Yarmukian Culture

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.


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.


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 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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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:


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)


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).


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.

Pre-Islamic Zurkhaneh

The Zur-Khaneh (House of Strength)

The article below by Houchang E. Chehabi on the Zoor-Khaneh, Zur-khaneh or Zur-Kāna (House of Strength) was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on August 15, 2006.

Kindly note that the pictures/illustrations and accompanying descriptions were not posted in the original Encyclopedia Iranica article. All descriptive captions for the pictures/illustrations are from Kavehfarrokh.com. In addition certain assertions made by Chehabi are questioned by Kavehfarrokh.com (esp. with respect to the notion that the Zoor-khaneh is unrelated to pre-Islamic era training regimens).


Zoor-Khaneh, Zur-khaneh or Zur-Kāna (lit. house of strength), the traditional gymnasium of urban Persia and adjacent lands. Until the mid-20th century the zur-ḵāna was associated primarily with wrestling, and it bore great resemblance to the wrestlers’ tekkes (Pers. takia, Ar. takiya “lodges, buildings designed for confraternal life) of Ottoman Turkey (Kreiser, pp. 97-103), to the harkaras of Afghanistan, and to the akhāṛās (wrestling ground) of India (Alter). This would seem to indicate the existence in the past of an agonistic tradition common to the ethnically diverse populations of a wide region stretching from the Balkans to Bengal.Descriptions of the zur-ḵāna often imply a timeless essence, while in fact the institution has constantly evolved and continues to do so. The traditional zur-ḵāna consisted of a building whose architecture resembled that of a public bathhouse, in whose close proximity it was often located. The zur-ḵāna’s main room was often sunken slightly below street level to provide constant temperatures and prevent drafts that might harm the perspiring athletes, but its roof contained windows for light. Access to the main room was possible only through a low door, forcing everyone to bow in respect while entering. At the center of the room lay the gowd, a hexagonal sunken area about one meter deep in which the exercises took place. To provide a soft surface for wrestling, the bottom of the arena used to be covered first with brushwood, then with ash, and finally with a layer of clay earth, but gradually this was replaced with linoleum or wooden planks. The gowd was surrounded by stands for spectators and racks for exercise instruments, and the walls were adorned with pictures of athletes and saints (Partow Bayżāʾi, pp. 35-36). Of particular importance was an elevated and decorated seat, the sardam, which was reserved for the man who accompanied the exercises with rhythmic drumming and the chanting of Persian poetry. This included poems by Saʿdi, Ḥāfeẓ, Rumi, Ferdowsi, and other great classic poets, as well as a type of maṯnawi specific to the zur-ḵāna, the gol-e košti (flower of wrestling), of which the most famous is that of Mir Najāt Eṣfahāni (repr. in Partow Bayżāʾi, pp. 379-419). Since the early 20th century, the drummer has been called moršed (guide or director), a title previously reserved for the most senior member of the group (Partow Bayzāʾi, p. 37).

History of the Zur-khaneh or Zur-Kāna and the story of Hossein e Golzar Kermanshahi (narrated in Persian with English subtitles). The above video is a documentary film in Persian whihc first provides a historical overview of the traditional martial art of Iran to then outline the life and times of Hossein e Golzar Kermanshahi – a legendary Iranian Pahlavan from Kermanshah. This video was forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com by Shooresh Golzari.

In the gowd athletes had to be bare-chested and barefoot, symbolizing the irrelevance of outside hierarchies and distinctions (Partow Bayżāʾi, pp. 27, 53). Their standard attire was the long, a cloth wrapped around the loins and passed between the legs. When they were wrestling, leather breeches (tonbān) were worn; these were sometimes embroidered (Baker). As they entered the gowd, athletes showed their respect for the hallowed space by kissing the ground, which in practice took the form of touching the floor with their fingers and then raising these to their lips. Once inside, they had to desist from eating, drinking, smoking, laughing, or chatting. Until the mid-1920s, men went to the zur-ḵāna in the morning after morning prayers, except during Ramadan, when exercises took place in the evening after breaking the fast (efṭār). Since then, however, evening sessions have gradually become the norm (Partow Bayżāµʾi, pp. 52-4).

Exercising at the Jaffary Zurkhaneh (House of Strength) in TeheranIranian men exercising at the Jaffary Zur-Khaneh or Zur-Kāna (House of Strength) in Tehran, Iran on December 5, 1968 (Source: CAIS).

The exercises took place in a more or less standard order, and were led by the most senior member present, the miāndār. After some warming-up calisthenics (pāzadan), in the course of which one of the athletes might leave the gowd, lie on his back, and lift heavy wooden boards called sang with each arm, athletes did push-ups (šenā) and then swung mils (Indian clubs), both exercises being accompanied by the moršed’s drumming and chanting. They would then take turns whirling rapidly (čarḵ) about the gowd, after which one or two athletes would in turn step forward to swing a kabbāda above their heads, this being a heavy iron bow on the cord of which heavy rings are strung. In the individual exercises (čarḵ and kabbāda), members came forth in ascending order of seniority, and so, uniquely in Persian social convention, humility was shown by trying to go first. To come forth, an athlete would ask the miāndār for permission by saying roḵṣat (permission), to which the answer was forṣat (chance, opportunity). Until about the 1940s, the crowning event of a zur-ḵāna session was wrestling (košti), which was the original raison d’être of the gymnasium. With the introduction of international freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling, however, wrestling disappeared from the gowd. Traditional wrestling survived in a modernized form under the name of košti-e pahlavāni (pahlavāni wrestling), but lost its organic link with the zur-ḵāna, where it is now rarely taught. The loss of its agonistic component has somewhat contributed to the decline of the institution’s popularity among young men.

Sang and MeelThe Sang (left) and Meel (right) (Source: www.persianyoga.com) Tare traditional Zur-Kāna or Zur-khaneh tools for building strength, power and endurance. The Meel is wielded by he handles and used in several motions for building power in the arms and wrists. These types of exercises enable the Pahlavan to wield heavy traditional weapons such as maces and heavy swords with greater ease, endurance and handling. The Sang is mainly used for performing double arm presses, in numerous ways, as well as single arm rolling presses.

Traditionally, athletes were divided into a number of grades. These were, in ascending order of seniority, nowča (novice), nowḵᵛāsta (beginner), pahlavān (athlete), and finally each establishment’s most accomplished member, the miāndār (formerly kohna-savār), who conducted the proceedings. At each grade, the long was wrapped somewhat differently. Beginning in the 1940s, however, these grades gradually fell into disuse and were replaced by the standard international categories “cadet, “ “junior,” and “senior,” and, for pahlavāni wrestling, weight classes.

The practices and rituals of the zur-ḵāna are permeated with the symbolism of Twelver Shiʿism. Veneration of the first Shiʿite Imam, ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb, plays a major role, and the exercises are frequently interrupted by salvos of the invocation of God’s blessing upon the Prophet Moḥammad (ṣalawāt). Traditionally, a man had to be ritually clean to enter the gowd, and admittance to the premises was forbidden to women, non-Muslims, and prepubescent boys. In spite of the institution’s Twelver Shiʿite affinities, zur-ḵānas spread to Sunnite Kurdistan in the 18th century (Kamandi), and in the mid-20th century there were even a few Jewish zur-ḵānas in Tehran and Shiraz and a Zoroastrian one in Yazd; their rituals were adapted accordingly (Chehabi, pp. 5-9).

