Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism
by Thomas Inman, M.D. (1874)
Appendix: The Assyrian Grove and other emblems,
by John Newton, M.R.C.S.
Appendix - Page 4
We can now look upon the very symbols themselves, which were so used—perhaps the most remarkable in existence. It is well known that the Chaldeans, from whom all other nations derived their religion, astronomy, and science, gave the name of Bel or Baal to their chief god. In the most ancient inscription yet deciphered, written in the Babylonian and Arcadian languages, a king rules by "the favour of Bel." Another name for Baal is Assur, or Asher, from whom Assyria is named. In the cuneiform inscriptions of Sennacherib, the great king of Assyria, Nineveh is called "the city of Bel," and "the city beloved by Ishtar." In another inscription he says of the king of Egypt:—"the terror of Ashur and Ishtar overcame him and he fled." Assurbanipal thus commences his annals "The great warrior, the delight of Assur and Ishtar, the royal offspring am I." In a cuneiform inscription of Nebobelzitri, we read:—"Nineveh the city, the delight of Ishtar, wife of Bel." Again, "Beltis, the consort of Bel." "Assur and Beltis, the gods of Assyria." Thus we see that Baal and Bel were identical with Assur, and Ashur. Doubtless, then, "Asherah" is the last name with the feminine termination (as Ish = man, Ishah=woman), and is identical with Ishtar, Ashteroth, Astarte and Beltis. The Septuagint has rendered "Asherah" by "Astarte," in 2 Chron. xv. 16, and the Vulgate by "Astaroth," in Judges iii. 7. Herodotus described (b.c. 450) the great temple of Belus at Babylon, and its seven stages dedicated to the sun, moon, and planets, on the top of which was the shrine. This contained no statue, but there was a golden couch, upon which a chosen female lay, and was nightly visited by the god. Now, therefore, that the palaces of the Assyrian kings, and their "chambers of imagery," have been by great good fortune laid open to us, we might expect to discover the long-lost symbolism of Baal-worship. And so we have.
To commence with the simplest. The (Ashcrim) is seen as the mystic palm-tree, the tree of life, Fig. 99; the phallic pillar putting forth branches like flames, Fig. 65; and the tree with seven phalloid branches, so common on Assyrian and Babylonian seals, Plate xvii., Fig. 4. See also the remarkable Syrian medals, Plate xvii., Fig. 2, on which is represented Baal as the sun-god, holding the bow, and surrounded by phalli.
Or, least conventional of all, the simple phallus, of which there are two remarkable specimens in the British Museum. Each of these is about two and a half feet high, and once guarded the bounds of an estate. Among the Greeks and Romans, boundaries were also marked by a phallic statue of Hermes, the god of fertility. These Assyrian emblems have doubtless often been honoured with rural sacrifice. Themselves the most expressive symbol of life, they are also covered with its conventional emblems.
A back view of one is given, Figure 174. The body is mainly occupied with a full length portrait of the great king. For as the Assyrians represented the Deity, the source of all life, by the phallus, so the monarch was the god of this lower world, the incarnation of God on earth. He was the source of life to the empire, and as such was addressed—"O king, live for ever" (Dan. v. 10). He, like the gods, never dies. "Le Roi est mort; Vive le Roi" The ensigns of royalty were also those of the creator-god. Accordingly, his garments and crown are embroidered with that sacred emblem, the Asherah. He bears the strung-bow and arrows, emblems of virile power, borne afterwards by the sun-god Apollo, and the western son of Venus. An erect serpent occupies the other side, and ends with forky tongue near the orifice. The glans is covered with symbols. On the summit is a triad of sun emblems; beneath are three altars, over two of which are the glans-shaped caps, covered with bulls' horns, always worn by the Assyrian guardian angels, and intense emblems of the male potency. For in ancient symbolism, a part of a symbol stands for the whole; as here, the horns represent the bull, and the glans the phallus. Above the third altar is a tortoise, whose protruded head and neck reminded the initiated of the phallus; and the altars are covered with a pattern drawn from the tortoise scales. We have, besides, a vase with a rod inserted, emblem of sexual union, and a cock, with wings and plumage ruffled, running after a hen in amorous heat. The glans only of the other is copied.
Fig. 175. At the top are the sun-symbols, as before. Beneath is the horse-shoe-like head-dress of Isis, and there are two altars marked with the tortoise-emblem in front. Over both rises the erect serpent, and upon one lies the head of an arrow or a dart, both male symbols. The miphletzeth which Queen Maachah placed in or near the Asherah, probably resembled these Assyrian phalli, or the Asherim.
