The Great God Sun
“The evidence for the sun cult manifests itself in Europe from as long ago as the fourth millennium BC, when Neolithic farmers recognized the divine power of the solar disc...
“…Solar religion manifested itself not only in acknowledgement of the overt functions of the sun—as a provider of heat and light—but also in recognition of influences that were more wide-ranging…
“To early communities, the sun was an enigma, with its nightly disappearance from the sky and the withdrawal of its heat for half the year. The sun’s value as a life-force was revered….”
Dr. Miranda J. Aldhouse-Green, The Sun: Symbol of Power and Life
“As the bestower of light and life, ancient cultures generally identified the sun as the symbol of Truth, the all-seeing ‘one eye’ of justice and equality, the fountainhead of wisdom, compassion, and enlightenment, the healer of physical and spiritual maladies, and, above all, the fundamental source of fecundity, growth, and fruition, as well as of death and the renewal of life.”
Dr. Federico Mayor, The Sun: Symbol of Power and Life
“To the ancients...heaven was the land of gods and mystery. The sky...was itself living. The stars were the abode of the gods. The shining stars were indeed themselves luminous gods. Astronomy was the knowledge not of heavenly bodies, but of heavenly beings: It was the heavenly, celestial cosmic or divine knowledge— knowledge of devas—the bright luminous gods.”
Dr. S.B. Roy, Prehistoric Lunar Astronomy (1)
ONE OF THE principal objects of adoration over the course of human history has been the sun, worshipped in countless cultures globally for thousands of years. Solar worship has been particularly popular in areas plagued with cold, darkness or cloudiness, as well as in fertile agricultural lands dependent on knowledge of the sun’s movements across the sky. These sunworshipping locales extend from the farthest reaches north, through the equator and into the southern hemisphere. Not only gods but also many goddesses were said to possess solar attributes, and, by the process of syncretism, numerous deities of the Mediterranean and beyond were perceived to be solar. Desert regions too displayed reverence for the sun, although less so because the unbearable heat also made the solar orb an enemy and pestilence. Even though like other desert religions it was significantly lunar in nature, Judaism too has been part of this great global solar tradition.
The epithets for the “God Sun” have included virtually all the names and titles held to be holy by thousands of cultures for millennia, such as “Almighty,” “Healer,” “King of kings,” “Lord of lords,” “Prince of princes,” “Savior” and so on. Hence, these divine epithets in the Bible are not original or unique to Yahweh or his son, Jesus.
Shamash, Lord of the World
As indicated, the Sumero-Babylonian sun god and divine lawgiver Šamaš/Shamash has been identified with El, Baal and Yahweh, three designations for God in the Old Testament. Shamash’s worship extends back some 5,000 years to the kings of Ur, as related by University of Pennsylvania Assyriologist Dr. Morris Jastrow (1861–1921):
In Ur itself, Shamash was also worshipped in early days by the side of the moon-god. Eannatum, of the dynasty of Isin (c. 2800 B.C.), tells of two temples erected to him at that place; and still a third edifice, sacred to both Nannar (the moon-god) and Shamash at Ur, is referred to by a king of the Larsa dynasty, Rim-Sin (c. 2300 B.C.).
Shamash’s Sumerian equivalent is UD, or “Utu” in Akkadian, the solar son of the moon god and “lord of truth” dating back thousands of years and depicted as wearing a horned helmet, reflecting the solar-rays theme. University of Cambridge professor Dr. John H. Rogers describes a scene with the “sun-god, Shamash…shown as a bearded man with rays flaring from his shoulders, cutting his way through the eastern horizon with his characteristic serrated knife.”
With his worship extending into the Neo-Babylonian period (626–539 BCE), Shamash was a dominant force for millennia in the very area where the protoIsraelite Amorites thrived and merged with various peoples, absorbing, adopting and demoting their deities.
As also discussed, the Semitic solar god-name “Shamash” has been passed along in Hebrew, denoting “sun.” Gesenius notes that שםש shemesh or shamash is a “primitive word, found under the radical letters sm, sr, sn, sl, in very many languages, compare the old Germ. Summi (whence Summer, Sommer), Sanscr. sura, surja, Germ. Sunne, Sonne, Eng. sun, Lat. sol...”
