Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

The origin of the “god issue”

Posted by Fredsvenn on July 15, 2018

According to A. Audin, who interprets the god as the issue of a long process of development, it started from two solar pillars located on the eastern side of temples, each of them marking the direction of the rising sun at the dates of the two solstices. The southeastern corresponding to the Winter and the northeastern to the Summer solstice.

These two pillars would be at the origin of the theology of the divine twins, one of whom is mortal (related to the NE pillar, as confining with the region where the sun does not shine) and the other is immortal (related to the SE pillar and the region where the sun always shines).

Later these iconographic models evolved in the Middle East and Egypt into a single column representing two torsos and finally a single body with two heads looking at opposite directions.

Isimud (also Isinu; Usmû; Usumu (Akkadian) is a minor god, the messenger of the god Enki, in Sumerian mythology. In ancient Sumerian artwork, Isimud is easily identifiable because he is always depicted with two faces facing in opposite directions in a way that is similar to the ancient Roman god Janus.

Lammu

In art, lamassu (Cuneiform: AN.KAL; Sumerian: lamma; Akkadian: lamassu; sometimes called a lamassus) were depicted as hybrids, with bodies of either winged bulls or lions and heads of human males. The motif of a winged animal with a human head is common to the Near East, first recorded in Ebla around 3000 BC.

In some writings, it is portrayed to represent a female deity. A less frequently used name is shedu (Cuneiform: AN.KAL×BAD; Sumerian: alad; Akkadian, šēdu) which refers to the male counterpart of a lamassu.

The Lammasu or Lumasi represent the zodiacs, parent-stars or constellations. They are depicted as protective deities because they encompass all life within them. To protect houses, the lamassu were engraved in clay tablets, which were then buried under the door’s threshold.

They were often placed as a pair at the entrance of palaces. At the entrance of cities they were sculpted in colossal size and placed as a pair. One at each side of the door of the city, that generally had doors in the surrounding wall, each one looking towards one of the cardinal points.

In Hittite, the Sumerian form dlamma is used both as a name for the so-called “tutelary deity”, identified in certain later texts with Inara, and a title given to similar protective gods. Inara, in Hittite–Hurrian mythology, was the goddess of the wild animals of the steppe and daughter of the Storm-god Teshub/Tarhunt. She corresponds to the “potnia theron” of Greek mythology, better known as Artemis.

In the classical period of Greek mythology, Artemis was often described as the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the twin sister of Apollo. Amongst the Hurrians and later Hittites Nergal was known as Aplu, a name derived from the Akkadian Apal Enlil, (Apal being the construct state of Aplu) meaning “the son of Enlil”.

Gobekli Tepe

Göbekli Tepe, Turkish for “Potbelly Hill”, is an archaeological site in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey, approximately 12 km (7 mi) northeast of the city of Şanlıurfa. The tell includes two phases of use believed to be of a social or ritual nature dating back to the 10th–8th millennium BCE.

During the first phase, belonging to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA), circles of massive T-shaped stone pillars were erected – the world’s oldest known megaliths. More than 200 pillars in about 20 circles are currently known through geophysical surveys. Each pillar has a height of up to 6 m (20 ft) and weighs up to 10 tons. They are fitted into sockets that were hewn out of the bedrock.

In the second phase, belonging to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB), the erected pillars are smaller and stood in rectangular rooms with floors of polished lime. The site was abandoned after the PPNB. Younger structures date to classical times.

The details of the structure’s function remain a mystery. It was excavated by a German archaeological team under the direction of Klaus Schmidt from 1996 until his death in 2014. Schmidt believed that the site was a sanctuary where people from a wide region periodically congregated, not a settlement.

Gobekli Tepe’s hilltop site was not defensive or residential and the indications are that it was a sacred area and that the two pillars outside the entrance of some of the circles represented a gateway between secular and religious ground.

Three layers could be distinguished up to now at the site. The oldest Layer III (10th millenium BC) is characterized by monolithic T-shaped pillars weighing tons, which were positioned in circle-like structures. The pillars were interconnected by limestone walls and benches leaning at the inner side of the walls. In the centre of these enclosures there are always two bigger pillars, with a height of over 5 m. The circles measure 10-20 m.

Two huge central pillars are surrounded by a circle formed by – at current state of excavation – 11 pillars of similar T-shape. Most of these pillars are decorated with depictions of animals, foxes, birds (e.g. cranes, storks and ducks), and snakes being the most common species in this enclosure, accompanied by a wide range of figurations including the motives of boar, aurochs, gazelle, wild donkey and larger carnivores.

In particular these central pillars of Enclosure D allow demonstrating the anthropomorphic appearance of the T-shaped pillars. They might have been gods who had T-shapes instead of heads because it was forbidden to see their faces. The T-shaped stones around the circle may have been their companions.

Gobekli Tepe’s hilltop site was not defensive or residential and the indications are that it was a sacred area and that the two pillars outside the entrance of some of the circles represented a gateway between secular and religious ground.

