Sunday, 12 May 2013

Melqart- The Burning man...

Melqart, properly Phoenician Milk-Qart "King of the City", less accurately Melkart, Melkarth or Melgart , Akkadian Milqartu, was tutelary god of the Phoenician city of Tyre, as Eshmun protected Sidon.  Melqart was often titled Ba‘l Ṣūr "Lord of Tyre", the ancestral king of the royal line. In Greek, by interpretatio graeca he was identified with Heracles and referred to as the Tyrian Herakles.

Around 450 BC Herodotus went in search of the origins of the myth of Heracles. He sailed to Tyre and there he found the temple, dedicated to Melqart.

Herodotus could see enough similarities between the Greek Heracles and Melqart to seriously question the notion that Heracles was a Greek 'invention'.

Herodotus wasn't and still isn't alone in taking this view.

 Lucian of Samosata also thought that the temple to Heracles at Tyre was much older than 'Greek'.

The land along the coast, the country of Lebanon, had long been a meeting point for people from Egypt, Iran and Iraq, for people crossing from the 'Arab' desert lands and from Anatolia.

This was where- according to Flinders Pitre- a Canaanite mine worker had happened upon Egyptian hieroglyphs and invented the Phoenician script that became our alphabet.

Even now, the current theory about the origin of the alphabet isn't very different to Flanderd-Petre's story.

The alphabet spread far and wide because it is one of the best inventions of mankind, it allows communication in all languages, and it is simple. By 800 BC the Greeks had begun to use the  alphabet, and it became the alphabet of the English language via the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43.

The land itself- a crossroad between kingdoms, sea and mountain- was also the library from where religion, science and esoteric thought were brought into 'The West' during 'The Enlightenment,' a thousand years later.

Tradition has it that the Temple to Heracles at Tyre had been built in 2750 BC.

Henry Layard excavated the 7th century Assyrian palace at Nineveh and used a camera obscura to aid his drawing of what he saw.

This picture records the Assyrian invasion of Tyre. King Luli is handing one of his children to someone in a boat (something Layard did not see). But the building behind the castle may be the temple of Melkart with its two pillars of gold and smargadine / emerald, as described by Herodotus.

 "I visited the temple, and found it richly adorned with a number of offerings, among which were two pillars, one of pure gold, the other of smaragdos, shining with great brilliance at night."

According to the Bible, Hiram sent his architects, workmen and supplies of cedar wood, and gold to build the First Temple in Jerusalem. Josephus says that he also extended the Tyrean harbour at that time, enlarging the city by joining the two islands on which it was built, and constructed a royal palace and a temple for Melqart.

Tyre had once been 'offshore', an island build on rock. Nonnos-5th Century, AD recorded the 'foundation' myth of the The Ambrosial stones.

Two pillars, this time made of copper or brass, appear once more in the iconography of the tarot behind the priestess in the temple of Solomon. The pillars are called Yachin and Boaz.

The most popular and well known tarot design is the Waite/Colman-Smith cards, it's worth remembering that Waite was a Freemason (as were most members of the early Golden Dawn).

The word Herodotus uses is stelae, which are often more like elaborately carved tomb stones than pillars. Nevertheless, this stele recorded by Jean Spiro in Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum seems to show the goddess Tanit, between two pillars.

Or, the two pillars could represent the rods and rings held by Inanna/ Ereshkigal in the Burney relief. The ring and rod, according to Thorkild Jacobsen, represents the entrance to the grain store, the wealth of the land.

Between 980 to 947 BC King Hiram ruled Tyre and his town grew into perhaps the most important city along the coast. Its wealth was due to the skill of its people as ship builders and traders who travelled the seas to bring back ivory, gold, baboons and apes.

......slaves, cypress, cedar, oak, ebony, ivory, embroidered linen, purple and scarlet cloth, gold, silver, iron, tin, lead, bronze, horses, mules and other livestock, coral, rubies, corn, wax, honey, tallow, balm, wine, wool and spices. The word cinnamon is Phoenician, as are probably the words cumin, coriander, crocus, myrrh, aloe, balsam, jasper, diamond and sapphire (Bikai, 1992: 48).
And the secret process of dying cloth purple.

Picture of a dog with purple dye coming from his mouth
 after biting the shellfish that contains the dye.
It is said that it is Melqart's dog that first bites into the Murex snail revealing the dye locked inside it.

William F. Albright in Archaeology and the Religion of Israel (Baltimore, 1953; pp. 81, 196) suggested that Melqart was a originally a god of the underworld, something more than a hero like Heracles.

MLK means Lord. and is more often found as Baal.
QRT is a Phoenician syllable meaning city.

As Tyrian trade and colonization expanded, Melqart became venerated in Phoenician and Punic cultures from Syria to Spain. The first occurrence of the name is in a 9th-century BCE stela inscription found in 1939 north of Aleppo in northern Syria, the "Ben-Hadad" inscription, erected by the son of the king of Arma, Link...

A similar name in Akkadian is Nergal. The name means Lord of the Great City, a euphemism for the Underworld.

The myths of Heracles and Nergal have death by fire in common. Their deaths follow love...Heracles is given a 'love potion' that is actually a poison, and Nergal burns after sleeping with the Queen of the Underworld.

