Monotheism: Who's Your Daddy?
I casually flip through the bumper stickers at a metaphysical shop. One sticker in particular catches my eye, and I cease shuffling them. This sticker, with its cheery gold background and Celtic knot work border, proudly proclaims “Christianity has Pagan DNA!” Certainly the scribe of this phrase does not mean this literally, but rather simply means that Christianity was born of polytheistic roots.
Although I cherish the attitude of the phrase, the wording leaves me disconcerted. I know this as a “truism,” something I feel and understand is true, if limited. I’ve never encountered any biblical passage reading, “And you shall cut down an evergreen, yea, and bring it into your house each twenty-fifth of December,” nor have I found reference to the three kings wassailing the cedars of Lebanon.
I’ve seen information bantered around on Celtic and Germanic contributions to Christian tradition: most of us in the Pagan1 and Heathen communities are familiar with an Anglo-Saxon goddess named Eostre2 who presumably lends her name to the Wiccan sabbat of Ostara and the Anglo-Saxon holy tide of Eostre. However, I think there’s more to it than this. In researching my own path as a Qadish (Canaanite polytheist), I’ve observed that Christianity is not the only religion with “Pagan DNA;” Judaism, for instance, has its parentage in Near Eastern polytheistic traditions.
My mind wanders and, in the mists of uncoagulated thought, I see the high cap of an ancient slate grey mountain, Mount Tsapan, Ba‘al’s sacred mountain. I zoom in close like a wispy cloud and peer through the window of a shining palace. Roars of laughter and choruses of groans fill my ears even as the sweet pungent scent of spiced wine wafts to my nostrils.
A young goddess’s voice, eager, rises above the din, “Tell us again, Enki… you know… the one about…” her voice fades in and out of the other voices raised in conversation. Enki? Unlike Ba‘al, Enki’s not from the Canaanite pantheon; he’s Mesopotamian. Hmm, this is a bigger party than I thought.
“Oh, yes, the flood? Well, so I tell Ut napishtim to build this boat—” I see part of his large hands through the palace window as he spreads his arms wide to demonstrate the boat’s size, “so that he can survive the flood we were sending.3 Humans being human, they decided to write down the story years later.4 But those crazy monotheists liked the story so much that they now call it Noah and the Flood, and they tell the story to their kids to help them get to sleep — of all things! I bet that gets those poor kiddos so worried they stay awake all night.”
“Or need to use the bathroom — all that flooding, you know,” a matronly voice adds. I figure that must be Athirat, the Canaanite mother goddess. The gods burst into peals of fresh laughter.
“Oh yeah?” A voice echoes like a hammer blow ringing upon an anvil. This is Ba‘al Hadad himself, the host of the feast. It would seem like him to “one-up” a good story. “Guess what they said their Yahweh did? So he beats up the Sea, builds himself a pad, then smashes Death.5 Now remind me … oh, that’s right …wasn’t it me who beat the crap out of Yamm the Sea God?” I hear a rolling growl wash over the din of voices. “I nailed him with a chair shot to the back to get his attention. When he faced me, I finished him with a blow to the head. I call that move The Chaser …” He pauses, flexes, admires his bicep, and takes a deep drought of wine. “Then what do I do?” he continues, “I build this temple to my bad-ass-ness.”
“Ya had some help, pal!” interjects the same young girl, with a chuckle. I guess that this must be ‘Anat, the “impetuous adolescent” who helped Ba‘al finish off the rest of his enemies. A male voice, this one refined and educated, concurs with a “Here! Here!” This could only be Kathir wa-Khasis, the craftsman god who built the almighty chair that toppled Yamm.
Ba‘al ignores the outbursts. “And then, for the final fight, it was me and Môt.” I shiver as I remember the God of Death. I feel a chill as everyone in the room falls silent save for one voice, the rasp of bone grating on bone, “Anytime you care for a rematch …” He lifts his glass of wine in a mock-salute, his bony hand covered with an inky dark glove.
