Why all the inaction? Three reasons why the Seleucid Empire failed to defeat the Maccabees

51To one who knows the historical happenings concerning the war between the dreaded Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes IV and Judah Maccabee (story of Hanukkah), they must be always struck with a sense of awe and monumental surprise, for when we take a step back and examine the situation on the eve of the rebellion, the odds were clearly stacked in the Seleucids favour. This earth shattering story, intimately recorded in 1st and 2nd Maccabees of the Apocrypha and celebrated at the winter festival of Hanukkah, has all the colour and depth of any literary masterpiece: friendship, loyalty, faith, love, war, torture, betrayal, triumph, honour, courage, wisdom, virility, and standing against all odds. The small, seemingly insignificant Jewish people, surrounded by the behemoth empire of the Greek Seleucids with their vast armies and endless resources, are victorious over their brutal adversary following decades of war. This Seleucid defeat, eventually led to the weakening and collapse of the proud Seleucid Empire. For the Jews of Judea among the conquered nations which made up the Greek empire, a proper comparison would be to liken Judea to a single white dot on a chalkboard. Yet, it was the Jews who would triumph in battle and not the Seleucids. It was a rabble of Jews who became seasoned warriors, defeating massive armies three to four times their number. How could these Jews, who started out as simple masons, carpenters, priests, scribes, shepherds, butchers, vinedressers, farmers, weavers, and potters even have a chance at success? How could they seize victory over a professional, battle-hardened enemy? One may ask, how was this even possible? Well, let’s examine three clear facts which we know to be true. This examination is not meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully will shed light on how Judah Maccabee, the son of a priest, managed to lead the Jews of Judea in open revolt, staging one of the most incredible, daring, military feats in human history.

Number One: The subservient shall never rise!

The fact of the matter is simple, the idea of Jews rebelling in armed response against their Greek overlords never entered Seleucid thinking. Nobody on the Greek-Seleucid side saw it coming. Either they didn’t believe it at first, chose to out rightly ignore it, never thought it possible, or scoffed at the very idea. To say the Seleucids had a low opinion of the Jews would be a huge understatement. To Seleucid kings, nobles, and generals, the subservient never rebelled. History demonstrated that typically kings and generals led rebellions, amassing militias to their side, (i.e. Xenophon’s 10,000, Caesar and Pompey, or the Greeks versus the Persians) so why would Antiochus Epiphanes IV have treated this any differently?

Stattler-Machabeusze1Obviously communication was much slower than. The record shows that out of a result from the intense competitive lifestyle among Greek officers, information was suppressed and not properly passed on, yet still the Seleucids failed to treat the Maccabee uprising as a genuine rebellion for nearly a year since the initial outbreak, thus giving it time to strengthen and morph into a real problem. But at the grassroots of it all, the Seleucids thought they had no reason to worry. They suspected that they were dealing with nothing more than a gang of cut-throats and treasonous thieves. Even when a modern-day student of history looks back over time, the amount of conflicts started by “nobodies” and “peasants” are barely a fraction of a percentage when weighed against the wars and conflicts started by generals, kings, politicians, and warlords.

In the Seleucid opinion, the Jews were a backwater people, with no combat experience possessing strong religious roots. The Jews were divided among themselves, many adopting the Hellenism of the Greeks. Those who rejected Hellas, clung to their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this category was where the Maccabees would arise from. So, when the rebellion was burning bright and the Maccabees were organizing their campaign to crush the Seleucids, the Greeks were making other plans to invade Parthia (a neighbouring superpower). Around the same time, Antiochus passed strict edicts, forcing all the inhabitants of his realm to adopt Greek customs and worship their gods in an effort to strengthen his western borders, due to his fear of the rising power of Rome. While all of this was going on, Antiochus, who saw himself as the next Alexander the Great, hardly paid any attention to the Jews as a result from his ego, overconfidence, and what history told him in regards to dominated, suppressed people.

Number Two: Bad tactics equal a bloody mess!

The harsh edicts in which Antiochus Epiphanes IV issued to all his subjects, were edicts that made it mandatory for all inhabitants to observe and participate inb878eleazar and the macabees attack seleucid Hellenistic activities, which included pagan rituals. This was Antiochus’ attempt to unify the subjects of his kingdom, in a two-pronged effort to guard against the rise of Parthia in the east and the might of Rome in the west. Rome was becoming more of an expansionist empire, having already defeated Carthage in two wars for supremacy of the Mediterranean Sea and now held Sicily, Sardina and Corsica, parts of west Africa, and swathes of provinces expanding into Europe. So Antiochus, intimately familiar with the Roman mindset from his days as a hostage, feared that the Roman eye would gaze upon his kingdom. Thus, he took swift action to strengthen his western borders. Antiochus also had to guard against his old rival, the Ptolemaic Empire, which had been a splinter kingdom, ruling out of Egypt, since the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. Since the Jews had fallen under Seleucid rule (190’s B.C.) with the suppression of the Ptolemaic influence, they continued to remain as staunch monotheists in the God of Israel, observing Torah (Bible) and the traditions of their forefathers.

As a result of Jewish refusal to obey his new Hellas laws, Antiochus launched a campaign of persecution, targeting the Jews of Judea which made up the faithful majority who refused to compromise the commandments of Torah and their beliefs in one God. Thus, Judea became divided, with one side making up a significant percentage of Jews (known as Hellenists or Antiochians) who obeyed the king and forsook the Torah, and the other side being compiled of Jews who would rather die then break the commandments. Against overwhelming Seleucid persecution, the Maccabees, led by Judah and his brothers from the village of Modiin, launched a guerilla-style rebellion.

The commander of Jerusalem, Philip of the Phyrgians, failed to take the rebellion seriously, ostracized the Jews and branded them as nothing more than ‘murderers and thieves.’ Meanwhile, Antiochus was rallying a huge army in his capital of Antioch, to invade the lands of Parthia and expand his kingdom. As a result of his inaction, Philip allowed the Maccabees to gain intimate knowledge of the land, establish a system of bases among the friendly villages, create a network of recruiting soldiers to trai them, and settled in the hills around Gophna where they established a base. From here, nearly a year went by in which the Maccabees raided and ambushed Seleucid patrols, slaughtering them, seizing their weapons and armour. After Philip had lost substantial troops, he finally attempted to launch his own campaign into the wilderness, but was quickly destroyed, thereby realizing the threat that faced him. Thus, he had no alternative but to turn to the governor of Samaria for help, Apollonius.

In all his pomp, Apollonius marched 2,500 troops along the Samaritan Road, a road which runs north and south to Jerusalem. This was the easiest and quickest road to take but Apollonius failed to treat the Maccabee threat seriously. Marching his men through the Judean Hills, overcome by heavy armour and cumbersome weapons, they were ambushed by the Maccabees (numbering around 600 men) and massacred…including Apollonius who was decapitated. After this solid victory, Jews flocked to the Maccabee ranks and they went on to win another outstanding victory against Seleucid general, Seron. Seron made almost the identical mistake as Apollonius, except this time taking 4,000 men along a different route, only to be ambushed and slaughtered. Next came Seleucid generals Nicanor and Gorgias, who were commissioned by Seleucid Viceroy Lysias who was governing the capital of Antioch in the king’s absence on his Parthian campaign. Nicanor and Gorgias took an army of 25,000 troops, sought to establish a base camp in Emmaus and chose to divide their forces to launch a double attack against the Jews. However, through Maccabee genius, the Jews dodged Gorgias’ men, leading them on a wild goose chase, and closed in against Nicanor’s 15,000, striking the main base camp at Emmaus with force. In a desperate battle, Judah’s army of 6,000 managed to put to flight Nicanor’s host and capture the camp. Upon Gorgias’ return, he found the camp in ruins, the Maccabees waiting for round-two, and decided to retreat.

Jerusalem_Israel1When word reached Antioch, Lysias felt he had no choice but to lead his own army. So, he assembled 45,000 men, marched them down the coast, and struck inland for Hebron with plans of reaching Jerusalem from the south. Meanwhile, the Maccabees had been shadowing his advance, and assembling their men outside of Beit Zur, they attacked the marching columns of Lysias’ army and slaughtered 4,000 of them before putting them to flight. Lysias vowed his revenge, and like a dog with its tail between its legs, he withdrew back to Antioch. The Maccabees, unopposed, marched to Jerusalem and captured the city.