According to Andrew Collins the central pillars of Enclosure D target Deneb, the brightest star in the constellation of Cygnus, also known as the celestial bird, or swan, and one of the brightest stars in the night sky and one corner of the Summer Triangle, as it extinguishes on the north-northwestern horizon.

Other structures at Göbekli Tepe were built perhaps with different considerations in mind. Enclosure B’s central pillars are unlikely to have targeted Deneb during the epoch in question.

The twin pillars marking the entrance to the apse in Enclosure A were orientated almost exactly northwest to southeast, while those in Enclosure F (a smaller, much later structure west of the main group) are aligned east-northeast or west-southwest, very close to the angle at which the sun rises on the summer solstice and sets on the winter solstice.

(Di) Janus and (J) Diana 

According to Macrobius who cites Nigidius Figulus and Cicero, Janus and Jana (Diana) are a pair of divinities, worshipped as Apollo or the sun and moon, whence Janus received sacrifices before all the others, because through him is apparent the way of access to the desired deity.

Though he was usually depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions as Janus Geminus (twin Janus) or Bifrons, in some places he was Janus Quadrifrons, or the four-faced. The Janus quadrifrons, although having a different meaning, seems to be connected to the same theological complex, as its image purports an ability to rule over every direction, element and time of the year. It did not give rise to a new epithet though.

Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, doorways, passages, and endings, who is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. Numa in his regulation of the Roman calendar called the first month Januarius after Janus, according to tradition considered the highest divinity at the time.

He was likely the most important god in the Roman archaic pantheon, and was often invoked together with Iuppiter (Jupiter). Janus frequently symbolized change and transitions such as the progress of past to future, from one condition to another, from one vision to another, and young people’s growth to adulthood. He represented time, because he could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other.

Hence, Janus was worshipped at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times, as well as at marriages, deaths and other beginnings. He represented the middle ground between barbarism and civilization, rural and urban space, youth and adulthood. Having jurisdiction over beginnings Janus had an intrinsic association with omens and auspices.

The function god of beginnings has been clearly expressed in numerous ancient sources, among them most notably Cicero, Ovid, and Varro. As a god of motion, Janus looks after passages, causes actions to start and presides over all beginnings. Since movement and change are interconnected, he has a double nature, symbolised in his two headed image.

He has under his tutelage the stepping in and out of the door of homes, the ianua, which took its name from him, and not vice versa. Similarly, his tutelage extends to the covered passages named iani and foremost to the gates of the city, including the cultic gate of the Argiletum, named Ianus Geminus or Porta Ianualis from which he protects Rome against the Sabines.

He is also present at the Sororium Tigillum, where he guards the terminus of the ways into Rome from Latium. He has an altar, later a temple near the Porta Carmentalis, where the road leading to Veii ended, as well as being present on the Janiculum, a gateway from Rome out to Etruria.

The connection of the notions of beginning (principium), movementy, transition (eundo), and thence time has been clearly expressed by Cicero. In general, Janus is at the origin of time as the guardian of the gates of Heaven: Jupiter himself can move forth and back because of Janus’s working.

In one of his temples, probably that of Forum Holitorium, the hands of his statue were positioned to signify the number 355 (the number of days in a lunar year), later 365, symbolically expressing his mastership over time.

He presides over the concrete and abstract beginnings of the world, such as religion and the gods themselves, he too holds the access to Heaven and to other gods: this is the reason why men must invoke him first, regardless of the god they want to pray or placate.

He is the initiator of human life, of new historical ages, and financial enterprises: according to myth he was the first to mint coins and the as, first coin of the liberal series, bears his effigy on one face.

Gemini

Geminus (twin, double, paired, or one who is a twin) is the first epithet of Janus in Macrobius’s list. Although the etymology of the word is unclear, it is certainly related to his most typical character, that of having two faces or heads. The proof are the numerous equivalent expressions.

The origin of this epithet might be either concrete. It can be referring directly to the image of the god, to a feature of the Ianus of the Porta Belli, the double gate ritually opened at the beginning of wars, or abstract, deriving metaphorically from the liminal, intermediary functions of the god.

Gemini is the third astrological sign in the zodiac, originating from the constellation of Gemini. Under the tropical zodiac, the sun transits this sign between May 21 and June 21. Its name is Latin for “twins”. Gemini is dominated by Castor and Pollux, two bright stars that appear relatively very closely together forming an o shape, encouraging the mythological link between the constellation and twinship.

The twin above and to the right (as seen from the Northern Hemisphere) is Castor, whose brightest star is α Gem; it is a second-magnitude star and represents Castor’s head. The twin below and to the left is Pollux, whose brightest star is β Gem (more commonly called Pollux); it is of the first magnitude and represents Pollux’s head.

Furthermore, the other stars can be visualized as two parallel lines descending from the two main stars, making it look like two figures. H. A. Rey has suggested an alternative to the traditional visualization that connected the stars of Gemini to show twins holding hands.

In Greek mythology, the symbol of the twins is based on the Dioscuri, one mortal (Castor) and one immortal (Polydeuces; also known as Pollux) that were granted shared half-immortality after the death of the mortal brother.