For Heracles the agony of the poison can only be ended if he destroys his own body by fire. He builds his own funeral pyre and climbs into the flames...but is instantly transported to heaven.

Nergal (some what confusingly called Erra) is fine whilst he is in the Underworld, but as he climbs the stairway back to heaven his body twists and contorts and his limbs contract. As if he has been burnt?

The story began when Nergal refused to bow to the visor of the queen of the underworld. When Nergal is commanded to go to the land of the dead to apologise it is as if he must clone himself or remain forever dead. To this end, Nergal was split into twins...Nergal and Erra.

Body and something else, soul?

It seems that Erra would have managed the impossible feat of dying and living at the same time if it hadn't been for sex. And yet, like Heracles the burning gives him access to a better new life.

In older Mesopotamian myths there is no soul as such. The etemmu (the ghost) is not the immortal soul. It seems to be within the flesh of the dead, and if the body is destroyed by animals or by fire, the ghost is destroyed as well.

This makes the cremation of a living being, Molk, difficult to understand unless there was a belief that death by fire could be a kind of teleportation to a better Underworld; the Summer-isles, the Elysium, rather than to the sorrow-filled ash lands.

An idea that latter becomes linked to notions of justice or karma; people who have lived a good life good achieving a better other-life, and those who have done only bad things, finding only suffering and punishment after death.
Night speeds by, And we, Aeneas, lose it in lamenting. Here comes the place where cleaves our way in twain. Thy road, the right, toward Pluto's dwelling goes, And leads us to Elysium. But the left Speeds sinful souls to doom, and is their path To Tartarus th' accurst. -Virgil, Aeneid (6.641)
There are bones of small children found within Phoenician temples. At first it seems that the offerings are still born infants, but centuries latter bones are found of older children.

Likewise in Mesopotamia at Tepa Gawra, one of Iraq's oldest towns and Nuzi, child remains are found in sacred areas, but unlike those in Phoenician temples they show no sign of cremation.

Richard Miles writes in Carthage Must Be Destroyed (2011):
"Although such conclusions correlate with the material from the early phases of activity at the Carthaginian tophet, they work far less well with later evidence. When the contents of the urns from the fourth and third centuries BC were analysed, they were shown to contain a much higher ratio of human young. Furthermore, whereas the human remains from the seventh and sixth centuries BC tended to be of premature of newborn babies, the single interments from the later period were of older children (aged between one and three years). Some urns from this phase even contained the bones of two or three children--usually one elder child of two to four years, and one of two newborn or premature infants. The age difference between them (up to two years) suggests that they may have been siblings. One possible explanation is that neither stillborn children nor animal substitutes were now considered enough to appease Baal or Tanit, and that an elder child had to be sacrificed as a substitute when a particular infant promised to the deity was stillborn. In inscriptions incised on to the steles, Carthaginian fathers would routinely use the reflexive possessive pronoun BNT or BT to underline the fact that their sacrificial offering was not some mere substitute, but a child of their own flesh. One of many such examples from the Carthaginian tophet makes the nature of the sacrifice explicit:
'It was to the Lady Tanit Face of Baal and to Baal Hammon that Bomilcar son of Hanno, grandson of Milkiathon, vowed this son of his own flesh. Bless him you!'"
(p. 72)

The word Hammon has been linked to a root 'word' meaning hot, but it has been confused with the  Egyptian Amun-Ra in Ancient Libya and Nubia, as Zeus Ammon came to be identified with Zeus in Ancient Greece. Amun, before being linked to Ra was believed to create via breath, and so was identified with the wind rather than the sun.

The breath of life.

The connection between wind and flame is well known to cultures who practice metalwork. Bellows push air through the furnace to increase the temperature. If human sacrifice was practised at the tophets, surely the mythology of Heracles and Nergal indicate that a faster death, in the hottest flame possible, would be the best thing.

But there does not seem to be any evidence for this, the cremated remains form tophets do not show that a temperature greater than average was used.

The mythology of Melqrt is lost, but we do know that fire was part of Melqrts festival.

Josephus, quoting Menander of Ephasus says that at each spring equinox there was a carefully organised festival in honour of Melqart during which all foreigners were sent out of the city for the duration of the ceremony. As part of the festival an effigy of Melqart was placed on a giant raft and ritually burnt. Hymns accompanied its departure as it floated away, over the sea. This represented the rebirth of Melqart...

In keeping with the connection in both the Nergal and Heracles myth celibacy was required of Melqrt's priests.

A period of celibacy may have been required of the king until the body of Melqrt had been consumed by fire and sea,
Afterwards the king and his chief consort would take on the roles of Melqart and Astarte in a Heiros Gamos, a ritual marriage which guaranteed the well being and fertility of the king and provided his legitimate authority.

In this way the king became the living Melqart, purified by fire each New Year.

Silius Italicus in his epic poem The Punica described what he saw at the Temple of Melqart at Gedes:

  • Priests are the only ones with the honor of entering the sanctuary
  • No women allowed.
  • No pigs.
  • The priests have shaved heads
  • They are barefoot.
  • They are celibate.
  • They wear long white linen tunics.
  • They wear 'Persian' headbands.
  • When they are to perform a sacrifice the tunic they wear has a broad stripe (purple?).
  • Heliodorus describes the priests of Melqart dancing in a spinning fashion, like the Dervishes.
  • Link.