The series of Seleucid defeats can only be summed up by stating the obvious: they were unprepared for a guerrilla war, arrogant in their methods, never suspecting what awaited them, unorganized in their tactics, failed to share vital information or treat the threat as credible. The Maccabees on the other hand, capitalized on the Seleucid weaknesses, used their strengths against them, and constantly changed their tactics. They managed to unite the people of Judea, drive out the enemy, and establish an independent Jewish kingdom known as the Hasmonean Kingdom, after the family line of Judah Maccabee.

 

Number Three: Did anyone mention anything about divine intervention?

“Then all the people fell upon their faces, worshipping and praising the God of heaven, who had given them good success. And so they kept the dedication of the altar eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness, and sacrificed the sacrifice of deliverance and praise.” 1st Maccabees 5

To say that the Maccabees did not believe that God had intervened on their behalf would simply be a untrue. The Maccabees were pious men, with scribes, priests, and teachers of Torah amidst their ranks, and they fervently believed that God would deliver them, sustain them, and rescue them from the wrath of Antiochus’ Seleucid war machine. A strong contingent of the Maccabee ranks, were made up of the Hasidim, or ‘pious ones’, who were be the descendents of the Pharisees and Zealots. These men were fiercely loyal to the Torah, the commandments and traditions of their forefathers and would gladly die in order to preserve their faith. The Hasidim guarded the Torah, building a fence of protection around it (as stated in Pirke Avot- Ethics of the Fathers), and were true men of faith in the God of Israel.

Upon the outbreak of the revolt, the Maccabees refused to bow the knee to Seleucid pressure which demanded that they cease: the practice and study of Torah, circumcision of their sons on the eighth day, gathering to worship in houses of prayer or the temple, prayer, and other elements of traditional, biblical Jewish faith. History clearly shows us that many Jews were intimidated and therefore compromised their faith in an effort to “fit in”, but the Jews of Judea, including the Hasidim and Maccabees, out rightly refused. The historical accounts of 1st and 2nd Maccabees demonstrate this refusal to obey Seleucid law as the Maccabees smashed down pagan altars, continued to study Torah, circumcised sons in the villages, and prayed openly as Jews.

david-goliathOver and over in the Apocryphal accounts of the Maccabees we see prayer to the God of Israel and a genuine faith that He will not abandon them, plastered across it’s pages. We especially see this character of God clearly defined in the Bible throughout the history of Israel. From Moses to King David, to the righteous kings of Judah or the Jews exiled in Babylon, the yearning hope that God will defend His people and avenge them is a strong tone. In the Bible, we see divine intervention, at times, strike down the enemies of Israel, such as the account in the book of Isaiah concerning the plague that wiped out most of Assyrian King Sennacherib’s army in the year 701 B.C.. However, most of the conflicts and happenings in the Bible, pertaining to the enemies of Israel, are displayed with God encouraging Israel to physically march to war through actions of divine judgement or self-defense. We see generals, prophets, prophetesses, and kings of Israel praying to God and seeking wisdom. Whether this is Moses against the Amalekites, Joshua on the eve of battle with Jericho, King David’s war against the Philistines, or King Hezekiah pleading to God about the Assyrian threat, the belief that God would never abandon His covenant people is not something to take lightly. This in no way should paint the picture of ancient Israel being a warmongering nation, as it is clear in the Scriptures that special service was to be given to strangers in the land or other nations who did not provoke them to war, but it should reveal the reality of those days and the hostile nations of the ancient world.

In the historical accounts of the Bible, we see a clear picture in which the ancient people of Israel invaded a hostile land (by the direct word of God) which was made up of wicked nations. Israel was to be at times a tool of judgement by God who had given these nations centuries of time to repent. Thus, the Maccabees viewed themselves as cut from the same cloth. These men and women, who were firmly educated in the Torah and history of their people, recognized the commonalities and dangers they now faced, as seen in past generations. They were a tiny fragment of righteous people, surrounded in a sea of paganism which sought to obliterate them. The Maccabees had no choice but to trust in the promises that God would uphold the covenant, see their righteous cause, and give them victory. The faith of the Maccabees, and the reflection of their strong biblical conviction, already cemented into their hearts, cannot be ignored when weighing out their actions against the Greek armies who marched against them.

By, Peter J. Fast

Like what you read? Keep an eye out for my second novel, 164 B.C. A War of the Jews – to be published this summer 2014 (click on the “Novels” link on my webpage for more info)

Submerged structure stumps Israeli archaeologists

Article by: Tia Goldenberg – Associated Press

http://news.yahoo.com/submerged-structure-stumps-israeli-archaeologists-062849500.html

TIBERIAS, Israel (AP) — The massive circular structure appears to be an archaeologists dream: a recently discovered antiquity that could reveal secrets of ancient life in the Middle East and is just waiting to be excavated.

It’s thousands of years old — a conical, manmade behemoth weighing hundreds of tons, practically begging to be explored.

The problem is — it’s at the bottom of the biblical Sea of Galilee. For now, at least, Israeli researchers are left stranded on dry land, wondering what finds lurk below.

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To read more of the article, click on the link.

What it is, we can only speculate. I have been up in the Galilee countless times and have sailed across its waters often, but never thought to guess that something could lurk beneath the surface of an archaeological value. Who would have thought? There is so much history around the Sea of Galilee (also called, Sea of Tiberias and Kinneret) but, like the Israeli Antiquity Authority, nobody has considered the possibility of something of a major historical significance laying undisturbed upon the bottom. The Sea of Galilee is a beautiful body of fresh water, and many people enjoy it for its serenity, a chance to go swimming, wind-surfing, or hike around its borders. It is beautifully situated with the Golan Heights dominating its eastern edge, and is a place of huge significance when we consider the Bible, in particular the ministry of Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth, who spent about 80% of his ministry in the Galilee. So, for something mysterious to be found has obviously piqued many people’s interest and I am excited to find out what they discover, when they gain permission to explore this find.

Cheers,

Peter J. Fast

DSC_0641

Serapis-Divine Healer or Counterfeit God?

TorahScrollIn both Jewish and Christian belief, one important characteristic of God is that He is a healer who can restore an individual’s body and sustain health. Common to each faith is the belief that life is a precious gift, as man is created in the image of God to worship Him, give Him glory, take pleasure in His creation, and to walk in such a way that he is a delight to God. To Jews and Christians, life is seen as the vehicle for delivering praise to God because He is a God of life and covenant.

One focal point of the quality of life is the sense of blessing through health. Where there is lack of health, sometimes all one can do is cry out to God as Job did. Yet, at the same time it is clear that, even through suffering, it is possible to experience divine peace, the kind that surpasses all understanding.

During times of suffering, we find comfort in God’s Word. In the Tehillim (Book of Psalms), each psalm is arranged into daily groupings for the recitation of prayer by Jewish people all over the world. Added to the Tehillim, are traditional Jewish prayers for the sick and people stricken with disease, such as this one: “And in Your hands is the strength and the power to make great, to strengthen, and to cure every human, even he who is crushed, crushed to the very depths of his soul…O God Who is trustworthy, Father of Mercy, Healer of all illnesses of Your people, Israel, even those near unto the very gates of death.”

Created for Health

In the beginning, God created mankind not to solely “exist,” but to live according to his/her true purpose—to be in a relationship with Him. God’s creation was perfect, prior to sin entering the world, and mankind did not experience bodily degeneration, which leads to sickness and ultimately death. With sin came sickness and the need for healing.

In Hebrew, the word rapha (רפא) is a unique term equated with healing, or the act of being healed or cured. Rapha is used periodically throughout the Bible in different forms, and can take on meanings of divine healing, healing brought about by a physician, spiritual healing, healing of the tongue, or the restoration of a nation.

For the covering or repairing of a wound, the Hebrew word gehah (גהה) can be used, and dictates bodily healing, whether through medicine or one’s outlook on life. However, in this teaching letter we will focus on rapha and the healing which must come from God.

In Christian Thought

God literally used rapha through the healing power of Jesus (Yeshua) who encountered a paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda. The incident is described in John 5:2–9.

In John’s account, Yeshua visits Jerusalem, enters through the Sheep Gate, and arrives at the Pool of Bethesda, which in Hebrew means “House of Grace.” John states that401px-Jerusalem_Bethesda_BW_1 this pool had five porches, and that this was a gathering place of many sick, crippled, blind, and infirm people. Then, something very interesting is described. An angel is said to have come down to stir the waters, and that the first to reach the pool and enter the waters would be healed. Strange?

