Dura Europos: Its’ Archaeology & History

The article “Dura Europos: Its’ Archaeology & History” by Pierre Leriche was originally published in the CAIS venue hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav in London.

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Abstract

Dura Europos ruined city on the right bank of the Euphrates between Antioch and Seleucia on the Tigris, founded in 303 B.C.E. by Nicanor, a general of Seleucus I. It flourished under Parthian rule. The site is in modern Syria, on a plateau protected on the east by a citadel built on bluffs overlooking the river, on the north and south by wadis, and on the west by a strong rampart with powerful defensive towers. Its military function of the Greek period was abandoned under the Parthians, but at that time it was the administrative and economic center of the plain extending 100 km between the confluence of the Khâbûr and Euphrates rivers and the Abû Kamâl gorge to the south.

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Initial archeological exploration of the city took place in 1920-22, under the direction of Franz Cumont and the sponsorship of the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres in Paris. From 1929 to 1937 Yale University and the Acade‚mie sponsored excavations under the initiative of M. I. Rostovtzeff, who published Dura-Europos and Its Art, a synthesis of the history of the town and of its civilization, formed from Greek, Semitic, and Iranian components. This work has served as the basis for all subsequent studies of the site. In fact, however, understanding of Dura Europos depended mainly on written materials (parchments, papyri, inscriptions, and grafitti; see ii, below), paintings, tombs, and portable objects (e.g., coins, bronzes, and lamps) from the excavations, and very little attention has been paid to the architectural remains. Although nearly a third of the town has been excavated, a large number of buildings have been published only summarily or not at all. It therefore became necessary to resume the work of publication, and for this reason the Mission Franco-Syrienne de Doura-Europos was formed in 1986 under the joint direction of the author and Assad Al-Mahmoud; the major objectives are to reexamine the archeological data, to make available the entire mass of documentation from previous excavations, as well as to save the monuments from destruction.

Fresco at Dura Europos (Source: CAIS).

Dura Europos was brought into the Iranian cultural sphere after the Parthian conquest in about 113 B.C.E. (Bellinger; Welles). This domination lasted three centuries, interrupted by a Roman occupation in 115-17 C.E., during Trajan’s expedition to Ctesiphon (q.v.). In 165 Dura was conquered by Avidius Cassius and became a stronghold in the Roman defensive system along the eastern frontier of the empire. Nevertheless, despite an impressive effort to reinforce its defenses, the town was unable to withstand the great offensive launched by the Sasanian Šâpûr I (240-70) in 256; it was taken after a bitter siege, and the population was deported, thus putting an end to the town’s existence.

The Parthian period

According to recent discoveries, Dura Europos, originally a fortress, was constituted as a city only in the late Hellenistic period and had been only sparsely populated throughout the Greek period. It was under the Parthians, however, that the city assumed its essential aspect, as revealed by the excavations, a configuration only partly modified by the Roman occupation, except for transformation of the northern sector into a Roman camp. Recent work by the Mission Franco-Syrienne has permitted some refinement of this picture; certain buildings that had formerly been attributed to the Parthians can now be dated to the Hellenistic period. For example, according to Armin von Gerkan, the cut-stone fortifications of Dura Europos had been built by the Parthians, fearful that the Greek wall of unbaked bricks would be insufficient against a Roman attack. Only the northern section of the original western wall survived, which he took as proof that the project had been rendered unnecessary by the peace concluded between the Parthians and Augustus in 20 B.C.E. (pp. 4-51). This conclusion was based more on probabilities extrapolated from the reports of ancient historians than on archeological discoveries and has been contradicted by the results of recent soundings and clearing of earlier trenches. It is now clear that it was the Greeks themselves who built the stone fortifications, in the second half of the 2nd century B.C.E., and that the use of mud bricks resulted from the imminent threat from the Parthians, which forced the builders to finish the wall with more easily obtained material (Leriche and Mahmoud, l990). Similarly, the reconstruction of the palace of the strategus (the redoubt palace; Figure 30/24) and its extension to the north, as well as construction of the second palace in the citadel, which shows a number of similarities, had been attributed to the Parthian period, but recent excavations in the interior and at the base of the facade of the former building have revealed that it belongs to the 2nd century B.C.E., that is, the Greek period. In a recent study Susan Downey (1988) has also called into question the restoration of one palace with an ayvân (q.v.), which was suggested in the Yale publications and would imply a Parthian construction.

Mithraic temple at Dura Europos (Source: CAIS).

The Parthian period thus appears to have been primarily a phase of expansion at Dura Europos, an expansion favored by abandonment of the town’s military function. All the space enclosed by the walls gradually became occupied, and the installation of new inhabitants with Semitic and Iranian names alongside descendants of the original Macedonian colonists contributed to an increase in the population (Welles et al.). In his celebrated Caravan Cities Rostovtzeff had argued that this prosperity could have resulted from the town’s position as a trading center and caravan halt, but this hypothesis has been abandoned, for nothing uncovered by the excavations has confirmed it. Instead, Dura Europos owed its development to its role as a regional capital, amply illustrated by the contents of inscriptions, parchments, and papyri.

In the Parthian period Greek institutions remained in place (Arnaud), and the property-zoning scheme established in the Hellenistic period was respected in new construction; that is, buildings were kept within the limits of pre-existing blocks 35 x 70 m laid out uniformly over the entire surface of the plateau, even to a large extent in the interior wadis. The only exceptions were the quarter of the town southeast of the citadel, which had apparently already been occupied before the division into lots, and a sector of the agora that had been invaded by domestic buildings. The ramparts were neglected: Domestic trash accumulated along the periphery, finally forming a mass so thick that it prevented access to certain towers on the western wall.

The architecture of the Parthian period was characterized by a progressive evolution of Greek concepts toward new formulas in which regional traditions, particularly those derived from Babylonia, played an increasing role. These innovations affected both religious and domestic buildings. No secular public building is known to have been built during the Parthian period, with the possible exception of a bath constructed of cut stone in the northeast sector of the town. The evolved Parthian forms generally persisted into the Roman period, except for buildings in the Roman camp in the northern third of the town, for example, the palace of the Dux Ripae and the praetorium.

Depiction of Iranian god Mithras slaying the sacred bull (Source: CAIS).

The architecture of private dwellings varied in detail according to the wealth of the owner. The systematic layout of the Greek city, in which each house was supposed to cover one-eighth of a block (ca. 300 m2), was abandoned or modified through subdivision and consolidation resulting from sales or inheritance (Saliou). The smallest houses covered one quarter or even less of a Greek lot, whereas other, more luxurious examples might cover up to half a block. But the organizing principle of the house remained fundamentally the same: The street door, often situated at a corner of the house, opened onto a corridor leading into a central courtyard, which provided access and light to the various rooms of the house. The principal room, the andro‚n, was usually situated on the south side, opening to the north, and was surrounded on all four walls by a masonry bench; it served as a reception room (Allara). Some houses incorporated columns, but gabled roofs disappeared in favor of terraces, rooms became irregular in shape, and several houses had second stories.

Religious architecture underwent a comparable evolution, traceable through numerous excavated buildings: the temples of Artemis Nanaïa II and Zeus Megistos II, the necropolis temple, and the temples of Artemis Azzanathkona, Zeus Kyrios, Atargatis, Bel, Aphlad, Zeus Theos, Gad, and Adonis. This architecture diverged more and more from the hypothetical Greek model, if in fact such a model had ever been introduced at Dura Europos (Downey, 1988, p. 176). All the temples of the Parthian period have the same basic plan, with variations in detail. A generally square temenos is enclosed by a blank wall; the naos stands at the back of the interior courtyard facing the entrance. Against the interior face of the enclosure wall are a series of rooms for service or secondary cults, usually built by donors. When the naos is set against the back wall of the temenos, a narrow space is left between them to provide a separation of the cella from the exterior world. The building is small, usually square in plan, and raised on a podium of two or three steps, with one or more altars in front. The interior is divided in two: the pronaos, which occupies the full width of the building and is sometimes furnished with tiers of benches on either side of the entrance, and the cella, usually flanked by two chapels or lateral sacristies. The cult image on the wall opposite the entrance, either mounted on a pedestal or painted directly on the surface. All that remains from the Greek tradition is the occasional presence of a columned facade in front of the temple or porticoes along the sides of the courtyard, as at the temple of Bel.

The undermined defenses at Tower 19 (background), where many of the finest military artefacts were preserved (Source: CAIS).

It is thus clear that at Dura Europos entirely original architectural formulas were perfected during the Parthian period, in both religious and domestic constructions; the Babylonian element predominated, though with a certain Greek dressing, but no unequivocal Iranian influence appears. The formula for religious buildings was followed in all temples, whatever the form of worship to which they were consecrated, Greek or Semitic.