The origin of the zur-ḵāna is shrouded in mystery. Its vocabulary, rituals, ethos, and grades recall those of fotowwa and Sufism, but a direct affiliation cannot be established at the present stage of knowledge. Since wrestling has an old tradition in west, central, and south Asia, it is possible that sometime in the 14th or 15th centuries wrestlers formed guilds and adopted rituals borrowed from fotowwa and Sufism. Wrestlers were mostly entertainers with low social status (Chardin, p. 200), and so perhaps this appropriation of noble ideals was an attempt to acquire greater respectability (Piemontese). The synthesis of wrestling prowess and Sufism is embodied by the 14th-century Pahlavān Mahmud of Ḵᵛārazm, better known in Persia as Puriā-ye Wali, whom zur-ḵāna athletes (as well as wrestlers in Turkey) regard as a role model.

Pre-Islamic ZurkhanehDepiction of ancient exercise routines and equipment from the late Sassanian era (Source: Zurkhaneh Review, No.2, July 2011, pp.14-15; above item currently stored in the British Museum (number: 1849,0623.41). Note the “meel”-type weight-handle held by upright person at left and the – held by the arms of the person lying down; note that he is simultaneously pressing some type of “eights” with his feet. The author of the Encyclopedia Iranica article, Houchang E. Chehabi, states later below in his article that “The fact remains that there is no textual or architectural evidence for the existence of zur-ḵānas before Safavid times (Elāhi). The idea of a pre-Islamic origin, however, lives on in popular writing.” While true that the specific term “Zur-Kāna” is not seen with the Classical and other ancient pre-Islamic sources, Chehabi’s suggestion of no evidence is questionable: the above ancient depiction provides clear evidence that the Zur-Kana exercises and exercise equipment were not spontaneously invented during the post-Islamic era. The British Museum however claims that the above item represents “…jugglers and an onlooker in oriental dress“. As noted already, the challenge with this interpretation is that the equipment in the above depiction (a) parallels contemporary Zur-Kāna training equipment too closely and (b) the routines shown by the above figures are too similar to contemporary Zur-Kāna training methods. However, little academic works have investigated the linkage between sports training in Iran’s pre and post-Islamic eras.

While references to wrestling and wrestlers can be found in classical Persian literature (see below), the earliest known mention of zur-ḵāna exercises and practices occurs in a fragment dating from the Safavid era, the Tumār-e Poriā-ye (sic) Wali (reproduced in Partow Bayżāʾi, pp. 350-64). This suggests that zur-ḵānas appeared first under that dynasty, which would also explain the close connection between them and popular Twelver Shiʿism, which takes the form, for instance, of very active participation of their members in ʿāšurā processions.

The first Western traveler to describe a zur-ḵāna was John Chardin, who observed it in the 1670s:

Wrestling is the Exercise of People in a lower Condition; and generally Speaking, only of People who are Indigent. They call the Place where they Show themselves to Wrestle, Zour Kone, that is to say, The House of Force. They have of’em in all the Houses of their great Lords, and especially of the Governours of Provinces, to Exercise their People. Every Town has besides Companies of those Wrestlers for show … They perform their Exercises to divert People” (Chardin, pp. 200-1).

A century later, Carsten Niebuhr also described a house of strength, and to him we also owe the first graphic representation of one. It shows musicians accompanying the exercises, a practice still common at folk wrestling events throughout west Asia and the Balkans, but one that has disappeared from the Persian zur-ḵāna, perhaps under the impact of the Shiʿite clergy’s distaste for music. The Qajar rulers of Persia were enthusiastic patrons of wrestling, and consequently zur-ḵānas thrived in the 19th century. They were embedded in the social structure of town quarters and constituted an important part of community life (Arasteh). Some were frequented by craftsmen and tradesmen associated with the bazaar, some had a Sufi membership, and still others were used by the luṭis (urban thugs). In 1865 Nāṣer-al-Din Shah’s court physician noted that “since a lot of dissolute and merry types frequent [the zur-ḵāna], young men of good families do not go there” (Polak, p. 189). However, men of higher birth did occasionally participate in the exercises and wrestle in the gowd (Drouville, II, p. 58), a development that reached its peak under Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (r. 1848-96), when a number of statesmen built themselves private zur-ḵānas (Partow Bayżāʾi, pp. 9, 154-55).

Zoorkhaneh-QajarWrestlers at a Zur-Kāna in the Qajar era, likely late 19th or early 20th centuries (Source: IZSF).

With the advent of the Constitutional Revolution in 1905-06, royal patronage ceased. This dealt a severe blow to the zur-ḵāna, which became once again a feature of urban lower and lower middle class culture only. By the 1920s the introduction of modern Western sports and physical education further diminished the appeal of zur-ḵāna exercises among athletically inclined men, while cinemas drew spectators away. At the same time the growing penetration of society by the state, which resulted in better security, diminished the role of the strongmen who used to maintain law and order in neighborhoods and who trained in the zur-ḵāna. Another function of the zur-ḵānathat disappeared in the first decades of the 20th century was the training it provided for šāṭers, long distance couriers in the service of the shah and high officials, whose profession became obsolete with the introduction of modern transportation. Šāṭers had their own special exercises (e.g., šelang), which have completely disappeared (Partow Bayżāʾi, pp. 28-38). In the troubled times after the end of the Qajar régime, a number of amateur athletes kept the zur-ḵāna alive independently of elite patronage, and in 1924 they founded a Jamʿiyat-e gordān-e Irān (Society of Iranian heroes) to organize traditional physical education and make it respectable again by a rigorous admission process (ʿAbbāsi, I, pp. 296-303).

Photo 2-PahlavanIranian wrestler of 1920s training with traditional strength-training equipment (Source: Farsizaban). In the background to the left can be seen two upright Zoorkhaneh (House of Power) Meels with handles designed for increasing the strength and stamina of the arms. While Classical sources do not cite the term “Zur-Khaneh” or “Zur-Kāna” by name, the same sources report of the hard training experienced by the armies of the Sassanians.

The pioneers of modern physical education in Persia had no respect for zur-ḵāna-type exercises and ignored them in the physical education curricula they drew up for Persia’s modern schools. In the 1920s and 1930s numerous articles appeared in the Persian press denouncing the institution. Four criticisms were leveled at it. Firstly, it was implied that members were morally corrupt (e.g., Ṣamimi, p. 11). This was an oblique reference to the allegation that sodomy was prevalent among some athletes (Šahri, 1968, pp. 204-8; idem, 1990, I, p. 414, V, pp. 247-49). Secondly, zur-ḵānas were castigated for harboring uncouth ruffians, a reference to the marginal luṭis and their frequent brawling. Thirdly, it was pointed out that the exercises did not satisfy modern expectations in that they contained no team sports and developed the body unevenly. Finally, the gymnasia were criticized for their insufficient ventilation (“Dar zur-ḵāna,” Eṭṭelāʿāt, 17 Ābān 1317/8 November 1938). The last point was a constant theme, and we find it as late as 1947 in the first empirical study of zur-ḵānas in Tehran, which averred: Zur-ḵānas “are generally narrow and dark and lack sufficient sun-light. The air is heavy and humid, and constantly poisoned by the smell of the coal of the moršed’s brazier and by the petrol of the numerous lamps. Moreover, the stench of the toilets, which are inside the building, and the unwashed longs and dirty rugs, add to the heaviness of the air inside zur-ḵānas. In addition, the constant pipe and cigarette smoke of themoršed, the spectators, and even the athletes themselves is a health hazard for the athletes’ lungs” (Guša, p. 49).

Lithuania-Zoorkhaneh-TajikestanMembers of the Lithuanian team compete in the 3rd Zur-khaneh Sports Men Championship of Europe May 18-20, 2011 in the Arena Complex of Šiauliai, Lithuania (Source: Zurkhaneh Review, No.2, July 2011, pp.14-15; Photo-IZSF). The Lithuanians are engaged in the traditional Takhteh-Shena (Push up board) exercise. This event was  broadcast live on Lithuanian TV.