It is at this place where John gives an account of Yeshua confronting a paralyzed man who has been a cripple for thirty-eight years. The beginning of the chapter sets the scene. We learn about what is happening at this pool, and a little about the lame man who had been stranded there with no one to care for him. We can only begin to fathom what it would be like for this man who was crippled; his body useless by most people’s standards, lying on the ground as other people were healed. He remains alone and neglected. It would appear as though all love was absent from that place. Then, who should appear in the midst of this man’s misery—Yeshua, the famous teacher, and miracle worker from Nazareth.

When Yeshua asked the paralytic if he wanted to be healed, the man’s answer should not surprise us. He spoke from the pit of despair. “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me” (John 5:7). He is filled with anguish and sorrow. He has never reached the water. Not even once!

Now, let’s pause and examine the story. What is wrong with this picture? Some questions need to be asked. Why is the man lying there? What is this place where an angel stirs the water for healing? Since when, in the Bible, does an angel of the Lord heal only on a first-come-first-served basis? Why is it that those people who are healed seem to be those able to reach the pool, yet others—the lame, the blind, and the paralyzed—are left to their own devices? Who is this man whom Yeshua confronts? Finally, what is Yeshua trying to accomplish by approaching this man? To answer these questions, we must first examine some truths in history in order to connect the dots.

Pool of Bethesda—Greek Influence

IMG_6006Archaeology has shed light on the location of the Pool of Bethesda and what it was used for. In the first century AD, it was located near the Fortress Antonia, and was used both as a place of relaxation by Hellenists, as well as a temple to the god Serapis (the larger temple was constructed in 2nd-3rd century but there was observance prior to this date). Evidence has shown that the pools were used for pagan ritual immersions and pleasure, and would have attracted and catered to Hellenized people. So what is Hellenism?

Hellenism is a derivative of the Greek word, hellas, which encompasses Greek lifestyle in its basic form. Hellenism, according to historian and theologian Emil Schurer, was “the organization of the state, legislation, the administration of justice, public arrangements, art and science, trade and industry, and the customs of daily life down to fashion and ornaments, and thus impressed upon every department of life, wherever its influence reached, the stamp of the Greek mind.”

Hellenism surrounded the Jewish people, and the influence of Greek culture was very appealing. This can be seen in the names of men and women before and during the time of Yeshua, in architecture and building construction, and even in the style in which Herod renovated the Second Temple. Hellenism was a “Greek-minded ideology,” contrary to Hebraic thought in many of its tenets and principles. A large number of Jews, who may have participated in Hellenism to some extent, still rejected the weightier baggage that came along with a Greek paradigm. These issues would revolve around the worship of man, nature, and polytheism, all three of which stood directly against the belief in the one creator God as upheld in the Torah (see Deut. 6:4 for example).

Hellenism also naturally produced hedonism, which encompassed the veneration of the body and the literal worship of pleasure. This belief is contrary to Judaism which places God at the center (theo-centric) not man, and sees creation and pleasure as something not to venerate or worship, but to praise God for. Since hedonism places man at the center and literally worships his physique, to be sick or physically unattractive could result in alienation. Hedonism judges the exterior, God judges what’s in a man’s heart. Therefore, one of the many fallacies of hedonism is that if someone is not able to meet this standard of outward, physical beauty, they could be cast out of society—set apart from community.

This would explain why all the sick and infirm people were gathered at the Pool of Bethesda, separated from the main population. It is likely that these people would have been discarded Hellenists, due to their presence in such a place, seeking healing at the temple of Serapis. We must therefore ask: who is Serapis and how is this pagan god connected to healing?

True Healing in the Desert

To understand the origins of Serapis, it is imperative that we visit the period when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness after they had been delivered from Egypt. In Numbers 21:4–5, we read that “…the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses…” The Lord sent fiery serpents among the Israelites as a result of their sin, and as they were bitten, they began to die. However, it was not until the people came to Moses in repentance that things shifted and we see God pour out His mercy on His people.

God commanded Moses to “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Num. 21:8). God acted through the Hebrew term rapha and restored. He literally took the nation from a place of sin and doubt, to a place of faith, trust, and salvation. God was not instituting idolatry here, but in this unique case, He desired for them to be brought to the end of themselves, and only through the obedience of gazing upon the bronze serpent could they be healed and delivered.

This was an incredible test of faith. The people who had just condemned Moses, accused God, and had symbolically shaken their fists at the Most High, were reduced to pleading for God’s saving power and were restored. It would be wonderful to say that God’s people remembered the true Source of their healing. Sadly, nearly seven hundred years later, we encounter another shocking happening in the land of Israel.

In 2 Kings 18:4, there is mention of a pagan deity called, “Nehushtan” which is clearly equated with the bronze serpent of healing. This verse tells us that King Hezekiah of Judah destroyed the bronze serpent of Moses, as the people of Israel had begun to worship it. Nehushtan had become known as a “god of healing,” replacing the God of Israel. As Merrill C. Tenny writes, “Nehushtan thus exists as an example of how an originally good, redemptive, ritualistic object may be perverted into its opposite and become detrimental to true saving faith.”

Since the reign of Hezekiah was during the Divided Kingdom era of Judah and Israel, it is likely that the worship and reverence of Nehushtan also found its way into the Kingdom of Israel. Hezekiah was able to cleanse his lands, but one thing is commonly known about paganism: idolatry spreads with influence. We can be most assured that it affected the northern kingdom of Israel as well.

Trail of the Serpent of Healing

During this era, we find another god like Nehushtan, and that is Eshmun of the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were a Semitic people who dwelt on the northwestern coast of modern day Israel and southern Lebanon. The derivation of the name “Phoenician” alludes to the purple dyes they harvested from the murex snail, which they widely sold, particularly for royal clothing. It is these people we must now investigate to follow the trail of the serpent of healing.

In Dr. Nissim Ganor’s book Who Were the Phoenicians?, we find startling insights into the connection of the Phoenician god Eshmun with Nehushtan. The Phoenicians resided in the large port cities of Sidon and Tyre and were a seafaring people. Evidence in the biblical record and archaeology seems to place them as descendants from the Israelite tribe of Asher, and so they may have had Jewish origins. The possibility that the Phoenicians were of Jewish descent can also be supported by ancient Greek historians such as Herodotus and Diodorus, who described “circumcised people” who had come from Egypt as nomads and settled on the northern coastal plain, a land which had been inhabited by Canaanites and other peoples. It was these Phoenicians who would adopt a god of healing and call him Eshmun.

Archaeology has confirmed that Eshmun was considered to be a god of healing and medicine who was portrayed carrying a pole with a bronze serpent coiled around the shaft. This sounds strikingly familiar when we recall God’s command to Moses in the desert of Kadesh regarding the bronze serpent (Num 21:8). How is this possible? It appears that this idolatry not only affected Israel’s northern and southern kingdoms, but these deities quite possibly were adopted by the Phoenicians, changed to suit their culture, and worshipped.

Ganor gives a detailed report of the 1901 Macridy Bey excavations in Sidon. During these digs, Bey discovered a temple to the Phoenician god, Eshmun. In this temple he found an inscription that read, “God Eshmun sar Kadesh” or “ruler of Kadesh.” This is another crucial point of evidence revealing the possibility that the origins of Eshmun were tied not only to Nehushtan, but to the original bronze serpent erected in the wilderness to heal those struck by plague. Numbers 27:14 gives us the location of the “fiery serpent” passage discussed earlier—the Desert of Kadesh. Eshmun, who is identified as a god of healing clutching a pole with a serpent coiled around it, is called “ruler of Kadesh.” Could this be the Phoenician name for Nehushtan?

Phoenician–Greek Connection

IMG_7066There is ample archaeological evidence (pottery, art, clothing, etc.) to make a solid association between the Phoenicians and the Greeks. It is safe to say that the two peoples traded with one another and had contact. So, it should not be a surprise that we find a pagan deity named Asclepius emerging in Greece soon after Eshmun’s appearance in Phoenicia. The Greeks saw Asclepius as a god of healing, associated with sacred snakes, who was often depicted holding a pole with a snake coiled around it.

Greek historian, Will Durant, states that, “In Greek art, a snake is often seen about the figures of Hermes, Apollo, and Asclepius;” and continues that since gods were attached to city-states and professions, “so the physicians of Greece looked back to Asclepius.” Durant goes into detail concerning Greek medicine and Asclepius to mention, “Even in the fifth century, Greek medicine was in large measure bound up with religion, and the treatment of disease was still practiced by the temple priests of Asclepius.”

The annals of Greek thought are silent as to why snakes were connected to Greek mythology in the first place. However, outside Greek literature, evidence of snakes associated with a healing deity can be found in the Phoenician cult of Eshmun and its arrival upon Greek shores. This, therefore would have had a direct influence in the conception of Asclepius. So how does Asclepius fit into our original question: who was Serapis and where did he come from?