A different young female voice calls out, “You remember what El said — only a fair fight, you two. And I’m ref-ing.”6 That must be Athtart, goddess of justice and treaties.7 “Besides, I seem to recall a diff erent outcome,” the dreadful voice finishes. Ba‘al sobers and quiets.
Kathir-wa-Khasis gently prods Ba‘al’s reluctant memory. “Yes, you died and Shapshu brought you back.”
The sun goddesses’ warm voice fills the palace with levity, “My chariot horses are still bemoaning hauling the weight of your carcass out of the underworld. You owe me one.” “Hmm, death and resurrection…” Kathir muses, “It seems that the monotheists claimed that one, too. Yes, there were tales of a certain Jesus of Nazareth. How interesting...” he fades, then speaks again. “I seem to remember you fared better, Lady.” Kathir defers to the mother goddess.
“Not by much. I got to have a wooden pole8 set beside Yahweh’s altars for a while and was venerated as his wife.9 Eww. I don’t think so. My heart belongs with El, but at least I was remembered.” She pauses for a moment, checking the trays of food to make sure they’re all filled. “Then some crazy zealot, Hezekiah, I think his name was, came and burned all my symbols … at least that’s how the story goes. It’s hard being a mother to kids who don’t know you even exist, but I keep hoping … anyway, some of them may see me still in that Jesus’s mother, Mary. Bless her heart, no mom should go through what she did.
And you know, your father didn’t have any better treatment. He was the original god of Abraham and Moses, but their stories have him supposedly reintroducing himself to Moses as Yahweh at a burning bush.”10 Athirat shrugs. “Odd tale, but I’ve heard stranger. When they wrote about their Yahweh, they used titles originally given to my El: Merciful,11 Creator,12 and Father of Years.13 Oh well, I guess that’s just how it is.”
“At least you weren’t demonized,” a laconic, cynical voice issues from a shadowy corner where a slim god pulled away from the darkness. “Some of those monotheists have me down as a winged demon of the,” he wiggles his fingers in the air as if imitating quotation marks, “‘chaotic forces of nature’ or worse, ‘obsessive infatuation.’14 Ooh, scary. I ain’t no Cupid,” — I hear a muffled complaint from the direction of Olympus —“and I ain’t no demon. I’m the god of pestilence and healing. Hel-lo, get a clue, people.”
“Rashap, you can be so sour,” interrupts a god with a metropolitan demeanor and Egyptian eye paint.
“You’re just ticked, Aten, ’cause your favorite human died.”15 Rashap shoots back.
Aten rolls his eyes and sighs, “I did have it made under Akhenaten’s tenure. He venerated me before monotheism became fashionable.”16
“You know he just did that so he could take power away from the temples,” Rashap counters.
“We shall never know.” Aten ends the conversation disdainfully.
“Well, I worshipped my god, Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord,17 back in Persia around the same time, and I think he’s better than you lot. He had a holy spirit and a son, too, just like the Christian god,” pipes up a new voice.18
Athtart steps in to calm the off ended Aten while Ba‘al swaggers over to the miscreant. “Who invited you anyway, Zoroaster? Yamm, are you just trying to get back at me?” The sea god looks disgusted. “Bouncer at my own party; what’s the universe coming to?” he mutters. “Out! Deities only, you know, Adult Swim, all mortals out of the pool!” I dodge behind a wayward cloud as Ba‘al tosses out the prophet.
Kathir-wa-Khasis contemplates aloud. “You know, I could swear I remember some of the monotheistic holidays coming from pagan traditions… Yes, indeed, Yom Kippur,19 the Jewish Day of Atonement, came from a Canaanite atonement festival.20
Sukkot, the harvest Festival of Ingathering stems from the Ugaritic festival where the king would have a small dwelling built on top of his palace from where he would address us.21 You remember that one?”