When one considers the assertion that the radical sm serves as a very ancient root signifying “sun,” as also in “summer,” the relationship between שם shem —signifying “name” and often used to designate Yahweh—and שםש shemesh, meaning “sun,” ranks as noteworthy.
Shamash’s name itself derives from the Babylonian word for “sun,” shamshu,1352 which indicates that the later Hebrew word for “sun,” שמש sh.m.sh, actually reflects the Babylonian sun god, not just a term for the solar orb. In this regard, then, we are justified in reading “Shamash Yahweh” at Psalm 84:11 as a theophoric title, rather than a designation of Yahweh “merely” as the sun. In other words, the Hebrew appears to state: “Shamash is Yahweh” or vice versa.
It is interesting that שמש shemesh/shamash also means “officiant, minister, attendant, helper,” since these roles too were those of the sun, as well as of various (solar) priesthoods.
God of My Father
As we have seen, in the Amarna letters discovered in Egypt, written mostly in Akkadian cuneiform and dating to the 14th century BCE, there appear solar hymns invoking “the King my lord, my sun, my god.” Another text found at Amarna includes a poem (138) to Shamash in which he is referred to repeatedly as “the god of my father.” This designation is not unique to the Bible, therefore, but preceded the Jewish texts by centuries to millennia.
Semitic Sun Goddess
Shamash is related to the name of the sun goddess of the Ugaritic/ Canaanite pantheon, Shapsh, Shapash or Šapšu, transliterations of the Ugarit word for “sun,” špš. In his index entry for “špš sun,” Schniedewind notes: “cp. Akka šamšu; Heb. ,שםש ” in other words shemesh. The transition from shapash to shamash evidently reflects the Babylonian/Amorite origin of, or influence on, the southern Israelites, as opposed to the Canaanitish northern tribes.
Fig. 92. Shapash/Shipish, sun goddess of Ugarit and Ebla, winged and in cruciform or cross shape, 2nd millennium BCE
Archaeologist and linguist Dr. Cyrus Gordon explicates this relationship:
špš שםש —The p in špš “sun” originated as a transitional intrusion between -m and -š:šampš- > šapš-; cf. Eng. “Sampson” for “Samson.”
Hence, the sun goddess’s name is comparable to “Sampson” or “Samson,” the moniker of another solar biblical hero.
As is logical for a solar deity, Shapash was involved in dividing the seasons of the year: “In Ugaritic myth and ritual, the Sun goddess played a crucial role at the transition of the seasons, marking off the time of the festivals.” The sun goddess’s epithets included “the luminary, the lady,” “the lamp of the gods,” “the scorcher, the power of the sky” and “the eternal Šapšu.”
Shapash/Shamash the Lightbringer and Lawgiver
The role of the sun god/dess includes that of the “upholder of the law” and “deity of justice”:
The Akkadian/Babylonian sun god Shamash or Shemesh, also a bringer of light, upholder of law and order, and prophetic oracle, was originally an eagle-shaped Sun-goddess, as seen in an Sumerian artifact, and as demonstrated in personal names UmmiShamash, which means “My Mother is Shamash.” Phoenicians called her Shapash, and [She] was the goddess of the Sun. Called the Luminary of the Deities, the Torch of the Gods, She sees all that transpires on Earth by day and guards the souls of the dead in the underworld by night. Like the Akkadian Shamash, She is a deity of justice, often serving to mediate for the deities in disputes. She is related to Shamsh, Chems, an Arabic Sun-goddess worshipped at sunrise, noon, and sunset.
Shapash is mother, luminary, torch, bringer of light, all-seeing by day and guardian by night. In essence, she is the omniscient light of the world that every eye can see.
Whether female or male, Shapash/Shamash is the just and righteous upholder of the law, therefore the lawgiver or legislator. As noted, in ancient
mythology, the Code of Hammurabi was provided to the Babylonian lawgiver by Shamash, in a similar manner in which Moses/Mosheh was said to receive the 10 Commandments from the solar Yahweh.
