XVIII - The Garden of Adonis, Eden and
Delight; Zealots and Muslims
Then he said to me,
Jerome translates Tammuz here as Adonis,1 quite properly, since the Mesopotamian hero-deity was but another representation of the Semitic and Greek Adonis, known and worshipped, particularly by women, all over the ancient Near East. Jerome also records that in Bethlehem of his time (fourth—fifth century) there was still a grove connected with Adonis.2
It was the practice in the so-called “gardens of Adonis” for women to gather round pots in which certain seedlings had been shallowly planted and to try and urge their germination by various means, including loud lamentation for the dead god.
The heat of the sun and the method of planting and fertilization seem to have had a seemingly magical effect, but under the circumstances of their propagation the shoots soon withered away. Whatever the plants were that the women later chose for their agricultural ritual,3 a kind of sympathetic magic to promote the growth of the crops, the origin of the cult is clearly seen in the search for the sacred mushroom in the “holy mountains” of the north. The transient nature of the “gardens of Adonis” is exemplified in the rapid growth and as speedy disappearance of the mushroom.
Jonah’s “sunshade” fungus was eaten by worms the day after it appeared: “it came into being in a night and perished in a night” (Jonah 3 :io). A modern observer of the Amanita muscaria detected its first appearance at 8 a.m. and by 4 p.m. the same day the fungus was fully grown and beginning to rot.4
The Phalloidic species, like the Stink-horn, Phallus impudicus, rises some three inches in half an hour, and the whole erection is complete in one and a half hours.5
Isaiah comments on the same feature of the “Adonis plant” when he speaks of the cultic practice thus: For you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge; therefore, though you plant the plantings of Na’iman (RSV: “pleasant plants”), and sow the sacred mushroom (RSV: “set out ships of an alien god”), though you make them grow on the day that you plant them, and make them blossom in the morning that you sow; yet the harvest will flee away in a day of grief and incurable pain (Isa 17:Iof.).6
The names Adonis and Na’iman given to the god, known in Mesopotamia as Tammuz (“Son of Life”),7 have much the same meaning as we saw earlier. Adonis comes probably from a Sumerian phrase *A]>Jl)JTAN, “heavenly shade”, so that the use of the name in the Bible as a divine epithet and ordinary noun meaning simply “lord”, implies the “protective, overshadowing” function of lordship.8 Similarly, Na’iman, derives from a Sumerian *NA_..A_AN, “stretched across the heavens”,9 so that both Adonis and Na’iman can have a particular botanical reference to the cap of the mushroom.
This new tracing of the names of Adonis/Na’iman to their source enables us to discover the origin of the phrase “gardens of Adonis”, as used by the ancient writers. It also points to the origin of the “Garden of Eden” story and its mushroom connections. We can even look on much further in time and for the first time uncover the source and nature of the name and associations of those warlike patriots of the Jewish world, the first-century “Zealots”, as they were called. First, the “garden” motif that is so prevalent in the mushroom culture and mythology.
It derives from a misunderstanding (or fanciful interpretation) of a Sumerian word, GAN. This has two general meanings: first, an “enclosed area”, a “field”, or a “garden”, and it is with this significance that it came on down into the Semitic world as gan. Second, GAN meant the “canopy” top of the mushroom, or anything of similar rounded shape.10 Prefaced to NA-IM-A—AN, “stretched across the heavens”, it would have the latter connotation, “arched canopy, stretched across the heavens”, a description of the cap of the mushroom, writ large, as it were.
However, brought down as a name of the sacred fungus into Semitic, as gan-Na’iman, it would have been read as “garden of Na’iman, Adonis”. In other words, what the botanists understood as a “grove” or “garden” dedicated to the god, was, in fact, just a name of the mushroom itself. Mushroom names came to be used to express generally the idea of “good living, luxuriousness”. In Semitic, Na’iman developed a root meaning “be sweet, pleasant, delightful”.11 Thus the phrase “gan-Na’— iman” came to be understood not only as “the garden of Adonis/ Na’iman” but also as “the garden of delight”.
