Saturday 31 December 2011

Canaanite philosophy, theology, and schools of thought

One of the greatest achievements of the ancients was the development of philosophy and theology, and of schools of thought.  It is often that we remember the Greeks for this, and also the Romans, and Persians, and Babylonians, and Sumerians, and Indians, and Chinese, and Arabs, and Egyptians.  But it is very rarely that we discuss the Canaanite schools of thought. 

First off, Canaanite philosophy parallels that of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Sumerians, the Arabs, and even the Persians very closely.  Canaanites had wisdom literature, which are basically collections of proverbs on how to live properly and honour the gods.  This has been found on tablets in Ebla, which was an early Canaanite city with many elements of late Sumerian culture.  As such, the proverbs of Ebla are like those of the Sumerians and of the later Israelites.  In this wisdom literature, the authors speculate on how they can possibly understand the divine and the true nature of the world, and how they can best resolve conflicts and difficulties.

Also at Ebla, we find the concept of divine word.  This is the Word of God, deified as the god Dabar, which is spoken in order to create.  And the creation stories (both of Ebla and of Berot, Gubla and Tyre) seem to demonstrate that the Word of God has the power to call things into being. 

Now we can move on to something more specific.  With the Canaanites sailing across the seas, they became inquisitive.  They wanted to learn more about the world, and so it can be gathered that some analytical philosophy may have originated with them for this very reason.  We may also see the beginning of science.  Now, it is important to remember that the scientific method hadn't yet been properly developed.  For the Canaanites, Egyptians and Babylonians, their science was semi-mystical, with myths of gods and demons often being added into their theories.  But with the Canaanites we see them analysing their surroundings and paying close attention to detail, something that later may have led them to make an astonishing discovery about the sun and moon.

But before we can get to that, though, we must first hear of an amazing theory made in the Bronze Age, some time perhaps during the 14th or 15th century BC.  There was a Sidonian man named Mosheh, who was a lawgiver and philosopher.  Not much is known about him, but he was the first to put forward the atomist theory, which stated that things were made from eternal and uncreated atoms.  Mosheh also wrote an atomist cosmogony which also details time, seen often in Canaan as eternal.  Mosheh's theory stated that there were no physical objects, and that all was simply atoms as part of an eternal 'whole', and so the physical was only an illusion.  In his cosmogony, Mosheh writes that before all else was chaos and a dark air (see my posts on creation myths for an explanation of the watery chaos and the dark clouds over the waters), which actually merged (rather than seperated) to produce Olam (eternal time).  Olam was the first principle containing all in itself.  Also from this merging of chaos and darkness was produced the demiurge Kothar (identified with Ptah and seen as the 'opener') who opened the cosmic egg to produced heaven and earth which then descended into the various generations of gods.  The gods in this theory were the powers of the elements.  Mosheh's writings and philosophy heavily influenced the Sidonian school of thought.

The idea of time is a complex one in Canaanite philosophy, but one of the main elements of Canaanite philosophy is that the present is eternal.  The first direction is east (qedem) where Shapash rises, and the word qedem is used for the past.  The past is seen as coming, while the future has already happened, and both are illusions.  The Canaanites didn't think about the future or what has not yet happened as it is viewed as folly and only the cause of much suffering.  Also, Shapash was seen as the 'Sun of Eternity' as time was first associated with her.  But in later times, time became even more ancient, seen as primal or eventually even uncreated.  The light from the sun was seen as the purest state of mind.  Many writers of the ancient world noted that the Canaanites in their creation stories seem to attribute time as the first principle and as eternal, being the creator of all things.

As we have seen from here, the Canaanites and in particular the Sidonians, had an idea of the universe as being constructed of atoms and as being part of one whole.  This idea may have influenced the concept of the monad, or the One from which the whole world is built up in a series (going from the monad to the dyad, to numbers, to shapes, to elements, and so on).  Pythagoras developed this concept, and it is said that he was initiated into the schools of Tyre, Gubla and Sidon.  His idea of the monad may have been somewhat influenced by what he found there.  It is said that in Sidon he met the descendants of Mosheh (themselves philosophers and mathematicians), who discussed this idea with him.

This connection with the Greeks (who developed philosophy the furthest), is interesting, and we can return to another discovery of a Greek.  Anaxagoras first proposed the idea that the sun was a hot rock and that the moon was of an earthy nature and reflected the light of the sun.  But had this discovery been made before?  A fellow Greek, Democritus (who credited Mosheh as the first to propose the atom theory), seemed to think so.  According to some, Democritus is said to have noted that Anaxagoras' claim was of great antiquity and had already been discovered.  But by whom?  Some think that it may have been an idea originating among Semitic people, as Democritus studied atom theory from the Canaanites and also studied Babylonian schools of thought.  Though this hasn't been proven for certain.

The Babylonian astrologers, who acknowledged that the movements of the planets was cyclical, declared that time itself was cycical.  They attempted to calculate the Great Year, which was the length of time it took for the planets to return to their original positions.  The Great Year was broken down into a series of 'ages' or 'periods', which ended with the great flood of water (a Semitic concept) and with the purging by fire (a Persian/Zoroastrian concept).  You may have noticed a parallel with biblical stories.

