Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sacred Mountains and Pillars

Alice C. Linsley

“And the mountains shall be melted under him: and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as waters that run down a steep place.” (Micah 1:4)

“The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.” (Psalm 97:5)

Mount Tabor

The Connection Between Mountains, Pillars and Shrines

Mountains among the ancient Afro-Asiatic peoples were regarded as meeting places between God and Man. Volcanos spoke of God's power to create new earth and were associated with male ejaculation. Thus the connection between stone pillars, mountains and shrines. We find this in the story of Jacob setting up a pillar and calling that place "Beth-el", house of God (Gen. 28:10-22). Then we are told that Jacob anointed the pillar, as Hindus today anoint the lingam.

Each region had a sacred mountain and the people living near it claimed that it belonged to them. Covenants were formed on these mountains. In an earlier essay on “Finding Noah’s Ark”, it was noted that Noah offered sacrifice to the Lord on “the mountain of life after” and that God established a covenant with Noah and his descendents.

Pillars also represented deified heroes in the temples and shrines. Temples were constructed of many pillars, both inside and out. The ancient temple at Heliopolis (Biblical On) was a place of pillars. To the church at Philadelphia Christ says: “Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev.3:10-13).

This church is to the Kingdom of God what Heliopolis was to the ancient Horites. It is the place of true worship, characterized by many pillars (iunu) in the temple. Iunu refers to the pillared temple of Heliopolis. The pillars represented the righteous ones in the temple of God. Exodus 24:4 explains that the twelve pillars in God's house represent the twelve tribes upon which God has inscribed the holy Name.

Follow the Mountains: A Different View of the Exodus

After leaving Egypt, the clan of Jacob (Israel) journeyed by stages, making contact with Hebrew kinsmen at each stage. The first people to help them were their cousins the Midianites (descendants of Abraham by Keturah) in the region of Horeb, the Midianite sacred mountain (Deut. 29:1). Another people to help them were the Edomites related to Seir the Horite Hebrew chief named in Genesis 36. The Edomite sacred mountain was Paran (Deut. 33:2). Crossing through Edomite territory (where Aaron was buried), the Hebrews moved northeast into Moab. They visited with Lot’s descendants and worshipped on Mount Nebo (Deut. 32:49), where Moses died. At each of these sacred sites, the reunion of kin was celebrated by a covenant that included animal sacrifice and a night of feasting. These covenants likely resembled the covenant made between Jacob and Laban at Mizpah (Gen. 31:44-54).

Temples as Man-Made Mountains

Where there were no mountains, the Afro-Asiatics built ziggurats or pyramids. The Babylonian ziggurats were quadrangular and aligned with the cardinal points: the East representing the rising light or the arousal of God, and the West representing the future or the dusk of time. The alignment of the man-made mountains to the cardinal points is significant. We find this in the (Ethiopian) Book of Enoch. Enoch was regarded as a great prophet who saw the coming day of judgment. In chapter 17:1-7, we read:

“And they took and brought me to a place in which those who were there were like flaming fire, and, when they wished, they appeared as men. And they brought me to the place of darkness, and to a mountain the point of whose summit reached to heaven. And I saw the places of the luminaries [sun and moon] and the treasuries of the stars and of the thunder and in the uttermost depths, where were a fiery bow and arrows and their quiver, and a fiery sword and all the lightning. And they took me to the living waters, and to the fire of the West, which receives every setting of the sun. And I came to a river of fire in which the fire flows like water [volcano] and discharges itself into the great sea towards the west. I saw every large river, until I arrived at the great darkness. I went to where all flesh migrates; and I beheld the mountains of the gloom which constitutes winter, and the place from which issues the water in every abyss.”

(While Christians often dismiss the Book of Enoch, we should remember that Jude quotes Enoch, chapter 2: “Behold, he comes with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon them, and destroy the wicked, and reprove all the carnal for everything which the sinful and ungodly have done, and committed against him.”)

The Babylonian temple mounts were referred to as houses ("beth" in Hebrew) or high places. The temple of Bel at Nippur bears the name “E-Kur” which means “mountain house”. One of the oldest temples found in Assyria bears the name “E-Kharsag-Kurkura” which means “house of the mountain of all lands”. This may be analogous to the Israelite conception of the temple on Mount Zion as “a house of prayer for all nations.”

It was believed that God resided at the summit of the universe, which was at the seventh firmament. This is why the ziggurats were seven stories. This notion stands behind Saint Paul’s mystical experience of being taken to the third heaven.

Mountains in Traditional African Societies

Many tribes in Africa claim mountains as their sacred ladder to heaven. For the Gikuyu, Mount Kenya is the sacred mountain. They call it “Kere-Nyaga” which means Mountain of Brightness. For the Masai, the sacred mountain is the active volcano "Oldoinyo LeNgai" in Tanzania. "Ngai" is the name for the supreme God among the Gikuyu and the Masai.

The typical village is arranged with the “fathers’ house” (where the elders meet) in the center. Its roof is usually domed to represent a mountain. Among the Baganda (Uganda) the royal tombs have peaked roofs, symbolizing mountains or pillars.

Mircea Eliade wrote extensively about the connection between mountains and the sacred center. (See The Sacred and the Profane, especially pages 36-47). In placing the Fathers' House in the center of the village, traditional Africans conceive of their village as being situated at the navel of the world. This notion of the center as a place of meeting between God and Man is found among tribal peoples around the world.

