(ORDO NEWS) — Archaeologists who have explored the ancient city for decades have found many temples dedicated to various gods.
But more than 200 thanksgiving and prayer inscriptions were addressed to some god, whose name was not mentioned in these inscriptions, which led to the emergence of the concept of “the unknown god of Palmyra”. Perhaps not everything is as it was supposed before.
The question of who founded Palmyra is complex. Josephus Flavius wrote that King Solomon built the city. But, according to modern archaeologists, it was originally a Hurrian settlement.
Once Palmyra was a modest caravan city, but in the 1st-2nd centuries AD the city became an intermediary in trade between Rome and the East – Persia, China, India. In 212, the emperor Caracalla proclaimed Palmyra a Roman province and stationed legions in its vicinity.
And in 260, during the crisis of the empire, a separate state was formed there – the Palmyra kingdom (Palmyrene), which fell after 13 years. Then the city was destroyed and never reached its former splendor.
In the Middle Ages, the inhabitants of the surrounding area used the stones of the destroyed temples and houses as building material – for example, to build a dam.
Therefore, archaeologists of the 20th century got Palmyra in a very difficult form for research. Nevertheless, they were able to divide the relatively preserved buildings according to their purpose, and the temples according to which gods they are dedicated to.
It was difficult with the gods in Palmyra. Ancient Babylonian traditions, the Arab pantheon, even the Akkadian gods – all this is mixed together and cemented from above by Hellenism (during its heyday, Palmyra was a Hellenistic city).
So, for example, in the city the temples of Bel (the supreme god of Babylon and Assyria), Baalshamem (the Canaanite god of the sky and storm) and Zeus almost coexisted.
Bel is considered the earliest image of the supreme god, which then becomes Baal among some Semitic peoples, and Baalshamem among others. In Hellenistic culture, Zeus was the supreme god, so his name began to appear in ancient temples dedicated to Bel and Baalshamem.
In fact, there are many more gods and temples of Palmyra. All temples are correlated with one or another deity – according to the main statues and dedications.
But over decades of searching, scientists now and then came across inscriptions in which the name of God was not called, and there was also no schematic representation of him.
Now there are more than 200 such stone fragments, all inscriptions are in Aramaic. They are carved on stone altars designed to burn incense offerings, such as juniper seeds, and to pour out liquids. For almost a hundred years, scientists have been trying to find out the name of the unknown god of Palmyra.
Polish archaeologist Alexandra Kubiak-Schneider (Aleksandrę Kubiak-Schneider) offered her explanation . She singled out the general type of the formula for addressing the deity: “Blessed be his name forever, Lord of the World and Merciful.” This is like a monotheistic conversion. The ban on the mention of the name also refers us to Judaism and the Bible.
Meanwhile, according to the researcher, the solution to the mystery lay elsewhere. She believes that the specific way of addressing the anonymous deity coincides with the texts of praise that were recited in the temples of ancient Mesopotamia from the 1st millennium BC.
So people thanked a variety of gods for the help: the same supreme god Bel (in Babylon he was also called Marduk), Nabu (the son of Marduk, the god of writing and wisdom), Nergal (the god of death, the lord of the underworld).
But who among them was the addressee of the Palmyra initiations? Kubiak-Schneider believes that everything at once. The formula “one whose name is eternally blessed” can be universal and refer to any male deity who has heard a prayer request.
Therefore, the fact that the proper name of a particular god was not indicated was, according to the archaeologist, a sign of respect.
She believes that the absence of an image of a deity on the altars in this case has nothing to do with a religious prohibition. There was no single unknown god, but every god who showed attentive and favorable requests deserved praise and sacrifice.
According to Dr. Kubiak-Schneider, her hypothesis shows the continuity of pre-Hellenistic traditions in the Middle East, which influenced the face of today’s monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In addition, the result of the study indicates the existence of religious poetry, which has not survived to this day.
At the same time, it should be noted that so far we have before us more of a hypothesis than a definitive answer to the question.
In the ancient world, references to gods without a specific name are very rare, and so far, for this period, they have been massively noted except for Judaism, with its partial ban on mentioning the name of God. To reliably separate the hypothesis of the Polish scientist from the “Jewish” version, some additional markers are needed.
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