And now we come to the Asherah, a much more complex and difficult symbol than any other which we have named. This object has long puzzled antiquarians, and though it is continually recurring in the sculptures from Nineveh, it has not yet been fully explained. In Fig. 176 we see it worshipped by human figures, with eagles' heads and wings, who present to it the pine-cone, = the testis, and the basket, =the scrotum (?), intense emblems of the male creator.
Fig. 177 it is adored by the king and his son or successor, with their attendant genii. The kings present towards it a well-known symbol of life and good fortune, the fist with the forefinger extended, or "the phallic hand." Here, then, we have evidently the Asherah, or Ashtaroth-symbol, the female Baal, the life-producer, "the door" whence life issues to the world. As such the goddess is here symbolised as an arched door-way. In the Phonician alphabet, the fourth letter, daleth, = a door, has the shape of a tent-door, as on the Moabite stone, A, and also in the Greek [———] But another form, perhaps as ancient, is D, which, when placed in its proper position, would be [—], the very form of the Asherah.§ In the plural, this word stands for the labia pudendi, [————], "because it shut not up the doors of the womb," Job iii. 10.§§ We infer from Numbers xxv. 6-8, that in the rites of Baal-peor, the Kadeshoth, or women devoted to the god, offered themselves to his worshippers each in a peculiar bower or small arched tent, called a qubbah. The part also through which Phinehas drove his spear (see Num. xxv. 8), the woman's vulva, is also called qobbah, the one word being derived from the other, according to Onkelos, Aquila, and others. Qubbah means, according to Fürst, Heb. Lex., "something hollow and arched, an arched tent, like the Arabic El. Kubba, whence the Spanish Al-cova, and our Alcove." In the Latin also, the word fornix, a vault, an arch, meant a brothel, and from it was derived fornicatio. Qubbah is translated by the LXX., kaminos, "an oven or arched furnace" (Liddell and Scott); but it meant also the female parts. See Herodotus v. 92 (7). Thus, then, the Alcove was itself a symbol of woman, as though a place of entrance and emergence, and whence new life issues to the world. And when the male worshipper of Baal entered to the kadeshah, the living embodiment of the goddess, the analogy to the Asherah became complete, as we shall now show.
§ The first letter, Aleph, = an ox, is, even on the Moabite stone, written thus, and has become the modern A. In the earlier hieroglyph it must have been thus V. The Egyptian hieroglyph for ten is Compare the Greek [—] and Latin Decem.
§§The first of the Orphic Hymns is addressed to the goddess Artemisias (Prothnraia) or the Door-keeper, who presided over childbirths, like the Roman Diana Lucina.
The central object in the Assyrian "grove" is a male date-palm, which was well known as an emblem of Baal, the sun, the phallus, and life. This remarkable tree, Tamar in Phoenician and Hebrew, the phoenix in Greek, was formerly abundant in Palestine and the neighbouring regions. The word Phoenicia (Acts xi. 19, xv. 8) is derived from phoinix, as the country of palms; like the "Idumeo palmo" of Virgil. Palmyra, the city of the sun, was called in the Hebrew Tamar (1 Kings ix. 18). In Vespasian's famous coin, "Judoa capta," Judoa is represented as a female sitting under a palm-tree. The tree can at once be identified by its tall, straight, branchless stem, of equal thickness throughout, crowned at the top with a cluster of long, curved, feather-like branches, and by its singularly wrinkled bark. All these characteristics are readily recognised in the highly conventional forms of the religious emblem, even in the ornament on the king's robe, fig. 174. The date-palm is dioecious, the female trees, which are sometimes used as emblems, being always distinguished by the clusters of date fruit. "Thy stature is like to a palm-tree, thy breasts to clusters" (Cant. vii. 7). "The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree" (Ps. xcii. 12), fruitful and ever green. "They are upright as the palm-tree, but speak not" (Jer. x. 8-5). The prophet is evidently describing the making of an Asherah. There was a Canaanite city called Baal-Tamar, = Baal, the palm-tree, designated so, it is probable, from the worship of Baal there "under the form of a priapus-column," says Fürst, Heb. Lex. The real form was doubtless an "Asherim," a modified palm-tree, as we have already shown. Palm-branches have been used in all ages as emblems of life, peace, and victory. They were strewn before Christ. Palm-Sunday, the feast of palms, is still kept. Even within the present century, on this festival, in many towns of France, women and children carried in procession at the end of their palm-branches a phallus made of bread, which they called, undisguisedly, "la pine," whence the festival was called "La Fête des Pinnes." The "pine" having been blest by the priest, the women carefully preserved it during the following year as an amulet. (Dulaure, Hist, des differens Cultes.)