  Under the Gebalite kings Milkiasaph and Yehawmilk, Gebal was under the control of the Assyrian kings Ashurhaddon and Ashurbanipal.  Despite the rule of the Assyrians, Gebal was still able to trade in the west and across the seas.

The conquests of the Babylonians under King Nebukadrezzar II left Gebal under Babylonian control.  The city had been besieged for 13 years under King Ethbaal, and the Babylonians took the city for themselves, still allowing trade with the west at Gebal.  Gebal still continued to grow prosperous under the Babylonians until Babylon was conquered by the Persians and their empire destroyed.

The Persian ruler Kurash II conquered most of northern Canaan, and allowed several Canaanite kingdoms to continue as vassal kingdoms under his rule.  These four were Arvad, Sidon, Tyre, and Gebal.  Athar was the dwelling of the kshatrapavan of the region.  Persian rule was free and tolerant, and a fortress was constructed outside of Gebal, as the city would be an important area for garrison.

King Alaksandar (Alexandros) III of Macedon swept eastward with an army of Greeks and defeated the Persians.  Gebal then fell under Greek control, with the Greek language becoming popular among the educated.  The temple of Resheph was rebuilt by the Greeks at this time, since it had fallen into ruin during an earlier period.  The Greeks called the city Byblos, and like in earlier times (when the scribes had produced the alphabet) writing and literature continued to be important to the people.  Following the Greeks, the Romans conquered Gebal, building temples and public baths.  The city was famed for its books and scribe schools.  Many texts were written in papyrus and stored in the city libraries.

By the time of the Byzantines, many buildings were made of poor quality stone.  Polytheism declined as Christianity replaced it, and a Bishop of Gebal was soon appointed.


Tuesday, 20 November 2012


I haven't done posts about cities in a while.  I believe the last one I did was about Tyre.  This one will focus on Gaza, which through most of its history was one of the five Philistine cities (the other four being Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron) which formed a part of Pelesht, their land.

Gaza is situated in a region which is a narrow strip of land, surrounded by hills.  There is much sandstone in the area, and it is semi-arid.  Long ago, the Egyptians built a fortress in Canaanite territory in that region.  Canaanites in the region began to settle there and trade agricultural goods with Egypt.  However, the trade declined and the city did too.  It was rebuilt several times, most notably when the Canaanite Heka Khaswet occupied Egypt, where it served as a fortress.  When the Heka Khaswet were driven out of Egypt, the city fortress was destroyed.

When the Egyptian Empire conquered Canaan, they rebuilt the city and it was named Azzati.  The Egyptian governor would dwell in Azzati, and it was their administrative capital in Canaan.  It would remain in the hands of the Egyptians until the coming of the Sea People from the Aegean.  The Philistines, one group of Sea People fleeing Kaphtor (Crete) arrived in southern Canaan and conquered five of the cities there.  These five cities- Azzati (now named Gaza), Ekron, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Gath- would be the lands of the Philistines for many years to come.  One of the groups of the Philistines occupying the area of Gaza were the Avvites.  A large temple of the god Dagon, national god of the Philistines, was erected in Gaza.  Also worshiped among the Philistines were Ashtart, Petiniyah (their old mother goddess), the Egyptian goddess Bast, and Hadad.

While Gaza is perhaps most famously known as a Philistine city, eventually the Philistines themselves would lose their independence and be conquered, becoming another province in a kingdom or empire.  The Israelites fought against them and took Gaza for themselves, and Gaza came under Israelite rule.  Israel continued to hold Gaza up until the reign of King Hoshea, the last King of Israel.  It was then that the Assyrians began their conquest.  Israel fell to the Assyrians at that time, under the leadership of the Assyrian kings Tiglath-Pileshar III and Shargon II.  The Assyrians now held Gaza for a brief amount of time, until the city was once again conquered by the Egyptians.  It remained with them until the Babylonians under King Nebukadrezzar II conquered Gaza and the other Philistine cities, destroying much in their path.

The coming of the Persians was mostly a time of peace for much of Canaan.  The Jews were returned home from Babylon, and were a nation supportive of the Persians amidst other nations who were more sympathetic to the Egyptians.  King Kurash II of Persia took most of the cities peacefully, as did his successor King Kambuzi (Kabujiya) I, but Gaza resisted and had to be taken by force.  After attacking the city, the Persians took Gaza as a part of their vast empire.  Under Persian rule, the Philistine city enjoyed a large amount of peace and freedom.   The Persians also used Gaza as the site of an important royal fortress, and it would be a useful stronghold.

During the time of the Persians, Gaza also began establishing trade with the Greeks in the west, and a Greek port was built at Gaza.

The Greeks eventually did take Gaza with the coming of King Alaksandar (Alexandros) III of Macedon.  He fought against the inhabitants of Gaza, who were led by a Persian eunuch governor named Bagamisa or Bagamithra.  He had many Arab mercenaries on his side, and the people of Gaza were prepared to fight to the death.  Alaksandar did indeed conquer the city, and he dragged Bagamithra around from the back of his chariot until he died.  Many of the people of the city were massacred or captured.  Following this, Arab Bedawin tribes began to settle in Gaza and repopulate the city.  The Greeks took control of Gaza, and it belonged to two Hellenistic kingdoms.  First it belonged to the Ptolemaic Empire, and then to the Seleukid Empire.

Control of Gaza eventually passed on to the Arab tribe called the Nabataeans, who used it as a port for their trading caravans.  The Hashmonayim, a Jewish kingdom in Judah, besieged the city.  The people of Gaza hoped for help from the Nabataean King Aritat II, but no help came, and the city fell to the Jews under King Jannai, called in Greek Alexander Jannaeus.  The Jews destroyed the city and killed the inhabitants.

It wasn't until the coming of the Romans that Gaza was rebuilt.  Under Roman rule, it became a prosperous city once more.  Trade routes were established with Egypt.  Gaza even formed a separate unit within King Herod's kingdom.  It became known for its schools of knowledge and learning, including in philosophy.  A stadium was built, and wrestling and boxing matches were introduced by the Romans to Gaza.  Christianity also began to take hold in Gaza during this time.  It was a city inhabited by a diverse number of people: Canaanites, Philistines, Egyptians, Jews, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs- all of them found their home in Gaza.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire and the time of the new Byzantine Empire, Christianity was struggling to take hold in Gaza.  Polytheism was still strong within the city, and the churches were often poor.  The churches were built outside of the city for fear that they would be attacked.  One year, St. Porphrios (Bishop of Gaza), came into the city.  This was followed by a drought, and the Gazaites blamed Porphyrios, claiming that he had brought bad luck into the city, and this had been revealed by the gods Dagon and Marna.  In response to this, Poprhyrios ordered the closing of the temples.  A decree was eventually passed, and eight temples were pulled down or burnt.  These were the temples of Ashtart, Shamash, Resheph, Kore, the local Gad, Hekate, a hero, and great Marna himself.  A large church was then built over the site of Marna's temple.  The soldiers then entered the houses of the people, destroying their idols and burning their sacred texts as books of witchcraft.


Wednesday, 17 October 2012


A hearth is a part of the household.  Hearths play an important role in a variety of cultures and religions in the Near East and Mediterranean world, seeing as many cultures revere fire as a source of light, warmth, and protection.  Among the Minoans and Greeks, it plays an important role being sacred to the goddess Hestia.  In Egypt, the hearth is used to prepare food, but for the most part isn't typically seen as a source of warmth, unlike other cultures.  In Hittite religion, the hearth is used for offerings to ancestors and various underworld gods.  For the Persians, the sacred fire- Atar- must be attended to at all times and kept burning within the home to make offerings through.  Defiling fire is a major sin, and fire in fire-temples must be kept burning forever.

Now let's examine the significance of the hearth for us in our community.  Though chimneys were known in Canaan, typically most houses didn't have one, and so the hearths were simply a pit dug into the earthen floor of the house where a fire would be kindled.  The king's winter palace would be heated by a brazier of burning coals, or by a pan of fire which was otherwise used for cooking or as a wash basin.  Another type of hearth is the 'altar-hearth', where sacrifices are offered.  Even tents could have a hearth, which was simply a pit dug into the floor and filled with burning coals, over which dough would be baked in a metal dish.

Preserving a fire is important, and so it is typically moved from one hearth to another by means of pottery.  Fire is seen as a source of warmth and heat, of cooking and cleaning.  It can also be seen as a destroyer, and so a powerful king might be compared to the raging fire.  Preserving and tending to a hearth is traditionally seen as a woman's duty, being a part of the household.