The Origin of Serapis

As archaeologists uncovered the Pool of Bethesda, a temple to the healing god Serapis was discovered. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC, all the lands he had conquered were divided between his four generals, one of those being Ptolemy I (367–283 BC), who took the lands of Egypt to build his kingdom, and styled it after Greek–Macedonian values.

Ptolemy wanted to make his kingdom attractive, especially to the Greeks. Since they considered the animal–human deities of Egypt strange, he decided to create a new god. His desire was that his god would rule the capital of Alexandria, and would contain all the best attributes a god could have. He gave his god all-knowing wisdom (Zeus, Osiris, Helios), the characteristics of fertility (Dionysus), command over the underworld (Apis and Hades), and the beauty of healing (Asclepius). The name he gave his god was Serapis. In Alexandria, he built the enormous Serapeum Temple, which contained the bearded image of Serapis as well as sacred snakes associated with healing.

We know the influence of Serapis spread to the city of Jerusalem as archaeologists have uncovered the temple built for him at the Pool of Bethesda. This pool has beenSerapis bowl excavated and has revealed its secrets. In the time of Yeshua, there were pipes in the floor of the pool that could release air to stir the water and create bubbles. Each morning, the priests of Serapis would release sacred snakes into the water to swim around and prepare it as an offering for the day. There were also hollow pipes along the pool that would carry the sound of the priests’ voices speaking as they beckoned the people to come to the water for healing.

As if this was not enough, Asclepius, from whom Serapis received his healing characteristics, is often pictured in Greek mythology with the wings of an angel. Was this perhaps the “angel” the Gospel of John describes—an angel who plays favorites, does not heal everyone, and who only heals those who, most likely, do not need healing?

Why was Yeshua at the Temple of Serapis?

So, what was Yeshua doing there? A basic precept of evil is that it seeks to distort and sometimes appear as if it is from God. This way, it can lure people and deceive them. More than likely, there had to be some sort of healing agent at the pool to keep people in a state of false hope. Whether the healing was temporary or long lasting, it was a place where hope was fleeting and everything was unpredictable. We do know, according to the Bible, that even Satan can mimic God and has limited power when allowed. This distortion of power can be clearly seen when God allowed Satan to test Job or when Pharoah’s priests were able to mimic Aaron and also turn their staffs into snakes (Exod. 7:11).

Satan is the ultimate deceiver, a father of lies within whom nothing good exists. His desire was and still is to be “like the Most High” and he delights in confusion and keeping people from the truth. Christian teaching tells us that Yeshua was very familiar with Satan’s tactics, as seen in the Gospel of Matthew when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1–11). Yeshua chose to enter the “lions den” to perform a miracle of healing, a rapha. This account demonstrates the extreme degree to which Yeshua was willing to go to in order to heal someone. He told the man to rise, take up his bed, and walk and, before everyone’s eyes, he was healed.

Who was the man Yeshua healed at the Pool of Bethesda? In the verses that follow the miracle of healing, we find that the former paralytic does two things which reveal who he was. First, he answers questions from certain Jews who are concerned with him breaking the Sabbath. Their questions clearly reveal his identity as a Jew. They would not have cared had he been a Gentile. The man tells his Jewish audience that he has been healed and that he only carries his bed because he was told to do so by the healer. When they continue to question him, the healed man is unable to identify the healer as Yeshua, for it is obvious he does not know.

Following their questions, the healed man goes to the Temple. Why? Any number of reasons could have placed him at the Temple that day. Perhaps he was there to be reinstated into the Jewish community after being deprived of temple worship for thirty-eight years. Maybe he was there to pray and repent for looking to Serapis for healing, or even yet, perhaps he was there to offer a sacrifice of praise to God for being healed.

No matter why he was there, the man met Yeshua in the Temple, which solidifies the man’s Jewishness once again. In excavations around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a number of stone inscriptions have been found. These inscriptions were written in Greek and were warnings to prevent non-Jews from entering the inner courts of the Temple. In fact, the closest a Gentile could get to the Temple was the Outer Court. Thus, for Yeshua to greet this man in the Temple, there can be no other conclusion but to say the man Yeshua healed was a Jew.

True Healing Comes from God

Perhaps the final lingering question that should be begged is: why would a Jewish person seek healing from a false god? Why would he deliberately trust in something that he must have known to be false? This is a mystery. Yet ultimately, this event sheds light on the inner struggle between a man and God. Perhaps the man’s response when Yeshua first approached him gets us closer to an answer. We can surmise that the man felt abandoned, not just by men, but by God. For years he had felt worthless and deserted. There must have been despairing times where he cried out to God and felt nothing. More than likely, his initial response to Yeshua, concerning his feelings of neglect, was but a mirrored image of his bitterness towards God. Yet, a lingering desire to trust God must have existed. This is clearly evident in his actions once he was healed—he went up to the Temple to worship. He understood where the healing had come from.

In a place where hope was fleeting, Yeshua and the healing power of God confronted Serapis. The God of Israel used rapha to demonstrate not only complete deliverance from disease, but also spiritual healing. The man was radically changed and not only would his position in society be restored, but his literal faith in God was transformed. God’s sovereign will and His nature will forever be the source of true healing. God breathed restoration upon an ungodly place that day at the Pool of Bethesda, and it should be expected that the power of Serapis in that place was broken.

By Peter J. Fast,

Bibliography:

Achtemeier, Paul J. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. San Francisco:
Harper and Row, Publishers, 1985.

Brown, Francis. The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius
Hebrew and English Lexicon.
USA:Hendrickson Publishers, 1979.

Davis, Rabbi Menachem. The Schottenstein Edition: Tehillim The Book of Psalms
with an Interlinear Translation.
Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, Ltd., 2001.

Dearman, Andrew J. Religion and Culture in Ancient Israel.
USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992.

Durant, Will. The Life of Greece: The Story of Civilization.
New York: MJF Books, 1966.

Ganor, Dr. Nissim Raphael. Who Were the Phoenicians?
Israel: Kotarim International Publishing Ltd., 2009.

Gesenius, H.W.F. Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the
Old Testament.
Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979.

Jastrow, Marcus. Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli
and the Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature.

USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006.

Pritchard, James B. ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating
to the Old Testament.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Schurer, Emil. Translated: Sophia Taylor and Rev. Peter Christie.
A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ:
Vol. 1.
USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.

Tenney, Merrill C. ed. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible:
Vol. IV.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976.

Discoveries at Shiloh may reveal that it was sacked by Philistines

Article from Arutz Sheva

Shilo Find May Show It was Sacked by Philistines

By, Gil Ronen

Published 7/01/13

A new archeological find at ancient Shilo fits in with the Biblical narrative regarding the war at Even Ha’ezer, and could confirm scholars’ conjectures as to how Shilo was destroyed.

The First Book of Samuel does not say when and how Shilo, which served as the Israelite capital for 369 years, was destroyed. The latest archeological find at the Shilo site – a broken vase and remains of ashes from a fire – indicate large scale destruction. The remains are from the same period in which the War of Even Ha’ezer against the Philistines was waged.

Israel suffered a crushing defeat in that war, which is believed to have been waged near present-day Afek. The two sons of Eli the High Priest were killed, and Eli himself died upon hearing the news. Worst of all, the Holy Ark, which the Israelites had brought to the battleground, was taken by the Philistines.

Archeologists and scholars now have more evidence to back the assumption that after defeating the Israelites at Even Ha’ezer, the Philistines advanced upon Shilo and sacked it.

img396088Other Biblical passages, in Psalms and Jeremiah, confirm that Shilo was destroyed by Phlistines.

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/163934#.UOqx8m_qlCI

Pool of Bethesda, Jerusalem: Jesus Heals the Paralytic

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.

John 5:2-9 (NKJV)

The Pool of Bethesda is located in the city of Jerusalem in the Hill Country of Judah which is in the central part of Israel. In the first century, Jerusalem was part of the Roman province of Judea and was built upon a mountain with two valleys wrapping around it on either side (Hinnom Valley to the west and Kidron Valley to the east) and a valley cutting through the center of the city called the Tyropoeon. Across the Kidron Valley is the Mount of Olives which rises above the heights of the city, and to the north of this mountain, it dips into a saddle and rises to form another ridge called Mount Scopus. The region in and around Jerusalem is dry most of the year with annual rainfall between 28-36 inches during the winter months. Throughout the spring (May to mid-June) the temperature is mild, yet it gradually increases as summer is a dry, hot, and dusty time, especially with its locality with the Negev desert to the south. During the summer, it is common for winds to blow in from the eastern and southern deserts to form a thick brown haze around the city called a sharav where the temperature spikes and the humidity can drop forty percent. The sharav dries everything and leaves a blanket of dust on the land, but in the area of Jerusalem and to the north the sharav also helps ripen the grains of barley and wheat for harvest. Finally, by mid-September to mid-October, the end of summer approaches, which ushers in the fruit harvest and the rainy season.

