26 April 2019

The Death of Quentin Coldwater


First, let me state I am in no way, shape, form, or fashion connected to SyFy’s The Magicians other than as a fan.  And this is more about toxic fan reaction to Q’s death than his death itself, and to be upfront, I am bisexual, which I have known since I was 15, I have endured depression most of my life with sometimes occasional sometimes frequent suicidal thoughts, and I’ve suffered from PTSD for a considerable amount of time.

Very few TV deaths have affected me as much as that on the Season 4 finale of SyFy’s The Magicians of Quentin Coldwater, the graduate student at the Brakebills University of Magical Pedagogy also known on the magical world and realm of Fillory as King Quentin the Mildly Socially Maladjusted.  So much, in fact, that after being reminded the next day of the elevator scene at the end of “The Side Effect” (S04E07), I immediately rewatched it back-to-back with “No Better To Be Safe Than Sorry” (S04E13), said finale. 

Then I went back to the beginning and binged my way through all four seasons to look at trends, consistencies, foreshadowing, etc.  While I did enjoy the rewatch immensely and may have done so anyway, I was compelled to do so by a certain section of the fandom carelessly throwing around charges of “queerbaiting”, employment of the “bury your gays” trope, and reckless use of a character suffering from mental illness.

I came to the conclusion that while understandable it was that these fans were hurt by Q’s death, their expressing hurt in this way made them sound exactly the same as the butt hurt cis-het frat-bro white incel snowflakes upset over Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac headlining Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Kelly Tran added as a major cast member to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Felicity Jones in the star role of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Aside from its being one of the best written, directed, acted, designed, costumed, and teched shows on television currently, the features which won me over were its strong women and its sexual awareness and progressive portrayals of queer characters, of which there are quite a number.  My VA case manager, incidentally, is the person who first turned me on to it.


* * * * *


“Q, c’mon, I love you, but you have to know that that’s not me and it’s definitely not you, not when we have a choice.” El to Q in “Escape from the Happy Place” (S04E05)

“This would only be equivalent if Ess was a girl and you found pussy, you know, interesting in a ‘sometimes you like Thai food’ kind of way.  And now it’s all Thai food, forever, until you die.” – El to Margo in “The Cock Barrens” (S02E06)

The character Quentin Coldwater as portrayed on the show was not in the least bit gay.  He was bisexual.  Same sex intercourse in the context of bisexuality is different, at least internally, even if physically the same as in homosexuality, at least for the bi person. 

Queliot and Quelice shippers are both equally wrong in demanding a same sex or opposite sex romance from a character who is clearly bisexual.  Stop telling Q whom he should have loved.

Bisexuality isn’t some midway point between homosexuality and heterosexuality, but something entirely different from both.  Homosexuality and heterosexuality are two sides of the single coin that is monosexuality; bisexuality, however, is another coin entirely. 

Generally, bisexuals are either androphiliac (mostly attracted toward men) or gynephiliac (mostly attracted toward women), with a much smaller group that is ambiphiliac, more or less equally attracted to both sexes.

Ignoring all of this, either out of ignorance or spite, is called bi erasure or biphobia.

* * * * *

First, let’s examine the charge of queerbaiting. 

Three of the main characters are queer:  Q is bi (gynephiliac), El is also bi (androphiliac), and Margo is polysexual.  Margo can be poly rather than a would-be rapist of animals because those on Fillory are  not only sentient and sapient but speech-empowered, which means that a sexual relationship between them and humans or other humanoids is not bestiality (aka zoophilia), but actual xenosexuality between consenting creatures. 

At least two of the major recurring characters are also queer:  Marina, who is either gay or bi (she has a girlfriend in “A Timeline and a Place”, S04E06), and Fray, foster daughter (of sorts) of El and Fen who is xeno (and in a relationship with the talking bear Humbledrum).

Queer sex and queer relationships actually happening, whether on screen or off, rule out the charge of queerbaiting.  Q and El had an entire life together on past-Fillory which became romantic and sexual after Q’s wife Ariel died.  The two of them and Margo had previously engaged in a magically-influenced threesome which broke up Q’s relationship with Alice.

A large part of the charge of queerbaiting, at least from some sources, is due to the “outtake” scene from Q’s and El’s discussion when the memories of their time together came back after they ate peaches.  However, that memory was all in El’s head, deeply buried, had fuck all to do with Q himself, and can only be called queerbaiting if taken completely out of context.

The extremist Queliot shippers are not entitled to a same sex relationship just because they want one.  In fact, except for the magic-induced threesome and his life with El in Fillory past, Q’s dominant sexual interest had been in Alice, especially throughout the first two seasons.  When Alice was a niffin, Q spent as much heart and effort trying to fix her as he did El when possessed by The Monster.  So much so that J, even without her shade, chose to bring back Alice’s shade rather than her own after their trip to the Underworld.

Finally on this point:  several commenters have referred to Q’s sexuality as fluid.  While I get this description and understand that within a given framework that it can be accurate, the concept of sexual fluidity in behavioral science refers to the hypothesis that a person’s sexuality can change over time and is this the foundation of gay conversion therapy. 

Essentialism differs in holding that a person’s sexuality (hetero-, homo-, or bi-) is fundamentally biological and does not change.  So I’d recommend dropping the term “fluid” so as not to unintentionally give legitimacy to the homophobic wankers who advocate conversion therapy.

* * * * *

Second, let’s address the “bury your gays trope”.

Many problems with this one.  First, Q is bi, not gay.  I guess you could alter it to “bury your queers trope”, but then you run into the problem that this trope is only a thing if the queer character in question is a only supporting character and, usually in those situations, the only queer character on a show.  Q was the main character rather than a supporting character and, as noted above, but one of several queers on this show.

* * * * *

Third, let’s address Q’s status as a sufferer of mental illness.

It’s rather ironic that fans claiming to be in his support by protesting his sacrifice as a suicide are in fact reducing his identity to that of mental patient.  That it was most certainly not that was clear from the last third of the episode.  While clinical depression is a condition that does not go away, when Q was chatting with Penny 40 in the room of Secrets Taken to the Grave, he pointed out that the suicidal thoughts and need for therapy and pills and institutionalization had vanished when he discovered magic and Brakebills.

Also, Q is not the only main character dealing with mental issues.  As the god Ember pointed out at the beginning of the Season 2 finale, El is an addict, and he has mentioned therapy once or twice.  Kady has been to rehab more than once and mental institutions also.  Josh is another substance abuser.  Julia is suffering from serious PTSD.  The presence of nearly all the main characters sharing residence with Q in the incepted “dream” of the mental institution in Season 1’s “The World in the Walls” suggests that they all may fall into this category. 

After all, “magic doesn’t come from talent; it comes from pain”; so does mental illness.  As Q said in “All That Josh” (S03E09), “We’re all fucked in our own way, like always”.  Belittling Q’s death as a suicide is just an insult to the character.


* * * * *

Fourth, let’s deal with the protest that it was too sudden.


“You have a classic case of white male protagonism, Derek, and a librarian simply can’t have that.  That’s why these books are so important, they’re such a gift.  They can allow you to see other points of view.  And once you start seeing that, you’ll find the story doesn’t end how you think, and the most important characters aren’t who you expect.” - Penny 40 in “The Side Effect” (S04E07)

Rewatch “The Side Effect”, in which they all but drew a map showing where the season was headed.  It ended with Penny 40 in the Underworld greeting someone he knew well from the upper world whom our subconsciousnesses told us (if we were honest with ourselves) could only have been Q, especially with all the bread crumbs in that episode.  Better yet, watch that episode back-to-back with the finale.

* * * * *

A few other finale-related things I want to address.

First, several on Twitter have questioned Penny 23’s relationship and closeness to Julia 40, calling it “sudden” and “out of nowhere”.  However, in “Twenty-three” (S03E11), when Josh and Julia crossover to Timeline 23, we learn that Penny 23 was in a relationship with Julia 23 until Quentin 23 killed her.  And speaking of suicide, after Julia 40 gives Quentin 23 her shade after he has killed Alice 23, that Quentin does, in fact commit suicide.  But on the relationship, Penny 23 knew things were different and gave her space until she invited him in.

Second, Julia “having her agency taken away”.  Well, at the time, Julia was in a drug-induced coma and couldn’t very well decide for herself.  As he admitted to Julia, Penny chose selfishly, but she herself had expressed reservations about goddesshood and watching all her friends die and not wanting to turn into Iris.  In addition, Julia accepted what he had done even if she didn’t like it at the moment, asking him to stay with her so she could be mad at him.

Third, El sitting next to Alice at the memorial and holding her hand signaled that they both knew that they both loved him and were equally heart-broken.  As a bisexual, I wouldve liked to see how that triangle played out in Season 5 if things had gone that way, but damn, as heroic self-sacrifices go, that of Quentin Coldwater, alias Q and King Quentin the Moderately Socially Maladjusted, can’t be beat, especially with the lengthy closure for the audience.  And Quentin's life wasn't worth something because he sacrificed it, but because he lived it.



14 April 2019

Northwest Semites' History & Religion, and Old & New Testaments


I covered the philosophical and metaphysical reasons why all Earth-based human religions are bullshit in my previous essay of 14 April 2018, “The Meaning of Life, Complete” (https://notesfromtheninthcircle.blogspot.com/2018/04/the-meaning-of-life-complete.html).

This time I’m focusing actual as opposed to fictional history, and the history of religion among Northwest Semites, and the true events behind the Old and New Testaments.  In all four cases, this is an overview without too much intricate detail except for a few cases.

NORTHWEST SEMITES, HISTORY

In the late Early Bronze Age (3300-2100 BCE) and all of the Middle Bronze Age (2100–1550 BCE), Northwestern Semites were one of the dominant powers in the Mashriq, which includes Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Egypt.

Northwestern Semites included the Amorites, the Arameans, and the Canaanites.  The last group, the Old Canaanites, later became the Phoenicians, the Moabites, the Edomites, the Ammonites, the Samaritans, the Yehudians, and the Punics or Carthaginians.  In fact, the autonym of the Phoenicians was a form of the name Canaanite.  The Hebrew language of the Israelites (the Samaritans or Bit Humria and Yehudians or Bit Dawid) was virtually identical to Canaanite.

Early and Middle Bronze Ages

For most of the Early Bronze Age (3300-1800 BCE), the bulk of the northern Levant (what is now Syria) was dominated by the Kingdom of Ebla, with the eastern portion of the region mostly under the sway of the Kingdom of of Mari.  The independent city-states of Canaan were first mentioned in 2350 BCE.