Hearths can also be used for metalworking, and for rituals invoking the household goddess.  Near the fires and cooking-pits, it is custom for women working near the fire to keep protective amulets and burning incense to welcome the household goddess and perform religious rituals to ward off evil spirits and demonic forces.  The god of fire is also known for warding away evil spirits.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

My Shabbat

Yesterday I observed a wonderful Shabbat.

I awoke early in the morning to a new day.  The hours of darkness on the morning are growing longer, and I sat for a few hours entertaining myself with some old cartoons on the computer.  Then I saw the light beginning to show upon the white walls of the house.  Shapash was arising, starting her course through the heavens, as always.  I sat eating, drinking, and listening to music.  A perfect way to start the holy Seventh Day.  I sat at the table eating, thanking the gods for such a wondrous new day.  I was thinking of Shapash, who glowed in the blue sky above, shining down her warmth and radiance upon the earth.  The all-seeing eye of God.  I thought also of Asherah, the Shabbat Queen, standing between two goats holding palm leaves, whom I had invited into the home on the evening prior, before going to bed.

Then my younger brother, Ashtar-yaton, came downstairs with a board game.  We all sat on the floor and had some fun playing the game, while I told him of Asherah, and of Yam, and of Qos.  While playing, there were moments of happiness.  I felt the spirits of happiness bestow sudden moments of laughter upon me.  Good spirits, perhaps sent by Asherah herself.  And they helped me learn, helped me learn that even the most simple moments can bring such joy.  This would be something I would talk to Asherah about later.  We finished playing (he won), and I went and had a cleansing bath. 

I spent some time talking to some old friends, and also updating some information on the various Near Eastern peoples (the Canaanites, the Arabians, the Persians, the Babylonians, the Hebrews, and the Egyptians etc.) 

I thought of the skies, and of the sun, and how day and night come and go, and how we mere mortals (as close as we are to our gods) can do nothing about it.  It is beyond our control, within the sphere of the divine.  We may ride our chariots into battle, we may fight our wars, impress others with our brave and heroic deeds.  But can any of us do as Shapash, or El, or Shachar and Shalim do? 

I went upstairs, overwhelmed at how quickly the day had gone by, and into my bedroom.  I went to the end of the room and approached the household cultic shrine.  This had been the first time I had performed a ritual to the Teraphim since before Ashuru Mathbati (preparing for the festival and also for starting university took up a lot of time).  I approached the household gods, thanking them and offering them incense.  I also said a prayer to Asherah before her idol, as it is custom for me to do on the last day of every week that passes.  My prayers to Asherah felt personal to me, for the good things she has given me, and as the wife of El (whom I have had very personal experiences with lately).  I also feel close to her near a menorah, perhaps because one of its' lights represents the Shabbat.  I felt that the incense was pleasing to the household gods, its scent wafting before their idols.

After the ritual was finished, I went downstairs and listened to a Shabbat hymn, played on a lyre.  It filled me with the grace and power of the gods, capturing their majesty, which I had felt when offering the incense before Asherah in particular.

By now the sky was growing dark, Shapash was setting, returning to the underworld in the west.  The skies grew dark, and dusk came.  I said a brief prayer to Shalim, who brings the end of each day.  All good things must come to an end with the passing of time, but the memory does remain.  And as night fell, I prayed to El to bless this day.

Monday, 1 October 2012


This post is mostly from a Mediterranean and ancient Near Eastern point-of-view, and so I can't speak for other people.

I think, again from this perspective, that adopted culture and ancestry are more important for religious practice than birth culture and ancestry.  Here are a few examples of this from the ancient Mediterranean world.  We have the Philistines, coming from Kaphtor or Greece, being Mycenaeans, and entering Canaan after fleeing their homeland.  In addition to their old mother goddess, their old Greek pottery style, their Mycenaean-style houses and temples, and their old 'seren' system of government; the Philistines worshiped Dagon and Ashtart, and spoke a Canaanite language.

There were many occasions when Nubians entered Egypt and became prime ministers or even kings, adopting the Egyptian ways of kingship and in many cases influencing them.  The crowns, the symbols of kingship, the powers of heavenly Ra- all of these were influenced by the Nubians and adopted by the Nubian kings of Egypt.  Here's something else to remember- differences in people were marked by culture and customs, not physical appearances.  The Nubians were black and so unlike the Egyptians in appearance, but could still adopt the ways of their northern rivals.

The Cushites from their kingdoms often went into Arabia, to their kingdom Seba or Saba, which was also inhabited by Arabians who called it Sheba (the difference being whether they pronounced it with a 's' or 'sh' sound).  The Cushites, while having their own lifestyle and being valuable warriors in the Sabaean armies due to their skills with hunting and archery, did take the cults of the gods of the Sabaeans- in some cases even taking them back to their own lands.

In Persia much use was found for Babylonian art and architecture, much of it also coming through the Medes, who had contact with the Babylonians for years.  After invading Babylon, and due to their king paying homage to the city's chief god, many Persian names included the divine name 'Bel'.

After the conquests of Alexander, Jerusalem became a part of two Hellenistic empires: firstly the Ptolemaic, and then the Seleukid.  During the reign of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, there were two factions of Jews living in Judah.  One of them was a Hellenized group of Jews who regrew their foreskins, went to the gymnasiums, worshiped Zeus Olympios and Pan by sacrificing pigs in their temples, and had Hellenic names such as Jason (which they used in place of Joshua, often their birth name).  The other were true to their Jewish origins and wanted a Jewish kingdom, and they had Hebrew or Aramaic names such as Honiyyo (Onias).  So it was entirely possible for a Jew to become a Greek at that time.

Ya-milku (Iamblichus) the Aramaean Neoplatonic philosopher, is also mentioned in Greek writings as being an Aramaean, and by that they meant a native Aramaean who was descended from the priest-kings of the ancient city of Hom-Es, located near to Dimashqu.  They make it clear that they did not mean a Greek who lived in Aram and adopted Aramaean ways and customs, indicating that it was possible for a Greek to become an Aramaean.

During the Ptolemaic period of Egyptian history, as in the days of old, there were many groups living in Egypt.  The main two, though, were Egyptians and Greeks.  Egyptians often married Greeks, especially Greek soldiers, and as such their customs mixed.  A Greek might serve as a high priest in the temple of Osir-Api (Serapis) in Menef (Memphis) or Alexandria.  And there might be a Greek funerary priest who was born as Olympios but took the name Ptahhotep and wore the mask of Anapu (Anubis) in the city of Ta-opet (Thebes).  Similarly, there might be an Egyptian man named Ahmose who served as a priest in the shrine of Demeter, or an Egyptian named Ra'meses who took the name Alexandros and served as a priest in the shrine of Zeus, who he identified with his father's god Amun while he was growing up on the streets of Ta-opet.  In many parts of Egypt, it became difficult to work out who was born into an Egyptian family and who was born into a Greek family, because their children had adopted different customs.

Among the Canaanites, it is always custom to allow foreigners to stay as part of the community provided that they show respect for Canaanite customs.  And if a Hittite or Egyptian chose to, they could adopt Canaanite customs and religion and become a full member of the Canaanite community.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Sacred geography

There are certain areas which are sacred to certain gods.  Obviously, there can be found spirits dwelling within all things, even down to door-bolts and musical instruments.  It is also important to remember that the gods make their homes in cities as well, with Canaanite religion being more urban-based than nature-based.

There are three layers to the universe.  I have discussed some ideas about cosmology in my analysis of creation myths, but to put it simply: there are the heavens above, the earth below, and the underworld beneath.  There are also the cosmic waters, held above the firmament and below the ground.  The mountains are the pillars of heaven, reaching up into the skies.  Below the earth can be found mountains and lakes of the deep, and these chthonic mountains act as the foundations which hold up the earth.  Certain gods can make their dwelling in heaven, on earth, or in the underworld.  Baal oversees the heavens, Yam the seas, and Mot the underworld.

Certain natural areas are sacred to certain gods.  For example, the source of the great rivers are said to begin at El's throne.  Caves and wells are sacred to Choron and believed to be entrances to the underworld.  Groves of trees are sacred to the goddess, Asherah.  The seas are sacred to Yam, and springs to Mari.  Deserts are where hungry Mot makes his home.  The shores of the sea are home to Asherah.  The Adon valley and river are sacred to the god with the same name.