The only Iranian cult known at Dura Europos was that of Mithra, which paradoxically had been introduced into the city by Roman troops in 168. The mithraeum, located near the western wall in the Roman camp (Figure 307), belongs to the type dedicated to the cult throughout the Roman world and has no features in common with the other religious buildings at Dura Europos, except that it stands on a podium. It appears to have been a single room of modest dimensions with a bench on each of the longer sides; above the central aisle there was a raised ceiling with a clerestory. At the end of the room was a niche containing two cultic bas-reliefs with an altar before them. The entire surface of the room was covered with painted decoration: scenes from the life of Mithra, representations of magi and the zodiac around the bas-reliefs in the niche, and mounted hunting scenes on the side walls.

Although Iranian influence is difficult to find in the architecture of Dura Europos, in figurative art it is much more pronounced. In fact, owing to landfill that preserved religious buildings along the western wall (see below), Dura has provided the main evidence of a decorative art that seems to have developed in Parthian domains, reflecting a synthesis of the traditions of the ancient Near East (linear drawing, two-dimensional forms, stiff poses) and the Hellenic world (the use of architectural decoration and friezes, types of dress). Furthermore, in religious settings, those most fully represented, the principle of “Parthian frontality” prevailed. This convention, according to which all figures, human or divine, face directly forward, with eyes fixed on the spectator, made its appearance at Dura very early, in the oldest painting, of the sacrifice of Conon, in the temple of Bel (probably 1st century C.E.; Figure 30/8). It persisted until the destruction of the city, as attested in the frescoes of the synagogue, dating from 245 (Figure 30/5). It was equally apparent in sculpture and terra-cottas (except for a statue of Artemis with the tortoise, which comes from a Hellenistic center) and, for example, in two reliefs of the Gads of Dura and Palmyra. On the other hand, in frequent narrative scenes of combat and hunting on horseback, like those in the mithraeum (Figure 30/7), the horses and wild beasts are portrayed in a flying gallop, a characteristic that was to be developed in Sasanian art.

The Siege of Dura Europos

The Sasanian siege of Dura Europos in 256 brought an end to the town’s existence and immobilized Šâpûr’s army for several months. The determined resistance put up by the inhabitants forced the assailants to adopt various siege tactics, which eventually resulted in conquest of the city; the defensive system, the mines, and the assault ramp were left in place after the deportation of the population, which permits modern investigators to gain an exact idea of the military techniques of the Sasanians and the Romans in the mid-3rd century.

A Sasanian helmet from the siege mines beneath Tower 19, Dura-Europos. It is a rare find of Sasanian military archaeology, and also clearly a prototype for Roman helmets of the 3rd century CE (Source: CAIS).

It is not known where the Sasanians located their camp, but traces of their operations against the city wall still survive (du Mesnil du Buisson). To guard against the attack, which was clearly expected from the time that the Sasanian empire was established, the Romans had heightened and reinforced the external faces of the western and northern ramparts by masking them with thick layers of fill covered by a mud-brick glacis and thus burying the buildings along the inside of the wall. The Persians undermined towers 19 and 14 (Figure 30) on the western wall in order to bring them down, but, owing to the filling and the glacis, the towers were not really destroyed. At the southeast corner of the town they built an assault ramp 40 m long and 10 m high against the wall to permit troops to enter; it consisted of a mass of fill packed between two walls of brick and paved with baked bricks, which made it possible to move a siege machine close to the wall. Two tunnels, each wide enough to permit several men to advance abreast, were dug near the body of the ramp. There is no surviving textual description of the siege of Dura Europos, but Ammianus Marcellinus’ account of the siege of Amida (q.v.) a century later, in which the same techniques were used, permits reconstruction of the operations at Dura; the main siege weapons were catapults, movable towers, and even elephants. Clearly the Sasanian armies had a sophisticated knowledge of siege techniques.

The discovery of the body of a Sasanian soldier in one of the trenches has also yielded precious information. He was equipped with a coat of mail, a sword ornamented with a jade disk of Central Asian type, and an iron helmet (left figure) made in two halves with an iron crest running vertically down the center of the front, of clearly Mesopotamian and Iranian origin. This type of helmet served as a model for those adopted in the Roman empire in the 3rd century (James).

The chronology of the siege operations has given rise to a debate that is still far from having been resolved. The discovery of Pahlavi inscriptions on the frescoes of the synagogue does not prove that the town had first been occupied by the Sasanians during a campaign in 253, three years before the final siege. It is also improbable that a house near the triumphal arch on the main street, in which there was a fresco of Sasanian type showing a fight between cavalrymen, belongs to this putative first occupation. It seems now that this fresco, several ostraca in Pahlavi found in the palace of the Dux Ripae (Figure 30/13), and the tombs discovered in the town and along the river resulted from temporary installation of a small Persian detachment in the town after the victory of 256 (MacDonald; Leriche and Al Mahmoud, 1994).

Bibliography

he results of the French-Syrian campaigns have been published in P. Leriche, ed., Doura-Europos. Études I-III (DEE), published in Syria, 1986, 1988, 1992. The fourth volume is forthcoming in the series Bibliotheàque Arche‚o-logique et Historique, Beirut.

A. Allara, “Les maisons de Doura-Europos. Questions de typologie,” in DEE I, pp. 39-60.
P. Arnaud, “Doura-Europos. Microcosme grec ou rouage de l’administration arsacide?” in DEE I, pp. 135-55.

A. R. Bellinger, “The Evidence of the Coins,” Berytus 9, 1948, pp. 51-67.
A. Bounni, “Un nouveau bas-relief palmyrênien de Doura-Europos,” Comptes Rendus de l’Acade‚mie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 1994, pp. 11-18.

F. Cumont, Fouilles de Doura-Europos (1922-1926), Paris, 1926. S. B. Downey, “The Citadel Palace at Dura-Europos,” in DEE I, pp. 28-37.
Idem, Mesopotamian Religious Architecture. Alexander through the Parthians, Princeton, N.J., 1988.
A. von Gerkan, “The Fortifications,” in M. I. Rostovtzeff, ed., The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Reports VII-VIII, New Haven, Conn., 1939, pp. 4-61.

R. Ghirshman, Iran. Parthians and Sasanians, tr. S. Gilbert and J. Emmons, London, 1962 (for illustrations).
C. Hopkins, The Discovery of Dura-Europos, New Haven, Conn., 1979 (with an almost complete bibliography on the site up to that time).
S. James, “Evidence from Dura Europos for the Origins of Late Roman Helmets,” in DEE I, pp. 107-34.
P. Leriche, “Chronologie du rempart de briques crues,” in DEE I, pp. 61-82. Idem, “Techniques de guerre sassanides et romaines aà Doura-Europos,” in F. Vallet and M. Kazanski eds., L’arme‚e romaine et les Barbares du IIIe au VIIIe sieàcle, Paris, 1993, pp. 83-100.
Idem and A. Al Mahmoud, “Bilan des campagnes de 1986 et 1987 de la mission franco-syrienne aà Doura-Europos,” in DEE II, 1988, pp. 3-24.
Idem, “Bilan des campagnes de 1989 et 1990 à Doura-Europos,” in DEE III, pp. 3-28.
Idem, “Doura-Europos. Bilan des recherches re‚centes,” Comptes- Rendus de l’Acade‚mie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 1994, pp. 395-420.
D. MacDonald, “Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos,” Historia 35, 1986, pp. 45-68.
S. Matheson, Dura Europos, New Haven, Conn., 1982.
R. du Mesnil du Buisson, “Les ouvrages du sieàge de Doura- Europos,” Me‚moires de la Socie‚te‚ nationale des antiquaires de France 81, 1944, pp. 5-60.
A. Perkins, The Art of Dura-Europos. Oxford, 1973.
M. I. Rostovtzeff, ed., The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Reports, 9 vols., New Haven, Conn., 1929-52.
Idem, Caravan Cities, Oxford, 1932.
Idem, “Dura and the Problem of Parthian Art,” Yale Classical Studies 5, 1935, pp. 157-304.
Idem, Dura-Europos and Its Art, Oxford, 1938.
Idem, and A. Perkins, eds., The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Reports,, 11 vols., New Haven, Conn., 1943-77.
C. Saliou, “Les quatre fils de Pole‚mocrateàs,” in DEE III, Paris, 1990, pp. 65-100.
D. Schlumberger, L’Orient helle‚nise‚, Paris, 1970.
C. B. Welles, “The Chronology of Dura-Europos,” Eos 48, 1957, pp. 467-74.
Idem, The Parchments and Papyri, The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Report 5/1. New Haven, Conn., 1959.

