Monday, 1 February 2016

The origins of Satan: the ancient worldview

The Bible originated in a world that was very different from our own. At the basis of their perspective on the world stood the ancient worldview of the peoples of the ancient Middle East. A lot of the things said in the Bible only make sense once we understand that view. In this essay, I use the garden stories of Genesis 2-3 and Ezekiel 28 & 31 to explore that ancient worldview. In this context, the story of the Satan enters our discussion. This is the sixth part in the series on the Book of Genesis.

The peoples of the ancient Middle East viewed the cosmos in very different terms than us. Since they lived long before the scientific age it is often assumed that they held primitive views about the world which are not valid in our day and age. This is not the case: their view of the cosmos is remarkably sophisticated. So often we misunderstand ancient literature like the Bible exactly because we do not understand the basic worldview that served as the general background in which all their stories are embedded. All the stories in the Bible, including those in the Book of Genesis, are presented in the context of this ancient worldview. Once we understand this worldview, it would provide the context for the rest of our discussion of the Book of Genesis, for example, the way in which the Hebrew God is presented in these and the other stories in the book. It also helps us to understand the various motifs in the Garden of Eden stories told by the prophet Ezekiel - among which is that of the fallen cherub.

Whereas the story of creation in Genesis 1 tells how the cosmos came into being, the garden story in Genesis 2-3 (which tells about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden), presents the first story about humans in the context of this cosmos. In a certain sense, we can take this garden story also as introducing the reader to that ancient view about the world. From our current context readers often understand the things mentioned in the garden story, namely the trees, the rivers, the abode of God, the serpent etc., merely in the context of some ancient setting - either where these things happened (if the story is taken as referring to real events) or as some ideal location that the author has chosen for his story (if the story is taken merely in metaphorical or mythical terms). In fact, the setting of the story should (also) be viewed in the context of an earthly topology (see the geographical details - discussed in part 3) that reflects the "topology" of the greater cosmic realm. We find that the mountain of Sion is also presented in such terms - it represents the cosmic mountain of God.

This mindset in which the earthly topology (like some holy mountain) represents the cosmic "topology" goes back to the earliest Mesopotamian thinking [1]. I previously argued that the narratives in the "ancient history" in the Book of Genesis (Gen. 1-11) are coloured by such an ancient Mesopotamian context since it originated in that world (which accounts for the Mesopotamian material in this book). As such the garden story reflects an interplay between the earthly setting and the cosmic archetype that serves as the basis for that setting. The same is true regarding the garden stories of Ezekiel. We can learn a remarkable lot about the ancient worldview when we carefully study these garden stories with that in mind.

The tree in the middle of the garden

The most important feature of the garden story in Genesis 2-3 is the tree which is said to have grown in the "middle of the garden" (Gen. 2:9; 3:3). This may sound like a mere unimportant detail, whereas in fact it is loaded with meaning which would only become clear once we have explored the cosmic dimensions of the story. I have already shown that we should regard the story about this tree in ancient shamanistic context (see part 4 of the series). In this context, some remarkable tree is often depicted with a snake at its roots and an eagle on its top. I argued that this is the origin of the snake motif in the garden story - where the eagle is replaced by the cherubim of Biblical tradition (we, for example, read that God rides on a cherub as if it is an eagle; Ps. 18:10, 11; see below for a discussion of this topic). In shamanistic tradition, this tree presents the cosmic axis - that is, the axis that holds the whole cosmos together.

In the Book of Ezekiel, we find another story about the Garden of Eden in which one tree is also singled out. In this case, we read that the tree is a cedar that grows in the Lebanon mountains - which reflects later Semitic traditions (than that in Genesis 2-3) about this garden (see part 3 of the series). The most important feature of this tree is that it was larger than "all the trees of the field" (Ezek. 31:5). In fact, we read that the whole world stood in the shadow of this enormous tree: "All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations" (Ezek. 31:6). Readers who are unfamiliar with the ancient worldview may think that one should not take this image too serious because it is merely used as a metaphor to depict the greatness of the mighty king of Assur but there is more to it since this image was well-known all over the ancient world. As such it symbolized the cosmic axis, exactly as is the case in the garden story in Genesis. The cosmic axis is presented as an enormous "world tree" which is used as a metaphor of the mighty Assyrian king.

What is meant by the cosmic axis? This axis played a central role in the ancient worldview and can only be understood in the framework of the starry heavens. The ancients lived under the stars and their worldview reflects their observations of the celestial skies. When one observes the stars at night, looking towards the northern sky in the northern hemisphere (or the southern sky in the southern hemisphere), you would observe during the course of the night that the northern (southern) stars move slowly in a circle which gets smaller towards the northern (southern) pole of heaven. These poles of heaven (in the northern and southern skies) are points which are not moving - it seems that all the stars move around them.