In the stars, certain constellations represent various gods.  The Scorpion is sacred to Ushkharaya, the Twins to Shachar and Shalim.

Now certain gods live atop certain mountains.  El lives atop Mount Kasu, while Baal lives atop Mount Zapan.  The whole assembly of the gods meet atop Mount Lel.  The Sinai and Peor are also known to have their own gods, one of whom- Baal Peor- may be either Shamash, Chemosh, or Haru, or another god entirely.

Now the gods also have certain cult-cities or lands where they are said to dwell, and here is a short list:

Dagon lives in Tuttul and Gaza.
Anat and Ashtart live in Inbab.
Yarikh lives in Larugat, Hazor, and Jericho.
Resheph lives in Babut.
Ashtart lives in Mari.
Chemosh lives in Churyat and Moab.
Milcom lives in Ammon and Ashtart.
Zeduq lives in Shalem/Jebus/Jerusalem.
Kothar lives in Kaphtor (Crete) and Menef, in Egypt.
Choron lives in Masad.
Baalat Gebal and Adon live in Gebal.
Yam lives in Be'erot.
Anat lives in Javan (Greece).

In addition to this, the gods also have their own peoples who formed a covenant with them:

Baal is the god of the Canaanites.
Ashtart is the goddess of the Sidonians.
Melek is the god of the Ammonites.
Chemosh is the god of the Moabites.
Qaush is the god of the Edomites.
Melqart is the god of the Tyrians.
Dagon is the god of the Philistines.
Amor is the god of the Amorites.

From, the mountains and waters

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The relationship between gods and mortals, or the need of sacrifice

(Please note, I will be discussing sacrifice and offerings in more detail in a later post).

I realize that it's been a long time since I last posted anything here, so I will now discuss something that is a rather controversial topic.  That is the relationship between gods and mortals.  This is where the Canaanite concepts differ vastly from the Greek and others.

To state it as plainly as possible, the gods require offerings and sacrifices from their servants.  They need to be fed, housed (in temples), and attended to by servants.  They need their servants to sing them hymns and songs when they are in an angry or unhappy mood in order to uplift their hearts.

I have often been met with negative reactions by others when this is stated by a member of the Canaanite community.  The people who seem to take the most issue with this is a small minority of Hellenists who are culturally unfamiliar with the Canaanite concepts of divinity and sacrifice.  I have, unfortunately, heard this idea dismissed as 'hubris', 'neopagan drivel', 'arrogance', 'demeaning to the gods' etc.

First, just to clarify, I do not believe that the gods require humans in order to exist.  That would be simply absurd.  The trouble is that they have a busy task running the universe and so it can be hard for them to provide themselves with food and drink, clothing and homes.  It's not impossible for the gods to build their own homes and make their own food (in fact the Qabirim did this, by building a temple near Mount Zapan).  And the gods themselves supposedly built their own cult cities long ago.  In particular, Gebal, Jericho, and Tyre are very old cities seen as having divine origin.  The trouble is, it can be difficult for them.  If Baal was preparing offerings for all the gods, who would send the rains to earth?  There would be drought and water shortage.  If it was Shapash, there would be no sun shining in the heavens.  The whole earth would fall into a state of chaos.

The gods are pictured like human beings, only larger and more powerful.  They exist in the universe, they have thoughts, hearts, and souls.  They require feeding.  Offerings will strengthen the nepeshim (souls) of the gods, it will make them grow stronger and more powerful.  And in return they will bless us.  This is the idea of a covenant, in which both sides- mortal and divine- must do their part.  In doing so it strengthens the bond between the gods and mortals, heaven and earth, and creates a sense of community between us all.

One argument I commonly hear against this is that it reduces the deities to the role of 'slaves' to us mortals, stating that they 'need' us and rely upon us to do everything.  Or that it is mortals arrogantly placing themselves on an equal level or even above the gods.  This is ridiculous.  A king, preoccupied with ruling the city and his kingdom from the royal palace, needs his servants to do things for him.  He needs them to play music for him to uplift his mood, he needs them to prepare food for him, and to give him his cup of wine.  He needs them to arm him with weapons and bring him his horse before battle.  He needs them to do this because given all of his royal duties and tasks, it would be impossible for him to do all of this by himself.  His has more important things to do, but the mundane tasks are not to be neglected, but rather left to the palace staff.  He needs his servants.  But does that honestly mean that his servants are on an equal level or even above him?  Is it arrogance to insist that he 'needs' servants?  No, it's simply reality.

So, hopefully that will explain the Canaanite point-of-view concerning this.  It is obviously very different from the Greek, but it does share similarities with the Egyptian and Sumerian.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Refutation of a rather silly review

I recently read a review by Mike Gleason for the book 'Whisper of Stone' by Tess Dawson.

Let me just delve into this so we can begin to see how ridiculous it really is:

"Scholars have disagreed about translations and details almost from the first moment of discovery of the clay tablets, and the controversy shows no signs of dying down any time soon"

This is no different to any religion really.  As an example, archaelogists in India are still studying early Indian civilizations in order to understand just how exactly Hinduism developed into the religion that it did today.  Some key questions for them are questions such as where Ganesh, Hanuman, reincarnation and the Trimurti originally came from since they aren't even in the Vedas.  And Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world today!  Another example is Zoroastrianism, another major religion.  Again the opinions are divided in the Zoroastrian community as to whether Zarathustra opposed the worship of Mithra and Anahita or not, with many favouring either approach (there's evidence to support either).  Keep in mind though that Ugaritic and other Canaanite dialects are very close to Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, and so more and more of the recent translations are probably fairly accurate and at least give a vague idea of what's going on.

"With the scarcity of information regarding Canaanite rituals, god forms, and priestly functions, and organization it seems highly likely to me that offense (even if unintentional) may be given to the deities involved."

From Ugarit alone we have tablets detailing rituals, priesthoods, deity-lists and offering-lists etc. numbering into the thousands.  And then we have the ones from Ebla, and from Sidon, a few from Tyre and Qart-Hadasht, and some from other areas as well.  And then we can draw inspiration from early Israelite, Egyptian, and Babylonian or Sumerian polytheism as well.  After all, many of these cultures compare well with the Canaanites.  It's not like the Canaanites are some sort of 'lost civilization'.  There's plenty of information out there, granted much of it inaccurate- but it's certainly there.  With Norse and Celtic religions there is far less information.  In the Norse community for example, there's debate as to whether you're even 'allowed' to worship Loki or not.

"And these are deities who, like the orisha and lwa of the Afro-Caribbean religions, are considerably less "civilized" and forgiving of mistakes."

What do you mean by civilized?  You're starting to remind me of Eurocentric scholars who at one time thought that civilization didn't exist until the Greeks just 'invented' it one day.  Our deities were ruling over cities as kings and queens since before many other civilizations were even around.  What about Melqart, the demigod who sailed across the seas and colonized the west, ending savagery and bringing civilization as he went?  He was the king of Tyre.  Also, our gods don't compare really well to Afro-Caribbean deities.  They have far more in common with the Sumerian, Egyptian, Hittite, Hurrian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Arabian, and later Persian, Greek, and Roman deities.

"Since many of the rituals refer to the king performing the ritual actions it may be taken as presumptuous for a "commoner" to perform them."

Gods forbid!  'Commoners' performing rituals!  Please answer this- how are 'uncivilized' people supposed to have kings or leaders anyway?  Everyone worships gods, and we know about household cults because of the small idols found in houses, worshiped by families.  Not only that but often in festivals the king represents his whole kingdom and all it's people i.e his desires are his people's desires.  It's not a religion where people just do what they want, you know.  Community and having leaders forms a massive part of it, both then and in the present day.  I personally see no reason to change that, but apparantly you have a problem with 'uncivilized' religions having any sort of structure.

"If a deity is accustomed to a living animal being sacrificed at its altar, with the attendant butchering and preparation for feasting (with specific spices, ritual gestures, or prayers), offerings of fruit, vegetables, or previously prepared meat may be seen as insulting."

People gave, and give, what they have.  Giving previously prepared meat is not at all insulting because it's not intended to be insulting.  People give what they have, and we can see that richer people probably gave more extravagant offerings than poorer people.  And aside from animals, there are also other offerings like wine, water, poetry, hymns, music, sandals, weapons, fruits.  These are ancient offerings, by the way.  People didn't sacrifice animals every time they wanted to pray.  Farmers tended to save only one or two of their flocks or herds to be fattened up and given to a temple for a major festival.  As for most people, most didn't have animals running around their homes.  A few had a small sheep, cow, or goat, to provide wool and milk etc.