In the last two centuries of the Early Bronze Age and the first century of the Middle Bronze Age (1800-1550 BCE), the Amorites founded a number of kingdoms that became major powers.  The third kingdom of of Ebla (c. 2000 BCE) was Amorite, as were the kingdom of Amurru (c. 2000 BCE), the kingdom of Qatna (c. 2000 BCE), the kingdom of Babylon (1894 BCE), the kingdom of Yamhad (1810 BCE), and the kingdom of Kharu, dominated by Ugarit (c. 1800 BCE).

During this same period, the Egyptian name for coastal Levant was Retenu, and they divided it into five entities:  Pekanan (Philistia or Gaza Strip), Kananu (Idumea-Judea-Samaria), Djahy (Galilee), Amurru, and Kharu.  The city of Gaza dominated Pekanan; the cities of Jerusalem, Shechem, and Jericho dominated Kananu; and the cities of Hazor and Megiddo dominated Djahy.  From south to north these city-states lay on the Mediterranean coast:  Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Jaffa, Dor, Akko, Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Byblos, Arados, Arvad, and Ugarit.

The Canaanites, meanwhile, began migrating into Lower Egypt, especially craftsmen, artisans, and soldiers, starting around 1800 BCE, and established an independent state in the eastern Nile Delta.  From 1725 to 1650 BCE, the Canaanite Fourteenth Dynasty ruled all Lower Egypt; some historians push the start date back to 1805 BCE.  The Canaanite-led Hyksos confederation of diverse peoples ruled Lower Egypt from 1650 to 1550 BCE as the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Dynasties.

Ebla fell to the Indo-European Hittites of Anatolia in 1600 BCE.  Babylonia fell to the Hurrian-speaking Kassites in 1595 BCE. 

Late Bronze Age

The expulsion of the Hyksos rulers from Lower Egypt by a resurgent Upper Egypt marks the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (1550-1130 BCE), in which the Levant, at least the western parts, was dominated by rivalry between outside powers Egypt in the south and Mitanni then the Hittites in the north.  Within the region, the major powers were Hazor and Qadesh, but neither escaped domination by one or more of the outside powers.  Hazor was the greatest city of Late Bronze Age Canaan, ranking with the cities of Mycenaean Greece.

The Late Bronze Age was also the period of large nomadic groups like the Habiru, the Shasu, and the Suteans.

The city-states and states in or on the outskirts of the Levant at this time included Urusalim, Shachmu, Ugarit, Qatna, Amurru, Gubal (Byblos), Beruta, Sidon, Tyre, Enisasi in Amqu (Beqaa), Lachish, Qadesh, Ruhiza, Damascus, Kumidi (West Beqaa), Acre, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer, Gaza, Asqalon, Taanach, Achshaph, Qiltu, Arasni, Pella, Ruhizzi, Yursa, Tubu, Naziba, Kanatha, Yenoam, and many others.

The prominence of the city-states in Kananu receded greatly, while the region of Pekanan was entirely under direct Egyptian rule.  Egypt ruled all Palestine during this period, and frequently extended its dominion far to the north, even into southern Anatolia.  Egypt’s first administrative center for its colony in ‘Retenu’ was at Gaza, later shifting to Scythopolis in Galilee in the middle 15th century BCE.

The kingdom of Yamhad fell to the Hittites in 1525 BCE.  The kingdom of Qatna (ruled from Qadesh since mid-15th century BCE) fell to Hurrian-speaking Mitanni in 1340 BCE.  Mitanni in turn fell to the Hittites in 1275 BCE. 

Canaanites established the kingdom of Moab in 1250 BCE.

In 1208 BCE, Pharoah Merneptah erected a stele proclaiming his victory over Tenehu (Libya), Canaan, Ashkelon, Gezer, Yanoam, Isiriar, and Hurru.  There is no credible doubt that “Hurru” in the inscription refers to the region of the Hurrians in southeast Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia, and most authorities, though not all, agree that the people before that, written in syllables ‘I.si.ri.ar’, is that later called Israel.  Strictly linguistically speaking, it could also be interpreted as Assyria; however, the inscription contains a determinative signifying Isiriar as a non-sedentary group of people, which the Assyrians were most definitely not.

Amurru fell to the Sea Peoples in 1200 BCE.  Kharu fell to the Sea Peoples in 1190 BCE.  Canaanites established the kingdom of Edom in 1180 BCE.  The Sea Peoples who became the Philistines conquered and settled Gath, Ekron, Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Gaza in 1175 BCE.  The native population rose up and destroyed the Egyptian administrative center at Scythopolis in 1150.  In 1130 BCE, the Philistines captured and destroyed the last stronghold loyal to Egypt, the city of Megiddo.

Archaeological surveys of the highlands of central Palestine and of northern Transjordan show a significant increase in population beginning c. 1200-1150 BCE, with three hundred new settlements in the following century or century-and-a-half.  This increase coincided with severe depopulation of natives in southern Palestine that was almost certainly due to the presence of the Philistines in the five cities.  The new kingdom of Moab accounts for the second of these areas.  The highland settlements are hamlets at first, then villages, then small rural towns, and are noteworthy for their lack of pig bones.

The only political entities of the Levant which did not fall to outside powers were the city-states in what came to be called Phoenicia:  Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, Arwad, Byblos, Simyra, and other coastal sites.  From 1200-722 BCE, these rich city-states of Phoenicia, powered by significant improvements in sailing technology, dominated the entire Mediterranean and founded colonies in the Maghreb that grew into the Punic Empire.

Early Iron Age (1130-722 BCE)

During this time, the region of Retenu earlier known as Kananu was entirely deserted, save for small nomadic bands and tiny hamlets.  Other than the Philistine-ruled city-states.  Canaanites outside of Phoenicia remained in Moab, Edom, and in the central highlands, joined in 1000 BCE by those who established Ammon.  During this time, the Canaanites in the highlands gave up eating pork for some unknown reason.

In 1050 BCE, the Middle Assyrian Empire collapsed, and the Arameans suddenly had to freedom to establish their own kingdoms in the Levant.  These included Aram-Damascus, Hamath, Bit-Adini, Bit-Bahiani, Bit-Hadipe, Aram-Bit-Rehob, Aram-Zobah, Bit-Zamani, Bit-Halupe, Aram-Ma’arak, Aram-Sovak, Geshur, Yaudi (Samal), Bit-Agusi, Bit-Gabbari, and Aram-Naharaim, as well as the tribal polities of Gambulu, Litau, and Puqudu.

Around 883 BCE, Omri king of Israel (grammatically indicated to be a people rather than a geographic entity) first appears in the historical record.  He and the other elite were most likely Arameans.  In about 878 BCE, he established the city from which the Aramaic name of his (now physical) kingdom is derived, Samerina, and for which its people are called Samaritans.  The kingdom was usually called Bit Humria by outsiders. 

Omri also rebuilds Gezer, Hazor, and Megiddo.  Some time later a splinter or subordinate kingdom in the south is founded that is first called Bit Dawid and later also Teman.  We know that his son Ahab the Israelite succeeded him in 846.

After the destruction of Gath by Hazael of Damascus in 830 BCE, the land of southern Palestine became open for resettlement, which occurs, probably by the Bit Dawid.  Shortly after this the area becomes known as Teman.

The independence of Bit Humria ended in 740 BCE when Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III conquered it along with several other kingdoms in the Levant and turns it into a client state paying heavy tribute.  He erected a province called Samerina with its seat at Megiddo.  In 722, Sargon II defeated a rebellion by Samerina, destroying Samaria and exiling its elite, then making it a province of Assyria under the satrapy of Eber-Nari.

Middle Iron Age (722-586 BCE)

Many refugees from Samerina/Bit Humria began pouring into the south, into Bit Dawid, now also called Yehud.

In 664 BCE, Psamtik I became Pharoah of Egypt, establishing the Twenty-sixth (or Saite) Dynasty.  He threw off the suzerainty of his Assyrian overlords in 655 BCE, and within five years had pushed the Nubians out of Upper Egypt. 

To protect his southern border, Psamtik established a military colony at the island of Yeb (Elephantine) and another across the river at Syren (Aswan).  In addition, he established other military colonies of these same people at the northeast border towns of Migdol and Tahpanhes-Daphnae, in Pathros, in Noph, and in the capital at Memphis. 

The well-preserved Elephantine papyri refer to these mercenaries and their families at Yeb, Syren, and ther other colonies as Arameans, after their language (“A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down into Egypt...”).  However, it is clear from later events that these people were Israelites, from Samerina, Yehud, or both.  The clincher is that while the temple at Yeb was polytheistic, its dominant deity was Yahuweh, tutelary god of the Israelites.

A group of Arameans called the Chaldeans conquered Babylonia in 623 BCE and began to extend its empire, taking Yehud and the ‘city of Yehud’ in 597 BCE and reducing it to the status of a client kingdom.  When Yehud rebelled in 586 BCE, Nebuchadnazzar II took the ‘city of Yehud’ (Yehud probably being the city’s actual name), destroyed it and its temple, exiled the city’s population, and made Yehud a sub-province of Samerina, also under the satrapy of Eber-Nari.  The ‘city of Yehud’ in question was almost certainly that at Tel Motza, though the citadel at Tel Arad (and its shrine) were destroyed about the same time. 

The former city of Jerusalem was uninhabited from the time of the Late Bronze Age Collapse until after the return of the exiles from Babylon in the late 6th century BCE.  The Temple of Solomon is as fictional as its namesake.

Late Iron Age (586-63 BCE)

In 550 BCE, the kingdom of Moab was destroyed by the Qedarites, an northern Arabian group later absorbed into the Nabateans.

The Chaldean, or Neo-Babylonian, Empire falls to the Achaemenid Empire of Iran under Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, its territories (southern Mesopotamia, or Babylonia, and the Levant) becoming the 5th satrapy of the empire with the name Babylon-Ebar Nari.  Yehud remains a sub-province of Samerina.

In 525 BCE, Achaemenid Iran under Cambyses II conquered Egypt and made it the 6th satrapy of the empire.

Around 500 BCE, the Samaritans built a temple to Yahuweh atop Mount Gerizim outside the remains of the Late Bronze Age city of Shechem, which they proceeded to rebuild.  Like its one-and-future rival Jerusalem, it had not been inhabited since the Late Bronze Age Collapse.

The empire of Iran under Xerses I separated Mesopotamia from the Levant as the 9th satrapy in 482 BCE, leaving just Ebar-Nari as the 5th satrapy.

The temple to Yahuweh in Jerusalem was probably built around 450 BCE.  Rabbinic literature suggests the date was a century later (by claiming the temple destroyed in 70 CE had stood for 420 years), but this suggestion is almost certainly a century late.

Greek historian Herodotus publishes The Histories in 440 BCE.  In it he refers to the southern Levant as “Palaistine”.