Hebrew’s equivalent noun for this
kind of luxuriating is ‘eden, and so was born the name of the
homeland of our first parents, the “Garden of Eden.”12 In the Muslim
Scriptures, the Qur’an, Paradise is given the more original form,
“gan—Na’iman”, in Arabic
Among Semitic words derived from this root was one, qanna’, “be red in the face”, and so implying a pent-up emotion like jealousy, zeal, eager rivalry, and the like.15 It is thus used of God, as jealous of his honor, and of men as “zealous”, or, as we might say, as displaying a hot-headed emotion, letting their hearts rule their heads.
Josephus speaks of the Maccabean rebels of the second pre-Christian century as “zealous for their country’s laws and the worship of God”.16 In this he speaks with obvious approval. But he uses the same adjective as a proper name or title of another group of rebels of the first century AD who formed the hard core of the Jewish rebellion against Rome and which was to destroy the Temple and drive the Jewish people of Palestine to swell the ranks of the Dispersion. Josephus has little love for these “Zealots” (Greek Zeiötai): “for so these miscreants called themselves, as though they were zealous in the cause of virtue and not for vice in its basest and most extravagant form”.17
This may not have been entirely fair, but certainly their actions brought death to thousands of innocent people. Believing themselves possessed of some special power and knowledge, the Zealots provoked a revolt throughout Palestine which brought down on Jews everywhere the might of Rome. The Romans were ever tolerant of other people’s religions or superstitions but they could under no circumstances allow political to take hold within the empire, on however cini a religious pretext.
This was particularly the case with Palestine, which always was and still is the world’s storm-centre of political and religious emotions. When the Zealot revolt began in Caesarea in AD 66, the Romans moved quickly and ruthlessly against the rebels, driving them south and finally besieging them in Jerusalem. In AD 70, the Temple itself was destroyed, and three years later the last rebel stronghold at Masada by the Dead Sea was reduced.
In the details of this bloody and quite unnecessary war, Josephus, although he grew to hate the Zealots, on whose side he had once fought, cannot refrain from expressing a grudging admiration for their almost inhuman disregard for their personal safety, and for the way in which they would willingly expose themselves and their families to certain death rather than submit to the enemies of their god.
He tells us in the most moving terms, of the events that led, in May, AD 73, to the final collapse of the revolt and the death of the last survivors. Nearly a thousand men, women and children, facing almost certain annihilation at the hands of the Romans besieging Masada, decided to commit suicide rather than fall into the power of the enemy.
They chose ten men from the rest by ballot. These cut the throats of their comrades and their families, and, having chosen one of their number, submitted their own throats to his knife. When the gruesome deeds were done, and amidst the smoking remains of their last stores and the blood of his fellow Jews, this last Zealot plunged his sword into his own heart.18 Recent archaeological excavations at the great fortress site have added some measure of conformation to the story,19 embroidered though it certainly is by the Jewish historian’s sense of drama.
The long speech that he puts into the mouth of the Zealot leader in Masada, one Eleazar, must certainly be fictitious, not least in that he is made to blame his fellow sectarians for the misery the revolt had brought upon the Jews:
There is one section of the speech, however, which if it is not a verbatim report of what Eleazar actually said, may be assumed to be a summary of Zealot ideas about the nature of the soul and its loose association with the body:
One is reminded of what the historian had said about the Essenes in similar vein:
Its... is that information gained whilst in that condition is necessarily more accurate than what can be reasoned by the brain under normal conditions. It was this confidence in their own prophecies of the future, and their inalienable right to determine other people’s lives that made such religious fanatics a menace to themselves and their fellow-men.
Given the idea that they had been vouchsafed by the god a source of knowledge unshared by other mortals, and were thus raised above the rest of the world as a master-race, this self-delusion could and did become a major political hazard.
The kingdom of God became the kingdom of this world. We may wonder, therefore, whether we should not see behind the complimentary title “Zealots”, Hebrew Qanna’im,23 another word of exactly similar form corresponding to the Arabic gannati—nna’imi, “gardens of delight”, deriving as we have seen, from the Sumerian mushroom title, *GAN_NA.JM_A_AN.