"Furthermore, since Canaanite (like other languages in the linguistic family) was written without vowels, we are not even sure of the proper spelling (let alone pronunciation) of deity names."

But those languages are similar to Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic, so we can get most of the vowel structure right.  Furthermore, a lot of Semitic languages tend to be rather flexible with vowels.  It's not uncommon to see a word with a different vowel spelling depending on region, but it's still pronounced the same regardless.

"If a deity expects prostration and gets a simple bow, that MAY be perceived as an intended mortal insult"

You seem to have the wrong impression.  It's not like the gods just sit around vainly 'expecting' mortals to 'do' things for them exactly as they want it or else they're going to attempt to wipe out the entire human community.  I can't think of a single deity who'd honestly be 'offended' by someone bowing, yet alone taking bowing as 'intended mortal insult'.

"and what little is actually known about the ancient Canaanite religion."

But once again, they aren't some sort of 'lost civilization'.  Many Canaanite cities are still inhabited, and even a lot of their religious practices have survived today in modern Near Eastern folk custom.  A lot is known about the religion from primary sources.  We have religious texts.  We have just about as many as Egypt or Babylon, for example.

"Unfortunately, the more I read of this work, the more I could "hear" the Canaanite deities saying: "This is NOT our way. We are not pleased.""

You're thinking illogically then.  Just because you 'feel' a certain way doesn't make it true.  I would look into facts first, rather than just relying on emotion all the time.

"The suggestion that vegetarian offerings may be made in place of animal offerings may be politically correct, but I seriously doubt if deities used to receiving regular offerings of sheep, ram, and oxen are going to be amenable to changing their diet for the comfort of the worshippers."

In India, certain schools of thought began to promote vegetarianism as a non-violent way of life, and while animal sacrifices do go on, a lot of Indians are vegetarians.  And in both cases, cows aren't sacrificed anymore like they once were.  Since Indra hasn't done anything about it (and the one time he did, Krishna revealed to him to extent of his arrogance), then I think most Hindus would feel confident in assuming that they are worshiping their deities correctly.  In actual fact, Krishna teaching Indra a lesson and showing that cow sacrifices are not nessecary is part of a tradition similar to ones found in Egypt and Greece- and yes, even Canaan- when a divine or demigod hero (such as Osir, Herakles, and Melqart) 'bans' or 'outlaws' supposed earlier practices such as cannabilism and human sacrifice.  Both Egyptian and Roman religion later rejected human sacrifice and offered dolls or statues instead.  Religions change.

"Comparisons to other religions in the region may offer only limited value. If one compares Judaism, Christianity and Islamic beliefs (all allegedly stemming from the same source [Abraham]) you can see that the similarities are not necessarily as strong as you might expect. Such comparisons MAY offer insight, but that may reflect your expectations as much as, or more than, any true similarities."

The difference is that those Abrahamic religions split off from each other due to differences in belief.  Christians were once Jews but broke away after they believed that Jesus was the Son of God, and Muslims were once Christians who broke away when they accepted Muhammad as the final prophet who brought the complete revelation from God.  They differ based on those beliefs.  Religions such as Canaanite, Babylonian, and Egyptian on the other hand, differ due to being the native religions of different cultures.  But when they came into contact with one another, a casual glance over history will prove that they did in fact share ideas and religious concepts with one another.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Close to Yarikh

Over the last few days I have felt a certain close feeling to Yarikh.  I would like to share now some of my thoughts and feelings when this god enters my mind.

His dew has been appearing on the spring grass in the garden these last few days.  The nights have been beautiful and serene.  I can feel him everywhere.  He is a man, an older and bearded man, wearing white robes and carrying his silver sickle.  I also see his hair and beard as lapis lazuli, though this might be some influence from the Babylonian Sin.  I have felt him nearby.  He is very much a male deity, a very masculine deity who leaves his semen behind as he passes overhead every night.  I like the contrast between him and Shapash as the lamps of the night and day, or the glowing and fiery eyes of God (so to speak). 

The other night, while in the bathroom washing my hands and mouth over the sink, I felt and smelled the nightly spring breeze as it came in through the open window.  It made me temporarily forget my troubles, and allowed me to enter into a brief moment of contemplation.  In that one, brief moment, I felt myself in the summer of last year, on the night preparing for a journey to another town (on a new moon, an auspiscious time).  At this time, I felt close to Yarikh and made offerings to him.  During the journey, I passed some fields.  In one of them was a camel, looking over the stone wall.  While I can't recall any immediate connection between camels and moon gods in Canaanite tradition, in the related Arabian tradition camels are sometimes connected to Hubal.  After I came back to the present, I considered this to be a sign from Yarikh.  I often feel that spiritual 'journeys' into the past come from him, and this makes sense as he is the god responsible for the passage of time through the months.

Another recent experience was looking out of my bedroom window, opening the blue curtains and leaning out into the fresh night air.  A gentle breeze blew through the pink blossoming trees in the gardens, and the palm trees in the distance seemed to reach out slowly into the black sky above.  Then I saw him, glowing silver.  He rose in the distance, high above the unfertile and shrubby hills, shining in all his glory.  I had some very peaceful Middle-Eastern music playing as I beheld him, and I felt gentle and whole, and blessed to look upon a god in heaven.

Monday, 30 April 2012

A recent event

A few days ago it was Yom Shabbat, the Seventh Day and the traditional Day of Rest.  I awoke rather early in the morning to a clear blue sky and the shining sun, with some clouds drifting gently overhead.  I made my mind up and decided to rest for much of the day, as is appropriate.  But I just didn't feel right, for one reason or another. 

After spending a Shabbat sitting around downstairs eating sweets, I decided I would go up to the household shrine, as I usually do on this day every week, and actually do something.  But once more, I didn't feel right.  My mind was dark, and clouded, and I couldn't focus on the deities in any way.  Looking out of the window over the courtyard, I saw Shapash descending the heavens towards the western horizon, over the rooftops and in the distance.  I raised my hands, and prayed, hoping for clarity of mind and freedom from this feeling of spiritual confusion.

I went back into the main room of the house and sat at the table, deciding to listen to a Shabbat hymn played on the lyre.  Perhaps that would erase this feeling of spiritual confusion and free me from this state of being.

But it did not.  I began to feel confused.  When I tried to contemplate on the deities, instead of seeing the green pastures of spring, and the brick houses, the horses in the fields, the swaying groves of trees and the golden sun in the firmament (as I usually see), I saw nothing.  No deities, nothing natural, nothing normal, or at least not culturally/religiously familiar for me as a Canaanite.  The feeling of inner peace I usually have on the Shabbat was gone.  My heart felt somehow clouded, by mist or by darkness, and there was nothing I could do about it.  Nothing.  I began to grow even more confused, and as this state of being heightened, so did my fear, and my frustration.  I grew angry, and throwing the curls of my hair out of my face I went back to the window and raised my hands high to the heavens.  I prayed once more to the sun, in desperation:  "O Shapash, Source of all Intelligence, may your light, the rays of your light, those blessed rays, may they shine through this darkness in my heart.  May I have clarity of thought, may I have the wisdom to see; and offerings I shall give to you, libations I shall pour for you.  I, your servant Ben-el, ask this of you, great goddess."

Feeling trapped, and still confused, I went up to the household shrine at the far wall in my bedroom.  I approached the Teraphim, and fell to my knees before them, begging them to free me of whatever made my heart so lost, whatever it was making me feel so helpless and so distant from them.  I prayed, I reminded them that I simply could not bring myself to worship the gods while my heart felt so distant to them.  But as much as I begged, and as much as I prayed, nothing would free me.  I was not in the right state of consciousness to approach them, and I felt somehow as though our covenant was broken and that I was no longer with them (as strange as that may sound).  I let my head fall, then raised it slowly, hoping for a sign that they would listen and help me.  But their idols simply stared back, and didn't move nor say a word.  Their eyes focused on me, yet I heard no sign from them.  The household gods simply stared back at me.  This time I flew into a blind rage, and cried aloud:  "Alright then!  So you won't help me.  Well then I cannot worship you!  Will you not at least give me a sign that you are listening, so that I might praise you and worship you?  Perhaps I should worship whatever has inspired this confusion within my heart- it seems that it is more powerful than all of you together!" 

