The God-Idea of the Ancients
The name of one of the oldest deities of which we have any record
is Set (Phoenician) or Seth (Hebrew). Traces of this God are
found in all oriental countries; and in the most primitive
religions, whose traditions are still extant, he (or she) appears
as the supreme God. After the subjection of Egypt by the
stranger kings and the consequent introduction into the country
of Sabianism, the dual creative force residing in the sun is
represented by Seth. We are told that Seth signifies "appointed
or put in the place of the murdered Abel."
That there is some deep mystery connected with this subject none
who has studied it carefully can help observing.
According to the story of creation as set forth in the Jehovistic
account, on Saturday night, after God had finished his work, and
immediately after he had commanded Adam to "be fruitful," he
presents him with a staff, which we observe is handed down to
Enoch and all the patriarchs. Here the mystery deepens, for it
is declared that this staff was presented so Seth, and that it
was a branch of the Tree of Life.
That beneath this allegory is veiled a contest, or perhaps a
compromise, between the worshippers of two distinct sects, seems
altogether probable. That the handing down of this branch of the
Tree of Life, first to Adam, or man, by Aleim, and its subsequent
transference to Seth, the God of Nature, the Destroyer or
Regenerator, seems to indicate a victory for the adherents of a
purer religion. The translator of Kallimachus says: "It is well
known to the learned reader that the descendants of Cain are
distinguished in Scripture by the name of the sons of man or
Adam; those of Seth by the name of the sons of God." Gen. vi.,
2. It is stated in Julius Africanus that all the righteous
men and patriarchs down to the Saviour himself have sprung from
Seth and have been denominated as the sons of God in
contradistinction to the sons of man.
 Forlong, Rivers of Life, vol. i., p. 527.
Doubtless at the time indicated by the transference of the
creative agency from Aleim to Adam, the worship of an abstract
principle, or of a Trinity composed of the powers of Nature, was
losing its hold on the minds of the people, and the creative
power, or the reproductive energy in human beings, was rapidly
taking the place of the older Deity. These higher principles
forgotten, Adam, or man, had become the Creator.
It is not improbable that the terms Adam, Cain, Abel, and Seth
have an esoteric meaning which for ages was known only to the
priests. From various facts which in later times are being
brought forward regarding the ancient myths of Genesis, it is
believed that these names originally stood for races of men, and
that subsequently certain religious doctrines came to be attached
to them. The offering of fruit by Cain, the elder brother, who
was a tiller of the ground, and that of flesh by Abel, who was a
keeper of sheep, indicates a quarrel which ended in the death of
the latter. After the death of Abel, or after one of these
principles or sects was subdued, the older religion was revived,
and Seth, as the Aleim, or as the creative power within the sun,
was "appointed" or again worshipped.
It would seem that Seth was appointed to represent the third
person in the ancient Trinity–the Destroyer or Regenerator which
had previously come to embody all the powers of the Creator and
Preserver. The fact has been observed that the very ancient
philosophers believed matter to be eternal, hence, seeming death,
or destruction, was necessary to renewed life or regeneration.
In other words, creation was but continuous change in the form of
Of the doctrines of the Sethians extant at the beginning of
Christianity, Hippolytus says that their system "is made up of
tenets from natural philosophers. These tenets embrace a belief
in the Eternal Logos–Darkness, Mist, and Tempest." These
elements subsequently became identified with the Evil Principle,
or the Devil. The cold of winter, the darkness of night, and
water, were finally set forth as the Trinity. Regarding cold,
darkness, and water, or darkness, mist, and tempest, Hippolytus
"These the Sethian says are the three principles of our system;
or when he states that three were born in paradise– Adam, Eve,
the serpent; or when he speaks of three persons, namely, Cain,
Abel, Seth, and again of three others, Shem, Ham, Japheth; or
when he mentions three patriarchs–Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; or when
he speaks of three days before the sun, etc."
The same writer says that their entire system is derived from the
ancients; that, antecedent to the Eleusinian mysteries, were
enacted by them the ceremonies connected with the worship of the
 Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies, book v., ch. 15.
We have observed that through some process not thoroughly
understood at the present time, the adherents of the older faith
had succeeded in reinstating their Deity. The powers of Nature
had come to be represented by Typhon Seth. It was the God of
Death and of Life, of Destruction and Regeneration. The simoom
of the desert and the cold of winter were Seth, as were also the
genial powers of Spring. We are informed by various writers that
Typhon Seth was feminine. She was the early God of the Jews. In
other words, the Jews were formerly worshippers of a female
Deity. Jehovah, Iav, was originally female.
Although the secret meaning of all the allegories contained in
the Old Testament is not fully understood, still the belief that
Cain, Abel, and Seth represented the self-triplicated Deity at a
time when the idea of man as a creator had been accepted, or when
his power to reproduce was becoming the highest idea of a
creative force, is consistent with what is known of the Cabala of
the Jews, or of the esoteric meaning of the Jewish scriptures
formerly known only to the priests. In other words, the ancient
doctrines, the true meaning of which was no longer understood by
them, were patched together as a basis for the later developments
in Jewish religious experience.
We have seen that six hundred years after Adam appears Noah,
another self-triplicated Saviour or preserver of man, with his
ark or seed vessel, beneath which is veiled the female element.
Afterward Abraham becomes the Great Father or Saviour, and later
Moses. That, in the time of the latter, the more ancient worship
of a creative force in Nature represented by the Aleim, had, by
the masses of the people, been wholly lost, is evident from the
Old Testament writings. The worship of the Father, the male
power, in opposition to that of the Mother, or the female power,
constituted the religion of Moses. In the religion of the Jews,
Jehovah came to be regarded as wholly male and as spirit, while
Edam (translated "downward tending"), the female principle, was
matter, or woman, which finally became identified with the Devil.
The philosophical doctrine that spirit is evolved through matter,
or that matter must be raised to a certain dynamical power before
spirit can manifest itself through it, was no longer understood;
only the husks of this doctrine –the myths and symbols of
Nature-worship–remained; these were taken literally, and thus
man's religion was made to conform to his lowered estate.
When man had so far gained the ascendancy over woman as to assert
that he is the sole Creator of their joint offspring, he was no
longer of the earth earthy, but at once became the child of
heaven. He was, however, bound to earth through his association
with matter, or with woman, from whom he was unable to free
himself. The "sons of God" were united "to the daughters of
man." Jahvah, the "God of hosts," who was revengeful, weak,
jealous, and cruel, was worshipped in the place of Aleim the
great dual force throughout Nature. The ethereal, spiritual male
essence resided somewhere in the heavens and created from afar,
while the earth (female) furnished only the body or material
In the history of the god Seth is to be found a clue to the way
in which the sublime and philosophical doctrines of the ancients,
after their true meaning was forgotten, were finally changed so
as to conform to the enforced humiliation and degradation of
Seth or Typhon was for ages worshipped throughout Egypt, and as
she comprehended the powers of Nature, or the creative energy
residing in the sun and earth, little is heard of any other god.
Strange it is, however, that Seth is worshipped more in her
capacity as Destroyer than as Regenerator. So soon as we
understand the origin and character of the Devil, and so soon as
we divest ourselves of the false ideas which under a state of
ignorance and gross sensuality came to prevail relative to the "powers of darkness," we shall perceive that his (or her) Satanic
majesty was once a very respectable personage and a powerful
Divinity–a Divinity which was worshipped by a people whose
superior intelligence can scarcely be questioned. Regarding this
subject Higgins remarks:
"Persons who have not given much consideration to these subjects
will be apt to wonder that any people should be found to offer
adoration to the evil principle; but they do not consider that,
in all these recondite systems, the evil principle, or the
Destroyer, or Lord of Death, was at the same time the
Regenerator. He could not destroy but to reproduce, and it was
probably not till this principle began to be forgotten, that the
evil being, per se, arose; for in some nations this effect seems
to have taken place. Thus Baal-Zebub is, in Iberno Celtic, Baal
Lord, and Zab Death, Lord of Death; but he is also called Aleim,
the same as the God of the Israelites; and this is right, because
he was one of the Trimurti or Trinity.