If this is so, it places the first- century Zealots in the same category of mushroom-worshippers and users of the powerful drug obtained there from as the frantic Maenads and the Christians, similarly the object of persecution by upholders of law and order. That the Sumerian form just cited did in fact come into Hebrew at a very early stage is indicated by the name given in the Bible to the oldest inhabitants of the country around Hebron and Philistia, the ‘Anăqim, in all probability a jumbled form of the Sumerian *GAN... NA-IM—AAN.24
These “great and tall people” (Deut 9:2) were identified with “giants” (gigantes) by the early Greek translators.25 We saw earlier how that word derived from a Sumerian original meaning, “sky-shade”, implying a mighty man holding up the canopy of heaven, and how from the original form came the Greek Antimimon, as one of the names of the Mandrake.26 It is, furthermore, to the same root that we may probably trace one of the Greek titles of the mushroom-twins, the Dioscouroi, Anakes.27
Other indications also point to the identification of the “Zealots” with the sacred fungus. They were otherwise known as the Sicarii, or Assassins. At least, it is generally assumed that where Josephus speaks of these “bandits”, as he calls them, he is talking of the Zealots or ruffians associated with them.
The passage is worth quoting in full since it indicates the kind of religious fanaticism which Josephus blames for the Jewish troubles of the first-century:
The name Sicarii is usually assumed to be a reference to the short sickle blade (Latin sica) carried by the assassins under their cloaks. Elsewhere, Josephus says that “they employed daggers, in size resembling the scimitars of the Persians, but curved and more like the weapons called by the Romans sicae.”288
We may now reasonably suppose that the real allusion is to the sacred mushroom, the saqrätiyün of the modern Persian, the “Iscariot” of the New Testament story, the “Dioskouroi” of the classicists.29 Certainly the s-k-r root and its variants came into Indo—European as in Semitic with the meaning of “curved”, like the sickle-blade weapon, but its root as now we see lay in the Sumerian *USh_GU_RI, “knobbed bolt; phallus”, which gave the name to the fungus. It was the curved top of the mushroom canopy that gave that connotation to the root.30
It would seem then that the “Zealots” and the “Sicarii” are one and the same, and that the common reference to both names is the sacred mushroom that gave them their dangerous hallucinations and much of their motive force. These Jewish fanatics were not the only drug- maddened lunatics to disrupt society with their inated notions of self- importance and belief in a divinely ordained mission to change the world order.
As we shall
see in the next section, Islam, too, has had its “Zealots” prompted
very probably by the same drug.
Thus speaks the Qur’an on the subject:
Wherever Muhammad found his (earthly) inspiration for the picture of heaven he paints in the Qur’an, it must have been within a community which still knew the name of the sacred fungus “gan-Na’iman” and associated it with the “tree of life” of Paradise, the “Garden of Sex” as the name probably meant originally.31 Indeed, one of the many puzzles about the Qur’an and the Arabian prophet is where he found his Judaeo Christian ideas.32
That he was in touch with Jewish and Christian communities throughout his life and work is, of course, well known. But some of his versions of Bible stories, of the Old and the New Testament, are so strange and so interesting in themselves, that scholars have long been puzzled to know how many of them came to be in such aberrant forms, and under what circumstances the Prophet could have heard or misconstrued them. Even more interesting is the special vocabulary that he uses in the Qur’an.
He employs words which are often not Arabic and are certainly derived from Christian Aramaic sources,33 but sometimes with a peculiar connotation unexampled elsewhere. One or two very special phrases, like the “gardens of delight” above, seem to stem directly from the mushroom cult, and remembering that by his time (seventh century AD) the Church had managed to purge itself of its “heresies”, driving these communities out into the deserts, one may reasonably wonder if some of the Christian communities with whom Muhammad fraternized may not have been more truly representative of the older and truer “Christianity” than the Byzantine Church that had taken their place.