The Windmill and the Contribution of Persia

The article below is based on an excerpt from Kaveh Farrokh’s second text “Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War” (2007, Chapter 19: The Legacy of Persia after the Islamic Conquests, pages 280-281). For more on these topics, readers may consult the following link: Learning, Science, Knowledge, technology and Medicine

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The first water pumps and grain mills powered by wind-sails originated in modern northwest Iran in (circa) 6th -7th centuries CE during the late Sassanian era.

Model of an Iranian windmill housed in the German Museum in Munich (Source: Saupreiß in Allaboutlean.com).

The origins of the first wind-powered machine concept is attributed to Heron (10-70 CE), a Greek inventor who first built this device in his workshop in Roman-ruled Egypt. Heron’s design of the shaft and rotating blades were placed at the horizontal position.

Portrait of Heron as he appears in a 1688 German book translation of Heron’s “Pneumatics” (Source: Public Domain).

The Heron machine however never advanced beyond the prototype he had designed, as the Romans never exploited this for generating power or for agriculture. The Iranians however knew of this technology, thanks in part to the Sassanian Empire’s efforts to protect and preserve Greek scholarship and knowledge (see Jundishapur University)

Short video of an ancient windmill in Iran that remains operational to this day (Source: Youtube).

By the late Sassanian era the first true windmill had appeared in the northeastern regions of the Sassanian Empire (modern Khorasan and west Afghanistan). Modern scholarship is in agreement that Iranian engineers had completely re-designed Heron’s original machine for applied purposes. They had achieved this by inverting the shaft that held the blades, toward an upright position. The re-designed shaft and rotating blades were installed inside a mud-brick encased tower. This structure in turn had “air ducts” allowing for the air to enter and rotate the blades housed inside of it. The “sails” or “blades” were built of a very strong fabric – there were up to twelve of these inside each of these “towers” or structures. This new technology had been initially designed as a corn-mill.

Drawing of a Chinese windmill based on technology imported from Persia (Source: Carl von Canstein in GNU.org).

The Arabian conquests of the Sassanian Empire soon led the Caliphates to adopt the new windmill technology from the Iranians. By the 9th century CE, this technology had spread throughout the Caliphate’s realms and also eastwards into India, reaching China by the 13th century CE.

The Bidston windmill in Great Britain (Source: Fractal Angel in Geograph.org).

The Iranian windmill design appears to have reached Arab-ruled Spain as well, and later the British Isles by 1137 CE. It was the British (not the Dutch as is conventionally assumed), who effected significant changes to the original Iranian design. The British genius was in their combination of both the Greek (Heron) and Iranian (late Sassanian) technologies. The British post-mill had two axes of rotation:

(1) A vertical shaft for horizontal rotation allowing for the entire structure to be now rotated for harnessing the wind

(2) A horizontal shaft for vertical rotation of the sails (based on Heron’s original concept)

A Dutch windmill overlooking tulips (Source: win4000.com).

The British adaptation of the Iranian windmill soon spread across continental Europe all the way to Greece and the Aegean Sea. Europeans made other designs such as the smock mill and tower mill. The famous modern-day Dutch windmill can trace its ancestry to English, Iranian and Greek origins.

Rock art from unknown ancient civilization in Iran discovered on top of mountain

The article below “Iran: Rock art from unknown ancient civilization discovered on sacred volcanic stone at top of mountain” penned by Léa Surugue was first published in the International Business Times (IBT) on May 30, 2017.

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In Iran’s remote north-east, the discovery of mysterious rock art is intriguing archaeologists. Strange symbols engraved on an outcrop of volcanic rock, on top of a mountain, appear particularly puzzling.

The site, known as Pire Mazar Balandar (or PMB001), is situated near a small village and is well known to the locals. They in fact consider the engraved stone to be sacred. It is covered in 16 simple symbols, including U-shapes which the villagers believe are the hoof prints of the horse of the prophet Imam Reza, who is buried at a nearby shrine.

Pilgrims had for years left offerings by the volcanic stone and had started to build a small temple around it. But it was only recently, in 2015, that archaeologist Mahmoud Toghrae discovered the site and began documenting the rock art.

The first results of these investigations are now published in the journal Antiquity.

Ancient rock art from Iran of an unknown ancient civilization (Source: Léa Surugue in IBT).

Age mystery

In August 2016, Toghrae and two of this colleagues conducted fieldwork at the site, carefully describing the mysterious symbols marked in the stone. They also conducted a survey of the area and met with local people.

This led them to discover a second nearby site with volcanic rocks covered with engravings representing animals and humans.

“We found this second rock art group after a local pilgrim invited us to have lunch at his home. There, we discovered rock outcrops with several engravings showing specific subjects – anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. They are small in size, different from the ones documented on PMB001 but similar to other figures found in rock art all over Iran,” co-author of the paper Dario Sigari, from the University of Ferrara in Italy told IBTimes UK.

Area where the rock art was discovered (Source: Léa Surugue in IBT).

At present, it is impossible to date the engravings or to associate them with any particular culture. This is a problem that archaeologists have always almost encountered when trying to date rock art in Iran. Because similar symbols and figures have been depicted repeatedly over the years, it is difficult to link them to a specific period – unless artifacts are found nearby, helping researchers come up with a more precise chronology.

Some of the symbols at PMB001 do give some clues. For instance, circular symbols on the stone are comparable to those found at another site and attributed to the Bronze Age. However, no precise dates can be put forward by the archaeologists without conducting more in-depth excavations in the area.

“There is a lot of debate when it comes to rock art in Iran to know whether we can attribute certain engravings to a period or another. We have a dating problem, because the same figures were represented, at different points in time from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. Probably the PMB001 area was settled at different periods, and the rock art represents all these phases. But without more excavations conducted at the site, we can’t say for certain what the chronology of the two sites is,” Sigari said.

Close-up of ancient rock art from Iran of an unknown ancient civilization (Source: Léa Surugue in IBT).

The archaeologists also want to investigate what the location of the stones in the landscape can reveal about the significance of the rock art. The fact that PMB001 is located at the top of a mountain may prove important in interpreting the engravings.

It’s possible that this position gave it a greater perceived sacred value, which was later adapted by modern population, in light of their new beliefs. “Such re-purposing of rock art for new beliefs and rituals will form another part of our ongoing research,” the authors conclude.

Sheda Vasseqhi PhD Study: Positioning of Iran And Iranians In Origins Of Western Civilization

Sheda Vasseghi has completed her PhD Dissertation at the University of New England entitled:

Positioning Of Iran And Iranians In Origins of Western Civilization. PhD Dissertation, University of New England (download this at Academia.edu …)

Sheda Vasseqhi

Vasseghi’s PhD academic advising team were composed of the following members: Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi and Kaveh Farrokh.

Her study explored a number of widely taught college-level history textbooks in order to examine how these positioned Iran and Iranian peoples in the origins of Western Civilization. As noted by Vasseghi in her abstract:

“Western Civilization history marginalizes, misrepresents, misappropriates, and/or omits Iran’s positioning. Further, the mainstream approach to teaching Western Civilization history includes the Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman narrative.”

Vasseghi used a multi-faceted theoretical approach—decolonization, critical pedagogy, and Western Civilization History dilemma—since her study transcended historical revisionism. This collective case study involved eleven Western Civilization history textbooks that, according to the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), are most popular among American college faculty. Vasseghi reviewed and collected expert opinion on the following five themes:

(1) terminology and definition of Iran, Iranians, and Iranian languages

(2) roots and origins of Iranian peoples

(3) which Iranian peoples are noted in general

(4) which Iranian peoples in ancient Europe are specifically noted

(5) Iranians in connection with six unique Western Civilization attributes.

Vasseghi selected experts specializing in Iranian, Western Civilization, and Indo-European studies in formulating a consensus on each theme. She then compared expert opinion to content in surveyed textbooks. Vasseghi discovered that the surveyed textbooks in her study overwhelmingly omitted, ill-defined, misrepresented, or marginalized Iran and Iranians in the origins of Western Civilization.

Readers are encouraged to visit Kaveh Farrokh’s Academia.edu profile cited in the introduction of this post to download Sheda Vasseghi’s Dissertation. Here is one of the quotes from her study:

“The researcher recommends that textbook authors and publishers engage experts in the field of Iranian studies in formulating content. A caveat for engaging those in the field of Iranian studies when writing Western Civilization history textbooks involves making a distinction between a native Iran and post-Islamic invasion and colonization of Iran in early Middle Ages (7th century onwards). That is, in the Age of Antiquity, Iran was under an Iranian governance and ancestral beliefs such as Zoroastrianism and Mithraism.”