The further (south/north) one's view moves from these poles, the larger the circuit of the stars that move around these poles. When you look at the sky towards the direction of the equator you would see that all the stars move slowly in a western direction, all the way from the eastern horizon over your head to the western side of the sky. In its totality, it seems that the whole starry cosmos turns around some invisible axis defined by the northern and southern poles of heaven (which is the axis of the earth projected into the northern and southern skies). In ancient times this axis - which runs through the "middle" of the world - was symbolized in various ways, especially as a large cosmic tree (the world tree). We find references to it in many ancient cultures all over the world - see the artistic depiction below.

From Northern Antiquities, an English translation of the Prose Edda from 1847. 
Painted by Oluf Olufsen Bagge.
There is, however, another question, namely: Why are there two trees mentioned in the garden story in the Book of Genesis? We read about the tree of knowledge of good and evil as well as the tree of life (for a discussion of the name of the first tree, see part 5 of the series). Both are said to be in the "middle" of the garden. This may refer to the fact that the ancient peoples did not merely present the cosmic axis in general with the world tree - they regarded that axis in symbolic terms as a tree in accordance with a certain position that that axis occupied in the starry heavens in ancient times, namely when it was aligned with the polar star Thuban. That meant that that particular star did not move with the other stars - the whole cosmos seemed to move around this star. As such it was envisioned as a large tree or pillar stretching from the earth to that position in the northern sky (with the cosmic tree's branches hanging down along the starry dome). It seemed that the northern starry dome rested on that pillar.

The cosmic axis, however, is not static - it moves slowly through the polar regions in the celestial skies in accordance with the polar and equinoctial progressions. We may view the earth as a large spinning top which wobbles slowly in such a manner that the top and bottom parts move slowly in a circle - which in our cosmos would be the circles that the northern and southern poles trace out in the sky over a period of about 26 000 years. When the cosmic axis moved away from the polar star Thuban in about 2800 BC, the ancient peoples did not only observe this; they also told many stories about this remarkable cosmic event. They envisioned it as an enormous tree that was cut down - as we find in both the Epic of Gilgamesh as well as the garden story told by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 31:11-18; and in many other similar stories from the ancient world).

The ancient peoples carefully worked out the route and time of this heavenly circle. This can be done quite easily when one knows that the very same process (i.e. the progression of the poles and the equinoxes) results in the sun progressing slowly in its yearly position within the framework of the twelve constellations of the zodiac (the starry belt that defines the path of the sun). It's position during mid-Spring, which was ceremonially marked among many ancient cultures as the beginning of the calendar year, for example, moves a small bit every year (it takes 72 years to move one degree) in the opposite direction in which the sun proceeds through the heavens. This means that the sun spends an average of about 2200 years in every constellation (2200 X 12 = 26 400 years for one full cycle; more correctly: 25920 years).

The ancient Mesopotamians might have observed, probably as early as the late third or early second millennium BC [2], that there are two stars on this 26 000 years long polar circle which the cosmic axis traces out in the northern starry heavens, namely Thuban (~2900 BC) and Polaris (~2000 AD). In this manner, two cosmic trees are manifest in the framework of the starry heavens which may be the basis for the two trees that are said to have grown in the earthly garden of Eden. In the framework of the evolution of time in the context of the progression of the poles these might also be seen in terms of death and resurrection: after the first one was cut down when the cosmic axis moved away from it (which would be the tree of knowledge), the other eventually grew in its place (the tree of life). In ancient iconography, we often find depictions of a tree that is cut down, shown with a new branch growing next to it. Although this image is often understood in reference to the sun (symbolizing its yearly cyclical movement), it might have originally referred to the heavenly movement of the cosmic axis [3].

The four rivers flowing from Eden

According to the garden story in the Book of Genesis, there were also four important rivers that run from their upper headwaters in the area of the garden. These were the Pison, Gihon, Hiddekel and Euphrates which I previously argued to be the Uizhum, Gaihun (called the Araxes after the Islamic invasion of the Caucasus), Tigris and Euphrates, all of which originate in the areas around the Urmia Lake in northern Iran (see part 3 of the series). The reference to the number four in the context of the garden may be significant - this number is often used in reference to the "four corners/winds/ends of the earth/heaven" (Isa. 11:12; Jer. 49:36; see Rev. 7:1). We do in fact find that these four rivers flow into the four directions from the mentioned geographical area - although only in the area of their upper headwaters (both the Tigris and Euphrates later flow towards southern Mesopotamia).