In 411 BCE, devotees of the Egyptian god Khnum destroyed the adjacent temple to Yahuweh, perhaps its worship had become restricted to monotheism or at least monolatry.  Four years later, residents of Yeb wrote to Bagayavahu, governor of Yehud, and to Dalaiah and Shelemiah, sons of Sinballidh, governor of Samerina, asking for financial help with rebuilding their temple.

The Egyptians reasserted their independence in 404 BCE and maintained it until 342 BCE in the 28th, 29th, and 30th Dynasties.  Sometime during this period, the Israelite miltary colonies closely allied to the Iranian state, particularly those at Yeb and Syren, were eradicated and their people expelled.

The Phoenician city-state of Sidon rose against Iranian rule in 343 BCE, with significant support from the people of Yehud.  Following its suppression, Artraxerses Ochus burned the city to the ground and exiled the surviving Yehudians to the satrapy of Hyrcania, approximately the modern Gilan, Mazandaran, and North Khorasan provinces (i.e., the former Media).  Egypt fell to Iranian armies under general Bagaos the following year (342 BCE).

Alexander I of Macedonia conquered the Achaemenid Empire 334-323 BCE, with Anatolia, the Levant, and Egypt taken by 332 BCE.  Yehudians were his close allies in Phoenicia and Egypt, and as a reward he gave them two of the five sections of the new city of Alexandria.  In 331 BCE, the Samaritans rose in revolt, resulting in the occupation of Samareia by a garrison of Macedonian troops.

The Ptolemaic Empire was founded in 323 BCE and the Wars of the Diodochi broke out the next year.  Initially, Samareia and Iudeia fell to the Antigonid Empire, but by 301 BCE, they were in the hands of the Ptolemies.

Onias I ben Jaddua became high priest at Jerusalem about 320 BCE, founding the Oniad dynasty (a neologism).

In 242 BCE, Pharoah appointed Joseph ben Tobiah as tax collector for both Samareia and Iudeia, making him founder of the Tobiad dynasty, which became rivals to that of the Oniads.

Upon the break out of the Fourth Syrian War in 219 BCE between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, Theodotus of Aetolia, governor of Samareia, threw in his lot with the Seleucids and thereby passed to their jurisdiction.  Iudeia followed suit in 198 BCE.

In 191 BCE, the Great Sanhedrin separated the office of Nasi, its chairman (literally, ‘prince’), from that of Kohen Gadol (‘high priest’).

When Kohen Gadol Simon II died in 185 BCE, civil war broke out in Iudeia between his sons Onias III, who was pro-Ptolemy and anti-Hellenistic, and Jason, who was pro-Seleucid and pro-Hellenistic like his counterparts in Samareia.  Onias won the high priesthood, but Jason remained defiant and unbowed.

In 175 BCE, the Tobiads switched sides to support Jason, removing Onias III.  Roughly three years later, Jason too fell from power, but what exactly happened is not clear due to the unreliability of the authors of I Maccabees and II Maccabees.  Both works were composed as Hasmonean propaganda, the first by the same writer responsible for the later interpolations into the book of Daniel.

Antiochus IV of Seleucia invaded Egypt in 170 BCE, capturing everything but Alexandria.  He left Ptolemies in charge as puppets.  Two years later, he invaded again, this time to seize the city, and he also launched an attack against Cyprus.  The Roman Republic intervened, expelling him from Egypt entirely as well as from Cyprus.  On his return to his capital at Antioch, he allegedly sacked the treasury of the temple at Jerusalem.

In the midst of the above, Onias IV, son of Onias III, fled to Egypt seeking refuge from his family’s infighting.  He was granted land in the Nile Delta for he and fellow refugees to settle which became known as the Land of Onias.  Around 154 BCE, he had built a fully-functioning temple of Yahuweh at Leontopolis.

In 168 BCE, the Nabataeans, who had by this time absorbed the Qedarites, establish a kingdom later known as Arabia Petraea, with its capital at Petra.  The Idumeians of Edom migrate south and west to the Negev region.

When the last of the Oniads died in 159 BCE, a civil war broke out that saw the first of the Hasmoneans to hold the office of Gadol Kohen.  The kingdom of Ammon is also destroyed, annexed to Iudeia as Galaaditis (Gilead).

In 116 BCE, the Seleucid Empire is in its death throes so the ambitious Gadol Kohen at the time, John Hyrcanus, no longer content with the title Ethnarch, adopts the one of Basileus.  His epithet indicates that his origin was in the satrapy of Hyrcania.  Hycanus conquers Idumeia in 110 BCE and forces its inhabitants to convert.  He conquers Samareia in 108 BCE, destroys its temple atop Mount Gerizim, and annexes it to Iudeia.

The Himyarite Kingdom in Yemen, which eventually dominated the Arabian peninsula, lasted from 110 BCE to 525 CE.  Its elite and many of its commoners converted to Judaism in 380 CE.

Newly-crowned Basileus Aristobolus invaded the kingdom of Iturea in 104 BCE, keeping its southern portion later known as Galil ha-Goyim or Galileia, which at first serves as a place to ship political undesirables.

In 90 BCE, Basileus Alexander Janneus conquered from the Nabateans the region later known as Perea and forced it inhabitants to convert.  In 81 BCE, he formally annexed Galileia and began to populate it with transplanted Yehudeans after forcing the Ituraean natives to convert.

The Hasmonean (or Third Judean) Civil War that began in 67 BCE ended in 63 BCE through the intervention of the Roman Republic by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus as part of his conquest of Greater Syria.

The Roman Era

In 57 BCE, Aulus Gabinius, proconsul of Syria, rebuilt the city of Samaraea, separated the region, and attached it directly to Syraea.  He also divided the former Hasmonean kingdom into five administrative districts.

The Revolt of Hezekiah ben Garon, who declared himself King of the Jews, took place in 47 BCE.

Herod I the Great was recognized by Rome as King of the Jews in 37 BCE, ruling over all the former Hasmonean territories, save Samaraea.  In 30 BCE, however, Octavius added the territory to his realm, and Herod renamed the city Sebastos.

In 13 BCE, the city of Caesarea Maritima was finished and Herod moved his seat there from Jerusalem, making it capital of the kingdom.

Herod rebuilt the Samaritan temple on top of Mt. Gerizim.  At about the same time, he commenced a major overhaul of the temple on Mount Moriah next to Jerusalem.

In 4 BCE, the revolt of Judas Sepphoraeus and Matthias bar Margalus took place in Jerusalem.  In the same year, there was a revolt at Pesach against Archelaus.  There was another revolt at Shavuot against Sabinus, Augustus’ treasurer in Syraea.

Upon Herod’s death that year, Herod Archelaus inherited Iudaea, Samaraea, and Idumaea as ethnarch, Herod Antipas inherited Galilaea, Peraea, and Decapolis as tetrach, Philippos inherited Ituraea (the Arabs unconquered by Aristobolus), Trachonitis, Batanaea, Gaulanitis, and Panaeas as tetrarch, and Salome I inherited Paralia (Philistia) as toparch.

In the aftermath of Herod’s death, Idumaea, Iudaea, Peraea, and Galilaea rose in revolt.  A messianic pretender (and former slave of Herod) named Simon led the revolt in Peraea, another pretender named Anthronges that in Iudaea, and Judas ben Hezekiah (Judas the Galilean) that in Galilaea, while Herod’s cousin Achiab led the rebels in Idumaea.  Caius, a general for Publius Quinctilius Varus, legatus of Syria, destroyed the capital of Galilaea, Sepphoris, and sold most of its population into slavery.  Varus himself marched straight to Jerusalem only to find the rebels had fled.  In the aftermath, over 2000 rebels were crucified, though Ben Hezekiah remained free.

In 1 BCE, Herod Antipas rebuilt Sepphoris, renaming it Autocratoris.

In 6 CE, Rome removed Archelaus and united his three territories as the single Iudaea, a sub-province of Syraea with a Roman procurator, later a praefectus.  Naturally, the proconsularis of Syraea, Legatus Publius Suplicius Quirinius, ordered a census of those living within its bounds.

From 15 to 116 CE, the former province of Assyria called Adiabene, centered on Arbela (Arbil), existed as an independent kingdom that was officially Jewish in religion.

Herod Antipas built yet another seat for Galilaea at Tiberias in 20 CE.

In 30 CE, there was widespread rioting in Jerusalem during Sukkot over the praefectus, Pontius Pilatus, taking money from the temple treasury to help pay for an aqueduct into the city.  A disturbance at the temple near the same time led to the crucifixion of Jesus the Nazorean as a convicted terrorist.

The Revolt of the Samaritan Prophet took place at Mount Gerizim in 36 CE.

From 36 through 37 CE, there was war between Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilaea, and Aretas IV, king of the Nabataeans, which did not go well for the former.  According to Josephus, the people of Galilaea blamed the defeat on Antipas’ recent execution of John the Baptist.

There was a pogrom against the Jews of Alexandria in 38 CE.

In 40 CE, rioting broke out between the Greeks and the Jews in Alexandria.

The Theudas Revolt took place in Iudaea under procurator Cuspius Fadus in 45 CE.

The Jacob and Simon Uprising against the procurator Tiberius Julius Alexander, a Jew from Alexandria, took place 46-48 CE.  The two were sons of Judas the Galilean.

In 49 CE, rumors of the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem by troops of Ventidius Cumanus, procurator of Iudaea (Gentiles from Caesarea and Sebastos), lead to riots which cause the trampling deaths of thousands in the city for Pesach and Matzot.  Rioting in the Jewish sector of Rome instigated by followers of “Chrestus”, perhaps in response to the incident above, led to the Jews being expelled from the city by emperor Claudius.

The invasion of Samaraea by Galileans led by Alexander and Eleazar ben Dinaeus seeking revenge for Galilean pilgrims to Jerusalem allegedly slain in the region sparked a civil war between Galileans and Samaritans in 52 CE.

The Uprising of the Egyptian Prophet took place at the Mount of Olives in 58 CE.

In 59 CE, an uprising of the Sikarii under an unnamed messianic pretender took place and was put down by the new procurator, Porcius Festus.

A holy man named Jesus ben Ananias appears in Jerusalem at Sukkot in 62 CE predicting the destruction of the city.  The procurator, Lucceius Albinus, has him flogged, but eventually lets him go.

Procurator Gessius Florus invaded the Upper City of Jerusalem in 65 CE, seizing many of the leading men whom he had scourged anc crucified, leading to riots in which three thousand people were killed.

The Great Jewish Revolt took place 66-73 CE.  Before the revolt trouble had been simmering for some time due to anti-taxation protests by the Judaean in general and attacks on Roman citizens by the Zealots (1st century Taliban) and the Sicarii (1st century Al Qaida).  It kicked off when Procurator Florus robbed the temple treasury of nineteen talents, with the Pharisees and Sadducees acting in concert.  Even the provincial capital at Caesarea Martima fell.  Soon the revolt spread to Samaraea, Galilaea, and some adjacent regions.