I finally would like to discuss another idea, of Pherecydes.  He claimed no teacher, but claimed that his knowledge was gained from the 'Secret Works of the Phoenicians'.  His theory does have a lot of similarities with the already discussed theories of eternal time, the illusion of reality, and of atoms, as well as having some similarities with Semitic creation myths.  He said that there was first Dor (time, which became Chronos in Greek), which was the origin of all.  The other two were the high god and the underworld, who was given the earth as a cloak by the high god.  And so the two married and produced the earth.  Dor then created fire, air, and water.  Dor had fought another cosmic god, who was an evil serpent deity, for control of the heavens.  He slew it and cast its body into the sea.  The evil serpent was defeated and Dor took control of the cosmos.

The sun disc, symbol of the 'Sun of Eternity'

Friday 30 December 2011

Ancient Names for Nations

I decided to post a kind of correspondance chart with the ancient Near Eastern names for the various nations of the Mediterranean region.  These are from mostly biblical names, but a few are also from Canaanite inscriptions found in various locations.  The ancient name will be on the left, with its modern (or Greco-Roman) equivalent on the right.

Canaan- Phoenicia
Shinar- Sumer
Cush- Ethiopia
Mizraim- Egypt
Kaphtor- Crete
Phut- Libya
Arphakshad- Chaldea
Lud- Lydia
Asshur- Assyria
Serug- Syria
Joktan- Arabia
Gomer- Cimmeria
Ashkenaz- Armenia/Scythia
Magog- Scythia
Elishah- Aeolian isles
Rodanim- Rhodes
Malat- Malta
Tarshish- Tartesis in southern Spain/Iberia
Sapan- Spain/Iberia
Shardana- Sardinia
Kittim- Cyprus
Madai- Media and Persia
Javan- Greece
Lukka- Lycia
Danuna- Cicilia
Shekelesh- Sicily
Teresh- Tuscany (the Etruscans)
Tjeker/Zakar/Trawisha- Troas/Troy (it is possible that Teresh and Tjeker lived in Trawisha- Teresh later going west)

Thursday 29 December 2011

The Hellenization of Canaan

One interesting thing that I've noticed about many websites I've visited on the Canaanites, is that many of them seem to have this idea that Canaanite culture was destroyed by the Hebrews in a supposed invasion, that their descendants lived in the north and became known by the Greeks as Phoenicians.  Then the Greeks Hellenized Phoenicia and all of the city-states basically became Hellenic Greek city-states and Canaanite culture disappeared.  I have long felt that this wasn't the case, and Canaanite culture was (even when Hellenized) less 'Hellenic' than most people imagine it to be.  Just to clarify, I'm not claiming that Canaan was never Hellenized, that Alexander's conquest of the land never happened, or that Hellenic culture has had no influence whatsoever over Canaanites and their traditional religion.  There are numerous elements of Greek thought that I can see in later Iron Age religion from what we have discovered so far.  But the point I'm trying to make is that the Canaanites didn't simply become Greeks, and their culture wasn't destroyed or abandoned.

I recently stumbled upon an online debate regarding portrayal of Qart-Hadasht (Carthage) in popular culture as a Middle-Eastern (described here as 'Arab-Persian' though they themselves were very distinct cultures and religions) city, and portrayals of its notable inhabitants (including famous names like Hannibaal, Hadmelqart, Maharbaal) as clearly being a part of a Middle-Eastern culture and religion.  I'm not exactly sure where in popular culture Qart-Hadasht is portrayed as Middle-Eastern or Canaanite (most portrayals of it that I have seen have been quite inaccurate in that they seem to portray it as a Greco-Roman city).  But still, this has sent me off on a quest to disprove some miconceptions regarding Hellenized Phoenicia.

1.  Walking into Iron Age Sidon, Gubla, Jaffa, or Qart-Hadasht would be just like walking into Classical Athens.  They would have looked no different to Greek cities, and wouldn't have looked Middle-Eastern or Canaanite anymore.

While it's certainly true that Greek architecture and art influenced the ones in Iron Age Canaanite cities to a large degree (as Egyptian and Assyrian had done so before), there was still something distinictly Canaanite about them.  The Greeks brought in elements such as the column (which could be seen in many temples and in the famous naval harbour in Qart-Hadasht), and open-vaulted ceilings.  But for the most part, walking into Sidon would not just be like walking into Athens.  Most buildings such as houses remained largely the same as they had before.  Let's compare Seleucid Canaan with Ptolemey Egypt.  Walking into Egypt at that time (though it was Hellenized) would not just be the same as walking into Greece.  Egyptian culture still remained, but in an evolved form.  It was mostly the same with Canaan.

2.  The Canaanites copied the art style of the Greeks which can be seen on reliefs, in statues, and on coins.

In regards to the coins specifically, the Canaanites had long minted coins with interesting patterns and designs.  And coins with the heads of generals or horses on them are not automatically 'Greek' in any way.  But with reliefs and statues, they were heavily influenced by Greek art.  For example, in a tomb was found a scene representing a banquet.  The people in the image are dressed in Grecian clothes and participating in scenes familiar to anyone who has studied Greek art.  But there are some elements (such as the people sitting and eating in the shade of a palm tree in the background, and the images of deities on either side) betray the true origins of this piece of art.

