Moses as Solar Hero

Moses as Solar Hero
Moses as Solar Hero

Moses as Solar Hero

“This deity [Adar] represented the sun god primitively worshipped at Nipur (now Niffer) in Babylonia, who afterwards came to be regarded as a sort of Chaldean Herakles.... he was called Uras in Akkadian, and also in Semitic, when regarded as ‘the god of light.’ But he was further known in Assyrian as Baru, ‘the revealer,’ though we learn from a Babylonian text…discovered in Upper Egypt that his more usual title was Masu, ‘the hero,’ a word which is, letter for letter, the same as the Hebrew Mosheh, ‘Moses.’ Masu is defined as being ‘the sun god who rises from the divine day.’”

Rev. Dr. Archibald H. Sayce, Records of the Past (1.90–91)

“Many of the stories concerning Moses, Joshua, Jonah and other Bible characters are solar myths.”

John E. Remsburg, The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence

“Who was Moses the lawgiver, originally?... He was, I venture, another sun god…. The basic Moses mytheme is that of the sun (god) which emerges from the tent of concealment, the night, and bestows commandments upon a king. Like many other mythical sun-characters (still reflected in Elijah, Esau, Samson and Enoch), and other gods, too (Gad, Miriam, Jubal, Joshua), Moses must have begun as a god pure and simple, but as Hebrew religion evolved toward monotheism, the stories could only be retained by making the gods into human heroes.”

Dr. Robert M. Price, “Of Myth and Men”

IT HAS BEEN SHOWN that the story of Moses and the Exodus can be understood not as literal history or history mythologized but as myth historicized. The lawgiver motif ranks as solar and allegorical, reflecting an ancient archetype extant also in the myth of Dionysus, god of vine and wine, who shares numerous significant attributes with Moses. Likewise demonstrated in the present work is the solar nature of many ancient gods, including Yahweh, biblically presented as the source of the patriarch’s revelation and legislation. Who, then, is Moses?

Based on evidence from comparative religion and mythology studies, as well as agriculture, anthropology, archaeoastronomy, archaeology, art history, economics, etymology, history, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, viniculture, viticulture and other disciplines, many people over the centuries have concluded that Moses is a solar hero, as is his successor, Joshua.1562 In this regard, in Christian Mythology mythicist scholar John M. Robertson remarked: “That Joshua is a purely mythical personage was long ago decided by the historical criticism of the school of Colenso and Kuenen; that he was originally a solar deity can be established at least as satisfactorily as the solar character of Moses, if not as that of Samson.”1563

Like Samson, Yahweh and Dionysus, in many essentials Moses also ranks as a solar hero or sun god, said to be Masu, Mashu, Mash or Shamash. As Yahweh became increasingly powerful, the “pure and simple god” Moses was demoted to the status of patriarch, who nonetheless remained the central figure in the foundational myth of the Israelite nation.

Moses as God

In a possible confirmation centuries later that Moses was at one point a god, the Exodus of Ezekiel the Dramatist (2nd cent. BCE), labels the patriarch as “God and King,” as well as the “faithful servant and son” of Yahweh.1564 We have seen that Yahweh mythically appears to have been the son of El. In turn, it seems that the god Masu/Mashu was styled a “son of Yahweh,” possibly as one of the Elohim.

Ezekiel’s Exodus may have served as one of the sources for Philo of Alexandria, who builds upon this mythology by presenting the Jewish prophet as an immortal god and son of God.1565 Philo asserts that Moses was given dominion over the whole world by Yahweh, as his heir and “partaker with himself” in portions of creation reserved for God.1566 As such, the elements obeyed the commands of Moses, their master.

Regarding the lawgiver, Philo remarks further

…Has he not also enjoyed an even greater communion with the Father and Creator of the universe, being thought unworthy of being called by the same appellation? For he also was called the god and king of the whole nation, and he is said to have entered into the darkness where God was; that is to say, into the invisible, and shapeless, and incorporeal world, the essence… he established himself as a most beautiful and Godlike work, to be a model for all those who were inclined to imitate him.1567

Hence, Moses is the pre-Christian son of God running the world precisely as was said later of Jesus Christ. As is fitting for a god, in the Talmud and Quran, Moses is depicted as a king, the monarch of Ethiopia;1568 thus, he would bear the epithet mlk/melek/molech in Hebrew.

Assumption of Moses

The Moses mythmaking literature continued for centuries after the Pentateuch was composed. Another text in this genre assigning divine and supernatural attributes and roles to the patriarch is the Assumption of Moses, possibly composed beginning in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, also in the second century BCE,1569 and continuing into the first century AD/CE. In this text, Moses is “assumed” into heaven, leaving Joshua in charge, while the lawgiver remains alive in heaven as the supernatural mediator between Yahweh and his priests, possessing immortality and preexistence.1570 This heavenly assumption is reflected also in the gospel story of Jesus transfiguring on the mount between Moses and Elijah (Mt 17:1–9).

The motif of Moses’s assumption is similar to the ascension of Dionysus and other solar deities, and it would be a necessary attribute for those wishing to create a competing religion. In this text too (11.5–8), Moses’s “sepulcher is from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof, and from the south to the confines of the north; all the world is his sepulcher,”1571 another concept with solar mythological relevance.

The ideas in this text also were built upon by Philo, apparently, when he discussed the patriarch’s assumption (Moses 2.51.288):

…he was about to depart from hence to heaven, to take up his abode there, and leaving this mortal life to become immortal, having been summoned by the Father, who now changed him, having previously been a double being, composed of soul and body, into the nature of a single body, transforming him wholly and entirely into a most sun-like mind…1572

Here we see again the suggestion of Moses as the son of the Father, as Philo repeatedly calls God, years before Christ’s purported ministry as the “only begotten son of God.”

A Samaritan text from the fourth century AD/CE continues the idea of Moses as Yahweh,1573 a suitable identification in consideration of the fact that both are apparently tribal gods and significantly solar in nature.

Solar Aspects

The solar aspects and attributes of the Moses story are numerous, and we have reviewed many of them already, including his heavenly assumption, which produces a “sun-like mind.” The motif of Moses leaving Joshua as his successor is another solar element, as the lawgiver appears to represent the fall and winter sun, while Joshua is the spring and summer sun. As such, Moses leads the chosen to the Promised Land, where he turns them over to Joshua, who rises in triumph to the summer solstice, when he makes the solar orb stand still. Moses’s similar trick would occur, therefore, at the winter solstice. Thus, these twin sun gods rule from equinox to equinox, while other solar personifications mark the periods from solstice to soltice, as is the case with Jesus and John the Baptist, said traditionally from antiquity to be born six months apart, on December 25th and June 24th, respectively.

Another prominent example of the patriarch’s solar nature is his nativity tale, similar to that of a number of solar heroes such as Apollo, Dionysus, Horus and other deities and lawgivers. So proliferate around the Mediterranean were solar attributes in general that, again, Macrobius spent considerable time making the case that the majority of these figures resolve to sun gods.

ce summarizes some of the more striking solar characteristics in the Moses myth:

…The basic Moses mytheme is that of the sun (god) which emerges from the tent of concealment, the night, and bestows commandments upon a king. The sun is also the source of both death (by sunstroke) and healing. Psalm 19, as Old Testament scholars uniformly admit, comes from Akhenaten’s Hymn to the Sun. It speaks of the sun’s glorious emergence from his tent, then extols the glory of the commandments, as if there were some connection between the two—which, of course, there was, since the sun was the origin of the law. We also see this atop the famous stone table of Hammurabi’s Code which shows the emperor receiving the law from the hand of Shamash the sun god. Moses was originally the law-giving sun, as we can still glimpse in Exodus 34:29–35, where Moses emerges from the tent of a meeting with new commandments, and with his face shining, not coincidentally, like the sun! And like Apollo, he can inflict flaming doom or heal it (Numbers 21:4–9) and even bears the caduceus like Apollo...1574

The usual biblical comparison with Akhenaten’s “Hymn to the Sun” is Psalm 104, which Gray calls a “Hebrew adaptation” of the Egyptian hymn.1575 Such solar hymns were fairly common in antiquity in a variety of cultures, including the Sumerian and Semitic, and Psalm 19 also serves to illustrate the solar nature of much Judaic tradition and ritual, as another writing within this astrotheological genre.

The Tent of the Sun

It is fitting for a solar hero to be housed in a sun tent, a common motif in solar mythology. In this regard, the true nature of Moses’s “covenant with the
Lord” is reflected by the esoteric or mystical meaning of the patriarch’s tabernacle or house of worship as the “tent of the sun.” In the OT description of how Moses is to build the tabernacle (Exod 15, 26), there appears several times the word ' אהל ohel,1576 meaning “tent” or “tabernacle,” “tent of the Lord” and “sacred tent of Jehovah.”1577 The root of 'ohel is ' אהל ahal, which, appropriately, means “to shine.”1578 Concerning this motif, theologian Dr. William P. Brown states that “the metaphorical background of the sun’s tent ('ōhel) or canopy...is likely a vestige of the Mesopotamian myth of the sungod’s repose with his spouse.”1579

The word 'ohel is used also in the mundane sense, referring to the tents of nomads, while another word,  משכן mishkan, is likewise translated as “tabernacle.”1580 The Greek equivalent of 'ohel is σκηνή skēnē, defined as “a tent, booth, tabernacle, abode, dwelling, mansion, habitation,”1581 employed in the Septuagint to describe the Israelite religious “booths” or sukkoth (e.g., Lev 23:42).

The Israelite tabernacle is oriented to the east (Num 3:38), to the rising sun, and takes the basic shape of an Egyptian temple,1582 which in turn is said to be the place of the sun’s birth, as noted. Like Yahweh, the solar El too had his “tent of meeting,”1583 a possibly portable shrine that may have served as a “regular feature of his cult in the Amarna age.”1584 Thus, the sacred tent is not original or unique to Judaism.

Hero Who Goes Out

The word ' אהל ohel is employed at Psalm 19:4 to describe the personified heavens extolling Yahweh’s glory, in which the Almighty has set the “tent for the sun,” rendered in the Hebrew as ' אהל שמש ohel shemesh.

Also at Psalm 19:4, the “tent of the sun” is considered to be the “night quarters of the 1585” שמש this latter word, again, shemesh or “sun,” a mere letter different from the name  משה mshh or “Moses.” In the morning, “the sun then leaves its chamber...”1586

In this regard, biblical scholar Dr. Hans-Joachim Kraus comments: “In a Sumerian hymn the sun god is called the ‘hero who goes out’…”1587 Moses too is the “hero who goes out,” in his exodus or “going out” of Egypt, a prominent aspect of his story.

Great Judge

Continuing the imagery about the sun, Psalm 19:6 reads:

Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them; and there is nothing hid from its heat.

Regarding this latter part, Kraus observes that the last verse (Ps 19:6c) “is derived from the Shamash-tradition of the Babylonian hymns, for the sun god is considered the highest judge, the one who has insight into all the deeds of men.”1588

Here we can see the ancient tradition of perceiving the sun as the “great judge,” previously discussed as concerns the Neo-Babylonian solar epithet Dian-nisi, associated with Shamash and possibly Osiris,1589 therefore plausibly representing “Dionysus.”

