XVI - David, Egypt, and the Census
The root meaning of both we may now trace to the same Sumerian ANDUL, “heavenly shade”, as gave the name Atlas to the mighty man of mythology who holds aloft the canopy of heaven.2 The basic conception is one of “protection” and thus “lordship” in that sense of shielding the land and people from outward harm.
The same picture is presented in another of the god’s names, Na’iman, traceable now to a Sumerian *NA_flvA_AN, “stretched across the sky”.3 Thus, within the mush— room cult, both names, Adonis and Na’iman can have a specific reference to the canopy of the fungus, viewed in the kind of cosmographical terms we have just discussed. Later, we shall look again at the Adonis— Na’iman figure in its particular application to the cultivation and use of the sacred fungus.4
For the moment, we may study more particularly his Old Testament representative David, whose Adonis and fertility connections are plainly set out in the oracle ascribed to his authorship:
The “patronymic” epithet, “Son of Jesse”, is really an attempt to hebraize an original Sumerian *B ,-ush...SA, “erect penis”, thus conforming to the other phallic names given the hero figure. The phrase has some particular interest since in the form Briseus or Brëseus we may now recognize it among the titles of the phallic Dionysus/Bacchus.5
In the description of David as the “Na’im of the stretched penis (z—m—r) of Israel” there is a clear connection’ with a passage in Isaiah about the “Adonis plantations”: “You plant the plants of Na’iman (Adonis), you sow the penis (z—m—r) of the field (?)“ (Isa 17: iO).6
The English versions usually render the word in the David oracle as “songs” since the root z— m—r means also “sing”. But this is just another instance of the idea that singing was primarily a sexual activity whose function was to stimulate new life, demonstrably by causing an erection in the male organ. It is, thus, a cultic word, as singing, like lamentation, was part of the stimulatory worship of the fertility deity.7 It is in this cultic phallic sense that we find z—m-r used again in Ezekiel’s vision of the abominable practices being carried on in Jerusalem during his absence.
Having been shown the women bewailing Tammuz/Adonis at the entrance of the north gate of the Temple:
The bearing of the phallus was a marked feature of the Dionysiac processionals,9 but as we now know, it had more than a purely physiological significance. The penis was not only the sign of human generation but within the mushroom cult it symbolized the sacred fungus itself, the “phallus of God” The root z-m-r, “stretch out”, is but a jumbled form of another root m—s—r or m—z—r of the same meaning, derived, as we may now appreciate, from a Sumerian word SUR, “stretch out, measure a boundary”.10
Its use and word-play in cultic mythology has probably caused more misunderstanding in later generations about the history of the Jews than almost any other. We happen to know that one of the names of the mushroom was the “stretched gourd”, for it has come down to us, transliterated in Greek from the old language of the North African Semites, as Koussi Mezar, and confused, as so often with names for the fungus, with the Squirting Cucumber.11
The root m-z-r/m-s-r is also known in Semitic as the designation of the country of Egypt, “The Territory”, or in the dual form, as normally in Hebrew, “The Two Territories”, that is, Upper and Lower Egypt. So modern botanists have understood the old Semitic name Koussi Mezar as “the Egyptian gourd”. And what the moderns have done unwittingly, the old myth- makers did intentionally: the sacred fungus was known as “the Egyptian mushroom”, and from that playful designation was born the myth of the Israelites’ sojourn in that land.
The New Testament also took up the theme and has the Holy Family flee to Egypt to escape the highly improbable persecution by Herod “of all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under” (Matt 2 :i3ff.).
It cites as justification of the exercise the text from Hosea:
Israel as the god’s first-born son in Egypt is the theme of the whole of the captivity and deliverance cycle of the Exodus. Thus Moses is commanded to approach Pharaoh with these words:
The carrying out of this threat to kill all the first-born of the
land of Egypt forms the setting for the institution of the Passover.
After the escape, Yahweh commands:
This is the cultic background of the Exodus Passover tradition, but the story itself hinges on the play between the name of the fungus as Mezar, “erect, stretched”, and Masôr, “Egypt”, to set the place of the myth; and upon the common Semitic name of the mushroom, Piträ’, and the root p— t—r which gave “first—born”, “release”, and “unleavened bread”.