This is an important observation given Western Media and academic outlets using sweeping (if not simplistic) terms such as “Middle East”, “Muslims”, etc. without acknowledging the context of Iran’s unique background, ancient history and language(s). Put simply, terms such as “Middle East” are not scientific but geopolitical in origin. The term “Muslim Civilization” for example serves to dilute (or even blur) the critical role of Iranian and Indian scholars in the preservation and promotion of learning, sciences and medicine. Arab historians such as Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) who in his Muqaddimah (translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; R.N. Frye (p.91) has acknowledged the role of the Iranians in the promotion of scholarship:

“…It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs…thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the prophet becomes apparent, ‘If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it”…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture.”

[For more see: Farrokh, K. (2015). Pan-Arabism and Iran. In “The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism” (Immanuel Ness & Zak Cope, Eds.), Palgrave-Macmillan, pp.915-923.]

Sources such as Ibn Khaldun are now rarely mentioned in many modern-day “Islamic Studies” in Western history textbooks which may explain in part the numerous errors uncovered in Vasseghi’s study. She further avers:

“Critical pedagogy is important in transformational leadership in education. Educators are obligated to point out errors or problems in content and mainstream narratives. In regards to teaching history of Western Civilization, one should recall the warnings of its looming demotion by Ricketts et al. (2011) because unfortunately teaching it “had come to be seen as a form of apologetics for racism, imperialism, sexism, and colonialism” (p. 14). It appears that in perceiving that something is missing from or fragmented in Western Civilization history content, educational institutions are now marginalizing and omitting it from their curriculum in America, a Western nation. Therefore, the significance of this study is the need for authors and educators to shift the currently flawed narrative on the history of the West. Iran’s positioning is a key component in the study of Western Civilization. The researcher argues that Iran and Iranians not only influenced the making of the West; they are part of the West. By placing Iran and Iranians where they belong, historians may also address concerns about teaching the history of the West (Ricketts et al., 2011).”

In her final PhD defense session with her research committee (Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi and Kaveh Farrokh) on Monday, March 20, 2017, Vasseghi noted that she plans to author books tailored to Western audiences to help educate with respect to the role of Iranians in the formation of European civilization. Vasseghi’s books would also be geared towards a lay (non-academic) audience.

Hebrew Goddesses, Origins of Judaism & Persia

The article below by Dr. Michael David Magee entitled Hebrew Goddesses & Origin of Judaism” was originally posted in the CAIS website under the broader topic of “Persia and the creation of Judaism. The version printed below has a number of minor edits, otherwise it is the same article as posted in the CAIS website.

As in the CAIS website, Kavehfarrokh.com does not necessarily condone or endorse the views presented in Dr. Magee’s article. The objective is the provision of information, ideas and discourse for learning/educational purposes pertaining to antiquity and ancient Iran.

Readers are encouraged to forward questions and/or comments by e-mail regarding the below article to at: mike@askwhy.freeserve.co.uk

Kindly note that excepting those images cited and posted direclty from CAIS, all other images/pictures/illustrations (and accompanying descriptions for these) inserted below did not appear in the original article by Dr. Magee and the later CAIS posting of Dr. Magee’s article.

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In pre-historic and primitive societies in which men and women are segregated into their own living quarters, and children live with the women, it is not surprising that women are seen as dominant and provide the image of the supreme being. To children, women were the source of sustenance and discipline. Men were mainly out of sight, following their own vain pursuits and the concept of father did not exist. Any of the men could have been the father of a child but no one ever knew which was. All children knew their mother and a mother knew her own children, but all women had the nurturing and caring role of mother, and there were enough for all children to be treated equally. So God was a goddess for myriads of years.

When we come to Judaism and then Christianity, women have almost gone out of sight. Both religions have a masculine God and no goddess, masculine priests and no priestesses. Christianity also has a masculine son of God and what appears to be a masculine Holy Ghost. This trio constitutes the Christian “mystery” of the Trinity, but the logic of any such trinity is to have a father god, a mother god and a baby son god. Where, oh where has the mother god gone?

1-Egyptian Trinity-Louvre MuseumThe Egyptian Trinity (right to left): Goddess Isis, Osiris (Isis’ husband) and their son Horus, statuette (housed at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France) from the 22nd Egyptian Dynasty (943-716 BCE) (Source: Guillaume Blanchard, July 2004, Fujifilm S6900 for Public Domain).

The answer is that it was expunged by the Persian administrators who set up the Jewish religion—in the image of Zoroastrianism—in the fifth century BC. Zoroaster had abolished all gods except one—Ahura Mazda—and some angels and demons of various descriptions, around two centuries before. Now that the Persians were conquering the world, they thought it a good idea to have everyone on earth subject to one God of Heaven, whatever his local name might have been, to match the one king of earth—the king of kings of Persia. Since the only God of Heaven had manifestly approved the appointment of the Persian king, everyone would recognize it as an unchallengeable divine appointment, and peace would reign!

Family squabbles could not be admitted into this scheme, and so goddesses were written out of sacred history. Of course, no Jew or Christian will accept this because they have accepted the propaganda that there is only one, masculine god, and, if it was ever different, it was because people were ignorant! Only the Jews were not ignorant because they had been specially selected by God in the time of Abraham, about 2000 BC to carry out His plan for human religious revelation. Unfortunately for all this, the Jews, or rather their predecessors often called Hebrews, did worship goddesses as even the Jewish scriptures admit! But, they were only the backsliders who refused to accept God’s word—for thus the Persian “restorers” of Judaism painted the inhabitants of the land into which the Persians transported the “returners from exile”.

Painiting-Jews celebrating Cyrus-American painterPainting by a contemporary American artist Minerva Teichert showing the Jews celebrating the arrival of Cyrus the Great (r. 549–530 BCE) who liberates them for the return to Jerusalem. When Cyrus conquered Babylon, he ordered the sacred religious objects of the Jerusalem Temple to be restored to their rightful owners, the Jews.

The truth, as scholars know but do not publicly divulge, is that the religion of the people in the Hill Country of Palestine before the Persians arrived was recognizably the same religion as that of everyone else who lived in the Levant and its hinterland. The richer parts of the eastern Mediterranean left plentiful archaeological remains in the form of clay tablets, most famously at Ugarit, that tell us a lot about ancient Canaanite religions and their practice. The people here were called Canaanites and they worshipped a pantheon of gods and goddesses, led by the supreme god, El, and his wife, Athirat (Asherah) and their son, Baal Hadad.

Baal with Thunderbolt-Louvre Museum

Stele dated to 5th-13th century BCE (housed at the Louvre Museum, Paris, France) discovered at the acropolis of Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) which depicts Baal with Thunderbolt (Source: Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen for Public Domain). In the Caananite religions, Baal Hadad was the offspring of the supreme god El and his wife, Athirat (Asherah).

Canaanite Religion

The paucity of archaeological remains from the Hill Country confirm the picture underlying the bible stories—the practices of the small population that lived there were the same as their neighbors. The accessible gods were called Baal, meaning Lord, just as Yehouah is habitually called and actually translated as Lord (Yehouah Elohim, Lord God). The Persians admitted one god only and eventually Yehouah prevailed, but it seems that bodies of people for some time preferred other gods, notably El (Elohim). The Canaanite title for their son of god, Baal, was vilified by the “restorers” as the name of all false gods, whatever their real name, Hadad, Eshmun, Dagon, Milcom or whatever, and that is what we find in the bible.

Reading the bible carefully tells us that three goddesses were worshipped in the Hill Country later called Israel and Judah. The three were Asherah, Astarte and the Queen of Heaven. Possibly the latter is the title of one or both of the other two, but all three are mentioned, and the Queen of Heaven was so loved that the people refused Jeremiah’s pleas to turn from her to Yehouah!

4-Anatolian Goddess-AnkaraUnknown 8,000 year-old ancient goddess from Anatolia from the ancient site of Catal Hoyuk, modern Turkey (Source: Photo by Stanisław Nowak for Public Domain). Housed in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations (Ankara, Turkey), the Çatal Hüyük mother goddess of Anatolia may have been a prototype “Queen of Heaven”. It is now agreed by mainstream scholars that Goddesses were held in high esteem in the ancient Near East, Anatolia, the Indus Valley and the Mediterranean.