From the Bible, we also learn that nothing can be hidden from the sun’s sight and that all things are exposed before it. Oaths also are taken in the sight of the sun, and the sun’s judgeship throughout thousands of years across a wide spectrum of cultures should not be underestimated in importance, from antiquity to the present.1590

In the end, it is the sun who is the ultimate judge and lawgiver, and who has his tent of meeting, where his mysteries and laws are revealed.

12 and 70 Redux

We have discussed already the magical number configuration of 12 and 70 at Exodus 15:27, in which there are twelve springs and seventy palms, representing the 12 tribes and 70 elders. The seventy “elders of God” apparently are symbolic of the Canaanite pantheon, in which the high god El is depicted as having 70 sons.

In this same regard, Josephus (Ant. 3.7) elucidates the mystical and astrotheological meaning of Moses’s tabernacle:

And when [Moses] ordered twelve loaves to be set on the table, he denoted the year, as distinguished into so many months. By branching out the candlestick into seventy parts he secretly intimated the Decani, or seventy divisions of the planets; and as to the seven lamps upon the candlesticks, they referred to the course of the planets, of which that is the number… Now the vestment of the high priest being made of linen, signified the earth; the blue denoted the sky, being like lightning in its pomegranates, and in the noise of the bells resembling thunder… Each of the sardonyxes declares to us the sun and the moon; those, I mean, that were in the nature of buttons on the high priest’s shoulders. And for the twelve stones, whether we understand by them the months, or whether we understand the like number of the signs of that circle which the Greeks call the Zodiac, we shall not be mistaken in their meaning.1591

The nature worship in the Mosaic tradition could not be clearer, incorporating solar symbolism and astrolatry. For example, the 12 stones symbolize the tribes or “sons” of Jacob, a number that Josephus firmly establishes as the months of the year and zodiacal constellations.

Earlier in the same century as Josephus, Philo (Moses 1.34.188–189) had associated the 12 wells at Aileem with the twelve Israelite tribes and the 70 palms with the Jewish elders,1592 which in turn symbolized the 12 zodiacal signs and 70 dodecans, as discussed. Again, Philo relates that the 12 tribes were equated with the signs of the zodiac, remarking:

Then the twelve stones on the breast, which are not like one another in colour, and which are divided into four rows of three stones in each, what else can they be emblems of, except of the circle of the zodiac?1593

Philo thus demonstrates that the allegorical and astrotheological nature of various biblical themes has been understood for a long time:

…the Mosaic account…is allowed by all philosophers, as well as most of the early Jews and Christian fathers, to contain a mythos or allegory—by Philo, Josephus, Papias, Pantaenus, Irenaeus, Clemens Alex., Origen, the two Gregories of Nyssa and Nazianzen, Jerome, Ambrose…1594

As concerns the 12 tribes, Redford concludes: “The division of Israel into twelve tribes is, even on the basis of Biblical record, a somewhat artificial arrangement, and may owe more to a calendrical criterion employed by the later monarchy than to historical origins.”1595

This astrological symbolism evidently was devised significantly from the Babylonians, possibly when the Jewish priest-astronomers were in exile there. As the dodecans, the 70 sons or elders of El too would be part of this great Semitic astrotheological tradition.

The Menorah

Josephus (Ant. 3.6.7/3.145) is explicit also in relating other aspects of Jewish tradition as possessing astrological or astrotheological significance, including the menorah or seven-branched candlestick, which denotes the sun in the middle, surrounded by the moon and five planets: Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn.1596

Like many other “Jewish” religious accoutrements and traditions, the menorah too is not unique, appearing in the dedications to many gods in antiquity, and cannot be considered scientifically to represent “divine revelation” to the “chosen people.”1597

Regarding such candelabras in antiquity, Benedictine monk Dom Augustin Calmet (1672–1757) “remarks that the ancients used to dedicate candlesticks in the temples of their gods, bearing a great number of lamps.”1598

In this regard, Clarke states

Pliny, Hist. Nat. [34.8], mentions one made in the form of a tree, with lamps in the likeness of apples, which Alexander the Great consecrated in the temple of Apollo.

And Athenaeus [15.19, 20] mentions one that supported three hundred and sixty-five lamps, which Dionysius the younger, king of Syracuse, dedicated in the Prytanaeum at Athens.1599

Obviously, this pagan candelabra with 365 branches symbolizes the days of the year, yet more astronomical or astrotheological significance in this genre. In any event, we can see how the Mosaic tabernacle and associated accoutrements, rituals and traditions themselves are astrotheological in nature.

Moses’s Shining Face

Adding to the solar imagery associated with the Jewish legislator, Exodus 34:29 describes the solarized Moses coming down the mountain after speaking with Yahweh, not realizing that the “skin of his face shone”:

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai.

In this passage, the Hebrew word rendered “shone” is  קרן qaran, which means “to shine,” “to send out rays” and “to display or grow horns, be horned.”1600 Gesenius defines qaran also as “to radiate, to emit beams.” In his Latin Bible, Jerome renders qaran as cornuta or “horned,” which could also be translated “radiant.”

Horned Hero

This motif of radiant solar beams represents the source of Moses portrayed with horns, as is the case of other solar heroes or sun gods, including the Sumerian UD/Utu and Semitic Shamash. As stated, the myth of the Greek lawgiver with the horns is found in the Bacchus tale by at least the fifth century BCE, when Euripides wrote, but it likely dates much farther back, as is the case with these others.

Fig. 106. Michelangelo, Moses with horns, c. 1513–1515. Marble, San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome

The feature of Moses with horns was well known in Christian tradition, as famously depicted by Michelangelo in his marble statue of the patriarch. As noted, these horns have multiple meanings, including evidently serving to indicate Moses as “son of the cow,”1601 part of the “bull” tradition associated with various gods and other figures antiquity that includes the Golden Calf.

It should be recalled that the words “wine” and “bull” are part of the oldest linguistical layer shared by both Semitic and Indo-European.1602 In consideration of this fact, it would be logical to suggest that the horned wine god is a very ancient concept.

Solar Rays

In his explanation of the verse at Exodus 34:29, Philo (Moses 2.14.69–70) essentially depicts the lawgiver as a solar hero, also portraying Moses’s 40day Sinai experience in terms much like the later gospel motif, with various tests of his mind, body and soul, such that he would grow in strength. Next,
the Jewish writer comments:

Then, after the said forty days had passed, he descended with a countenance far more beautiful than when he ascended, so that those who saw him were filled with awe and amazement; nor even could their eyes continue to stand the dazzling brightness that flashed from him like the rays of the sun.1603

Hence, Moses’s mountain mission made him “dazzlingly bright,” flashing “like the rays of the sun.”

Veil of the Sun

It is for this reason of blinding bedazzlement that Moses was said to wear a veil (Exod 34:33–35):

And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone; and Moses would put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

The Hebrew word here for “veil” or “vail,” is  מסוה macveh, pronounced “mas·vehʹ” and used in the Bible only in these three verses.1604 The word describing Moses’s face as having “shone” in this verse also is  קרן qaran.

At Psalm 104:29, we read the similar theme of Yahweh hiding his face, in one of the verses traceable to Akhenaten’s solar hymn:

When you hide your face, they [living things] are terrified…. (NIV)

As part of the Akhenaten literature, the Amarna letter 147.5–10 from the Phoenician king Abi-milku “seems to appropriate the language of Aten hymns when addressing the pharaoh: ‘My lord is the Sun god, who rises over the lands day after day, as ordained by the Sun god, who gives life by his sweet breath and diminishes when he is hidden.’”1605 The hiding of the shining face represents a solar motif, reflecting clouds, nighttime, winter or an eclipse, the latter of which in particular instilled fear in the ancients.

As another example in Egyptian religion, Massey mentions also the Egyptian savior god Shu, best known for his (solar) role as the wind and air between heaven and earth: “Moses under the veil is Shu in the shade; Moses wearing the glory of God upon his face is Shu who ‘sits in his father’s eye,’ the eye of the sun…”1606

As we can see, the veil motif belongs to ancient, pre-Israelite solar mythology, including as applied to the god Shu, whose name resembles the Sumero-Semitic term mashu.

Etymology of Moses Revisited

We have seen it contended that the name “Moses” ( משה Mosheh) is derived from both Hebrew,  משה mashah or “to draw,” and the Egyptian root word ms or mes, meaning “born.”1607 As has been demonstrated throughout this book, between the Semitic and Egyptian cultures there exists a longstanding and profound connection, including exchange of language and religion. Regarding the name “Moses,” however, British Egyptologist Dr. Kenneth A. Kitchen asserts that the moniker may not possess an Egyptian derivation and that the Semitic pronunciation is “mashu”:

...The name of Moses is most likely not Egyptian in the first place!... It is better to admit the child was named (Exod. 2:10b) by his own mother, in a form originally vocalized Mashu, “one drawn out” (which became Moshe, “he who draws out,” i.e., his people from slavery, when he led them forth). In fourteenth/thirteenthcentury Egypt, “Mose” was actually pronounced Masu, and so it is perfectly possible that a young Hebrew Mashu was nicknamed Masu by his Egyptian companions; but this is a verbal pun, not a borrowing either way.1608

Thus, “mose” would be rendered masu,1609 which could serve as a “nickname” for Mashu or “Moses.”

Obviously, we do not concur that Moses was a historical personage who actually led his people out of Egypt or who had companions to give him a nickname. The point is well taken, nevertheless, that there exist various names by which this figure could be deemed, including Mashu or Masu, terms that go beyond the Hebrew or Egyptian connotations and possess solar associations.

Moses-El

The moniker “Moses” can be found in what amounts to either a theophoric name or a theonym, Misheal, as at Joshua 19:26. The relevant word in a list of Levitical cities and villages allotted to the tribe of Asher is משאל Mish'al,1610 which Oxford Assyriologist Dr. Archibald H. Sayce (1846– 1933) asserts is a combination of “Mash” or “Moses” and “El.” Speaking of a text called the “City List of Thuthmose III,” compiled by the pharaoh who died around 1425 BCE, Sayce states:

Jacob-el and Joseph-el are not the only names in the List of Thothmes in which the name of a biblical personage has been combined with the title of a divinity. We find among them also the name of Mash-el, the Misheal of Joshua [19:26], where the title of el is attached to a name which, philologically, is the same as that of Moses.1611

British royal physician Dr. Thomas Inman (1820–1876) evinced that the “Mash” in Mash-el represents Shamash.1612 Hence, the sun god’s abbreviated name would be  מש mash, similar to  משה mashah, whence “Moses.”

Messiah

It is also noteworthy that these same letters begin the word “messiah” or משיח mashiyach,1613 the primitive root of which is  משח mashach,1614 the same as the root of “Moses” and denoting “to anoint” or “to consecrate.” Hence, “Moses” could be perceived as a messiah, the savior who brought the Israelites to the Promised Land; indeed, Christ is called the “second Moses.”1615

Additionally, the Ugaritic term for “anoint” is mšḥ,1616 while an Egyptian term for “anoint” is mas, mâsu or mesu, sharing a common meaning with “messiah.”1617 In consideration of their fascination with Hebrew letters, puns and word play, as well as the religious rituals and traditions of other cultures, it is likely that Hebrew priests and scribes of antiquity were conscious of these various congruences.

Mesore, the ‘Birth of the Sun’

As an illustration of this type of syncretism, the remote origin of “Moses” may not have Egyptian significance, but in later times the name was associated with the Egyptian “born” or “child.” In this regard, the Egyptian moniker mesore, meaning “birth of the sun,” may have been in the minds of the Moses mythographers as well at some point.