Zur-ḵānas might have died out completely had it not been for the nationwide millenary celebration of Ferdowsi’s birth in the summer of 1934. Exhibitions of zur-ḵāna exercises featured prominently in them, and thenceforth the state showed more interest in them (Partow Bayżāʾi, pp. 138, 211-17). Until about 1938 the term varzeš-e qadim (old sport) was used to designate zur-ḵāna exercises, but then gradually the term varzeš-e bāstāni (ancient sport) caught on, implying a pre-Islamic origin for the exercises (“Varzešhā-ye bāstāni,” Eṭṭelāʿāt, 10 Šahrivar 1318/1 September 1939). When in 1939 the crown prince married Princess Fawzia of Egypt, the wedding celebrations included exhibitions of “ancient sport” as part of the mass gymnastic displays in Tehran’s main stadium, a practice that was continued until the end of the monarchy. In 1941 Radio Iran started broadcasting zur-ḵāna poetry and drumming in the morning, allowing amateurs to swing their Indian clubs at home.

The ideas adumbrated in the late 1930s were given substance beginning in the 1940s. Towards the end of his life, Persia’s last poet laureate, Moḥammad-Taqi Bahār, published a number of articles on traditional Persian javānmardi, in which he mentioned the ethos of the zur-ḵāna as a contemporary manifestation of this tradition. By this juxtaposition, the early history of popular anti-centralist movements in Persia such as those of the ʿayyārs (members of medieval brotherhood organizations) was constituted as the early history of the zur-ḵāna. Gradually, as one author uncritically quoted another, it became conventional wisdom that the zur-ḵānas originated in the underground resistance activities of Persian patriots against Arab and later Mongol invaders (Guša, pp. 47-48), which made them acceptable to the elites again by providing them with an aura of patriotism.

- کبادهZur-khaneh or Zur-Kāna athlete engaged in the the Kabadeh (two arched iron pieces attached with short iron chains) exercise (Source: Salam Khabar & Hossein Zohrevand).

There remained the irritating fact that a moral ambiguity attached to the institution in the minds of most Persians, who took the zur-ḵāna pahlavāns’ protestations of chivalry with a grain of salt. To explain (away) the unseemly behavior of many zur-ḵāna habitués, it was now suggested that the institution had entered a period of moral decline under the Qajars. This fit in well with the official Pahlavi view of that dynasty, which legitimated the usurpation of the throne in 1925 by holding the Qajars responsible for both Persia’s economic backwardness and moral degeneration. The idea of a golden age of virtue preceding the degeneration of the late Qajar years is not borne out by evidence, however, as is shown, for instance, in the satirical poetry of ʿObayd of Zākān (d. ca. 1371), who already repeatedly impugns the morality of pahlavāns.

Another theory about the pre-Islamic origins of the zur-ḵānawas proposed by the Iranist Mehrdād Bahār. Struck by the similarities between the architecture and rituals of traditional zur-ḵānas and those of temples dedicated to the Iranian deity Mithra (Mithraeums), he speculated that the gymnasia had a Mithraic origin (Bahār). The fact remains that there is no textual or architectural evidence for the existence of zur-ḵānas before Safavid times (Elāhi). The idea of a pre-Islamic origin, however, lives on in popular writing.

mithras-the-bringer-of-lightA Roman version of the statue of Mithras “Bringer of Light” in a Mithraic temple in Ostia, Italy (Consult, Hinnels, 1988, pp.83). There is a school of thought that traces the Pahlavan martial tradition with its emphasis on physical strength and martial arts training to the Mithraic traditions of pre-Islamic Iran.

In 1953, one of the most prominent traditional athletes, Šaʿbān Jaʿfari, was a ringleader of the CIA-financed riots that accompanied the military coup d’état of 1953 against Prime Minister Moḥammad Moṣaddeq. The shah rewarded Jaʿfari with a modern club, whose facilities were lavish by the humble standards of traditional zur-ḵānas, and he himself opened it on 17 Ābān 1336/8 November 1957 (Behzādi, p. 190; Jaʿfari, pp. 159 ff., 207 ff.). Led by Jaʿfari, zur-ḵāna athletes performed by the hundreds in Tehran’s main stadium on such occasions as the shah’s birthday. It was at least partly due to Jaʿfari’s good contacts to the court, which allowed him to be the center of a patronage network, that many young men were inducted into the world of ancient sport, and he may yet be credited for having ensured the survival of the tradition.

Photo-Zoorkhaneh-1-Pahlavan BagheriPahlavan Bagheri in the early 1960s, lifting the rear of an Iranian army vehicle with leg press while holding aloft 30kg kettlebells on each of his pinky fingers (Source: www.persianyoga.com; Original photo from Zurkhaneh Takhti, Yazd, Morshed Alireza Hojjati).

Jaʿfari’s club received competition in the late 1950s, when the influential head of Persia’s Planning Organization (Sāzmān-e barnāma wa budja), Abu-al-Ḥasan Ebtehāj, had a luxurious zur-ḵāna built for the country’s main bank, the Bank Melli. The director of this club, Kāẓem Kāẓemayni, published a number of books and articles on the zur-ḵāna and on the heroic exploits of Persia’s past pahlavāns and heroes, books that stand out by their shrill nationalism shading into xenophobia (Kāẓemayni, 1967). The Jaʿfari and the Bank Melli clubs vied for the honor of performing for visiting monarchs, presidents, prime ministers, secretaries general of Communist parties, film stars, and singers, including women.

Zanjani-Toosi [Click to enlarge] At right is Pahlavan (lit. brave intrepid champion) Mustafa Toosi wielding Zoor-khaneh or Zur-Kāna meels at 60 pounds each (Picture source: Pahlavani.com). Meel training is one of the Zoor-khaneh regimens used for building strength, stamina, and overall physical strength. Each Meel can range from 25-60 pounds and can be as tall as 4 ½ feet. At left is Pahlavan Reza Zanjani with traditional Iranian weights  (Picture source: Abbasi, M. (1995), Tarikh e Koshti Iran [History of Wrestling in Iran], Tehran: Entesharate Firdows, page 133).

While in some cities (Isfahan, Kāšān, and Qom) there existed zur-ḵānas that were pious endowments (waqfs; see Partow Bayżāʾi, pp. 36), until the 1960s most zur-ḵānas were owned by private individuals who charged athletes a fee. The numbers of zur-ḵānas rose until 1961, but remained stagnant in the last years of the monarchy (Tehrānči, p. 11). In the provinces, the state did not much support the zur-ḵānas, which in many places fell into disrepair (Kamandi, pp. 70-72). Beginning in the 1970s, many private zur-ḵānas closed down, since they were no longer profitable. Their place was taken by zur-ḵānas attached to major private companies, state enterprises, or state organs (Rochard, 2000, p. 77).

Turkish Team in Lithuania in 2011Members of the Turkish Zurkhaneh team at the 3rd Zurkhaneh Sports Men Championship of Europe May 18-20, 2011 in the Arena Complex of Šiauliai, Lithuania (Source: Zurkhaneh Review, No.2, July 2011, pp.14-15; Photo-IZSF). The Turks and Turkic world in general share a common Persianate or Turco-Iranian cultural heritage.

After the Revolution of 1978-79, the authorities of the Islamic Republic emphasized the Islamic character of the institution and tried to popularize it again. To attract young people, boys were permitted into the gowd, and even though women are once again barred from attending the zur-ḵāna, athletes have been made to wear tee shirts. A plethora of competitions are held with the aim of turning the exercises into modern sport replete with point systems, records, and champions. One result of these efforts has been a certain homogenization of practices, visible, for instance, in the renaming of many provincial zur-ḵānas that now carry the name of Puriā-ye Wali. Older athletes resent this intrusion of an official body into a sector of civic life that had always been self-regulating. Partly as a result of internal quarrels, the center of zur-ḵāna activity shifted to Mashad in the 1990s, where the Āstān-e Qods-e Rażawi has proven a generous patron.