For the Jewish people, Jerusalem has always been the spiritual heart beat. It was in this city that David established his capital, Solomon reigned, the first and second temple stood, and where it is believed the Messiah will return. Jerusalem is a city over 3,000 years old, but is a place that has been identified as Jewish for almost all of its history. It was where Jesus of Nazareth was dedicated in the temple as a boy, would have attended the feasts, spent his last days teaching, observed the Last Supper with his disciples, was crucified, and then was resurrected from the dead to ascend into heaven from the Mount of Olives. Jerusalem was the pulse of religious Jews, and the birth of the Church, yet it was also a hotbed for ideals and under strict Roman control with the Fortress Antonia dominating the northwestern end of the Temple Mount.

The geography of Jerusalem played a direct role in the events that transpired during the final days before Jesus was arrested and crucified. Everything He did, He did for a reason as Jesus challenged social norms, called for repentance, and preached. After His arrival into the city upon the donkey where He was celebrated as a triumphant king, Jesus entered into the Pool of Bethesda, which is located slightly northeast from the Fortress Antonia and in close proximity to the Temple Mount. The central place of the pools was a prominent Gentile area where people who were ill and diseased gathered near the waters to be healed. The Gospel of John gives a brief description of this pool, mentioning that it has five porches; archaeology has shown this site to be a temple to Serapis (Greek: Asclepius), who was the god of healing.

           Serapis was a conglomeration of deities, created by Ptolemy I who was one of the successors of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. Serapis was believed to have a unique set of powers and was identified with sacred snakes as he took on the embodiment of Asclepius, a Greek deity of healing. Serapis was an appellation of Greek and Orient qualities that appealed to the Romans and, therefore, we find a temple set up with twin pools near the Fortress Antonia. Most likely the five porches also possessed a military chapel for the soldiers near the pools where people came to be healed. At the pools themselves, history reveals to us that the priests would send a snake into the waters and proclaim healing for anyone who could step in. Excavations have also shown pipes leading into the pools so that air could be sent through to create bubbling and a stirring motion which John also attributes to the angel (Asclepius could sometimes be pictured with wings).

At the pool, Jesus found a lame man who had been stricken with disease for thirty-eight years, had been unable to crawl to the pool for healing, and was abandoned as there was no one to assist him. This shows the character of Hellenism which venerates the body and, therefore, a sick or diseased man would have no place in Hedonistic thinking. Rather, the people most likely to be healed would be those with hardly any ailments at all who could reach the water easily. However, Jesus deliberately went to this place to declare war on Serapis, to show to everyone who the real Healer is, to rescue a man, and unlike Serapis, Jesus did not choose favourites. Therefore, this geographical place had a direct result in what Jesus wanted to do and what He wished to declare. He simply asked the man if he wished to be healed, the man declares his frustration and misery, and the man is healed. Jesus demonstrated who He was and declared to all the deception of Serapis and the priests. He did this without any doubt in the presence of many other sick and crippled people who were waiting for the water to stir.

By: Peter J. Fast

Uncovering ancient history of Samson

Ancient synagogue mossaicI came across a really fascinating article that I had to share. Anybody that knows the The Israel Antiquities Authority just recently uncovered a 1,600 year old synagogue in the lower Galilee, and in it they discovered a mosaic depicting the Biblical account of one of the most famous judges of Israel, Samson or Shimshon, in Hebrew. This is an exciting find and explained cleared through Yonah Bob’s article in the Jerusalem Post. So, you can just click on the link and read it for yourself and I am sure you will be impressed.

By, Peter J. Fast

http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=275996

Revealing the Ancient Past of Bethlehem through Archaeology

Reading through the news from the world of archaeology, I stumbled across an incredible article about a very exciting new find, the first-ever proof of ancient Bethlehem from the First Temple Period! This exciting discovery, found on a bulla (a piece of pottery with a name or stamp seal on it) bearing the village name was another amazing proof that speaks of the Jewish history of the land, and the validity of the Bible. I have attached a link to the article which is taken from the Jerusalem Post so that you can visit the site. I hope you enjoy.

-Peter J. Fast

http://www.jpost.com/Features/FrontLines/Article.aspx?ID=271096&R=R1

Moloch: An Appetite For Children

Introduction:

Among all the paganism of the ancient world, and the gods and goddesses people worshiped, there may be none more complex in nature, terrible in homage and mysterious in identity then the name, Moloch. When examining and reviewing idolatry of the ancient world, it is like peering through a spyglass at an entangled labyrinth of twisting paths and blocked roads. What we must rely on to clear those roads and gain access to understanding are written records, reliefs and frescoes, archeological remains, and geographical land marks. It is always important to know that paganism in the ancient world was physically seen everywhere and entwined into society, just like name brands or slogans are today in the 21st century. Images of idols could be found on hairpieces, combs, perfume bottles, oil lamps, door frames, jugs and vessels, armour and weaponry, equipment for horses, records of history, clothing, jewellery, etc. The deities were talked about, revered in nature, forged into standing idols and altars, and explained through myths. Often when drastic patterns of nature would effect the land (i.e. crops and drought), the awareness of the gods would increase as would desperation to appease the power. This awareness would take the forefront with the hope to appease the deity to such an extent that he/she would relent from their intended wrath or displeasure. It would be at this center stage, concerning such fear of the unknown, that Moloch would find himself with throngs of worshipers prepared to do anything.

Historians, anthropologists, theologians and archaeologists alike that commit vast amounts of time to the study of mythological beliefs of the ancient world, all wrestle with the memory of Moloch. Little information exists about who or what exactly Moloch actually was and what kind of god he represented and was believed to be. One of the best texts of understanding Moloch is the Hebrew text of the Bible, and a number of other Jewish sources which we will explore further on. Yet, the problem remains that as far as information and cataloged evidence goes, there is not much that has survived to give us a full dimensional and accurate picture of Moloch. So, a level of speculation must enter into the picture, but speculation based on what we know about ancient pagan societies, what their gods/goddesses demanded from their loyal patrons, and how these false deities influenced peoples lives. We will examine the Bible and other sources, and try and formulate an image of Moloch and what we know about him. Thus, for now, I will attempt to place Moloch in his historical setting so that we may be able to grasp an essence of who worshiped this god, why he is considered to be one of the most sadistic of gods, and why some of the most harshest warnings and judgements found in the Bible were directed at him and those who would succumb to his worship.

Origins and Biblical Evidence:

The worship of Moloch (with early roots tied to the Ammonites) was common during the 13th-5th century B.C.. It was practiced in large part by the Canaanites, Phoenicians (which most likely had Judaic roots as a people from the tribe of Asher) and other related cultures in North Africa and the lands of the Levant as far as the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. The name, Moloch, is a Semitic term that derives its root meaning from the word, ‘king.’ As a god, Moloch was part of cult worship which revolved around a kind of propitiatory child sacrifice system where the children were offered by the parents themselves in a honour ceremony to the god. This kind of sacrifice was void of any edged knives or weapons, but instead gave homage to fire which was connected with Moloch. Thus, for what we know about this cult, the children (male and female- 2nd Kings 23:10) were offered to Moloch by being consumed by fire. “And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Moloch.” Leviticus 18:21-23.

In Biblical text, we see the cult religion of Moloch infiltrate elements of the Kingdom of Judah as we see King Manassah, overseeing and allowing sacrifices to take place in the Hinnom Valley, which is outside Jerusalem. The terms, Gehenna (Greek) and Gihinnom (Hebrew) both describe this valley which the Bible also calls it, Valley of the Son of Hinnom. In 2nd Chronicles 28:3, 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2-6 we see the apostate Israelites and followers of various forms of Ba’al and other Canaanite gods, including Moloch, offer their children to the fires. Later, the term Gehenna would be used to demonstrate a picture of hell where the wicked will perish.