In reference to the Egyptian winter-solstice celebration as related by Church father Epiphanius (c. 310/20–403 AD/CE), religious historian Dr. Raffaele Pettazzoni remarks:

The Egyptian for “birth of the sun” was mesorê, and Mesore in Egyptian usage was the name of the last month of the year, the fourth of the third tetramenia, i.e., of the last of the three seasons, which had four months each. This referred precisely to the feast of mesorê, with which the new year began.1618

Logically, the New Year begins with the “birth of the sun,” generally the winter solstice but also the vernal equinox, when the Israelites celebrated the New Year and Passover, a commemoration said biblically to have been initiated by Moses. This motif evidently also symbolizes the passing of the torch from the fall/winter sun (Moses) to the spring/summer sun (Joshua).

As concerns Moses and the epithet mesore, Massey comments:

Musu, Moshé or Messu would be named after the child of the waters, who was the Mes-ar or Mes-ur of the month of Mesore; the first-born, the elder-born, the water-born; the new-birth coinciding with that of the inundation.1619

Again, myths and traditions often have multiple meanings, which suits their nature as expressions of the sacred and supernatural, as such “coincidences” have appeared to humanity since antiquity to be part of the divine plan of the “Great Architect.”

Masu the Hero

Yet another of these possible multiple meanings lies in the assertion by Sayce that Mashu or Masu, as found in Babylonian tablets, was the same word as Mosheh/Moses. Elsewhere, Sayce reiterates that, in Hebrew, Moses/Mosheh “is most easily explained by the Babylonian Masu, ‘hero.’”1620

The Assyriologist further elucidates:

Masu, hero, an epithet of several deities, specially Adar, Merodach and the Sun-god; also “a scribe,” or “librarian,” and in astrology connected with Taurus.1621

Thus, in Babylon “Masu” would be a title of Shamash, evidently associated with Moses. Speaking of the Assyrian solar warrior god, legislator and son of Bel, Adar or Atar, also known as Uras among other names, Sayce also comments:

In the inscriptions of Nineveh, the title of “hero-god” (masu) is applied to him with peculiar frequency; this was the characteristic upon which the Assyrian kings more particularly loved to dwell. In Babylonia, on the other hand, Adar was by no means so favourite a divinity. Here it was the milder and less warlike Merodach that took his place. The arts of peace, rather than those of war, found favour among the Semitic population of the southern kingdom.1622

The British scholar notes that Merodach/Marduk is styled also by the Sumerian title “MAS-MAS”1623 or maš-maš, pronounced “mash-mash” and denoting “conjurer,” “charmer,” “sorcerer,” “incantation priest” and “wonderworker.”1624 This designation maš-maš or mašmašu was held by the gods El, Ninib, Nergal, Ningizzida and Dumuzi as well.1625

Mash

Reminiscent of Misheal or Mash-el, Clay asserts that the name of the Amorite deity “Mash” can be found in the “Mash-mannah” of 1 Chronicles 12:10 ( משמנה Mishmannah),1626 in the Mish`am at 1 Chronicles 8:12 (1627( משעם and in the “gentilic name Mishraites” at 1 Chronicles 2:53 (1628.( משרעימ Referring to his book, Amurru, Clay also discusses the relationship between Mash and Shamash:

In Amurru it was conjectured that perhaps in the absence of any etymological explanation of Shamash, it may have been from Ša Mash “(the god) of Mash,” like the Arabic Dhu’l Sharâ etc., in other words that the mountain Mashu was his habitat….

The consort of Mash was Mashtu. They are called the children of the god Sin... Mash is also a name of the god dNin-IB; the sign MASH is used interchangeably with dNin-IB....

It was also contended in Amurru...that the deity Mash was carried by the Semites to Babylonia at a very early time. In the first three dynasties, Kesh, Erech and Ur, names compounded with the deity Mash or Mesh predominate. Especially at Erech in the early period do we find evidence of the worship of this deity. Some have translated this element as meaning “hero”...1629

Here Clay is identifying Mash with Sayce’s “hero” epithet, insisting it is a theonym and equating the deity Mash with not only Adar/Ninib but also Amurru: “The last two names of the Kish Dynasty, as well as three in the following two dynasties, are compounded with the name of Mesh (or Mash).”1630

Clay also states that “Mash was a deity similar to the mountain or storm-deity Uru” and that “Mash, Mesh and Mish are also elements that figure prominently in the temple names of Nineveh, Cutha and Akkad.”1631 He further surmises that the city of Damascus originally was named KiMash.1632

The Babylonian god Mashu is described by Charles Coulter and Patricia Turner as follows:

Moon god. Brother of Mashtu the goddess of the moon. Both are children of Nannar....1633

In consideration of the fact of much Babylonian influence on the Bible and Israelites, it is reasonable to suggest that Moses was a rehash in significant part of this deity.

Library of Ashurbanipal

At Nineveh in what is now Iraq, Assyrian king Ashurbanipal (fl. 669–631 BCE) collected a royal library of 20,000 or so tablets, including the popular Epic of Gilgamesh and the cosmological Enuma Elish. Most of these tablets and writing boards were inscribed in Akkadian, using cuneiform; others are written in Neo-Babylonian script and in Assyrian.1634

It is said that, despite its destruction centuries earlier, the enduringly famous Royal Library of Ashurbanipal inspired Alexander the Great to create his own. While the Greek commander died before doing so, his wish was begun by Ptolemy I (367–c. 283 BCE), called Soter or “Savior,” whose effort led to the establishment of the famous Library of Alexandria. As it is to the Alexandrian library that we may look for much of Christian theology, it is to the Ashurbanipal library, among others, that perhaps we may turn to find the origins of significant Old Testament mythology and tradition.

The city of Nineveh was “sacked by an unusual coalition of Medes, Persians, Babylonians, Scythians and Cimmerians in 612 BCE.” Ashurbanipal had made enemies in his aggressions to build his city and library, but one wonders who could have put together this “unusual coalition” and what was its purpose. It is possible that many of the texts, including more portable papyri and leather scrolls, were removed elsewhere, perhaps ending up in the city of Babylon, which itself was destroyed less than a century later (539 BCE) by the Persian king Cyrus, the “savior” and “christ” of the Jews (Is 45:1).

Before the Babylonian destruction, it may be that Jewish priests and scribes accessed one or more of the region’s libraries, which may have included texts from Ashurbanipal, such as those recounting the various tales of Adar, Marduk, Shamash, Mash, Mashu or others.

Amarna

The Babylonian tablet Sayce earlier refers to that came from Upper Egypt and mentions Adar as masu or massû was discovered in 1887 among the Amarna letters. In his report on the discovery of the Amarna documents, Rev. Dr. Angus Crawford remarks that it is “curious” that “we find the name ‘Moses’ on these tablets a century before the date of the Exodus. Masu or Moses is apparently identified with the sun god.”1635

One of the main correspondents in the letters, Amenhotep III, had married a Mitanni princess, who brought her Indo-European and Semitic gods with her to Egypt. His son, Akhenaten, also married a Mitanni woman, syncretizing her god Baal, the winged sun disc, with Aten worship.1636 It is possible that among these deities from the “Asiatics” was Mash, Adar, Marduk, Shamash or other sun god with the Masu epithet.

On one of the Amarna tablets, we read the initial prayer by a “Pu-Addi,” who addresses his deity as “the sun god who rises from the divine day.”1637 Concerning this text, Sayce comments:

…In a despatch from Zinarpi to the Egyptian king the Pharaoh is called, as usual, “the Sun-god rising from the Divine Day”; and it is then added, in a parenthesis, “whose name is Masu [or Masi].” This proves not only that the term “Masu” was applied to the Sun-god, but was actually used of the Egyptian Pharaoh in the century before Moses was born.1638

Fig. 107. Amarna tablet no. 6. (Sayce, 1888:10.500)

At this point, Sayce comments:

Masi is letter for letter the same as the Hebrew ,משה “Moses”…1639

Elsewhere, Sayce explicates:

Now, the Assyrian equivalent of the Hebrew Mosheh, “Moses,” would be maŝu, and, as it happens, maŝu is a word which occurs not infrequently in the inscriptions. It was a word of Akkadian origin, but since the days of Sargon of Akkad had made itself so thoroughly at home in the language of the Semitic Babylonians as to count henceforth as a genuinely Semitic term.1640

The Assyriologist also asserts that maŝu or “hero” has no connection with its homophone māšu or maashu, meaning “double” and serving as the name of the twin mountain, Masu/Mashu, in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

Hero or Twin?

The Akkadian māšu or maashu is derived from the Sumerian  maš, denoting not only “twin” but also “brother/sister,” “young man” and “man, husband, male, grown-up.”1641 Māšu can also mean “child,” which ties it into
the Egyptian ms, mes or mas.1642

Using the same initial cuneiform symbol as māšu  or “twins,” a relevant

Sumerian term is MAŠ.SU , in Akkadian massû, meaning “leader, expert.”1643

The Akkadian massû may have been confounded with the Sumerian mes ,

meaning “hero; (to be) manly; young man.”1644 Although etymologically these terms maŝu and māšu are said to be unrelated, it is possible that ancient priests and commoners alike interchanged them, whether by mistake or deliberately, as was the case with other relevant terms such as maš and muš, discussed below. The common mythical theme of the “hero twins” also may be reflected in any possible confounding of these various terms. As an example of this popular motif of twin heroes in connection with the sun, in Native American mythology the sun was “broken in two and became culture hero twins.”1645

The Leader

The epithet maŝu/massû meaning “leader” becomes even more germane to our analysis in that it was “said exclusively of gods and rulers...”1646 In one pre-Sargonic Sumerian text using this term, we read the phrase lugal-mas-su or “the lord is leader.”1647 The famous Mesopotamian king Urnamma or UrNammu (3rd millennium BCE) too was called mas-su ki-en-gi-ra or “leader of Sumer.”1648 Another apparent leading citizen was styled Enlil-massu,1649 which would mean “Enlil is leader.” In a Sumero-Babylonian text entitled “The Seven Evil Spirits,” the figure Enkidu is “exalted Massu of the gods.”1650 Dumuzi/Tammuz is also called mas-si-e,1651 which sounds like the masi of the Amarna text.

It is obvious that Assyriologists of the past were startled to see these “Moses” epithets of gods and kings, mashu, masu or massû, staring at them. Their enthusiastic conclusions linking Mashu/ Masu/Massu to Moses were ignored, however, as this mythological line of thought was swept back under the literalizing carpet by biblical scholars and theologians. This point of contention represents one of many with Assyriologists who, with an onslaught of eye-opening texts, suddenly found their faith and that of their colleagues to be challenged.

Nevertheless, the work of these Assyriologists in translating and disseminating the Utnapishtim flood myth as found in the Epic of Gilgamesh has led to the conclusion by many mainstream scholars that the biblical Noah account is dependent on the much older Mesopotamian version. Many discoveries since that time, including the Eblaite and Ugaritic texts, have led to further enlightenment as concerns biblical origins in pre-Israelite Near Eastern religion and mythology. It is time for the same type of scrutiny to be applied to the origin of the Moses and Exodus myth.

Gilgamesh and Mt. Mašu

A major factor in this quest for the origins of the Moses account is the Epic of Gilgamesh, which was extremely famous around the Near East for thousands of years, with copies of it found in Turkey, Syria, Mesopotamia and the Levant,1652 as at Megiddo, in Israel, thus connecting the two cultures. Since the earliest parts of this epic date to at least 1800 BCE, with the era of a possible “historical” king by that name around 2600 BCE,1653 this myth predates the composition of the Moses tale by over a thousand years.