Here also, there is a promising field for fizrther research. For example, one intriguing problem about the Prophet’s revelations of Paradise is the source of his ideas about the “wide—eyed houris” who ‘were so warmly to entertain the heroes of Islam. Indeed, the precise significance of the epithet he applies to them of “wide—eyed” has been a matter for debate.34
Literally the Arabic words mean “white of eye” signifying that the white of the eye has been accentuated, setting off the darkness of the pupil. As we know, this can be achieved cosmetically by painting the lids with a dark pigment. A woman so adorned is called in Aramaic mestabăthJ’, of the root s—b—t, “set right”.35 (Our word “cosmetics” comes from the Greek cosmos, properly “that which is in order”, so the “universe”.
Cosmetics are, then, literally, what put a girl “right”, at least, in theory.) It appears that Muhammad, in his description of the fair inhabitants of Paradise, is heir to a very old piece of word-play between the Aramaic mestabathă’ , “adorned woman”, and the Sumerian mushroom name *MASh_Tj1J_BA_PJ_TI.36
We see it again in the story of jezebel in an incident which is otherwise connected with mushroom nomenclature. When Jehu came to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her eyes, and adorned her head, and looked out of the window. And as Jehu entered the gate, she said, “Is it peace, you Zimri, murderer of your master?” (II Kgs 9:30—3 r).
In “murderer of your master” it is not difficult to see a word-play on the plant-name Cotyledon, which we already noticed as derived from the Sumerian GU-TAL--U-DUN, ball-and-socket; penis-and-vulva and thus to be related to the sexual characteristics of mushroom imagery. 37 Jezebel has become the prime exponent of the seductive art through her biblical portrayal, and similarly the “wide-eyed houris” of Muhammad s Paradise are the adorned ones, the Semitic reading of the sacred fungus.
We may therefore deduce that wherever the Prophet found his religious vocabulary relating to heaven, they were identifying by word-play the “ganNa’iman”, “Adonis-garden” or “garden of delight”, with the mestabăthJ’, “adorned one”, and Muhammad, not unreasonably took it that these ladies were the inhabitants of the heavenly gardens.
The New Testament has the same word-play in a passage whose fresh elucidation leads on to discovering more about Muhammad and his “Muslims”. In the first epistle of Peter there is a long 24) Lon the necessity for women to be submissive to their husbands. It reads: Likewise, you wives, be submissive to your husbands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, when they see your reverent and chaste behavior.
Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of robes; but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves and were submissive to their husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are now her children if you do right and let nothing terrify you (I Pet 3:1—7).
The whole passage has probably been woven together from the same name of the sacred mushroom, *MASh...T_BA_RI...TI from which the astute author derived Aramaic expressions for “be willing”,38 “be adorned”, and “hope”.39
Of the over-all tenor of the passage and its matrimonial relevance, either in the first century or in the twentieth, we need not dwell. We shall have occasion later to discuss the validity of the ethics and homiletic teachings of the Bible in the light of our new understanding of the cryptic nature of so much of the text. What is of more importance for the moment is the word-play between the Aramaic mestebit ha’ , “submissive”, and the mushroom name *MASh_T/.1_ BA-RI-TI, and its possible source for Muhammad’s teaching.
For the Prophet called his followers “The Submissive Ones”, Muslims, literally, “those who have handed themselves over, are submissive”,40 and this complete submissiveness is an important characteristic of the religion, amounting in Western eyes often to a quite unacceptable fatalism. To the women of the East, this doctrine of submission has brought tragic results, symbolized by the veil which even now after some thirteen centuries is being cast aside only with the greatest difficulty.
When, to the utter astonishment and disgust of the wives of his first Medinan followers, the Prophet insisted on their submission to their menfolk, tradition has it that the innovation met with some resistance. For among the desert-dwelling folk at least the women mixed freely with the men before the coming of Islam.41
Muhammad’s faithful disciple Omar is said to have bitterly complained that the men of his tribe used to dominate their women but “when we came among the ‘Helpers’ (the Ansär ofMedina), they proved to be a people whose women dominated them, and our wives have come to copy the habits of the women of the Ansăr”.41a How far pre—Islamic Arabia was a matriarchal society is in ispute; perhaps the movement towards a patriarchal system was already in progress by the seventh century.4 lb Nevertheless, not all the women of the Faith accepted the veil so easily. The niece of’A’isha, the Prophet’s favourite wife, asserted her independence and persisted in going unveiled before all men despite her husband’s protests.41c
In fact, the Qur’an is not at all clear in those texts41’1 which have been understood as making the veil obligatory, and it seems more than likely that the extremes to which the seclusion of women was taken in Islam owed more to the interpretation of later Persian theologians than the Qur’an itself.41e Nevertheless, the principle of “submission” was basic to the new Faith, and we may well wonder now whether this doctrine derived from the kind of Petrine homiletics we have just noticed, coming ultimately from wordplay upon the name of the sacred fungus.