We see clearly in the Bible (Leviticus 20:2-5) warnings from God through Moses to His people, Israel, against the practice, veneration and worship of Moloch. “Again you shall say to the children of Israel, or of any of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendents to Moloch, he shall surely be put to death.” (Lev. 20:2) This will also result in God turning His face from the accused and having the perpetrator cut off from Israel for it is viewed as a defilement against God and directly profaning His holy name. Then the passage is opened up from the individual to the community, should many people take part in the worship of Moloch. “And if the people of the land should in any way hide their eyes from the man, when he gives some of his descendents to Moloch, and they do not kill him, then I will set My face against that man and against his family; and I will cut him off from the people, and all who prostitute themselves with him to commit harlotry with Moloch.” (Lev. 20:4-5). The warning is clear and judgment declared, thus by the time King Manassah reigns over Judah, and allows the worship of Moloch to occur, we see swift judgment following in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. by the Babylonian Empire.

Text

In the Hebrew text we see the letters מלך (mlk) used which stand for “melek” or “king”. However, when examined and vocalized in the Masoretic text we hear the name, moloch which has been the traditional pronunciation for the god. Yet, the name in its form regularly appears as (lmlk) when translated letter for letter from the text. The Hebrew equivalent for the “l” means simply, “to”, but it can also take on further meanings such as, “for” or “as/an”. Thus, one could translate the text and read the name as, “to Moloch” or “for Moloch” or “as Moloch”, or “to the Moloch” or “for the Moloch” or “as the Moloch”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moloch) If we translate this this as, “king” then it gives us either two options, either this is a title and we do not know the true name for Moloch apart from the people of that day who referred to him with honour as, “king,” or that simply was his name, such as Ba’al meaning, “master”.

In reference to the mention of children being sacrificed to Moloch as seen in the Bible, this term “children” is translated as “offspring” or “seed” and demonstrates a literal action displaying the seed, as the continuation of a family, being willingly offered to Moloch into the flames. As it is also seen, offspring could have meant a single family also offering all of their children to Moloch, both male and female. As far as the age of the children, that is not known, although it is a common assumption that they were babies.

Jewish Classical Sources:

In the 12th century A.D. the Jewish rabbinic commentator and revered teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (1040-1105 A.D.) known by the acronym name as Rashi, dealt with the question of Moloch in his examination of Jeremiah 7:31. He stated, ” Tophet is Moloch, which was made of brass; and they heated him from his lower parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved.”

Rashi dealt with the fact that the entire ceremony was designed to put people in a trance as they worshiped Moloch and to quench any emotion or reluctance on behalf of the parents offering the children. He gives a description of Moloch and how traditionally he was viewed throughout the Oral History of the Jewish people and the common understanding in rabbinic Judaism. Nevertheless, it is clear that Moloch was wicked and that the institution of such a deity was blasphemous and therefore was worthy to incur the wrath of God upon the people who committed the apostasy. Other forms of rabbinic tradition to support Rashi is attributed to the Yalkout of Rabbi Simeon who said, “that the idol was hollow and was divided into seven compartments, in one of which they put flour, in the second turtle-doves, in the third a ewe, in the fourth a ram, in the fifth a calf, in the sixth an ox, and in the seventh a child, which were all burned together by heating the statue inside.” This is simply impossible to know for sure, but still may have an ounce of truth in it as it was common for these types of animals to be used in sacrifices to gods and goddesses and if we know one thing about the sacrifices in the Hinnom Valley during the days of Manassah, Moloch was only one of many other gods present.

End Notes:

In closing, despite not having all of the details concerning Moloch, it is true that he was a cruel and terrible god. He demanded victims for the obedience of wicked and deceived people to offer, many of whom chose to deliberately turn their backs on the true God to serve a false one. Not only would their own flesh and blood pay for their transgressions and deliberate rebellion, but entire kingdoms and peoples would be vanquished, crushed, exiled, and wrenched from their lands in judgment. The line of kings both in Israel and Judah would be cut off, the Canaanites and Ammonites would vanish from history, and things would never again be the same. Although, in the time of Ezra, Nehemiah and Zerubbabel the Jewish people would once again return and cleanse the land, they would again feel the weight of judgment and oppression through the occupations of the Hellenist Greek world and the Romans. From there, Jerusalem would be destroyed in 70 A.D. and again in 135 A.D. and the people would be scattered again. However, nearly two thousand years later the entire world would behold an amazing event as a nation would be born in a single day (Isaiah 66:8-11) and God would be shown to remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as He restored Israel on May 14th 1948.

By, Peter J. Fast

Part Three:”Let us worship the creation instead of the Creator!”: The clash between the pagans and the radical idea of monotheism

Part Three: Ancient Israel: The Radical Monotheists 2400 – 516 B.C.E. Date is based on the Biblical account from, “The Age of the Patriarchs” to Abram’s calling from God to the rebuilding of the second temple after its destruction by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E and seventy years of exile.

A Tale of a People called to be Different:In the Bible we see a man called, Abram, called by God to journey to a land that will be given to his descendents (Gen. 12:3-5). God promises Abram that he will be the father of many nations and through him, God will build up a people which He will have an everlasting covenant with (Gen. 15). From that moment on Abram’s name is changed to Abraham which means, “Father of many nations”. God demonstrates that all the nations around Abraham seek and worship false gods, and that He alone is the one true God. The Bible does not provide us with what Abram’s life was like prior to this incredible encounter, but the Midrash (literally means: between the lines- it is a collection of stories and narratives from Jewish Oral History), paints us a picture of when Abram was young growing up in the land of Ur.

The story tells us that Abram’s father was an idol maker and one day, Abram decided to test the validity of these “false gods” and so he smashed them all and then put a hammer in the hands of a large idol. When his father came home, Abram is said to have explained that there was a ferocious battle and the large god smashed all the other gods with the hammer. To this, Abram’s father exclaimed that this was simply ridiculous and impossible, to which Abram scoffed at the senselessness then in manufacturing such images and worshiping them. It was after this, he left Ur and it was then that the true God, called to him.

Whether true or not, this story would most definitely make sense aligned with the incredible test of faith and endurance we see Abraham go through. He and his wife are of old age, and are visited by an Angel of the Lord who tells them she will conceive of a son whom will be the promised son of Abraham with which this covenant between him and God will pass through. Abraham’s wife, Sarai, scoffs at the angel and her name is changed to Sarah which takes its meaning from, “one who laughs”. Later, when nothing seems to happen, Sarah convinces Abraham to take the Egyptian maid-servant, Hagar (Genesis 16) into his bedchamber and later a son is born and named, Ishmael.

This would have been acceptable in the culture which Abraham lived in, as sometimes a surrogate mother was available in times where a wife was barren. Once the child would be born, it would be considered that of the flesh and blood of the father and barren mother, so that it would take on their name to see their family line continue. In the case of Ishmael though, God was not pleased and he was not intended to be the promised son that we see God declare to Abraham in Genesis 12,15. Shortly after this, we see Sarah conceive and give birth to Isaac, who is to take the inheritance of his father, and through him to bear the covenant of God as His chosen people destined for a Promised Land which later is the land of Canaan as described in: Gen. 26:3-12, 28:4, 28:13, 28:15, 35:12, 48:4, 48:21; Ex. 3:8, 13:11, 23:31, 32:13, 33:1; Lev. 20:24, 23:10, 25:2, 25:38, 26:42; Num. 14:8, 15:2, 26:53, 26:55, 32:22, 33:53, 34:2, 34:12, 34:29, 35:34; Deut. 1:7-8, 1:21, 1:35-36, 3:18-20, 4:1, 4:21, 4:38, 4:40, 6:3, 6:10, 6:18, 6:23, 7:1, 7:13, 8:1, 8:7-15, 11:31, 12:1, 12:10, 25:19, 26:9, 26:15, 27:3, 28:11, 30:5, 31:7!!!!! (I have just listed passages from the Torah, which are the first five books of the Bible, although many more exist about Israel’s place in the land such as Psalm 105:8-11; Isaiah 56:5, 61:1-7; Jeremiah 31:35-36, Ezekiel 36:24, 37:21-28, and many more!)

From the father of Isaac, whose name was Jacob and later changed to Israel, we see a God who interacts with man desiring a relationship with them and to glorify His name through the entire world. Through this relationship, so different from all the other nations around, Israel was given the Law (Torah), covenant, responsibility to bear a witness of God, blessings and warnings if they should or should not choose to obey God. As we see in Genesis 15, God “Cut a Covenant” with Himself in the presence of Abraham who was seeing this in a vision.