The continuity of the epic’s popularity can be seen in the fact that it was included in the Ashurbanipal library, around 650 BCE. Thus, the text likely would have been present in one or more Babylonian libraries during the exile in the sixth century and could not have been unknown to the Jews, especially those literate individuals in Babylon. This fact is especially true since the Israelites appear to have come significantly from the same stock as the Chaldeans/Amorites, whose hero was Gilgamesh, considered to be semidivine or a demigod.

The combination of texts and traditions from Western Semites such as the Canaanites, Ugaritians and Phoenicians, reflecting the northern kingdom, with those of the Babylonian-influenced Amoritish tribes of the southern hill country or Judea, explains very well the mixture we find in the Bible. If we add in the Egyptian and Indo-European influence through the Hittites and Mitanni, as well as Greeks during the late second to first millennia, numerous biblical elements are laid plain.

Moreover, the fact that there are Sumero-Babylonian, Akkadian and Hittite editions of the Epic of Gilgamesh1654 reflects a perfect match for the mixed beliefs of the hill settlement tribes as well. As demonstrated by its usage at Ugarit, the epic was a school text, which again indicates it was known widely by numerous individuals around the Levant for a very long time. Jewish scribes and other literate persons could not have been ignorant of its existence or contents.

Historicity?

As noted, it is believed that there is a historical core to Gilgamesh:

Gilgamesh apparently was a historical person, the king of the citystate of Uruk (biblical Erech) sometime between 2700 and 2500 B.C.E. There is little historical kernel, however, to the epic by that name. Some traditions even identified Gilgamesh with one of the traditional Mesopotamian gods: with Dumuzi (Tammuz), the annual dying and rising god; with Ningishzida, a tree god; or with Nergal, the supreme god of the underworld.1655

While there may have been a king by this name, the epic itself clearly represents not a “biography” but a solar-fertility myth in significant part. Among many other redactions, Gilgamesh’s legend evidently was accreted with details from real people, such as King Gudea of Lagash (2144–2124 BCE), the end result of which is a composite character.

In this regard, University of Pennsylvania professor of Hebrew and Semitic languages and literature Dr. Jeffrey H. Tigay details the epic’s construction over a period of 1,500 years in his monograph “The Evolution of the Pentateuchal Narratives in Light of the Evolution of the Gilgamesh Epic.” Again, a story with such longevity must have been known by millions across several relevant ethnicities and civilizations.

Although the tale’s germ could represent typical mythmaking associated with a ruler, including ascribing his right to rule to the sun god’s authority, as occurred with Hammurabi, Gilgamesh’s role in the epic is one of a solar hero, not a real person. It is his myth that has been copied, evidently, in the stories of many later heroes and lawgivers, including the Judaized Moses.

Moreover, it is noteworthy that the Babylonian hero has been identified with various deities of the region, including Tammuz, the solar harvest/wine god, and Ningishzida, the tree god. This latter deity, as we shall see, is also a solar serpent god, representing the constellation of Hydra as well.1656 The connection to Nergal is also interesting, in that Gilgamesh’s journey appears to be an underworld myth resembling that of Osiris. Moreover, all three of these gods were styled with the epithet maš-maš or “mash-mash.”

A priesthood attempting to syncretize all of these deities would naturally latch onto a moniker they had in common; hence, eventually one would speak of the god “Mash” or “Mashu” to connote this syncretic entity, later demoted to a “patriarch” styled “Mashah” or “Mosheh.”

Fig. 108. Old Babylonian for ‘Gilgamesh’ (Epic 11.322)

Etymology of Gilgamesh

In the oldest Sumerian texts, the name of the hero is Bilgames (dbil3-ga-mes), while in Old Babylonian it is GIŠ-gim-maš or “Gishgimmash.” The cuneiform for this name is  (Gilgameš), the last part of which name is the symbol , representing maš and connoting a number of different concepts, including: “border, boundary,” “to be pure” and “goat; sacrificial animal for omens.”1657

The term is also the suffix of the word Ša-maš or Shamash, the sun, and, therefore, one could suggest again that the sun god was called maš or “Mash.” As we have seen, Assyriologist Clay surmised Mash and Shamash to be the same as the term meaning “hero” or “leader.”

The Hebrew word for “Gilgamesh” is  ,גילגמש the suffix of which contains the first two letters of the name  משה Mosheh and last two of shemesh. Although it is said not to derive from the Semitic term  גלגל gilgal, meaning “wheel” or “circle,”1658 a Semitic speaker might hear in the word “gilga-mesh” a connotation of “wheel of Moses” or “circle of Mash.” This misconception, whether deliberate or accidental—keeping in mind that few ancients were professional etymologists and that many intellectuals, bards and poets in antiquity enjoyed wordplay and fanciful etymologies1659—may have led to the change in the hero’s name over a period of centuries. It is significant that gilgal or galgal is defined in the Talmud as referring also to the zodiacal circle.1660

In Amurru, Clay “endeavored to show that Giš-bil-ga-Meš (Gilgamesh) was a West Semitic name, which contains that of the god Mesh or Mash...”1661 Hence, he would be another “Mash” to be syncretized with his godly counterparts to produce “Moses.”

Twin Mountains

In the Gilgamesh epic, Mašu or Mashu is the name of the sacred mountain guarded by the scorpion men from which the sun god, Shamash, comes riding in a chariot each morning and to which he returns every night.1662 To summarize:

After reaching Mount Mašu in Tablet 9, Gilgamesh travels along the “road of the sun” on which he encounters dense darkness. Gilgamesh begins the journey into the twelve leagues of darkness at Mount Mašu, which guards the rising and setting of the sun.1663

Sharing this symbolism, an Akkadian sun hymn reads:

Sun-god, when you rise from the Great Mountain, when you rise from the Great Mountain, the “Mountain of the Spring,” when you rise from Duku, the place where the destinies are determined, when you rise at the place where heaven and earth embrace, at the horizon.1664

This scene reminds one also of Moses’s striking of the rock at the foot of Mt. Sinai to produce a spring (Exod 17:6).

Gemini

The māšu or maashu epithet was applied also to the constellation of Gemini, the “twins,” signifying that the term was well known in antiquity, designated by māšu/maš and connoting also “star.”1665

Mashu denoting “twins” is used in the names of the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th ecliptic constellations of the Babylonians as well.1666

A list of deities from the text “Prayer to the Gods of the Night,” dating to the Old Babylonian period (c. 1830–1530 BCE), reveals the theonym “Mash,” apparently as Gemini:

The suggestion is that the god Mash is identified with Gemini.1667

Horned Peaks

The Akkadian word māšu or mashu/maashu thus is used to describe the “Twin Mountains” of the Gilgamesh myth, reflecting the symbolism of the two peaks through which the sun rises and sets.1668 The twin or horned peaks could represent another connotation of the “horns” in the Moses and Dionysus myths as well.

Again, the symbolism of the sun between two pointed mountains is widespread in antiquity, including in Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well as in the Americas. The twin-peaked mountain motif is comparable to Horus of the Two Horizons, and these twins have been identified also as the “two breasts” of Mother Earth.1669

In this regard, Mt. Sinai and Mt. Horeb have been conceived since antiquity as “twin peaks” in a similar fashion. At the traditional site for Mt. Sinai in the Sinai, St. Catherine’s Monastery is set at the foot of twin peaks, one of which is taken to be Mt. Horeb and the other Sinai.1670

A similar sacred-mountain tale can be found also in the Indian story of the cosmic Mount Mandara, used to churn the “Ocean of Milk” by the Indian sun god Vishnu, in order to create the precession of the equinoxes.1671 Another popular Indian myth concerns the sacred Mt. Meru, the latter name similar to Dionysus’s Merus/Meros and apparently related etymologically to Mašu.1672

The Gilgamesh-Mashu imagery has been compared also to that of the much later Jewish book of 1 Enoch,1673 which may have acquired this theme from Babylon.

The Moses Connection

Considering the facts discussed here, it should come as no surprise if the Moses myth were based significantly upon the Gilgamesh legend. This connection has been proposed in the past, including by German Assyriologist and Semitic philologist at University of Marbug Dr. Peter Jensen, in his book Gilgamesch-Epos und Odyssee. Concerning Jensen’s work, American philologist Dr. Theodore Ziolkowski states:

After an exhaustive exposition of the epic of Gilgamesh, Jensen sets out to demonstrate that Moses is the Gilgamesh of Exodus who saves the children of Israel from precisely the same situation faced by the inhabitants of Erech at the beginning of the Babylonian epic (125–58). He goes on for a thousand pages to depict parallels between Gilgamesh and Abraham, Isaac, Samson, David and various other biblical figures and arrives inevitably at Jesus, who turns out to be “nothing but an Israelite Gilgamesh....”1674

In addition to the many other commonalities, the Babylonian epic’s manner of composition itself reveals a process evidently similar to that by which the later Exodus drama likewise was composed.1675 As Tigay remarks:

A typical current view would summarize the evolution of the Pentateuch more or less as follows. The original literary units underlying the Pentateuch were single narratives about the early Hebrew tribes and their leaders. Such narratives were for the most part created, and at first transmitted, orally, some think in poetic form. In the course of time, some of them were gather together into cycles dealing with various individuals (e.g., Abraham, Jacob) or other common subjects (e.g., the Egyptian bondage, the exodus, the conquest); the cycles were later linked together into lengthier narratives series…1676

We would clarify, however, that these “leaders” were largely the gods of these various tribes, demoted to “patriarchs,” “prophets” and “judges,” and syncretized with one another over the centuries.

Tigay also remarks that “the stages and processes through which the [Gilgamesh] epic demonstrably passed are similar to some of those through which the Pentateuch narratives are presumed to have passed.”1677

Arabian Tales

Islamic scholars in antiquity likewise recognized the relationship between Moses and Gilgamesh when they used more of the latter’s characteristics to flesh out the Islamic Moses, known as Musa/Mūsā or Mushas ( ﻣ )ﻮﺳﻰ in Arabic. Hence, in a thorough analysis we are justified also in acknowledging this comparison.

In this regard, professor of Islamic Studies and Comparative Religion at the University of Washington Dr. Brannon M. Wheeler states, “The Muslim exegetical image of Moses in the Quran is linked with ancient Sumerian stories of Gilgamesh...”1678

Wheeler further says:

In Muslim exegesis on the episode of Moses at the well of Midian there are several allusions to elements from the Epic of Gilgamesh....

It does not appear that Muslim exegetes were familiar with the name of Gilgamesh; but that they were familiar with certain key elements of the Gilgamesh story, especially his journey to Utnapishtim, is evident.1679

Although there is insufficient space for such a study here, if we look to Arabian stories of Moses, including in the Quran, we will find additional comparisons with the Gilgamesh epic.1680 The Arabs may have known the ancient Mesopotamian hero by the name of Musa, rather than Gilgamesh, lending credence to our conclusions that Gilgamesh is Masu/Mashu/Mash and Mashah/Mosheh/Moses.