Castor and Polydeuces, collectively known as the Dioscuri, was the children of Leda, an Aetolian princess who became a Spartan queen. Her myth gave rise to the popular motif in Renaissance and later art of Leda and the Swan.

Leda was the daughter of the Aetolian king Thestius, and wife of king Tyndareus of Sparta. She was the mother of Helen of Troy, Clytemnestra, and Castor and Pollux, also spelled “Kastor and Polydeuces”). Leda also had other daughters by Tyndareus: Timandra, Phoebe, and Philonoe.

Leda was admired by Zeus. As a swan, Zeus fell into her arms for protection from a pursuing eagle. Their consummation, on the same night as Leda lay with her husband Tyndareus, resulted in two eggs from which hatched Helen (later known as the beautiful “Helen of Troy”), Clytemnestra, and Castor and Pollux (also known as the Dioscuri).

Which children are the progeny of Tyndareus the mortal king, and which are of Zeus and thus half-immortal, is not consistent among accounts, nor is which child hatched from which egg. The split is almost always half mortal, half divine, although the pairings do not always reflect the children’s heritage pairings.

Pollux was the son of Zeus, who seduced Leda, while Castor was the son of Tyndareus, king of Sparta and Leda’s husband. Castor and Pollux are sometimes both mortal, sometimes both divine. One consistent point is that if only one of them is immortal, it is Pollux. It is also always stated that Helen is the daughter of Zeus.

Another account of the myth states that Nemesis was the mother of Helen, and was also impregnated by Zeus in the guise of a swan. A shepherd found the egg and gave it to Leda, who carefully kept it in a chest until the egg hatched. When the egg hatched, Leda adopted Helen as her daughter. Zeus also commemorated the birth of Helen by creating the constellation Cygnus, the Swan, in the sky.

Castor and Pollux were also mythologically associated with St. Elmo’s fire in their role as the protectors of sailors. When Castor died, because he was mortal, Pollux begged his father Zeus to give Castor immortality, and he did, by uniting them together in the heavens.

In Babylonian astronomy, the stars Castor and Pollux were known as the Great Twins (MUL.MASH.TAB.BA.GAL.GAL). The Twins were regarded as minor gods and were called Meshlamtaea and Lugalirra, meaning respectively “The One who has arisen from the Underworld” and the “Mighty King”. Both names can be understood as titles of Nergal, the major Babylonian god of plague and pestilence, who was king of the Underworld.

Nergal

Nergal has epithets such as the “raging king,” the “furious one,” and the like. A play upon his name – separated into three elements as Ne-uru-gal (light of the great Ûru; lord of the great dwelling) – expresses his position at the head of the nether-world pantheon.

Nergal seems to be in part a solar deity, sometimes identified with Shamash, but only representative of a certain phase of the sun. Portrayed in hymns and myths as a god of war and pestilence, Nergal seems to represent the sun of noontime and of the summer solstice that brings destruction, high summer being the dead season in the Mesopotamian annual cycle.

He has also been called “the king of sunset”. Over time Nergal developed from a war god to a god of the underworld. In the mythology, this occurred when Enlil and Ninlil gave him the underworld. In this capacity he has associated with him a goddess Allatu or Ereshkigal, though at one time Allatu may have functioned as the sole mistress of Aralu, ruling in her own person.

Nergal’s chief temple at Cuthah bore the name Meslam, from which the god receives the designation of Meslamtaeda or Meslamtaea, “the one that rises up from Meslam”. The name Meslamtaeda/Meslamtaea indeed is found as early as the list of gods from Fara while the name Nergal only begins to appear in the Akkadian period.

Amongst the Hurrians and later Hittites Nergal was known as Aplu, a name derived from the Akkadian Apal Enlil, (Apal being the construct state of Aplu) meaning “the son of Enlil”. Aplu may be related with Apaliunas who is considered to be the Hittite reflex of Apeljōn, an early form of the name Apollo.

In the late Babylonian astral-theological system Nergal is related to the planet Mars. As a fiery god of destruction and war, Nergal doubtless seemed an appropriate choice for the red planet, and he was equated by the Greeks to the war-god Ares (Latin Mars).

Hymns and votive and other inscriptions of Babylonian and Assyrian rulers frequently invoke him, but we do not learn of many temples to him outside of Cuthah. Local associations with his original seat—Kutha—and the conception formed of him as a god of the dead acted in making him feared rather than actively worshipped.

The Assyrian king Sennacherib speaks of one at Tarbisu to the north of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh, but significantly, although Nebuchadnezzar II (606–586 BC), the great temple-builder of the neo-Babylonian monarchy, alludes to his operations at Meslam in Cuthah, he makes no mention of a sanctuary to Nergal in Babylon.

A certain confusion exists in cuneiform literature between Ninurta and Nergal. The worship of Nergal does not appear to have spread as widely as that of Ninurta, but in the late Babylonian and early Persian period, syncretism seems to have fused the two divinities, which were invoked together as if they were identical.

In Assyro-Babylonian ecclesiastical art the great lion-headed colossi serving as guardians to the temples and palaces seem to symbolise Nergal, just as the bull-headed colossi probably typify Ninurta.

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