For the first two years, the more moderate, established leaders remained in control.  They dispatched military governors to the outlying districts of Galilee and Golan, Jericho, Jaffa and Lydda, and Edom.  At least one of these governors, Yosef ben Mattathias, later known as Titus Flavius Iosephus, found himself opposed by the local Zealot commander, in his case John of Giscala, who later played a large role in Jerusalem.

In two years, the Romans had crushed the revolts in Galilee and Samaria, and the Zealots, with the Idumeans, had overthrown the provisional government in Jerusalem, where the Galilean Zealots vied with the Judean Zealots for supremacy and, just to keep things interesting, the Temple Guard and remaining supporters of the provisional government as well as a peasant army led by messianic pretender Simon ben Giora.  Volunteers came in from the Diaspora and from the Jewish kingdom of Adiabene.  The Sikarii had been expelled from the city and held outlying fortresses, including Masada.

The Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE became a disaster for the defenders largely because of the infighting of its leaders.

In the course of the war, Sebastos and the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim were destroyed along with several cities in Galilaea, fortresses in Iudaea, and the entire city of Jerusalem, including its temple.  All that remained of Jerusalem were its western wall and three towers of the former palace of Herod.  The temple mount was completely dismantled.  Survivors of the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE who were not crucified were exiled to the Maghreb region in North Africa.  Even the temple of Onias in Leontopolis was torn down after the war’s conclusion for fear it could become a center of resistance.

In 73 CE, a revolt in Cyrenaica by Jonathan the Weaver, messianic pretender and survivor of Masada, was easily put down by Catallus, governor of the Pentapolis.

The Qitos War or Rebellion of the Diaspora took place 115-117, simultaneous with Trajan’s campaigns against the Arsacids of Iran, which included subjugation of the Jewish kingdom of Adiabene and its absorption into the Roman province of Assyria.  The two separate but connected wars involved the Jews of Adiabene, Alexandria, Cyrenaica, Cyprus, Edessa, Nisibia, and Lydda in Palestine.

The wars in the west began with an uprising by the Jews of Alexandria in the aftermath of the conquest of Adiabene.  The praefectus of Egypt used his remaining legion to put it down, but the violence spread to other parts of Egypt. 

At the same time, a messianic pretender named Lukuas rose up in Cyrenaica, driving out the Gentiles and killing a quarter million of them, burning temples and official buildings.  Later he forged east to Alexandria and burned every temple and most civic buildings relating to Rome, plus the entire Jewish sector. 

In Cyprus, the Jewish half of the population rose under Artemion and attacked the Gentile half, racking up a bodycount equal or surpassing that in Cyrenaica. 

In Palestina, the revolt was led by Pappus and Julianus, originally from Alexandria, who made their headquarters at Lydda, but the rebels got little outside support.

Especially in Cyrenaica and Cyprus, the effect of the rebellious armies on the local populations was like that of ISIS in the 21st century on the populations of northern Iraq and Syria.

Quintus Marcius Turbo went to Egypt and defeated the army of Lukuas, who escaped to Palestina to die at Lydda at the hands of the army of Lusius Quietus, which had previously defeated the Jews of Edessa and Nisibia in Mesopotamia, fighting on behalf of their Iranian overlords.  The Jewish quarter of Alexandria was completely destroyed by the rebels.  The Jewish population of Cyprus was eradicated, that in Egypt drastically reduced, and the entire province of Cyrenaica became a desolation.

In 122, Publius Aelius Trajanus Hadrianus Augustus established Colonia Aelia Capitolina where Jerusalem used to be, largely for veterans of Legio X Fretensis, permanently stationed in Iudaea at Caesarea Martima, with a frontier camp for a cohort at the former Jerusalem.

The Bar Kokhba War took place 132-135, led by messianic pretender Simon bar Kokhba with Rabbi Akiva ben Joseph as spiritual leader.   According to Roman historian Dio Cassius, at the end of the war, the rebels casualties numbered 580,000.  After the war, Hadrian finished rebuilding the city and merged the smaller provinces and subprovinces of the region into one as the province of Syraea-Palaestina and renamed the seat Casesarea Palaestina.

The refugees from the Bar Kokhba War became the Jews of Arabia, forming thirteen tribes in the Hejaz region and four in the emirates of the south.

The Palmyrene Empire existed in Aegyptus, Syraea-Palestina, and southeast and south central Anatolia from 260 to 273.

From 325 to 1627, the Jewish kingdom of Semien flourished in East Africa until conquered by and added to the Christian empire of Ethiopia.

The revolt of the Jews in Galilaea against Caesar Flavius Claudius Constantius Gallus led by Isaac of Diocaesarea and messianic pretender Patricius Natrona took place 351-352.

The conversion of the Himyarite Kingdom in Yemen to Judaism occurred in 380.

In 484, the Samaritan Justa Uprising took place, leading to the destruction of their temple on Mount Gerizim and a Christian establishment in its place.

In 495, Samaritans occupied the top of Mount Gerizim, massacring the chapter and garrison of the Church of St. Mary which stood where their temple once did.

The Ben Sabar Revolt in Samaraea in 529 led to the outlawing of Samaritanism.

Between 556 and 572, Jews and Samaritans joined together in rebellion against Rome.

In 610, there were revolts by the Jews of Antioch, Tyre, and Acre against Rome.

The Jews of Syria-Palestina rose up against Rome as allies of the Sassinids in 614, with the Jews of Tyre, Damascus, Cyprus, and Edessa following suit.  After the fall of Aelia Capitolina that year, the region became a commonwealth under the protection of Iran until 629.

The multi-ethnic Khazar Khaganate dominated the Pontic steppe and the Caucasus Mountains from 630 to 969.  Officially Jewish, it was an ally of the Imperium Romanum/Basilea Rhomain against the Sassanids, the Umayyads, and the Abbasids, and had close relation with the Jewish communities of Iran, Mesopotamia, and the Levant.  During the High Middle Ages, it was second only to Al-Andalus as a center of Jewish culture and a haven of religious toleration.

In 637, Muslim Arab armies of the Umayyad Caliphate conquered the eastern provinces of the Basilea Rhomaion and erected the province of Bilad al-Sham, made up of five districts:  Jund Dimashq (Damascus), Jund Filastin (southern Palestina), Jund al-Urdun (northern Palestina), Jund Hims (Homs), and, Jund Qinnasrin (Aleppo).  The new rulers call Aelia by the name Iliya for a couple of centuries before replacing that name with Al Quds.

NORTHWEST SEMITES, RELIGION

The various groups of Northwest Semites—Amorites, Arameans, Canaanites—shared a common religion and pantheon of deities, even cultural heroes.

Collectively the gods and goddesses were called the Elohim. 

El was the father of all the gods and their chief.  El is often referred to with an epithet, such as El Shaddai (translated El the Almighty; literally ‘El the Destroyer’), El Berith (El of the Covenant), El Roi (El the Omnisicent, literally ‘El Who Sees’), El Olam (El the Eternal), El Tzevaot (El of the Hosts), El Elyon (El the Most High), Toru El (El the Bull), El Qaniyunu (El the Creator), El Gibbon (El the Warrior), El Elehe Yisrael (El of the gods of Israel).

The consort of El was Athirat (Asherah), who is frequently named with the epithet Qadesh, or the ‘Holy One’.  In the 9th century BCE, she was frequently paired with Yahuweh.

El had seventy sons, the Bene El.  To each of these was allotted one of the seventy nations of humans on Earth.  As its tutelary god, Israel was given to Yah (later Yahu, then Yahuweh), Edom was given to Qaws, Moab to Chemosh, Ammon to Milcom, Tyre to Melqart, Sidon to Eshmun, Byblos to El, Shechem to Resheph, Jerusalem to Shalim, Philistia to Dagon, Carthage to Hammon, the Nabateans to Dushara, etc.  There is even a reference to this in Deuteronomy:  “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the children of men, he set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.  For Yahuweh’s portion is his people.  Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” (32:8-9).

A triad of gods comparable to the Greek triad of Zeus-Poseidon-Hades stood at the apex of the Bene El:  Hadad, a sky god of storm; Yam, god of the sea; and Mot, god of death and the underworld. 

Although Baal could be a title for any of the gods, if used alone it almost always meant Hadad (its literal definition is “master”).  In fact, Baal in later centuries was the only way in which the lay people were permitted to refer to Hadad, his priests keeping his name to themselves, exactly like the Jewish (and presumably Samaritan) priests of Yahuweh did at the beginning of the third century CE.

As for goddesses, the two most prominent after Asherah were Anath, portrayed in Egypt as the consort of of Yahuweh but more often called Anat the Maiden or Anat the Merciful, and Ashtart, the Levantine form of Ishtar, frequently called the Queen of Heaven, portrayed as the consort of Haddad, especially in the northern Levant form Atargatis.

Shachar and Shalim were the twin gods of dawn and dusk, respectively; Jerusalem is named for the latter. 

Attar was the god of the morning star; it was to he that the epithet Heylel (‘Light Bearer’; Lucifer in Latin, Phosphoros in Greek) in Isaiah 14:12 alludes.  That passage uses the allusion to Attar’s rise and fall as a metaphor for Nebuchadnazzar II.

There was a group of divine midwives who were only known collectively as the Kotharat.

Shapash was goddess of the sun, while Yarikh was god of the moon.

Eshmun was the god of healing, later identified with the Hellenistic deity Asclepius.  Resheph was protector against plague and war.  Horon was god of the underworld.  Marqod was lord of the dance.

Dagon was imported early on from Mesopotamia and became integrated into the Levantine pantheon as the father of Hadad.  The god came first to Ugarit via the city of Ebla, where he served the same role as Hadad did among the West Semitic peoples.

Tammuz (Dumuzi in Sumer) was a later import whom the Phoenicians called Adoni (Lord).  To the Greeks he became Adonis, and in that guise he returned to the Levant during the era of the Mystery Cults.

The preeminent human cultural hero of the stories that have survived is Danel, a generous king famous for his wisdom, whose popular stories gave flesh to the also mythical Solomon and whose name in somewhat corrupted form became Daniel, the exile in Babylon.

Another deity imported into the Levant, at least by the city-state of Ebla (an East Semitic polity albeit in western Syria), was Ia, a Levantine form of the Akkadian-Babylonian god Ea, who in turn was borrowed from the Sumerian original, Enki.  Many tablets of religious writings from the city replace El with Ia atop their pantheon.

Interestingly, the Egyptian pantheon included a lunar deity whose name was Yah.

Hadad versus Yam

The central story of Levantine mythology is the rivalry between Hadad and Yam, whose name in some sources is Yaw. 

