Origins of Dhu Shara
Dhu Shara - the Lord of Seir is the high god of the mountains. The Seir/Shara range defines Edom in Genesis. When Jacom becomes Israel after his laming as a sacred king (prince) by the angel who touched his thigh, he immediately meets his other - his wild brother Esau in reconciliation between them so that the two halves of the tradition, the inner and outer are briefly reunited in a reconciliation also between Edom and Israel (Gen 32:24) contrasting sharply with the division between Israel and the Arab world today. The earlier passages also declare Seir to be protected as the realm ordained by God for Esau, implying Dhu Shara is Jehovah.
Seir is mentioned also in Moses' blessing of the children of Israel - in the Lord's coming from Sinai, rising up from Seir and shining forth from Paran (Deut 33:2) implicating the Lord of Seir as a manifestation of Jehovah. Others have likened the comment in Exodus (24:9) about the feet of God when Moses took the elders up the mountain after pronouncing the commandments, as a reference to Dhu Shara's ancient tradition, since rock carvings of the feet of Dhu Shara have been found at little Petra.
Dhu shara is the ancient aniconic deity worshipped by the Edomites, and by the Arabians of Nabatea in just the way Jacob wprshipped and erected a stone at Bethel. Indeed uncut three cubic stones or Baityls signified Dhu Shara on coinage from Petraea-Bostra. He was frequently worshipped as an uncut stone cube or Ka'aba.
In various terms Dhu Shara was paired with the ancient al-Lat, which simply means 'Goddess" and was likewise worshipped aniconically in simple inscriptions and shrines.
Nabatea, a prominent Arab culture sprang up from Southern Sinai around 600 BC, and from around 400 BC in the land of the Edomites in Jordan. The Nabateans had a close relationship with the Edomites as they each claim a female line of descent from Ishmael, through Bashemath, one of the three wives of Esau and her sister Nabaioth respectively (Browning 32), conditions favourable to integration. This also gave the Edomites descent from Isaac through Esau. The son of Esau and Bashemath was Ruel the Midianite father in Law of Moses.
The Nabateans migrated from Arabia as shepherds and caravan traders who benefited from horse breeding and settled adaptably to form rich irrigated productive land with a prominent trade, centred on the previously unpopulated area round Petra - 'a rose red city half as old as time'.
As Nabatea became a high Arabian culture adopting Greek traditions og Decapolis, the aniconic nature of the Arab deity gained the human form of a man with flowing locks, identified with Dionysus and Zeus as high God. THis brought with it the person of Dhu Shara as a Dionysian liberator of those who gained immortality through the portal of his tragic mask.
Herodotus says of the Arabs: "They deem no other to be gods save Dionysus and Heavenly Aphrodite ... they call Dionysus Orotalt and Aphrodite Alilat" (Negev 101). In Sumeria Allatu or 'goddess' is an epithet of Ereshkigal the chthonic goddess of the underworld. Like El and al-Llah which simply means god, al-Lat 'goddess' could be identified with many female deities, and indeed Allat is identified with Aphrodite-Venus (Negev 112). It is said that when Allat became the goddess of the Nabateans, she bacame al-Uzza the 'mighty one' as she evolved from a local deity into a patron of an expanding culture (Browning 47). We have seen that al-Uzza is also referred to in connection with the Bedouins at Harran (Green T 62).
Nabatean inscriptions in Sinai and other places display widespread references to names including Allah, El and Allat (god and goddess) , with regional references to al-Uzza, Baal and Manutu (Manat) (Negev 11). Allat is also found in Sinai in South Arabian language. Allah occurs particularly as Garm-'allahi - god dedided (Greek Garamelos) and Aush-allahi - 'gods covenant' (Greek Ausallos). We find both Shalm-lahi 'Allah is peace' and Shalm-allat, 'the peace of the goddess'. We also find Amat-allahi 'she-servant of god' and Halaf-llahi 'the successor of Allah'.