Cutting a Covenant was an ancient custom seen through Mesopotamia where two parties would come together over a matter (real estate, purchase, goods, etc) and cut animals in half scattering pieces on either side of them. Then, the two people would walk through the center in front of witnesses, therefore declaring that if either one broke the promise that they would become like the dead carcasses. In Abraham’s case, he would have been baffled when God gave him this instruction. He would have known right away what was about to happen, but puzzled because the performance of Cutting a Covenant meant the two people were equal, and how could man be equal to God? However, we see something incredible, God puts Abraham to sleep and in a vision, Abraham see’s God as a fiery pot pass between the pieces by Himself, thus God makes the pact with Himself because man would never be able to uphold any kind of deal or covenant with God. God makes the covenant binding, and Abraham must have blown a sigh of relief because he would know he could never have upheld his end of the covenant.

Along with such a covenant, we see God outlining clear blessings and curses if Israel would not adhere to being a righteous people. If Israel was to follow God, trust in Him, and honor Him totally, there would be physical blessings (rain, crops, birthrate, wealth, national influence, etc). Yet, if Israel would turn away from God and chase after abominations such as false gods, taking foreign wives, and making covenants with pagan nations, God would judge His people. We see these warnings very clear in passages such as Exodus 23:33 and 34:15. In Leviticus 25:38 it states, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.” This land of Canaan, which would become the Kingdom of Israel/United Monarchy (1020-931 B.C.E.) and even though two millenia have passed, it is still the Land of Israel, God’s nation and God’s inheritance for His people. This amazing truth reemerged upon the world scene again on May 14th, 1948 when the State of Israel was reborn. It shows God’s stamp and that He is the God of history and the future, nothing catches Him off guard.

The High Places: (Mentioned 74 times in the Bible): In the Biblical book of 1 Kings 3:3 we see Solomon, who is the King of Israel, (and King David’s son) begin to offer incense and tribute to the gods of his foreign wives. All of this is done on, “the high places” and we see him build such places through “state sponsored” actions. In the Book of Hosea 10:8 the prophet (same name as the book) rebukes the Kingdom of Israel and proclaims that these high places are blasphemous and that thorns and thistles should grow on their altars. To add to this, Hosea shouts that because of such places mountains and hills should collapse and crumble upon them.

Sadly, despite the law, proclamations, warnings, judges, prophets, and righteous kings, this is a common theme we see interwoven through the Book of Leviticus to the end of the Hebrew Bible/TaNaK. The main problem exists in two realms. One, Israel is surrounded by pagan nations and so this, naturally would be an enormous pressure upon them to be like the other peoples, especially with the threat of intermarriage. Second, whenever Israel took her eyes off of God, they strayed away and did their own thing, which at that time was to adopt paganism and conform to those patterns. Thus, we see many times in the history of ancient Israel, the sinful Israelite’s bringing in foreign wives and idols, constructing temples and altars to false gods, and ascending up to the “high places” which were the seats of idolatry in the land that the true God had given them as an inheritance.

The perfect example is the Golden Calf (Ex. 32) which was set up at the base of Mount Sinai (or Mount Horeb) in the wilderness. Moses had ascended up the mountain to be with God, and had been away for weeks. The people, thinking he was dead, pressured Aaron into constructing a calf of gold (ironically like the idols in Egypt) and set this up next to an altar to the Lord. This early form of syncretism was evident as the people proclaimed to the gods of gold that they would serve and worship them. This account of apostasy ends with Moses destroying the tablets of the Law, rebuking the people, and God’s wrath swallowing up thousands. This even after God had led them from Egypt in glory, descended upon the mountain in smoke and fire while they were encamped around it (Ex. 19), and had revealed Himself in countless ways, showing to be true to His word.

Kingdom of Israel: (931-722 B.C.E.)

The prophet Amos states in Amos 7:9, “The high places (venishmol behmot- Hebrew for breathing idolatry) of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries (temples) of Israel laid to waste. I will rise with the sword against the house of Jeroboam.” King Jeroboam of the Kingdom of Israel, in an attempt to steer his people away from pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship, is seen in the Bible as erecting two pagan temples, one in Bethal and the other in Dan. Scripture says he set up a golden calf in each, and declared them to be the gods of Israel. The prophet of Amos clearly speaks harsh judgment upon the Kingdom of Israel which would eventually be destroyed and carried off into exile by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E. because of their wickedness. Through the warlike Assyrians, their practice of assimilation would later bring about the half-breed people called, Samaritans (discussed in the Christian Scriptures) as these people were considered half Jewish. The Assyrians took into captivity the brightest and best of the population, leaving behind the poor, and then would send its own colonialists back into the conquered land to farm it and settle. For Assyria’s reign in the ancient world, this proved to be an effective tool and method of gaining and controlling power for years.

Idolatry was clearly despicable in the sight of the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who ultimately would show His superiority over any fictitious belief in gods by allowing to be built His Holy Temple upon the “high place” of Mount Moriah and no where else. This was not to be any such high place, but one designated by God clearly and with specific detail. Except in this case, faithful Jews who worshiped at the Temple in Jerusalem, did not worship and sacrifice to a false gods.

Kingdom of Judah: (931-586 B.C.E.)

Finally, the tale of the high places ends for the southern Kingdom of Judah in the year 586 B.C.E. when the armies of Babylon under the kingship of Nebuchadnezzar, plundered the land, sacked Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple built by Solomon. This disaster would see a large segment of the Kingdom of Judah taken into exile for a period of 70 years before returning under Nehemiah, Zerubbabal, and Zachariah as the second temple would be built. The cause for exile laid in the hands of the king of Judah called Manasseh, who did horrible things which included offering up children as sacrifice into the fires of the Hinnom Valley to the god Molek, and later murdering the prophet Isaiah by sawing him in two. Like, king Jeroboam of Israel before him, Manasseh’s evil was the last straw for Judah as God would pour out his wrath upon them through the conquest of Babylonia.

In closing:

The ancient history of Israel is fascinating as it shows a unique people chosen by God, not because they were mightier, stronger, richer, or more numerous then any of the other nations around them, but for one simple reason, to have His name glorified in the earth. Despite their failings, the Jews have been true to preserving the Word of God, and through them giving birth to Christianity and the Jewish Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). Prophecy, written so long ago about the Jews returning to the land, and Zion being rebuilt, and prospering once more has come true as millions of Jews now reside in the reborn State of Israel. They have preserved their faith through their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and have survived countless attempts at annihilation by enemies throughout time. Through nearly four thousand years of trials, hardships, and blessings, God has been faithful to His word and preserved them. No other nation could have ever taken what the Jews have experienced and still come out on top. They stand apart from every other nation, as a people handpicked by the Almighty to show the world that God moves powerfully through men and that He has a plan to restore His name in a fallen, corrupt, and wicked world.

Israel exists today, God’s covenant with His people remains, and He has kept His word, because of that we have assurance that the Bible is truth and we can trust in Him as a faithful, just God who will see evil crushed and truth prevail.

By, Peter J. Fast

Part Two: “Let us worship the creation instead of the Creator!”: The clash between the pagans and the radical idea of monotheism

The Ancient Canaanites 2500 – 411 B.C.E. Date is based on period known as Late Bronze Age to the last recorded Canaanite king, Abdemon.

Although, as a people, the Canaanites cease to exist, they remain prevalent today through both Biblical and archaeological records. Located mainly in the region (Mesopotamia) , which today is the State of Israel, Syria, Jordan, and parts of Lebanon, the Canaanite people will be our second study on the link between the early roots of paganism in ancient times (and the deification of nature) compared with the modern expression of these commonalities.

Canaanite culture, as we know it today through archaeology and the Bible, took enormous leaps and bounds with its Mesopotamian flare from the influence of nations surrounding it and the kings that ruled them. The Canaanites were a Semitic, tribal people, divided into clans that governed sections of lands in an agrarian caste. They were warlike,  built cities, developed intricate pottery, worshiped many gods fervently, wrote in a cuneiform type script (with connections to Accadian) and were the major players during the time of the early Hebrews when they entered the land. We read in the Bible of such Canaanite cities as Hazor, Beit She’an, Jericho, and Ai (that have been excavated) to just name a few and they lived among and were surrounded by non-Semitic neighbors such as the Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, etc. Yet, the Canaanites had one main thing in common that we see among all the people’s of the lands and that was their belief that their gods directly impacted nature and existed within nature as a controlling, malevolent, factor.

In William Foxwell Albright’s masterpiece entitled, “YAHWEH AND THE GODS OF CANAAN” he writes that the pantheon of Canaanite gods and their religious practice has better come to light through the study and excavations of ancient Ugarit, which shared common culture and language with the Canaanites. Also, the myths, prose, songs, ballads, and legends are almost exactly the same between that of Canaan and Ugarit, so much as it is possible the two blended together, although there are sources that explicitly verbalize a difference between the two. Yet, similar to Ugarit, the Canaanites connected their gods and goddess to what they saw in nature, whether through the weather, seasons, and animals. They worshiped upon the high places (mountains) where they built temples, they tied in the natural changes of nature into an agrarian type calendar (for instance at the time of planting or harvest certain ceremonies would take place related to the deity that was in charge, i.e. Baal over wheat crops) and they worshiped the celestial heavens (sun, moon, stars, planets). Their religious expression was interwoven into the fabric of daily life in every facet. Let’s look at three such gods, El who was the head of the pantheon, Asherah the goddess of holiness and fertility, and Baal the god of harvest and crops.

Three is a Crowd: A Study of El, Baal, and Asherah

El: (El-‘elyon, El-‘olamknown as Baniyu binawati “Begetter of Creatures”) : El was the chief god of the Canaanites and has been identified with gods such as Kronos (Greece) and Re (Egyptian) and is translated as, “strong one”, or “the leader/master”. El  was also called by another name, “Bull El,”. According to Albright, El is pictured as the father of mankind and the creator of everything that man interacts with, the earth and the heavens. An image of a bull was associated with “El, or the Bull El,” for the significance of wild cattle and horses contained strength and majesty which was what the Canaanites wanted to emulate in the persona of such a chief god as, El. For in this image of the bull or stallion, Albright says, El would be viewed as “strong enough to vanquish all rivals.” The Canaanites, as did any other pagan group of people, wanted to view El as unstoppable and a god who commanded respect and was the highest authority among the pantheon.

For one to visit, meet with, and worship El, they had to come to a place known as, “the source of the two rivers, the fountain of the two deeps.” Albright lays out a geographical grid on where to find such a place. He states that this place referred to the region of Canaan itself (like a Mount Olympus), and that most likely this region was in the heartland called Aphaca (fountain), which later would house the sanctuary of a god Adonis. We see the common pattern throughout the pagan world in the visitations by men to the temples of their gods, built upon the peaks of mountains which were literally believed to be the celestial homes of the gods on earth. For El, within his temple or abode, it was believed that El would not communicate with gods or men, except through visions and visits.

Baal: Baal, the storm-god and king of heaven and earth, is by far the most active of the Canaanite pantheon. Known as the, “Son of Dagan” (Hebrew: Dagon) Baal took upon himself similar traits of fertility from his father who was worshiped around the Euphrates Valley in early times and later adopted by the Philistines. Baal’s personal name, Hadad (pronounced: Hudade) later took on the appellation of meaning “lord” (Ba’al). When this addition was applied to Hadad is not known. In the seventeen and sixteen centuries B.C.E. Hadad (like in most mythology) was identified to other gods in the regions around it, like ancient Egypt‘s storm-god, Seth, Greece’s god Zeus, or Babylon’s Marduk. Favorite terms to describe Baal would be, ‘Triumphant Baal’, ‘Cloud-Rider’, and ‘Majesty, Lord of the Earth.’  Baal struggled with gods, had power in the underworld, and effected the vegetation on earth. He had such great influence that often times human sacrifices would be offered to appease Baal or from an act of desperation (i.e. famine, death, sickness, drought, etc). The worship of Baal meant the worshiper would give everything and be kept in a state of fear and question. Baal left its adherents in the dark and sometimes demanded their very blood.

The expression of worship to Baal was something which we see in many different ways. One such example we will look at is in the account of the prophet Elijah and the 400 prophets of Baal upon Mount Carmel. Here we see an extreme and charismatic sadism in how the prophets of Baal react to calling on their god, Baal. The account in 1 Kings 18:28-29 reads, “So they (prophets of Baal) cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out of them. And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.” In this showdown of who is real, Baal or the God of Israel, Elijah watches as the prophets of Baal cry out to him (the son of Dagon).  However, Baal says nothing and ultimately the true God, the God of Israel, shows Himself through fire from heaven which consumes Elijah’s altar covered in water. Thus, showing to all who the real God is. The interesting thing in this account are a number of items I will touch on before I continue.

Elijah and the Prophets of Baal: Quick points to note!

Baal among Israel: We see in 1 Kings 16:31-33 that Baal was brought into the land of Israel by way of the marriage between King Ahab of Israel and the Sidonian daughter, Jezebel, (notice the end of her name) of King Ethbaal (notice the name again!!!). We see Ahab build a temple to Baal in Samaria and erect within it a wooden image of the god. This no doubt provokes the anger of the Lord God of Israel and Elijah the Tishbite is sent to confront both Ahab and the paganism.  Season: Baal is considered to be the god over the crops and natural forces. He is seen as a god of fertility that helps fields grow and gives life. However, in the account by the hand of Elijah, God has allowed it not to rain on the land for over three years, thus bringing famine. This shows Baal to be powerless and incapable of changing anything in a climate he is assumed to be in control over. God or god?: The worship of Baal was rampant throughout the Canaanite world. We see many cultures apart from the Canaanites adopting the worship of Baal, chiefly among those were the ancient Israelite’s.  Elijah’s challenge is that Israel has strayed away from the real God and traded Him for a lie, to worship that of which is untruth. Elijah therefore proclaims that God will show Himself to be master over everyone and everything, including El, Baal, and all the other gods of Canaan. The end of the account proves this to be true with the God of Israel sending fire from heaven, consuming the altar of bull parts, wood, and water, which ultimately results in the prophets of Baal being put to death.

Asherah: (The Lady who traverses the Sea- known as Qaniyatu ‘elima “She who gives birth”):Asherah is seen as the goddess of holiness. She possesses a mystical approach as a goddess who has been seen (through myth) to consort and have relations throughout the Canaanite pantheon. She was usually depicted as a nude goddess atop of a lion, and was seen often, in Canaanite literature, as a sworn enemy of Baal and his sister Anath. Her holiness is seen as a designation of her very divinity, and she is equaled to El as his consort. Often times it is Asherah, who deals with the misbehaving of other gods as El instructs her and gives her advice.

The mention of Asherah in the Bible is frequent during the time of the Philistines and Canaanites when Israel was establishing herself. In the Book of Judges 3:7 it states that Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served both Baal and Asherah. In 1st Kings 15:13 it gives the account of King Asa of the Kingdom Judah, dealing with the evil of the queen mother who set up an image of Asherah which is described as being, “obscene.” We see Asa cut this object down and burn it by the Brook Kidron. However, none of the accounts of the Israelite syncretism of Canaanite gods/goddess into their religious system are as sacrilegious as the passage in 2nd Kings 21:7 where we see the wicked king of Judah, Manasseh, profane the temple in Jerusalem by setting up a carved image of Asherah. Further ahead in chapter 23:4, we see the next king of Judah, King Josiah, cleanse the House of the Lord (temple) of, “all the articles that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven,”. This is interesting because it shows that Manasseh in the previous passage which I mentioned, did not just stop with Asherah, but had filled the Jewish Temple with articles of Baal and the other gods and goddess, a despicable act! These are just three examples of the syncretism in which the Hebrews fall guilty to, as the enormous pressure to take part in the local norm of idolatry pressed in around them.

Conclusion of the Canaanites:

The Canaanites were a people developed and advanced like the nations surrounding it, but a people controlled by the whims of their deities in which they sought to understand the world in which they lived in. They explained natural patterns (such as storms, rain, and sunshine) as being guided by their deities, and things found in nature (rivers, lakes, animals, fields, trees, and mountains) as emulating the very existence of the gods and goddesses. For example, the common belief concerning pools of water, underground rivers and springs was that they were inhabited by mystical spirits like nymphs which gave the water power. They also went further in the belief that the spirits themselves which dwelt in the water would directly affect the growth of their crops and the prosperity of their families. When the harvest failed or was stunted, people naturally interpreted that as the wrath and anger of the gods, thus they would offer sacrifices or often perform extreme measures of worship, such as what is found in the Biblical account of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

However, in all of their worship and practices, it was the exact opposite of what the God of the Bible had intended for man after his creation, in the book of Genesis 1:28 where it states, “Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” In the lives of the Canaanites, it was creation that had dominion over them as they (along with all the other pagan nations) became slaves to it. The Canaanite pantheon was a cruel task master, and inevitably it led to their demise as the one true God, would judge them because of their idolatry and having sacrificed, even their own children, to quench the glutinous appetite of false deities such as El, Baal, and Asherah.

By: Peter J. Fast

Soon to come: Part Three: Ancient Israel: The Radical Monotheists 2400 – 516 B.C.E. Date is based on the Biblical account of Abram’s calling from God to the rebuilding of the second temple after the destruction by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.