Outside Persia, zur-ḵānas can be found in the Republic of Azerbaijan, and they were introduced into Iraq in the mid-19th century, where they seem to have existed until the 1980s (Ṭāʿi). In the 1990s a zur-ḵāna was founded in London by Persian émigrés.

Zoorkhaneh in AfricaThe Zur-ḵāna welcomed in Africa (Source: Zurkhaneh Review, No.2, July 2011 edition). African Zur-khaneh or Zur-ḵāna athletes have rapidly achieved mastery status in this ancient sport.


Mahdi ʿAbbāsi, Tāriḵ-e košti-e Irān, 2 vols., Tehran, 1995.

Joseph S. Alter, The Wrestler’s Body: Identity and Ideology in North India, Berkeley, 1992.

A. Reza Arasteh, “The Social Role of the Zurkhana (House of Strength) in Iranian Urban Communities during the Nineteenth Century,” Der Islam 36, February 1961, pp. 256- 59.

Mehrdād Bahār, “Varzeš-e bāstāni-e Irān wa rišahā-ye tāriḵi-e ān,” Čistā 1, October 1981, pp. 140-59; republ. as “Āʾin-e Mehr, zur-ḵāna, ʿayyāri, wa Samak-e ʿAyyār,” in Moḥammad-Mahdi Moʾaḏḏen Jāmeʿi, ed., Adab-e pahlavāni. pp. 323-42.

Moḥammad-Taqi Bahār, “Āʾin-e javānmardi,” in Eḥsān Narāqi, tr. and compiled, Āʾin-e javānmardi, Tehran, 1984, pp. 109-20.

Patricia L. Baker, “Wrestling at the Victoria and Albert Museum,” Iran 35, 1997.

ʿAli Behzādi, Šebh-e ḵāṭerāt, Tehran, 1996.

John Chardin, Travels in Persia, 1673-1677, New York, 1988.

Houchang E. Chehabi, “Jews and Sport in Modern Iran,” in Homa Sarshar and Houman Sarshar, eds., The History of Contemporary Iranian Jews IV, Beverly Hills, 2001.

Gaspard Drouville, Voyage en Persependant les années 1812 et 813, 2 vols., Paris, 1819-20; tr. Manučehr Eʿtemād Moqaddam as Safar dar Irān, Tehran, 1985. Ṣadr-al-Din Elāhi, “Negāh-i digar ba sonnat-i kohan: zur-ḵāna,” Irān-šenāsi/Iranshenasi 6/4, 1995, pp. 726-45.

Ḡolām-Reżā Enṣāfpur, Tāriḵ o farhang-e zur-ḵāna wa goruhhā-ye ejtemāʿi-e zur-ḵāna, Tehran, 1974.

R. A. Galunov, “Zurkhana: atletchyeskaya arena persii (Zur-ḵāna: The athletic arena of Persia),” Iran (Leningrad) 1, 1926, pp. 87-110.

Ḥasan Guša, “Varzeš-e bāstāni dar Irān,” Payām-e now 3/6, Farvardin 1326/March-April 1947, pp. 47-55.

Šaʿbān Jaʿfari, Šaʿbān Jaʿfari (text of the interview by Homā Saršār), Los Angeles, 2001.

ʿAbbās Kamandi, Varzeš wa sargoḏadšt-e varzeš-e bāstāni-e Kordestān, Sanandaj, 1984.

Kāẓem Kāẓemayni, “Zur-ḵāna,” Honar o mardom, N.S., nos. 56-57, 1967, pp. 55-62.

Idem, Dāstānhā-ye šegeftangiz az tāriḵ-e pahlavāni-e Irān, Tehran, 1967.

Klaus Kreiser, Edirne im 17. Jahrhundert nach Evliyā Çelebī: Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der osmanischen Stadt, Freiburg, 1975.

Eḥsān Narāqi, tr. (of Henry Corbin’s articles) and compiler, Āʾin-e javānmardi, Tehran, 1984.

Carsten Niebuhr, Reisebeschreibungnach Arabien und anderen unliegenden Ländern, Copenhagen, 1778.

Ḥosayn Partow Bayżāʾi Kāšāni, Tāriḵ-e varzeš-e bāstāni-e Irān: zur-ḵāna, Tehran, 1958, new ed., Tehran, 2003.

Angelo Piemontese, “Il capitolo sui pahlavān delle Badāyiʿ al-Waqāyiʿ di Vāsfi,” AIUON, N.S. 16, 1966, pp. 207-20.

Jacob Eduard Polak, Persien: das Land und seine Bewohner, Hildesheim, 1976; tr. Keykāvus Jahāndārī as Safar-nāma-ye Pūlāk (Īrān wa īrānīān), Tehran, 1982.

Philippe Rochard, “Le ‘sport antique’ des zurkhâne de Téhéran: formes et significations d’une pratique contemporaine,” unpubl. Ph.D. diss., Université Aix-Marseille I, 2000.

Idem, “The Identities of the Zūrkhānah,” tr. Houchang E. Chehabi, Ir. Stud. 35/3, 2002, pp. 313-40.

Moṣṭafā Ṣadiq “Gowd-e moqaddas: peydāyeš-e zur-ḵāna,” Honar o mardom, N.S. no. 145, 1974, pp. 55-62.

Idem, “Negāh-i moḵṭaṣar bar varzeš-e zur-ḵānaʾi dar Irān,” in Majmuʿa-ye maqālāt-e mardom-šenāsi darIrān 1, 1983, pp. 45-78.

Jaʿfar Šahri, Šakar-e talḵ, Tehran, 1968.

Idem, Guša-i az tāriḵ-e ejtemāʾi-e Tehrān-e qadim, Tehran, 1978, pp. 82-93.

Idem, Tāriḵ-e ejtemāʿi-e Tehrān dar qarn-e sizdahom, 6 vols., Tehran, 1990, I, pp. 410-14; V, pp. 244-51.

Noṣrat-Allāh Ṣamimi, “Varzeš,” Irān-e bāstān 2, no. 29, 3 Šahrivar 1313/25 August 1934.

Jamil Ṭāʿi, al-Zurḵānāt al- baḡdādiya, Baghdad, 1986.

Moḥammad-Mahdi Tehrānči, Pažuheš-i dar varzešhā-ye zur-ḵānaʾi, Tehran, 1985.

anahita temple ruins

The Temple of Anahita at Kangavar

The article below on the temple of Anahita in Kangavar near Kermanshah in Western Iran was originally published in the Historical Iran Blogspot.

Before proceeding to the posting, kindly note the following three points:

(1) Two of the photographs depicted below do not appear in  the original Historical Iran Blogspot article. All of the accompanying descriptions for the photographs are from Kavehfarrokh.com.

(2) At the end of the posting are photos provided by A. Parian from his article:

سنگهای شگفت انگیز – نگاهی به پرستشگاه کنگاور- ا. پریان – The Amazing Stones – An observation of the temple at Kangavar – by A. Parian (in Persian)

(3) The date of Kangavar’s construction is debated among scholars. The original consensus was that the structure had been built during the earlier Parthian era (c. 200 BCE). As noted by Mehrdad Kia (The Persian Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO-Greenwood, 2016):

The identification of the Kangavar structure as a temple of Anahita is based on a statement made by the first-century BCE author Isidore of Charax. In his short biographical account titled Parthian Stations, Isidore referred to Kangavar as Concobar and identified the city as home to a temple of Anaitis (Anahita). He did not, however, mention the exact date of the temple’s construction” (Kia, 2016, p.23).