Commonalities with the Bible

The parallels between Gilgamesh and Moses are many, and there are differences as well. Some of these variant details, such as the Utnapishtim flood story, found their way into other biblical myths, including those purported to have been written by Moses himself. The commonalities include the following, in the order of the Moses myth as in the Bible. For the exact book or tablet in which these themes appear, please consult the epic itself.1681

1. Like Moses, Gilgamesh is considered wise and learned in the mysteries.

2. As do the Israelites in Egypt, a people labors to build a city.1682

3. Gilgamesh is known for killing men, like Moses with the Egyptian and later the Amalekites, Midianites and so on.1683

4. Like Moses, a hero wanders in the wilderness and thrives in the desert with animals.

5. The Babylonian hero speaks to the bright sun god, and his face is lit up, like the burning bush and Moses’s shining countenance.1684

6. A man (Enkidu) is sent to act as a savior or messiah.

7. The hero has a brother with whom he goes on his quest, to “travel an unknown road and fight a strange battle.”

8. Gilgamesh’s destiny is ordained by Enlil, the “father of the gods,” like Moses’s fate determined by Yahweh.

9. A magical serpent features prominently, like Moses’s rod and bronze snake.1685

10. As in the Exodus, the common people lament abuses by a king.1686

11. Gilgamesh petitions the high god on behalf of the suffering people, and the deity responds by sending “strong allies,” including “great winds,” such as the “north wind, the stone and icy wind, the tempest and the scorching wind,” comparable to the biblical plagues.

12. The high god’s allies are compared to vipers, dragons and serpents, resembling the biblical controlling of snakes and monsters, as well as to a “destroying flood and the lightning’s fork.”

13. Gilgamesh goes on an arduous journey to the “garden of the gods” and the “garden of the sun,” comparable to the Exodus into the Promised Land.

14. Gilgamesh miraculously crosses an impassable sea with “waters of death.”

15. The number 12 is significant in both myths.

16. A magical plant/flower provides everlasting life, like the manna miraculously giving life to the chosen people.

17. Gilgamesh provides fresh water on a mountain, like Moses striking the rock.

18. Two brothers fight a giant, like the biblical battles against the Amalekites.

19. The Babylonian hero prays to the moon god, Sin,1687 a name from which comes “Sinai,” where Moses prays to the soli-lunar god Yahweh.

20. The hero climbs a sacred mountain where he finds the high god, whom he reveres with animal sacrifice and offering.

21. As Moses was 40 days in the wilderness of Mt. Sinai,1688 the Babylonian struggle between good and evil lasts 40 days and nights, representing the battle between Gilgamesh and his “alter ego” Enkidu.

22. Gilgamesh kills the Bull of Heaven, while Moses destroys the sacred or heavenly Golden Calf.

23. Like Aaron and his priestly sacrament,1689 a brother receives the drink of the gods and royalty, the best wine, which serves as a civilizing or salvific force, indulged in like a communion food.

24. Gilgamesh was a “despoiler of women,” while Moses gave the Midianite virgin girls to his warriors as their booty.1690

25. As happened to Moses with Aaron, Gilgamesh’s beloved brother, Enkidu, dies.1691

26. Gilgamesh writes down his adventures, like Moses with the Pentateuch.1692

27. Like that of the Hebrew lawgiver in the Bible, Gilgamesh’s death is recorded in the epic.1693

The variances between the Gilgamesh and Moses stories are explained by the era and location, reflecting also the values of the people, as well as the agendas of the wealthy elite and ruling class of the time. These differences are germane in establishing the various influences, mores and other important aspects of a particular culture. As we can see, however, there are many details in common that indicate a shared archetype, some of which we will examine further.

The Quest

As in the myths of Herakles, Dionysus, Moses and others, the Mesopotamian leader/hero sets out on a laborious journey to paradise:

Gilgamesh…travels through twelve leagues of darkness along the “path of the sun.” He emerges from that leg of the journey at the place where the sun rises. There he finds trees with precious stones that serve as fruit and foliage... After an encounter with the ale-wife Siduri near the cluster of trees, he must cross the sea as well as the waters of death (Hubur) to arrive at Utnapishtim’s home...

...in Epic of Gilgamesh 9 the scorpion beings warn that no people can cross through the peaks of Mašu; later the ale-wife informs Gilgamesh that crossing the sea, a feat performed only by the sungod, would be difficult (Epic of Gilgamesh 10). Yet Gilgamesh accomplishes both tasks impossible for ordinary humans.1694

he gem-filled, sunrise paradise has been called the “garden of God,” and the parallels to various biblical themes are obvious, such as the Garden of Eden, as well as Moses crossing the sea, finding miraculous “fruit and foliage” and a promised “land of milk and honey.”

Shining Face and Burning Bush

Along his journey, Gilgamesh speaks to Shamash, requesting to “behold the sun that I may be saturated with light,”1695 reminiscent of Yahweh’s burning bush and solar appearance, as well as Moses’s shining face after his tête-àtête with the Jewish god.

Wandering the Wilderness

Gilgamesh’s ordeal passing through the 12 “leagues of darkness” represents the sun moving through the hours of night, found in Egyptian mythology concerning the passage of the deceased via the 12 gates, as in the New Kingdom Book of the Amduat.1696 This movement through the darkness reminds one of Osiris’s role as the sun of the night sky, re-emerging via the “jeweled gate” of sunrise, as the newborn Harpocrates or Horus the Child.

In later times such as during the first millennium BCE, the dozen gates, as well as the 12 tablets of the epic itself, also may have come to symbolize the months of the year or signs of the zodiac, again like the 12 “tasks” of Herakles or the many examples of “the 12” in the Bible and other ancient mythology.1697

Moreover, the god of night is considered frequently to be the deity of desert pestilence as well, as with Set/Seth. Hence, we can see how the expedition would constitute “wandering in the desert” or desolation. It would also reflect the similar Greek motif of Hades and the desolate underworld.

Crossing the Sea, Waters of Death and Promised Land

The epic includes a warning to Gilgamesh about crossing the sea and waters of death:

     Gilgamesh, never has there been a passage

     And no one since all eternity could cross the sea—

     Samas the hero has crossed the sea,

     But who besides Samas can cross it?

     Difficult is the passage and troublesome the way,

     Impassable are the waters of death...1698

On the other side of the sea is the “Isle of the Blessed,” sounding much like the “Promised Land.” Here we have an episode of a divinely inspired lawgiver miraculously crossing an impassable sea, in order to reach paradise.

It is noteworthy that the miraculous “crossing of the sea” was previously accomplished only by the sun god and that, in his journey across the mountains, Gilgamesh is consciously imitating Shamash.1699

The crossing of the sea by the solar deity symbolizes the sun’s reflection on water, especially at dawn, after battling the mighty “waters of death” or “unruly waters,” again a highly popular myth around the Mediterranean.

Bull of Heaven

In the epic, Gilgamesh defeats the “Bull of Heaven,” a motif reminiscent of the Mithraic bull-slaying theme and the biblical destruction of the Golden Calf. The “bull of heaven” was also an epithet of Adad,1700 depicted as standing on a bull, reminding us again of the Mithraic tauroctony. The overcoming of the bull is said to represent the ending of drought, signifying the arrival in the spring by the solar hero, who brings with him the rains. It is evidently in part at least because of the role of the bull in spring fertility, as well as plowing and planting, that the powerful animal was settled upon to symbolize the vernal equinox as the zodiacal sign of Taurus, representing April-May.

Concerning the biblical book of Hosea, which is a “prophecy” or warning to the northern kingdom of Israel by the Judean prophet about the continued worship of the Golden Calf, Rabbi Greenbaum comments:

One of the underlying metaphors of the entire prophecy is of Ephraim as a calf that was intended to learn to bear the yoke and plow the field of Torah and mitzvos [“commandments”], but which rebelled. The metaphor is bound up with the fact that Joseph (father of Ephraim, corresponding to the constellation of Shor, Taurus, the “Ox”) was blessed by Moses as a “first-born ox” (Deut. 33:17).1701

It is noteworthy that the Greek word in the Septuagint verse at Deuteronomy 33:17 used to describe the “glory” of Joseph as a “bull” is ταῦρος tauros or Taurus. Thus, Joseph corresponds to Taurus, having been “blessed by Moses,” the latter supposedly the author of Deuteronomy, in which Joseph is compared to a “firstling bull” or “firstborn bull,” and so on.

Greenbaum clearly associates the Hebrew word  שור showr, meaning “ox, bull, cow, bullock,”1702 with the constellation of Taurus, in turn implying the intention by the prophecy’s author to indicate the metaphor of this zodiacal sign assigned to Joseph and his son Ephraim.

Precession of the Equinoxes

This theme may reflect also the transition between the equinoctial ages of Taurus and Aries, during a later era but preceding Hipparchus (c. 190–c. 120 BCE), traditional discoverer of the precession of the equinoxes. Evidence indicates knowledge of the precession to a certain extent centuries earlier than the Greek astronomer.1703 It may be simply that Hipparchus was the first to summarize in writing the ideas of the precession that had been formulated over a period of hundreds to thousands of years.

In his study of the zodiac and constellations, The Foundation of Myth, Pellar relates that “the image of a bull, as Taurus, the ‘bull of heaven,’ was probably
first set down as a quartet (along with Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius) in either Sumer or Elam as a cardinal point between 4400 and 2200 BCE (Rogers 1998: 24).”1704

Cambridge scholar John Rogers thus avers that the constellation of Taurus, represented as a bull, was devised as a cardinal point two to four thousand years before Hipparchus. This fact would explain to some extent the commonality of the divine bull motif dating back millennia. The time frame also follows roughly the precessional era in which Taurus was said to rule.

Indeed, Taurus—called in the Babylonian star catalogues GU4.AN.NA or “the Steer of Heaven”—has been used to mark the vernal equinox since at least the Middle Bronze Age (c. 2100 to 1550 BCE).1705 It is noteworthy that the motif of the heavenly bull did not appear in the Old Babylonian editions of the Gilgamesh epic, but it can be found in the Akkadian and Hittite versions during the Middle Babylonian period (c. 14th cent. BCE).1706 This development that would suggest the later writers became aware of Taurus during their time.

Battling a Giant

Gilgamesh’s battle against the “storm-roaring” giant of the cedar forest, Huwawa/Humbaba, reminds one of Moses’s fight not only with Amalekites but also with the pharaoh, as in the ancient archetype previously discussed, concerning the storm and sun god versus the monster/serpent of the deep.

Speaking of Humbaba, Assyriologists Jastrow and Clay remark:

...we encounter in the Yale tablet for the first time the writing of Ḫu-wa-wa as the name of the guardian of the cedar forest, as against Ḫum-ba-ba in the Assyrian version... The name would thus present a complete parallel to the Hebrew name Ḫowawa (or Ḫobab) who appears as the brother-in-law of Moses in the P document, Numbers 10, 29.1707

Numbers 10:29 names the son of Moses’s Midianite father-in-law as חבב Chobab, a West Semitic or Amoritish name meaning “beloved” and
“cherished.”1708 Judges 4:11 appears to name Hobab erroneously as Moses’s father-in-law himself. In either case, the biblical character may have been based on the Babylonian giant, at least nominally.

Cedar Mountain

The attempt in the epic to take over the cedars of Lebanon is interesting, as it may reflect the desire of the Amoritish Babylonians of the time when this passage was altered from its original Sumerian version. In the original Sumerian, the “Cedar Mountain” that Gilgamesh must approach is located to the east of Sumer, towards the rising sun, whereas in the later Old Babylonian redaction of the epic, the mountain has been changed to the west, in Lebanon, whence the famed cedars,1709 which the Amorites wanted to acquire. It is possible that the original location to the east was purely symbolic as the place of the rising sun; or, this part of the epic originally may have referred to cedars to the east, in Iran, India or what is now Afghanistan and so on.