A stele is dedicated to Qos-allah 'Qos is Allah' or 'Qos the god', by Qosmilk (melech - king) is found at Petra (Glueck 516). Qos is identifiable with Kaush (Qaush) the God of the older Edomites. The stele is horned and the a seal from Edomite Tawilan near Petra identified with Kaush displays a star and crescent (Browning 28), both consistent with a moon diety. It is conceivable the latter could have resulted from trade with Harran (Bartlett 194). There is continuing debate about the nature of Qos (qaus - bow) who has been identified both with a hunting bow (hunting god) and a rainbow (weather god) although the crescent above is alsao a bow. There is no reference to Qos in the Old Testament, but Seir is one of the domains of Yahweh, suggesting a close relationship. His attributes in inscriptions include knowing, striking down, giving and light (Bartlett203). Attempts have been made to also explain the existence of this scarab in the light of trade with Harran for which evidence has been found in cuneiform tablets (Bartlett 194).
The Nabateans had two principal gods in their pantheon, and a whole range of djinns, personal gods and spirits similar to angels. These deities were Dhu Shara, or Duchares and al-Uzza. Duchares means Lord of Shera (Seir), a local mountain and thunder god who was worshipped at a rock high place as a block of stone frequently squared, in the form of a Ka'aba. Suidas in the tenth century AD described it as a 'cubic' black stone of dimension 4x2x1 (Browning 44). All the deities male and female were represented as stones or god-blocks.
Duchares was a Zeus-like mountain deity of Jebel Shara, with associations with sacred kingship whose rites took a prominent place in the scheme of worship. Notably King Obodas became Zeus Oboda (Negev 111). He is described on a dam inscription as 'Dushara the god of Gaia' (Negev 107). He was celebrated as a god of immortality celebrated by a Dionysian tragic mask of death, in which its wearer became united with him, thus escaping the limitations of the mortal span (Glueck 242). He is surrounded by dolphins as was Dionysus.
Al-Uzza was a deity of springs and water, as befits a fertility goddess, and as such she would have been reverenced in Petra with particular devotion" (Browning 47). Manathu (the Manat of Islam) was the patron goddess of Petra, being Fortuna having a similar role to Semitic Gad (Browning 48). As Moon Goddess Tyche she was also Fortune holding a cornucopia of overflowing fruit.
The Nabateans originally were tent-dwelling shepherds renowned, like their fellow tribe the Recchabites, for eschewing houses, planted crops or wine, in their case on penalty of death (Negev 101), a sentiment shared by Muhammad, who looked with contempt upon the Kuryshites and Ansari "for they employ themselves with sowing seeds" ... "The divine glory is among the shepherds, vanity and impudence among the agricultural peoples" (Briffault 3/111).
However agricultural settlement brought changes and the Greek period produced a hybrid culture. Al-Uzza became identified with Atargatis-Aphrodite and Duchares with Dionysus. Freezes including grape vines are prominent, consistent with Dionysian rites, which Browning (47) concedes may have become the "pornographic pop concerts which came to debase the once-glorious cult of Dionysos." Glueck (166) is even more forthright: "Rich food in plenty and strong wine without stint helped bring the deities and ther worshippers into fervid relationship. Bar-Hebraeus quoted Psalm 12:8 of Nabatean women "the wicked walk on every side while vileness is exhalted among the sons of men". The scope and nature of the temples supports both males and females being worshippers of the cults.
The Nabateans, like the Harranians, followed a complex system of astral worship, involving the sun and moon and seven major planets, in which in her varying forms, the Goddess represented Venus and the Moon (Glueck 453). As Moon Goddess she is identifiable with Tyche, Selene and Atargatis-Artemis of Hierapolis. Selene was worshipped in the new and full moon. She stands prima inter pares at the centre of the main dieties of the Nabatean pantheon the seven planets and the zodiac, although sometimes displaced by Zeus. The snake twined eagle is shown in at least one relief standing above both the sun and moon at Jebel Druze. However the fertility goddess, who was also in her aspects the dolphin-crowned Sea Goddess (Aphrodite-Mari) of seafarers and the Moon Goddess clearly dominates the sculptures at Khirbet Tannur, the outstanding Nabataean high sanctuary, archetypal of the biblical high places (Glueck).
Women played a significant role in Nabatean society. Aretas IV was on coinage with Shaqilat I, while Malichus II was alongside Shaqilat II. "Married women could bequeath and hold property and genealogy was sometimes traced through the maternal line. Pagan temples, whether inside or outside the Nabataean kingdom were dedicated to both Dushara and Allat or to localized equivalents of Zues Hadad and Atargatis. Indeed in general, Atargatis seems to have outranked her consort by far" (Glueck 166).