Edward J. Keall has identified the academic challenges of pinpointing precise date(s) for the temple’s construction (Keall, E.J., Architecture: Parthian, Encyclopædia Iranica,Vol. II, Fasc. 3, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986, pp. 327–329):

Under the Parthians any observable western influence can just as well be a survival from the Hellenistic period, which is why the monument at Kangāvar was once acceptably dated as early Parthian while recent investigations proved it to be late Sasanian” (Keall, 1986, p.328).

More recently, Warwick Ball (Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire, London & New York: Routledge, 2001) has stated:

Earlier studies favored a Seleucid date, with some suggesting an Achaemenid date for the platform. A date in the Parthian period has since been more generally favoured on stylistic grounds, but recent excavations found evidence for major Sassanian construction. However the colonnaded temenos is different in almost every respect to Sassanian architecture. Probably, the temple underwent numerous major reconstruction periods, with perhaps a 2nd-century AD date for the colonnaded temenos, and major Sassanian reconstruction of the sanctuary building inside” (Ball, 2001, p.332).

At this juncture, it would appear that Kangavar has witnessed various forms of construction spanning the the three major pre-Islamic eras of ancient Iran (Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian). What is certain is that Kangavar remains a critical historical site which requires more studies and excavations.


The Anahita Temple is the name of an archaeological site in Iran popularly thought to have been attributed to the ancient deity Anahita. It is located at Kangavar in Kermanshah Province and is thought to be built by Achaemenian Emperor Ardeshir II (Artaxerxes II), 404 BC to 359 BC.

1-Kangavar-ColumnsA view of the columns at Kangavar (Source: Photographer Bahman Razei-IRNA in Payvand News). Kangavar’s remains reveal a combination of both Greek and Iranian elements. The edifice for example is Greek in style with the architecture showing Achaemenid designs.

The remains at Kangavar reveal an edifice that is Hellenistic in character, and yet display Persian architectural designs. The plinth’s enormous dimensions for example, which measure just over 200m on a side, and its megalithic foundations, which echo Achaemenid stone platforms, “constitute Persian elements”. This is thought to be corroborated by the “two lateral stairways that ascend the massive stone platform recalling Achaemenid traditions”, particularly that of the Apadana Palace at Persepolis.
The main structure of the Anahita Temple is a quadrilateral one. Its ramparts being 230 m. in length, and its thickness in most of the parts is 18 m. which reveals the archaic grandeur and magnificence of this structure. The stairway of the temple is bilateral and closely attached to the wall. The difference between the lowest and highest point of the structure is 30 m. and is in a form of steps, similar to the Achaemenian structures. At the foot of the eastern wall of the structure is a cemetery which is related to the Parthian era. It is noted that the deceased have been buried in such a way to face the Anahita structure.

2a-Kangavar stairwayStairway at Kangavar (Source: Behrah.com). There are two lateral stairways at Kangavar bearing parallels with that seen at the Apadana Palace at Persepolis.

In the nineteenth century, various Europeans investigated the ruins. Ker Porter in 1818 found them to form the foundations of a single huge platform – a rectangular terrace three hundred yards square, crowned with a colonnade. Professor Jackson in 1906 found one very well-preserved retaining wall at the northwest corner of the enclosure, probably part of the foundation of a single building; it was 12 to 15 feet high and runs north and south for more than 70 feet.

Excavation first began in 1968, by which time the large structure with its great Ionic columns set on a high stone platform had been associated with a comment by Isidore of Charax, that refers to a “temple of Artemis” (Parthian Stations 6). References to Artemis in Iran are generally interpreted to be references to Anahita, and thus Isidore’s “temple of Artemis” came to be understood as a reference to a temple of Anahita. Consequently, it has been commonly believed that the site was a “columnar temple dedicated to “Ardevisur Anahita,” the female guardian angel of waters. Some of the scholars who worked on the excavation believe it lacks the layout of a temple and must therefore be a palace.

2-Kangavar TempleA more panoramic view of the Anahita Temple at Kangavar (Source: Photographer Bahman Razei-IRNA in Payvand News). The very large dimensions for the plinth (platform for placing columns, monuments, statues, etc.) are 200 meters on a side, with stone platforms displaying Achaemenid Persian styles.

The temple was first plundered by Alexander in 335 BC, then further stripped during the reigns of Antigonus (BC 325-301) and Seleucus Nicator (BC 312-280). But when Antiochus the Great arrived at the city in 210 BC, he found columns covered with gold and silver tiles piled up in the temple, along with gold and silver bricks. From these he struck coinage amounting to about four thousand talents’ worth.
In 2005 archaeologists discovered four mines that provided the stones used in the construction of the Anahita Temple.

In an interview with the Persian service of the Cultural Heritage News (CHN) agency, Saeid Dustani (director of the Kangavar Cultural Heritage and Tourism Office) noted the following:

The mines are located in the National Garden in downtown Kangavar, Qureh-Jin and behind the Shahrak-e Vali-e Asr in the south (of the town), and Allah-Daneh district in the north. There is evidence that the mine had been utilized in ancient times. The vertical and horizontal incisions indicate that the stones had been cut for construction purposes. Even some unfinished columns and stone cubes were discovered in some of the mines”.

From the Northern Angle (photos by A. Parian)

These photos by A. Parian are of the north and northeast of the Temple, especially the wall, stairway and balcony facing the northeast.  These photos are from the following article:

سنگهای شگفت انگیز – نگاهی به پرستشگاه کنگاور- ا. پریان – The Amazing Stones – An observation of the temple at Kangavar – by A. Parian (in Persian)

Book Nik Spatari

Italian AGON Journal article: Ties of Greco-Roman civilization with ancient Iran

The AGON academic Journal of Italy (Università degli Studi di Messina; chief editors: Professor Massimo Lagana & Professor Salvatore Albanese) has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh which examines historical ties between Greco-Roman civilization and ancient Iran. The article can be downloaded in full from Academia.edu below:

Farrokh, K. (2016). An Overview of the Artistic, Architectural, Engineering and Culinary exchanges between Ancient Iran and the Greco-Roman World. AGON: Rivista Internazionale di Studi Culturali, Linguistici e Letterari, No.7, pp.64-124.

The article in AGON (Rivista Internazionale di Studi Culturali) begins as thus:

Apharban, the Persian ambassador representing Sassanian king Narses (r. 293-302 CE) during negotiations with the Roman general Galerius1 in the aftermath of his victory over Sassanian forces in 291-293 CE stated the following to his Roman hosts:

It is clear to all mankind that the Roman and Persian empires are like two lights, and like (two) eyes, the brilliance of one should make the other more beautiful and not continuously rage for their mutual destruction” [Peter the Patrician, fragment 13; translation made by Canepa (2010, p. 133)].

The article examines the process and history of the long-standing relations between the Greco-Roman and ancient Iranian civilizations, notably during the during the Achaemenid (559 BCE-333 BCE), Parthian (250 BCE-224 CE) and Sassanian dynasties (224-651 CE). Works of researchers such as Professor Nik Spatari, whose works examining East-West ties in the context of ancient Calabria in southern Italy are also cited:


Professor Nik Sparati (Left) and his book “L’ enigma delle arti Asittite della Calabria Ultra-Mediterranea” (Published by: MuSaBa: Santa Barbera Art Foundation & Iiriti Editore, 2002). Note that the book jacket features the superimposed images of Darius the Great and Persephone (also known as Kore), the Mediterranean Goddess: Spatari has discovered Achaemenid-Persian artistic influences upon the Persephone (Kore) image. Among other ancient Iran-Italy ties, Spatari and his team have also discovered strong parallels between Sassanian architecture and the Basilica di Massenzio.