3.  The Canaanites worshiped Greek gods in place of their own.

This one is actually fairly common.  I've seen a lot of portrayals of Qart-Hadasht (for example) in which the people are worshiping deities named specifically as Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite etc.  or else as Roman gods.  This is actually due to the Greeks and Romans interepreting foreign deities as their own under different names.  So the people in Canaan were likely worshiping Melqart, who the Greeks called Heracles, and so on.  They did adopt some Greek gods, like Ares and Demeter and Kore into Qart-Hadasht.  But their cults were heavily 'Canaanized' actually, and some of the symbols associated with Kore, for example, are symbols associated with Allani.

4.  The Greeks were never influenced by the Canaanites at any point in time.

While the Greeks did influence the Canaanites a lot, the Canaanites did also influence the Greeks in return.  Some examples are the alphabet and the galley ships.  It is important to remember that the Canaanites colonized the Mediterranean before the Greeks did, holding colonies in Kittim (Cyprus), Rodanim (Rhodes), Malat (Malta), Kaphtor (Create), Elishah (Sicily and nearby islands), Shardana (Sardinia), and Sapan and Tarshish (Spain).  And there is some influence on the Greeks.  One example is relief from Kittim which depicts Melqart stealing cattle.  This seems to suggest that this story may have influenced Heracles stealing Geryon's cattle, enforced further by the fact that the Canaanite city of Gadir is actually mentioned in this story. 

5.  The Canaanites had abandoned their own culture by this time.

Untrue.  They still kept their alphabet, language, number system, calendar, festivals, and religion (religion being a mjor aspect of culture). 

My intention in dispelling these misconceptions is not in any way to deny the influence of Hellenism on Canaan.  Canaan was Hellenized, and the Greeks were actually a mjaor influence over the Canaanites.  But it is important to remember that the Canaanites didn't somehow caese to exist at this point of time.  Alexander attempted to unite their cultures by paying visits to their temples.  Their religion was not replaced or destroyed.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Examining the Creation- Part 2

As we have seen previously, the primeval womb of the deep (Tahamatu) has given birth to heaven and earth.  But heaven and earth are not yet in their place within the universe.  That is where the younger gods come in.  Heaven refers to the sky, which El places above; and earth refers to the dry land, which El places below.  This represents the creation of the firmament, which holds back the primeval chaos and allowed dry land to appear.

From this we see that all things emerged from the waters, from the deep.  The firmament establishes law and order.  It holds back the chaos beyond.  So far we are seeing some similarities to Babylonian myth, with heaven and earth emerging from the deep.  In Babylonian mysticism, we see four elements to the universe: sky, wind, earth, and sea.  In this Canaanite myth, we see the seas and the wind (which inhabits the first heaven) coming first, and then the sky (the third and highest heaven where El dwells), and the earth emerges from below the sea.  So the universe is now ordered by El and the elements are placed into order, going (from lowest to highest: sea, earth, wind, sky).  Interestingly enough, fire is not yet an important element, being mentioned in passing as a discovery of Ur, Ec and Lehobah, who were primal deities. 

How exactly El creates the universe is not mentioned in detail, however, if we go away from Berot and to Ebla, we find there a creation myth which mentions Dabar (Word).  Dabar is the divine word, which is spoken and things come to pass.  Words have magical power, and we also see this in Egyptian myth.  El perhaps speaks, and his words come to pass by means of either his children (the gods) or his servants (the angels of smoke, fire, and light).  The power of El's words are mentioned in the Epic of Baal: "Your decree, El, is wise; your wisdom is everlasting".  But this is from another creation myth from a different city, and so I will return once more to Sakkun-yaton.

The complex narrative describing the origin of the cosmos and God's creation now moves on to something else entirely.  We go to the idea of the divine family, and how El desires to attack his father with aid of another god (Taat or Nebo).  This is the idea of different generations of gods, of inheritance and how a son may overthrow his father.  By now several gods have been born to El and Asherah, and they also have a hand in shaping the universe.  And they too have children, and so on.

"And then were born children to the gods, Astart and Anat; and, by the advice of Anat and Nebo, El made a scimitar and a spear of iron. Then Nebo addressed the allies of El with magic words, and wrought in them a keen desire to make war against Shamuma in behalf of Artzu. And El having thus overcome Shamuma in battle, drove him from his kingdom, and succeeded him in the imperial power. In the battle was taken a well-beloved concubine of Shamuma who was pregnant; and El bestowed her in marriage upon Dagon, and, whilst she was with him, she was delivered of the child which she had conceived by Shamuma, and called his name Hadad."

Anat and Nebo urge El to attack his father.  Shamuma is overthrown, representing the younger generation of gods overthrowing the previous, older generation.  It is this younger generation that we worship most as they are our creators and have the most active role in the cosmos.  Parallels can be seen in Babylonian myth.  Now we hear that Shamuma had a concubine who was pregnant, and El married her to Dagon, where she gave birth to Baal.  This is probably an attempt by Sakkun-yaton to harmonize two accounts of Baal's birth: one in which his father is Shamuma, and another in which it is Dagon.

The text then goes on to describe the birth of various gods, who teach different things to humans.  It is the gods who created civilization and taught its arts to mortals.  As above, so below.  Order has now triumphed over chaos, and El retires from creation, handing it to the younger deities Baal and Astart.  But El is still very much lord, and his children do not overthrow him.  Nebo confirms him as lord over the cosmos.  We hear of various holy mountains, including Zapan, Lubnaan, Hermon, and Martu. 