Winemaker

According to the myth, Gilgamesh is an “arrogant ruler who kills men and despoils women,”1710 while, again, Moses too was known to kill men and give virgin slave girls as war booty to his followers. Gilgamesh’s civilizing comes not only from the laws given to him by Shamash but also from the advice of the wine goddess, revealing the importance of that libation in this myth as well. This oenological deity is the “ale-wife” Siduri, also a “winemaker,” “woman of the vine, the maker of wine.”1711

Hence, the wine goddess guides the solar hero. As Mary Ellen Snodgrass comments:

The winemaker Siduri, like the Greek wine god Dionysus, offers pragmatic wisdom: She advises Gilgamesh to delight in the everyday joys of feasting, good company, cleanliness and family life.”1712

Unwin explains this motif as a fertility tale:

The imagery connecting fertility with wine and the vine is also illustrated by the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, dating from the first centuries of the second millennium BC, but probably existing in much the same form many centuries earlier.... Gilgamesh encounters Siduri by the garden of the gods where “there was fruit of carnelian with the vine hanging from it...”1713

Further demonstrating wine’s ritual and magical importance in Babylonian religion, in the epic’s conclusion with Gilgamesh’s death (117–118), “bread offerings are made and libations of wine are poured out...”1714 In Babylonian incantations and potions, such as to the goddess Ishtar, wine is one of the magical substances used to produce supernatural results, including to combat witchcraft itself.1715

This tale is comparable also to the Noah myth: “Noah’s experience with viticulture, enology and wine drinking find a parallel in the Gilgamesh epic, which dates from the fourth millennium BCE.”1716 The central focus on the sun and wine reveals that the Gilgamesh tale is a solar and vegetation/fertility archetype, evidently utilized in the creation of the Moses story and possibly influencing the Dionysus myth as well.

Wine and Bread Communion

In a related theme, the transformation of Gilgamesh’s adopted brother,1717 the wild man Enkidu, comes through a tradition and ritual that likewise sound very biblical:

Enkidu is seduced by a “harlot from the temple of love” (Epic of Gilgamesh, 1960:99), who later also introduces him to the pleasure of wine, saying to him:

“Enkidu, eat bread, it is the staff of life; drink the wine, it is the custom of the land.” So he ate till he was full and drank strong wine, seven goblets. He became merry, his heart exulted, and his face shone. He rubbed down the matted hair of his body and anointed himself with oil. Enkidu had become a man. (Epic of Gilgamesh, 1960–65–6)

Enkidu thus becomes a man by eating bread and drinking wine, symbolising the development of agriculture which raised humanity above nature.1718

The “harlot from the temple of love” resembles a priestess of Aphrodite/Venus, whom we have seen is comparable to Zipporah, Moses’s wife.

Moreover, the civilizing or salvational effect thus is produced mystically through bread and wine, as well as by anointing, as in the Bible. Enkidu’s transformation of having his eyes opened has been compared to Genesis 3:5, in which the magical fruit is said to impart knowledge that will make humans like gods.1719

From what we currently know, the transition from wild to civilized, raising mankind above nature, evidently began to occur in Turkey, at Gobekli Tepe, starting possibly 15,000 years ago. It may be that some of these spiritual ideas were germinated in the minds of these prehistoric, apparent Natufians that long ago.

In his analysis of the themes from Gilgamesh paralleled in the Bible, Swedish theologian Dr. Helmer Ringgren (1917–2012) points out that these various motifs were not present in the Sumerian version of the epic and that “they belong to a stratum of the Gilgamesh tradition which is definitely Semitic, perhaps even influenced by West Semitic ideas.”1720 He further asks whether or not counterparts in the epic to biblical stories can be “interpreted as borrowings from the Western Semites (Amorites, etc.)?”1721

Despite the epic’s enduring popularity, we do not possess a complete story with all the details of the Gilgamesh epic, and it is possible that some of the missing parts contain even more parallels to various biblical legends and myths. In any event, mainstream scholars are convinced that the Utnapishtim myth serves as the root of the Noah and Flood story, and it is reasonable to propose that the epic also contributed to many other biblical tales, such as that of Moses and other patriarchs. Important scholarship has been done in this regard on comparisons between Gilgamesh and Jesus as well.1722

To summarize, in the Gilgamesh tale, we have a hero or leader (mašu?) climbing the holy mountain (Mashu) in order to emulate the path of the solar legislator (Shamash), much like the Moses (Mosheh) myth.

Mŝ the Sacred Serpent

Adding to the Mosaic syncretism, in the Ugaritic mythology appears a figure called Mŝ or Mush, son of Baal and Anath, possibly equivalent to Adar as “Mash,” son of Bel. Mŝ/Mush was propitiated to prevent poisonous animals like scorpions and serpents from attacking, in essence making of him a snake god.1723 Mŝ’s name is asserted to be not Semitic or Egyptian but Sumerian, such as by Brandeis University linguist Dr. Michael C. Astour (1916–2004), who states that there is no Egyptian linguistic borrowing in the Ugaritic texts and who demonstrates instead an abundance of Sumerian religious ideas in Canaanite mythology.1724 He avers that both Mŝ or Mŝi and Moses are Sumerian, remarking, “It is therefore preferable to detach Môše from Egyptian loan-names.”1725

Snake God

According to Astour, the term Mŝ reflects a Sumerian deity, the source of numerous Ugaritic references to a snake god,1726 equivalent to Muš, meaning “serpent.”1727 This moniker “Mush” thus would be appropriate for a serpentcult founder, “Moses,” “Mosheh” or “Musa,” as in Arabic. In the SumeroBabylonian mythology, there appears also a constellation Muš, which “loosely corresponds” to the hydra or multiheaded snake/serpent.1728 Hence, this Sumerian word and concept were passed along in the Babylonian tradition, as shown additionally in this periodical entry:

muš [SNAKE] (192x: ED IIIa, ED IIIb, Old Akkadian, Ur III, Old Babylonian, Middle Babylonian) wr. muš “snake” Akk. şēru1729

This word can be found almost 200 times in extant writings, including tablets from Uruk, Lagash, Nippur, Ebla and Ugarit.1730 The term muš occurs in the Gilgamesh epic (10.305), while in another tablet we find the phrase gal muš, which means “big snake.”1731 A common form is muš-a, used in the texts

Inanna’s Descent and Dumuzi’s Dream, for example.1732

Fig. 109. Cuneiform muš, Sumerian for ‘snake’ or ‘serpent’

In Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld (376–383), Dumuzi begs Utu to change his extremities into a serpent’s “hands and feet” in order to “escape my demons”: Thus, “Utu turned Dumuzid’s hands into snake’s hands. He turned his feet into snake’s feet.”1733 Here we see the theme of the sun god controlling the serpent, as well as giving magical serpentine attributes to the goddess’s consort-son in order to protect him from demons.

Serpent Monsters

In the Neo-Babylonian era, Inanna’s Semitic counterpart, Ishtar, was symbolized by the mušḫuššu, a monstrous creature with a snakelike tongue, depicted on the goddess’s famous gate at Babylon (6th cent. BCE). Marduk too is associated with the mušḫuššu, a word derived from the Sumerian MUŠ, and the creature may also be the dragon in the apocryphal Jewish tale of “Bel and the Dragon.” Another term is mušnammiru, which means “who illuminates” and is an epithet of Shamash.1734

Fig. 110. Mušḫuššu or “reddish/fierce snake,” originally 6th cent. BCE. Reconstructed Ishtar Gate from Babylon, Pergamon Museum, Berlin

An Akkadian cognate of the Sumerian muš is bašmu,1735 used in the Enuma Elish to describe the offspring of the serpent monster of the deep, Tiamat, and “presumably cognate” also with the Semitic term bṯn, as in the Ugaritic texts.1736 As Cambridge University fellow Dr. Graham Cunningham remarks, “Snakes can also be regarded as similar to chaos-monsters...”1737

Archaic Serpent Cult

We have seen numerous examples of snake worship, including and especially the serpent motifs in the Bible, particularly in the Moses account. In this same regard, serpent worship may be among the oldest known religious reverence, possibly dating back some 70,000 or more years. This contention is evidenced possibly by the discovery in the 1990s by archaeologists in a remote cave in Botswana, Africa, of what could be a giant carved python which may date from that remote era and indicate a ritualistic purpose.1738

Although the cave-python thesis remains unproved, archaic serpent reverence can be found among the local San or Khoisan people, also known as Bushmen, among whom the python is one of their top three most important animals.1739 Another very archaic ethnos, the Pygmies of the Congo, also had important myths about serpents/snakes and dragons, possibly dating back many thousands of years.1740

As mythologists Patricia Ann Lynch and Jeremy Roberts state:

Snakes, particularly the python, play prominent roles in African mythology. A serpent named Aido-Hwedo carried the Fon Creator, Mawu-Lisa, in his mouth as she created the world. Chinawezi, the cosmic serpent of the Lunda people, governed the earth and its waters. Snakes were commonly associated with rain and the rainbow.1741

It should also be noted that one currently mainstream DNA theory contends that the San constitute the world’s oldest known ethnicity, the most direct descendants of the proposed “Genetic Eve,” from whom it is hypothesized come all Homo sapiens sapiens.1742

Incantation Texts

Venomous snakes have the seemingly godly ability of inflicting near-instant death, like the lightning strikes of the sky god but much more frequently fatal to humans and other animals. Hence, in the Mesopotamian incantation texts, poisonous creatures like snakes and scorpions understandably were of special concern. Therefore, the gods and goddesses who potentially controlled them were to be appeased and revered above many others.1743

If one is religious and believes in an all-powerful god or gods, one naturally will suppose that the divine is controlling and sending snakes to do his/her bidding, including and especially exacting capital punishment for some grievous offense. Thus, we can understand the intense fear, respect and reverence that would lead to a serpent cult, evidenced by the popularity of such beliefs in many places globally for thousands of years.

Snake-Charmers

Snake-controlling spells appear in the Babylonian “Exorcist’s Handbook,” while the Sumerian-derived Akkadian designations for “exorcist” include maš-maš and muš-la-la-ah-hu, meaning “snake-charmer.”1744 Semitic languages professor Dr. Markham J. Geller asserts that these latter two words are synonyms.1745 These facts tie snakes into the mašmašu priesthood, to be discussed below.

In the Ugaritic texts, it is the god ḥrn or Horon/Ḥôrānu who “plays an important role casting spells against snakes…”1746 It is noteworthy also the Semitic word for “snake,” nḥš (Heb.  נחש nachash), is “perhaps related to the Babylonian serpent god Šaḫan.”1747

Snake of Enki

Since snakes live underground, including beneath temples, it has been believed that underworld deities in particular control and send serpents out for various purposes, principally as a punishment.1748 It is significant that the earliest incantation texts indicate a time when Enki, another god linked to the underworld,1749 was “especially associated with illness-bringing snakes.” In this regard, the epithet muš den-ki or “snake of Enki”1750 indicates his status as a serpent deity in significant part.