And at that, I fell to the ground and pondered on what I had just said.  What was the source behind this sudden state of being?  Was it an evil spirit of some kind, a demon?  Or was it an evil devil?  Or an evil god?  A ghost?  A malevolent jinni?  Neglect of my ancestors?  Fate?  My own actions?  It certainly could not have been pollution or contamination with uncleanliness, I was certain of that- it was only a few minutes ago since I had paid a visit to the bathroom and cleansed myself in the waters of the bath.  But even the refreshing waters did not restore me to a state of purity- of body, mind, and spirit- as they normally did.  Then what was it?  Gracious gods, what was it? 

I tried everything.  I reached into my household shrine and took the bell I used at the beginning of household cultic rituals to ward off evil spirits, and rang it several times over.  Then I went to the corner of my room, and from a wooden cupboard took a die, for use in divination.  I approached the wall where the shrine is located once more, and I consulted the gods, and asked for them to reveal their will to me, and then I asked what the cause behind it all was.  The divination told me that it was none of the things I had thought of, but was instead something else.  I then decided to ask what I should do about it, and the divination told me that I was to wait, perhaps for another day, and then it may pass away, and I will return to normal once again.  I then thanked them, and after finding out that they wanted me to continue the ritual, I left them an offering of incense. 

I left my room feeling disheartened, and went back into the main room of the house.  The day was at an end now, the sun had gone down, and I was left alone and staring at the purple sky above the rooftops.  But my mind was elsewhere.  It was going back to the spring I had lived through the year before, and the year before that, and the joyous time I had.  I had spent them staying up late into the light nights, feeling the warm air and hearing the cock crowing in the distance.  I had spent them in the great forests, running through the groves of trees and singing praise to Asherah, coming out of the forests onto the dusty roads and feeling the heat of the sun.  And then I stared across the grazing pastures towards the distant mountains, their tops covered in snow even into early summer.

I bowed my head and prayed once more, coming back to current events.  Already I was beginning to feel normal again, and better than I had all day.  Perhaps this, I decided, was just one of those strange moments in life where we simply cannot explain.  I just waited, and it went away.  Once more I was beginning to regain my inner strength, feeling it deep within my heart.  It was just another strange emotion after all, and one that passed with time.  And even when I cannot feel the deities, I remember what has come before and what I am blessed with.  Now, I surrender myself to them, and acknowledge their power and greatness.  Even when things may seem confusing and frustrating mentally, I will praise the Lord of Wisdom.  May the deities bless you all when you are in a negative mental or emotional state.  Hallelilim.   

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Inscription upon the sarcophagus of King Eshmunazar II

King Eshmunazar II was the King of Sidon during the 5th century BC.  His sarcophagus displays an inscription identifying the king buried within and warning the people not to disturb him.  This was during the period when Canaan was under the Persian Empire.  The sarcophagus was made by Egyptians specifically for the Sidonian royal court, unlike the sarcophagus of King Tabnit, which was actually a re-used Egyptian one, belonging to the Egyptian general Penephtah (it even had some hieroglyphics which were erased).  Within Eshmunazar's inscription we read that there are two Sidons, which are also mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions.  There was most likely a Sidon of the sea and a Sidon of the mountain, both of them falling into the Kingdom of Sidon and inhabited by the Sidonians.  There is also a reference to a 'King of Kings' or 'Lord of Kings' in this inscription, which may be a divine title for a god, or may instead refer to the Persian 'Great King'.  This is the inscription upon the sarcophagus of Eshmunazar:

"In the month of Bul, in the fourteenth year of the royalty of King Eshmunazar, king of the two Sidons, son of King Tabnit, king of the two Sidons, King Eshmunazar, king of the two Sidons, said as follows: I am carried away, the son of (few) days, an orphan, the son of a widow. And I am lying in this coffin, and in this tomb, in the place which I have built. Whoever you are, of royal race or an ordinary man, may he not open this resting-place, and may he not search after anything, for nothing whatsoever has been placed into it. May he not move the coffin in which I am resting, nor carry me away from this resting-place to another resting-place. Whatever a man may tell thee, do not listen to him: for every royal race and every ordinary man, who will open this resting-place or who will carry away the coffin where I repose, or who will carry me away from this resting-place: may they not have any funeral couch with the shades (the Rephaim/Rapi'uma), may they not be buried in a grave, and may there not be a son or offspring to succeed to them, and may the sacred gods abandon them to a mighty ruler who (might) rule them, in order to exterminate that royal race or man who will open this resting-place or who will take away this coffin, and also the offspring of this royal race, or of that ordinary man. There shall be to them no root below, nor fruit above, nor living form under the sun. For I am carried away, the son of (few) days, an orphan, the son of a widow. For I, Eshmunazar, king of the two Sidons, son of King Tabnit, king of the two Sidons, the grandson of King Eshmunazar, king of the two Sidons, and my mother Amoashtart, the priestess of Ashtart, our mistress, the queen, the daughter of King Eshmunazar, king of the two Sidons: it is we who have built the temple of the gods, and the temple of Ashtart, on the Sidon of the sea, and have placed there (the image of) Ashtart in Shamem-Addirim. And it is we who have built a temple for Eshmun, the holy prince, at the purpleshells river on the mountain, and have established him in Shamem-Addirim. And it is we who have built the temples for the gods of the two Sidons, in the Sidon of the sea, a temple of Baal-Sidon and a temple of Ashtart-name-of-Baal. Moreover, the Lord of Kings gave us Dor and Jaffa, the mighty lands of Dagon, the rich grainlands in the plain of Sharon, in accordance with the important deeds which I did. And we annexed them to the boundary of the land, that they would belong to the two Sidons for ever. Whoever you are, of royal race or ordinary man, may he not open it and may he not uncover me and may he not carry me away from this resting-place. Otherwise, the sacred gods shall abandon them and exterminate this royal race and this ordinary man and their offspring for ever."

The actual sarcophagus of King Eshmunazar II, and a drawing of it

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Hannibaal's Treaty

A treaty was made between Qart-Hadasht and the Macedonians.  The treaty was an anti-Roman treaty and it was drawn between the Qart-Hadashtite general, Hannibaal, and the Macedonian king, Philip V.  It was drawn in the month of either Adar or Nisan, which was near to the beginning of spring.  The treaty is as follows:

"This is a sworn treaty made between Hannibaal, Magon, Bar-melqart, and such members of the Qart-Hadashtite Council of Elders as were present, and all Qart-Hadashtites serving in his army, on the one part; and Xenophanes, son of Cleomachus of Athens, sent to us by King Philip, as his ambassador, on behalf of himself, the Macedonians, and their allies, on the other part.

The oath is taken in the presence of Baal Hammon, Tanit, and Resheph: of the god of the Qart-Hadashtites, Melqart, and Eshmun: of Baal-Zapan, Baal-Malaga, Yam: of the gods that accompany the army, and of the sun, moon, and earth: of rivers, harbours, waters: of all the gods who rule Qart-Hadasht: of all the gods who rule Macedonia and the rest of Greece: of all the gods of war that are witnesses to this oath.

Hannibal, general, and all the Qart-Hadashtite elders with him, and all Qart-Hadashtites serving in his army, subject to our mutual consent, proposes to make this sworn treaty of friendship and honourable good-will. Let us be friends, close allies, and brethren, on the conditions herein following:

- Let the Qart-Hadashtites, as supreme, Hannibaal their chief general and those serving with him, all members of the Qart-Hadashtite dominion living under the same laws, as well as the people of Atiq, and the cities and tribes subject to Qart-Hadasht, and their soldiers and allies, and all cities and tribes in Teresh, Celt-land, and Yanitar, with whom we have a compact of friendship, and with whomsoever in this country we may hereafter form such compact, be supported by King Philip and the Macedonians, and all other Greeks in alliance with them.
- On their parts also King Philip and the Macedonians, and such other Greeks as are his allies, shall be supported and protected by the Qart-Hadashtites now in this army, and by the people of Atiq, and by all cities and tribes subject to Qart-Hadasht, both soldiers and allies, and by all allied cities and tribes in Teresh, Celt-land, and Yanitar, and by all others in Teresh as shall hereafter become allies of the Qart-Hadashtites.
- We will not make plots against, nor lie in ambush for, each other; but in all sincerity and good-will, without reserve or secret design, will be enemies to the enemies of the Qart-Hadashtites, saving and excepting those kings, cities, and ports with which we have sworn agreements and friendships.
- And we, too, will be enemies to the enemies of King Philip, saving and excepting those kings, cities, and tribes, with which we have sworn agreements and friendships.
- Ye shall be friends to us in the war in which we now are engaged against the Romans, till such time as the gods give us and you the victory: and ye shall assist us in all ways that be needful, and in whatsoever way we may mutually determine.
- And when the gods have given us victory in our war with the Romans and their allies, if Hannibaal shall deem it right to make terms with the Romans, these terms shall include the same friendship with you, made on these conditions: first, the Romans not to be allowed to make war on you; second, not to have power over Qaraqir, Arsuf, Epidamnum, Pharos, Dimale, Parthini, nor Atitania; to restore to Demetrius of Pharos all those of his friends now in the dominion of Rome.
- If the Romans ever make war on you or on us we will aid each other in such war, according to the need of either.
- So also if any other nation whatever does so, always excepting kings, cities, and tribes, with whom we have sworn agreements and friendships.
- If we decide to take away from, or add to this sworn treaty, we will so take away, or add thereto, only as we both may agree."