The Hebrew story-teller thus had in the mushroom name and epithet the main ingredients of his Exodus story.13 The New Testament writers were not slow to see the possibilities of this Mezar epithet of the fungus for their myth-making. The root m-s-r in its various forms provides a rich harvest of puns for story-telling, and the New Testament abounds in instances. Perhaps the best known is the epithet given to Judas Iscariot14 that has characterized him and those named after him throughout the civilized world, “he who betrayed him”.15
The verb m-s—r means “hand over” as a betrayal, particularly to Gentiles, so Iscariot is the arch—mãsör, “betrayer” of all time. Another word of different root but similar in sound is mësör, meaning “bonds, imprisonment”. Playing on this word and the Mezor of the fungus, together with the p—t—r root, giving “Peter”, the apostle, and pattirä’, “unleavened bread”, we have the story in Acts wlilch begins: and when he (Herod) saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.
This was during the days of the Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison . . .“ (Acts 12:3f.). “Pleasing the Jews” stems from the Sumerian mushroom name MASh-TAB-BA-RI, read as “that which is pleasing to the Hebrews (Jews)”, by a word-play with Aramaic.16
The name Herod, meaning “heron” (Latin ardeola) serves throughout the New Testament as a useful play on the Semitic ‘Ardila’, “mushroom”, as does the feminine form “Rhoda” who opened the door to Peter after his release from prison (Acts 12:13).17 Another form of “restriction” is the girdle or loin-cloth, and words for this in Semitic are similarly formed, as the Aramaic mësJrã’.
Taking the old Punic name Koussi Mezar (properly *kisshuath18 mesôrah, or the like), as the pattern, the myth-makers formed the play “girdleclothing” (kesãyJ’)19 that is, “waist—band, or loin—cloth”. In the prophetic symbolism recorded of the seer Agabus, plays on both “girdle” and “betrayal, handing over” are extracted from the mushroom name: a prophet named Agabus20 came down from Judea.
And coming to us he took Paul’s girdle and bound his own feet and hands, and said,
The patronymic by which David is known in the Oracle quoted above, and elsewhere, “son of Jesse” is, as we have seen, also old Sumerian name for the erect phallus, *B_ush_sA. The same word, USh-SA appears again in the name of one of Jacob’s sons, Issachar.21 The story of his birth is a good example of word-play based on a well- known name.
But here the play is on a fanciful Hebrew derivation of the name and is obvious: indeed, the writer spells it out for us in so many words:
The author of this little tale finds his theme in the fancied meaning of the name Issachar as ‘ish, “man” and sakar, “he has hired”, taking the name as if it were Hebrew. In the cycle of birth and naming stories con-’ tamed in that and the previous chapter, the writer has tried to find in each of the names of Jacob’s children sonie Hebrew root on which to make a punning reference to some aspect of his origin or character.
Thus “Reuben” is understood as if it contained the roots r—’—h, “see”, and ‘—n—h, “afflict” — “Yahweh has looked upon my affliction” ;22 “Sim— eon”, as if it contained the root sh—m—’, “hear” — “Yaliweh has heard that I am hated” ;23 “Levi”, as if it were of the root l—w—h, “join” — “this time my husband will be joined to me” ;24 “Judah” as if it were of the root y—d—h, “praise” — “I will praise Yahweh”,25 and so on.
Even if the names were Semitic, let alone Hebrew, some of the sup-. posed derivations would be philologically impossible. Happily, myth- makers were not academic pedants, or the-world would be lacking some of its finest literature.
Such stories do not necessarily indicate whether or not the people who composed them had lost the real meanings of the names by that time, for word-play among the ancients, as we have seen, was a legitimate means of religious exposition and source of cultic story-telling. For the purposes of the plot and its moral, it was quite in order to spin out the old patriarchal names in this far-fetched way if the end-product served the cause of pious homiletics.
However, there are passages in some of the older oracles of the Old Testament where it is clear that the writers were aware of the meanings of the ancient names. For example, of Issachar Deborah sings: Why did you lie between the sheep-folds, listening to the piping of the flocks? (Judg 5:16).