Moreover, Cunningham states that in the “Epic of Gilgameš, Enkidu and the Underworld, the earliest copies of which date to the Old Babylonian period, Gilgameš defeats a snake...”1751 The defeat of an opponent generally conveys control over that adversary, suggesting that, like Enki, Gilgamesh here is given the status of a snake god as well. In turn, Gilgamesh has been associated with Moses since antiquity, and it is significant that the biblical lawgiver too possesses important serpent-deity attributes.

Ningishzida the Mush

Another underworld and serpent deity is the Mesopotamian agricultural and fertility god Ningishzida, who was understandably the subject of magical incantations by priests, including one text invoking his “mouth” as that of a “magician” and a “snake”:

Lord, your mouth is that of {a pure magician} {(1 ms. has instead:) a snake with a great tongue, a magician} {(1 ms. has instead:) a poisonous snake}, Lord Ninĝišzida, ……! Ninĝišzida, your mouth is that of a pure magician…1752

The original Sumerian of this text repeats the terms maš-maš, maš and muš:

Here maš-maš is rendered “magician,” while maš is “pure,” and muš is “snake.” One manuscript (“ms.”) reads “snake” (muš), rather than “magician” (maš), indicating that these terms were considered interchangeable to some extent. The alliteration in this passage suggests what must have appeared to be a very magical incantation, pregnant with meaning and power. Hence, we might surmise that “Mash” and “Mush” were considered highly powerful sacred epithets, apparently rolled into one in “Moses.”

Like Ishtar and Marduk, Ningishzida is also styled with the epithet muš-huš (“mush-hush”) or mušhuššu/mušḫuššu (Akk.), meaning “fierce serpent,” “serpent-dragon” or “monster.”1753 Ningishzida’s son, Dumuzi/Tammuz called “Damu” (“child”), is also known as muš-a and muš-huš.1754

Like the apocryphal Moses, son of Yahweh, Ningishzida is the son of the heavenly god, Anu. He was also believed to be an ancestor of Gilgamesh, indicating again that the latter heroic compilation incorporates the serpentunderworld god’s attributes in his myth. The snake god’s connection with the king Gudea is significant—Gudea is called the “son of Ningishzida”1755—in that it seems some of the latter’s biographical details were interwoven into the Gilgamesh myth.

Solar Aspects

Ningishzida is also called the “god of dawn and dusk,” reminding us of the twin aspects of Venus, as embodied in Ugaritic mythology by Shahar and Shalim. As we have seen, this attribute is also significantly solar, representing the sun in the morning and evening. The Mesopotamian solarserpent god’s status as the underworld deity resembles the role of Osiris and other deities symbolizing the sun’s nightly passage.

In this regard, the text “Ningishzida’s Journey to the Netherworld” contains much solar mythology, with its calls to “arise” and “sail” in a “boat.” It also resembles various Egyptian hymns and spells for the passage of the deceased king into the underworld. As we might expect, this sacred passage includes the consumption of “choice wine,” part of the medicine chest of antiquity.

Medicine Deity

It is significant too that this god is the patron of medicine, with his snake entwined imagery reproduced as a symbol of modern medicine. The iconography of Ningishzida includes depictions of the god with a snake head, as well as an image that resembles the later caduceus of Hermes, the staff of Asclepius and the serpent rod and brazen fetish of Moses.
Fig. 111. Libation vase of Gudea with dragon Mušḫuššu, 21st cent. BCE. Louvre The oldest of its kind extant, this Mesopotamian artifact dates to the 21st century BCE, long before the purported historical Moses. This god, therefore, is extremely old, and it is clear that he was addressed by essentially the same title as “Moses” many centuries before the Jewish bible was written.

Beer and Wine

As beer itself, Ningishzida’s son Dumuzi/Tammuz descends into underground containers, while the same fate is destined for his “sister,” Geshtinanna, whose name means “leafy grapevine,”1756 much like serpents, which go underground and then appear alive again on the surface. Thus, the two siblings symbolize grain and vine, harvested at six-month intervals from each other, grain in the spring and grapes in the fall. Hence, they are underground for six months at opposite times from one another.1757 As we have seen, in the Jewish era Tammuz came to signify the wine harvest as well, reflecting the omission of female divinities in biblical texts.

Significantly, Geshtinanna is depicted in another myth as Ningishzida’s wife,1758 once against demonstrating the intimate connection between wine and snakes.

Mosheh and the Serpent

There exists good reason to suggest that the mythical and syncretic Moses is based significantly on not only the sun and wine god but also the serpent deity, including and especially Ningishzida as Muš, muš-huš or Mŝ, as he appears to have been passed along in the Ugaritic texts.

Fig. 112. Mór Than, Moses and the Nehushtan, 1879. Plan for stained glass window, Ferencváros Church, Hungarian National Gallery

In this regard, Astour summarizes his case that the name Mosheh/Moses
seems to be derived from the serpent god, rather than the Egyptian term for “born”:

For the Hebrew Môše, too, the association with the CanaaneoSumerian serpent-god seems to be much more convincing than with the pale banal Egyptian hypocoristic [diminutive] from some name composed with ms(w) “born.” The ophic features of Moses are very pronounced: his sacred emblems are the serpent-wand and the bronze serpent on a pole; his tribe is Levi, whose name signifies “serpent” and who was the son of Leah, the “cow”...; he is a healer in the full sense of this word, knowing both how to cause and to heal diseases.1759

We have seen how Moses and Aaron’s staffs turn into snakes (Exod 4:3, 7:10), how Yahweh sent “fiery serpents” against the Israelites (Num 21:6), and how the patriarch raised up a magical bronze serpent,  נחשתן Nĕchushtan (2 Ki 18:4),1760 as a talisman against death by snake bite (Num 21:9). We have noted too that the entwined snakes symbolizing the healing deity date to at least the third millennium BCE, with the magical and healing serpent controlling spells part of an ancient priesthood.

We also have discussed that the Levitical priesthood is named from the same root as “Leviathan,” connoting sea monster. Noteworthy too is Yahweh’s “hissing,” previously mentioned. Additionally, some of the muš terms, such as bašmu, are used to designate a horned serpent, providing yet another reason for that motif in the Moses myth.

Important also is the suggestion that the biblical term  נחש nachash denoting “serpent” could represent the Babylonian snake god Šaḫan, cast in Genesis 3 in the role of bringer of knowledge and wisdom.

Bi-gendered

Concerning the sacred serpent, Walker relates:

The biblical Nehushtan was a deliberate masculinization of a similar oracular she-serpent, Nehushtah, Goddess of Kadesh (meaning “Holy”), a shrine like that of the Pythonesses. Israelites apparently violated the sanctuary and raped its priestesses, but “Moses and Yahweh had to placate the angry serpent goddess of Kadesh, now deposed, by erecting her brazen image…”1761

The serpent deity was viewed not only as male but also as female. Astour also points out the bigendered characteristic of the serpent deity, which recalls the two-sexed Mises, a Bacchic title that likewise may reflect the merger of the Dionysian cult into the Sumero-Semitic serpent cult. It should be recalled that, like Moses, Bacchus too was associated with snakes.

Son of the Cow and Healer

Added to these correspondences is the fact that Moses himself was a “son of the cow,” so to speak, noteworthy since in the Canaanite myth Mŝ/Mush is said to be the son of Baal, the bull, and Anath, the heifer. A “chthonic deity identical with Mŝ” is the god Rpu-Bᶜl or Rāpiu Baal, “son of Baal and the heifer,” whose name means “Healing Baal” or “Lord Healer.”1762 In this god, Astour also finds the Sumerian deity Ninazu, father of the serpentine Ningishzida,1763 as well as the later Greek hero and monster-slayer Bellerophon. We may look also to Rpu-Bᶜl for inferences of the Moses character.

Serpent-Goddess Mother

Another clue as to Moses’s serpentine nature comes in the name of his adoptive mother in Josephus, Thermuthis/Thermouthis,1764 also the Greek moniker of the Egyptian serpent goddess Renenutet, who watched over and nursed babies, and protected grain, serving also as a goddess of wine. As such, Renenutet was the “nurse of the pharaoh,”1765 appropriate for her appearance in the Moses nativity tale.

Concerning Thermouthis/Renenutet, Dr. Roelof van den Broek, professor of Christianity at Utrecht University, remarks:

Primarily a vegetation and fertility goddess praised for providing good crops, she was considered the giver of all necessaries of life and of the blessings that make life agreeable as well….

In Hellenistic times, like so many other goddesses, Thermouthis too was interpreted as a manifestation of Isis. According to Aelian, she is the sacred viper of Isis, identical with the ureus that adorns the statues of this deity as a royal diadem.1766

Fig. 113. Egyptian wine and snake goddess Renenutet, Renenet, Rennut, Ernutet, Thermuthis, Thermouthis, Hermouthis or Parmutit

The Egyptian fertility and childbirth goddess Isis was known in Ptolemaic times (323–30 BCE) by the epithet “Isis-Thermouthis,” “Ermouthis-Isis” or other form. The cult of Isis-Thermouthis evidently existed only in Egypt, indicating it was from there that Josephus derived this Moses attribute. The serpent goddess mythology upon which this later figure was based, however, dates to hundreds or thousands of years earlier, and can be found in many places outside of Egypt. The fact that Renenutet was also a wine goddess is significant in consideration of the Moses-Dionysus connection as well.

Jebusite Serpent Cult at Jerusalem?

To reiterate, in the Bible, Moses’s magical serpent staff, Nehushtan, was set up in the Jerusalem temple, to be revered as a talisman protecting against deadly snake bites, among other purposes. In this regard, it appears that there was an Amorite/Jebusite serpent cult at Jerusalem centuries before David purportedly conquered the city.1767 It is possible this talisman and its deity were called by the incantational and magical Sumero-Semitic epithet of “Mush” and/or “Mash,” demoted in Yahwist times to the patriarch Mosheh/Moses.

Destruction and Salvation

According to the Bible, Moses’s serpent cult fell out of favor during the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah, who “removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehushtan.” (2 Ki 18:4)

Subsequent to Hezekiah’s rampages, it was his great-grandson Josiah who purportedly found the Book of the Law or torah in the temple. Again, one wonders what ideology Hezekiah was following when he went on his brutal frenzies, which were supposedly in keeping with the (long-lost) Mosaic law but which ironically destroyed the Mosaic serpent cult.

Despite this monotheistic fanaticism, the remnants of the serpent cult survived in the Ophites and other sects. Included in this serpent cult is the perspective that the reptile is the bringer of not only wisdom but also salvation: “The best example of the serpent as savior appears in a Jewish writing from the second century BCE...the Wisdom of Solomon,” in which Moses’s snake is called a “symbol of salvation.”1768

Fig. 114. Bronze menorah with seven (phallic) serpents, Roman period (?) (after Charlesworth, 16)

Moreover, a bronze menorah dating from possibly the Roman era depicts its seven branches as serpents.1769 Indeed, in Roman times, Moses continued to be associated with the serpent in literature, as in a haggadah1770 evidently used by Josephus (Ant. 2.10.2):

Moses took the short road along the desert, deemed impassable on account of its many flying serpents (“seraphim”), and provided himself with numerous baskets filled with ibises, the destroyers of serpents, by the help of which he removed the dangers of the desert.1771

Here again the patriarch possesses the snake-controlling attributes of a serpent god.