When El decides to step down as king of the gods, he makes Hadad king in his place after the latter defeats Yam in combat.  In a later conflict with Mot, Hadad dies, and Yam is resurrected to become king. 

During Yam’s kingship, Attar attempts to take the throne, but fails, and falls from heaven to Earth, much the same as “Lucifer, thou son of the morning” in Isaiah 14.  The epithet Most High in verse 14, Elyon in Hebrew, was a title of El when he was king of the gods, then of Hadad when he ascended, and, of course, Yam during the brief time he was king.  The Greek form, Hypsistos, was an epithet for several deities on monolatrous religious systems of the last two centuries BCE and the first three centuries CE, chiefly Zeus and Theos.

By the 9th century BCE when the Israelites were a major power in north Palestine, their chief god was Yahuweh, and alongside him, they worshipped a divine consort, Asherah.  Asherah’s chief epithet was Qadesh, the Holy One, by which name she had already entered the Egyptian pantheon in the 18th century BCE.  By this time, the word ‘el’ had been reduced to functioning merely as a generic word for ‘god’.

Allegory of the Golden Calf

Many have suggested that the golden calf portrayed Aaron and Miriam making for the Israelites at the foot of Mount Horeb/Sinai/Paran was be an image of Hathor, Egyptian goddess of fertility, inebriation, and musics (i.e., sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll).  Her usual icon, after all, was that of a cow.  However, it is much more likely that this pericope is an allegory warning against a return to worship of El, whose usual icon was a bull, as supreme god rather than Yahuweh.

It is clear from extant inscriptions found at several archaeological sites that the change from El as chief god to the tutelary god Yahuweh occurred before the 9th century BCE.  A similar process resulted in the chief god of the Punics in Carthage and the western Mediterranean being Baal-Hammon; his consort was Tanit (Anat).

A passage in the book of Kings also polemicizes against the toleration of golden calves (bulls) at Bethel and Dan by Jehu, “son of Jehosaphat’, who is more like the son of Omri. 

This switch from acknowledging El as chief god to Yahweh, tutelary god of Israel in that role, seems to have been paralleled among the other Canaanite peoples at about the same time.

Houses of Yahuweh

In the Canaanite language of Hebrew (Tiberian dialect), ‘Beth Yahuweh’.

Archaeologically, three pre-Babylonian Conquest temples to their national god, each termed ‘House of Yahuweh’, have been found in Palestine.  The largest and most opulent is that at Samaria, where Yahuweh and Asherah were worshipped side-by-side.  Omri and his son Ahab also built temples to Hadad and several other deities, undoubtedly the major deities of the local pantheon and many imports, such as Tammuz.  It was built in 878 BCE.

The other two known places called ‘House of Yahuweh’, both rather small, were found in the south.  One was a shrine in a citadel at Tel Arad, near the modern city of Arad on the border of the Judean and Negev deserts, dating from about 820 BCE; the site contained the citadel and a substantial lower city, much on the pattern of the older Hazor and Megiddo. 

The other and much more substantial was a temple at Tel Motza, one that was quite massive for its time, on the western outskirts of modern Jerusalem (eight miles from the Old City) from about the same date.  The thirty-six granaries at the city suggest that it too was quite massive for its day.  Its destruction dates to 586 BCE and the size of its temple precludes another such site just a few miles away.  I submit that this is the ‘city of Yehud’ sacked by Nebuchadnazzar II.

Jerusalem was uninhabited from the time of the Late Bronze Age collapse until the return from exile in Babylon, so there is no ‘First Temple’ to find.

There was a fourth ‘House of Yahuweh’, though not in Palestine.  It was in Egypt, at the military colony of yeb (Elephantine), built in about the year 650 BCE.  From surviving papyri, we known that Yahweh was worshipped there along with his consort Anath-Yahu, plus Bethel, Haram, Eshem, Nabu, and Anat-Bethel, as well as Khnum (whose temple was adjacent), his consort Satet, and his daughter Anuket.

Horned altars identified as Israelite have been discovered at Dan, Megiddo, Beersheba, and Ekron, indicating outdoor shrines, but no temples in those cities.  Other ceremonial cult centers have been discovered at Lachish, Halif, Kedesh, Ta’anakh, Shechem, Tirzah, and Ai.

Three inscriptions and images at Kuntillet Arjud, c. 800 BCE, depict Yahweh, Asherah, El, and Baal (Hadad).  Two inscriptions mention “Yahweh of Samaria and Asherah” and “Yahweh of Teman and Asherah”.  Teman, of course, need not refer to a city as its literal meaning is “the South”, just like “Samaria” could refer to the kingdom based out of the eponymous city.

Again, inscriptions at a tomb in Khirbet al-Qom in the Har Yehuda west of Hebron dating to about 750 BCE mention “Yahweh and Asherah”.

Given this preponderance of evidence, there is no other conclusion but that before the Persian period (and well into it) the Yahweh cult among the Israelites north, south, and in Egypt was polytheist, though almost certainly the henotheist variety.  That this is the undeniable case does not preclude the existence of Yahwist fanatics pursuing monotheist worship of their deity.

The House of Yahuweh at Samaria (in Samerina or Bit-Humria) was destroyed, along with the other temples, in the Assyrian conquest of 722 BCE.  Both those in the South (Teman, Bit-Dawid, or Yehud) fell to Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BCE.

That left the House of Yahuweh at Yeb as the only remaining temple of the Israelite religion to the Israelite national god.  A temple which he shared with several other deities, including his consort.  As we know from the Elephantine papyri, that temple was destroyed by Khnum devotees in the year 411 BCE.

Yahuweh your God is one Yahweh

Just as El had multiple forms, so did Yahuweh, even after monolatry became the norm.  The inscriptions to “Yahuweh of Teman” and “Yahuweh of Samaria” at Kuntillet Ajrud one example of this.  In the Tanakh, 2 Samuel 15:7 mentions “Yahuweh of Hebron” while Psalm 99:2 mentions “Yahuweh of Zion”. 

In fact, there was a different manifestations of Yahuweh at every shrine site mentioned in the Tanakh, such as Yahuweh of Dan, Yahuweh of Bethel, Yahuweh of Shiloh, Yahuweh of Gilgal, Yahuweh of Bethlehem, Yahuweh of Nob, Yahuweh of Gibeon, Yahuweh of Mizpah, Yahuweh of Beersheba, Yahuweh of Megiddo, Yahuweh of Ekron, Yahuweh of Lachish, Yahuweh of Halif, Yahuweh of Kedesh, Yahuweh of Ta’anakh, Yahuweh of Shechem, Yahuweh of Tirzah, and Yahuweh of Ai.  (Archaeological evidence and passages in the Tanakh show this also to have been the case for Baal and for El.)

In this light, the titular verse of the Shema Yisrael, Deuteronomy 6:4—Hear, O Israel, Yahuweh our God is one Yahuweh—takes on a whole new meaning.  Once you return the original word to its place instead of the pretentious substitution by the rabbis (‘Adonai’), the actual meaning of the statement is a whole lot clearer.

Many of these shrine sites, at several of which horned altars for sacrifice have been discovered, were in the form of gate shrines, shrines built into the structure of a city’s main gate, some quite large rather than small as the designation “gate shrine” might suggest.

THE TANAKH
(Old Testament to Christians)

As we have it today, the final revision of the Tanakh was made by the Karaite scholars called the Masoretes, who lived in Iliya/Al Quds (Jerusalem) and Tiberias from the seventh through the tenth centuries CE.

The Torah

As factual history, the entire Torah can be tossed out.  It is all fiction.  Adam, Eve, the serpent, Cain, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, Shem, Ham, Japheth, Canaan, Lot, Abraham, Sarah, Melchizedek, Isaac, Rebecca, Esau, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, all the twelve sons, Abimelech, Moses, Miriam, Aaron, Joshua, Caleb, all of them are fictional characters.  Not one of them ever existed outside of the imaginations of those who composed the stories.

Also known as the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses, the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were at one time believed to have been written by Moses the Lawgiver himself.  Neat trick given the Moses is a fictional character whose name likely derives from the Aramaic version, Mazas, of the Persian name Mazda (or Ahura Mazda), referring to the One True God of Mazdayasna (Zoroastrianism).

By the end of the 19th century, Biblical scholars who realized the Torah was composed of several sources recognized four main sources for the material, brought together by the fifth and final source.  These five sources were:  Jahwist or J; Elohim or E; Deuteronomist or D; Priestly or P; and Redactor or R.

The first four books of the Torah are sometimes referred to as the Tetrateuch, because their material comes from J, E, P, and R with no input from D.  The latest trend considers the material in Genesis to come from an entirely separate tradition, though edited by the other sources, than those which composed Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers (the ‘Triateuch’, if you will).  As for the Redactor, one significant change made by him (or them) was to move the account of Moses’ death from the end of Numbers to the end of Deuteronomy after the latter was incorporated into the larger Torah.

The Exodus

As for the Exodus, the fictitious central event of the Triateuch for which the second book of the Tanakh is named, I submit that the story is a fictionalized version of the expulsion of the Iranian-supporting Jews from Egypt in the late 5th-early 4th centuries BCE, along with remnants of  memories of the Hyksos expulsion.  Much more prestigious to be delivered out of slavery by a divine patron than to be overthrown and driven out by one’s underlings.

From 1725 to 1650 BCE, a Canaanite dynasty ruled Lower Egypt.  Three Canaanite-dominated Hyksos dynasties ruled Lower Egypt from 1650 to 1530 BCE.  After their expulsion, the Hyksos former elite were pursued, fought, conquered, and sometimes eradicated.  From 1530 to 1150 BCE, the southern Levant, including parts of southern Syria and southern Lebanon, was under the dominion of Egypt.  There would, therefore, have been no escaping Egypt into Canaan, because Egypt reached into Canaan.

After the end of Egypt’s dominion of the southern Levant, the Philistines in the pentapolis of Philistia blocked the way and pretty much ranged over the entire lands later known as Idumea, Judea, and Samaria from 1175 to 830 BCE, by which time the houses of Omri and of Dawid already exist.

Suggestions for the time-frame of the Exodus from those who believe it represents an actual occurrence range from the mid-1400s BCE to the 1200s BCE.  The most commonly suggested date among American evangelicals, 1445 BCE, represents the height of influence and greatest geographical reach of Egypt into the Levant, all the way into southeast Anatolia.  Simply put, there is no time within any of the suggested time-frames when such an event as the Exodus could have taken place, historically speaking.

Age of the Torah

Not that of its individual parts nor of their sources, but the whole as we have it today.  As I said above, the Torah was once thought to have been written by Moses himself, but by the end of the 19th century those views had changed.  Still, scholars believed they were at least three thousand years old at that time.  After much critical and textual examination, however, modern scholars put the date much later, in ther Persian period, the Hellenistic period, or even the Hasmonean period.  For example, the Elephantine papyri demonstrate no knowledge of the Torah or of the Exodus or of monotheism.