Saturday 24 December 2011

Examining the Creation- Part 1

As today is an auspicious day, I thought I might begin a series examining closely the creation myth written by the writer Sakkun-yaton.  Sakkun-yaton (called Sanchuniathon in Greek) was a Canaanite man from the city of Berot.  He lived at the same time as the Assyrian queen Shamiramat, who founded Babylon according to several early legends.  He wrote mainly history, though most of it can probably be called 'mythic history' as it deals more with mythology than anything else.  He dedicated his works to his king, Abibaal.  The msot famous works he wrote are the ones on the creation of the earth and heavens, and a history of the Israelites which he gathered from Jerubbaal the priest of Yahweh.  His works were translated into Greek by Philo of the city of Gubla, and later by the Christian bishop Eusebius of Caesarea.

The story is that Sakkun-yaton made various pilgrimages to the most sacred temples of the Canaanites, and from there read the incriptions on the pillars to create his writings.  His writings were considered to be the divine truth which had been covered up over centuries by the scribes, only now revealed through his writings.

Eusebius mentions that Sakkun-yaton discovered that the Canaanites never had any real gods but instead worshiped mortal kings as supposed 'gods'.  However, this is to be taken with a great degree of skepticism as Eusebius appears to be doing this to discredit the 'paganism' of the Canaanites.

It is far more likely that Sakkun-yaton used these various inscriptions as well as offering-lists (the offering-lists from Ugarit and elsewhere appear to correspond to what is written in his books) to attempt to develop a 'pure' understanding of Canaanite religion as it was originally practiced when the kingdoms were first founded, in order to discover the divine truths which had been revealed to early humans by the gods.  Indeed, some of the events mentioned in his books are the founding of various cities by different deities, which is perhaps how the early Canaanites imagined them to be.

I want this series to examine his book fully, and see what they might reveal about the origins of Canaanite religion as well as our spiritual cosmology.  I'm going to start with the creation myth.  It is apparent that this myth has a lot of similarities between the creation myths of the Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Hebrews.

"The beginning of all things was a dark and condensed windy cloud, or a breeze of thick wind and a chaos turbid and black: and these were unbounded, and for a long series of ages destitute of form."

This is the beginning of creation as told by Sakkun-yaton.  According to this verse, it is this darkness and chaos which is eternal.  It has yet no form, but the universe was already in existance.  The gods do not create from nothingness, they re-create from a chaotic former state.  So chaos predates order.  Chaos is primal.  Order emerges from chaos.  We also see this in the Epic of Baal, as Baal (order) has to fight against and overcome Yam and Mot (chaos).  This chaos is also related to the environment in Canaan, used to describe the violent sea and the arid desert.  Darkness is also present.  Darkness over the face of the waters and over the face of the chaotic deep.  In the Near East, darkness is not the absence of light, it is instead a black cloud that hangs over the sky, and it (like snow and hail) is gathered in a heavenly treasure-vault, from where the gods pour it upon the earth at night.

"But when this wind became enamoured of its own first principles, and an intimate union took place, that connection was called desire: and it was the beginning of the creation of all things. And it knew not its own production; but from its embrace with the wind was generated a barren wasteland; which some call mud of the desert, but others the mixture of salt and fresh waters mingled with dirt. And from this sprung all the seed of the creation, and the generation of the universe."

The idea of wind, spirit, or breath, is important.  This wind is divine, and moves over the waters, blowing away the dark clouds and banishing darkness to reveal light.  Desire is the start of things, and means that the wind needed some kind of force in order to make it take effect upon the darkness.  But it wasn't aware of its own creation.  Intelligence doesn't yet exist.  We again see imagery associated with the desert, but in this case it is mingled with the waters of the deep (which still cover the earth), which creates mud.  This imagery is perhaps similar to the Egyptian imagery of the Nile leaving the fertile earth.

"And there were certain things without sensation, from which intelligent things were produced, and these were called Zaphashamim, that is, the overseers of the heavens"

Unconsciousness proceeds consciousness, as we see here from the description of the creation of the Zaphashamim.  Only primal chaos and the deep are uncreated.  The gods and other intelligent things (that is, things possessing spirit) are created, not uncreated or eternal, and they evolved from the earlier chaos.  It is worth noting that in the animistic/polytheistic worldview of Canaanite religion, most things possess spirits, including humans, animals, the rivers, mountains, thunder, waters, fire, etc.  This is why the gods exist, rather than not.  But there are certain things which are un-animated and don't possess spirits, such as the primeval chaos and the 'hidden darkness', as well as the Zaphashamim.  These things are uncreated and eternal, and are the true creators of things with spirit (including the gods). 

"Of the winds and clouds, Kol-piakha, and his wife Bahu, the darkened chaos, were begotten two men, Ulom and Kadmon so called: and Ulom was destined to discover food from trees.
The immediate descendants of these were called Qen and Qenat, and when there were great droughts they were destined to stretch forth their hands to heaven.
Afterwards by Qen the son of Ulom and Kadmon were begotten children, whose names were Ur, Ec, and Lehobah. These were destined to find out the method of producing fire by rubbing pieces of wood against each other, and would teach men the use thereof.
By these was begotten Shamuma; so that from him that element, which is over us, by reason of its excellent beauty is named heaven: and he had a sister of the same parents, and she was called Artzu, and by reason of her beauty the earth was called by the same name."