Much the same phrase occurs of Issachar in the ancient oracle of Jacob on his sons: Issachar is a . . . ass, lying between the sheepfolds; and he saw a resting— place that it was good, and the land that it was sweet (na’imah) ; and he put his shoulder to the burden, and it was for him a worker’s labour (Gen 49: i4f.). Now, in such oracular snatches we have word-play of a very dil&rent order from those tales just quoted. And because they are dealing with the real meanings of the tribal names, as distinct from the fanciful plays on supposed Semitic roots, we have hitherto been at a loss to understand many of the references and allusions.
Now at last we shall be able to start breaking them down, but it will be no easy task. Since they ceased to be understood from a comparatively early time, the chances are that many of the key words will have been changed during transmission. Happily oral traditions are not so susceptible to change as those which are passed on by the written word. Children will remember a poem or song by heart without necessarily understanding every word.
We all have doubtless wondered in our youth why a “green hill” should need a “city wall” anyway. So for centuries the songs and oracles of the Old Testament will have come down exactly by word of mouth even though their dialects had ceased to be used, or the words had been carried out of their original territories. Nevertheless there will come a time when the poems will find written form, and the scribes will puzzle over forms and words quite strange to them.
They will guess at their meanings and here and there substitute more common words, or even add the colloquial “explanation” alongside the original. The modem researcher has to try and sort out the different literary strands. But if he himself has lost the key — in the case of the oldest Hebrew writings, the nature of the cult from which they came — there is little he can do but wait and hope that further archaeological or philological discoveries may shed new light on the points of difficulty.
Unfortunately, when the writings become the central fount of authority for another religion, or a wayward development of the old, there is a temptation to make sense of the inherited scriptures at all points, and at any cost. In such cases basic principles of grammar and syntax, and a free admittance of lexicographical ignorance, too often give way before the need for pious exposition.
To return to Issachar, “crouching between the sheep-folds”. Deborah’s taunt rests upon a wordplay on the Sumerian mushroom name, *LI...MASh..BA(LA)ANTA..TAB..BA..RI, read as “why are you resting (Semitic sh—b—kh, “be still, at peace”) in the pasture?”26
The next line of the Jacob Blessing: “and he saw a resting-place and it was good . . .“ gives a more obvious play on the Adonis mushroom name Na’iman (Semitic n—’—m, “be sweet”).27 The last phrase: “it was for him a worker’s labour” (Hebrew mas-’öbEd) provides a good instance of a change made in the text at some stage when the original word became dialectally out of fashion.28
The text probably first read mas-palakh and was intended as a play on MASh-BALAG of the mushroom name.29 Both phrases meant the same “forced labour” and to judge from the number of times that this theme appears in the Old Testament myths, it served their authors as a favorite source of word—play. The forced labour to which the Israelites were subject in their mythical sojourn in Egypt was in this way derived from the name of the sacred fungus.
successor on the throne, Solomon, for all his much-vaunted wisdom in
offering to share a baby between its rival claimant mothers with a
knife (I Kgs 3:16—28), showed less acumen in demanding forced labour
from his subjects (I Kgs 12:4). Furthermore, the same phrase also
had the implication of making a census of the people and thus
administering a tax as well as a work—levy system. Not unnaturally
this kind of administrative advance was not welcome. One account of
David’s eventual fall from grace was that he had designed such a
census and was punished by his god for doing so (II Sam 24).
The MASh-BALAG- ”census” theme of mushroom mythology gave the New Testament storyteller the dramatic means of bringing the pregnant Mary over a hundred miles of some of the roughest terrain in the world from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be delivered of the Christ child. It is the ungrateful pedant, or over—zealous religionist, who bothers overmuch about the likelihood that any Roman governor would have been so stark, raving mad as to require everyone in his territory to do a kind of “general post” to the place of their tribal origin for the purpose of being counted (Luke 2:3).
That particular author could, however, have saved subsequent less imaginative readers a great deal of worry and spilt ink if he had not seized upon a recollection of the name of one Syrian governor, Quinnius, to add colour to the tale. Unfortunately Quirinius did not become governor until AD 6, and King Herod, in whose time the birth of Jesus was supposed to have taken place, died a decade or so earlier.30
Still, even the best myth-makers cannot have everything their own way. The point of Quirinius (Greek Kürenios) is that his name nude an excellent word-play with both Grunon and Geraneion, Greek names of the fungus.31 The mushroom allusions in the snatches of song about Issachar are not only verbal. The “resting—place” sheepfold had a special significance in fungus imagery. It consisted basically of two barriers set out like a funnel, or an open “V” shape, through which the sheep could be driven into their fold.32
We have in this structure, the stylized configuration of the mushroom cap, supported by the stem, “lying between the folds”. In human physiological terms, Issachar, “mighty penis”, lies between the opened legs of the woman, and seeing “a resting place that it was good, and the land that it was sweet, puts his shoulder to the burden .“ To use another mushroom metaphor, Issachar stands ready to take up the yoke , or to bear his cross .
