13 January 2014

Houses of Yahweh

Unknown to most Christians and many Jews is the fact that in the first century CE there were not one but three temples to the shared deity of the Judean and Samarian peoples who followed the Jewish and Samaritan religions.  Each of these temples was officially known as a Beth YHWH, or House of Yahweh. 

The true pronunciation of the national deity’s name was corrupted by the Masoretes in their rewriting of the Tanakh which replaced the vowels rendering the name as Yahuweh to those from the substitute word Adonai (meaning “Lord”), which is how we ended up with the unrecognizable (from the standpoint of the original) mangling we know as Jehovah.  This in effect castrated their god; the ending “-weh” is masculine while the ending “-wah” is feminine. 

Of course, maybe the Masoretes, who were scholars of a Jewish sect disdained by the orthodox rabbis as heretical, were simply acknowledging the transfer of the divine penis from the overall godhead to the aspect known as the Holy Spirit or Ruach ha-Kodesh in which Christians had sex-changed the feminine Ruach of the Jews to its own masculine Spirit.  Divine penises do not just pop into existence from nowhere, after all.

The principle of never saying the name of the deity is a superstition deriving from a twisted misinterpretation of the Third of the Ten Statements (often misnamed as “commandments”), which exhorts devotees of Yahweh to not take his name in vain.  The truth of the matter is that claiming “God is on our side” or speaking in his name violates the injunction of the Third Saying rather than merely speaking the name Yahuweh, or its modern version Yahweh.  Perhaps the most pretentiously hypocritical affectation is to not even write the complete word God but using the form “G-d”.

Historical background

As a people, Israel formed in the late 13th century BCE as a nomadic tribe among the city-states of northern Canaan.   Ancient Hebrew and ancient Canaanite are identical.  Israel did not wipe out the Canaanites; the Israelites are Canaanites.

Israel did not go down into Egypt as a people because at the time when a group of Canaanites started to migrate in that direction, Israel did not exist.  When these Canaanites left Egypt, it was not as escapees from bondage buts as fallen rulers fleeing the wrath of the formerly ruled.  This was in 1530, and the new Pharaoh chased these Canaanites, known as the Hyksos, back into Canaan, where he conquered them and all their territory, in the process destroying the stronghold of Jericho.

In other words, Joshua didn’t fight the Battle of Jericho; Ahmose I of Egypt did that.

Anyway, from this time on, Egypt controlled all of Palestine and southern Syria, for some periods dominating northern Syria, parts of Anatolia, and northwestern Mesopotamia as well, up to 1150, when it lost its administrative center at Beth Shean (Scythopolis). As late as 1130, by which time the Sea Peoples had established Philistia, the city of Megiddo was still part of its empire. After that year, the Philistines dominated all of Palestine, which is how it got the name. The Exodus did not happen. It is a fiction, a foundation myth, like the Irish legends of the Egyptian princess Scota and her husband Goidel Glas being ancestors of the Irish.

Moses, who according to the Torah led the “children of Israel out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”, is a fiction too.  The name isn’t Hebrew; the name as most Americans know it comes from the Greek.  Moses is the form in that language of the Aramaic name Mazas, which is the form in that language of the Persian name Mazda.  Mazda, also known as Ahura Mazda, was the One True God in the religion of Zartosht, or Zarathustra, known to Greeks as Zoroaster, the first lasting monotheism of the world.

Native Canaanite peoples began returning south in the mid-13th century, but remained on the eastern periphery of Philistine territory.  Moab arose around the year 1250 BCE.  Edom was founded about 1180 BCE.  Ammon, in between them, was established in 1000 BCE.

The Philistines were granted or took the area of the five cities (Gath, Ashelon, Ekron, Ashdod, and Gaza) in 1175 BCE.  By 1130, they dominated all of the southern Levant, what is now called Palestina, by which name the area has been called since at least the 6th century BCE.  As a consequence, the south became virtually deserted by its native peoples except for isolated hamlets and small bands.  The population shifted north to what is now southern Syria.