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Yom Shabbat and Inner Peace

Today I celebrated Yom Shabbat.  I woke up at midday and began my day with some reading on the gods and history.  I then spent some time relaxing.  It was a warm day, with Shapash shining gloriously down from the blue heavens.  Out of the window on the western side of the house I saw her shining down upon the brick wall surrounding the house and on the street below, making it shine a beautiful white.  A light breeze blew through the air.  On the eastern side of the house I looked out on the gardens and yards of the houses in the street.  In the gardens tall green trees swayed merrily in the breeze, their tops seeming to reach up into the blue sky.  I raised the palm of my hand to the deities in the heavens, then continued upstairs with a cup of water to my household shrine in my bedroom.

I approached and rung the bell to ward off evil spirits, then bowed seven times before the Teraphim.  The feeling of inner peace was overwhelming.  I looked out of my bedroom window to see the trees swaying and dogs playing in the gardens below, and birds flying high above in the vault of the firmament.  The sound of their singing was music to my ears as I gave a cup of water as an offering to the household gods, asking them to bless this day and thanking them for all good things which had come to pass.  I then bowed seven times again and left the room.

While I was performing the ritual I was contemplating for a few moments.  I saw the whole village, the great houses and shops and the swaying palm trees, the fields and forests where I had spent my earliest days exploring.  I thought of the house, and it's four walls.  I saw the Teraphim within, the serpent large against the wall, and Asherah holding her breasts while smiling down benevolently.

The rest of the day I have spent playing games, resting, talking, and making new videos for my Canaanite Youtube channel.  I'm also getting ready for a meal at the table.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Magon's 28 Books of Agriculture

Magon was a Qart-Hadashtite writer who wrote 28 books on agriculture.  These books were a guide to farming, and they were vital as they allowed Qart-Hadasht to keep a steady food supply even in times of war.  These farming traditions probably were common among many Canaanite kingdoms.

Qart-Hadasht owned land in the fertile Magardah River Valley, where many villages were located for farming.  The whole area surrounding the city was covered in gardens watered by irrigation canals coming from the river.  There were green pastures for the shepherds and their grazing flocks. 

There were two agricultural 'rings' surrounding the city: an inner ring for fruit trees, olives, vegetables, grapes; and an outer ring for a vast irrigated wheat field.  Domestication of animals, particularly cattle and sheep, was important as a source of meat and for temple sacrifices.  There were many deities worshiped by farmers in the villages, the most common being Da'mat and Allani, though Dagon and Ashtar might also have been common.  Beekeeping was common as fig juice was the only other sweetener besides it, and it was used in art and household work.

These are some of the fragments of Magon's works that survive today, giving us an insight into ancient agriculture:

- "One who has bought land should sell his town house so that he will have no desire to worship the household gods of the city rather than those of the country; the man who takes greater delight in his city residence will have no need of a country estate."

- The most productive vineyards face north

- How to plant vines

- How to prune vines

- How to plant olives

- How to plant fruit trees

- How to harvest marsh plants

- Preparing various grains and pulses for grinding

- "Soak the wheat in plenty of water and then pound it with a pestle, dry it in the sun and put it back under the pestle.  The procedure for barley is the same.  For 20 parts of barley you need two parts of water."

- "They (bullocks/oxen) must be young, stocky, sturdy of limb with long horns, darkish and healthy, a wide and wrinkled forhead, hairy ears and black eyes and chops, the nostrils well-opened and turned back, the neck long and muscular, and dewlap full and descending to the knees, the chest well-developed, broad shoulders, the belly big like that of a cow in calf, the flanks long, the loins broad, the back straight and flat or a little depressed in the middle, the buttocks rounded, the legs thick and straight, the hooves large, the tail long and hairy and the hair on the body thick and short, red-brown in colour and very soft to the touch."

- Notes on the health of cattle

- Mules and mares foal in the twelfth month of conception

-  Notes on farmyard animals

- Getting bees from the carcass of a bullock or ox

- The beekeeper should not kill drones

- How to preserve pomegranates

- "Harvest well-ripened very early bunches of grapes; reject any mildewed or damaged grapes. Fix in the ground forked branches or stakes not over four feet apart, linking them with poles. Lay reeds across them and spread the grapes on these in the sun, covering them at night to keep dew off. When they have dried, pick the grapes, put them in a fermenting vat or jar and add the best possible must (grape juice) so that they are just covered. When the grapes have absorbed it all and have swelled in six days, put them in a basket, press them and collect the passum (raisin wine).  Next, tread the pressed grapes, adding very fresh must made from other grapes that have been sun-dried for three days. Mix all this and put the mixed mass through the press. Put this passum secundarium into sealed vessels immediately so that it will not become too austerum. After twenty or thirty days, when fermentation has ceased, rack into other vessels, seal the lids with plaster and cover them with skins."

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Bat-Zabbai's revolt

Bat-Zabbai was a woman living in Serug during the 3rd century A.D, living in the city of Tadmor.  She claimed various royal ancestors, including Queen Dudu of Qart-Hadasht, Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt, and various Seleukid and Ptolemaic rulers.  Her mother's line went back to Egypt (she had knowledge of the Egyptian language), and her father (Amr ibn al-Zarib) was the sheikh of the Amlaqi tribe, who were one of the four original tribes of Tadmor, and they may be the same as the Amalekites.  When her father was killed by members of the rival Tanukh tribe, she became their new leader.  According to many this meant that she was also of Arabian descent.  Her family had been granted Roman citizenship. 

Bat-Zabbai was a very beautiful and intelligent woman.  She was dark-skinned, with pearly white teeth, and black eyes.  She was known as a chaste and virtuous woman, though she also behaved somewhat like a man, going hunting and riding and drinking with her officers.  She was friends with many poets and philosophers, and also with the Jewish rabbis.  She was fluent in Aramaic, Egyptian, and Greek, and was familiar with Latin.

Bat-Zabbai eventually became the second wife of the King of Tadmor, Odainat (called Septimius Odaenathus by the Romans).  King Odainat had already had a son by his first wife, called Hairan, and with Bat-Zabbai he had another son named Wahballat (Septimius Vaballathus Athenodorus).  But Odainat and Hairan were assassinated, and so Bat-Zabbai took control of Tadmor as Wahballat was only a year old.  At this time, Tadmor (Palmyra) was a powerful and prosperous kingdom.  Bat-Zabbai's goal was the protect the Roman Empire from the threat of the Persian Empire (Sassanid Dynasty), though her own kingdom gained power through her many conquests.

With her empire expanding, Queen Bat-Zabbai and General Zabdas conquered Egypt with the aid of their ally Timagenes.  She captured and beheaded the Roman prefect of Egypt, Tenagino Probus, and then proclaimed herself as Queen of Egypt.  She then went north and conquered much of Asa (Anatolia).  Going south again, Bat-Zabbai conquered the rest of Serug, Canaan, and Israel. 

The Tadmorite Empire, which had by now taken most of the Roman trade routes in the east, came to the attention of the Roman Emperor, Aurelian, who returned and fought against Bat-Zabbai's army near Antioch.  Defeated, the Tadmorites fled to Antioch and Hames (Emesa).  Bat-Zabbai attempted to remove her treasury, but the Romans besieged the city.  With the help of the Sassanid Persians, Bat-Zabbai and her son Wahballat fled on camels to the Euphrates River, where they were captured by Aurelian's men.  All the Tadmorites who refused to surrender were executed instantly, one of them being the sophist philosopher Cassius Longinus.  Bat-Zabbai and Wahballat were taken to Rome.