The word-play used to produce this “resting-place of animals” from *LIMASh..BA(LA) (.ANTA..TAB..BA..RI, served also the New Testament writers for their story about the “stable” at Bethlehem:
The authors spun out from that name of the sacred fungus “for him a resting-place in an animal’s stall”, as well as the more obvious play on pitrJ’, “mushroom”, and peter, “first—born”.34 At a more basic level of’ mushroom mythology was the image of the fungus as a “manger” with a sheltering canopy held by the stalk above the “cradle” or “feeding trough” of the lower half of the volva.
Possibly Euripides knows of a similar tradition to the Christian story when he has Pentheus order the unrecognized Dionysus to be carried off’ and “tied where the steeds are bound; let him lie in a manger, and stare into the darkness”.35 Adonis, then, was the prime fertility hero-god of the ancient Semitic and classical worlds. We have seen how his names fit into the mushroom pattern, and it is also apparent that the Hebrew David figure is portrayed in the same phallic form.
The Oracle ascribed to him paints him in these terms without any doubt, and his supposed patronymic, “Son of Jesse”, is but an attempt to reproduce in Hebrew form a Sumerian name of the phallus and probably the mushroom. The tribal name Issachar has a similar derivation and again, in the oldest oracles referring to this character, its fungus nature is plainly evident.
It appears that in the Old and the New Testaments, one of the old Semitic names for the mushroom, extant in a Punic version from North Africa, was misunderstood as suggesting an Egyptian origin for the fungus, and a resultant mythology brought Israel and the Holy Family from that country. The question must now be asked again, as indeed, these studies must continually provoke the enquiry, how much, if any, of these biblical traditions is history?
Despite the obvious allusions to an Adonis background for many of David’s epithets in the oracles and in the stories recounted about him, was there ever a real King David whose court chronicles gave some historical framework at least for the tales? Was there, for that matter, any Exodus, any Moses, any Abraham?
One difficulty in sorting out fact from fiction in folk-tales is that the characters are often made so human that the listener finds it quite easy to imagine them as real people, even identify himself with them. Where the same themes have been treated over centuries of story— telling, successive narrators have embroidered the tales and made his characters more and more believable until the point comes when even the most far—fetched adventures, the most unlikely exploits, amatory, warlike, or muscular, do not deter us from wondering whether behind it all there was not a real Adonis, a real Hercules, a real David Well, perhaps there was.
What we are concerned with in this present work is not trying to sift fiction from reality, the man David from the “stretched penis of Israel”, but to find out what we can from the names and epithets and from the various mythologies of the ancient world, to what extent and in what ways the sacred mushroom was worshipped, and how far its cult was responsible for the later mystery religions of the Near East and Christianity in particular.
It would not be surprising if real kings and heroes received names from their parents or their admirers traceable to titles of the mushroom, if they were adherents of the cult of the Holy Plant.
Their historicity is not proved or disproved thereby. Nevertheless, if all we know of a character in our sparse records of the ancient world reflect only mushroom mythology, like Jacob and Esau, for instance, or Cain and Abel, then there seems little point in arguing that they were ever real people. If there was a real Jacob, good; but then it has to be admitted we know very little about him.
A quite different situation obtains, however, with regard to the New Testament characters. Here, for reasons already stated and which by now should be apparent to the reader, we are dealing with a cryptic document.
This is a different kind of mythology, based not on pious aggrandizement by later admirers, as has been so often assumed in the past, but a deliberate attempt to mislead the reader. There is every reason why there should not have been a real Jesus of Nazareth, at least not one connected with the sect of Christians, nor a real John the Baptist, Peter, John, James, and so on.
To have named them, located their homes and families, would have brought disaster upon their associates in a cult which had earned the hatred of the authorities.