Architecture is one of the areas examined in detail from the time of the Achaemenids to the end of the Sassanian era. As noted by Professors Curatola and Scarcia a common theory postulates that:

“…domed spaces in Christian buildings in Europe derive from the Armenian model, which, in turn, comes from Sassanian Persia: This can be attributed to geographic proximity and also to the fact that for long periods Armenia was contained within Eranshahr. “ (Curatola & Scarcia, 2007, p. 92).


The Sarvistan palace built in the 300s AD [1], floor plan of Sarvistan by Nik Spatari [2] reconstruction of Sarvistan by Oscar Reuther, “Sasanian Architecture,” in Survey of Persian Art, Figure 152). [3] the Basilica di S. Marco in Veneziana built in the time period of 1100-1300 AD [4] and floor plan of the Basilica di S. Marco (Pictures used in Kaveh Farrokh’’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division and Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006.

Sassanian Iran was to leave a profound legacy on Romano-Byzantine architecture during its tenure in 224-651 CE. As noted in the paper however, architectural influences from ancient Iran can be traced back to the earlier Parthian and Achaemenid eras.

Farrokh Lecture-UBC-Tirgan-YSU

A lecture slide used in instruction for Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division (this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) (Slide is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh). The above slide discusses the parallels discovered by Professor Nik Spatari with respect to the “tri-chamber” design at Firuzabad and the Basilica di Massenzio. The floor plan of Ardashir’s palace and the “tri-chamber” (note yellow arrows) have been outlined by the Calabria research teams who noted of the parallels with the Basilica in Rome.

The ties of the Greco-Romans and ancient Iran are examined in a variety of other contexts besides architecture, notably the arts (Darius-Persephone motif, silverware, motifs such the Senmurv, etc.) and technology (communications, Qanat aqueducts, windmills, etc.).


An example of technology exchanges: an old water wheel in Tehran (Image: Farda News) [at Left]; reconstructed water wheel based on the ancient Persian model from Cordoba, Spain (Image: Graham Beards in Public Domain). The Greco-Roman and ancient Iranian civilizations often engaged in the exchange of technologies in antiquity. The Persian water wheel spread from ancient Iran to Rome (which introduced this technology into Europe) as well as China in antiquity (Kurz, 1985, p.563)

The culinary arts (transmission of cooking styles, exchange of nuts, fruits, etc. ) are also examined. The pistachio plant for example, was first located in the Khorasan and Soghd regions; these were first cultivated in West Khorasan and were unknown by other peoples until the Achaemenid era.


The Achaemenids were the first to commercially grow the pistachio in ancient Iran and export this to neighboring countries more than 2500 years ago (Image: Public Domain). By the Sassanian Era the pistachio was considered a delicatessen (mostly used in baking and in cookies). Pahlavi texts dating to the Sassanian era mention the Gorgani pistachio as especially famous at the time. The Roman world not only adopted the pistachio (already known by Greco-Iranian contacts) and spread this to the European peoples.


The “Wings of Ahura Mazda” perpetuated in the design of the Armenian Khatchkar and other East Christian Crosses

The article below on the “Wings of Ahura Mazda” perpetuated in the design of the Armenian Khatchkar and other East Christian Crosses was written by Masis Panos and originally posted on March 8, 2015 in Understanding of Our Past.



Back in 2010 I had the opportunity to visit the Republic of Armenia. One of the places I visited was the Church of Surp Nshan (Holy Seal) in the town of Aparan in the Aragatsotn province. The Basilica, imbued with the piety of the worshippers that I saw on the Sunday I visited (21/11/10) had some very old stone sculptures in the vicinity. One of the sculptures that caught my eye had a Cross within a circle, with two figures to either side. I wrote about this in 2011. As mentioned in that article, it seemed in style to resemble the Sasanian Drafsh.

Aside from that example, I visited other sites in the Republic of Armenia that year (one of which was Dsegh mentioned in part 1) and in 2011 and encountered other examples of Crosses of a “Drafsh style” and further, were upon Wings.

What is the significance of Wings on such an emblem?

Its significance was clear to me from having read the book published by Osprey, “Rome’s Enemies (3) Parthians and Sassanid Persians” by Peter Wilcox with superb illustrations by the late Angus McBride.
Both on its cover and inside is shown a Plate by Angus with a Sasanian cavalryman carrying a Drafsh. It has Wings on it, said to represent Ahura Mazda, and is surmounted with a Sun upon a Crescent.
The Standard (Drafsh) is said to be of Fars, the heartland of the Sasanian dynasty.

Since my teenage years I had been aware of the Khatchkar and its own significance in Armenian culture, how even after the Armenian community would have gone, these edifices would somehow survive to testify of the culture that made it. Of course such edifices cannot resist well planned destruction as was meted out to the remaining Armenian Khatchkars of Julfa, now part of the Republic of Azerbaijan, by its own soldiery.

Seeing such early depictions of a Cross and ones with Wings, I began to realise that the “stereotypical” Khatchkar we Armenians think of, with its rich interlacing framing an ornate Cross with what to me looked like “flourishes” under the Cross, had evolved from these early depictions I had seen. The “flourishes” on the early examples were depicted as Wings.

Part 1

In August of 2010 I went with my cousin and his friends on a very quick, unplanned, tour around the Aragatsotn province, stopping at a site for ten minutes on average.

One of the places we visited the Church of Mughni.

Due to the tour being spur-of-the moment I only had my Mobile Phone to take photos with.

Below is a photo I took on my phone showing a section of a Pillar, outside the Church of Mughni.
Also a sketch I made of the Pillar, with the basic shape shown in grey with the Cross/Drafsh shown in black. Itself is upon a Pedestal which also has a Cross/Drafsh on it. Both are hewn from a dark coloured Tufa.


2-Mughni SteleLater that year, in November, I visited the Lori province.

One of the places visited was Dsegh.

In this remote region we walked for a while and then came across an very old cemetery with a few ancient monuments still standing.

This one, according to the Armenian Ministry of Culture‘s website as well as the SOSCulture website, is dated to between the 5th – 7th centuries yet it has an inscription on its southern side dated to the 13th century in the name of an unchronicled “Vahram Mamikonian“. A Khatchkar nearby, dated to the 13th century, is said in both websites to have been sculpted by a “master Vahram”. Very confusing. There was a “Prince Mamikonian” who ruled the area in the 13th century. The reference both in the Armenian Ministry of Culture and SOSCulture websites to a “master Vahram” for the 13th century Khatchkar may be that it is dedicated to the Prince and what is insribed on the 5th – 7th monument may be attempting to link it to his family. Suffice to say, the monument that interests us is officially dated to between the 5th – 7th centuries.

3-Dsegh Vartan monument 3The Dsegh Vartan monument (Source: Masis Panos)

4-Dsegh Vartan monument 2Another view of the Dsegh Vartan monument (Source: Masis Panos)

This is a close up of the Cross of the base. Note how like the Pillar at Mugni, this Cross/Drafsh is on a three-stepped base and also has a “Latin” type Cross like the Pedestal of the Mughni monument.

5-Dsegh Vartan monumentClose up of the Dsegh Vartan monument (Source: Masis Panos).

6-Dsegh CrossDrawing of the Dsegh Cross (Source: Masis Panos).

In 2011 I again visited the Republic of Armenia.

One of the places I visited was Talin and its ancient Cathedral. There was also a small Chapel, dedicated to the “Mother of God” and was built either in 639 or 689 AD by Prince Nerseh Kamsarakan. Outside the Chapel there a monument, made from a dark Tufa, with the base restored, one of the sides depicts Mary with Jesus, surrounded by Angels.

7-Nerseh Chapel 4The Nerseh Chapel (Source: Masis Panos).

8-Nerseh Chapel 3Another view of the Nerseh Chapel (Source: Masis Panos).

This may be a tomb as well as a monument, perhaps to Nerseh. On one side of the pillar is depicted a man, wearing a Kaftan or Chokha. His costume and manner is similar to the depiction of King Cyaxares at his tomb in Qizqapan (Surdash, Dukan district, As Sulaymaniyah province, Autonomous Kurdish Region, Iraq).

9-CyaxaresDepiction of King Cyaxares at his tomb in Qizqapan (Surdash, Dukan district, As Sulaymaniyah province, Autonomous Kurdish Region, Iraq) Source: Masis Panos).

Hardly likely a fluke that they are depicted in a similar way, even if 1,200 years seperated them.
The Kamsarakan were of Parthian origin. An Iranian people. Cyaxares was king of the Medes, an Iranian people. What we see is Nerseh, proud of his roots and a wish to be depicted in a traditional manner.

There is more depicted on this monument outside the Chapel.

10-Talin Nerseh ChapelTalin Nerseh Chapel (Source: Masis Panos).

11-Nerseh Chapel 2-1Close-up of the base of monument at Talin Nerseh Chapel (Source: Masis Panos).

Here we again see a Cross with two Wings under it, very like the example on the 5th- 7th century Dsegh Cemetery monument.
Part 2
What is the significance of two Wings and why under the Cross? We saw in”Rome’s Enemies (3) Parthians and Sassanid Persians” by Peter Wilcox and Angus McBride the “Standard of Fars” on the cover, being carried by a Sasanian cavalryman.
Khusro II wore a crown that bore two Wings with a Star upon a Crescent, obviously the “Standard of Fars”, seen on all his coins.
12-Khusro II
Sketch of the crown of Khosrow II (Source: Masis Panos).
Below is a Stucco decoration with the name of a Sasanian King upon a Crescent on two Wings. The name, in Sasanian Pahlavi, is Shapur. There were four Kings with that name (Shapur I, II, III and IV). However, since Shapur II reigned the longest (309-379) it is likely from his reign.

Below is a Stucco decoration with the name of a Sasanian King upon a Crescent on two Wings. The name, in Sasanian Pahlavi, is Shapur. There were four Kings with that name (Shapur I, II, III and IV). However, since Shapur II reigned the longest (309-379) it is likely from his reign.

13-Sass StuccoStucco decoration with the name of a Sasanian King upon a Crescent on two Wings (Source: CAIS).

A stucco roundel of a Ram, from the Sasanian era found in the ancient city of Kish in Iraq. The Ram was associated with the god of Victory, Verethragna.

13a-Sassanian StuccoSassanian stucco roundel of a Ram, from the Sasanian era found in the ancient city of Kish in Iraq (Source: Pinterest).

Below is a drawing I made of a Drafsh shown in a fragment of a Wall Hanging depicting figures in Persian Dress, dated to the late 6th–early 7th centuries AD. Made in the Eastern Mediterranean. Now housed in the Benaki Museum, Athens.

13b-Sass fragmentDrafsh depicted in a fragment of a Wall Hanging with figures attired in Persian Dress, late 6th–early 7th centuries AD (Source: Met Museum).

14-Detail from textileDrawing of the Drafsh  in the fragment housed in the Benaki Museum, Athens (Source: Masis Panos).

So the Wings represent Ahura Mazda, the “Standard of Fars” was totemic of the Sasanian dynasty and their firm adherence to the worship of Ahura Mazda above any other deity.

To try and make some dative sense of these examples:
The example of the “Stucco of Shapur“, above, dates either from:
240-272 (Shapur I) or 309-379 (Shapur II) or 383-388 (Shapur III) or 420 (Shapur IV)

Khusro II was the first Sasanian king to wear the “Standard of Fars” on his coinage.
His reign was from 590 – 628 AD.
The Drafsh shown in the textile from the Benaki museum, dated to between 580 – 620 AD (late 6th–early 7th centuries) and likely to be from the reign of Khusro II and may be a variation of the “Standard of Fars”.
The fragment of a pillar outside the Church of Saint George in Mughni, is likely older than the Church (dated to the 14th Century) from its archaic style. It may or may not have come from its vicinity. The Wings look like Wings, with little stylisation.
The Dsegh Cemetery monument (or tomb) is offically dated to between the 5th- 7th centuries. 
The Wings still look like Wings, with some slight stylisation.
The monument (or tomb) dedicated by Prince Nerseh Kamsarakan is dated to either 639 or 689 AD.
The Wings have taken on some stylisation, they have a “flourish” to them.
Why are these ancient Crosses in the Republic of Armenia using Sasanian emblemology?
Part 3
The said Christianisation of Armenia is given as the year 301 AD, and this would post-date the fall of the Arsacids in Iran to the Sasanians in 224 AD. Therefore all the Crosses that are depicted with Wings would date from the Sasanian era.
The two Wings would become very stylised in the Khatchkar designs of subsequent centuries, with their meaning perhaps being lost in the process.
Some examples:
A Khatchkar from the vicinity of the Church of Saint Gayane. The Church was founded in 630 AD. However in comparison to the Khatchkar of Nerseh Kamsarakan (639 – 689 AD) the Wings on this Khatchkar are stylised.

15-Saint Gayane EtchmiadzinKhatchkar in vicinity of Church of Saint Gayane (Source: Masis Panos).

A Khatchkar from inside the Cathedral of Aruch, dated to between 661-682 AD. Note the similarity of the “Ribbons” under the Wings to the those on the Stucco Ram in Part 2.

16-Aruchavank Khatchkar from inside the Cathedral of Aruch (Source: Masis Panos).

A Khatchkar from the Dadivank Monastery Complex. Said to have been founded by Saint Thaddeus in the 1st century, the actual complex was built between the 9th and 13th centuries. Note how the Wings have become stylised.

17-Dadivank KhtachkarKhatchkar from the Dadivank Monastery Complex (Source: Masis Panos).

Three Khatchkars from the Noratus cemetry complex. Though it dates at least to the 10th century most of the Khatchkars date from the 16th century when the region was under the control of the Safavid Persian Empire. Note the elaborate designs, the Wings have become plant like.

18-NoratusKhatchkars from the Noratus cemetry complex (Source: Masis Panos).

What these examples show is a gradual stylisation of the Wings through the centuries as the original meaning of them is forgotten.

The East Syriac and Nestorian Churches also have examples of Crosses with “Wings” under them.
It is worth noting that these Churches had been for the most part developed and spread in the Sasanian Empire.

19-Kottakkavu_Sliva_founded_by_Mar_Sabor_and_Mar_ProthThe Persian Cross in the Mar Thoma Church of North Paravur in Kerala (Source: Masis Panos).

Above is what is known as a “Persian Cross” that is said to have been carved by Mar (Saint) Sabor and Mar Proth, two East Syriac Monks who arrived, by invitation, in the southern Indian Kingdom of Quilon in 825 AD. More can be read about them by clicking the link to the Wikipedia page to save digressing. This style, in a circle, is similar to the Cross outside the Basilica of Surp Nshan mentioned in the introduction and also on the Pillar in the vicinity of Mughni Church. An example is shown below of a similar Cross, this is from what is known as the “Main Church” of the ancient city of Petra.

20-Petra churchCross at the Church from Petra (Source: Nabataea).

Whilst the Aramaic was the language of Petra, the city, in its time under Christianity, was ruled by the Roman Empire. In the Cathedral of Etchmiadzin in the Republic of Armenia is a very early Christian sculpture, with Greek verses, showing the Chi-Rho within a circle.