The serpent cult extended well into the common era, as related by Princeton theologian and New Testament scholar Dr. James H. Charlesworth, who refers to “Jewish, Christian and Gnostic amulets with serpents” that “often reveal the evil-eye power of the serpent...”1772

Serpent and Cross

In the Bible, the serpent is vilified “in the beginning,” then venerated, then denigrated again, and once more adored when it is associated later with Christ, as a “type of” him: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” (Jn 3:15) The serpent’s “lifting up” is believed in Christian tradition to represent Christ’s crucifixion; hence, Moses’s serpent staff is Christ on the cross.

Fig. 115. Robert Anning Bell, The Brazen Serpent, c. 1890. Reproduction of wood engraving, Wellcome Library no. 18284i

As we have seen, snake/serpent worship possibly dates back many thousands of years. It would seem that, in the Moses myth, we possess the remnants of a serpent cult, in which the god himself is identified with the snake.

The conclusion is that, in Mŝ/Muš/Mush there appears to be another important germ for the Moses myth, the demotion of the Sumerian, Babylonian, Ugaritic and Jerusalemite serpent god to a “patriarch,” as Mŝ worship in the Israel area or hill country became subordinated under Yahweh, who eventually reigned supreme, as “Most High” and “Almighty.” It appears that the thrust to subordinate the serpent cult occurred at the time when the Moses myth was created, demoting the god under Yahweh but maintaining its priesthood and laws.

Mašmašu Priesthood

Along with the very ancient serpent worship would come a priesthood and rituals to propitiate the snake deity. As we have seen, the Sumerian word maš-maš or “mash-mash” refers to a “magician,” “wonderworker” or “sorcerer,”1773 also apparently related to ritual washing, purification (maš) or baptism.1774 The term was passed along in Babylonian as mašmašu,1775 denoting priests and anointers of the kings,1776 and often rendered “exorcists”1777 and “charmers,” as in snake-charmers and as reflecting spells and incantations. The “chief magician” in Babylon was the rab-mašmašu,1778 the prefix recognizable as the same as “rabbi” or “rebbe.” During the reign of Assyrian king Esarhaddon (fl. 681–669 BCE), his son Ashurbanipal’s chief scribe, Ishtar-shum-êresh, “ranked as a mašmašu.”1779

Seven Houses

In the Mesopotamian ritual of the “seven houses” called bit rimki, the mašmašu are the priests who recite in each of these chambers an incantation in Sumerian, as opposed to the Akkadian incantation invoked by the king.1780

Dr. Joel Hamme of the Fuller Theological Seminary proposes that the biblical psalms and lamentations are modeled on the Mesopotamian dingir.ša.dib.ba incantations recited by these priests. Regarding the seven houses ritual, Hamme says:

The main body of bît rimki is divided into seven “houses,” each “house” being performed in a multi-chambered reed hut built specifically for the occasion. Each house consists of a ki-utukam, a Sumerian ritual prayer spoken by the mašmašu, a ritual priest, a šiptu, a ritual prayer spoken by the king, and a ritual. The prayers spoken by both the ritual priest and the king are primarily to Šamaš, although other deities are also involved…1781

These reed huts sound similar to the booths or sukkoth used by pious Jews in the harvest festival and Exodus myth. It is also noteworthy that these ritual prayers were addressed mainly to Shamash, who along with Marduk was one of these priests’ favored deities,1782 both called mash-mash, mashu or massû.

Marduk

One could say that this class of mašmašu priests was “Mosaic,” possibly representing the faction of Semites who, coming into contact with others in Nineveh, Babylon, Jerusalem and elsewhere, influenced the creation of the Moses story. Since these priests revered, among others, Marduk or “MashMash,” one could suggest that Moses is a reflection also of that god, the “savior of the divine world” and “exorcist of the gods”:

...in Akkadian unilingual texts, Marduk, just like Asalluḫi, is often called an “exorcist,” e.g., mašmaš ilī, “exorcist of the gods.”1783

As a syncretic sun and storm god, Marduk controlled the waters and dragon/serpent of the deep, Tiamat, making of him a snake deity as well. Artifacts such as Ishtar’s gate indicate that serpents signified Marduk’s “power and protection.”1784 Marduk’s name itself apparently means “bull calf of the sun,”1785 and it could be his worship, as well, which was supplanted by the Moses cult, as the latter syncretized numerous deities in the region.

Animal Sacrifice

Like the Hebrew priests, the mašmašu were responsible for sacrificing animals:

The most widely known prescriptive ritual text from Mesopotamia is that for the New Year Festival at Babylon (ANET, 331–334). It gives the order of events including sacrifices and the recital of prayers and other texts, as required for each day of the celebration. One of the most relevant for comparison with OT ritual is the act of purification performed on the fifth day. The officiating priest “...shall call a slaughterer to decapitate a ram, the body of which the mašmašu-priest shall use in performing the kuppuru-ritual for the temple.” After the necessary incantations and purifications have been performed, the mašmašu-priest takes the lamb’s carcass and the slaughterer takes its head; both of them proceed to the river and throw their gory burdens into it. Then they remain in the open country for seven days from the fifth to the twelfth of Nisan.1786

Derived from the Babylonian calendar, Nisan is also a Hebrew month, named in the Babylonian-influenced biblical book of Esther, and comparable to March–April, when the Passover takes place during the seven days from the 15th to the 21st.

Lintel Blood

Part of the Babylonian sacrifice is the ritual use of the animal’s blood for magical protection:

In the ritual tablets...we read “that the mašmašu (priest’s magician) is to pass forth to the gateway, sacrifice a sheep in the palace portal, and to smear the threshold and posts of the palace gateway right and left with the blood of the lamb.” We are reminded of Exod. [12:7]...1787

Exodus 12:7 describes the Hebrews in Egypt smearing lamb’s blood on their door lintels, an ancient Near and Middle Eastern magical tradition apparently predating the supposed date of the Exodus by centuries.

Wine Priests

As we might expect, the Mesopotamian priests and religious officials were associated with wine, the drink of royalty and ritual libation: “Among later first millennium BC lists of wine consignments from Nimrud, we find officials on the wine lists being ‘diviners,’ ‘exorcists’ and ‘physicians’ (listed under their respective logograms...).”1788 The “exorcists” in this list are indicated by the term maš-maš.

Renowned Exorcists

Demonstrating how well known and important were the “mašmaššuexorcists,”1789 there existed entire households of them, like the Jewish priesthood, as the tribe of Levi and family of Cohens. Geller describes how significant were these sectarians:

The role of the Babylonian exorcist or mašmaššu became increasingly important within the temples in later periods and by the Hellenistic period “exorcistic arts” (mašmaššūtu) dominated the school curriculum, which was most confined to temples...1790

The maš-maš priests continued into the fifth century BCE at Uruk, leaving behind the “largest known collection of commentaries on medical tablets...”1791 At the same time, “Uruk exorcists had become the most prominent scholars of their day.”1792

Chaldeans and Mandaeans

When all is considered, there exists good reason to suggest that this class of Semitic priests was influential in the formation of Judaism.1793 Some of these clerics apparently became the wandering “Chaldeans,”1794 the remnants of the destroyed Babylonian priesthood, who were very prominent around the Near and Middle East, and beyond.

In view of the commonalities between this Babylonian priesthood and that of the Israelites, it would be rational to suggest that the Mesopotamian system influenced the Jewish tradition, as was the case with the calendar, full of religious rituals undoubtedly inherited along with the Babylonian monthnames. In this regard, it appears that the mašmašu may be the source of the Mosaic priesthood, with its syncretic central object of worship demoted to a patriarch under Yahweh.

In this same regard, we have seen that the book of Judith deems the Jews “Chaldeans.” Philo describes the original language of the Mosaic law as “Chaldean” and “Chaldaic,” even though he knows the word “Hebrew”:

…In olden time the laws were written in the Chaldaean language, and for a long time they remained in the same condition as at first…1795

Since Chaldean usually refers to Babylonian, the language in question probably would be Aramaic by Philo’s understanding. This belief that the law was originally written in Aramaic may reflect that it was initially Babylonian, as in the Code of Hammurabi. The Mandaeans spoke a dialect of Aramaic called Mandaic, evidently derived from Amorite, as we would expect in that region. Many of the Mesopotamian priests’ traditions appear to have been passed along to the Mandaeans, who inhabited the region centuries later.1796

Conclusion

Although aspects of the Moses story certainly are very ancient, such as the Gilgamesh elements and the storm-sun god battle with the pharaoh-dragon, the earliest the Exodus tale could have been written down in Hebrew would be about 1000 BCE, with the development of the Hebrew alphabet from the Phoenician, itself created around 1050 BCE. Yet, Moses is largely if not entirely absent from pre-exilic texts, indicating he comes onto the scene after the Babylonian period. Therefore, the terminus ad quo or starting point for much of the Moses material may have been around the middle of the sixth century, with subsequent redactions up to the third century, along with extrabiblical texts.

If the Moses tale was created between the sixth and third centuries BCE, the story could have been based on pre-Israelite Sumero-Semitic solar, vegetation and fertility myths. Combining the Levantine solar-wine-fertility-serpent deity with Dionysus worship, along with the attributes of various other deities and heroes of the region such as Adar, Gilgamesh, Marduk, Mush, Osiris/Horus, Sargon, Shamash and Tammuz, we can see how the Moses myth was developed.

Mythicist and freethinker Thomas W. Doane (1852–1885) sums it up when he says, “Almost all the acts of Moses correspond to those of the Sungods.”1797 Rather than serving as a historical individual with an actual exodus, in the widespread tradition of the Great God Sun, Moses himself has the earmarks of a solar deity, with the attributes of various gods, goddesses, lawgivers and heroes from antiquity rolled into one.

In addition, the Moses story reflects the stellar and lunar cults as well, demonstrating the dual natured “twin” myth, such as concerns Horus and Set, and the battle for supremacy between the day and night skies, as well as between the agriculturalists and nomads.

From all the evidence, it would appear that the Jewish Moses is a compilation of Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek and Semitic solar, wine, fertility and serpent deities reworked into the Israelite hero. Perhaps when Jewish priests and other elite were in Babylon, they allied with (other) wealthy wine producers and decided to create this foundational myth, demoting divine heroes/deities to a syncretic “prophet” under the god of the Yahwists and incorporating many Dionysian elements as well. These factors apparently were combined with the Muš/Maš cult that had developed in Jerusalem among the Amorites/Jebusites, centuries earlier than the Israelite presence there.

Fig. 116. French School, Moses Receives the Tablets of the Law from God on Mount Sinai, 19th cent. Color lithograph, Private Collection
Fig. 117. Jean-Léon Gérôme, Moses on Mount Sinai, revealing solar aspects, 1895–1900. Private collection, USA
Fig. 118. Moses's shining, solarized face on Mt. Sinai. Artist unknown, c. 20th cent. AD/CE
Fig. 119. Carl Heinrich Bloch, Transfiguration of Jesus, with Moses and Elijah, 19th cent. AD/CE
Fig. 120. Gilgamesh between two ‘Bull Men with Sun-Disc,’ 10th–9th cents. BCE. Relief from Kapara, Tell Halaf, Syria

Fig. 121. Parallels between Gilgamesh and Moses. (Literary Digest, 35.54)
Fig. 122. Egyptian priests and Aaron change their rods into a serpent in front of pharaoh (Exod 4:1–5). (Foster’s Bible Pictures)
Fig. 123. Moses and the plague of fiery serpents upon Israel (Num 21:6–9). (Treasures of the Bible)
Fig. 124. Hezekiah removes the bronze serpent (2 Ki 18:4). (Charles Horne, The Bible and Its Story)
 

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