Thus, for eons, the divine legislator or lawgiver role was traditionally held by the sun, in numerous manifestations globally. This legislative role can be found in Babylonian sun hymns that sound much like the Egyptian and biblical solar hymns previously discussed, such as:
The law of mankind dost thou direct,
Eternally just in the heavens art thou,
Of faithful judgment towards all the world are thou.
Thou knowest what is right, thou knowest what is wrong...
O Shamash! Supreme judge of heaven and earth are thou...
O Shamash! Supreme judge, great lord of all the world art thou;
Lord of creation, merciful one of the world art thou...
O Shamash! on this day purify and cleanse the king, the son of his god.
Whatever is evil within him, let it be taken out....
In another hymn, Shamash is called “judge of the world” and “director of its laws.”1363 We have seen already the epithet of “judge of man” or Dian-nisi.
In these Babylonian hymns, as in the Akkadian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Phoenician and Ugaritic/Canaanite, we can find many correspondences with the depiction of the biblical “LORD God,” whether Yahweh, El, Elohim, Baal, Adonai or a combination thereof. Hence, there appear many “biblical” themes, such as the “law of mankind,” justice in heaven, divine righteousness, the concept of a supreme judge, the “lord of all the world,” the “lord of creation,” the “merciful,” God as purifier, and the idea of the son of God, as well as the divine king.
These solar poems sound very monotheistic, with the high god in his heaven; here we can see whence our traditional concepts of God come. These numinous notions are repeated in the Bible and are clearly related to, if not derived from, Babylonian, Canaanite, Egyptian and other sources, not arising as a result of unique “divine revelation” to the “chosen people.”
Samson the Sun
As a blatant example of how a sun god has been turned into a biblical hero, we can cite the story of Sampson or Samson (Jdg 13–16), written שמשון Shimshown, meaning “like the sun.” The first three letters of Samson are שמש sh.m.sh, and we noted previously the relationship also to the Semitic sun goddess Shapash.
Samson’s story possesses a number of solar and lunar elements, such as the tearing down of the two pillars of the temple, a solar motif likewise found in the myth of Hercules/Herakles. In this myth, the Greek son of Zeus/God legendarily erects the two “columns” or mountains on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar, the western edge of the world and opening to the underworld, where the sun sets. This same theme can be seen in the images of UrNammu, Shamash and other figures between two mountains and/or columns.
Another soli-lunar theme is the loss of strength when the sun god or solar hero’s “hair” or rays are cut by the moon goddess, the significance of the story of Samson and Delilah (Jdg 16:19).
King, Shepherd and Raiser of the Dead
In the Ugaritic texts, the king is called “the sun” or “my Sun,” as was the case traditionally in Egypt and other places, where the king and sun deity or deities frequently were intertwined, syncretized, identified and equated with each other.
As seen, so too is the Amorite/Babylonian Shamash the ruler or king, among other divine attributes, recounted by Jastrow:
The titles given to Shamash by the early rulers are sufficiently definite to show in what relation he stood to his worshippers, and what the conceptions were that were formed of him. He is, alternately, the king and the shepherd... In the incantations, Shamash is frequently appealed to, either alone, or when an entire group of spirits and deities are enumerated. He is called upon to give life to the sick man. To him the body of the one who is smitten with disease is confided. As the god of light, he is appropriately called upon to banish “darkness” from the house, darkness being synonymous with misfortune; and the appeal is made to him more particularly as the “king of judgment.”
From this, it is evident that the beneficent action of the sun, was the phase associated with Shamash. He was hailed as the god that gives light and life to all things, upon whose favor the prosperity of the fields and the well-being of man depend. He creates the light and secures its blessings for mankind. His favor produces order and stability; his wrath brings discomfiture and ruin to the state and the individual. But his power was, perhaps, best expressed by the title of “judge”—the favorite one in the numerous hymns that were composed in his honor....
