Friday, November 19, 2010
Waiting for Hadad
One month after the autumnal equinox, with hardly any rain but for a wet night or two, the long Syrian summer trudges along on leaden legs. I stand on the top of a mountain in the south of the country and scan the horizon. The thirsty landscape sprawls under my feet bereft of colors save for a hue of dusty brown. The temperature squanders in the mid-twenties, oppressive like a foreign occupier, obnoxious like a distasteful guest. Deep down in the abyss of my genetic memory I cry for Hadad.
Hadad is the Syrian God of Thunder, Storms and Rain in the first half of the second millennium B.C. He was Atargatis’ only escort and considering her status as the Goddess of Syria or Deasura his central role in the Levant is rather simple to deduct. Hadad (Aramaic) is often called Ba’al (which simply means Lord). He is also known as Adad (Akkadian) and Ishkur (Sumerian). Eventually the Old Testament introduced Yahweh, the Lord of Israel, who stole the attributes of Hadad and lesser Syrian deities. Hadad in this respect is the original monotheist God, the one the Jews made their own. History was rewritten in the Old Testament and subsequently Christians and Muslims tagged along lending credibility to this first instance of historical plagiarism.
In his riveting 1985 article “Trees, snakes and gods in ancient Syria and Anatolia”, W. G. Lambert makes the accurate remark that the study of art and the related text in the ancient Near East (Syria and Anatolia) has been plagued by a lack of knowledge by modern historians of the languages of that region. On the other hand, researchers of Classical Greek and Roman histories have command of Greek and Latin and accordingly both civilizations have been fully scrutinized and their contributions unraveled. The fact that archeology and philology pursued separate tracks in the unearthing of the ancient civilizations of Syria accounts for the “scanty” results, as he put it, and the illiteracy of the world as far as the true nature and role of Syria are concerned. Lambert also discusses an earlier unpublished Columbia PhD thesis by Elizabeth Williams-Forte, titled “Mythic cycles: the iconography of the gods of water and weather in Syria and Anatolia during the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000–1600 B.C.).” The author, an art historian specializing in Near Eastern Seals and with a workable knowledge of Ugaritic language, was able to connect the historical chain between the tree and the snake in the Garden of Eden and their Canaanite origins while researching the God Hadad who holds a branch of a tree in one hand and lightening bolts in the other. This is not a secret part of history I am divulging but rather obscure knowledge. Allow me to share with you this interesting quotation from “The Genius of the Few,1985" by Christian and Barbara Joy O'Brien.
“The biblical story of the Garden of Eden has had many counterparts; but their documents are often little known outside specialist circles. Even within these circles, few have recognized them for what they are, as they tend to be obscured by apocryphal overtones. But one, fortunately for our thesis, was written in clear and secular terms, unmarred by those deification processes which were later to bring the story into such disrepute. That counterpart was inscribed on clay tablets in Sumer - doyen of the civilizations born in the lower Mesopotamian Valley - where a whole series was made over a period covering the third millenium BC. They give the impression of being coveted library possessions, which were copied in many places, and in many centuries, in sequential re-printings.”
Indeed they were. The great 4,000 years old archives of Ebla (Tell Mardikh, Northern Syria) contained thousands of tablets and fragments, a few of which described one of the earliest accounts of Genesis and other biblical fables. They were written in Eblaite, a term used to encompass the two main written languages of Ebla, Sumerian Cuneiform Script and Proto-Canaanite. Needless to say, Eblaite preceded the earliest Semitic languages of Canaan, Ugaritic and Hebrew. The librarians of Ebla were thorough in documenting their archives and identifying their sources. Nowhere had a celestial author been credited.
I snaked my way down the mountainside and drove back in the gathering darkness. The sky above teemed with primordial stars and a flare of Asatru pervaded my wakefulness. Inanna, Marduk and Ninurta floated in front of the windshield and danced to a soundless tune*. El, the father of humankind, of all creatures and of Hadad himself sat next to me silently watching the magical performance. Near Homs I steered west and headed home. Syria, the cradle of all civilizations lay sleeping in the dead of night till her Shamash rises anew with the advent of another dawn.
* Inanna, Marduk, Ninurta, El and Shamash: a handful of Syrian deities.
-W. G. Lambert (1985). Trees, snakes and gods in ancient Syria and Anatolia. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 48, pp 435-451 doi:10.1017/S0041977X00038428