In the early decades of the 9th century BCE, as the power of the Philistines began to decline, Omri, king of the heretofore landless Israel, had managed to secure thru alliance, marriage, and conquest, dominion over nearly all of what is now known as Galilee and Samaria (the territory rather than the city).  He founded the new city of Samaria as his capital and rebuilt the cities of Megiddo, Hazor, and Gezer.  His realm, greatly increased by his son Ahab, became known as Beth Omri and Samerina, but never by the name of his tribe.

In the mid-ninth century, Hazael, Aramean king of Damascus, became the dominant ruler in the Levant, conquering territory of Beth Omri down to and including the city of Dan, and influencing the rest of the kingdom.  A short time later, a division in Beth Omri/Samerina resulted in a junior petty kingdom ruled by Beth David. 

In 830, Hazael of Damascus conquered and destroyed the Philistine city of Gath, the major inland Philistine center.  This cleared the way for the reoccupation of the mostly deserted area by the descendants of its former inhabitants.  But the area remained unimportant until the capital of Samaria was conquered and destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BCE.

The kingdom of Samerina fell along with its capital, and much of its population joined their cousins in Teman, the south, which soon came to be called Yehud.  In the mid-seventh century BCE, warriors from Yehud settled as military colonists in a buffer zone between the newly liberated Egypt and its former rulers in Nubia.  Their central colony was at the island of Elephantine, but there were satellite settlements across Egypt.

When Babylon conquered Assyria, they assumed control of the region, and around 595 conquered Yehud, but leaving it as a client kingdom.  It revolted in 587, and its capital and major cities were destroyed, and it was made a sub-province of the province of Samerina.  This arrangement remained with the fall of Babylon and rise of Iran.

Upon the conquest of Samerina and Yehud by Alexander the Great, Yehud gained temporarily on Samerina when the latter revolted and was occupied by Macedonian soldiers.  By the end of the Wars of the Diadochi, the entire Southern Levant lies in the hands of Ptolemy.  In his capital of Alexandria, two-fifths of the city were allotted to Jews and Samaritans.

In 219, Samerina passed to the Seleucids, and Yehud in 198.  The population of Samerina was almost entirely pro-Seleucid and pro-Hellenistic, but while Yehud had a faction of the latter, another pro-Ptolemy, anti-Hellenist faction formed.  This division in Yehud, combined with the chaos in the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empires, led to the Judean Civil War and the rise of the Hasmoneans, who became equally as Hellenistic as their Oniad predecessors and more tyrannical than their Herodian successors.

Speaking of the Oniads, the heir to the last Oniad high priest fled to Egypt from the internecine strife among his own kindred and founded a temple at Leontopolis, in the district that became known as the Land of Onias.

The Hasmoneans became clients of the Romans and were eventually deposed by the Herodians to the great relief of the population.  Upon the death of Herod and the deposition of his son Archelaus, Samaria was joined to Judea as a subordinate district of the sub-province, somewhat of a reversal of the arrangement under the Babylonians and Iranians.

Houses of Yahweh

Seven temples of the Jews and Samaritans have been identified from archaeological remains or verifiable historical records as having been called a “House of Yahweh”.

The earliest House of Yahweh was at Samaria, first built by Omri and greatly expanded and embellished by his son Ahab.  Yahweh was worshipped there alongside Asherah.

Yahweh, probably the same as Yam/Yaw/Yahu, son of the Canaanite patriarchal god El, was the “national” god of the tribe of Israel, the same way that Qaws was the “national” god of Edom, Chemosh was the “national” god of Moab, Milcom was the “national” god of Ammon, Melqart was the “national” god of Tyre, and Dagon was the “national” god of Philistia.

Ahab was the great builder of the Omrid dynasty, not only expanding the city rebuilding programs begun by his father but erecting new temples to Baal Hadad and other gods.

Next in chronological order is the House of Yahweh at Tel Arad, which was a military citadel built soon after the destruction of the Philistine city of Gath in 830 BCE.  It was built next to the ruins of what was once an extensive city in the Early Bronze Age.  In this House of Yahweh, there were (and in its remains still are) pillars to both Yahweh and Asherah.