Jesus and Edom
During the time of Jesus, Nabatea was an independent Kingdom with influence spreading to Damascus. Herod was involved in hostilities with Aretas IV the King of Nabatea because Herodias displaced Aretas's daughter as Herod's wife. Although they were annexed by the Romans they continued to be a significant Arab power to the time of Muhammad.
Josephus' famous passage on Jesus (c 92 AD) is widely regarded as a Christian interpolation, however his later reference to the unjust execution in 62 AD of James 'the brother of Jesus called the Christ' sounds authentic. Origen (c250) expressed astonishment that Josephus while, disbelieving Jesus was the messiah, should speak so warmly of James, implying that Josephus did originally document the existence of Jesus (Wilson I 60-1).
Fig 8.3: Gravestone of Julius Abdes Pantera of Sidon (Wilson I)
However, despite their negative view of Jesus, early Jewish sources clearly treat him as an historical rather than a mythical character. Given their attitude, it is unlikely they would have given him such credence had they not firmly believed his historical existence was beyond dispute. The Mishnah (Baraitha and Tosefta) note the following passages (Wilson I 62-4):
· It has been taught: On the eve of the Passover they hanged Yeshu ... because he practised sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray ...
· Our Rabbis taught Yeshu had five disciples Mattai, Nakkai, Netzer, Buni, and Todah. (The fifth one of which is Matthew, may invoke the Testimony Book).
· Rabbi Elizah ben Damah is cited asking that Jacob came to heal him in the name of Yeshu[a] ben Pantera. He died being forbidden to do so.(A Roman gravestone has been found in Bingerbrück Germany for Julius Abdes Pantera an archer of Sidon, dating from the appropriate early Imperial period).
· A disciple of Yeshu the Nazarene is cited in Sepphoris capital of Galilee saying "It is written in your Torah 'Thou shalt not bring the hire of a harlot etc.' How about making it a privy for the high priest? Thus did Yeshu ... teach me 'For the hire of a harlot hath she gathered them, And unto the hire of a harlot shall they return', from the place of filth they come, and unto the place of filth they go"
The Lexicon Talmudicum and Talmud babli Sanhedrin 106b, 43a, 51a and the Toldoth Jeshu states (Graves 1946 6, 1953 23, 288):
Another Sanhedrin entry 103a by Rabbi Hisda comments on Psalm 91:10 "There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling" that "Thou shalt have neither a son nor a disciple who will publically let his food burn (forfeit his salvation in a public display) like did Jesus the Nazarene". Rabbi Abbahu taught "If a man say unto thee 'I am God' he lieth; if he saith 'I am the Son of Man' he will live to rue his words; and if he saith 'I ascend into Heaven' he will not bring to pass that which he saith". These early entries portray an antagonism which in itself explains the attitude in the gospels is not merely anti-Jewish polemic but genuinely records a spiritual tension that arose from the Crucifixion.
Luke's and Matthew's accounts of his birth remain in mythical territory. The historical events which follow the divine conception are contradictory with one another and are clearly designed to imbue his early life with the aura of a divine incarnation. As both his genealogies having a genetic break at Joseph, it is impossible to verify that he was a descendent of King David, who could, on this basis, claim to be a kingly Messiah.
The Christian accounts are paralleled by satirical descriptions in Jewish literature in which he is described as Yeshua ben Pantera, the son of a Roman with the name 'panther' suggestive of Dionysus. The discovery of this unusual name on a Roman monument in France lends credibility at least to the name in the tale being genuine. However, whether Jesus, who by the very existence of the myth of the divine birth has a dubious parentage, was actually born to a Roman, or a Greek as another derogatory story goes, remains equally speculative.
In Jewish commentary, Mary was also described as the 'braider' who may have woven the temple veil and similarly in the Protoevangelium as a kadesha or temple hierodule. The fact that Jewish and early Christian accounts are concordant here suggests a smoking gun. Jesus' brothers all appear to have been Nazoreans with leanings to an Essene way of life. The holy ones were partial celibates who had transitory relations with women purely to beget offspring. This raises the interesting possibility that the mystery surrounding Mary's pregnancy may stem from her relations to the holy ones. It is even quite conceivable that Jesus did have a Davidic descent which may even have been planned as part of an Essene design to fulfil the ancient prophecies. The lack of any personal history for Jesus before his mission is consistent with his having spent much of his early days in remote seclusion. However again this remains speculative.