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)

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