Twelve Tribes

A major motif of the Triateuch and the Deuteronomistic history is that of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.  However, of the twelve usually named, the only tribes existence of whose we can be sure are Benjamin, Ephraim, Manasseh, Dan, Judah, and Gad.  Those are the only ones mentioned independently outside of lists of tribes.

The Song of Deborah in Judges Chapter 5, once thought to be quite ancient but now thought to be no earlier than the Persian period in Palestine, lists just ten tribes, and not all of them among the usual suspects.  These are:  Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir, Zebulun, Issachar, Reuben, Gilead, Dan, Asher, and Naphtali.  Chapter 21 also gives Gilead as one of the tribes of Israel.  The Song and a couple of passages in the last chapters seem to indicate that Dan was not originally one of the tribes, but was instead incorporated.  Many modern scholars now believe that the people who became Dan originated as a group of Sea People.

Deuteronomistic History

For the past few decades, scholars have recognized that not only is the book of Deuteronomy from an entirely separate tradition than the other Torah sources (J, E, P), but that the Deuteronomist himself (themselves) either composed or edited the books immediately following, which in Rabbinate and Karaite traditions are considered Major Prophets:  Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, as well as the fellow Major Prophet Jeremiah and the Minor Prophets Amos and Hosea. 

The series is meant not as factual history as we think of that today but religious and often polemic history, both to demonstrate Israel’s relationship with Yahuweh as a convenant and to insist on the centralization of worship (and therefore of money and power).  It is this latter theme which shows that the Deuteronomist couldn’t have been earlier than well after the return of Yehudian exiles from captivity in the east.

Archaeology has demonstrated quite clearly that not only were the Israelites in both Samerina and Yehud (as well as Egypt) polytheistic, but that they even had more than one Yahuweh.

The books of Deuteronomy and of Joshua were composed entirely by the same author or school of authors, while Samuel and Kings (originally both single works) were Deuteronomistic revisions of tales told earlier.  The books of Judges is an exception, with its stories left largely intact other than interpolation of divine intervention in the life of the major judges.

One of the Torah’s more notorious stories is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the original of that tale (or at least an earlier version) is intact in the book of Judges.  By chance, it is in the same section of that work, chapter 19, as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the book of Genesis.  None of the players in the Judges version have a single redeeming feature.  And the antagonists in this version are not Sodomites and Gomorrans but Benjamites, Israelites of the tribe of Benjamin.

It is from Judges, in fact, that we get a better, more accurate portrayal of the chaos and violence in the Southern Levant in the 9th century BCE.  The last five chapters, seventeen through twenty-one, were barely touched by the Deuteronomist(s), if at all. 

The central character of the first two of these five last chapters, Micah, is a wealthy Ephraimite, who has his own ‘house of gods’ (‘beth elohim’), either a shrine or a temple.  The shrine is complete with a graven image and a molten image, perhaps both to Yahuweh, perhaps one to him and one to Asherah.  Micah’s ‘house of gods’ also has teraphim, idols to the gods of the particular household, guarding over its wealth and prosperity.  To preside over this ‘house of gods’, Micah consecrated one of his own sons.  Later, a young man described as a Levite of the tribe of Judah comes along and Micah makes him priest in place (‘kohan’) of his son. 

Then the Danites come along, plunder Micah’s beth elohim, stealing his graven and molten images, placing the plunder in their own beth elohim in the city of Dan they erect atop the ruins of Laish, which they have destroyed and whose inhabitants they massacred.

The events in the last three chapters are even less praiseworthy.  What is interesting, though, is that these five chapters give at least three major centers for Yahuweh worship, Dan, Bethel, and Mizpah, as well as that formerly in Ephraim belonging to Micah.

The story rules out the convention that Levites were a tribe, given that Micah’s Levite is referred to as a member of the tribe of Judah.  Also, the idea that priests have to be descended from Aaron or from Zadok?  Likewise out the window.

David, Solomon, Kings

For the books of Samuel and of Kings, the main sources were the Annals of King David, the Book of the Acts of Solomon, the Annals of the Kings of Judah, and the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel.  Rather than simply p[assing these along to posterity, the Babylonian exiles who are the source of what we have now had these books and apparently felt it necessary to rewrite them so that they could put put their own nationalistic religious cult (Yahwist) spin on the story.

There can be no doubt that someone named David founded the southern kingdom of the Israelites, given that its earliest exonym was Bit-Dawid.  The sparse evidence of contemporary records and inscriptions leads to the conclusion that it, and not its related cousin Bit-Humria, was the junior breakway polity.

As a warning against relying on the Masoretes for accuracy, in the account of the epic single combat between David and Goliath, the Masoretes made Goliath 9’9” tall, while the older editors of the Septuagint left him at a still enormous but actually possible 6’9”.

David’s alleged son and successor, Solomon, is almost certainly a complete fiction, probably based on the old Canaanite hero Danel who was famous for his wisdom, with added material from East Semitic and Iranian sources.  The extent of his empire (hypothesized to include not just Palestine and Transjordan but the western Levant up to the River Euphrates or even the southern outskirts of Anatolia) and the long reach of his trade relations (into the southern regions of Arabia) are utter bullshit.

One bit of the bullshit that is noteworthy is Solomon’s reported annual revenue, which was six hundred sity-six talents.  In Jewish tradition, this number, 666, came to represent excessive wealth and one’s service to it; it is to this that the number of the beast in the Revelation of Saint John the Divine refers despite the fantasies of John Darby and his ideological offspring.  It’s not Nero Caesar nor is it Ronald Wilson Reagan.

In these accounts, Omri, founder of the kingdom of Samerina, is counted as the sixth king of Israel.  Omri is called ‘king of Israel’ in at least one inscription (the Mesha Stele), but these contain determinant makers indicating Israel to be a tribe rather than a territory.  Contemporary evidence (especially the Kurkh Monolith) shows Ahab the Israelite as his son and successor. 

At least one source, the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, gives Ahab’s successor as Jehu son of Omri, making him the third king of Samerina.  The book of Kings as we have it records Jehu as the tenth king of the northern realm and son of Jehoshaphat.  The Tel Dan Stele calls Jehoram son of Ahab, probably successor of Jehu, ‘king of Israel’ and indicates Ahaziah son of Jehoram is ‘king of Bit-Dawid’.  In other words, the Omrides then ruled both kingdoms.

Enter monotheism

Or at least monolatry.  It came in with the Iranians, and even then took a while to take hold, religious beliefs, especially those with established interests, glacially slow to change.  Coins from the early Persian period typically pair Yahuweh with Asherah, Astarte, or Anat, most often Anat rather than Asherah, with whom Yahuweh was earlier most often linked.

In Iran, Persia has always been Iran.  For millennia.  The name derives from “Iranshahr”, Old Persian for ‘land (or realm) of the Aryans’.  Yeah, Hitler, Nazis, Aryan Nation, white blue-eyed blonde-haired racists from northern Europe are not Aryans at all.  The only true Aryans usually call themselves Iranians and their language Persian (or Farsi).

Though official policy of the Achaemenid dynasty was religious tolerance, Iranians themselves almost universally worshipped one deity and one deity only, Ahura Mazda, who in the beginning was not even assigned a sex.  The religion is called Mazdayasna in Farsi, but in English it is usually called Zoroastrianism after its founder, Zarathustra (Zoroaster in Greek), or Zartosht in modern Farsi.

Under influence of these monotheists both in Palestine and in the Diaspora communities to the east, Israelite religion changed from polytheistic to henotheistic, then to monolatrous.  Some sects even became monotheistic, but other than in one or two places in the Tanakh, or the New Testament*, for that matter, nowhere is it ever said that Yahuweh is the only god in existence.

*Paul of Tarsus himself says that there are other gods and lords (1 Corinthians 8:5).

We know from the Elephantine papyri that in the beginning (650 BCE), the “Arameans” at the temple in Yeb offered sacrifice to Khnum and his crew along with their Levantine deities.  It may be that some of the friction which led to the Beth Yahuweh there being burned (411 BCE) resulted from its congregants having adopted monolatry.

Enter dualistic monism

Ani Yahuweh u’ayin owd.  Yotzer ohr u-voreh hoshekh, oseh shalom u-voreh et ha-rah:  Ani Yahuweh oseh et kol eileh.  I am Yahuweh and there is no other.  Shaper of light and creator of darkness, producer of good and creator of evil:  I, Yahuweh, do all these things.

The above Hebrew transliteration and English translation are from Isaiah 45:6b-7.

The idea that there is One from whom comes all— light and dark, good and evil, order and chaos, yin and yang, life and death, integrity and entropy, creation and destruction, everything and nothing—came to the Israelites via Mazdayasna from Iran. 

When the Neo-Babylonian Empire of the Chaldees fell to Koroush Kabir (Cyrus the Great), and Babylon and Eber-Nari came under Iranian rule and influence, Israelites in both regions were exposed to the teachings of Zarathustra.  The deity of Mazdayasna was called Ahura Mazda in the Avestan of the Gathas, or Assura Mazas in the Aramaic that was the official language of the Achaemenid empire (Ormazd today among Mazdayasnis).

In the earliest stages of Mazdayasna, Mazda, or Mazas, was a unitary deity from whom all things came, all things light or dark, good or evil.  Both the spenta mainyu (‘bounteous inclination’) and the angra mainyu (‘destructive inclination’) came from Mazda/Mazas, not separate beings unto themselves but two emanations of Ahura Mazda, both extensions of the One True God.

NEW TESTAMENT

Dating order of the gospels

In the form in which we have them, the gospels range in age from oldest to youngest in the following order:  Luke, Mark, Matthew, John.  Yes, the original of Mark was almost certainly written first, but the version we have now is later than the version we have of Luke.

That there were at least four major revisions of the Gospel of Mark we have evidence in the gospels as we have them.

First is the original Gospel of Mark, which could only have been written in Palestine, for reasons that will be explored below.

Second is the edition of the Gospel of Mark which had the same version of the Olivet Discourse as the Gospel of Luke, the version composed after the Great Jewish War of 66-74 BCE.

Third is the Gospel of Mark as we now have it, with a version of the Olivet Discourse revised after the Bar Kokhba War (132-135).  This is the edition from which the Gospel of Matthew (which also took material from Luke) was copied and added to.

Fourth is the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark, an expanded version containing earlier versions of the raising of Lazarus (in it, the ‘young man whom Jesus loved’) and the later dinner at the house in Bethany just before the week of the Passion, both of which were further developed by the author of the Gospel of John.