Now intelligent things possessing spirit begin to arrive.  The first of these are the four winds.  From the primeval waters emerge various early gods, as well as heaven and earth.  Heaven and earth have many children, including El and Asherah, who become the first gods of the present generation (pictured as being like an extended family with these two as their head).

The original watery state with the clouds of darkness over the face of the deep.  The light shining through the clouds is meant to represent light itself, and not the sun (which hasn't yet been created in this myth)

Sunday 18 December 2011

Quote 1

"There is, too, another marvellous portent in the region of the Gebalites. A river, flowing from Mount Lubnaan, discharges itself into the sea: this river bears the name of Adon.  Every year regularly it is tinged with blood, and loses its proper colour before it falls into the sea: it dyes the sea, to a large space, red: and thus announces their time of mourning to the Gebalites. Their story is that during these days Adon is wounded, and that the river's nature is changed by the blood which flows into its waters; and that it takes its name from this blood. Such is the legend vulgarly accepted: but a man of Gubla, who seemed to me to be telling the truth, told me another reason for this marvellous change. He spoke as follows: 'This river, my friend and guest, passes through the Lubnaan: now this Lubnaan abounds in red earth. The violent winds which blow regularly on those days bring down into the river a quantity of earth resembling vermilion. It is this earth that turns the river to red. And thus the change in the river's colour is due, not to blood as they affirm, but to the nature of the soil.'  This was the story of the Gebalite. But even assuming that he spoke the truth, yet there certainly seems to me something supernatural in the regular coincidence of the wind and the colouring of the river."-- From 'The Syrian Goddess' by Lucian of Shamishat

Note on the author:  Lucian was a satirist writer who came from the Kingdom of Kummuhu, a former Assyrian area now under control of the Roman Empire.  He was born in the city of Shamishat, a city which included notable Assyrian and Greek communities.  Lucian wrote in Greek and used Greek names in his works, but he often refers to himself as 'Assyrian' and 'barbarian', making it likely that he was an Assyrian by birth and not from the city's Greek populance.  Lucian wrote pleas for people in court, which is what he was best known for.  He became famous for travelling through Greece and into Rome, then into the lands of the Celts.  Lucian is also known for writing much on the gods and the legends of the gods in Assyria and Canaan, where he travelled.  This particular work is about worship of the goddess Astart in Canaan.  He also wrote fictional novels about voyages to other planets.  He died in Greece.

Some ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean themed songs

I've been listening to quite a few songs which capture a kind of ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean theme, especially with lyrics drawn from the mythology.  I've got a few songs here to check out if you're interested.

The first band I'm going to mention is the band Therion.  Therion have quite a few Canaanite and other Middle Eastern themed songs.  Here's a few (and these are really epic with beautiful lyrics if you listen to whole way through).  The songs are Land of Canaan, Kings of Edom, and Call of Dagon.  There are a few more songs to check out as well by this band.

My next few tracks are from the Prince of Persia soundtrack.  Very Middle Eastern and beautiful, from one of my favourite games.

My next song is by The Cruxshadows, and it is basically the fall of Trawisha (Troy) from the point of view of the Tereshites (Trojans).  It's actually quite a sad song when you look at its meaning, but it's very epic and amazing.  Extremely emotional.

The next two are by the band Nightwish.  The first has an Egyptian theme, while the second has an Arabian theme.

The next two are by Siouxsie and the Banshees and Fields of the Nephilim.

I can find a lot more, but these are just a few obvious examples from my music collection which stand out to me.  I will probably post more as time goes on, but this is just a start.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Misconceptions about the Canaanites and Canaanite Religion

There are many misconceptions about the Canaanites, their culture and religion.  I'm going to go through some of them here.  As you'll see, some are plausible, while some are downright ridiculous.

1. That Canaanite religion involves human sacrifice.
This is obviously one of the major misconceptions people have about the Canaanites, based on the writings of their enemies.  At the moment it is debatable if it ever occured in ancient Canaan, and even if it was it was not very widespread or common.  One major piece of evidence comes from the city of Qart-Hadasht, where a site called the Tophet has been found.  It is a cemetary containing the urns of thousands of children, with symbols dedicating the site to Tanit.  Some people believe that wealthy families in the city sacrificed their children so they didn't need to divide their wealth among many descendants.  However, others believe that child sacrifice never took place here.  They point out that many of the children had not even been born yet, or were born dead in an age when infant mortality was common (and with souls being connected with breath, they were not considered to be 'living souls' and so were cremated here rather than buried in family tombs).  On mainland Canaan, there is little evidence.  In some cities such as Ugarit, there is no mention of it at all.  Modern Canaanites do not practice human sacrifice at all, as it is unethical.

2.  Canaanite rituals include blood drinking.
This is completely absurd and nothing more than slander.  Blood is a taboo in Near Eastern cultures.  The spilling of innocent blood attracts evil spirits.  With the blood being connected to the spirit or 'life force' of a person or animal, drinking their blood is an abomination and unethical.  It is not a practice at all, and I can safely say that it never has been at any point throughout history.

