III - The Names of the Gods

We are sometimes misled by the proliferation of gods and goddesses in popular mythology into believing that man started off his religious thinking with a vast pantheon of some hundreds of different gods; that, however much his systematic theologians may have attempted to arrange them into some comprehensible order, it required a dramatic revelation from on high to convince him that there was really only one, supreme moral deity.


This idea found great favor with the nineteenth-century theologians for whom the recently discovered laws of evolution seemed to offer a “scientific” explanation of divine revelation. The Old Testament, they suggested, showed how primitive animistic ideas, that is the defecation of inanimate objects like stones and trees, gradually gave way to a more “spiritual” concept of one god, as man evolved towards a “higher” intelligence, and thus made it possible for the deity to communicate to mankind through his servants the prophets.


This singularly ill-conceived piece of biblical criticism had the advantage that its extension to the New Testament revelation by the Christian theologians showed that since Jesus stood later in time his revelation was necessarily more advanced than that of the Jewish prophets and, less explicitly, that the nineteenth-century theologians were rather better informed than either. Unfortunately for these “evolutionary” thinkers the Old Testament will not bear the weight of their theory. Moses is portrayed as a monotheist; the Church divided its Godhead into three.


The Bible cannot be used to illustrate “primitive” religion. The philosophical and moral concepts displayed in its writings vary enormously, and there is no internal evidence for a steady “evolution” of ideas from a multiplicity of gods and moral barbarism to one, righteous and humane, heavenly father. The god who is annoyed because his servant Saul failed to carry out his bidding to wipe out every “man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” of the Amalekites (I Sam 1 :3), is still pictured a thousand years later leaving his son to die in agony on a cross.


On the other hand, the literature that contains the discourse of selfless love in I Corinthians 13, has already long before recounted a story which taught that lust without affection has a bitter fruit (II Sam 13 :15).

If we are to make any enlightened guess at “primitive” man’s ideas about god and the universe it would have to be on the reasonable assumption that they would be simple, and directly related to the world of his experience. He may have given the god numerous epithets describing his various functions and manifestations but there is no reason to doubt that the reality behind the names was envisaged as one, all-powerful deity, a life-giver, supreme creator.


The etymological examination of the chief god-names that is now possible supports this view, pointing to a common theme of life-giving, fecundity. Thus the principal gods of the Greeks and Hebrews, Zeus and Yahweh (Jehovah), have names derived from Sumerian meaning “juice of fecundity”, spermatozoa, “seed of life”.


The phrase is composed of two syllables, IA (ya, dialectally za), “juice”, literally “strong water”, and U, perhaps the most important phoneme in the whole of Near Eastern religion. It is found in the texts represented by a number of different cuneiform signs, but at the root of them all is the idea of “fertility”. Thus one U means “copulate” or “mount”, and “create”; another “rainstorm”, as source of the heavenly sperm; another “vegetation”, as the offspring of the god; whilst another U is the name of the storm-god himself.


So, far from evincing a multiplicity of gods and conflicting theological notions, our earliest records lead us back to a single idea, even a single letter, “U”. Behind Judaism and Christianity, and indeed all the Near Eastern fertility religions and their more sophisticated developments, there lies this single phoneme “U” Quite simply, the reasoning of the early theologians seems to have been as follows: since rain makes the crops grow it must contain within it the seed of life. In human beings this is spermatozoa that is ejected from the penis at orgasm. Therefore it followed that rain is simply heavenly semen, the all-powerful creator, God. The most forceful spurting of this “seed” is accompanied by thunder and the shrieking wind.


This is the “voice” of God. Somewhere above the sky a mighty penis reaches an orgasm that shakes the heavens. The “lips” of the penis-tip, the glans, open, and the divine seed shoots forth and is borne by the wind to earth. As saliva can be seen mixed with breath during forceful human speech, so the “speaking” of the divine penis is accompanied by a powerful blast of wind, the holy, creative spirit, bearing the “spittle” of semen.


This “spittle” is the visible “speech” of God; it is his “Son” in New Testament terms, the “Word” which,

“was with God, and was God, and was in the beginning with God; through whom all things were made, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life...“

(John 1:1-4).

In the words of the Psalmists:

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth”

(Ps 33:6)


or, “when you send forth your breath they are created, and the face of the earth is restored”

(Ps 104:30).

This idea of the creative Word of God came to have a profound philosophical and religious importance and was, and still is, the subject of much metaphysical debate. But originally it was not an abstract notion; you could see the “Word of God”, feel it as rain on your face, see it seeping into the furrows of mother earth, the “labia” of the womb of creation.