He loosens the bonds of the imprisoned, grants health to the sick, and even revivifies the dead. On the other hand, he puts an end to wickedness and destroys enemies. He makes the weak strong, and prevents the strong from crushing the weak. From being the judge, and, moreover, the supreme judge of the world, it was but natural that the conception of justice was bound up with him. His light became symbolic of righteousness, and the absence of it, or darkness, was viewed as wickedness. Men and gods look expectantly for his light. He is the guide of the gods, as well as the ruler of men.
Italicized here are numerous attributes of Shamash that are expressed later of Yahweh, as well as many other deities around the Middle East and beyond. A number of these traits also feature prominently in the Christ myth, such as the king, shepherd, light of the world, dispeller of darkness, beneficent judge and wrathful avenger, healer of the sick, raiser of the dead, and ruler of men. It could not be clearer where the numerous divine attributes come from that are used to describe the biblical god and his son: Very ancient mythology and religion, especially sun worship or heliolatry.
Jesus as Shamash
In consideration of how many of the same characteristics the two figures share, it may come as no surprise that King Jesus is identified with Shamash biblically. In the book of Malachi (4:2)—which precedes directly the first New Testament text, generally the gospel of Matthew—the prophet writes of the coming “Sun of Righteousness” who will arise with “healing in its wings.” This solar symbolism ranks as highly ancient, long predating the composition of the Old Testament, as shown, with the sun viewed since remote antiquity as the righteous judge and guardian of the world, as well as the savior and healer, frequently depicted as winged because of the fact that birds fly high, towards the solar orb.
Fig. 93. Egyptian winged sun disk, like the biblical ‘Sun of Righteousness’ (Mal 4:2), surrounded by two serpents, like the caduceus or symbol of healing
The “Sun of Righteousness” in Malachi is considered to be the coming messiah, Jesus Christ, whose solar attributes rate as extensive. Malachi’s original Hebrew uses the word שמש sh.m.sh or shemesh/shamash to describe the savior, serving as a divine title, not just the physical sun. Hence, Jesus basically is Shamash.
The Greek translation of Malachi 4:2 renders “sun” as ἥλιος helios, the same as the Greek sun god’s name. Thus, Jesus is Helios, an identification demonstrated throughout the ages since Christianity’s inception, including in Christ’s replacement of the sun god’s central position in zodiacs. Jerome’s Latin rendering of שמש shemesh is “sol,” as at Malachi 4:2, connoting that Jesus is Sol, the Roman sun god.
As part of the great solar tradition that can be found in many places globally, the peoples of the ancient Near and Middle East revered a wide variety of sun deities, including the Babylonian Shamash and “god of the fathers,” as well as the Canaanite goddess Shapash. These deities possessed numerous divine epithets and attributes adopted by biblical figures such as Yahweh, Samson and Jesus.
Among these solar deities was the Semitic high god El, identified with Yahweh and Saturn, and appearing in the Bible numerous times as part of Israelite syncretism. Indeed, El may be the god of Exodus, associated with the bull and ram. El and the 70 Canaanite gods and “sons of El” thrived mythically on a holy mount, again part of ancient solar mythology signifying the sun and dodecans.
One of these “sons of God” appears to be the Jewish tribal god Yahweh, while others are the two aspects of Venus, dawn and dusk, born to El’s dual wives. Another biblical god is El Shaddai, a mountain and solar deity as well, while storm gods such as Enlil and Adad often possess solar attributes as well, since it was believed in antiquity that the sun had a part in creating and controlling storms of various types.
El as the “Most High” or El Elyon was especially sacred to the Israelites and is not only solar but also a wine god, revealing the significance of that sacred libation as well.
Fig. 94. Shamash between Mashu’s Twin Peaks, wearing a horned helmet and with solar rays from shoulders and arms, 3rd millennium BCE. Akkadian, British Museum
Fig. 95. Storm god Baal–Zephon holds a thunderbolt and stands on two mountains, with a serpent below, c.s 16th cent. BCE. Cylinder seal from Tell el Daba/Avaris
Fig. 96. Mount Sinai (right), with St. Catherine's monastery at foot of Horeb (left), 1570–2. Oil painting by El Greco, Historical Museum of Crete, Iraklion
Yahweh and the Sun