Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Cedar Of Lebanon
Myths of the Cedar of Lebanon
"If in the end I should conquer, glorious will be the victory; but I shall owe it to the Queen of Angels, under whose protection I place myself. She is my refuge & my defense; the tower of the house of David, on whose walls hang innumerable shields & the armor of many valiant champions; the cedar of Lebanon, which puts the serpent to flight."
Long before the Cedar of Lebanon was introduced to European gardens (in the late 1700s) it was already legendary & proverbial. It is the most impressive tree mentioned in the Bible, veritably personified as a monarch [2 Ki 14:9], akin to giant people [Amos 2:9], to whom even God sings praises of honor [Ezek 27:5]. But when the Cedars of Lebanon (& the Oaks of Bashan) become haughty & begin to regard themseves as true divinities, Yahweh rises against them [Isa 2:13; 37:24; etc].
Yahweh turns against the cedars? Now there's a mystery for starters.
Well might the Cedar regard itself as a divinity, & Yahweh regard the Cedar one of those Other Gods of which He confesses jealousy in the Decalog. The usual Hebrew word for cedar, erez, is of mysterious origin, derived most likely from some Arabic dialect. It probably means "Mighty," & used with this meaning at Ezek 27:24. It is thus a synonym for El, "Strength," the husband of the Goddess Asherah & head of an extensive Semitic pantheon. El's name was coopted as a name of Yahweh. Every member of Israel was destined to share the traits of happiness & mightiness of the Cedars of Lebanon [Nm 24:6]. It is nearly homonymous with Eretz, normatively "Earth", but a feminine word hence literally "Earthmother" which sense is often preserved in Torah, personifying the Earth as a motherly figure alternatingly by the names Eretz, & Adamah (Red Earthmother) who gave birth to Adam.
Cedar mythology was ancient long before the Bible was written. In it's full range Cedrus has four primary species, & was associated with a Goddess in each species' native location, either as consort of the Goddess, or personified as itself female, or as a uniting (perhaps phallic) connector between the Earthmother & God. In Anatolia (Turkey) the Cedar of Lebanon was associated with a particularly violent form of Artemis. In the Himalayas the Deodor Cedar was associated with the equally violent Kali Durga, called the Root of the Tree of the Universe of Wisdom. And the Cyprus Cedar, from the island of Cyprus, was identified with Aphrodite Urania who killed or castrated her lovers & was much more like the violent Artemis & Kali than the Goddess of Love we today associate with the name Aphrodite.
The Cedar of Lebanon also figures in an early episode of the oldest of religious tales, The Epic of Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh encountered a horrifying monster amidst the cedars. He was protected from this beast by the Sun-god Shamash (for whom the biblical Samson is named) & by his mother's amulet (as Samson's power resulted mainly from his mother's instruction). When Gilgamesh destroyed the monster he believed himself ready to become the husband of the Great Mother, Ishtar Inanna, though Ishtar didn't quite agree with that; & he meets thereafter a Wine-goddess. Parallels to Samson & Delilah are imbedded in this, if Delilah is regarded as a reflex of Inanna or of the Wine-giving goddess Gilgamesh encounters.
Psalm 29 was originally a hymn to Baal Hadad. Descriptions of Yahweh as master of the sea, his appearance on a mountain in the midst of storm, & his temple made of Cedar are repeated from Ugaritic descriptions of Baal. In the Poem of Baal, which actually stars his sister Anath, the Artemis-like Huntress Goddess built Her brother a temple out of cedar because the other gods made fun of Baal for being the only god who had no house. This may allude to his worship having formerly been exclusively out of doors in the sacred oak groves of his mother Asherah Who Trods the Sea. Asherah poles which were set up in the oak groves were made of cedar, as the sacred oaks themselves could not be cut down, & cedar poles were resistant to rot. Yahweh, like Baal, was first worshipped in the open air in Asherah's groves. Abraham planted such a grove, possibly a tamarisk grove rather than oaks, but in midrash, & among many biblical scholars, the trees Abraham planted are called the Cedars of Beersheba [Gn 21:33] & he must have brought the seeds with him when he left Uruk in Mesopotamia. In that city the Cedar was a Mother Goddess who gave birth to the fertility god Ningishzida, a reflex of Dumuzi.
Because Yahweh displaced Asherah's favorite son Baal Hadad, it was natural to suppose Yahweh's eventual Temple was, like Baal's, made of cedar [1 Chron 14:1; 22:4; etc]. David said to Nathan the prophet that it was unjust that he, David, should live in a house of cedar, while the Ark of the Covenant was covered only by a tent [17:1, 6]. This is David's sense that it was presumptuous that the sacred tree covered his head but not God's. This echoes the Poem of Baal when Baal Hadad is lamented as the only god who has no house. When Torah speaks of "Hiram's mother" involved in bringing the components of the Jerusalem Temple out of Tyre, the faint echo of feminine importance lingers from the earlier myth when the Goddess Anath herself built God's house, & when the richest of Asherah's cult centers was in Tyre.