Within burns an eternal fire which every now and then demonstrates its presence dramatically, by bursting to the surface in a volcano, or by heating spring water to boiling point where the earth’s crust is thinnest. It was this uterine heat which made generation possible, and which later theologians identified with the place and means of eternal punishment. Also beneath the earth’s surface, lay a great ocean whose waters, like those of the seas around and above the firmament (Gen 1:7) were the primeval reservoirs of the god’s spermatozoa, the Word.


They were therefore “seas of knowledge” as the Sumerians called them,h1 and could be tapped by seekers of truth, whether they looked “to the heavens or to the earth beneath” (Isa 51:6), that is, by means of astrology or necromancy, “divination from the dead”. This notion that mortals could discover the secrets of the past, present, and future by somehow projecting themselves to the “seventh heaven” or down into the underworld gave rise to much mythology and some curious magical practices.


Since common observation showed that dead and decaying matter melted back into the earth, it was thought that the imperishable part of man, his “soul” or spirit, the creative breath that gave him life in the womb, must either float off into the ether or return through the terrestrial vagina into the generative furnace. In either case he was more likely to have access to the fount of all wisdom than when his spirit was imprisoned in mortal flesh.


Since it was given to few men to be able to visit heaven or hell and return to tell what they had seen and heard, there arose the ideas of “messengers”, or angels, those “workers of miracles” as their name in Greek and Hebrew means.


These demigods, or heroes, had access to both worlds and play an important part in ancient mythology. They could come from above in various guises or be conjured up from the ground, like the ghost of Samuel drawn to the surface by the witch of Endor for consultation by King Saul (I Sam 28). One important aspect of this idea of heavenly and subterranean founts of knowledge is that since plants and trees had their roots beneath the soil and derived their nourishment from the water above and beneath the earth, it was thought possible that some varieties of vegetation could give their mortal consumers access to this wisdom.


Herein lies the philosophical justification for believing that hallucinatory drugs distilled from such plants imparted divine secrets, or “prophecies”. Such very special kinds of vegetation were, then, “angels” and to know their names was to have power over them. A large part of magical folk-lore was devoted to maintaining this vital knowledge of the names of the angels.


It was not sufficient simply to know what drug could be expected to have certain effects; it was important to be able to call upon its name at the very moment of plucking and eating it.


Not only was its rape from the womb of mother earth thus safely accomplished, but its powers could be secured by the prophet for his “revelations” without incurring the heavy penalties so often suffered by those misusing the drug plants. Just as these growths were more powerfully endowed with the god’s semen than others, so men and animals differed in their possession of the vital force: some were more fierce and lustful and some were more wise. So-called “men of God" were particularly fortunate in this respect.


They were in a very special sense his “sons”, and had a particularly close relationship with the deity. He could speak through them; they caught his word, as it were, and spat it out to his less god-attuned fellow men. Priest and prophet believed that the spittle-laden breath that came from his mouth when he spoke as the god’s messenger was not his, but the god’s. Such words, once released, had a power and motivation of their own.


They could not only foretell events; they brought them about. No wonder the beleaguered citizens of Jerusalem put Jeremiah and his gloomy prognostications into a miry cistern. Well might they say that in the face of the Babylonian armies he was “weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city” (Jer 38:4). For the same reason the king cut Jeremiah’s doom-laden scroll into small pieces and dropped them into the brazier (36:23).


For the word was as potent in writing as when uttered in speech. In the Sinai myth, Yahweh himself writes the “Ten Words” or “Commandments” (Exod 31:18), and the tablets thus inscribed have thereafter to be kept in a box and venerated within the shrine as a divine manifestation (Deutio).

God was the ultimate source of justice. By this was meant the ordering of society towards stability, maintaining a balance between opposing, otherwise disruptive forces. This might involve laying down certain regulations for conduct to which injured parties might appeal in the courts, but divinely given “law” was not simply a code of behavior.


It was another expression of natural equilibrium, that ordering of affairs that began when primeval chaos gave way to creation. “Law” was thus a gift of God. In Semitic the same words are used for “justice” and religious “alms-giving”, and specifically in the Old Testament, for “rain”.


Thus the prophet Joel bids his listeners “rejoice in Yahweh, your God, for he has poured down for you a shower of rain” (Joel 2:23).


The Hebrew “Law” (Torah) is, literally, the “outpouring”; the “lawgiver” or “teacher” is the “out-pourer”, properly of “semen, grace, favor”.

Kings and priests are “pourers of bounty”, lawgivers and teachers, in their capacity as the god’s earthly representatives. They were reckoned especially endowed with divine “grace”, the word for which in both Hebrew and Greek refers to the flowing of seed. They were “shepherds” of their people, the idea behind which, as we saw above, had to do with promoting fecundity. In that the king had within him the god’s semen, he was held to be a strong man, representing his god on the field of battle, and no less virile in the harem. When this important faculty deserted him, he could be deposed.