The citadel at Tel Arad is one of two major known centers of the southern kingdom, known for at least a couple of centuries as Teman, Hebrew for “the south”.  Jerusalem, which had thrived along with Shechem in the Middle Bronze Age and like it been reduced to a small town in the Late Bronze Age, had not existed for centuries at this time and there is no evidence it existed again until after the return of the exiles in the 5th century BCE.

Paintings on the wall of a shrine at Kuntillet Ajrud in northeast Sinai with accompanying inscriptions show Yahweh, El, Baal, and Asherah.  One specifically mentions “Yahweh of Samerina and Asherah” and “Yahweh of Teman and Asherah”.

An inscription dating to the mid-8th century BCE from an archaeological dig at Khirbet el-Qom, which lies between Hebron and Lachish, mentions Yahweh and Asherah together, but without the place-names found at the inscriptions of the previous site.

Just a couple of kilometers from what would be the later walls of Jerusalem, another settlement, in this case a city or town rather than a military citadel, was built at what is called Tel Motza around 736 BCE.  Here is the third identified House of Yahweh, and like its two predecessors, Yahweh was worshipped alongside Asherah.

The archaeological evidence above demonstrates that for the Hebrews or Israelites of both Beth Omri (House of Omri) or Samerina and Beth David or Teman, henotheistic polytheism was the norm rather than an aberration.  Such would remain the case for another few centuries.

The kingdom of Samerina joined a regional revolt against the Assyrian empire in the later 8th century BCE and was captured in the year 722 BCE, upon which its capital and everything in it was destroyed.  It population was deported to the Assyrian heartland.  Refugees flooded southward, greatly expanding the population of the southern kingdom, which Assyria allowed to remain as a buffer between its outer territories and the Nubian-ruled kingdom of Egypt.

Egypt overthrew and its expelled its Nubian rulers in the mid-7th century BCE, and imported warriors from its neighbor to the northeast to help defend it from the threat.  Although there were settlements of these mercenaries and their families at the capital of Memphis, Pathros, Noph, and the northeast border towns of Migdol and Tahpanhes-Daphnae, the major colony and center of cultural and religious life of these Hebrew settlers was on the island of Elephantine (Yeb in Kemitic) on the border between Egypt and Nubia.

Here at Elephantine, around 650 BCE, arose the fourth House of Yahweh.  In contrast to the cult in Palestine, Yahweh’s consort here was Anath-Yahweh, another of the three major goddesses of the Canaanite pantheon.  The probable reason for this is that when the Hyksos of Canaanite origin had been in Egypt, Anath had been their major goddess and she had been inducted into the native Egyptian pantheon. 

From inscriptions and an abundance of surviving papyri, we know that Bethel, Haram, Eshem, and Nabu, Anath-Bethel were also worshipped at this House of Yahweh, in addition to Khnum, a god native to the Egyptians whose temple was immediately adjacent.  There were also Arameans, as the contemporary papyri refer to these colonists, among the military colony of Syrene (Aswan) across from Yeb.

The Assyrian Empire fell to the Median and Babylonian empires in 609, and in 597 the latter’s king, Nebuchadnezzar II, conquered the Southern Levant.  The kingdom of Yehud, by which name it was now referred, became a tributary client.  When Yehud rose in rebellion in 586, Nebuchanezzar reconquered it, destroyed the “city of Yehud”, and deported its people to Babylon.  We have no way of knowing to which settlement the phrase “city of Yehud” refers, but archaeological evidence demonstrates that both Tel Motza and Tel Arad were destroyed at this time along with the “House of Yahweh” in each.

After this, Nebuchadnezzar added Yehud as a sub-province to the already-existing province of Samerina.  Worship at this time was probably conducted at local shrines, and the only known remaining House of Yahweh was at Elephantine.

Babylonia fell to the Achaemenid Empire of Iran in 539 BCE.  As part of the conquest, it ruler, Cyrus the Great, assumed control of the fallen empires western territories, maintaining its organization and adopting its language, Aramaic.  Much admired these days for what is called his Declaration of Human Rights, Cyrus allowed the descendants of peoples conquered by Assyria to return to their homelands and allowed them to pursue their own worship.

In 525 BCE, he conquered Egypt and so became overlord of the Hebrews there as well.