Hundreds of small, mainly female figurines often of terracotta are found all over Palestine, many dated to the period of the supposed divided monarchy from 900 to 600 BC. Of these figurines of goddesses, some are Astarte from the symbolism, and they can be dated from 2000 BC to the capture of Jerusalem when they cease. Some Christian and Jewish “scholars” try to make out that these figurines are not goddesses at all but are magical talismans or primitive pornography, being models of prostitutes, but it is impossible to imagine that they do not have some ritual significance and must therefore be images of a goddess.

The images that seem identifiable with Astarte come in the form of plaques that seem to show a recess within which the image is displayed and therefore suggest that they are models of an image in a shrine. The plaques are impressed in terracotta using a mold and show the goddess with upraised arms holding serpents or lilies or both, though sometimes she holds her abdomen and sometimes has her hands by her sides. Often she is standing on the back of a lion. Her hair is dressed in the flicked style, looking rather like ram’s horns, typical of the Egyptian goddess Hathor, who had been popular in the south of the country—many of these plaques have been excavated at Devir near Hebron. In the Iron Age period, the preferred form of the goddess was that of an elongated bust, looking like a head and shoulders on a pillar, and therefore looking more phallic like the presumed Asherahs.

5-Hathor

Egyptian goddess Hathor (Source: TourEgypt).

Commentators try to claim they are not Israelite but Canaanite, the two types of people living side by side for hundreds of years. Honest scholars today are asking how these populations can be so surely distinguished. All of the cultural evidence is that there was only one population. The need for two only arises to explain how what is read in the bible differs from what happened according to the evidence. So, only the need to fulfill biblical expectations makes anyone think that there were two different peoples in Palestine at this time. And the people that lived there were Canaanites who worshipped Baal and several goddesses.

Asherah

Asherah was the Canaanite Venus, the Goddess of the Sea and the Mother of All the Gods. A lot is known about her from the Ugarit tablets that go back to the fourteenth century BC. She was the wife of the supreme god, El, whence her alternative name, Elath, the Goddess.

Asherah-National Martime Museum IsraelA terracotta figurine of Asherah housed at the National Maritime Museum of Israel in Haifa (Source: Devor Avi of the Elef Millim Project Trip for Public Domain).

Semitic deities commonly have two names, or rather a name and a title, and are known by either. The parallelism that characterizes Semitic verse might be the reason for the perpetuation of this habit, if not its origin, thus:

He cries to Asherah and her children,
To Elath and the company of her offspring.

A stele has an inscription, “Qudsu   Astarte   Anat”, suggesting that Qudsu was a name or title of Anat who is herself identified with Astarte. Asherah and Qudsu also appear in the parallelism of Semitic verse where Asherah says in one place:

I myself have not a house like the gods
A court like the sons of Qudsu,
and elsewhere:

He came to qds
Athirat of the Tyrians.

“Qudsu” (“qds”), the same as the biblical “qadesh” or “kadesh”, means “holy” or “sacred”, or the “Holy One”, or “Sacred One”. Moreover, the biblical Asherah is given as Ashtaroth in the plural, seemingly a plural of Astarte, though another plural is a masculine one, Asherim, doubtless part of the patriarchal plan to eliminate any hint of female deities. Asherim is conventionally translated as “groves”. The Sumerians had a goddess called Ashratim who was also the consort of their supreme god, Anu, and so she is likely to be an earlier and perhaps the original epiphany of Asherah.

Asherah is also mentioned in the Amarna letters from fourteenth century BC Egypt. They are records of reports and correspondence from Egyptian officials and emissaries outside the country, and so are an importance resource. They show that already Asherah was either being confused with Astarte or the two goddesses were always the same one, differently named. The names are used interchangeably in the Amarna tablets. The letters make it clear that her worshippers regarded themselves as her “slaves”. To this day Christians accept that they are “slaves” of God, although they wrongly translate the Greek for “slaves” as “servants”.

Asherah was, then, a goddess known throughout the Fertile Crescent, but not according to traditionalists for God’s plan, in Judah or Israel—at least officially. The seventeenth century translators of the King James Version of the bible hid the goddess quite from the view of the faithful by translating “Asherah” as “grove”. Judges 3:7 admits that Baal and Asherah were worshipped in Israel (and God of course punished the Israelites for it). The goddess, Asherah, is actually mentioned forty times in the scriptures.

Several passages in the scriptures describe Asherahs being built or torn down, or uprooted. It seems they were pillars, usually of wood, occasionally of stone, effectively phallic symbols but of the form of a woman, though in Micah 5:14, they are masculine and therefore surely phallic objects. In fact, each locality had its shrine to the goddess and doubtless had local peculiarities, so that we read in the Amarna letters of the “Asherah of here” and the “Asherah of there”, some of which might have been tree trunks still rooted in the earth, others of which were set up under trees and others of which were set up on the “high places”.

Judges 6:25,28 says they also stood next to the altars of Baal, suggesting that Asherah was thought of as the consort or mother of Baal, and 2 Kings 21:7 and 23:6 admit they stood in the Jerusalem temple. None of these Asherahs have survived, because they were deliberately destroyed by the priests of the Ezra school and its successors. But the terracotta dolls mentioned above seem likely to be household models of the full sized Asherahs, so we can get an idea of them.

In the scriptures, the stories about Asherah worship, the constant destruction and reintroduction of the symbols of the goddess, simply show the immense popularity she had among the Am ha Eretz (indeed the name “Am ha Eretz”, usually understood to be the men of the land, the simple folk, might well be intended to signify Mother Earth.

In Jewish myth, Asherah worship was first introduced by women, the wife of Solomon or the wife of Ahab, the latter being the infamous Jezebel. The prophet Elijah took exception to the prophets of Baal and defeated them in a gratuitous show of supernatural power on Mount Carmel, but the prophetesses of Asherah seem to have been left to continue their practices. Prophetess might have been used in the accepted sense here because a fifteenth century BC Akkadian text speaks of a “wizard of Asherah” forecasting the future, so Asherah might have had a reputation for fortune telling.

asherah-1

An ancient depiction of Asherah (Source: The Queen of Heaven).

The Asherah of Samaria, supposedly set up by Ahab for Jezebel (1 Kgs 16:33), was still standing a hundred years later. Indeed, the impression is that the devotion of the people to Asherah was constant while the devotion to the male god fluctuated between Baal and Yehouah. Since, notwithstanding the fact that Asherah was properly the Mother of the Gods, she was also the consort of Baal or Yehouah—both mere sprogs of the supreme god—Asherah remained the female deity whichever of the male sons of god took precedence.

Bearing in mind the passages about the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah, the reason why the shrines to Baal kept getting torn down might have been because Baal was the Lord (Baal) Yehouah, being pressed on to the Am ha Aretz by the priests of Yehouah, and being rejected repeatedly by the people who were devotees of the Goddess. The destruction of the sanctuaries to Baal therefore meant the destruction of the sanctuaries to Baal Yehouah. When the Yehouists eventually asserted their power at the beginning of the fourth century BC, the scriptural stories were anachronistically altered to suit the Yehouists.

Be that as it may, the scriptures record that the worshippers of this god of the Jews and Christians, Yehouah, invited all of the worshippers of Baal to a solemn assembly for their god at his sanctuary in Samaria, fitted them out in fresh vestments, then murdered them every one! The shrines to the bull god in Dan were not destroyed however and nor were the shrines to Asherah. If Yehouah was the only god allowed, one can only conclude that he was identified with the bull god and the goddess was his consort. In the story of the Exodus, the Israelites worshipped images of a bull, and a bull was a symbol of fertility.

The presence of the Asherah in Samaria for so long was made the mythical reason why the state of Israel was lost to the Assyrians, together with the ten lost tribes of Israel, but this is propaganda to justify the worshippers of Yehouah at Jerusalem—the Jews—hating the worshippers of Yehouah in Samaria—the Samaritans. In fact, the scriptures credit the king of Judah, Joshiah, with “burning” the Samaritan Asherah about forty years before Jerusalem was finally sacked by the Babylonians. This was about a hundred years after Israel had supposedly ceased to exist and its people had been deported to be lost forever. In truth, it was probably only after the Persian administrators had imposed monotheism that the goddess was harmed, and the Asherah of Samaria destroyed.

Asheran-Hecht Museum Israel

Figurine of Asherah in the Hecht Museum of Israel (Source: Pinterest).

In Judah, Ashtaroth are not mentioned at all, but king Asa finds it necessary to destroy them, so they must have been there all the time. His son, Jehoshaphat however, finds he has to destroy them all again! His son, Joash allowed them back and even placed an Asherah in the Jerusalem temple where it remained until the pious monarch, Hezekiah removed it over a hundred years later (2 Kgs 18:4). Hezekiah also destroyed a brass serpent that Moses had given the Israelites to worship! Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, restored the Asherah but not the brass snake, despite it having been a gift of the great Israelite leader.