3.  Canaanite temple rituals call for sacred prostitution.
This appears to be cultural confusion.  Canaanites don't practice sacred sex rites, not in a temple context nor anything else.  We have no sacred prostitutes as part of our rituals.  Are we against prostitution?  No, not necessarily.  It is up to the individual.  Our religion doesn't condemn prostitution or sex, as far as I am aware.  But we just don't have any sex rites as part of our worship practices.  Babylonian culture, on the other hand, does.  Sacred prostitutes were found in Babylon as priestesses of Ishtar.  From what I have read, a lot of modern Babylonians do have some clearly sex-related rituals and do hold sex as sacred.  But not Canaanites.

4.  We worship gods called 'Molech' and 'Ashtoreth'.
We don't actually have any gods by those names.  A few years before the Babylonian Exile, certain sects of Yahwist monotheists in Israel attempted to distance themselves from their Canaanite ancestors by demonizing the gods of the Israelites (which they inherited from their ancestors).  They took the word 'boseth' (shame) and inserted it into the names 'Melek' and 'Ashtart' to create 'Molech' and 'Ashtoreth'.  We don't use these names.  I don't know about polytheistic Jews and Israelites (I don't imagine they do, given their meaning), but I know we don't.

5.  All of the men in Qart-Hadasht were named either Hannibaal, Hasdrubaal, Magon, Geskon, Melek, Hadmelqart, Hanno, Himilkat, or Bodmelqart.
To be fair, these names were common.  Among nobles, judges, and kings, we find these names often occuring.  Among the Bariq family, a family of famous warriors, we also find them.  However, we know that names at Qart-Hadasht could vary beyond these for most average citizens.  Some other names include: Akbar, Eshmun-pilles, Eshmun-yaton, Abd-Osir, Abd-Tanit, Melqart-pilles, Eshmun-azzar, Abd-Melqart, and others.

6.  Slaves were used as rowers on ships, especially war-galleys.
This is actually not true.  Slaves most often did chores for wealthy families.  It was usually freemen who were the rowers on war-galleys.

7.  Canaanite culture is largely based on astrology.
Perhaps today it is, to some extent.  A lot of our myths are based on astrology, and it is an *essential* part of our religion.  But these come from the later Iron Age periods.  During the Bronze Age, the Canaanites didn't really have astrology.  It was the Egyptians, Babylonians, Arabs, and Persians who spread astrology to Canaan.  Early on in Canaanite religion we don't see triads of gods in Sun-Moon-Venus, like Shamash-Sin-Ishtar in Babylon, and Shems-Almaqah-Al-Uzzah or Shems-Sin-Atarsamain in Arabia.  It is only during the Iron Age that triads like Shapash-Yarikh-Astart (or Athtar) emerge.  Though it is worth noting that Bronze Age Canaan did have *some* astrological ideas connected with deities, like associations between Athtar and Venus or Resheph and Mars.  They just weren't as widespread and complex in theology, science and mythology until later (when they became extremely important).

8.  Baal as a sun god and Astart as a moon goddess.
Similar to above is the idea that Baal is a sun god and Astart is a moon goddess.  This isn't true, and actually we have a sun goddess and a moon god.  This is an ancient and historical idea, however, it comes from Roman religion and not Canaanite.  In the days of the Roman Empire it was common for the Romans to adopt eastern gods from Egypt, Canaan, Arabia, Babylon and Persia.  All of the gods were considered to be sun gods, and all of the goddesses considered to be moon goddesses.  But this is something not found in any Canaanite ideas.

9.  That the ancient Canaanites discovered Brazil or Australia.
One absurd idea I've heard is that the Canaanites colonized Brazil and Australia.  They did sail around the Mediterranean and managed to travel around all of Africa.  But there is no evidence at all that they discovered Brazil or Australia.  I have heard websites claim that there are references in American inscriptions of tribes visiting 'a great temple in the east' (the temple of Solomon in Israel), and of a temple of the goddess Tanit being found in Australia, but these claims are ridiculous as they would be known worldwide by now if they were true.  Claims that the Native Americans are descended from the Canaanites are also ridiculous.

10.  The kings of ancient Canaan were tyrants who controlled the people through fear.
Something common in biblical sources, but how true are they?  They weren't always true.  Kings and queens could vary between being kind and cruel leaders.  However, kings did have to be careful in case they risked offending the gods, so that it something to think about.  In later times, a city council of judges largely replaced the kings in most regards.  Also, Canaanite (and other Near Eastern) culture is based largely upon the ideas of shame and guilt, not fear of punishment.

11.  That Canaanite religion is monotheistic.
One question I often get asked is if we are monotheistic or polytheistic.  I think it is because many people associate the Near East with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  But we are polytheistic.  We have multiple gods and goddesses, though with some schools of thought emphasis might be placed on one or two above the others.

12.  We worship idols.
Another idea people seem to have is that we pray to statues.  This isn't true.  The statue is the body for a spirit.  Idols are mean for the spirit to inhabit.  They aren't the spirit itself, just a representation.  It's comparable to the Temple and Mount Sinai for the Jews, the cross and images of Jesus for Christians, and the Kaaba and black stone for Muslims.  Nobody would accuse them of actually regarding these things as literally being their God.  And yet they treat the objects as if they were the God.  We do have idols, but we are aware of the fact that someone created them and the gods probably don't really look like that.  Not all temples even have idols.  In the city of Gadir, the temple of Melqart had no idols within.