Wahballat died on the journey to Rome, however, Bat-Zabbai was taken and put in golden chains.  None know what happened to her after that.  According to some, she was beheaded or died of hunger or illness.  But according to others she was set free by Aurelian and married a Roman governor, going on to have more children- and there is some evidence for this.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The Gadim

Today I want to talk about the gadim or 'gads'.  'Gad' is a word meaning 'Fortune', and there is a god called Gad (who I will discuss in another post).  I want to talk about the class of 'Fortunes', a whole group of deities. 

Tutelary deities had existed in the land of Canaan for many years, going back (if we are to believe Sakkun-yaton) to the founding of the first cities and kingdoms.  But during the Greek and Roman periods (in the times when Canaan- called 'Phoenicia' and 'Syria' by the Greeks and Romans- was under the domain of the Seleukid Empire and the Roman Empire), tutelary deities became even more important, influenced heavily by the religious cults practiced by Greek and Roman kings and governors.  The city in which we can see this happening the most is the city of Tadmor (Palmyra to the Romans).  Tadmor was an Aramaean city, also settled by Amorites.  It was a very old city, mentioned in texts from Mari.  During later time periods communities of Arabs also lived there. 

From inscriptions in Tadmor, we can learn that the cults of the Fortunes, the tutelary deities, played an important role in the daily life of the citizens.  Everything had its own Gad, which watched over it and protected it, granting it good fortune.  These deities or spirits could also be venerated alongside the city's local ginnaya (djinn in Arabia). 

There was a Gad for every individual, a Gad of the village (qiryah), a Gad of Tadmor, a Gad of the gardens, a Gad of Taimi, a Gad of the oil merchants (meshach), a Gad of Yedibel, a Gad of the olive tree, and so on.  A Gad may be either male or female, and indeed from what we know it does appear that Tadmor's own Gad was/is female. 

Gad-Qiryah (the Gad of the village) is a local god or spirit who watches over the surrounding villages and their people.  Two altar inscriptions mention her.  One of them reads: "Abdibel erected (it) in thanksgiving to the compassionate one, the good, and to the Gad of the village and the Gad of the gardens.  Year 550" (This would be about 238/239 A.D).  Near Tadmor is an altar inscription from Anak, which reads: "The altar which Maliku son of Marban erected to Yarkhibol, to the one who irrigates Araq, to the Gad of the locality, the bountiful god.  Year 520... In the month Nisan"  (This would be around spring-time in 209 A.D).  This inscription may be interpreted as suggesting that a major god can also be a Gad (in this case Yarkhibol as the god of Araq).

The Gad in some ways is similar to an angel, and is often shown as a winged being.  But the Gad is very distinct from the angel in that it is more a personification of Fortune and of the good fortune that the deities will provide for whatever is under their domain (the garden, village, city etc.).  An angel, on the other hand, is more like a spirit messenger for a deity.  A relief found in the temple of Nebo shows a seated goddess (probably Ashtart, Malidthu or Allat- who was worshiped by Arabs in the city), standing on a swimming youth (the spirit of the spring of Afak).  Behind her is an eagle carrying a twig of oak, and to her right is a dog.  To her side stands a small female figure, wearing a crown and holding a branch of olive.  She is probably the Gad of the city.

Giving thanks to a Gad can increase good fortune, and it is important to show reverance towards a Gad.  In times when your success or the success of the community, the harvest, battles, anything, seems to be largely down to good fortune and the gods being on your side, then give offerings to the Gad of that particular aspect.  A Gad can function as being a personification of a deity's blessings and favour.  They are also deities of victory.

The Gad of Tadmor, standing on the spring which watered Tadmor's oasis.  She can be identified as a Gad because she is wearing a mural crown common in Assyrian and Elamite art

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Offerings at the shrine

Today I made some offerings at my household cultic shrine for the Teraphim (household gods).  I took a cup of water up to my bedroom, then approached the shrine on the far wall.

The reason I was making offerings was in fulfillment of a promise that I would give the household deities offerings if they protected the house while I way away on a journey to an inn for two days (the same journey I spoke of in the blog post about my offerings to the deities when I returned).

I went to the shrine, and took the ritual bell, ringing it several times to ward off evil spirits.  I then bowed seven times and prayed.  I took a few moments of contemplation, during which I thought of these benevolent household gods and how they have been near my family and watched over me and the household since I was born.  I thought of the number of Canaanites, ancient and modern, who might do a similar ritual at their own household shrines.

I then placed the cup in the shrine and gave the deities the water as an offering.  After this was done, I bowed and left the room, removing the cup and drinking the water within as I went downstairs.  I was in high spirits, and felt calm and tranquil.

The Creation Story

I now want to attempt to do an analysis and an explanation of the creation myth to anyone is unfamiliar with the Canaanite cosmology, or is just curious.

"Before highest heaven had its name, before the earth below was called into being, and the primeval Arapel, the cloudy darkness; and chaos, Baad, the wind which blew; they were mingling together with no limit. And Baad produced Ruach, from him Ruach emerged, and was moving over the deep."

 This is the beginning of all things according to the Canaanite creation story.  The entire world was once only Arapel and Baad.  Arapel is a word meaning 'cloudy darkness', while Baad means 'wind'.  These things were for many ages with no limit and mingling together.  Darkness in Near Eastern cosmologies is not the absense of light.  Darkness is a type of thick black cloud which covers all things.  There is a 'place' or celestial treasure-room for darkness just like there is for snow and hail.  The gods can release this darkness from the storerooms and it will cover the earth.  But now Baad has produced Ruach, which is another type of wind.  But this wind is different.  It does not mix with the darkness, but instead blows it all away, revealing light.

"Their mingling was Teshuqah, who was the offspring of them both, and Baad knew not of what he had done."

Teshuqah means 'Desire', and the desire to rule over and to govern.  Now creation 'wants' to occur, but curiously is without thought and doesn't understand what it is doing.

"And the earth was made from the dirt of the desert; with the mud of the waters the earth was formed; and out of this came every germ of creation. "

The entire earth is pictured as a barren wasteland, like a desert.  It is made of a kind of mud or wet sand, made wet by the waters of the deep which cover the earth.  There is no dry land yet.  The whole of the earth is covered in a fathomless ocean (the abyss).  Heaven and earth do not yet exist.

"Then were created those which had no sensation, the earliest ones were called into being.  Ages increased, then the Zaphashamim were created, the observers of heaven, and they were formed like the shape of an egg."

The Zapahashamim are the 'watchers of heaven', though it is unknown exactly what they are.  In any case, some sort of intelligent life has now appeared.  Some think the Zaphashamim are like celestial birds which fly through the highest heavens, but it is unknown.

"Then Arapel, the cloudy darkness, burst into light, heavenly light, and both sea and land became heated.  And arose the winds, arose the clouds, and there were floods of the waters of heaven.  Came forth East-Wind and South-Wind, and they were in the midst of heaven.  Then came North-Wind and West-Wind, the winds were called forth, and they met there above."

Now the dark cloud has been blown away, and gathered into some secret places, from where it can still be unleashed.  Light has now appeared.  The clouds and winds appear.  Winds in the Near East are like cherubim which fly through the sky and caused winds by the beating of their wings.  The winds are blowing across the watery deep.

 "Then Kol-piakha, the great wind of heaven, went forward to Bahu, his wife, and knew her then. "

Kol-piakha is a great wind, and his consort Bahu is the desolate wasteland.  When the wind meets with the chaotic wasteland, the dark waste, it produces newer things.

"Ages increased, then Ulom and Kadmon were called into being. "

Ulom means 'time', which I will discuss in another post or video.  But time plays an important role in all of the Canaanite creation myths.  It is the driving force of creation, now things can finally occur.  It also means that this period was a time of great antiquity, but now that time exists, events can occur (they couldn't before).  Kadmon is linked to the east, the direction of the rising of the sun, where all things have their beginning and all things their end.  Creation is a cyclical process, rather than linear.  Interestingly, both Ulom and Kadmon are males (Kadmon is bisexual), so by the meeting of time and beginning, more things are created.  

"Long were the days, then Qen and Qenat were created."

Qen and Qenat are linked to genes, beginnings, origins.  Now all things will descend from them.

"The days became longer, then there came forth Ur, the son of Qen, and Ec their son, and holy Lehobah."