The Book of Deuteronomy was then found, supposedly lost and forgotten since the time of Moses, but discovered “by accident” in the time of king Josiah, just 35 years before Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians. Plainly, the book was written by the returning “exiles” sent by the Persian king, who pretended that this law book had been discovered before they had even appeared on the scene. It forbade the building of Asherahs and pillars and had been just the sort of thing that would motivate a good Yehouist as Josiah was depicted as being. Yet, despite it, if Jeremiah is taken to be historical, the people still preferred the goddess and he later found himself defending Yehouah against the Queen of Heaven!

Anath

Anath was the sister of Baal Hadad and the daughter of Asherah in Canaanite mythology, and was identified with Astarte (Hebrew, Ashtoreth). She seems also to be Anahita, the later Persian goddess.

10-Ashtarte with Lotuses

An Astarte plaque showing the goddess Astarte or Anath holding lilies or lotuses (Source: CAIS).

It is curious to the modern mind why goddesses should be distinguished then evidently confused or conflated again, and it seems more than likely that the patriarchal religious leaders divided the original Great Mother Goddess into her aspects to weaken her, but the people effectively refused to see all the goddesses thus created as anything other than what they were—the Great Mother. Thus, Anath, Astarte and Asherah might have had different names but were seen as the same. We saw from the Amarna letters and the bible itself that Asherah was confused with Ashtoreth. The ancient tablets, using the Semitic parallelism mentioned above, have:

Whose fairness is like Anath’s fairness;
Whose beauty is like Ashtoreth’s beauty.

The two goddesses are equated in these lines of verse, and such parallels led foreigners, the Egyptians for example, to think that here were two separate goddesses, whose equality must have meant they were sisters. According to Albright, however, Ramesses III called Anath and Astarte, his shield (singular) suggesting that he knew they were one goddess only.

Anath (Anthat, Anaitis) was a goddess of war and love in the Ugaritic tablets, a virgin goddess yet promiscuous and vicious. Anath’s main lover was her brother, Baal Hadad, with whom she had intercourse by taking the form of a heifer. Baal is therefore a bull, just as Yehouah was at Dan and Bethel, and in the wilderness. As a war goddess she is ferocious, killing wildly and with glee until she has to wade in blood and gore, rather like the Indian goddess, Kali, also known as Annapurna. She has characteristics almost identical to those of Inannu of Sumeria and Ishtar of Akkadia who were called “Lady of Heaven” and “Mistress of the Gods”, just as Anath and Astarte were in Egypt.

Ashtoreth refers to the womb, an appropriate reference for a fertility goddess, but one which shows that it is a descriptive title of the goddess Anath—Anath of the Womb, one could call her according to Raphael Patai (PAT-THG). Anath is often also called the “maiden”, so, although a womb, she is a virgin. The Egyptians described them as the goddesses “who conceive but do not bear” because they were permanently virgins. Ashtoreth was also a goddess of war as the scriptures declare also when the Philistines offered Saul’s armour in the temple of Ashtoreth (1 Sam 31:10) presumably as a token of appreciation for her assistance in the battle.

Anath is not mentioned in the scriptures and Ashtoreth or Astarte are mentioned only nine times, but she was much more important than such a small number of citations suggests. In Judges 2:13 and 10:6, Astarte and the Ashtaroth are respectively mentioned in conjunction with Baal, as warnings to the Israelites. Solomon is similarly warned by Yehouah (1 Kgs 11:5,33) for adopting Ashtoreth and other foreign gods.

Babylon-Ishtar-1800-1750

Figure of Babylonian Goddess  Ereshkigal or her sister Ishtar dated to 1800-1750 BCE (Source: Aiwok for Public Domain). The figure was previously thought to be that of Lilith but modern scholarship suggests her to be Ishtar or Ereshkigal.

Anath does appear in the scriptures as the place names Beth Anath and Anathoth or Anatha (even today still called Anata), the birthplace of Jeremiah, amongst others. Anathoth is simply the plural of Anath, a convention among the Hebrews in naming towns. Thus Ashtaroth, the plural of Ashtoreth is also a place name. These names arose because they were the place of a shrine (a house or “beth”) for the deity, and were therefore the place where the deity’s devotees lived—the Anaths (Anathoth) or the Astartes (Ashtaroth). One of the Judges, according to the scriptures, was a “son of Anath”, taken by the fathful to be literally true, but merely disguising that he was a follower or devotee of Anath.

Queen of Heaven

Jeremiah tried to persuade the Israelite worshippers of the Queen of Heaven in Egypt to turn to Yehouah but they refused. Anath and Astarte were “Lady (Lady being the feminine of Lord, therefore meaning “ruler”) of Heaven” throughout the Near East, including Egypt. The people, in reply, think it is not through any neglect of Yehouah that they have had misfortune but because of their neglect of the goddess!

“As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine.

And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings unto her, without our men?” Jeremiah 44:16-19

Elsewhere in Jeremiah, the author adds more detail:

“Seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead their dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke me to anger.” Jeremiah 7:17-18

These are small windows into the genuine religion of Palestine before the Persians altered it. The author, clearly a propagandist for the Persian “returners” from “exile”, admits to the longstanding practice of the cities of Judah, and of Jerusalem itself. Their fathers—meaning in the first passage, ancestors, not just their immediate dads—their kings and princes had burnt incense to the Queen of Heaven and poured libations for her (the equal of the wine of the Eucharist). The women add that they made cakes for her (the equal of the Eucharist wafer), and insist that they did not worship the goddess only as a female indulgence but did it with their menfolk. The earlier passage in Jeremiah shows that the whole practice was communal.

Yarmukian CultureClay figurine of an ancient Mother Goddess of the Yarmukian Culture of the Neolithic era (Source: Yaels for Public Domain). Dated to 7,500 years ago, this figurine was discovered at the Sha’ar Hagolan kibbutz, situated to the south of the sea of Galilee. 

The cakes will have been made in molds just like the molds used to cast the terracotta figures of the goddess, found everywhere, or perhaps the terracotta figurines were themselves used to make an impression on the cakes, which were then baked and eaten or burnt as an offering. That the Queen of Heaven was Ashtoreth is suggested by the use of these cakes, because an ancient Babylonian text to Ishtar refers to sacrificial cakes using a name that seems to be cognate with the Hebrew word.

The people had been happy and well fed under the care of the goddess, but latterly had suffered hardship under the Babylonians and then the Persian administrators’ efforts to bring in an exclusive new god, the Persian version of Yehouah. No one intelligent can read books like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and other prophetic books without seeing them as propagandist pseudepigraphs written by the schools of Nehemiah and Ezra to persuade the native Palestinians to adopt the monotheistic religion the Persians were promoting for political reasons. These books nominally come from the two centuries before the “restoration” but were obviously anachronistically cast back in time to justify Persian novelties. The priestly schools blamed the troubles of the Am ha Eretz on to their old religious habits—and they laid it on thick—they were abominations!

In Ezekiel, the prophet is transported from Babylon to Jerusalem by God himself to see the abominations that are happening. The Persian reformers composed this to justify Ezra’s alterations to worship in the city of Jerusalem. The abominations are a phallic image (“an image of jealousy that provokes jealousy”), presumably an Asherah; the worship of a variety of images; the worship of Tammuz, the dying and rising god whose consort was Ishtar (Ashtoreth); the worship of the sun that was doubtless an aspect of El, Baal and Yehouah as sky gods. The Persians apparently were not against the vision of the sun being used as an aspect of their transcendental god, Ormuzd, because Mithras was apparently exactly that, but they would not have anything worshipped except for the God of Heaven himself. Mithras transformed himself for the Jews into the archangel Michael, guardian angel of the faithful of Yehouah, a mighty prince of the heavenly hosts but only an angel.

Ancient Fertility GoddessSmall clay figurine of an ancient fertility Goddess dated to approximately 7000-7,500 years ago (Source: Haaretz). This figurine was discovered near Gedera in south-central Israel.

An Aramaic papyrus from the Jewish military colony at Hermopolis in Egypt speaks of a temple to the Queen of Heaven in the fifth century BC, just when the priests of Nehemiah or Ezra would have been forging the Jeremiah pseudepigraph, on our surmise. We know from the Elephantine papyri that the Jews of Elephantine were still worshipping other gods and goddesses besides Yehouah, including Anath, around 400 BC!