The name of Lebanon is the same as the semitic Moon-goddess Lebanah, "She That Is White." It is no coincidence that the word for Cedar, Erez, is nearly homonymous with Hebrew words meaning heat, or sun, so that we also find the Cedar associated with Sun-gods & weather-gods throughout the biblical world. In ancient Egypt the ceremonial barge of the god Amon-Re was made of cedars, & an ancient record states specifically that the cedar wood came from Lebanon. The idea of a Moon-goddess connected with a Sun-god via the highest cedar is not merely suggestive of Artemis & Apollo, Anath & Baal, Delilah & Samson, David & Bathsheba, but is still of signal importance in medieval & modern Kabbalah. The sephirotic emanation of god known as Tiphereth (Beauty) dwells at the center of the Sephiroth Tree & is the sephirah most closely identified with Yahweh. Tiphereth is united weekly on the Sabbath with the lowermost or most earthly sephirah, Malkhuth the Lower Shekhinah or female emanation of God. Tiphereth & Malkhuth are united weekly in cunubial bliss [Zohar II:2b, 3a, 51b] which is why the Sabbath is the day kabbalists regard most erotic & fertile. Malkhuth means "Kingdom" & represents Israel as the Bride of God; the word is a very close pun for "Queen," Malka, & the Queen of Heaven whom the women of Israel spoke of to Jeremiah is by later kabbalists considered to be one & the same with the Divine Shekhinah (though of course in Jeremiah's day it meant Anath, who was Yahweh's bride at Bethel, & remained so among the Jews of Elephantine well into the Christian era).
According to the kabbalistic understanding, it was Tiphereth who called out from Mount Sinai to the Shekhinah, "Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, come with me from Lebanon" [Song 4:8], while in the same erotic Song, Solomon identifies Lebanah (the Moon) as the ideal of feminine beauty [6:10].
Isaiah uses the name Lebanah when personifying the Moon as confounded by God [Isa 2:23], & again in the allegory of a heavenly future where Lebanah will be made to be as bright as the Sun, & the Sun made seven times as bright. A nearly feminist Jewish myth, founded upon Isaiah 30:26, recounts how Queen Lebanah, made on the fourth day of creation (one day after the Cedars were brought forth), was originally the equal of King Sun (Shemesh). But she sought to rule the sky, & to rule the Sun, thus God punished her, making the Sun master. Such Goddess usurpation myths occurred wherever goddess culture was supplanted by a preference for Her consort. The nostalgic myth further asserts that Israel's Golden Age, under Solomon, was the only time when the Sun & Moon regained their former equal brightness, when the Father & the Mother were in perfect accord receiving equal honors. In Kabbalah, the clearly non-monotheistic biblical verses that incite such myths are explained by making the Many Emanations of God our limited way of comprehending aspects of a One too vast for humanity to perceive in the entirety; & that is also why God has so many names that are plural, as is the case with Elohim ("gods") & Adonai ("Adonises"), or which are feminine plurals, as with Sabaoth or otherwise feminine like the preferred Aramaic name Shekhinah, God being thus simultaneously Earthmother. In ancient times it probably was just understood as a pantheon, period, though the notion of the process of emanation is very old in Sanskrit literature & not necessarily unknown to very ancient Semitic peoples.
A Cedar-goddess is alluded to in the Song of Songs. Of Her it is said, "If she is a Gate, we will enclose her with boards of cedar" [Song 8:9], from whence the midrash that presumes Paradise is enclosed in cedar. The cedar doors of a gate symbolized the vagina or entryway to the Earthmother's womb, & by extension any woman's womb, hence the phrases "the Gate of my mother's womb" [Job 2:10]; the Gate that seals the womb of the Sea [38:8]; or even the Gate of heaven [Psalm 78:23] — this last elaborating a very archaic belief that death is not permanent, because the spirits of the dead do not fully expire, they re-enter the womb of the Divine Mother, returning to the Source.
And it appears this gate was commonly associated with cedars. The word for "Gate" may be the same as the root-word in the name of Delilah. Delilah meant something akin to "She Is Written Things," relating to a later Greek word deltos, "writing tablet." It is no concidence that Dumuzi's sister Geshtinanna was scribe to the Hecate-like goddess Ereskigal; no more than it is coincidental that Geshtinanna was guardian of the gate of paradise called "the land of cedars" in the distant East, where the Sun dwelt at night. This eastern Land of Cedars has been identified with historical Elam, & as the original Garden of Eden, but it may also have been a place of the Underworld, where cedars of paradise are also said to grow in Jewish midrash.