“Ah, yes, those were the days,” Athirat sighs wistfully. She sets down her wine glass and rearranges the lilies and lotuses in the vase on the table.
“Lady, you are my guest here. You don’t have to — ” Ba‘al sputters.
“Oh, hush, you know how I am,” she smiles.
“You all can just go cry about your holidays. All I’m sayin’ is they’re calling me a demon. Me!”
Athirat swoops over to Rashap, “I know dear, you got a bad deal.” She straightens his robes.
“Mother — please — I am a grown god. If you want to fuss, Athtar is off sulking somewhere since Ba‘al returned. He had it rough, substituting his irrigation strategies for Ba‘al’s rain, and he’s just a kid, still. I’m fine, but peeved.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.” She pats him affectionately on the cheek. As Athirat leaves in search of one of her youngest sons, I float away from Ba‘al’s magnificent mountain back to my mundane, second-hand couch and coff ee table.
The next time I’m caught listening to some weird but well-meaning proselytizer, or when batty Aunt Alma has me go to a service with her because she’s forgotten I’m Pagan, I’ll quietly smile to myself, knowing that, without their Pagan roots, the Abrahamic faiths would probably not exist. Pagan components from Egyptian, Ugaritic and Canaanite, Sumerian and Babylonian sources provided the fertile soil for the sprouting of Judaism and Christianity. These bits are present in the very biblical canon itself, as well as in the threads of tradition braided together throughout five millennia. I think back to the bumper sticker and I wonder how all this going to fit in a three-by-eleven inch space. Maybe I should just stick to “Monotheism, Who’s Your Daddy?”`
1I use “Pagan” to indicate Wiccans, witches, magical practitioners, and polytheists in a broad sense. 2Swain Wodening, Hammer of the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism in Modern Times, Angleseaxisce Ealdriht, Little Elm, Texas, p. 110.
3William L. Moran, “The Gilgamesh Epic: A Masterpiece from Ancient Mesopotamia,” in Jack Sasson, Ed., Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., Peabody, Massachusetts, 2000, p. 2334.
4Michael Roaf, Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East, Andromeda Oxford, Ltd., Oxfordshire, England, 1990, p. 84.
5Parker, Ugaritic Narrative Poetry, p. 86.
7Smith, The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, p. 278; Tubb, The Canaanites, p. 74. Athtartu is often better known by a Greek name, Astarte, but instead of being a goddess of sex and warfare, early on she had an entirely different character.
8Dever, Did God Have a Wife?, p. 102.
9Tilde Binger, Asherah: Goddesses in Ugarit, Israel, and the Old Testament, The Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, England, 1997, p. 123.
10Dever, Did God Have a Wife?, p. 263.
11Rabinowitz, The Faces of God, p. 29.
12Rabinowitz, The Faces of God, p. 28
13Smith, The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, p. 186.
14Fulco, The Canaanite God, Rešep, p. 60.
15Rachel Storm, Egyptian Mythology: Myths and Legends of Egypt, Persia, Asia Minor, Sumer and Babylon, Lorenz Books, London, England, 2000, p. 21.
161350 BCE. John L. Foster, “The Hymn to Aten: Akhenaten Worships the Sole God,” in Sasson, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, p. 1754.
17Heidemarie Koch, “Theology and Worship in Elam and Achaemenid Iran,” in Sasson, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, p. 1966.
18For more information, look up Zoroastrianism. Koch in Sasson, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, p. 1966
19For basic information about Jewish holidays, see Rich, Tracey. Judaism 101: Yom Kippur, www. jewfaq.org.
20Giorgio Buccellati, “Ethics and Piety in the Ancient Near East,” in Sasson, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, p. 1691.
21Pardee, Ritual and Cult at Ugarit, p. 65. >
TESS DAWSON’S book, Whisper of Stone: Canaanite Religion, Natib Qadish, was published in July 2009. You may visit her at http://canaanitepath.com.
This article first appeared in Witches&Pagans #19
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