13.  That we have 'evil gods'.
I have also heard websites claim that Yam (for example) is the 'Canaanite Satan'.  This isn't true.  Yam is chaos, but we also worship him and he is a necessary force within our universe.  We do have 'evil gods', but our concept of 'evil' is different to the Christian one.  Evil for us is not absolute, but means malevolent or showing a temporary display of malevolent actions toward someone else.  A person can be good and evil at the same time.  So an evil god is a god who is behaving malevolently like sending floods or plagues.  That same god can also be good, in that it can be benevolent and send gentle rains or healing.

14.  That Canaanite culture is (or ever has been) matriarchal.
Canaanite religion is not matriarchal.  We don't consider women superior to men.  Men and women have more or less equal roles in our religion, though they are certain cults restricted to either gender depending on the deity.  Today, all Canaanites that I have spoken to are for equality between men and women in society.  In the past though, Canaanite society in the ancient Near East was never matriarchal.  The father was the head of the household, and men were higher than women in status.  However, the Canaanites were somewhat more equal than the Greeks and Romans (for example) were.  Canaanite women had more rights than Greek women and were not necessarily 'owned' by their husband.  Our religion has never been matriarchal.  We have always had gods as well as goddesses, and it has always been that way.

15.  That Yahweh was a major Canaanite god.
He wasn't really a Canaanite god.  He was a Hebrew god who was worshiped in ancient Israel (which was founded by groups of Hebrews and southern Canaanites).  Israelite polytheists worship him but not most Canaanites.  At one point in Israelite history he was syncretized into Yahweh-El, which is where I think the confusion arises.

16.  Canaanite armies were ill-disciplined mobs.
It's true that the Canaanites were never violent.  Our religion is not a warrior religion.  But Canaanite armies were not ill-disiplined mobs.  The Canaanites did largely rely on foreign mercenaries and allies, but they did have their own soldiers who were usually more high-ranking.  And they did keep control.  In fact, with Hannibaal, one of his greatest feats was utilizing all of his different soldiers into a formidable army based on their individual strengths e.g Canaanites as spearmen, swordsmen, and heavy infantry; Phutites and Sapanites as spearmen and infantry; Numidians as cavalry; Balaerians as slingers; Nubians as archers.

17.  Canaanite religion is 'intolerant'.
Something else I seem to hear for some reason.  While kings often did force the worship of their personal deity upon conquered kingdoms, they usually allowed them to carry on their own practices.  To the furthest of my knowledge they never warred purely for religious reasons.  This might be a case of cultural confusion with the Assyrians, who smashed the idols of foreign gods and did declare Asshur as the greatest god (though they were warring to expand their empire, not for religious reasons).

18.  Canaanite religion is unethical or immoral.
Actually, no.  We have a strong sense of ethics, morals, and virtues.  In our Canaanite communities we try to keep these ethics.  If you behave immorally then you are bringing shame not only upon yourself, but upon your whole community and anyone who associates themselves with you in any way.  In ancient Canaan, there were laws against murder, rape, adultery, theft, and so on.

Thursday 15 December 2011

Homes of the Deities

Different deities have had different cult cities, and are patrons of that city and its people.  Deities can be patrons of cities, tribes, kingdoms, and even whole areas.

We know that the deities are considered to have their homes throughout what was the known world in the Bronze Age.  Texts from Ugarit indicate this.

El dwells on Mount Lel at the headwaters of the two rivers.
Baal dwells on Mount Zapan and Mount Carmel, in Ugarit, and in all Canaan.
Dagon dwells in Tuttul (in Syria), and in Philistia
Anat dwells in Inbab, her mansion located beyond the marshes.
Yarikh dwells in Larugat and in Jericho.
Resheph dwells in Babut (in Anatolia)
Astart dwells in Mari and in Sidon.
Chemosh dwells in Churyat and in Moab.
Melek dwells in Ashtart and in Ammon.
Kothar dwells in Kaphtor (Crete) and in Egypt.
Shachar and Shalim dwell in Shamim (heaven).
Choron dwells in Masad.
Qaush dwells in Edom.
Zeduq dwells in Jerusalem.
Yam dwells in Berot.
Adon dwells in Gubla.
Melqart dwells in Tyre.
Baal Hammon (another form of El) dwells in Qart-Hadasht.
Ashima dwells in Hamath.

The vast majority of these locations are areas sacred to these deities and where they are considered to live.  Some of the places (specifically cities) are the cult cities of the deities.  That is, the area over which they have domain and where their cults were based around.  It is also interesting how some deities are said to live in foreign lands outside of Canaan.  Some of these can also be down to interaction (usually through trade) with some of the people living there.  For example, Kothar is said to live in Egypt, in the city of Inebou-Hedjou or Men-Nefer (Memphis).  This is the cult city of the Egyptian god Ptah. It is possible that the reason the ancient Canaanites considered this to be Kothar's cult city is because Kothar was identified with Ptah.  Another example is Kittim (Cyprus), where Astart is sometimes said to dwell (historically, the king of the island was the high priest of the goddess as well).  It is possible that Astart was identified with (or perhaps even syncretized with) a native goddess.  And in later times, with the coming of the Greeks, it is often thought that Aphrodite was identified with this goddess as well, given that Aphrodite has some connections to Cyprus.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

How to perform a ritual to the Teraphim

Your family Teraphim are household gods.  Most of these tend to be personal and unique deities, but the goddess Asherah is commonly found among them.