Yehouah’s Spouse

Utterance of Ashyaw the king: Say to Yehallel and to Yaw’asah

and to… I bless you by Yahweh of Samaria and his asherah

At Kuntillet Ajrud in the Negeb 30 miles from Kardesh Barnea, excavation of an eighth century sanctuary by the University of Tel Aviv in 1975-1976 revealed inscriptions, including Hebrew prayers, that have still not been published 30 years later. The text of one prayer was illustrated with two rough figures like the brutish Egyptian god, Bes, and spoke of “Yehouah and his Asherah”. This was a severe kick in the teeth for traditional Jewish and Christian monotheists of the “God’s Plan” variety. Asherah is a Ugaritic goddess, the consort of El. The people of eighth century BC Palestine had this same goddess, and she was considered the consort of Yehouah. Yehouah seemed even closer than ever to Baal or El. The Arabs before the foundation of Islam also had a goddess Asherah, and the Nabataean Arabs, judging by many inscriptions they made in Sinai in the second and third centuries AD, worshipped a god called “Ywh”. The fifth century Jewish colony at Elephantine on the Nile, similarly had Yehouah paired with a goddess Anath-Yehouah.

Anath

Bronze figurine of Anat or Anath dated to 1400–1200 BCE, discovered in Syria (Source: Camocon for Public Domain).

In the bible, Asherah is depicted as a cult object apparently a wooden pillar or tree trunk, but translated often as “grove”. Fighting fires and painting over cracks or whatever other metaphor comes to mind—they all apply—biblicists claim that God’s asherah was just a candlestick or altar, or they concede that some evil Jews did allow Yehouah to have a wife and that is why they Jews were always being punished, or anything that sounds plausible as long as it does not mean that Yehouah was not a perpetual batchelor. But as Theodore Lewis points out in the Oxford Companion to the Bible:

The asherah symbol in its origin is not easily divorced from the goddess Asherah.

The archaeological evidence is that the “pre-exilic” Israelites worshipped first and foremost, a goddess whose spouse was titled Baal and sometimes called Yehouah—the causer of being (meaning existence, life). The people saw the goddess as the accessible deity, even if notionally Yehouah or El were superior gods in the hierarchy. In the same way, Christians pray to Jesus or to Mary or even to saints instead of the omniscient god because they clearly do not believe that God is omniscient. And they obviously finish up just as satisfied praying to an old dead bishop as they do to the Almighty God of heaven Himself!

The Persians stopped goddess worship and replaced the old Baal Yehouah with a new god of heaven in the image of Ahuramazda. The constant theme of the Jewish scriptures of apostasy began here, Ezra’s priests portrayed the old religion as a perversion and an abomination of the wishes of the new god, and created an imaginary history of relapsing into religious perversion to justify the change. The prophets were pseudepigraphic propaganda supporting this scheme. Interestingly, later on, after the new god had been accepted, Jews became so protective of the new god that they refused to accept the gods of the Greeks and eventually started the Maccabaean wars. The works written to persuade the Am ha Eretz to adopt the new god were now seen as directed against the Hellenizing Jews who wanted to adopt Greek ways.

Yet, despite this manipulation, the Jews would not give up their attachment to a goddess. It simply had to find new forms, acceptable to those whose only deity was a lonely and invisible Almighty.

One way that is plain in the scriptures, is that the land and people of Yehouah, Israel itself, appeared in place of Asherah or Anath as the betrothed or the wife of God. The goddess remained in the Jewish world view but as a metaphor for the object of the love of Yehouah—his people. This fitted in so well with Persian aims that it is conceivable that they used it as a way of weaning the native Israelites off their attachment to the Goddess, just as Christians permitted Pagan gods to be seen as Christian saints. At any rate it is a strong theme through many of the Persian books of the scriptures.

Ugarit-Fertility Goddess

Depiction dated to 1200-1150 BCE of a fertility goddess (Source: The Fertility Goddess). This was discovered in Ugarit.

Those who refused to abandon the old ways in favor of the new Yehouah were portrayed as a wanton wife, a promiscuous Israel, an unworthy bride or wife. If “His people” abandoned the old ways, then Yehouah would forgive them of their sins and repent of His anger, and approach Israel to unite with her, his erstwhile unfaithful wife, in a grand marriage, to which the faithful would be invited but not the remaining apostates. We have suggested elsewhere that this marriage ceremony was celebrated as a ritual by the Essenes, at least (the wedding at Cana), but whether it is a carry over of some older ceremony in which Baal Yehouah “married” his consort is unclear, though quite likely. The older ceremonies were blatantly sexually promiscuous and the new symbolic ceremony which replaced the previous Bacchic-like revels was doubtless seen as a progression to total decorum.

The old goddess became personified as Zion, the city of Jerusalem representing those who worshiped Yehouah—the Jews or Yehudim, a word apparently related to “yahad” meaning a tightly knit community. Zion was a loving mother or a tender and affectionate daughter to Yehouah—the roles of the goddesses Asherah (mother of Baal) and Anath (daughter of El). She became even more important in the Hellenistic period when she represented the aspirations of the Jews for a kingdom of God—independence from the Greeks.

Cherubim

The reputation of Judaism as an an iconic religion—one which does not permit images—evidently was built after the Persian “restoration”. The making of “any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Ex 20:4)” was written in by the priests of Ezra to prevent the people of the Hill Country from reverting to their Asharoth. Yet cherubim decorated the walls of Jewish temples until the end of the temple of Herod in 70 AD. Surely these were “graven images”.

Christians, unassailable in their perpetual ignorance, think cherubim are baby angels like the putti of the medieval illustrators. Well they were indeed winged creatures but they were more like the griffins, winged bulls and winged lions of Assyria than podgy baby angels, though angelic figures were also cherubs. These fabulous creatures were popular all over the ancient Near East for thousands of years, but perhaps reached their artistic zenith under the Assyrians. They were certainly brought by the Persian priests of Ezra from Babylonia, where they decorated thrones, gates and walls. Support for this is the word itself which is not from a Hebrew root. The nearest word for it is found in Akkadian tablets where it stands for an intermediary between humans and god—an winged beast that carries human prayer to god.

Cherubs are first mentioned as having been set to guard the entrance to the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword after the expulsion of humanity (Gen 3:24). In Exodus (25:18-22; 37:7-9), lengthy instructions are giving for the construction of the Ark of the Covenant with its Mercy Seat and decorated curtains. Cherubim were the decorative motif. In 2 Samuel 2:11, God rides on a cherub and in Ezekiel’s vision four cherubim carry the throne of God.

Elsewhere, God sits enthroned on the Ark’s cherubim (2 Sam 6:2; 1 Chron 13:7;Ps 80:1) or sits between them (Ex 25:22; Num 7:89). And in the Psalms, Yehouah “rides on the wings of the wind” (Ps 104:5) or “upon the clouds” (Ps 68:5) or “makes the clouds his chariot” (Ps 104:5). In 2 Samuel 22:11, we read:

And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: and he was seen upon the wings of the wind.
Psalms 18:10 is equally explicit and emphatic that a cherub stands for the wings of the wind:

And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.

These descriptions explain to us what the cherubim that supported god or his throne were. The Jewish scriptures are describing the common near eastern representation of God, or His Fravashi, used by the Persians and other nations like the Assyrians. The Egyptians also used a similar device—a winged disc that was often shown hovering over a dead person or a religious scene, standing for the soul of the dead or perhaps, more abstractly, for the protective power of god—holiness.

The Egyptians liked to picture Horus between the twin goddesses, Isis and her sister, Nephthys, shown as mirror images of female cherubim, with the winged disc floating above, doubtless representing god as Ra. Equivalent pictures are found in Mesopotamia with two winged gods or goddesses (cherubs) tending a sacred palm tree overlooked by the holy ideogram. This is doubtless the type of scene described as the one on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. Furthermore, it sounds like the scene repeated several times in 1 Kings as being the general motif of the chambers of the temple:

15-Cherubim-Assyria

Goddesses in the form of cherubim with stylized palm tree like the description of those decorating the temple; from Nimrud, Assyria, 900 BCE (Source: CAIS).

And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of Cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, within and without… The two doors also were of olive tree and he carved upon them carvings of Cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, and overlaid them with gold, and spread gold upon the Cherubim, and upon the palm trees. So also made he for the door of the temple posts of olive tree… And he carved thereon Cherubim and palm trees and open flowers: and covered them with gold fitted upon the carved work. (1 Kings 6:29-35)

16-Cherubim-Assyria

Gods in the form of cherubim with stylized palm tree like the description of those decorating the temple; from Nimrud, Assyria, 900 BCE (Source: CAIS).