"If I be correct respecting the word Aleim being feminine, we
here see the Lord of Death of the feminine gender; but the
Goddess Ashtaroth or Astarte, the Eoster of the Germans, was also
called Aleim. Here again Aleim is feminine, which shows that I
am right in making Aleim the plural feminine. Thus we have
distinctly found Aleim the Creator (Gen. i., 1), Aleim the
Preserver, and Aleim the Destroyer, and this not by inference,
but literally expressed."
 Anacalypsis, ch. ii., p. 66.
At one period of their history the Hebrews worshipped Ashtaroth
and Baal, they together representing the great Aleim, the
indivisible God, but after the Israelites had chosen the worship
of the male principle as an independent deity, or as the only
important agency in the creative processes, as Baal might not be
represented aside from his counterpart Ashtaroth, he was no
longer adored but came to stand for something "approaching the
Devil." Forlong has observed the fact that, although in Hebrew
Baal is masculine, in the Greek translations he is feminine both
in the Old and New Testaments. Forlong, Rivers of Life, p. 223.
Jehovah was originally female, so, also, was Netpe the Holy
Spirit of the Egyptian Tree of Life. We are given to understand
that Netpe was the same as Rhea, the partner of Sev or Saturn,
and that her hieroglyphic name was "Abyss of Heaven." Osiris was
the son of this goddess who was really a Mai or Mary, the
Celestial Mother, he being the only God of the Egyptians who was
born upon this earth and lived among men. Of this Forlong
remarks: "His birthplace was Mount Sinai; called by the Egyptians
Nysa, hence his Greek name Dionysos."
As the Palm was the first offering of Mother Earth to her
children, so Osiris was the first offspring of the Egyptian
Celestial Virgin to mankind. He was the new sun which through
the winter months had been "buried," but which in process of time
arose to gladden all the earth. He was also the new Sun of
Righteousness which was to renew the world, or redeem mankind
The female principle for the time being cast out of the Deity,
Osiris, the male element, now outwardly assumes the position of
supreme God. It was, however, reserved for a later and more
sensuous age to permanently adopt an absurdity so opposed to all
established ideas relative to a creative force in Nature and in
man. Seth, the Destroyer, had been deposed, but, so deeply
rooted in the human mind had become the idea of a female Creator,
that Isis, the Queen of Heaven, a somewhat lower conception of
Muth, or of universal womanhood, soon assumed the place of Seth
beside Osiris. Later in the history of Egypt, when the gods have
become greatly multiplied, and the original significance of the
deity obscured, Horus, the child and the third member in the
later Egyptian triad, not unfrequently appears in her place as
one of the eight great gods.
The fact is observed that the history of Osiris is not alone the "history of the circle of the year, or of the sun dying away and
resuscitating itself again, but that it is also the history of
the cycle of 600." It has been said that of the component
elements of his hieroglyphical name, Isis is the first, and that
the name Osiris really signifies the "Eye of Isis."
According to Plutarch, Isis and Muth are identical, but from the
evidence at hand it is plain that Muth comprehends divine
womanhood, or the female principle as it was regarded at an
earlier stage of human growth. Muth is not only the parent of
the sun, or the force which produces the sun, but she is also
Wisdom, the first emanation from the Deity, at the same time that
she comprehends all the possibilities of Nature. Isis seems to
represent the Deity at a time when the higher truths known to a
more ancient people were beginning to lose their hold upon the
Renouf informs us that the word Maat, or Muth, means Law, "not in
that forensic sense of command issued either by a human sovereign
authority, or by a divine legislator, like the laws of the
Hebrews, but in the sense of that unerring order which governs
the universe, whether in its physical or its moral aspect."
The same writer observes further that Maat "is called mistress of
Heaven, ruler of earth, and president of the nether world," and
in a further description of the conception embodied in this
Deity, refers to the fact that while she is the mother of the sun
she is also the first emanation from God.
 The Religion of Ancient Egypt, p. 126.
Although Typhon Seth was long worshipped as the sole Deity in
Egypt, in later ages the god-idea came to be represented by Seth
and Osiris. Toward the close of Typhon Seth's reign, Horus, the
child, the young sun, was represented "as rising from his
hiding-place, attracting beneficent vapors to return them back as
dews, which the Egyptians called the tears of Isis."
Seth and Osiris represent a division of the Deity. Osiris, as
the sun, represents heat; as man, or as god, he stands for
desire. Seth or Typhon stands for the cold of winter, the simoom
of the desert, or the "wind that blasts." Seth, Osiris, and
Horus constitute a Trinity of which Muth is the Great Mother.
Finally, with the gradual ascendancy of male influence and power,
it is observed that Seth appears as the brother of Osiris.
It is the opinion of Bunsen that the fundamental idea of Osiris
and Set was "not merely the glorification of the sun, but was
also the worship of the primitive creative power." But, as in
Egypt the creative agency was regarded as both female and male,
the former being in the ascendancy, this fact of itself would
seem to determine the sex and position of Seth.
 History of Egypt, vol. iv., p. 319.
In the ideas concerning Seth and Osiris may be observed something
of the manner in which the fructifying agencies of the sun and
the reproductive power in human beings were blended and together
worshipped as the Deity; while through the history of these gods
are to be traced some of the processes by which the idea of the
Creator was changed from female to male.
In all countries, at a certain stage in the history of religion,
the transference of female deified power to mortal man may be
observed. In the attempt to change Seth or Typhon into a male
God may be noted perhaps the first effort in Egypt to dethrone,
or lessen the female power in the god-idea.
The fact seems plain that the Great Typhon Seth, or Set, who
conferred on the sovereigns of the eighteenth and nineteenth
dynasties of Egypt "the symbols of life and power," was none
other than the primitive Regenerator or Destroyer, who was for
ages worshipped as the God of Nature the Aleim, or the
life-giving energy throughout the universe.
We have observed that when the profound principles underlying the
most ancient doctrines had been lost or forgotten, and when
through the decay of philosophy, and through the stimulation of
the sensual in human nature, mankind had lost the power to reason
abstractly, Destruction, which was symbolized by darkness or the
absence of the sun's rays, finally became the evil principle, or
the Devil. Darkness and cold, which had formerly been worshipped
as the powers which brought forth the sun, or as mother of the
sun, in process of time became the agency which is ever warring
with good and which is constantly destroying that which the
latter brings forth.
We are informed by Forlong that "some derive our term Devil from
Niphl or Nevil, the wind that blasts or obstructs the growth of
corn; and it used sometimes to be written th' evil, which is
D'evil or Devil."
It was "this Dualistic heresy which separated the Zend or Persian
branch of the Aryans from their Vedic brethren, and compelled
them to emigrate to the westward."
 See Rawlinson, Notes on the Early History of Babylon.
The ancient philosophical truth that matter is eternal, and that
the destruction of vegetable life through the agency of cold was
one of the necessary processes of re-generation, or the renewal
of life, had evidently been lost sight of at the time when Seth
was dethroned in Egypt. Wilkinson informs us that "both Seth and
Osiris were adored until a change took place respecting Seth,
brought about apparently by foreign influence." Sethi or Sethos,
a ruler whose reign represents the Augustan age of Egyptian
splendor, received his name from this Deity. It is said that
during the twentieth dynasty Seth is suddenly portrayed as the
principle of evil "with which is associated sin." Consequently
all the effigies of this great Goddess were destroyed and all her
names and inscriptions "which could be reached" were effaced.
