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The pagan cult on Tabor

(by Teresa Petrozzi - translated by Raphael Bonanno ofm)

According to various scholars Tabor was a seat for idolatrous worship for a certain period of time. Here are some modern hypotheses.

Hertzberg held that Tabor had one of the most ancient and popular sanctuaries of Palestine before the Israelites. He leans to the opinion that the divinity worshipped there was the Baal Sedeq, the Baal of justice.

Boehmer thought that the god adored there was very important since the word Tabor, or its root, is found in other different place names of the area: Hadabrat (Daberath, today Daburiyeh or Khirbet Dabura); Chislot Tabor (today Iksal); Aznot Tabor (probably to the east of the mountain). The Phoenicians later would have carried this cult beyond the seas but the name of the god was known. Boehmer thought that the divinity was known in Palestine as Baal of Tabor, a god of nature and fertility.

For Eissfeld the Baal of Tabor would have been a god of the elements, somewhat like Baal Hadad, from whom the faithful expected protection in their necessities and in danger, and success in their new ventures. The archaeological finds of Beth-Shean, Minet el-Beda and Ras esh-Shamra, which revealed the cult to Baal Saphon, Reshef and Mekal, led Eissfeld to believe that the sanctuary on Tabor was before the 16th-15th c. BC. On the expansion of the cult he cites some literary sources which show its development.

The information from the most ancient times is found in Philo of Biblos (c 64-140 AD) who, in his book Phoenician History, has passages of a writing by Sanchuniaton, a Phoenician priest, who had lived at the time of Solomon. According to Sanchuniaton and Philo, the "mortal sons" of Ghenos had had sons who surpassed them in size and strength. From them came the names of four mountains: Casio, Lebanon, the Antilebanon (Hermon) and Brathu. The latter mountain had not been identified and so Eissfeld thinks it was Tabor. Brathu was either a simple error of the copyist: THABYR becomes BRATHY or a corruption of to Atabyrion which became Debrathu and later Brathu. Beyond the Baals of Casio, Lebanon, and Hermon there was also a Baal of Tabor. The Canaanites or Phoencians later took the cult to Crete where the divinity had assumed the name of Atabyrion. This information is extracted from the source: Diodorus Siculus or the Sicilian[1], a contemporary of Julius Caesar. The oracle had prophesied to Altaimene, son of Catreus the king and nephew of Minosse, that he would kill his father. To avoid this disaster Altaimene left Crete and, with a group of people, went to Rhodes where he founded the temple to Zeus Atabyrion, in honor of the most important god of his homeland. Diodorus adds that in his day the temple was still popular. Other writers who lived before and after Diodorus also speak about this temple on Rhodes. Among them are Polibius, Strabo, Pliny the Elder and Lattantius[2]. From Rhodes the cult spread to Sicily. About 582 BC Gela took it to Akragas, modern Agrigento, a colony and on the highest point of the acropolis he built a temple to Zeus Atabyrion, whose ruins today probably lie under the cathedral of St Gerlando.

Lewy recalls that in Palestine and regions nearby of the ancient Middle East, the inhabitants often gave the name of their gods to cities or mountains and the god became the patron of the place. This same author tends to believe that the name of the divinity on Tabor was Tabor, the metal-worker, that is Tammuz. A very ancient Sumerian city, bad ti-bi-ra, the wall of the blacksmiths, was dedicated to Tammuz and to Ishtar; a cuneiform text (from Assur n. 19522) says that one of the gates of the ancient Assyrian capital was known as a-bul ta-bi-ra ( or ti-bi-ra or ta-bu-ra), the gate of the blacksmiths. Ti-bi-ra, the blacksmith, was one of the numerous names for Tammuz, the god of fertility, considered the inventor of the art of working with metals and patron of the smiths of all kinds. It would have been the Sumerians or the Assyrians that carried the cult of this god into Canaan. The Tubal of Gn 4:22 the maker father of all workers in copper or iron, the Sumerian ti-bi-ra and the Assyrian ta-bu-ra would then be variations of one word with the same meaning. On the other hand, Lewy continues, it could also have been the inhabitants of the metal-bearing region of Tabal (Taurus), called the Tibarenoi by the Greeks and the Taberenes by the Latins, who carried beyond their frontiers this cult to the blacksmith-god. Finally Lewy re-jects the hypothesis that the cult on Crete and Rhodes had any connection with that on Tabor.

The idol of Tabor has been reconstructed, almost extracted, from the literary sources, however meager. The cult could have developed in a simple sacred wood and some passages of the Old Testament mention a form of idolatry which lasted sporadically until the end of the 8th c. BC. Recent information though confirm the existence of a doric hellenistic temple on the mountain [3]



[1] Diodorus Siculus: Bibliotheca, V, 59, 1-2.

[2] Polibius, Historiarum reliquiae, IX, 27, 7-8. Strabo, Geographica, XIV, 2, 12. Pliny the Elder, Naturalis historiae V, 132. Lattantius, Divinae institutiones,I, 22, 22-23.

[3] Alliata E., "Elementi del culto pagano sul Monte della Trasfigurazione", in Memoriam sanctorum venerantes, Miscellanea in onore di Mons. Victor Saxer, Studi di Antichitą cristiana PIAC 48, Cittą del Vaticano 1992, pp. 1-10

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