Twelve Apostles

A frequent New Testament motif that repeats itself throughout Christian literature is that of the Twelve Apostles, although the gospels can’t agree with each other or with the Acts of the Apostles on their names. 

According to the gospels of Matthew and Mark, the apostles are:  Simon Peter, James son of Zebedee, John brother of James, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot

According to the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles were:  Simon Peter, James son of Zebedee, John brother of James, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot,and  Judas son of James; Luke gives the names Joanna wife of Chuza (Antipas’ wine steward) and Susanna along with several unnamed women as being fellow travelers.

According to the Gospel of John, there were twelve apostles but he only gives the following names:  Andrew, Peter, Nathaniel, Philip, Thomas, Lazarus (‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’), and Judas son of Simon Iscariot.  Further, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Mary of Bethany have nearly the same status as the male apostles.  We know Lazarus is the unnamed ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ because of the parallels in the “Lost Gospel of Mark”.

According to the Didascalia Apostolorum (c. 230 CE), the apostles were John, Matthew, Peter, Philip, Andrew, Simeon, James, Jude son of James, Nathaniel, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthias.  Note that the list count Nathaniel and Bartholomew as separate persons.

According to the Apostolic Church Order (c. 300 CE), the apostles were, John, Matthew, Peter, Andrew, Philip, Simon, James, Nathaniel, Thomas, Cephas, Bartholomew, and Judas of James

In addition to the fact that the gospel of John only names six of allegedly twelve disciples, further proof that the motif of Twelve Apostles is a fiction can be discerned from the fact that the Doctrina duodecim Apostlorum of the early 2nd century lists as apostles James the brother of Jesus, Simon Cephas, John, Mark, Andrew, Luke, and Jude Thomas, followed by Thaddeus as one of the Seventy, and Aggaeus, as a disciple of Thaddeus.

One problem with the lists in the Synoptics is that Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot (the Sikar) are anarchronisms.  Neither the Zealots nor the Sikari existed until mid-1st century.

The Chosen Three

In early Christian literature, the trio of Peter, James, and John were frequently a theme because in three places in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, they appear singled out for special consideration.  In all three gospels, they and they alone out of “the Twelve” witness the Transfiguration and the raising of Jairus’ daughter.  In Matthew and Mark, they and they alone are called to watch with Jesus in the fictional Garden of Gethsemane.

In these accounts, the motif of Peter, James, and John derives from Paul’s listing of James and Cephas and John in Galatians chapter 2, with the James in Paul’s list referred to in the previous chapter as “the Lord’s brother.  The mentions of the three special apostles in the gospels is meant to distract from James the Just being “the Lord’s brother” as the James in all of them is expressly noted as the brother of John and erase him from the position of leadership he held.

Nazareth

The town of Nazareth did not exist in the early 1st century.  In fact, there is no independent mention of one until the late 3rd century.  Even in the early 5th century, Jerome wrote that Nazareth far from being a town was a mere village.

The name Iesous Nazaraios, or Isho Nasraya, does not mean “Jesus of Nazareth” but “Jesus the Nazorean”.  Somewhere down the line, a translator screwed up.

The census in Luke chapter 2

No Roman ruler ever issued a decree for a census of “the whole world” (not too far off a term given that at the time the empire took in 40% of the world’s population).

Publius Sulpicius Quirinius did conduct a census of the sub-province of Iudaea which had just come under direct Roman rule.  However, this did not involve hundreds and thousands of families traveling in because their families had some tie there.  In fact, it involved none of that as there would be no point in counting nonresidents.  A resident of Galilaea, already counted under Herod Antipas, would not have been required to travel from Capernaum (Isho’s most likely actual home) to Bethlehem.

The census took place in 6 CE after Herod Archelaus was removed as ethnarch and Iudaea came under direct Roman rule.

Divine sex change

For the Holy Spirit to beget Isho by the Virgin Mary, the Gentiles who made this necessary required her to undergo a sex change.  Yes, that’s right; in Judaism, the Ruach ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) or Shekinah (Presence) represents the feminine aspect of God.

Rape by power of authority

An archangel shows up in all its glory in the bedroom of a sixteen-year old girl to tell her God is going to impregnate her without even asking her opinion and we’re supposed to believe that Maryam’s is an act of consent?  Please.

Fully human, fully divine

This is a case of Gentiles wanting to have their cake and eat it too.  If Isho was indeed Son of God by birth through having been begotten by the Holy Spirit (after the necessary divine sex change, of course), then he would have had only twenty-three chromosomes.  In which case, existence would have been impossible.

Chromosomes

For Isho to have lived in this scenario, the female-turned-male Holy Spirit would have had to create twenty-three chromosomes to match the twenty-three donated by/taken from Maryam, a fact which undercuts the whole “begotten not made” thing.

Adopted Son of David

Given that the artificial geneaologies in both Matthew and Luke trace Isho’s lineage back to David ben Jesse through Joseph ben Jacob (in Matthew) or Joseph ben Heli (in Luke) at the same time these works make claims of a divine begetting, we can only assume they mean that Isho was a Son of David by adoption.

Slaughter of the Holy Innocents

As murderous and capricious as Herod the Great was, his depravity did not extend to mass murder of toddlers, especially not in his own territories outside of war.  Had he done so, he would have been brought to Syria and sent to Rome, then removed from office.

The Baptism

All four gospels originally began with the baptism of Isho Nasraya bar Maryam at the River Jordan by John the Baptist.  The material about Isho’s birth and ancestry in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke was added much later.

In addition, various Early Church Fathers testify to the fact that in the earliest accounts of all four canonical gospels, the words coming down from heaven were not, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased”, but “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”.  Other authorities cite this from the Gospel of the Hebrews and the Gospel of the Nazarenes, both non-canonical to any but the Jewish Christians for whom they were written, as well.

The second is a direct citation of Psalm 2:7, one of the chief messianic verses of the Tanakh even for Jews of the first century.  The line was altered when the idea of Isho being divine as well as preexistent to his birth arose.  Paul pushed Isho’s becoming “Son of God” even further down the line by placing it at his resurrection.

In other words, Isho originally became Son of God by adoption, not birth.

John the Baptist

Although the Synoptic Gospels relate the beheading of John the Baptist during the lifetime of Isho Nasraya, Josephus places it around the time of the war between Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilaea and Peraea and Aretas IV, king of the Nabataeans, which took place some time in 36 CE, six years after Isho’s crucifixion in 30 CE.

Isho the Galilaean

When the author of the Gospel of John referred to the opponents of Jesus as “the Jews”, he wasn’t being Judeaphobic, he was referring to Judeans.

Isho Nasraya bar Maryam was not a Jew, which in first century Palestine meant an Israelite resident in Iudaea, a ‘Judean’.  Neither Idumaeans nor Peraeans were Jews, even though they (for the most part) practiced the Jewish religion (as a result of forced conversion).  Lowest in status of the groups which did were the Galilaeans, who descended from Judean exiles, Iturean Arab converts, and dissidents of various kinds.  To all four ethnic groups, the Samaritans were ‘out caste’, untouchable.

That is the meaning behind the Parable of the Workers.

Gentiles, especially those outside of Palestine, and in particular in the Hellenistic world, made no distinction between the four groups, and often lumped the Samaritans in with the Jews.  In fact, Jews and Samaritans in the Diaspora oftern attended synagogue together.

Messiah

In Palestine and Babylon, the popular expectation was not for one messiah, but four, often collectively referred to as the Four Carpenters (or, less precisely, Craftsmen).  This was based on the passage in the Tanakh of Zechariah 1:18-21.  These Four Carpenters were Elijah, the Messiah ben Joseph (or Messiah ben Ephraim), the Messiah ben David (or Messiah ben Judah), and the Righteous Priest (or Messiah ben Levi).

These Four Carpenters were expected to arrive at different times throughout the year coinciding with the major Israelite religious festivals.  Elijah was expected at Pesach-Matzot.  The Messiah ben Joseph/Ephraim was expected at Shavuot.  The Messiah ben David/Judah and the Righteous Priest/Messiah be Levi were expected together at Sukkot.

This is the eschatological scheme which permeated the world in which Isho Nasraya grew up and lived, worked, and attended synagogue.

Several features of the various gospels demonstrate that a large part of their purpose was to show that Isho Nasraya bar Maryam was the Messiah ben David.

By contrast, the Jews (in the larger sense of those who practiced the religion) almost universally looked for a single Messiah, with those in Alexandria especially expecting the ‘Son of man’.

Two other schemes for eschatological deliverence that were also widespread at the time in Palestine were those of the Samaritans and of the Essenes.  The Samaritans were (and still are as far as I know) looking for the Taheb, or the “prophet like Moses”.  The Essenes were looking for a Messiah of Aaron and a Messiah of Israel, with the former the senior of the two, though some Essenes expected a single Messiah of Aaron and Israel.

The gospels were clearly written with the intent of proving that Isho Nasraya was the Messiah ben David, though there are allusions linking him to various aspects of the other Carpenters.

Pool of Bethesda

The five-sided pool at which Isho is portrayed performing one of his healing miracles in the Gospel of John was actually an Asclepion, or healing pool dedicated to the Greek healing deity Asclepius.  The problem is that the Asclepion in Jerusalem was not built until the reign of Herod Agrippa I as King of the Jews (41-44 CE), after Isho had been dead eleven to fourteen years.

Chief festival, Palestine v. Diaspora

Unquestionably the most important of the three major feasts (Pesach-Matzot, Shavuot, Sukkot) of the Jewish (and probably Samaritan) year in Palestine was Sukkot.  Of the three, this was the only one for which pilgrims in mass numbers really did flock to Jerusalem.  Not only did the pilgrims, and some city residents, spend the week in tents, but unlike other festivals Sukkot involved lay attendence at and participation in festivities every day, some of which lasted all night long.  It was a huge celebration.

Just as Jews of the Diaspora differed in their messianic expectations, so too was the festival which they held in highest esteem different.  To Jews of the Diaspora, especially those in the Hellenistic Mediterranean world, the festival of Pesach was the chief of all.  That is why Paul, a Roman citizen and native of Tarsus in Cilicia of Anatolia, surrounded Isho Nasraya (or Iesous Chrestos as he called him in his letters) in his writings with imagery of the Passover.

Palm Sunday

The ‘luvavim’ carried by the festival-goers at the time of Isho’s entry into Jerusalem with his entourage are a feature of but one Jewish festival:  Sukkot.  The ‘palms’ were actually four separate species:  a palm branch, a willow branch, a myrtle branch, and a citron fruit, called by the collective name ‘luvavim’ (literally, palms).  The luvavim were carried by the clergy (Levites especially) and the people in several ceremonies throughout the festival.