Bunsen tells us that Schelling, who has made a study of Egyptian
mythology, although totally ignorant of the later historical
facts which by means of hieroglyphical monuments have been
obtained, had arrived at the conclusion that Seth had occupied an
important position in the Deity down to the fourteenth century
B.C. "Schelling had on mere speculative grounds been brought to
lay down as a postulate that Typhon, at some early period, had
been considered by the Egyptians as a beneficent and powerful
Wilkinson says that the character given to Seth, who was called
Baal-Seth and the God of the Gentiles, "is explained by his being
the cause of evil." We are assured that formerly "Sin the great
serpent, or Apophis the giant, was distinct from Seth who was a
deity and a part of the divine system. But after the recondite
principles underlying sun-worship were lost or forgotten; when
cold and darkness, or the sinking away of the sun's rays, which
are necessary to the reappearance of light and warmth, came to be
regarded as the destructive element, or the evil principle, woman
became identified with this principle. She was the producer of
evil, and came to be represented in connection with a serpent as
the cause of all earthly or material things. She is Destruction,
but not Regeneration. She is in fact matter. The cold of winter
and the darkness of night, which are necessary to the return of
the sun's warmth and which were formerly set forth as a
beneficent mother who brings forth the sun, became only the evil
principle–that which obscures the light. In fact Darkness or
absence of the sun's heat has become the Devil. It is the "cause
of evil in the world."
With woman blinded by superstition, with every instinct of the
female nature outraged, and with her position as the central
figure in the Deity and in the family usurped, her temples were
soon profaned, her images defiled, and the titles representing
her former greatness transferred to males.
There is no doubt but this doctrine was the legitimate outcome of
the decay of female influence. Through the further stimulation
of the lower nature of man its absurdity gradually increased,
until under the system calling itself Christian it finally
reached its height. This subject will be referred to later in
When we remember that the original representation of the Deity
among the nations of the earth consisted of a female figure
embracing a child, and when we observe that subsequently in the
development of the god-idea woman appears associated with a
serpent as the cause of evil in the world, the history of the God
Seth, who, as we have seen, represented the processes of Nature,
namely Destruction and Regeneration, seems quite significant as
indicating some of the actual processes involved in this change.
There can be little doubt that the facts relating to this Deity
indicate the source whence has sprung the great theological dogma
underlying Christianity, that woman is the cause of evil in the
This above section was created by Philipp Lenssen. Source: Burt Gamble, Eliza, God Idea of the Ancients or Sex in Religion 1897.
The Gods of the Phoenicians also Kings of Atlantis
Not alone were the gods of the Greeks the deified kings of Atlantis, but we find that the mythology of the Phoenicians was drawn from the same source.
For instance, we find in the Phoenician cosmogony that the Titans (Rephaim) derive their origin from the Phoenician gods Agrus and Agrotus. This connects the Phoenicians with that island in the remote west, in the midst of ocean, where, according to the Greeks, the Titans dwelt.
According to Sanchoniathon, Ouranos was the son of Autochthon, and, according to Plato, Autochthon was one of the ten kings of Atlantis. He married his sister Ge. He is the Uranos of the Greeks, who was the son of Gaea (the earth), whom he married. The Phoenicians tell us, "Ouranos had by Ge four sons: Ilus (El), who is called Chronos, and Betylus (Beth-El), and Dagon, which signifies bread-corn, and Atlas (Tammuz?)." Here, again, we have the names of two other kings of Atlantis. These four sons probably represented four races, the offspring of the earth. The Greek Uranos was the father of Chronos, and the ancestor of Atlas. The Phoenician god Ouranos had a great many other wives: his wife Ge was jealous; they quarrelled, and he attempted to kill the children he had by her. This is the legend which the Greeks told of Zeus and Juno. In the Phoenician mythology Chronos raised a rebellion against Ouranos, and, after a great battle, dethroned him. In the Greek legends it is Zeus who attacks and overthrows his father, Chronos. Ouranos had a daughter called Astarte (Ashtoreth), another called Rhea. "And Dagon, after he had found out bread-corn and the plough, was called Zeus-Arotrius."
We find also, in the Phoenician legends, mention made of Poseidon, founder and king of Atlantis.
Chronos gave Attica to his daughter Athena, as in the Greek legends. In a time of plague be sacrificed his son to Ouranos, and "circumcised himself, and compelled his allies to do the same thing." It would thus appear that this singular rite, practised as we have seen by the Atlantidae of the Old and New Worlds and the red men of America, dates back, as we might have expected, to Atlantis.
"Chronos visits the different regions of the habitable world."
He gave Egypt as a kingdom to the god Taaut, who had invented the alphabet. The Egyptians called him Thoth, and he was represented among them as "the god of letters, the clerk of the under-world," bearing a tablet, pen, and palm-branch.
This not only connects the Phoenicians with Atlantis, but shows the relations of Egyptian civilization to both Atlantis and the Phoenicians.
There can be no doubt that the royal personages who formed the gods of Greece were also the gods of the Phoenicians. We have seen the Autochthon of Plato reappearing in the Autochthon of the Phoenicians; the Atlas of Plato in the Atlas of the Phoenicians; the Poseidon of Plato in the Poseidon of the Phoenicians; while the kings Mestor and Mneseus of Plato are probably the gods Misor and Amynus of the Phoenicians.
Sanchoniathon tells us, after narrating all the discoveries by which the people advanced to civilization, that the Cabiri set down their records of the past by the command of the god Taaut, "and they delivered them to their successors and to foreigners, of whom one was Isiris (Osiris), the inventor of the three letters, the brother of Chua, who is called the first Phoenician."1
This would show that the first Phoenician came long after this line of the kings or gods, and that he was a foreigner, as compared with them; and, therefore, that it could not have been the Phoenicians proper who made the several inventions narrated by Sanchoniathon, but some other race, from whom the Phoenicians might have been descended.
And in the delivery of their records to the foreigner Osiris, the god of Egypt, we have another evidence that Egypt derived her civilization from Atlantis.
Max Müller says:
"The Semitic languages also are all varieties of one form of speech. Though we do not know that primitive language from which the Semitic dialects diverged, yet we know that at one time such language must have existed; but we can well understand how both may have proceeded from one common source. They are both channels supplied from one river, and they carry, though not always on the surface, floating materials of language which challenge comparison, and have already yielded satisfactory results to careful analyzers."2
There was an ancient tradition among the Persians that the Phoenicians migrated from the shores of the Erythraean Sea, and this has been supposed to mean the Persian Gulf; but there was a very old city of Erythia, in utter ruin in the time of Strabo, which was built in some ancient age, long before the founding of Gades, near the site of that town, on the Atlantic coast of Spain. May not this town of Erythia have given its name to the adjacent sea? And this may have been the starting-point of the Phoenicians in their European migrations. It would even appear that there was an island of Erythea. In the Greek mythology the tenth labor of Hercules consisted in driving away the cattle of Geryon, who lived in the island of Erythea, "an island somewhere in the remote west, beyond the Pillars of Hercules."3 Hercules stole the cattle from this remote oceanic island, and, returning drove them "through Iberia, Gaul, over the Alps, and through Italy."4 It is probable that a people emigrating from the Erythraean Sea, that is, from the Atlantic, first gave their name to a town on the coast of Spain, and at a later date to the Persian Gulf--as we have seen the name of York carried from England to the banks of the Hudson, and then to the Arctic Circle.
The builders of the Central American cities are reported to have been a bearded race. The Phoenicians, in common with the Indians, practised human sacrifices to a great extent; they worshipped fire and water, adopted the names of the animals whose skins they wore--that is to say, they had the totemic system--telegraphed by means of fires, poisoned their arrows, offered peace before beginning battle, and used drums.5
The extent of country covered by the commerce of the Phoenicians represents to some degree the area of the old Atlantean Empire. Their colonies and trading-posts extended east and west from the shores of the Black Sea, through the Mediterranean to the west coast of Africa and of Spain, and around to Ireland and England; while from north to south they ranged from the Baltic to the Persian Gulf. They touched every point where civilization in later ages made its appearance. Strabo estimated that they had three hundred cities along the west coast of Africa. When Columbus sailed to discover a new world, or re-discover an old one, he took his departure from a Phoenician seaport, founded by that great race two thousand five hundred years previously. This Atlantean sailor, with his Phoenician features, sailing from an Atlantean port, simply re-opened the path of commerce and colonization which had been closed when Plato's island sunk in the sea. And it is a curious fact that Columbus had the antediluvian world in his mind's eye even then, for when he reached the mouth of the Orinoco he thought it was the river Gihon, that flowed out of Paradise, and he wrote home to Spain, "There are here great indications suggesting the proximity of the earthly Paradise, for not only does it correspond in mathematical position with the opinions of the holy and learned theologians, but all other signs concur to make it probable."
Sanchoniathon claims that the learning of Egypt, Greece, and Judaea was derived from the Phoenicians. It would appear probable that, while other races represent the conquests or colonizations of Atlantis, the Phoenicians succeeded to their arts, sciences, and especially their commercial supremacy; and hence the close resemblances which we have found to exist between the Phoenicians and the people of America.
Upon the Tsurian sea the people live
Dyonysius of Susiana, A.D. 3
Who style themselves Phoenicians. . . .
These were the first great founders of the world--
Founders of cities and of mighty states--
Who showed a path through seas before unknown.
In the first ages, when the sons of men
Knew not which way to turn them, they assigned
To each his first department; they bestowed
Of land a portion and of sea a lot,
And sent each wandering tribe far off to share
A different soil and climate. Hence arose
The great diversity, so plainly seen,
'Mid nations widely severed.
Additional Reading: Phoenician Theology, Paganism and Creation Story
For essays on Phoenician theology, paganism, and the Phoenician creation story, please use the related links.
Philo or Sanchuniathon? A Phoenician Cosmogony
From Classical Quarterly 41(i) 2 I 3‑220 (1991) Printed in Great Britain
Herennius Philo of Byblos is the subject of a notice in the Suda, which states that he was a grammarian born in Nero's time who lived to such an advanced age that he was still composing works in the reign of Hadrian. The titles listed include: On the Acquisition and Choice of Books: On Cities and their Eminent Citizens; and On the Reign of Hadrian (= Fr. I Jacoby).1 His name, like that of Flavius Josephus, could imply the patronage of a Roman family;2 we may suppose that, like Porphyry and Maximus of Tyre, he was a Phoenician by origin who had adopted the tongue and culture of the Greeks.
Philo's most famous labor was to translate from his native language the works of a certain Sanchuniathon, for whose writings and biography he was perhaps the only Source.3 The existence of this figure, or at least the veracity of Philo's account of him, has always been doubted and frequently denied;4 but modern research has shown that he bears a name which might have belonged to a Phoenician, and that many of the ingredients of the work attributed to him are of high antiquity and native provenance.5 Thus Philo must have employed a Phoenician source, on which he would have no reason to bestow a fictitious name. It need hardly be said, however, that a belief in the existence of a document from the hand of Sanchuniathon does not oblige us to credit the early date that Philo assigns to him, or the veracity of all that is asserted on his behalf. It has been said by Orientalists that the name Sanchuniathon cannot have been current at an epoch so early as that to which Philo appeals.6 It is evident to all that there is much in the present version of the history that was written to solicit the taste of Hellenistic readers,7 and must therefore be the translator's contribution. This essay....
From “Phoenician Solar Theology: An Investigation into the Phoenician Opinion of the Sun Found in Julian's Hymn to King Helios"
by Joseph Azize # ISBN: 1593332106
Pub. Date: June 2005 Series: Gorgias”
Philo of Byblos
Philo of Byblos was an antiquarian and grammarian of the late first and early second centuries A.D. His praenomen was probably Herenius Severus.34 The Phoenician History (the original title was either Φοινικικη ιατοαρια or Φοινικικια) is chiefly known to us from the excerpts in Eusebius “Preaparatio Evangelica.”35 Comparisons of the passage cited in Eusebius with citations of these same passages elsewhere, when available for scrutiny, are said to demonstrate that Eusebius has accurately cited Philo.36 However, the number of such passages is not large, and we know that much was omitted, a Philo’s work filled eight volumes. For example, the two etymologies noted in Lydus are nowhere in Eusebius’ fragments, and these seem at least a little different from what is to be found in Eusebius’ quotations. Eusebius cites Philo only where he believes that Philo will help him make a point for Christianity against paganism.
It is not necessary to commence a study of Philo by saying something about the Preaparatio in which most of the fragments are found. This has been adequately dealt with by Baumgarten.37 It is sufficient to observe that while this issue is crucial to a consideration of Eusebius’ work, it is not essential when combing Philo for evidence of Phoenician religion. Eusebius and Lydus have preserved only extracts, and we cannot reject their testimony simply by reference to Eusebius’ agenda in defending Christianity against paganism or even by reference to Lydus’ sentimental affection for paganism.38
When one turns to the Phoenician History itself, one is struck, on analysis, by the fact that is seems a heterogeneous document. As Baumgarten demonstrated, the cosmogony (together with the zoogony) is exceptional within the parameters of the work in that they are the only portions which are composed in the form of poetic parallelism.39 I would modify this only by adding that in the work as we have it, it is the only example of parallelism. However, Baumgarten’s conclusion is surely correct: it would appear that Philo used various sources and probably sources of diverse “origin and date” in his writing.40 Another argument for the use of different sources in Philo is that the deity Mot’s name is sometimes vocalized as “Mouth”.41
When one takes into account the contents of Philo’s material and its similarity to Ugaritic literature, Baumgarten is correct to conclude that:
“...the analysis of the form and style of Philo’s cosmogony indicates its ultimate Phoenician source and suggests a date.”
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In other words, pare (??) Baumgarten, what Khousor being an ironworker shows is that Philos’ sources are a mixture of ancient and more recent materials.
It is not a better argument for the lateness of the material in Philo to say that Sanchuniathon is not attested before Philo,47 as so few Phoenicians are attested at all. Phoenician literature has not come down to us with very few exceptions. The vast majority of Greeks simply disdain the language and literature of their eastern neighbors.48 In Morris’ pithy phrase, “Hellenism sundered Greeks and Orientals”.49
Porphyry, who was a lot closer to the critical moment than we are, and as I contended, was possibly literate in Phoenician, stated:
“Sanchuniathon of Beirut gives the truest account concerning the Jews, since it agrees best with their places and their names. For he took the treatises of Hieromobalos (viz. Jeremiah), the priest of god Ieuo (??), who dedicated his work to Abibalos the king of Beirut. (Hieromobalos’ work was) accepted as correct by Abibalos by those who investigated the truth in his time.50
Although he argues against the reliability of this, Baumgarten provides grounds for its plausibility, when he says: “In view of the close geographical, linguistic, and ethnic connection of Jews and Phoenicians, works on the Jews might be approved by Phoenicians scholars or Jews might be discussed by an author like Sanchunianthon.”51 It has been often observed that here, Porphyry refers to a work of Sanchunianthon on the Jews, and not a Phoenician history. A more critical point is that — according to Bickerman — it was rare for a religious work of the Ancient Near East to have a named author. Rather, this is a Greek practice. The upshot then, is that “Sanchuniathon” source is Hellenistic.52
Greek and Canaanite Mythologies: Zeus, Baal, and their Rivals by Carolina López-Ruiz*
Hesiod's Theogony is normally read as a ‘hymn to Zeus’, praising the victory of the Greek Storm God over the previous generations of gods (Ouranos, Kronos, and the Titans). The backbone of the Theogony is the so-called Succession Myth, widely accepted by scholars as an adaptation from the Near Eastern theme of the cosmic struggle between generations of gods, leading to the victory of the Storm God. The Mesopotamian Enuma Elish, the Hurro-Hittite Song of Kumarbi, and less explicitly the Ugaritic and Biblical texts all reflect versions of this type of divine conflict. Behind the neat pattern of the succession, however, Greek sources contain scattered references to stories where even the power of Zeus is occasionally threatened. Through these allusions, we can reconstruct an ‘alternative’ motif of divine instability in Greek mythology. This essay will show that Greek and Northwest Semitic mythologies in particular converge in this less canonical picture of divine kingship, especially if we look at the concerns surrounding Baal's ascension to power in the Ugaritic Baal Cycle and his seemingly fragile position as the new ‘king in heaven’. The mythological representation of the dynamics among the gods, in turn, correlates with different perceptions of kingship among societies in the eastern Mediterranean. These shared theological concerns exemplify a phenomenon latent in many aspects of Greek ‘orientalizing’ literature and art, namely, a more direct and intense contact with the Northwest Semites (Canaanites, later Phoenicians, and others) than is usually granted. This brief overview will remind us of some of the methodological problems that challenge the study of comparative religion and mythology.
The ancient Greeks poured into their myths ideas about their gods' relations, which reflected views about the order of the universe and, inevitably, about the human condition. The first can be glimpsed in cosmogonic and theogonic poems, while the second make up the heroic and tragic stories of drama and epic. These categories, however, are never completely separate, and motifs about cosmic order (and disorder) appear across literary genres. An overview of Greek motifs will show that in some important ways their divine rivalries fit more easily within Northwest Semitic mythological patterns (specifically in the Canaanite literature of Ugarit), than within the better-known Mesopotamian and Hittite counterparts. Furthermore, I will propose that mythological representation of the more or less conflictive dynamics among the gods correlate with different perceptions of kingship among societies in the eastern Mediterranean.
During the past century, thanks to the discovery and publication of the new texts, our knowledge of nonclassical ancient Mediterranean cultures and their literatures have increased dramatically, and with it our awareness of the interconnectedness of their mythologies and religious systems. This line of study has been on the rise especially since the 1980s (Bernal 1987 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0006> , 1991 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0007> ; Burkert 1979 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0012> , 1987 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0013> , 1992 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0014> , 2004 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0015> ; West 1997 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0041> ; etc.), after a period of stagnation during the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century. During those difficult decades in European history, essentialist arguments about racial distinctions obstructed the dialogue between the disciplines that studied the Greek and Roman worlds (Classics) and the Semitic world (Assyriology, Biblical studies, etc.). The parallel development of Indo-European linguistics widened the gap. While it brought invaluable insights into the history of this major family of languages from which both English and ancient Greek and Latin sprang (among many others), it was, and still is, liable to exacerbate the divide between the Greek and the Semitic languages and cultures (a complex issue treated extensively by Said 1978 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0036> and Bernal 1987 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0006> ; see Arvidsson 2006 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0001> ; López-Ruiz 2010 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0026> , Introduction). But the geographical and historical context in which ancient Greek culture developed tells a different story. The cultural makeup of the Greek-speaking world was shaped much more by the West Asiatic and North African cultures that surrounded it in historical times than by its prehistoric Indo-European past. As comparative inquiry has unquestionably shown, the mythologies of the eastern Mediterranean peoples, including the Greeks, are interwoven in multiple and complex ways. Centuries of proximity and cultural contact resulted in the cementing of ‘shared taxonomies’ (Noegel 2007 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0035> ), which allowed for the creative adaptations and transformations of common motifs that we can detect in the surviving texts (monographs on Greek and Near Eastern parallels include Burkert 1992 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0014> , 2004 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0015> ; West 1997 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0041> ; Bremmer 2008 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0009> ; López-Ruiz 2010 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0026> ; Lane Fox 2008 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0025> ; Louden 2011 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0031> ; see López-Ruiz forthcoming a <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0028> for more bibliography).
This trail of Near Eastern motifs is especially conspicuous in the Theogony of Hesiod. In its roughly 900 verses, this poem offers a view of the beginnings of the universe (a cosmogony) and of the origins of the gods and their generations (a theogony). In an undefined first space or ‘opening’ called ‘Chaos’ there appear certain primordial entities, not generated by anyone: Gaia, Tartaros, and Eros. From these are born other gods that represent aspects of nature (Darkness, Night, Aether, Day, etc.) (Th. 120–153); then, Hesiod gradually moves from this cosmogony into a story of the struggle for power among the generations of gods (Th. 154 ff). The basic plot can be summarized as follows: Earth (Gaia/Ge) and Sky (Ouranos) beget several groups of children (the Titans, the Cyclopes, and the Hundred-Handers). Sky has power over the universe, and fears that his children will replace him, so he prevents them from being born, keeping them inside Earth. Earth plots with her children to overcome their father, and the youngest, Kronos, castrates Sky with a sickle (Th. 174–182). Kronos is now king in the universe, and the story repeats itself: in fear of being overthrown, he swallows his own children as they are born. Rhea, his wife, hides the youngest, Zeus, deceiving Kronos into eating a rock instead. Zeus grows strong, and soon Kronos regurgitates the swallowed children, whereupon Zeus becomes the leader of this generation, after liberating his defeated allies the Cyclopes, who give him thunder and lightning as weapons (Th. 453–504). But in order to secure his power, Zeus still faces several challenges: a war against the Titans (the generation of Kronos), which he wins with the help of the Hundred-Handers (Th. 617–720), and a fierce battle against monstrous Typhon, his last opponent (Th. 820–868). Zeus is ‘encouraged’ by the gods ‘to be king and rule’, and thus he establishes a new order (Th. 880–885).
This scheme of succession and those found in the epics of the Near East offer many parallels (López-Ruiz 2010 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0026> , ch.3). The most salient common feature, in brief, is that the Storm Gods (Mesopotamian Marduk, Hurro-Hittite Teshub/Tarhunt, and Canaanite Baal) are celebrated as the new champions of the gods in epic stories in which they confront older and contemporary generations of gods. The closest story by far is in the opening of the Hurro-Hittite Kumarbi Cycle (also known as ‘Song of Kumarbi’ or ‘Kingship in Heaven’, but probably originally called ‘Song of Birth’, Bachvarova, 2014, p. 140). In this story, the Sky god (Anu) is castrated by his opponent Kumarbi, who, in turn, is overthrown by the Storm God Teshub (recent translation in Bachvarova 2014 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0003> ). The castration motif and the scheme of succession (Sky – Kumarbi/Kronos (grain gods) – Storm God) are identical to the Greek version. In the Babylonian poem Enuma Elish, which celebrates the beginnings of the universe, the Storm God Marduk becomes king of the world after a fierce battle against primordial gods headed by the water-goddess Tiamat.
In contrast, in the Late Bronze Age Ugaritic epic known as the Baal Cycle, the Storm God Baal holds a more delicate position and is presented as an insecure deity, who needs to dethrone an established ruler (Yam), and whose power over rain and thunder (hence fertility) does not suffice to defeat his peer the Death God (Mot). Let us take a closer look at this ‘deviant’ story about the Storm God, before turning to similar motifs in Greek myth. The West Semitic Storm God, unlike Marduk and others, is not ascribed absolute power but a limited and always imperiled victory, for which the aid of other deities is emphasized. Even after Mot (Death) is smashed by Baal's sister Anat and Baal rises up from death, there is a second confrontation between Mot and Baal, which comes to a draw. Only after the old god, ‘father El’, intervenes by using Shapshu (the Sun) as a mediator does Mot renounce his pretensions and openly accept Baal as king, at which point the poem ends. Here is the relevant final section:
- “They eyed each other like seasoned worriers; Death was strong, Baal was strong.