The description of the visionary temple in Ezekiel matches this (doubtless it was written first) and adds the detail that the cherubs faced alternately just as they do in the Assyrian pictures. Only the Janus-like nature of the heads differs:

And it was made with Cherubim and palm trees, so that a palm tree was between a cherub and a cherub; and every cherub had two faces; So that the face of a man was toward the palm tree on the one side, and the face of a young lion toward the palm tree on the other side: it was made through all the house round about. From the ground unto above the door were Cherubim and palm trees made, and on the wall of the temple… And there were made on them, on the doors of the temple, Cherubim and palm trees, like as were made upon the walls; and there were thick planks upon the face of the porch without. (Ezek 41:18-20;25)
Even the ten wash stands in the temple were set on bases which had a decorative motif of palms, bulls, lions and cherubim.

The two cherubs placed in the Holy of Holies of the temple, however, from their description in the scriptures, seem more like the ideogram of Ahura Mazda:

And in the most holy house he made two cherubim of image work, and overlaid them with gold. And the wings of the cherubim were twenty cubits long: one wing of the one cherub was five cubits, reaching to the wall of the house: and the other wing was likewise five cubits, reaching to the wing of the other cherub. And one wing of the other cherub was five cubits, reaching to the wall of the house: and the other wing was five cubits also, joining to the wing of the other cherub. The wings of these cherubims spread themselves forth twenty cubits: and they stood on their feet, and their faces were inward” (2 Chronicles 3:10-13; see also 1 Kings 6:23-28).

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Is this how the cherubim in the temple Devir at Jerusalem looked? (Source: CAIS).

The cherubim were miraculous because they faced each other only when Yehouah favoured Israel but the faced away from each other when Israel had earned God’s ill will. But why were there two when there is only one god? In Rabbinic tradtion, there are two cherubim to stand for each of God’s holy names, Yehouah and Elohim, and, though this is much later than the origin of these images with the Persians, it could be true. There seem to have been two factions, each rooting for their preferred god, further proof that the religion of the Israelites before the arrival of the Persians was polytheistic.

Now Judaeo-Christian tradition has always been that the Holy of Holies of the temple was empty, once the Ark of the Covenant had disappeared from it, despite the descriptions of the cherubim in the scriptures. In fact, there must always have been fires burning in there if only for the burning of incense, but fires were holy themselves in Persian tradition and considered to be good spirits that took the prayers of the faithful up to god along with the sweet incense. Rabbi Hanina in the first century AD reports that there was a fire on the altar, and this was obviously not the altar for burnt offerings which stood outside the Holy Place, and necessarily had a fire. This altar is distinguished in Exodus 38:1 from the altar of incense of Exodus 37:25. The Holy of Holies and the Holy Place were a single room, separated only by a veil.

The Ark was meant to rest beneath the touching outstretched wings of the cherubs, but the loss of the Ark would not have stopped the temple authorities from maintaining the cherubs. Only the Ark was unique and irreplaceable. These cherubs are both shown as masculine in appearance, just as Yehouah is always taken to be masculine in every respect. A later reason for there being two images was that one of the cherubim in the Holy of Holies of the second temple was female—the goddess had not really disappeared at all!

The basis for this belief is also the Talmud, which tells us that the two cherubs in the Devir of the temple were a copulating couple! Well, the Talmud actually says they were “entwined” like a man and his wife. This explicit sculpture was displayed to the pilgrims on each of the three major festivals—Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.

18-Table setup for Passover

Table prepared for a Passover Seder (Source: DataFox for Public Domain).

Both Philo of Alexandria and Josephus must have known what was in the Devir, but both are cagey or contradictory. Philo says that the High Priest is so blinded by the incense smoke when he enters that even he cannot see what is in there, and Josephus says that nothing is there, then that what is there is quite respectable, and lastly he admits that there are some items of sacred paraphernalia in there.

Both must have known, because Josephus had served as a priest and Philo had visited Jerusalem as a pilgrim. Rabbi Quetina, according to Raphael Patai, says that the priests would role up the veil separating off the Holy Place when pilgrims arrived to show them the “cherubim that were intertwined with one another”, and declare:

Behold! Your love before God is like the love of male and female.

The pilgrims would then indulge in orgiastic behaviour, as they had done under the old religion, as the incident of the golden calves proves:

And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings, and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play. (Ex 32:6)

No prizes are offered here for the real meaning of the mis-translation “play”. The same Hebrew word is mistranslated differently when the Philistine king, who thinks Rebekah is Isaac’s sister, sees them through his window (Gen 26:8):

Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.

Yes, the word “l’zaheq” means having nooky. The Jews had been subject to the same religious influences as everyone else in the ancient Near East. Their original religion was a fertility religion based on the cycle of the seasons. If these people wanted the rains to come and the land to be fertile, what reason could they have had for not showing the gods precisely what they required? The sexual act was a sacred act of the cycle of living, and the hierophants revealed the sacred object that stimulated the act. It would have been impossible for them to have remained chaste when they wanted the land to be fertile.

Doubtless the Persian schools could not have tolerated such behavior, which suggests it only resumed after Alexander’s conquest. The priests were, of course, interested in multiplying the seed of Abraham, who were their bread and butter, and the Greek regime was sexually liberal, so that the new generation of Hellenized priests had good reason for promoting occasional orgies, even if the Jews had become otherwise prudish under Zoroastrian influence. Effectively they were re-admitting the old religion of Baal and the Queen of Heaven, but under the guise of a mystery religion in which the cult objects were revealed periodically only to the faithful. Naturally, traditional Jews—those now committed to the religion introduced by the Persians—would have seen all of this as abominable. They became the Hasidim who split into Pharisees and Essenes.

Elsewhere, the Talmud describes the discovery of the entwined cherubs by foreigners violating the temple’s sanctity:

They entered the Holy of Holies and found there the two cherubim, and they took them and put them in a cage and went around with them in the streets of Jerusalem and said: “You used to say that this nation was not serving idols. Now you see what we found and what they were worshipping”.

These violators are supposed to have been Ammonites and Moabites, but the only historical event that it could correspond to before the restoration was the capture and robbing of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, and the Persian “restorers” would have included evidence of such an abomination in the salutary works they wrote that now constitute the prophetic books of scripture. The event therefore took place in the Greek period when it became normal for Jews to refer to the Greeks by the scriptural names of their gentile enemies. The Ammonites and Moabites must therefore have been really Greeks and the desecration and parading of the sculptures in cages must have happened before the Maccabaean war. The desecration of Antiochus Epiphanes in 170 BC seems the likely occasion.

19-Vision of EzekielA traditional portrayal of Ezekiel’s vision (Biblical book of Ezekiel, chapter 1) of the cherubim and chariot (Source: Public Domain). This is actually a 1670 illustration based on Matthaeus (Matthäus) Merian’s (1593-1650) earlier version.

The old cherubim in the shape of the ideogram of Ormuzd must have been replaced by the sensuous statue of copulating cherubs after the defeat of the Persians by the Greeks. Patai suggests that the change was effected by Ptolemy Philadelphus who made several expensive gifts to the Jewish temple and began the translation of the Torah into Greek. Perhaps more likely is his son Ptolemy III Euergetes, who was a noted Judaeophile and even worshipped at the Jerusalem temple, according to Josephus. His son, Ptolemy Philopator, wanted also to worship in the temple but was prevented from doing so and planned to massacre Jews in revenge. He regarded the Jews as being devotees of Dionysos and therefore had Jewish slaves tattooed with a vine leaf.

When the Maccabees rededicated the temple in 165 BC, did they restore the statuary destroyed by Antiochus Epiphanes? It seems they did, because the cageyness of Philo and Josephus suggest it, and the fact that the Hasids fell out with the Hasmonaeans has the same implications. The excuse given by apologists is that some Hasids objected to the Maccabees taking the priesthood, reserved for the Zadokites, but the real reason will be that they had returned the institutions to those of the Greek inclined sect of the Sadducees, who claimed they were the heirs of the Zadokites, instead of back to the religion introduced by the Persians.

Nevertheless, for many Jews the attraction of the goddess remained and she had had a metaphorical existence as the bride of God, Israel. The explicit statue must have seemed to many a graphic illustration of the intimacy of Yehouah and His people, and therefore did not seem in the least improper. And a goddess equal to Yehouah had reappeared as the female cherub in the statue. It took the growing strength of the Persian parties, the Pharisees and the Essenes to pressurize the priesthood into segregating men and women and preventing them from indulging in sexual flippery when the mysteries were revealed.

Women, who had previously had a temple court of their own giving direct sight of the revealed cherubs, were relegated to second class citizens in galleries having no view of it. The goddess was to fade again into metaphor and the poetic constructions of the Shekinah, the Wisdom of God and the Holy Ghost before the Christians even masculinized even that.