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 Lambert also discusses an earlier unpublished Columbia PhD thesis by Elizabeth Williams-Forte, titled “Mythic cycles: the iconography of the gods of water and weather in Syria and Anatolia during the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

15 comments:

Isobel said...

Oh! *clapping hands* I love when you write about history like this. How fascinating - it's like unearthing a great archeological treasure. Thank you, Abufares, for once again pulling away the veil that seems to obscure(at least to us in the West)your amazing history. :)

BIL said...

As I have mentioned on a few occasions in this forum, the Syrian history and culture is fascinating. I have learned so much in these few lines you dispense here. I feel as if I am drinking and the well has run dry and wanting more This is very interesting and I can only say “Keep it up”. I want to take this opportunity to wish you and the whole family a joyful and most blessed Eid Al-Adha!

Super kid said...

مقال كتير حلو يا بابا بس كانت الترجمة كتير ركيكة بس كتابتك بضل حلوى


super kid

Gabriela said...

Wow, Abufares. After reading this superb post I can only say it is enlightening.
I will never cease to be amazed on how much there still is for us, as humanity, to learn.
Chapeau!

abufares said...

@Isobel
One of my favorite all-time writers is Carl Sagan. He made science simple and a joy to read while at the same time he was an exceptional scientist.

When I first started writing about the history of Syria I wanted to emulate his "extremely difficult" style. I also want my article to be short enough not to be boring.

History is a fascinating field if told in story form. I'm glad you appreciate my humble attempts.

abufares said...

@BIL
It took me a long time to fall in love with history. A most formidable field of research and study has been relegated to a boring, remember by rote, obligation dreaded by students because of dreadfully boring scholars and teachers.

My favorite historical work, the 11 Volumes "The Story of Civilization" by Will and Ariel Durant is often criticized by serious historians for being "simple, rash and personally-convicted story telling." These weaknesses are (to me) what make it such a great and enduring work of scholarship, science, art and literature at the same time.
Will Durant died at 90 and Ariel, his wife at 80 without completing their dream of reaching the present(they wrote their story over 4 decades and passed away in the 1980's). The series ended with the Age of Napoleon.
It's work such as "The Story of Civilization" which is able to bring a subject to the average person that deserves to be called a masterpiece. For all I care, serious historians (or other funereal experts in any field) can dig a hole somewhere and disappear with their elite readership. If a writer can't tell a story and make it interesting he should write phone-books instead.

abufares said...

@Super Kid

Habibi Fares

I felt dismayed when I looked over your shoulder and read the Google Translation of my article. I'm glad you realized (on your own) that I'm not that abstruse :-)
You should know that I will never forget those 10 minutes I spent with you afterward, when I recounted my article in Arabic. The flame of excitement I saw in your eyes made me happy and proud.
I am another story teller Fares. One day you might realize that I was totally wrong, that I might've been as fallible as everybody else or that I perhaps possessed a grain of truth in the way I chose to see the world. Whatever the case might be, you have my love forever and I'm so grateful you appreciate my stories :-)

abufares said...

@Gabriela
The moment we stop learning we die. Look around you and see all the Zombies :-)
I get as much joy in researching my story as I do in telling it. I'm more fortunate than most in having great people like you who appreciate my effort.

Anonymous said...

Abufares, thank you for taking us to such a niçe jueny
le

abufares said...

@Le
Glad you enjoyed it my friend.

KJ said...

History, as important as it is, remains one of the most boring fields as it is taught (or, often, forced) in such boring and biased narrative, as if the past was a series of irrelevant and boring events, many of which are difficult to prove.

Historians tend to forget that they are unravelling a story. Even if it were based on facts - and I use the term loosely - but the past is full of vivid and wonderful characters, religions, gods and events, the natural and the supernatural, made up or otherwise, that a sterile approach warrants nothing but ignorance.

History is reading the story from the end. Very few people manage to narrate such a tale.

I am very lucky to have you as such a narrator.

abufares said...

@KJ
Quite an accurate observation. The fact that history is often written by the winners further detract from the validity behind the data so praised by morbid historians. A love letter written by a defeated soldier or a short poem composed by a bereaved poet could hold more "truth" than the mainstream account.
There is no objective history. This is the dilemma all social sciences face yet some scholars insist that by being detached, or more precisely void of humanism, they could gain credibility.

Allie said...

What an excellent post! I love religious history of this type.

Been away from the blog world for a while, so I also wanted to mention that I was excited to come back and see such a beautiful redesign of your blog. Great work!

abufares said...

@Allie
Welcome back to the Blogging World and to my little place in it.
And thank you for your compliment about the new look :-)

david santos said...

Hello, Abufares!
Have a nice year 2011!