Ur is fire, Ec is flame, and Lehobah is light.  We can now identify some of the elements featured in creation.  In the Near East, the elements are (from lowest to highest):  Sea (equivalent to Water), Earth, Wind (equivalent of Air), and Sky (equivalent to Ether).  Though fire also plays an important role, it was not one of the primal elements present at creation like the others were.  Fire first appears with Ur, Ec and Lehobah.

"In their time was born El'abu, Aliyan the noble, and his wife Berith, the creators of gods."

El'abu (here called the Most High) in many ways can be called the first 'real' god.  He is the 'god of the fathers' and linked to ancestor veneration.  Berith is linked to the covenant between gods and mortals.  Before El'abu there were no 'real' gods.  But El'abu still doesn't belong to the current generation of gods like El, Baal, and Yam.  He is a god who came before the current generation.  The current generation is one large family and assembly of gods, headed by the patriarch El and his consort Asherah.  It is these gods that we worship most often.

"And from them was born Shamuma, the excellent one, most beautiful, filled with pride, he was the greatest of them all. And also his sister, holy Artzu, the most glorious, and they were together in their embrace.  And primeval Guruma, the other one, and chaos, Tahamatu, another besides; they were together as one. "

Shamuma is 'Heaven', Artzu is 'Earth'.  They are joined as one, like an egg.  Heaven and earth are not yet seperate.  'Heaven' means the sky above, while 'earth' means the dry land below us.  Guruma means 'mountains', while Tahamatu means 'deep'.  These are the mountains and waters of the primeval deep.

"And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen; when the gods were not born, not called into being, and when none bore a name, and all was in its former state; then were created the gods in the depths and the heights.  Ages increased, then there came forth El, the great god El, and Bethel, and Anak besides.  Then Shamuma, who hated his children, sent his daughters to El and told them to slay him.  Then they went, Asherah and Rachmay; then they went, the daughters of heaven, sisters of El.  But El, kindly El, did take them for his wives, and by them his children, the children of El, were born.  Numerous were they, sons and daughters, the divine assembly, the seventy sons and daughters of El.  The gods were established; in the birth chamber they were formed.  To El and Asherah, the Womb of the Deep, to El and Elat were born the gods.  And to the gods were born children, to them sons and daughters, until they were numerous as a multitude of nations."

What happens here is the birth of the current generation of gods.  They are the offspring of either Heaven and Earth (Shamuma and Artzu), or Heaven and the Deep (Shamuma and Tahamatu).  The gods are born in the waters of the deep, and emerge from the chaotic depths to see one another.  These gods are responsible for making the world habitable.  Before them, the world was in a chaotic state, and uninhabitable.  Shamuma intends for it to stay that way, as he hates his children (especially El) and tries to kill them.  He sends El's sisters, Asherah and Rachmay, to him.  But El makes them his wives as he is captivated by their beauty.  Then El and Asherah enter the birth chamber and begin to have many children, and their children have many more children, until the gods are formed.  It is also worth noting that creation starts off with very simple elements being born, but as time progresses they become increasingly more complex. 

"Ages increased, then there came forth Dagon, growing in the black earth; and Kothar, cunning in the working of devices and incantations; and Mot, the evil one; and Shaddai, the mountain; and Ashtart, the noble Morning Star; and Yam, the lord of the abyss; and Resheph, the fiery lord; and Anat, the divine warrior; and Allani, purest daughter; they were the greatest of all, the mightiest of deities.  From them came Mishar, the judge, and Zeduq, who discovered salt; and from Mishar, Nebo, the scribe."

Now we see the gods beginning to emerge.  They are born as the children of the primal deities.  

"Then El carried off heaven, and Asherah carried off earth, and Virgin Allani was carried off into the underworld as a prize.  By the advice of Anat, by the word of Nebo; by the word of the gods El made a sickle and a spear of iron, and drove back Shamuma his father, and drove him from his kingdom.  His concubine El gave to Dagon, and she was with child, giving birth to a son in the house of Dagon.  And they called him Hadad, a hero from birth, he was noble and mighty, and his heart filled with joy."

El now carries off heaven, and Asherah carries off earth.  The two are seperated from each other by their children, and heaven is placed above, while earth is placed below.  El's daughter Allani, while still a virgin, is carried off into the underworld by Mot as a prize.  She never returns.  Anat and Nebo tell El to fight against Shamuma, which he does.  Then his consort, who is pregnant, is given to Dagon.  She then gives birth to a son in Dagon's house.  This son is Baal Hadad, the greatest warrior.  This seems to be an attempt by Sakkun-yaton to harmonize two accounts of Baal's birth.  In one he is the son of Heaven, and in another (the most common account) he is the son of Dagon.

"Then Shamuma, the begetter of the great gods, made war against El, plotting evil against his son.  And El seized his father, he took him in his hands, and attacked him there, so that the blood from his wounds flowed into the fountains of the deep.  In the heights of him the divine council made their home, in his heavens the gods dwelled, and met there in council."

El now attacks and defeats Shamuma, making the heavens into the areas where the gods will dwell.  The assembly of the deities now meet there.

"When Tahamatu heard of this, she raged and cried aloud, thinking evil in her heart.  She advanced, she roared, she rested not by day or night, so that all the gods were cowering in fear.  Yam went forth against her, but he turned back and fled.  El went forth against her, but he turned back and fled.  Then mighty Hadad went against her, great Baal advanced in his chariot of thunder.  He found her, struck her, and her face was darkened by his hand."

Tahamatu is angered, and goes against the gods.  Baal is the mightiest and defeats her.  Now the chaotic primal deities are defeated, the gods can begin the task of creation.

"And the gods made a firmament in the midst of the waters, they divided the waters above from the waters below, declaring heaven and earth as their own.  And at El’s command, the waters fled, they fled from above the mountains, and dry land appeared."

The deities now divide the waters above from the waters below with a firmament (a dome that goes across the sky and holds back the rainwaters above).  Now the waters are gathered into the watery abyss and areas of the deep which Yam makes his home.  The waters retreat from the earth (often seen as flat in the ancient Near East), and and mountains and dry land begin to appearThe retreating waters become flowing rivers.

"To Ashtart there were born seven daughters, to her were born the Kathirat, and Qudshu and Chesed besides.  And from Resheph came the Qabirim, who made the ships and knew healing charms.  He took one among the Kathirat, one of the goddesses for his own, she gave birth to Eshmun the eighth of the sons of Resheph.  And they too begat sons of surpassing size and stature, men of renown, the giants, whose names are Zapan, and Lubnaan, and Hermon, and Martu."

Some more deities are born.  Then there are some giants who either inhabit the mountains which are named after them, or are turned into the mountains themselves.

"Then El decreed the fate of Anak in the assembly of the gods.  With the advice of Nebo he threw him into a deep pit, and buried him there below the earth.  At about this time the sons of the Qabirim put together rafts and ships, and made voyages; and were cast ashore near Mount Zapan, consecrating a temple there."

El becomes suspiscious of Anak and so buries him below the earth.  He now holds up the earth on its foundations.  A temple is built near Mount Zapan, which is the mountain where Baal makes his home.

"El made stations for the great gods; the stars, their images, as the stars of the zodiac, he fixed.  Shapash he caused to shine as a lamp by day, Yarikh he caused to shine as a lamp by night.  Then the stars, the great Kakabuma, were stationed in the firmament, being made for signs and the telling of signs.  The year he ordained, and the seasons, and all the months of the calendar would shine as accorded to the horns of Yarikh.  And he made the days, and declared the seventh day holy, the seventh day as a day of rest."

El now creates the stars and sets the sun and moon in place by day and night.  The seasons and the months are created.  And the seventh day is declared holy and a day of rest.  Now the deities need to make the earth pleasing and create life.  So God goes on to make animals.

"Then the gods made the seas and the land produce animals after their kind, the cattle and the wild beast and the creeping thing; and they set them in the sacred garden, the garden in the east.  The earth produced plants, the shrub and herb and tree, and they were given as food for the living souls."

Plants and animals are created, and live in a garden in the east.  This is a sacred garden of the gods on Mount Lel.  It is a lush paradise where there is no death or pain, only harmony and peace.

"And El took clay, the dust of the earth, and made humans, in the image of the gods he made them.  Into their lungs he breathed, they became living souls, and founded temples in the east."

Now mortals are made from clay in the image of the gods.  And mortals build temples to the gods their creators, and give offerings to them.  They live in the garden of paradise.