A similar word found its way into Hebrew usage relating to sacred writings, as the tablet on which Baruch took Jeremiah's dictation was called delet [Jr 36:23], evidently a tablet that could be closed with two wooden flaps, as the usual meaning of delet is in fact "gate," through which the phallic writing utensil penetrates. Hence a name like Delilah was apropos of a kedeshah or Sacred Harlot; & the River of Kedesha ran through the largest & most famous of Cedar forests in ancient Lebanon. Delilah & the doomed Samson do resemble Anath & the doomed Baal, who was slain by the Death-god Mot & taken away to the land of death until Anath resurrected him. That Samson bears the name of a Sun-god is frequently noted. The episode in which Samson runs off with the bronze Gate of Geza symbolizes his conquest of the Sacred Harlot, though Samson's metal gate is called shaar, & Shahar was the Canaanite God of the Rising Sun, with rays of bronze, the same as Samson's magic hair. The cedar flaps of the writing tablet turned on a bronze pin, as the Gaza gates turned on bronze pillars, & the Cedar Gate is Delilah or Anath, & the Bronze Pillar is Samson or Gilgamesh or Baal. Or, among kabbalists, the active Divine Shekhinah & the restful Tiphereth.
Zephaniah alludes to this type of mythology of the cedar gate as vagina of the Great Mother when referring to the city of Ninevah in the hypostatic form of a great female. The name Ninevah is merely a rendering out of the Hebrew for Ninuah, Great Goddess of Assyria; the capitol city bore Her name exactly. When speaking of all the cruel acts God will impose on Her, including the laying bare of her cedars, the full context clearly indicates that God sexually rapes His enemy & leaves Her bereft & reviled by all who pass by & see Her in the extremes of Her disaster [Zeph 2:14-15]. And from Her unruly sex life, She that dwelleth in Lebanon is shamed, hiding among cedars screaming as She gives birth to illicit children [Jr 22:23]. For Yahweh, the breaking of cedars is the defeat of rivals of all sorts — nations, or rival divinities. Zechariah similarly personifies Lebanon as a wailing-woman (a role signal to the Goddess Anath who wailed over the death of Baal) whose cedar is devoured in fire — the other wailing-women included personified cypress trees that wailed for the destruction of this hypostatic goddess-like Lebanon cedar [Zech 11:2-3]. That Zechariah assumes this ruin of Lebanon is done through fire is a typical Yahwist cursing method of reversing the sacred things of rival deities to become their destruction; the Cedar-mother's brother-consort being a Fire-god, Storm-god, or the Sun, she must be destroyed by the very power She thought could protect her.
Other biblical lore asserts that Joshua annointed a book of prophesies with cedar oil; the throne of Nimrod was carved of a great cedar, later becoming the throne of Solomon; a cedar grew from Jacob's grave; & Noah's Ark was made of cedar. Jehoiachin believed that to "nest among cedars" would protect him against harsh judgement, perhaps again relating the Cedar to the Babylonian Sun-god Shamash who decided the punishment of the dead, & his bride Ah who spoke in defense of the soul. Psalm 92:12 says that because the Cedars of Lebanon were the most upright of trees, they symbolize all of Israel as the most upright of nations. This is why Ezekiel 17:22-23 speaks of God moving the Israelites into the promised land as though He had plucked cedars from the mountains to transplant them elsewhere.
Expanding on Psalm 104:16 which notes that God personally planted the first Cedars of Lebanon, & the "Cedar Gate" mythology cited above, midrash asserts God brought forth the Cedars on the third day of Creation. Those first cedars still stand, forming a living barrier between our world & that of Paradise; or, the walls of Paradise are made of glass & shingled with cedar planks; or the cedars God made on the third day were in a troubled time transplanted in Paradise, where they grew to such extravagant height their former enormity was by comparison the size of the legs of locusts. Philo of Alexandria said the Earth had long been pregnant with these cedars, & God caused them to be brought forth in their full glory, as from a mother in labor. This is reminiscent of Gaea bringing forth giants in their full maturity.
There are more myths still. Behemoth is a mighty land-animal grazing upon cedars, as cattle graze on grass, daily rendering bald another mountain in Lebanon. The Messiah dwells in Paradise upon a pallanquin made of cedar, lounging upon a purple seat (the cloth of which was woven by Eve) large enough for two, & Elijah sits with him.