- They collided like wild bulls; Death was strong, Baal was strong.
- They bit like serpents; Death was strong, Baal was strong.
- They grappled like swift competitors; Death fell, Baal fell.
- Up above, Sun called out to Death: ‘Listen well, Death, son of El! How can you engage in battle with the mighty one, Baal? How will your father, bull El, not hear you? He will certainly remove the supports for your enthronement, overturn your royal throne, and smash your scepter of judgment’.
- El's beloved son, the champion Death, began to fear and became terrified. At the sound of her voice, Death rose, raised his voice and cried out: ‘Let Baal be enthroned on his royal throne, his resting place, the seat of his dominion’.
(Baal Cycle, CAT 1. Tablet 6. col. VI, translation by Meier 2014 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0032> , p.177)
The Thoegony of Hesiod stands quite far from this scheme of divine rule. The Greek poem is generally seen as a celebration of Zeus' success, as the culmination of a story that starts at the very creation of the world. Compared with the similar narratives from the ancient Near East, Hesiod's stands out for its linear generational succession and its clear hierarchical order. The Theogony is in fact closest to the Hittite myth, which includes the castration of the Sky God, only ‘neater’, since the Hittite myth does not follow a linear father–son succession. Unfortunately, it is impossible to ascertain just how innovative Hesiod's theogonic scheme was within Greek tradition, since we have no other contemporary literature of its kind. We can be sure, however, that multiple variant traditions regarding origins of the world and the gods coexisted. As I have argued elsewhere, even in Hesiod's neat narrative, Zeus' victory does not erase the shadow of the older gods (e.g., Gaia and Typhon), or the fear of a possible successor (see below). Kronos too looms over Hesiod's narrative as a defeated but not obliterated rival and in other literary and magical texts he will preserve an important role as an ancestral deity belonging to the ‘old order’ (López-Ruiz 2010 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0026> , pp. 115–125). Moreover, the unnatural conceptions and births in the Theogony (including Ouranos obstructing the birth of his children, Kronos swallowing his, and Zeus swallowing his pregnant wife Metis) are designed to prevent or reverse the birth of potential successors. This pattern, which recurs in Orphic cosmogonies and the Hittite Kumarbi Cycle (López-Ruiz 2010 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0026> , pp. 91 ff.; Bernabé 1989 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0005> ; Boardman 2004 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0008> ), expresses the theological anxiety of an always-potentially threatened order, even in the ‘times of Zeus’. Arguably, in Hesiod and other sources, these are only minor cracks on an otherwise unquestionable robust victory. If one pays attention, however, counter narratives about the threats to the established divine order resurface quite resiliently. These mythological ‘alternatives’, in turn, offer a glimpse into the network of ancient Mediterranean traditions and how they are interconnected in unexpected ways. Comparative mythology, in other words, is not a search for meaningless parallels but rather ‘it increases for our consideration the number of realizations of a mythic idea’ (Mondi 1990 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0033> , p. 144). In what follows, I present the most salient examples of these underrepresented views of divine competition, which will help us further the comparative study of Greek and Northwest Semitic mythologies.
Nowhere is Zeus more powerful than in Homer's Iliad, where the turns of events, the fates of heroes, and the dynamics among gods revolve around his will (Heiden 2008 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0022> ). Moreover, Homer is not concerned with cosmogonic myth. And yet, when such allusions appear, they take us quite far from the image of balance and stability otherwise dominant in Homer's Olympos and from the Succession myth in Hesiod's Theogony. The Iliad, indeed, seems to be drawing on a divine hierarchy subtly different from Hesiod's. First, Ocean and the Sea Goddess Tethys are said to be the ‘origin of the gods’ (Il. 14.201, 246, 301), which points to a different cosmogony altogether (West 1997 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0041> , p. 282 calls it the ‘Cyclic cosmogony’). Then, the cosmos is divided into three realms governed by the three brothers Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades, who received equal parts of it in a distribution by lot. Poseidon reminds Zeus of this order of things, after receiving a threatening and arrogant order to stop helping the Achaeans in the Trojan War (Il. 15.187-193, cf. Hymn to Demeter 85-87). The Sea God obeys, but not without reminding Zeus that he is a primus inter pares (‘first among peers’) and nothing more. This implied triumvirate of the gods of Storm, Sea, and Death, strikingly mirrors the configuration of gods struggling for power in the Ugaritic Baal Cycle, where Baal fights his competitors, Sea and Death, and depends on the assistance of his sister Anat and the patriarchal figure El. The equivalence of Canaanite El to Greek Kronos in different sources throughout antiquity reinforces these structural similarities (López-Ruiz 2010 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0026> , pp. 158–167). The scenes in both epics are made more similar by the use of messages sent back and forth and repeated verbatim, as is typical of the epic genre, expressing the rivalry and clash of egos among the sons of Kronos (even if watered down in Homer to a game of threats).
The theme of divine battle between the Storm God and the serpent-like Sea God passed down into later Canaanite lore. It even survived the onset of monotheism in Israelite religion, in the imagery of Yahweh fighting the sea and the ‘twisting serpent’ Leviathan (Psalm 29, Psalm 74, and Isa. 27.1). The idea of the Storm God as a ruler who shares his domain also lived on in Phoenician mythology, according to Philon of Byblos (1st to 2nd cents. CE), for whom Baal (Zeus/Adad) and Ashtart ruled ‘with the consent of Kronos’ (i.e., El/Ilu) (P.E.1.10.31). On the Aegean side, the linear succession of gods and uncontested kingship of Zeus became the mainstream ‘theology’. The Greeks, however, were not bound by a canon of sacred texts that would unify their religious views, as these alternatives show, which explains why some of these views of divine order might have been closer to the Canaanite ones represented in the Ugaritic texts.
There are many other aspects that illustrate this point. In passing allusions, we hear about instances where Zeus faced revolt from his own Olympian family. Achilles mentions how his mother Thetis helped Zeus to prevent a coup in which the gods intended to chain him (Il. 1.396–405), ‘even Hera and Poseidon and Pallas Athena’. At that time, Thetis summoned Hundred-Hander Briareos whose presence deterred the Olympians (cf. their role in Hesiod). A similar event seems to be contemplated when Zeus assures the gods that they will not be able to chain him if they tried (Il. 8.19). The Greek war-goddess Athena, in turn, had a special role in safeguarding the stability of Zeus's throne. The Athena of the Iliad, it has been noticed, shares attributes and functions with Ugaritic warrior-goddess Anat (Louden 2006 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0030> , ch. 7). This perception is clear even in Ares' resentful comments about her privileged treatment by Zeus in the Iliad (5. 877–880) and in early tragedy, when she boasts to be the only god to have the key to Zeus' house, where his thunder is stored (Aeschylus’ Eumenides, 827–828). The ambiguous position of Athena in terms of the succession goes back to the story of her birth. Her mother Metis, the first wife taken by Zeus, is pregnant with the potential successor of Zeus (or so a prophecy had announced), and therefore the monarch gulps down the pregnant consort. Instead of a son, Zeus himself gives birth to a maiden, dressed in full panoply. She cannot be the prophesized son, but her special place next to him is a reminder of a succession that could have gone differently. In response to this ‘extramarital’ (or rather parthenogenic) birth, Hera begets Hephaistos by herself (Th. 886–929), another ambiguous character to whom we will return. In the Hymn to Apollo (305–352), however, she reacts by begetting a true cosmic enemy, the monster Typhon (in the Theogony a creature of Gaia and Tartaros), and threatens to create yet another child who might excel all the gods (i.e., Hephaistos). Hera thus plays out the role of the powerful sibling and consort who threatens the established rule. She also has the power to deceive Zeus (most famously in Iliad 14) and to use blackmail as leverage (in Il. 8.482–484 she threatens to go to the Underworld in protest, a passive–aggressive tactic used by Zeus' sister and consort Demeter in the Hymn to Demeter).