Under the influence of their monotheistic overlords, the Hebrews, both Jews and Samaritans, moved from henotheism to monolatry and eventually to monotheism.  When the first new House of Yahweh, the fifth known, was built atop Mount Gerizim next to the city of Shechem, it featured only the one deity, Yahweh.  Shechem, built on the ruins of the Bronze Age city of the same name, was the capital of the province of Samerina.

To the south, in the sub-province of Yehud, exiles had returned also, but rather than return to their earlier settlements did like their cousins and erected a new city on the ruins of another Bronze Age city, this one at Jerusalem.  Here they constructed the sixth House of Yahweh about the year 425 BCE.  It paled in comparison to the temple on Mt. Gerizim, but like it featured only the one deity.

Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered the Levant and Egypt in 333, and by 331 founded what became the most important city in the Mediterranean in ancient times, Alexandria.  To the Jews and Samaritans he allotted two of its five divisions, and the settlement there became the major center of Hellenistic Judaism.  Its synagogue was the largest of the ancient world, but there was no temple.  Alexandria became the seat of the Ptolemaic empire.

To the north, another city founded by Seleucis I, Antioch, became another center for Hellenistic Judaism and Samaritanism, but with much less influence than its southern rival.

The man who would have been high priest Onias IV fled Hasmonean-ruled Yehud for sanctuary in Egypt, which granted him territory in the district of Leontopolis that became known as the Land of Onias.  There he built the seventh House of Yahweh in 154 BCE, but its importance was overshadowed by the nearness of both Alexandria and Jerusalem.

After conquering and forcibly converting the Idumeans who had been previously forced southwest into the Negev by the Nabateans in 110, John Hyrcanus turned north to conquer Samaria and destroy the city of Shechem and its temple.  Only two Houses of Yahweh now remained.

Five years later, Aristobolus I conquered the southern half of the kingdom of the Arab Itureans, whose realm extended from Mount Lebanon and Damascus south to include Galilee, adding Galilee (Galil ha-Goyim, “District of the Gentiles”) to the Hasmonean kingdom and making the rest tributary after having forcibly converted its population.

Among his other qualities, Herod the Great, an Idumean descendant of forced converts who overthrew the unlamented (by anyone) dynasty in 37 BCE, was a prolific builder, and in 10 BCE he rebuilt the House of Yahweh on top of Mt. Gerizim as well as a new city on the ruins of Samaria called Sebaste.  He also expanded the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem.

Upon the deposition of Archelaus in 6 CE, his territories of Judea, Idumea, and Samarea were joined together into one Roman sub-province of Syria as Judea.

The Judeans rose up in revolt against Roman rule in 66 CE, with some of their Samarean cousins joining them the next year. 

The Samarean revolt was crushed later in the same year that it began by a legion under the legatus Sextus Vettulenus Cerealis, who then destroyed the temple on Mt. Gerizim and the adjacent city of Sebaste.

Jerusalem fell to the legions in 70 CE.  The Romans destroyed the city entirely, tearing down its walls and dismantling the temple mound down to ground level.  The war dragged on for another three years, however, until the fall of Masada.  That same year, 73 CE, Vespasian ordered the temple at Leontopolis destroyed so that it would not become a center of dissent.

When the Samareans did not join the Bar Kokhba War of 130-135 CE, Hadrian rewarded them by rebuilding their temple, their House of Yahweh, on Mt. Gerizim.

After the Samareans rose in revolt against Flavius Zeno Augustus in 484 CE, he destroyed their temple once again, after which it was never rebuilt.

List of known Houses of Yahweh
(Their location and dates of existence)

Samaria – 878 BCE-722 BCE

Tel Arad – late 9th century BCE-587 BCE

Tel Motza – 736 BCE-587 BCE

Shechem – 450 BCE-110 BCE

Jerusalem – 425 BCE-70 CE

Leontopolis – 154 BCE-73 CE

Shechem – 10 BCE-67 CE

Shechem – 135 CE-484 CE

Footnote:  Evidence from Hosea 2:16 (8th century) suggest that at that time the Hebrews prefaced the name of their national god, Yahweh, with the title "Baal", meaning "Lord" or "Master".

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