The cries by the people of which the gospels all give slightly different diversions come from Psalm 118, specifically 118:25-26:  “Hosannha, we beg you, Yahuweh!  Yahuweh, we beseech you, send us success.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahuweh!  We have blessed you out of Yahweh’s house.”  This couplet of verses was used specifically for the Mussaf sacrifices, which immediately followed the Shacharit sacrifice every day of the festival.

The luvavim were also carried during the procession from the temple courtyard to the Pool of Siloam for the cohanim (priests) to get water for the purification of the altar.  This procession began at dawn in the Women’s Court, at which the congregants had been celebrating since the previous midnight.  This was something only done at Sukkot.

Hosannah, Adonai

Originally “Hosannah, Yahuweh”, this Hebrew phrase means, “Save us, Lord”, and is used in the same way “Kyrie eleison” (literally, ‘Lord have mercy’) was in Dionysan rites before being coopted by Christians.

The use of the phrase “Hosannah” permeated the rituals of Sukkot in Jerusalem so thoroughly that one of its nicknames was the ‘Feast of Hosannahs’.  In fact, the seventh day of Sukkot was, and still is, known as Hosannah Rabbah (‘Great Hosanna’).

Structure of Holy Week

In all four gospels, the first day, traditionally known as Palm Sunday, is clearly a sabbath, a day upon which no business would be conducted.  Even though in the Synoptics, Palm Sunday is five days before Pesach and six days before Matzot, Mark correctly treats Palm Sunday as if it were a sabbath while Matthew and Luke do not.

In the gospels, the events of Holy Week and Easter Sunday take place over an eight-day span, which lines up perfectly with Sukkot.  The first day is a sabbath, the seventh is Hosannah Rabbah, which is not a sabbath, but Sukkot is followed immediately with the one-day festival of Shemini Atzeret (literally the ‘eighth day of assembly’), which is a sabbath on its own.

In the first century, before the destruction of the temple, Pesach-Matzot was also an eight-day festival.  Pesach and Matzot were actually two separate festivals.  In the time of the temple, the Pesach sacrifice was performed at Mincha (3 pm) on 14 Nisan.  The Paschal lamb was eaten that evening, that of the sabbath which begins Matzot, but the actual Passover sacrifice took place the day before.  With Matzot being a seven-day festival to the front of which Pesach was attached, this makes it too an eight-day festival.

Despite this being the case, Sukkot-Shemini Atzeret remains a better fit than Pesach-Matzot.

Traditionally, the Holy Week of the Christian Church has Palm Sunday followed by Monday and Tuesday on which not much special happens, then Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  Mark, the original of which is the oldest known gospel and which therefore introduced the motifs of Sukkot into Holy Week, treats Palm Sunday as a sabbath by not showing any money-changing taking place until the next day.  In Sukkot, the first day is indeed a sabbath.

In the Didascalia Apostolorum (c 230 CE), the week proceeds quite differently.  Palm Sunday is still Palm Sunday and the Cleansing of the Temple takes place on Monday.  But here Pesach takes place on Tuesday and Isho is arrested at the Mount of Olives on Wednesday, tried before Pilatus on Thursday, and crucified on Friday.  For this to have been written and promulgated, the traditional arrangement of Holy Week as we know could not have been set at this time.

As a footnote, in John, the day upon which Isho Nasraya was crucified is referred to as the Day of Preparation, and many Christian sources assume that this means preparation for Passover.  In fact, every Friday then and now is the Day of Preparation for the weekly Sabbath.

Why the move from Sukkot to Pesach-Matzot

As I noted above, Pesach was the premier feast of the Jews (and Samaritans) in the Diaspora, unlike those of Palestine from whom Sukkot was most beloved.  The story of Isho’s passion was easier to sell to the Diaspora if framed in terminology and imagery with which they were most familiar, and after the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, when the temple and the city were destroyed, Pesach most likely became the dominant observance inside Palestine too.

Give to Caesar

In both War of the Jews and the later Antiquities of the Jews, Titus Flavius Iosephus relates an account of a riot at a festival over Pontius Pilatus taking money from the temple treasury to assist with the cost of building the new aqueduct into the city. 

At this time, the temple precinct fell under the administrative authority of the Praefectus of Iudaea, though day-to-day executive affairs were administated by the Kohen Gadol (high priest) and other temple officials.  Under Roman law, therefore, Pilatus’ action were well within his authority.  In fact, not having done so would have been judged remiss by his superiors.

Put in this context, the exchange of Isho in which his opponents question him about paying taxes to Rome and he answers, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”, makes a whole lot more sense.

The gospels do mention riots in the city around the time of the week of the Passion, and in Antiquities, Iosephus follows the story of the riot with that of Isho’s crucifixion, the proximity in the book suggesting that the two occurred at or close to the same time.

Jesus before Pilatus

According to Iosephus, a holy man named Jesus ben Ananias arrived in Jerusalem for Sukkot in 62 CE, loudly proclaiming the imminent destruction of the city.  The priests and elders turned him over to the procurator, Lucceius Albinus.  Ben Ananias refused to answer any questions, only crying out, “Woe to Jerusalem!”.  The procurator judged him to be crazy but mostly harmless, so he had him flogged but then released.

Given that this independent account by Iosephus matches so closely aspects of the trial of Isho in the gospels, especially in John, it’s harder to make a case that these were not borrowed from the life of Jesus ben Ananias that to make the case that they were.

Pilatus washing his hands

This was standard at all condemnations, symbolizing that in following the law as he was bound to do, the judge in question was innocent of the criminal’s blood.

Night court

This did not happen, at least not under Pontius Pilatus, Roman praefectus of Iudaea.  According to the account in the Didascalia Apostolorum, Isho was tried at or soon after dawn.  To do as the gospels suggest happened would have been a gross violation of Roman law.

Jesus bar Abbas

Once again, had this (offering two guilty criminals for one to be freed) happened it would have been a gross violation of Roman law and dereliction of duty.

Reason for Isho’s execution

Terrorism and political rebellion, plain and simple.  And under Roman law, however just or unjust, there is no doubt he was guilty.  The gospels themselves are all witnesses to that plain truth, in describing Isho’s cleansing of the temple.  Since the temple lay under the administrative authority of the Roman praefectus, an attack on it or anything in its precincts was an attack on the authority of Rome.

The gospels refer to the two men reportedly crucified on either side of Isho as “lestai”.  The term literally means “bandits” but in the first century CE referred to what today we call terrorists, and the fact that Isho was crucified between them makes clear that was his charge also.

In 4 BCE, earlier in the year when Herod the Great still lived, students of Judas Sepphoraeus and Matthias bar Margalus cut down a Roman eagle Herod had had placed above the gate to the temple.  Herod was not just King of the Jews, he was also the Roman procurator for those territories under his rule.  For the act of their students’ rebellion, Herod found the two teachers guilty of sedition, for which they were crucified.

Down before dark

Successive Roman administrations in Iudaea and other jurisdictions of Palestine removed executed criminals before sundown no matter the day on which they were executed in deference to the prohibition in the Torah against leaving an executed man in public after dusk.

Quickness of death

Death from crucifixion occurred for a variety of reasons, including cardiac rupture or failure, hypovolemic shock, acidosis, arrhythmia, pulmonary embolism, sepsis, dehydration, and animals, the last two depending on how long the torment lasted.  Asphyxiation, claimed by some to be a result of crucifixion, was in fact not.  The reason for leg-breaking, as in the case of Isho’s fellow travelers, in addition to the extra pain, was that it caused fat embolisms and killed quicker.  Several of these complications could cause death within a few hours, contrary to some opinions stating that Isho died too quickly.

In the Alexandrian-type edition of Matthew 27:46-50 gives the following account of the death of Isho:  ‘And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.”  At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink.  But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”  And another took a spear and pierced his side, and out came water and blood.  Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.’

As mentioned above, the condemned were always taken down by sundown, so if they needed help dying quicker in order for that to happen, it was given, and a spear in the side is quick.

Blood and water

This is featured only in the above-mentioned version of the Matthew account and in that of the Gospel of John.  It is yet another allusion to Sukkot and Isho’s role as Messiah ben David, a statement for which I’ll have to explain by detailing the Simchat Beit ha-Shoeivah and the Nisuch ha-Mayim rituals of Sukkot.

Simchat Beit ha-Shoeivah

Hebrew for ‘Rejoicing at the Place of the Water-Drawing’, these festivities took place in the Women’s Court at the temple, which indicates the participation of those not normally allowed in Temple ceremonies in the Court of the Israelites, such as women, lepers, and Nazarites. 

For several hours, everybody partied.  No solemnity was allowed.  Four giant menorah lit up the Court of Women, the whole Temple Mount, and the entire city of Jerusalem.  From descriptions, it sounds like Clark Griswold’s Christmas lighting. 

Accompanied by lyres, harps, cymbals, and trumpets played by Levites, dancers danced and whirled while holding torches in either hand.  People drank, ate, watched, sang, laughed.  At various points in the night, Levites sang the Songs of the Ascents (Psalms 120-134).

At cockcrow, two priests keeping watch at the Nicanor Gate between the Court of Women and the Court of Israelites would call out, “Our ancestors in this place turned their backs on the altar of Yahuweh, and their faces to the east, worshipping the Sun; but we turn to Yahuweh”.

Nisuch ha-Mayim

(Hebrew for ‘Pouring of the water’, this ceremony was unique to the Chol ha-Moed of Sukkot; at no other time were burnt-offerings preceded by any libation but wine.)

After the shout from the Nicanor Gate, priests, Levites, and people processed from the Court of the Women atop the Temple Mount to the Pool of Siloam south of it, which lay some six hundred meters from the base.  Worshippers carried their luvavim and sang the Lesser Hallel (Psalms 113-118; the Great Hallel is Psalm 136).  After the high priest filled a pitcher with water, about a quart of it, the whole crowd returned to the Temple.

As he entered the gate of the Temple compound, the high priest would cry out, quoting Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation!”.  Upon arrival at the altar, he would take the pitcher of water in one hand and a pitcher of wine in the other, then pour both out over the altar simultaneously as a libation offering.

The Eighth Day

If these events happened during Sukkot as I believe, then the final one that was interpreted by Isho’s followers as his resurrection would have occurred on Shemini Atzeret, a sabbath.

While in the Mashriq and in Iran, the seven-day week was the rule, in the Roman calendar, a week was eight days long; this may have been borrowed from the Etruscans, for whom this was also the case.  Thought this remained the case for sometime in the early days of the Principate, over time the official calendar adjusted to the practice of the majority in the populous East.

Some Patristic authors refer to Sunday as the Eight Day, which in a sense was accurate as well as symbolic, since when the calendar was altered the eighth day in effect merged with the first day.

According to the UN-connected International Standardization Organization, Sunday is the seventh day of the week, as is the case in most of Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa.