Abraham: From Ur to Haran

Not much is known about Abraham prior to Genesis 12:1 where God first called to him and said, “Lech Lecha!” which is Hebrew for, “Go, go out!”What kind of world did Abraham live in and leave behind when he left Ur? Why did he leave in the first place?  Was Abraham truly a pagan before he decided to trust in the voice of the one true God and heed His call? These questions and more we will try to sort out as we examine the world Abraham grew up in, why he left, and what it meant for him to believe in monotheism, and beyond this, to follow the true God in a world of polytheism.

To begin, we must first briefly examine the world of Abraham (his name was first Abram but later it was changed to Abraham in Genesis 17:5, but we shall just refer to him as Abraham to avoid confusion.) Abraham lived in the region of Mesopotamia, which is a Greek term meaning “land between two rivers.” These rivers would be the Tigris and Euphrates and this land would be found in modern day Iraq and Iran. Mesopotamia was a very rich and fertile place due to the existence of these two massive rivers which helped balance the region. Mesopotamia can be divided up into the Southern Plain, Northeastern Foothills, and the Steppe Area which is located in the northwest. The climate today is very much like what it would have been in the time of Abraham around 1950 BC, and apart from the shifting of the rivers since then, examining the geography can help us pinpoint key areas Abraham would have lived. But let’s examine the geographical setting a little more.

The Southern Plain has dry, subtropical summers, yet at the same time winter can fall below freezing. In the south, it generally receives ten inches of rain annually, which in turn massive irrigation systems were developed in the biblical world and still are utilized today. The irrigation system was also needed due to the salinity levels which are given off into the soil from the Tigris and Euphrates. In the region of the Southern Plain barley became the chief crop prior to Abraham and continued flourishing.

In the Northeastern Foothills, the climate would have been temperate much like it is today, rainfall sufficient which meant a lack of dependence on irrigation such as found in the south. However, despite the significant levels of rain and moisture, the terrain was difficult and contained poor farming land, which meant dependence on trade and transporting certain grains and foods from other localities.

Finally, the Steppe area can be found in the northwest part of Mesopotamia. These vast lands, fertile and rich, have led to many discoveries of ancient mounds which have unearthed ample evidence of vast settlements in and around this region. Also, an interesting note was the discovery of cities and towns with walls being erected around them, which begs the question, what were they afraid of and why did they feel they had to lay out defenses?

During the periods of Halaf (5500-4500 BC), Ubaid (5300-3750 BC) and Protoliterate (3750-2900 BC) we see incredible changes take Mesopotamia by storm. We see an increase in pottery design and decoration, the smelting of copper and other metals which replace stone tools and weapons, we see towns increase in size by the thousands, enhanced irrigation systems put in place, temples grow larger and higher, and fertility become a focal point of the peoples. During these times nearly 70% of all children under age five died, and with deaths increasing from people in battles a sense of the progression of life was focused upon. To the peoples of these periods, they also saw fertility as the earth giving back, and pantheons of gods and goddesses began to develop so that by 3000 BC there were over four thousand deities worshiped in the region as mankind worshiped and adored the creation instead of the true Creator.

However, in the later Protoliterate Period, the north of Mesopotamia began to stagnate as cultural unity was lost, while the south flourished and expanded. The fast potter’s wheel was developed which vastly increased production, the stamp seal was replaced with the cylinder seal, the chariot was invented, metals were in full swing of being used. We also see free standing columns and sculpture, the development of writing, and the massive Ziggurat’s were constructed. This would give way into what is known as the Early Dynastic Period where kings began to rule, establish kingdoms which led to city-states, and of these the kings of Ur became very powerful and strong as they believed their dynastic powers came from the heavens.

During the Akkad Period (2334-2193 BC) a strong king named Sargon expanded and unified all of Mesopotamia making his capital the city of Agade. Cuneiform writing was implemented and other massive changes occurred through the work of stone, bronze, silver, and wood.  During his rule the city-state was replaced by the centralized government and widespread law developed. However, this would be short lived for around the year 2112 BC a people called the Guti, who were mountain people invaded the land and ruled for 100 years. During this time they naturally created political unrest, yet soon Ur was rebuilt (for the third time) and founded by a man named Ur-Nammu. This ushered in a Sumerian type of renaissance as peace was restored and father-son succession of throne kings was instituted. At this time the kings ruled absolute and were believed to be gods.

Ur-Nammu developed the oldest known law codes, which predate the Code of Hammurapi by 300 years, with an emphasis on justice. However, this incredible era of change and splendor would close with another invasion yet again in 2004 B.C. when the Elamites would burn Ur to the ground. It would be at this time, shortly after the destruction of Ur III, that Abraham would be born. He would be raised in a world with a strong, proud past, that was civilized and had established life which stretched back thousands of years. In fact, ancient Mesopotamia had more freedoms for people then many countries today in the 21st century.

In Genesis 11:26-29 we see the first mention of Abraham (mentions him as Abram). Through a genealogy we see people such as: his father Terah, his nephew Lot, and in verse 29 we see his marriage with Sarai, later to become Sarah. Now, the Bible does not actually state that Abraham was born in Ur, but it does say in 11:28, “And Haran died before his father Terah in his native land, in Ur of the Chaldeans.” Since Ur is considered the “native land” of Haran, we can then presume this is where Abraham was born and lived as well. Yet, before we move on, one interesting thing is where it states, “Ur of the Chaldeans.” This is the first time in the Bible where the reference to the people of the Chaldeans, is mentioned. The other two major occurrences outside the book of Genesis are in Nehemiah 9:7, and Acts 7:4. What is interesting is that during the time of Abraham the people called, Chaldeans did not exist and when Nehemiah and Acts were written, the Chaldeans had come and gone. So what is this saying then? Well, the book of Genesis is the key. Basically, when Moses wrote what is now called “Genesis” or “Beri’shit” in Hebrew, meaning, “beginning,” the Chaldeans did exist, but there were at least four places called Ur. So Moses attached the people group to the specific city so his readers would know which “Ur” he was speaking about. Thus, we get in all three cases, Abraham being named as coming from Ur of the Chaldeans, or the Ur where the Chaldeans would later settle by. Problem solved.

Now, let’s continue. During the time of Abraham when he was growing up in his father’s house, Mesopotamia was made up of thousands of gods and goddesses with each city having its chief or central god. Some of the main deities we see at the time were: Sin/Nanna god of the moon, Anu the chief god who was replaced by his son Enlil. Enlil would take on many titles, such as “King of the Earth” or “Lord of the Earth.” Enlil was seen as the god of wisdom, protector of arts, crafts, science, literature, and magic which was one thing that highly interested the people of that day. We see the god of sun and magic Marduk, take his place in Babylon, and others such as Ishtar (later Asherah) goddess of sex and war, Shumuqan god of cattle, and Baal god of crops and storms. Amulets were made to keep in homes or wear for protection, and priesthoods were created to be mediators between mankind and the pantheons that ruled the heavens. Pagan worship became very ritualistic as sacrifices (sometimes human) were made, the gods were fed by placing food before them, temple prostitutes appeared as important in matters of fertility, and people adopted household gods to serve. This is the era and world Abraham grew up in. There is no doubt that he would have been influenced heavily by his surroundings.

Many people, both Jewish and Christian, see Abraham as a man who had always rejected the notion of multiple gods. They conjure up a man who, when God called him, obeyed right away because he had never believed in polytheism to begin with. Most likely, this is not an accurate depiction. Did Abraham obey God? Yes he did! Did God call out to Abraham to leave his country? Yes, He did. Genesis 12:1 says that God told Abraham to leave his country, and Acts 7:2 states that God called for Abraham to leave “before he dwelt in Haran” which would mean, when he lived in Ur. In Genesis 12:4 it states that after Abraham heard the word of the Lord he departed, and when he had left Haran he was seventy-five after the death of his father of which the Bible is very clear. From there, he journeyed to Canaan where God would show Himself and bring Abraham to a place of dependence. Simply said, Abraham was a man of faith and believed what God told him.

Yet, was Abraham ever a pagan before God called him? This is possible. There is a story in the Midrash (Jewish collection of stories, translated as ‘to seek, study, or inquire’) where Abram, as a boy, was working for his father who was an idol maker. Abram had come to doubt the validity of idols as being “gods” and so when his father was absent one day, Abram smashed one of the idols and put a hammer into the hand of one of the other idols. When his father returned he was naturally upset and demanded to know what had happened. Abram told his father that one idol had attacked the other and smashed it. His father then declared this to be impossible, for idols were lifeless creations of stone, wood, and metal. Therefore, Abram proved his point, the idols were only man-made, not God. Thus, according to the Midrash, Abram began his journey to discover the real God. Even in the book of Joshua 24:2, it clearly reveals Abraham’s father and family as being pagans. It is then very likely, that having grown up in this home and in a polytheistic city, that Abraham could have spent a portion of his 70+ years either willingly practicing paganism or else in the least going through the motions to please his father. Certainly, he was raised in a pagan home and was heavily exposed to this influence.

It is likely he would have been familiar with stories of past generations from before Noah, the flood and some of the descendants who followed after God (Gen. 5-6) but simply knowing these stories does not entirely mean Abraham followed the true God when he was younger. Even being well versed in the stories of earlier generations, such as Enoch or Noah, does not completely absolve Abraham from the possibility of being a pagan in his early days, as polytheism often syncretizes other beliefs, even adding other ‘gods’ to their pantheons. This can be compared to other pagans in the Bible who, either obeyed a message from God or were said to have believed in God yet, did not completely abandon their polytheism (i.e. people of Nineveh in Jonah, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, or Cyrus of Persia). However, knowing of these earlier men who “were righteous before God” could indeed point towards a doubt that may have simmered for years in Abraham’s mind as to the possible existence of the gods compared with the One True God. Whether Abraham was a pagan or not, one thing we know for sure, that out of this pagan family and environment he lived in, the True God called out to him and Abraham obeyed. In years to come, he would become the father of the Hebrew nation (Israel) as well as a ‘father of many nations.’

We know that for ourselves in the world we have grown up in, it is nearly impossible to separate oneself from our culture, it is a trademark stamped upon ourselves, almost written into our DNA. It can define us, rule our thoughts, and guide us. Our culture is identity and part of our makeup, it is what is familiar, how we talk, sometimes what we believe spiritually, what we do for fun, where we work, and shapes our thinking. Culture is powerful, and to leave ones culture is a very drastic major life choice. This is exactly what Abraham did, but not right away.

In Genesis 11:31 was see an interesting circumstance develop. It states that Terah took his son Abraham, his grandson Lot, and his daughter-in-law Sarai to go to the land of Canaan, but they only made it as far as Haran and he decided to live there. Now, this is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the Bible names the main people of importance in this account as Abraham, Lot, and Sarai, yet along with Terah he would have taken his entire household. This would mean animals, servants, concubines, other children of less stature then Abraham, and anybody else associated with him. This was not four people wandering in the desert but a community. When we see Abraham later on moving from Haran to Canaan in Genesis 12:5, again we see that he took even more people that he had acquired there.

But, why did they move to Haran in the first place, apart from God speaking to Abraham? Could there also have been something else to play a part in the move? Since moving to new lands at that period in time was seen as extreme and out of the ordinary, there had to be a purpose to it for Terah to ask such a thing of his family. The Bible does not give us our answer, apart from telling us there had been a word spoken to Abraham from God earlier, but history may also shed some light on this interesting predicament. At the time we find Abraham living in Ur, we see a couple things happen. The Elamites had invaded and continue to be a major problem, we see major crop failures particularly on the barley yields, and political unrest as well as economic strain was prevalent. So, this clearly could have been a strong motivator to find fresh pastures, and for Terah to pack up his belongings, take his family out of Ur, head for Larsa, decide to cross the Tigris, and head to Haran.

Now, one of the final things we will cover is to answer, why Haran? Why did Terah stop there? In Genesis 11:31b it definitively states “…and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there.” Now, if one examines a map, Haran definitely is not Canaan. But why did Terah stop? Well, let’s take a glimpse at what Haran was like in those days and perhaps we will find our key. First, Haran was a caravan city, it was politically stable, and was flourishing. These are all very good reasons to stop, but I think the final one may be the hidden key, and that is Haran’s chief god was Nanna the god of the moon. Why is this so important? Well Nanna or Sin, was also the chief god of Ur, where Terah had just left. Joshua 24:2 says, “And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods.'” Thus, it is possible Terah found a new home in Haran, and wanted to stay because that was a city that honored and worshiped a god he would have revered all his life, Nanna the moon god. So, essentially we get a familiar religious scene, a good economy, and a location which is safe. Although we cannot know for sure why, these could still very well be clues at why Terah chose to live in Haran.

So, why did Abraham stay in Haran and not just move on if God had called him? Well, unlike today and our societies definition of independence which involves people freely moving and traveling and often living very far from family, in Abraham’s day it was not so. The culture in Mesopotamia was a patriarchal society. So, Terah as the father ruled and his sons and extended family obeyed. In this case, Abraham simply acted in a culturally acceptable way by following his father and bidding his time. We clearly see that by the time Terah did die, Abraham would assume the role as patriarch. Then we see everyone following Abraham, just as he had obediently demonstrated his place as a son to Terah in Ur.

In conclusion, the life of Abraham was a real life account and not a myth. He was a man of God who followed and demonstrated a faith which has been modeled after for centuries and centuries. His step of faith was very significant and went completely against the norms of his age and the world at that time. To believe in one God would have been seen as foolish, strange, and weird, but God called Abraham and he obeyed. We do not see him arguing about journeying to Canaan, or lamenting and wanting to return to Ur, we see him as a hero of the faith, and a man whose heart and mind was opened to the incredible character and nature of the God who had created him, and this would forever change history.

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The Capitoline Wolf and the Twins: A look at the mythological roots of Roma

The Lupa Capitolina, otherwise known as the Capitoline Wolf, is one of the ancient symbols of Rome associated with its mythology and founding. It is a symbol which can still be seen all throughout Italy and the city of Rome, and continues to be associated with the Italian people (similar to the acronym S.P.Q.R- Senatus Populusque Romanus).

When one visits Rome today, they can expect to see this famous image on storm drains, paintings, sculptures, signs, emblems, and flags. It is interwoven into the Roman psyche so much that it has maintained a fusion with the people who still look back on it as the legendary foundation of their roots. But, what exactly is the legend, who told it and where did it come from?

The origins of the Capitoline Wolf are wrapped up in the tale of the two young twins, Romulus and Remus and their foster-mother, the Wolf. The legend also descends into shame and treachery when Remus is murdered by his brother followed later by the rape of the Sabine women which are the two most discreditable features of the ancient lore. In T.J. Cornell’s exhaustive history on the early and ancient roots of Rome, entitled “The Beginnings of Rome“, he thoroughly outlines the depth of this legend by adding that, “all of them (aspects of the legend) were at various times exploited by Rome’s enemies and by Christian critics of her pagan traditions.” (Cornell, pg. 60) The early tales of Rome surely did speak of pagan mythology, as well as the violence that was credited to its beginning, but the fable nonetheless has persevered over two millenniums and continues to be the favoured interpretation of Rome’s foundation due to its drama to explain its existence and founding.

The story of Romulus and Remus is short but dramatic to appease the appetite of the scholar or individual interested in mythologies of the ancient world. It has the similar colour to the story that other tales, legends and myths have from the ancient world, and also ties in the world of the gods to that of what occurs on earth as a connection to the supernatural. It would always give an individual or people more clout if one could associate their existence as being deemed and blessed by the gods. The legend echoes the common tales circulating the ancient world. It is about persons who grow up to become kings, founders, conquerors, explorers, heroes and religious leaders. “Well known examples include Cyrus of Persia, Semiramis the founder of Babylon, Sargon the founder of the Akkadian dynasty, Ion the ancestor of the Ionians, the Trojan princes Paris and Aeneas, the Greek heroes Perseus and Oedipus, the usurper Aegisthus (the murderer of Agamemnon), Cypselus the tyrant of Corinth, the Sassanian king Shapur, and Pope Gregory the Great.” (Cornell, pg. 61-62)

As the legend goes, the maternal grandfather of the twins was a man named Numitor, who was the rightful king and leader of the kingdom of Alba Longa. It was Numitor, who the Romans believed to be the descendent of the Trojan prince Aeneas who had escaped the destruction of the city, Troy. Numitor was also known as the father to Rhea Silvia who was also widely known by the name of Illia. As the legend went, Numitor’s brother, Amulius deposed him and killed his sons forcing Rhea to flee and become one of the sacred Vestal Virgins. It was the purpose of Amulius to seize power and thus deprive his brother of a rightful heir so he could reign supreme. However, Rhea gave birth to twins, Romulus and Remus through the supernatural procreation with either Mars (later Roman god of war and blood) or Hercules (Greek association with Heracles). Amulius, who knew about the pregnancy, took the twins once they were born and abandoned them to die. This, by all means should have been the end of the twins through the old practice of infanticide, but they were discovered by a she-wolf (lupa) who then suckled them recognizing them to be half-immortal and from the bloodline of gods. Later, a shepherd and his wife found the twins and raised them until they were men who became shepherds themselves. When the twins discovered the treachery of their past, they killed Amulius, restored Numitor to the throne and decided to found a city of their own.

The two twins ventured until they came to the River Tiber where they decided that this should be the location of their new city. The legend is really divided into two possible tales, with one of them simply resulting in the death of Remus without murder being implied. However, the more dramatic one of course, as told by the Roman historian Livy, who tells of the twins competing for a location and name, chasing each other around, attempting to build the foundational walls and then fighting bitterly until Romulus kills his brother. It is said that Remus had leapt over Romulus’ wall to discredit him and thus was killed in turn with his brother Romulus stating, “So perish everyone that shall hereafter leap over my wall.” Thus, the city is founded and named Roma in what Roman historians dated it at 758 B.C.

One of the best, and most current evidence to suggest that the legend of the She-Wolf and the Twins was part of Rome’s archaic age exists in the famous bronze statue which now stands in the Palazzo dei Conservatori (Capitoline Museum). This has been dated to the 6th century B.C. and originates from the Etruscan people of northern Italy who were later conquered by the Roman kings, later to be absorbed into the Roman Empire with unified Italy as the source of political and judicial power. Historians and archaeologists alike have ample evidence to believe that the story of the Twins was added to the existence of the She-Wolf by around 300 B.C.  which had become the standard story in Rome. “It was officially proclaimed to the world in 269 B.C. when a representation of the she-wolf and twins appeared on one of the first issues of Roman silver coins.” (Cornell, pg. 61)

“The story was accepted in Rome precisely because it was an old and indigenous legend, and because its main features, uncongenial though they may have appeared to later apologists, were too well established in the tradition to be ignored or suppressed.” (Cornell, pg. 61) The people and society had accepted the story of Romulus and Remus to be a truthful account of the founding of their city and an explanation of its existence. It did not matter if the common belief was that the gods had dabbled and had a part in the founding, for it was customary, at the time in pagan society, to believe that the gods interacted with mankind, could procreate with them, and sometimes appeared to them. Like the Greeks who used the myths of the gods and goddesses to explain their existence and purpose in the world, so would the Romans adopt such beliefs to shape and understand their life and later manifest destiny to control the known world.

Whatever elements of truth may or may not lay in the ancient legend, it is sure that the tale of Romulus and Remus would in ways foreshadow the centuries of Roman influence and dictatorship upon the world to come. These similarities from the history of Rome compared with the founding mythology would follow an evolution of: survival, intervention, humbleness, glory, greed, power, self-deification and treachery. Rome would struggle in countless wars, oppress nations of people, take slaves from every country under the sun, fight civil war after civil war, and hunger for wealth, power and glory. Nearly a quarter of the world would live under the rule of the Caesars and the dreams and nightmares that would follow would all point back to the two helpless twins being suckled by the she-wolf.

By Peter J. Fast

Photos taken by author

 

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

The Central Manifestation of Paganism: The Egyptians, Canaanites and the radical Hebrews

An exploration into the common links of ancient paganism will naturally unearth similarities between all participating cultures despite separation of time and place. For instance, the connections in religious worship between the ancient Egyptians, Canaanites (which we will both be studying) will show how both people groups, despite having different customs, language, religious expression, ruling worldviews, and so on, may actually have more in common than the regular person on the street may perceive. This commonality which I seek to open exists in the religious expression of the worship of nature which therefore rules and dominates that particular society’s life and thus controls their direction, decisions, governing bodies, military actions, agrarian pursuits, and the list continues. Let’s just say in simpler terms, “What you truly believe in will guide and dominate how you live, whether for good or for evil.”

One may say that paganism is something of days where ignorance was rampant, superstition ruled, and people were uneducated neanderthals, prone to believe anything and easily duped by strange, wild, interpretations of nature. Well, the apple does not fall far from the tree. As it states in the Christian scriptures of the Bible (New Testament) in Romans 1:24-25, that because of man’s wickedness God gave them to the “lusts of their hearts”, which interestingly enough it states in verse 25, “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

Paganism Today

In this recent year, the practice of Druidism has become an official religion in the United Kingdom as it has well passed the minimum 10,000 adherents a faith needs to be recognized as a viable religion. On the other hand, Witchcraft/Wicca has become more popular as an umbrella based practice that views itself as connecting with and worshiping nature and the world. Environmentalists call the earth, “Gaia the mother goddess of the earth”, people flock to New Age expression to connect with nature (believing God or a great spirit, is in everything), ecologists place humanity on the same scale as animals (even saying humans are less of a concern), and now there are millions throughout the globe who demand to be called, “Neo-pagans” (as if what they believe is any real difference then the thousands of years of pagan practice) and that they are a true form of humanity and represent progressive human needs. This bunch believes that they alone can purify the world, cast off the chains of bondage (which is Christianity/Judaism or simply monotheism) and purport themselves as the true shepherds of nature, the animal kingdom, and guardians. So, has anything really changed? We may not be wearing toga’s, or embalming our dead and locking them in pyramids with mummified felines and alligators, but we are not that much different. So, let us first go back in time to the age of the ancient Egyptians.

Part One: Ancient Egypt (3150-30 B.C.E) Date is based on estimate of the ruling dynasties to the end of the Ptolemies before coming under Roman rule.

In the Hebrew TaNaK (Old Testament), a phenomenal story unfolds in the Torah (second book of Moses which is called, Exodus) where we see a Hebrew man ordained by God through a series of events named Moses. Ultimately, God charges Moses with the task to confront the Pharaoh of Egypt and demand that the Hebrew slaves be set free, which Moses is able to do with the assistance of his spokesman, Aaron.

In an epic showdown, Moses departs from the land of Midian and travels to his home in Egypt where he declares to Pharaoh for the enslaved and oppressed Hebrews to be released to go out into the wilderness and make a sacrifice to their God. This was naturally an affront to Pharaoh who would have viewed himself as god and who was part of a society which worshiped what they could see, namely nature. To believe that gods or spirits lived in living things (whether animal or plant or natural wonder) was the norm and which went contrary to a belief in one monotheistic God who was invisible and had selected a certain people as His own. When Pharaoh objected to Moses’ demand and refused, we see God send a series of ten deadly plagues (Exodus 7-12) through the actions of Moses to torment the people of Egypt until Pharaoh relinquished control over the slaves and allows them to leave. Now, to someone who is unfamiliar with the purpose of the plagues, they may be surprised to discover that the particular plagues were not chosen by mere chance. It was not like God had a fascination to torment people with frogs and insects because those were the creepier options, no, the plagues we read about that judged the land were precisely directed at the Egyptian’s pagan lifestyle and their elevation of nature and creatures over the Creator. It was God showing to them that their gods were nothing and powerless under His divine authority which was true power and fulfillment. Let’s take a closer look at these plagues and the gods that they defied.

1. Water turns to blood (Exodus 7:14-25) The water of the Nile turned to blood which corresponded to Hapi, the Egyptian god of the Nile. This plague would have devastated the agrarian aspect of Egypt in particular as the silt from the Nile enriches the fertile land for farming around the Nile. Along with the destruction of the farm land, the fish and any wildlife would have also died causing a catastrophe. However, Pharaoh would not so easily yield to the God of the Hebrews as he would cast his country and empire into such a dismal and terrible state until he would be brought to his knees. Following the powerful plague of the Nile, the priests of Pharaoh were able to duplicate this plague and the Pharaoh did not listen to Moses’ demands.

2. Plague of Frogs (Exodus 8:1-15) The outbreak of frogs that tormented the land and caused suffering corresponded to Heket, the Egyptian goddess of fertility, water, and renewal who is pictured with a human body and frog head. The priests of Pharaoh were able to also bring up frogs but only Moses was able to make them go away. One can just imagine how the land would have reeked from the piles of dead frogs and how sickness easily could have broken out.

3. Plague of Lice (Exodus 8:16-19) The outbreak of the lice which came from the dust of the earth was an attack against the Egyptian god, Geb, who was seen as the master of the earth. This interesting correlation also can be seen in the creation of man from the dust of the earth in Genesis, but in this case it was the plague that was a torment to man. The priests of Pharaoh are unable to content with this power and are humiliated as both man and beast suffer.

4. Plague of Flies (Exodus 8:20-31) The plague of the swarms of flies was a direct confrontation against Khepri, who was seen as the Egyptian god of rebirth, creation, and movement of the sun and was pictured with a human body and the head of a fly. This plague now only affects the Egyptians leaving the Hebrews (living in the land of Goshen) unscathed. It also elevates the plagues to causing destruction and not just discomfort as did the earlier ones. We see Pharaoh attempt to negotiate with Moses on his terms about the Hebrew’s leaving and when the plague ceases Pharaoh returns to worshiping his Egyptian gods.

5. Plague of Pestilence (Exodus 9:1-7) The plague of pestilence attacks cattle and livestock alike, but great death is noticed among the herds of cattle more than anything and this is a front against the Egyptian goddess, Hathor who is seen to be the goddess of love and protection. The interesting thing about, Hathor is that  she is pictured with a cow’s head and therefore represented directly the cattle, which was a main commodity of Egypt which would have affected military, transport, economic, and agricultural pursuits and lifestyle. Plain and simple, it would have been devastating to Egypt, but nevertheless, Pharaoh continued to be faithful to his gods and goddesses and refused to acknowledge the one and true God or give in to Moses and let the Hebrews leave.

6. Plague of Boils and Sores (Exodus 9:8-12) The horrible plague of boils was a direct attack against the Egyptian deity of Isis who was believed to be the goddess of medicine and peace. This was the first plague which we see directly affect the Egyptians physically and ironically enough it was a plague of great agony and discomfort to people’s health which revealed that a goddess such as Isis (who was a deity of medicine) ironically was powerless to do anything to relieve the misery of her faithful adherents. As well, this particular plague sent a strong and firm message to the Egyptians who were regarded as a very clean and hygienic people who this plague would naturally pronounce them as unclean and marred by the filth of their sores. One again, the Hebrews are unscathed by such a disease stricken plague and God shows that this is a personal judgment and vendetta against the people who are enslaving His people and are bound in the darkness of pagan idolatry. We also see a division between Pharaoh and the priests as the priests are unable to do anything to counter act the plague and therefore are removed from the scene completely and unable to even be in the presence of the king.

7. Plague of Hail and Fire (Exodus 9:13-35) The plague of hail and fire once again is a direct correlation to assaulting another Egyptian deity known as Nut who is the goddess of the sky. This literally shows the thing that was being worshiped, the sky, had become the enemy of the people as a firestorm rained down upon the land destroying the Egyptian crops. The crops ruined in the account were flax and barley, which would have been ripening in the fields at the time and ready for harvest. The interesting thing about this punishment is that the Egyptians did not eat these grains but used them in the process of clothing and libations for ceremonial temple practices. God was sending a message to the Egyptians but was merciful at the same time because He spared their fields of wheat (which was a main food source) as God was giving the Egyptians another chance. This entire plague, like all the ones before and after, were signs pointing to the one, true, God and that He alone was the God over the earth and the heavens and that He alone was God and not the gods and goddesses of the Egyptians.