If you have any idols of the household gods, it is best to keep them somewhere private.  Usually upstairs is where a Teraphim shrine will be kept.  I personally keep mine in my bedroom, behind some curtains which I can open and close at any time.  I also have a small cabinet nearby where I can store them if needed. 

On your altar, place the idols themselves, a light source like an oil lamp or candles, and incense.  I personally have on mine some incense, two oil lamps, a representation of a kappu symbol, and the idols of the deities themselves.

Only you know your own Teraphim, so I cannot tell you how to worship them individually.  However, for a very general ritual to them, I can tell you how I would go about it personally.

Firstly, wash yourself with water.  This doesn't need to be very elaborate, at least not as elaborate as temple worship.  You don't need to purify the whole room or make it sacred, as it is your own dwelling, and the household cultic areas should already be purified when constructed.  Instead, simply approach the shrine and bring an offering.  Something like a drink-offering would do for a daily offering.  With something more elaborate, offerings like bread and cakes are common (especially around festival times).

Approach the shrine.  This doesn't need to be solemn like entering a temple room, simply walk up to your shrine and kneel before it.  Begin by invoking the Teraphim individually, then light the oil lamps.  Then prostrate yourself seven times (or bow if your prefer).  Come forward with your offering and leave it in the shrine, then burn some incense in their honour.  Return to kneeling on the floor, and say a small prayer to the household gods.

Now this ritual isn't very complex, and that is the intention.  I prefer to keep my interaction with the household deities very simple.  If you want to do something more elaborate, then that is up to you.  This is just how I do it personally.  Also, when passing an altar, make sure to say a quick blessing to the deities there, in order to invoke their blessing in return.  It can be something simply like saying "shalam" when you walk past.  How frequently you perform these rituals is up to you.  Some people might prefer to do it every day, possibly even every morning and night.  It is recommended, though, that you strengthen your relationship to your household deities with frequent offerings.

An ancient household shrine

Tuesday 13 December 2011

The city of Tyre

The city of Tyre was an ancient island city off the coast of Canaan.  It's origins are explained in a lot of myths.  Sakkun-yaton tells us this about the origins of Tyre:

"Shamim-rum and Ushu were the issue of the first men by connexion with their mothers; the women of those times, without shame, having intercourse with any men whom they might chance to meet. Shamim-rum inhabited Tyre: and he invented huts constructed of reeds and rushes, and the papyrus. And he fell into enmity with his brother Ushu, who was the inventor of clothing for the body which he made of the skins of the wild beasts which he could catch. And when there were violent storms of rain and wind, the trees about Tyre being rubbed against each other, took fire, and all the forest in the neighbourhood was consumed. And Ushu having taken a tree, and broken off its boughs, was the first who dared to venture on the sea. And he consecrated two pillars to Fire and Wind, and worshipped them, and poured out upon them the blood of the wild beasts he took in hunting: and when these men were dead, those that remained consecrated to them rods, and worshipped the pillars, and held anniversary feasts in honour of them."

Tyre is also called a nymph, a spirit companion of Melqart, who himself is said to have discovered Tyre.  In fact, it is possible that Sakkun-yaton's Ushu is another name for Melqart, whose birth is mentioned elsewhere.

However, outside of myth, we can see from history that Tyre was originally a colony of Sidon, eventually winning its independence.

Tyre was an island city built out from its twin city, Ushu, which was built on the mainland.  Though the two sometimes warred, they more often were allies.  Ushu benefited from shelter on Tyre, as well as wealth from trade; while Tyre benefited from water, timber and burial grounds in Ushu.  Ushu was built more like a series of streets and houses, while Tyre was the centre of the whole kingdom where most of the kingdom's features were found, such as the palace.  Tyre was built like a fortress, surrounded by thick walls on every side.  This made it virtually impossible for enemies to besiege the city.

Tyre's economy was based mostly on trade with foreign kingdoms.  The southern harbour on the island was for merchant ships sailing to Egypt, while the northern harbour was for sailing to Sidon.

The Tyrians possessed a poweful navy and a small army, sometimes relying on mercenaries from elsewhere.

It was during the reign of King Hiram I, however, when Tyre became wealthy and powerful.  Hiram constructed a fortress/citadel on the northern edge of the city for defense in case of attack.  Between the northern and southern harbours was built a large public square and marketplace.  The royal palace was built near the south of the city.  Hiram also ordered rocks to be brought in to create an artificial island on the southern side of the city.  Once built, Hiram connected it to Tyre.  It was here that the famous temple to Melqart was built.

Melqart was the city's main god.  Other gods worshiped in Tyre included Astart, Yam, and Hadad.

The warehouses of Tyre were filled with produce.  The Tyrians themselves developed royal purple dye to trade in.  Tyre planted colonies across the seas to the west, including Atiq and Gadir.

It was Tyre that produced the famous Queen Jezebel, daughter of King Ethbaal.  Jezebel herself was the great-aunt of another famous member of the royal family: Princess Elishat of Tyre.  It was Elishat who founded the colony of Qart-Hadasht in the west, where she became Queen Dudu.  Noblemen from the city visited Tyre on pilgrimages to Melqart's temple.

Tyre for some periods in its history was ruled by a council of shoftim (judges) rather than kings, though the monarchy soon returned.  It managed to resist invasion by the Babylonians and Persians.

The Macedonians, however, were victorious.  Alexander the Great's army attacked Tyre and eventually destroyed the city, sparing only the temple.