Thus, anyway, the Qur’an speaks on the rightful attitude of women: The men are overseers over the women by reason of what Allah has bestowed in bounty upon one more than the other, and of the property which they have contributed (the marriage-price). Upright women are therefore submissive, guarding what is hidden in return for Allah’s guarding them.
Those on whose part ye fear refractoriness, admonish, avoid in
bed, and beat. If they then obey you, seek no (further) way against
They were known more generally as “Assassins” because their complete subservience to the will of their religious masters, without regard for personal danger, was the result of their taking a drug known as khashish, our “Hashish”.43
The sect was formed as a secret society around 1090 when they won control, by stratagem, of the mountain fortress of Alainut in Persia. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries they and their successors spread terror throughout Persia and Syria, and were finally only put down after some 12,000 of them had been massacred.
For some time small bodies of Assassins lingered on in the mountains of Syria, and some think the cult is not entirely dead even now. The herb which gave them their name, khaslzish, “Hashish”, means in Arabic no more than “dried herbage”. If used of a particular drug it properly requires some qualification, like “Red Hashish”,. meaning Belladonna, Deadly Nightshade.44
The word Hashish alone has become attached to one particular form, Cannabis sativa, or Hemp, and the enervating drug made from its resin. But it is difficult to believe that the “pot”-smokers of today, the weary dotards who wander listlessly round our cities and universities, are the spiritual successors of those drug-crazed enthusiasts who, regardless of their safety, stormed castles and stole as assassins into the strongholds of their enemies. If their “Hashish” correctly interprets Cannabis then the latter must represent some more potent drug.
The Greek word Kannabis may now be traced to the Sumerian element GAN, “mushroom top”, followed by the word which we saw earlier was part of the name of the New Testament Barnabas, and meant “red, speckled with white”45 denoting, in other words, the color of the Amanita muscaria. As well as the transfer of its name to the less powerful “Hashish”, it underwent a jumbling of its form to produce the Greek Panakës,46 a mysterious plant also called Asciepion (elsewhere used of the mushroom), which required atonement to the earth of various cereals when pulled up.47
It seems, therefore probable that the original Cannabis was the sacred fungus, and that the drug which stimulated the medieval Assassins to self—immolation was the same that brought the Zealots to their awful end on Masada a millennium earlier. Indeed, we may now seriously consider the possibility that the Assassin movement was but a resurgence of a cultic practice that was part of Islam from the beginning, and had its real origin thousands of years before that.
It seems to be a pattern of religious movements based on the sacred fungus that long periods of relative calm and stagnation are interspersed with flashes of violent extremism which die away again after persecution, only to re—emerge in much later generations. In this, history is reflecting the action of the drug itself on its partakers. After hectic bouts of uncontrolled activity, the fungus-eater will collapse in a stupor from which only a resurgence of the stimulatory poison in his brain will arouse him.
Israelitism was based upon the cult of the sacred fungus, as its tribal names and mythologies now show. The extremes of some of its adherents bred their own internal and external opposition, and after the disastrous rebellions against the Assyrians and Babylonians of the eighth and sixth centuries c, a period of reaction set in, and the past was forcibly expunged from Judaism under the reform movements of the sixth—fifth centuries.
mushroom cult went underground to reappear with even more disastrous
results in the first and second centuries A.D when the Zealots and
their successors again challenged the might of Rome.
By then its priests were
raising wafers and sweet wine at the altar and trying to convince
their followers that the host had miraculously become the flesh and
juice of the god.