8. Plague of Locusts (Exodus 10:1-20) The eighth plague was a devastating one that followed the hail and fire and this one was a result from Pharaoh hardening his heart and refusing to acknowledge the God of the Hebrews, and this plague was swarms of locusts (grasshoppers) in the billions. This plague was a direct attack against the Egyptian god of storms and disorder, Seth. This plague would devastate the country, destroying fields and tormenting everyone in its path. Like locusts do, they fly through fields, jumping upon each other and clinging to stalks of vegetation, devouring anything in their path. Their swarms can sometimes be so thick they blot out the sun and the beating of their wings can be so loud and terrifying it has been known to drive animals crazy with fear. Even today, swarms of locust are a huge problem. However, in the case of the plagues, God sent these locust by divine judgment to devastate the country and bring it to its knees. Yet, still Pharaoh would not listen.

9. Plague of Darkness (Exodus 10:21-29) One of the most widely known Egyptian gods, even today, was the god Ra who was the sun-god. Therefore, the plague of complete and utter darkness was a direct sign to the Egyptians that the God of the Hebrews was ultimate and was the one really in control, even over the sun.We see the Egyptians overcome by fear that is ripe within the land, and it being a time of terror. To the Egyptians, the essence and symbol of darkness was that of death, judgment and hopelessness. Therefore, with the sun being blotted out for three days it showed that the God which Moses spoke on behalf of, was ruler over life and death, a startling reality for the Egyptians who saw these attributes in Ra. However, Pharaoh did not relent and we move to the tenth and most terrible plague.


10. Plague of the Death of the Firstborn (Exodus 11-12:1-30) The final plague is an interesting one for it is directed at one type of person, the Firstborn. In ancient times the firstborn was the one who would inherit the family estate, blessings, and would be the leader of the house. When the Angel of the Lord passed through Egypt and killed the firstborn this was a devastating and crippling blow to Egypt. However, perhaps the most crippling blow was upon the house of Pharaoh himself, who his own child and firstborn died, and many scholars believe that he himself must have had an elder brother who did not inherit the throne (because of a handicap) and that he would have died and not the Pharaoh we read about. This would also explain why the Pharaoh in the Biblical account did not die from a plague that covered the entire land. Yet, the death of the firstborn in the house of Pharaoh was also significant mainly because Pharaoh was believed to be god on earth and believed to be the greatest of all gods, in fact the son of Ra manifest in the flesh. It was only after the death of the firstborn that Pharaoh relented and let the Hebrews go, yet we see further on in the account that Pharaoh’s pride would not end here but in the Red Sea after his entire army and himself had been drowned.

Conclusion of the Egyptians

Even after the terrible destruction caused by the plagues and the flight of the Jewish people from their bondage in the Exodus, we still see a hardening of the heart of ancient Egypt and the refusal to change. Pagan life around the Nile would continue as Pharaoh’s like Merneptah and Ramses III would reign in era’s considered “golden ages” yet immersed within the culture would continue the worship of nature, natural forces, and their kings. Massive pyramids, statues, palaces, and cities would be built in the honor and deification of nature, amulets, images, and names would be inscribed upon basic daily items such as perfume jars, combs, seals, kitchen ware, furniture, and wall reliefs. Entire compilations of papyrus scrolls would be written by scribes laying out the orders for burial, spells, magical incantations, and practices, all of which are found in the famous, “Book of the Dead”, as well as practically every other wall relief and scroll.

The worship and reverence of nature and life was interwoven like a thread in a quilt as the Egyptians continued this belief system even through when it became a Roman province in the year 30 B.C.E. It is important to note that the correlation between what the ancient Egyptians believed and what is going on today is no different. We still seek after and are entranced by that which is not God and truth as the Egyptians did. We still buy into the lie, follow blindly what we do not know, and stray away from hope and truth which leads to an understanding who God truly is and the salvation and freedom from darkness that He offers. We can definitely learn from the Bible which is laid out like a road map before us. As the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes states 1:9-10, “That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us.” (bold added by me).

by: Peter J. Fast

Soon to come: Part Two: 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