21-Etchmiadzin_Cathedral_cross_relief_with_Greek_inscriptionsThe cross relief with Greek inscriptions at Etchmiadzin Cathedral (Source: Masis Panos).

Until the year 405 AD, when it got its own Alphabet, the Kingdom of Armenia used either Aramaic or Greek for its inscriptions. So this relic in Etchmiadzin might date no later than 405 AD.
The circle is likely a stylised Wreath. An example below shows a Roman Ivory carving, circa 350 AD with the Chi-Rho within a Wreath. In pre-Christian Greece and Rome the Wreath signified Victory. (Note also the two Doves to either side in both the Etchmiadzin and Ivory carving examples.)

22-Anastasis_Pio_Christiano_Inv31525Roman Ivory carving, circa 350 AD with the Chi-Rho within a Wreath (Source: Masis Panos).

In the same region of India where the “Persian Cross” is to be found, the Cross that is known as the Saint Thomas Cross is very common.

23-Mar_Thoma_SlivaSaint Thomas Cross (Source: Public Domain).

he Wings have become two Lotus Flowers in “a nod” to the dominant Vedic religion of the region as well as Buddhism. Also the Ribbon seen on the Stucco Ram and Cross of Aruch has become stylised.
Note also how it is upon a three stepped base, as seen in the Cross/Drafsh of Mughni and Dsegh in the Republic of Armenia in Part 1.
Though this Christian activity in Kerala seems to date from the 9th century it seems that the East Syriac Monks who would have come from Iraq, during the Abbasid Caliphate, took with them a style of Cross that had an long heritage in the region. Though it seems that after two hundred years after the fall of the Sasanian dynasty the meaning of the Wings had been forgotten.
As has been already mentioned, the East Syriac Church historically had been for the most part under the rule of the Sasanian Empire until the invasion by the Arab Caliphate. The Nestorian Church also found refuge in the Sasanian Empire and flourished within it, even spreading beyond it to the east.

Below are some examples of East Syriac Crosses found by the excavation work carried out by the St. Louis Community College. This is a fragmented Stucco panel found in 1995 by Hadar Selou, 100 cm deep, at the site of Tell Tuneinir, near al-Hasakah in Syria.

24-crossHadarsPhotoFragmented Stucco panel discovered at the site of Tell Tuneinir, near al-Hasakah in Syria (Source: stlcc.edu).

The Cross is described “resembles a Medieval Khatchkar, Armenian stone cross” but from what is being demonstrated here, there is a reason for this similarity, this style likely originates from the region, during the Sasanian Empire, than been brought exclusively from Armenia.

Al-Hasakah is by the Khabur river, a tributary of the Euphrates. This would have been a border region between the Roman and Sasanian Empires from the 4th-7th centuries.

Another relic found in the excavations at Tell Tuneinir, found at the site of the monastery of Beth Kadeshy in 2001 by the St. Louis Community College.

25-TNRArea9CrossRelic found in the excavations at Tell Tuneinir (Source: stlcc.edu).

Below is the description given:

Broken fragments of a molded stucco footstone associated with the burial of a bishop or abbot in the center of the main entrance of the monastery.”

Professor Michael Fuller interprets the image on the footstone as the Cross of Christ with a piece of fabric blown around its base. This would apply to the story of the resurrection of Christ and the empty burial shroud left behind in His tomb. The imagery is of the cross and resurrection.”

However, we see the precedents of this style of Cross. What is thought of as a shroud could be stylised Wings. Another find from the excavations:

26-redCrossRightwaysThe above is described as: “Painted cross fragment from Square 16, locus 02 (stone registry number 1162); discovered by James Walker during the 1999 field season. The surviving fragment measures 14.5 cm in length, 9.2 cm in width, and 1.1 cm thick. It weighs 284.4 grams.” (Source: stlcc.edu).

Further afield, in modern China, is a monument created by the Nestorian community in 781 AD during the Tang Dynasty, known simply as the “Nestorian Stele”. Atop of the edifice is a Cross.

27-Nestorian CrossSketch of the Nestorian Cross in China (Source: Masis Panos). Here is how it is described in “By Foot To China” by John M. L. Young, 1984: “The Cross sculptured on the famous Nestorian Monument-at Hsi-an-fu. It stands in the middle of a dense cloud which is symbolic of Muhammadanism, and upon a lotus, which symbolises Buddhism; its position indicates the triumph of the Luminous Religion of Christ over the religions of Muhammad and the Buddha. The sprays of flowers, one on each side, are said to indicate rebirth and joy.” Again, seeing the precedent of the “Standard of Fars” of the Sasanian era, the “dense cloud” could be stylized Wings.

Below is a sketch of a stucco Cross found during the excavations at Failaka, a small island near Kuwait in 1989. The find site is known as “the southern Chapel”.

28-SketchSketch of a stucco Cross found during the excavations at Failaka (Source: pazhayathu.blogspot).

Some of the Christian communities, such as in Qatar, ended by the late 7th century but in the region of Kuwait it is thought to have survived into the 9th century. In the above example we can see how the Wings on this Cross have become stylized.


The type of Cross within a stylised Wreath may derive from the missionary activity from the Roman Empire. That Cross derives from the Chi-Rho monogram.

The use of the Ahura Mazda Wings on Cross emblems stems from those regions being under the rule of the Sasanian Empire. (It is more likely this type of emblemology was used to show loyalty to the Sasanian Empire than to show rebellion.). These two types, surviving examples to be found in the modern Republic of Armenia, to me demonstrates the political and military “tug of war” that took place over the Kingdom of Armenia from the 3rd to 7th centuries by Rome and Persia.

It is not exclusive to the Armenian region, as examples show this style of Winged Cross in the East Syriac communities of Iraq and their own activities into India and China.

So how could the “Wings of Ahura Mazda” be used on the Cross, associated with Jesus Christ?
Ultimately it may have been about showing the Magi and the Sasanian rulers that Jesus was about Goodness and was compatible with the Zoroastrian state religion.

Christians in the Sasanian Empire had to prove that they were not a “fifth column” for the Christian Roman Empire and so a use of a Zoroastrian emblem in depicting the Cross may have been a way of showing this loyalty. The part of Armenia that had come under Sasanian rule and also the numerous Christian communities of Iraq would have (and did) create such a “hybrid” motif as has been shown in this article.

After the fall of the Sasanian Empire, in the mid 7th century, these Christian communities would continue to make stone Crosses and use the Wings but gradually the meaning of the Wings was lost and their depiction became ever more stylised to the extent that modern research puzzles over their meaning, such as “Lotus Flowers” for the St. Thomas Cross or on the Nestorian Stele, or a “Shroud” in the Cross excavated at Tell Tuneinir in Syria.

Certainly in the case with the famous Armenian Khatchkar, stylisation went far indeed, as shown in a final photo below. This is a row of Khatchkars of various styles from the Kecharis Monastery in the Republic of Armenia.

The Monastery was founded by the Pahlavuni family in the 11th century. Note the Khatchkar on the left where the Wings have turned into arms, hands at the end hold Crosses.

29-Kecharis Row of Khatchkars of various styles from the Kecharis Monastery in the Republic of Armenia (Source: Masis Panos).

This finding should not imply that the Wings of Ahura Mazda do not belong on a Christian edifice but that Armenians and East Syriac Christians can take pride in the rich heritage of their Christian culture and that the Sasanian Empire was not as anti-Christian as is often made out in the Christian propaganda that I have read, as an Armenian of the Armenian Apostolic Church (as for example in the legend of St. Sarkis).
Rather they were capable of coexistence.

A lesson indeed for the modern world.