Hence King David, whose name means “lover” or “loved one”, when his manly prowess seemed to be failing, sought stimulation at the hands of a young and beautiful virgin, Abishag:

“and she served the king, but he knew her not”

(I Kgs 1:1-4).

The fertility aspect of divine and royal shepherding can be seen in another Sumerian word for “shepherd” which appears right across the ancient world in names and epithets. It is SIPA, literally, “stretched horn”, or “penis”. We may now recognize it in the biblical phrase Yahweh Sabaoth, from SIPA-UD, penis of the storm.


The Sumerian storm-god, Iskur, has a name with much the same meaning, “mighty penis”. Among the Semites he was known as Adad, “Mighty Father”, with the same general idea of the great fecundator of the skies. In the Old Testament, the name we know as Joseph means “Yahweh’s penis”, really just a shortened form of Yahweh Sabaoth.


Over in Asia Minor, this Old Testament divine title appears in classical times as an old cultic cry to the Phrygian deity Sabazios, euoi saboi.


The name of the god itself is composed of the same Sumerian SIPA to which has been added the element ZI, “erect”. This is just one example of how we can now span the whole area of our study and bring together apparently quite disparate religious cults simply through being able to decipher the names and epithets of the respective gods. Similar phallic designations are given, as we now see, to many Sumerian, Greek, and Semitic gods, tribal ancestors and heroes.


Hercules, that great ”club-bearer”, was named after the grossness of his sex organ, as was the Hebrew tribal ancestor Issachar.


Perhaps the best known of the old Canaanite fertility gods, Baal, derives his name from a Sumerian verb AL, “bore”, which, combined with a preformative element BA, gave words for “drill” and “penis” and gave Latin and us our word “phallus”.


In Semitic, ba'al, Baal, is not only the divine name but has also the general meaning of “lord, husband”. Hosea, the Old Testament prophet, makes a play on the general and cultic uses of the word when he has Yahweh say to Israel,

“in that day you will call me ‘my man’ and you will no more call me ‘my baal’; I shall banish the name of baals from your mouth...“

(Hos 2:16 [Heb. 18]).

More than any other heavenly body, it was the sun which commanded most respect as the embodiment of god. It was the Creator, the fecundator of the earth. The ancients saw the glowing orb as the tip of the divine penis, rising to white heat as it approached its zenith, then turning to a deep red, characteristic of the fully distended glans penis, as it plunged into the earthly vagina.


In the cultic centers this ritual was enacted imitatively by the entry of the priest into the god’s house.

The temple was designed with a large measure of uniformity over the whole of the Near East now recognizable as a microcosm of the womb. It was divided into three parts:

  • the Porch, representing the lower end of the vagina up to the hymen, or Veil

  • the Hall, or vagina itself

  • the inner sanctum, or Holy of Holies, the uterus.

The priest, dressed as a penis, anointed with various saps and resins as representing the divine semen, enters through the doors of the Porch, the “labia” of the womb, past the Veil or “hymen” and so into the Hall. On very special occasions, the priestly phallus penetrated into the uterus where the god himself dwelt and wrought his creative works.


Even today the Christian ritual and architecture probably owes much to the ancient tradition, as the priest heads the processional through the body of the “womb”, to reach its climax before the altar. The god was thought of as the “husband” of his land and people. This is a common figure in the Old Testament where Israel is featured as the “wife” of Yahweh, usually thus spoken of in passages accusing her of infidelity and seeking other “lovers”.


The Church is also described as the “bride” of Christ (Rev 2I2 22:17). In both cases the god is the fructifying seed, the “Word” or Gospel, “good news”, whose fruitfulness depends upon the receptivity of the “womb” of his people’s minds and hearts.

The seed of God was supremely holy. Whether it appeared directly from heaven as rain, or as the sap or resin of plants and trees, or as spermal emission from the organs of animals or men, it was sacred and to waste it was a grievous sin. The processes and balance of nature demanded its effective use, since without it there could be no life or regeneration.


The words for “curse” and “sin” have their roots in the idea of “seed running to waste”.


This was the sin of Onan who shirked his duty of giving his dead brother’s wife more children by practicing coitus interruptus, or, as the Bible says “spoiling it on the ground” (Gen 38 :1-10).


This was the sin, too, of Sodom whose inhabitants preferred the attractions of two male visiting angels to Lot’s daughters (Gen 19). That much-used religious word “sin”, then, has basically the meaning of “making ineffective”, “failing in one’s object” the direct opposite of “faith”, which is, at root, “to make effective, or fruitful”.


This very ancient regard for the sanctity of semen which lies at the core of the fertility idea is the ultimate cultic justification of the Roman Catholic strictures on birth-control. The real objections to contraception have little to do with family morals or, indeed, with morality at all as the modem world understands the term; it is simply that wasting seed is a religious “sin”; it is a blasphemy against the “word of god”, the “holy spirit”. In the same way, a barren woman was reckoned “accursed”.