The stories about Prometheus also revive the old menace of the Titans (for he was the offspring of Kronos' brother Iapetos). But Prometheus also represents the threat of an increasingly skillful humankind, whom he helps to come out of primitive darkness, with fire and other technologies as ‘means to mighty ends’ (Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound (henceforth PB) 111, cf. 477–506). Zeus is here a tyrannical new ruler, whose power is expected to be challenged by another champion (e.g., PB 148–151, 160–167, and 224). Prometheus is presented as a betrayed old ally who had helped Zeus against the Titans (PB 199–229), which again, deviates from Hesiod's story. Ironically, Prometheus now holds the secret of the identity of this challenger who will strip Zeus of ‘his scepter and his honors’ (PB 168–179). This prophecy was given to Prometheus by his mother Themis (equated here with Gaia, PB 211–215) following an old tradition linked with divine succession (cf. the prophecies given by Gaia and Ouranos to Kronos and Zeus respectively in the Theogony). We leave for a more complete study the challenges that human beings pose to the gods. Suffice it to mention the account of human heroes harming the gods in Iliad 5 (cf. Od. 11.308 ff.), and the prophecy given to Zeus by none other than Prometheus to the effect that Thetis (Achilles' mother) would bear to him a child greater than his father (Pindar, Nemean 5.34–37, Isthmian 8.26–47, and Aeschylus PB 755–768). Both Poseidon and Zeus had coveted the sea nymph, but Zeus avoided the union by marrying her off to the mortal Peleus.
Finally, Zeus finds potential challengers among his male siblings and descendants. Hephaistos in particular provides a cornerstone in this story of threatened authority. Many aspects of this figure are irregular (Bremmer 2010 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0010> ). As mentioned above, he is born to Hera alone, in ‘revenge’ for Zeus’ begetting Athena (a motif first attested in Hesiod's Th. 924–929). While for Homer he is the son of Zeus (Il. 1.578, 14.338, Od. 8.312), he is hurled down from Olympos by Hera herself, disappointed at the birth of this imperfect child and ally (Il. 18.395–397) and again by Zeus for siding with Hera (Il. 1.590–594). He retaliates by ‘sticking’ his mother to a throne until he is persuaded by Dionysos (with alcohol) to liberate her (e.g., Alcaeus 349 LP, Pindar fr. 283 SM, cf. Pausanias 1.20.3). We may also note how in Prometheus Bound 18–20 he is reluctant to follow Zeus' orders to chain the rebel, and how some Attic-vase paintings of the god walking toward Olympos led by Dionysos to liberate his mother (the ‘return’ motif) show him walking on foot, as a dignified and empowered figure (Fineberg 2009 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0018> ). The fact that Thetis and Eurynome hid him and protected him as a baby (after he was exposed) resonates with both the role of Thetis as a helper of Zeus (see above) and the hidden infancy of Zeus in Crete before returning to overthrow Kronos (Theogony 477–484). Thetis' role, however, could be read as more ambiguous, as fostering the survival of a potential rival of Zeus. Arguably, the god of fire-working and metal-working is as instrumental as Prometheus in enabling human progress, which, added to his dubious genealogy, make him a potential rival of Zeus. In a sense, his position as an often ridiculed and sweaty god (Il. 1.595–599 and 18.372), and his representation as a handicapped figure (‘the lame one’) who rides a donkey or a mule, can be read as compensation for the threat that the unruly blacksmith posed. Following up our comparison to Near Eastern mythologies, Hephaistos finds a close counterpart in the Ugaritic and later Phoenician craftsman deity Kothar-wa-Hasis, who is instrumental in helping Baal attain his position and (like Hephaistos) builds palaces and weapons for the gods (Handy 1994 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0021> , pp. 133–135; Kitts 2013 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0024> , pp. 104–105; Bremmer 2010 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0010> , pp. 194–195). The seemingly strange marriage between Hephaistos and Aphrodite (Od. 8. 326–332), who cheats on him with Ares, not only confirms his place amongst the top tier of gods, but also invokes deeper Near Eastern connections: In Cyprus, the prehistoric fertility goddess (later identified with Greek Aphrodite and Phoenician Astarte) is associated with the cult to a copper-ingot god, seemingly forming a primordial divine couple (Karageorghis 1982 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0023> , pp.103–104). Aphrodite was central to the religious life of the eastern Mediterranean island, as reflected in her names ‘Kypris’ and ‘Kyprogeneia’. Her other hypostasis, Kythereia, explained by Hesiod in connection to the island of Kythera, might instead point to an early association with the Northwest Semitic god of metals, Kothar (López-Ruiz forthcoming b <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0029> ). If this network of connections can ever be closed with some certainty, Hephaistos or some version of him might have occupied a position of main deity in some local pantheon(s), thus allowing for narratives in which he is a more direct equal and rival of the Storm Gods (Zeus and Baal).
Yet another mythological appearance of Hephaistos makes him a player in divine contests: in Iliad 21, there is a battle between Achilles and the Trojan river Skamandros. At some point, Hephaistos, representing fire, ends up taking the place of Achilles and fighting against the waters. Far from an impossible or comical threat against Zeus's supreme power (Louden 2006 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0030> , pp. 213–14), the battle belongs to the cosmogonic subgenre of Chaoskampf, in which Hephaistos acts as a surrogate of Zeus in defense of his linear descendant Achilles (grandson of Aiakos, son of Zeus) (Kitts 2013 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0024> ).
Among the children of Zeus, Apollo and Dionysos also pose potential threats. At least in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo, the young god causes terror among his peers: ‘the gods tremble at him when he enters the house of Zeus, and all leap up from their seats when he comes near’ (H.Ap. 2–4) (Clay 1989 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0016> , pp.19–27). Even if this threat never materializes as a challenge to his father's throne, the son emulates the father's cosmic struggle when he slays the monster-serpent Pytho, joining the group of ancient gods who defeat serpent monsters (Teshub/Tarhunt, Marduk, Zeus, Baal, and Yahweh) (Bachvarova forthcoming <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0004> ). The episode is framed as a doublet of the Zeus-Typhon conflict, and in this version it is Hera herself who challenges the Storm God by creating the monster and praying to Earth and Sky (Gaia and Ouranos) that he be ‘superior (to Zeus) as much as broad-sounding Zeus (is) to Kronos’ (H.Ap. 339) (Typhon was created by Gaia in the Theogony). As for Dionysos, the son of Zeus and either divine Persephone or mortal Semele, suffice it to say that in Orphic cosmogony the wine god was positioned as a rightful successor of Zeus. In turn, the Orphic myth of his death and return to life (known as the Zagreus myth), his marginalization by gods and men (cf. Euripides' Bacchae), and his association with Persephone (his mother in Orphic myth) made him a favorite intercessor between the dead and the living and the central figure in widespread mystery cults (Graf and Johnston 2013 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0020> , pp. 66–93). His characterization as an alien, or rather alienated god who suffers and ‘returns’, also resembles the ambivalent aspects of Hephaistos, with whom he is represented in the above mentioned ‘return to Olympos’ scenes.