The Great Zimbabwe water collection system involved pillars such as these. 

Egyptian and Canaanite Religion

The religion of the Canaanites was influenced by the sensuality of Egyptian religion. The festival dedicated to Amun-Min, who inseminated the earth and brought about plentiful harvests, was celebrated in the spring. A statue of Min, with erect phallus, was placed on an inclined pedestal that represented the primordial mountain. After the pharaoh's enthronement at the harvest festival, four arrows were shot toward the north, east, south, and west, and birds were released in the directions of the cardinal points.

Sacred prostitution was a fact of life among some Canaanite populations, but generally shunned by the Egyptians who valued purity of life among their priests. In ancient Egypt and Canaan fertility was a sign of blessing. Motherhood was venerated, giving a woman with children higher social status.

The obsession with fertility led to decadence among some populations. This focus on the creature rather than on the Creator is what some of the later Old Testament Prophets criticized. They spoke against the "high places" with their sacred poles which they equated with sexual activities (perhaps such as that described between Tamar and Judah).

The Egyptians regarded their kings as channels of blessing. This why the Pharaoh who took Sarah was so angry with Abraham (Gen. 12:10-20). Had the king committed adultery with Sarah, he and his entire kingdom would have been under divine judgment.

The Mountain of Judgment

The Prophets Enoch and Micah, and the author of Psalm 97, speak of the mountains melting before the Lord. This is an image of the Day of Judgment and is imagined as "Armageddon" in the Book of Revelation. Armageddon is a corruption of the Hebrew "Har Megiddo" which means "Mountain of Megiddo". Megiddo is a site of multiple judgments, one piled on top of another.

Eric Cline, Chairman of the Department of Classical and Semitic Languages and Literature at George Washington University will be digging in Armageddon next summer. He reports, "Armageddon is a real place: Har Megiddo, the Mountain of Megiddo in Israel. We go out every other year... and we've got 20 cities one on top of another from about 3000 BC, until about 300 BC, from the Canaanite period to the Persian period."

Cline writes, "During the past 4000 years, at least 34 bloody conflicts have already been fought at the ancient site of Megiddo and adjacent areas of the Jezreel Valley. Egyptians, Canaanites, Israelites, Midianites, Amalekites, Philistines, Hasmonaeans, Greeks, Romans, Muslims, Crusaders, Mamlukes, Mongols, French, Ottomans, British, Australians, Germans, Arabs and Israelis have all fought and died here. The names of the warring generals and leaders reverberate throughout history: Thutmose III, Deborah and Barak, Sisera, Gideon, Saul and Jonathan, Shishak, Jehu, Joram, Jezebel, Josiah, Antiochus, Ptolemy, Vespasian, Saladin, Napoleon, and Allenby, to name but a few of the most famous. Throughout history Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley have been Ground Zero for battles that determined the very course of civilization. It is no wonder that the author of Revelation believed Armageddon, the penultimate battle between good and evil, would also take place in this region!"

Related reading: Peaks and Valleys; The Christ in Nilotic Mythology; Mount Mary and the Origins of Life; Mount Moriah; Mount Where Noah's Ark Landed


Anonymous said...

Another super article. Do you have any words related to Mount Moriah. I find that to be a profoundly important mount not only for God's people -- but for me as well. Thanks for your excellent work. Rick+

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks, Rick+. The story of Mount Moriah is so special that I am writing a separate article on that and will post it soon.

Have a blessed Christmas! We have much to be thankful for this year.

AR said...

Alice, is this practice related to the Tower of Bable? And if so, why in your opinion was God so offended at their building a tower that would reach to heaven? Thanks.

Alice C. Linsley said...

AR, The "Tower of Babel" is a symbol of human rebellion, just as the poles set up at the Canaanite high places became symbols of rebellion against God's revealed truth. There were many towers or ziggaruts in Babylon and they came to represent more than places of worship. They also represented the grandeur of Babylon. It is against this worship of the Babylonian cult that God showed anger. The tower symbolizes the cult. Likewise, Jesus was angry at how the Jews had made God's House in Jerusalem a place of commerce.

AR said...

I see what you mean. Thank you.

Georgia said...

"The tower of Babel symbolizes human rebellion... the cult..."

GOD has said HE alone is to be our strong tower, rock, defense, provider. When we turn to others or try to make our own towers, it is truly rebellion and idolatry.

Georgia said...

Is the mountain at Megiddo a real mountain or a Tell, a pile of ruins of multiple cities one built upon the other over centuries?

Alice C. Linsley said...

It is Tel Megiddo, about 22 miles north of Shechem and 15 miles south of Haifa, on the southern edge of the Valley of Megiddo (II Chronicles 35:22; Zechariah 12:11). The valley is also refered to as the Plain of Esdraelon and the Valley of Jezreel. There were wine presses there. Ahab stole the vineyard of Naboth of Jezreel.

Hosea was told to name his son by his harlot wife "Jezreel" (Hos. 1:4) because God would "break the bow of Israel" in the Valley of Jezreel. Hosea represents the southern kingdom of Judah which was critical of the idolatry of the northern kingdom of Israel.