Jeremiah vented his wrath upon his fellow-citizens who spumed his gloomy prognostications by wishing their “wives childless and widowed” (Jer 18 :21). Most unhappy of women was she whose husband had divorced her for barrenness or died leaving her childless.


The Hebrew word for “widow” meant originally “wasted-womb”, and similar derivations are to be found for the ancient words meaning “unlucky” or “the left side”, being reckoned the unproductive side of the womb.


In part derived from this idea of the sanctity of sperm and the importance of fertility is the crucial doctrine of the balance of nature. Upon this axiom rested the whole basis of moral and natural philosophy. God, as an act of grace, gives the seed of life. Earth receives it and engenders food for man and beast who eat it and reproduce themselves after their own kind. At death they return to earth which, in turn, produces more vegetation to feed their offspring. So the cycle of nature continues season after season.


But man must soon have realized that this highly desirable state of affairs could continue only so long as new life followed death. Kill too many animals one year and there are insufficient to breed for the next. Reap too many harvests from the same field and you reduce it to a desert. In terms of human relationships, become too rich at the expense of your neighbors and eventually they will turn on you like starving wolves.


Revenge blood with blood and your personal feud will become tribal war. Herein lies the root of the doctrine of loving one’s neighbor; of the “soft answer that turneth away wrath”. Socially, as agriculturally, all life depends upon keeping the balance between giving and taking, and avoiding extremes. Nevertheless, the cycle of nature had first to be set in motion by the creative act of the god, and thereafter the initiative remained with him.


As the New Testament writer says:

“By grace you have been saved through faith; and this was not from yourselves but as a gift from God

(Eph 2:8).

The Greek and Hebrew words for this kind of “saving” derive from a basic conception of “fulfillment”, “restoration”, “healing” or “life”.


The same element in Sumerian Shush or ShU-A, appears in the name of Joshua/Jesus attached as an epithet to Yahweh. This “salvation” in the Bible is the prerogative of the god, an act of Un— merited love or grace.


It followed, then, that man was continually in a state of indebtedness, or “sin”, ever at the mercy of his divine creditor. When the god for some reason decided to withhold his seminal bounty, all life perished and there was nothing man could do about it.


The awareness of his insufficiency that makes the Psalmist cry plaintively:

“What is man that thou rememberest him...?“ (Ps 8:4 [Heb s]) has had an important, and largely deleterious effect on man’s self-consciousness.

On the one hand it urged upon him humility, and served as a brake to his self-aggrandizement over his fellows.


The Roman general in his triumphal chariot had by him a slave continually to remind him, above the roars of popular acclaim,

“Look back; remember you are but a man”.

On the other hand, a basic insecurity tended to restrict man’s natural curiosity and willingness to experiment dangerously, and has served his political and ecclesiastical masters rather better than his own spiritual and economic advancement.


Cultically, this state of indebtedness gave rise to the idea that man should make the god some token reimbursement, a sacrifice, a kind of atonement which might, in some small degree, restore the balance between benefactor and beneficiary.


Since the first-born of men and beasts, and the first-reaped fruits of harvest were considered to be more favorably endowed with the source of life than later progeny, and thus the more precious and strong, they were chosen for restoration to the deity.


The blood, containing the breath of life, the holy spirit, taboo even now among Jews and Muslims, was first poured back into the earth’s womb, and the flesh then consumed by the element that had created it, fire. Alternatively, part at least of the flesh was eaten by the god’s representatives, the priests. This idea of the atoning sacrifice had an important influence on later developments of the cult, particularly in Christianity and its immediate forerunners.


Here attention was centered upon one particular piece of vegetation, deemed more powerfully endued with the god than any other, and whose “sacrifice” and consumption by the initiate was thought to restore the lost sense of balance, to heal the rift, and to make possible a mystical unity with the god.

Summarizing, then: we should not look for a multiplicity of gods in the ancient world, but rather many aspects of the one deity of fertility, the creative force that gives earth and its creatures life. The god was the seed, his name and functions finding verbal expression in the one Sumerian phoneme U; the whole fertility philosophy on which the various cults of the ancient Near East centre we may term simply a U-culture.


The god expressed his seed from heaven as a mighty penis ejaculating sperm at orgasm.


It entered the womb of mother earth through the labia, the furrows of the land, and formed a great reservoir of potency in the heart of the world. There gestation took place in the furnace of the terrestrial uterus. There, too, was thought to be the source of all knowledge, since the creative semen of the god was also the Word, acquisition of which by man gave him part of divine omniscience.


It followed that those plants which were able to tap this power of knowledge to a greater degree than others, the sources of hallucinatory drugs, could impart to those who imbibed their juice “knowledge of the gods”.

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