Skipping over other threats to Zeus in later literature, we should at least mention the satirical manipulation of cosmogony in Aristophanes' comedy. When he postulates that a new god, Vortex, has overthrown Zeus (Clouds 381–382) and presents Plutos (Wealth) as a god who can also dethrone him (Plutos 1–252, cf. 1171–1209), he plays on the idea of an instable pantheon as a means to offer social commentary on the rise of natural philosophy and the rule of sophistry in a wealth-driven society.
What do these representations of divine politics and power games tell us about the different perceptions of kingship in the cultures that cultivated these traditions? To recapitulate the basic distinctions, the Mesopotamian and Hittite victories of the Storm God are presented as the culmination of the succession of gods leading from the past tyranny and chaos to the ‘current world order’. This pattern of ‘succession myth’ is absent from the Ugaritic Baal Cycle. While Hesiod, as we mentioned, does follow this trajectory in the Theogony, other mythological narratives in circulation in archaic and even classical times left the issue of succession much more open-ended, approximating the more ambivalent dynamics of divine power in Ugaritic epic and later Northwest Semitic traditions.
Now, it has been argued about the Baal Cycle that the status of divine monarchy may reflect anxieties about the legitimacy and stability of monarchy down on earth. By contrast, in the Mesopotamian Enuma Elish ‘kingship finds its foundation in the structure of the cosmos, in an original mythic act that defeated chaos and established order (…) The present king ensures the continuance of order because his kingship is a continuation of Marduk's chaos-defeating kingship’ (Tugendhaft 2012a <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0037> , p. 147; 2012b <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0038> , pp. 368–369). In fact, mirroring their theological views, kingship was treated as neatly passed from one city-state to another in the Mesopotamian chronicles and king lists (Glassner 2005 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0019> , pp. 55–56), in a culture where ‘the break between the spheres of myth and legend and history was never quite achieved’ (Glassner 2005 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0019> , p. 3). Like in Mesopotamia, in the Hittite world ‘the histories of the divine and human worlds were linked into a single master narrative by the middle of the second millennium BC’ (Bachvarova 2012 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0002> , p. 97). The direct influence of Mesopotamian traditions about famous antediluvian (and postdiluvian) kings cannot be underestimated here. In the Hittite succession or ‘Kingship in Heaven’ myth (originally entitled ‘Song of Birth’), the gods are kings in Heaven whose dethronement comes by way of a political coup by their cupbearer: Alalu is dethroned by Anu and Anu by Kumarbi. Hittite records prove the position of cupbearers as high court officials who occasionally seized the throne (Bryce 2002 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0011> , 23; Van de Mieroop 2007, p. 120 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0040> ), but the dialog with the Sumerian Sargon Legend is also evident, as the famous king was represented as a cupbearer in that tradition (Bachvarova 2012 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0002> , pp. 102, 113; for other myths where banqueting is at the center of power struggles, see López-Ruiz 2013 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0027> ). Moreover, Alalu (the first ‘king in Heaven’) might be an adaptation of Alulim, the first king mentioned in the Sumerian King List(Bachvarova 2012 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0002> , pp. 112). Finally, it has also long been noticed that the Hittite succession is not linear (father to son, as Hesiod's), but seems to reflect the merging of two rival dynastic lines (that of Anu and that of Kumarbi) in the figure of Teshub, since he is born from Kumarbi's body but is ‘genetically’ the seed of Anu. Although it is not easy to match this theogony with specific political history, it is significant that the Hittites mapped their own political-ideological idiosyncrasies onto their depictions of divine kingship, which in turn functioned as validating frameworks for the earthly order of things.
The Hesiodic narrative also presents a linear trajectory from chaos to order that connects the beginning of the universe with the current monarchic rule of Zeus. The Canaanite model, on the contrary, treats Baal as one among equals, employing a language used in the political documents of the time between vassal kings and their suzerain, that is, the superior kings of the Hittites, Egypt, Babylon, and Mittani. Baal acts and speaks as one who is rebelling against a political superior (Yam, then Mot) in an ongoing struggle among his own generation, not as one who is legitimately overturning a cosmic predecessor such as Tiamat or Kronos (Tugendhaft 2012a <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0037> , pp. 153–154, 2013 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0039> , pp. 196–198). His fear and questionable claims to the throne would resonate with the audience of a region where city-state kings were far from absolute rulers outside their walls and perhaps not even within them. The ‘alternative’ views of Zeus' position, similarly, present kingship as vulnerable and the succession as open-ended. These rare allusions offer an interesting counterpoint to Hesiod's worldview, in which Zeus' victory is accompanied with reflections about the divine inspiration of noble (‘good’) human kings (e.g., Th. 434–438). These different theologies might indeed reflect political views. Where Hesiod's Theogony supports a conservative defense of the legitimate monarch, Homer's Olympos reflects a world of loose alliances between competing chiefs, subject to coups and threats, even if supervised by an authoritative (but not necessarily invulnerable) Zeus. This dichotomy was expressed already in the ancient traditions about the two poets, in which Hesiod and Orpheus were associated with kings, in contrast to Homer, perceived as a poet of ‘the people’ (Nagy 2010 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0034> , pp. 345). Athenian drama, in turn, questions the authoritarian rule of the god-king, as Aeschylus and Aristophanes criticized tyranny amidst a thriving democracy. Yet other cosmogonies confirm that the genre was flexible and adjusted to evolving philosophies and theologies. Orphic writers manufactured for Zeus a position even stronger than that postulated by Hesiod, where Zeus (like a Greek Marduk) became a recreator of the universe. The Orphic view, less concerned with divine or human politics and more with philosophy, sought the one divine principle that would explain the multiplicity of the universe. And still at another level of Orphic theology, Dionysos became the intermediary between the divine and human worlds and the successor of Zeus (Graf and Johnston 2013 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/rec3.12095/full#rec312095-bib-0020> , pp. 66–93).
This overview illustrates several methodological points. ‘Greece’ and ‘the Near East’ are not sufficiently useful categories for literary/mythological comparison. Neither of these labels captures the infinitely subdivisible realities that lie behind them. Multiple civilizations flourished in the ancient Near East, which produced unique literatures in different languages and reflected different idiosyncrasies, even when it came to the shared genre of cosmogonic poetry. Hence, we need to explore the intersections with the Greek materials on a case-by-case basis, and only then build up broader patterns of comparison. Similarly, Hesiod's Theogony, with its own set of parallels with various Near Eastern motifs, is not the sum total of the cosmogonic ideas circulating in Greece in his time or later. Other cosmogonies in the Greek-speaking world differed in details and overall focus. These, in turn, present their own set of parallels with other sets of Near Eastern myths. Finally, the need for this ‘refined search’ by genre (or subgenre) and by culture (or subculture) is inseparable from the question of cultural exchange. The evidence suggest an intense contact with the Northwest Semites and warns against the general inertia to privilege more prestigious and massive bodies of literature such as the Mesopotamian and Egyptian over the more fragmented corpora of Anatolia and the Levant.
- BiographyCarolina López-Ruiz is Associate Professor of Classics at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. She studied at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain (Classics), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Chicago (PhD 2005, Committee on the Ancient Mediterranean World). López-Ruiz has published articles on Greek and Near Eastern literatures and mythology and the Phoenician presence in the Iberian Peninsula. She is the coeditor of Colonial Encounters in Ancient Iberia: Phoenician, Greek, and Indigenous Relations(University of Chicago Press, 2009, with M. Dietler), the author of When the Gods Were Born: Greek Cosmogonies and the Near East(Harvard University Press, 2010), and the editor of Gods, Heroes, and Monsters: A Sourcebook of Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern Myths in Translation (Oxford University Press, 2014). She is currently preparing a monograph on the pre-Roman culture of Tartessos in ancient Iberia (with coauthor S. Celestino, Oxford University Press).
This last section is reproduced without permission and is © Copyright, Carolina López-Ruiz