The "four corners of the earth" was also a very ancient concept and part of the ancient worldview. In the Book of Job, these "corners" are also referred to as the "pillars of the earth" (Job 9:6; 26:11). As such they must have been viewed as very stable points. Where are these four corners - or pillars? In the ancient worldview, the earth was defined in the framework of these four corners - which refer to the four directions in the framework of the starry heavens. These are the four constellations in which the sun reside during the equinoxes and solstices - during mid-Spring, mid-Summer, mid-Autumn, and mid-Winter (defined by the two days of the year when day and night are of the same length, as well as the longest and shortest days of the year).

In the framework of the starry cosmos, these four constellations on the circular belt in which the sun moves (the zodiac) defined the "earth"; they present the four corners or pillars thereof. The reason why these were very stable points ("pillars") is that they are fixed throughout the period of any person's lifetime (for about 2200 years). They may, however, "tremble" (or: falter) as we read in the Book of Job. This happens when the sun moves out of these constellations that define the four pillars into the next four constellations in accordance with the progression of the equinoxes (for example, when the sun moved during the Spring Equinox from the constellation of Taurus to Aries in about 2200 BC and later to Pisces in the time of Jesus Christ).

In the framework of the starry cosmos, the sky to the north of (i.e. above) the "earth" was regarded as the realm of "heaven" whereas the sky to the south thereof (i.e. under) was regarded as the underworld [5]. Towering over the earth in the framework of the northern heavens is the region of the northern polar stars that gives the distinct impression of a large starry dome or mountain, which was associated with the mountain of God (or: the gods). The location of this mountain in the framework of the starry cosmos is described as "in the sides (or: utmost areas) of the north" (Isa. 14:13), referring to the northern pole of heaven. According to Ezekiel's description of the garden of God (or: Eden), this garden was near or on top of the "holy mountain of God" (Ezek. 28:13, 14, 16; see part 3 of the series for a discussion of the relation between the garden and the mountain of God).

This is the mountain where the important gods gathered according to ancient Middle Eastern tradition, which is also why it is called "mount of the congregation" (Isa. 14:13). These gathered gods ("gods" is the ancient terminology; in later Hebrew tradition they are called "angels") were called the "council/assembly/congregation of the holy/mighty ones" (Ps. 82:1; Ps. 89:6, 7; see 1 Ki. 22:19-22) and the ancient peoples associated them with the stars of the polar region (see Isa. 14:13 where they are called the "stars of God"). Stars are often associated with gods or angels in the Bible (Judges 5:20; Job 38:6-7; Deut. 4:19, 20; Rev. 1:20; 12:4 etc.). The concept of the council of the gods is a very old one - it was part and parcel of ancient Mesopotamian thought - and it persisted in the context of later Hebrew thought where the council of God is not only mentioned as part of their worldview but also as part of the prophetic experience since they describe their own presence in that council (1 Ki. 22:19-22; Jer. 23:18; Zech. 3:1-2).

The cosmic picture seems to be the following. In the polar region of the northern starry heavens is the mountain of God where He has his throne. This is also where the "garden of God" (see Ezek. 28:13) is situated since the most beautiful cedar in this garden is to be associated with the cosmic axis which defines the northern pole of the heavens. We should regard this garden as the heavenly paradise (see 2 Cor. 12:4). From this northern mountain flows four streams towards the four corners of the earth, which refer to the equinoctial and solstice points in the starry heavens. In this regard, it is interesting that in ancient Mesopotamia the Euphrates was, for example, associated with the Milky Way which can be viewed as "flowing" from that northern region of the sky. In this framework, the mountain of God towers over the "earth" which lies under it. This picture was regarded as the visible manifestation of the invisible spirit realms that the ancient peoples believed in [6]. It had an earthly equivalent in the Garden of Eden described in the Book of Genesis.

The four corners of the earth were also the points where one enters the "otherworld" - both the heavenly and the underworldly regions. It was especially the two equinoctial points that were associated with the "gates" of heaven. These are the gates through which the sun, moon and planets proceed. In the context of our current discussion, this would also be the entrances to the cosmic "garden of God" (the heavenly paradise - see 2 Cor. 12:4). As such, these would be the places where the cherubim guard its entrance - as we read in the garden story in the Book of Genesis (although that refers to the earthly garden; Gen. 3:24). In ancient Mesopotamia, we often find that mythical creatures - mostly lions and bulls - do indeed guard these entrances (since the temples were thought to be images of the cosmos, we typically find these creatures at their entrances).

One may suggest that the bulls and lions placed at these entrances had their origin in the Constellations of the Bull and the Lion. In this regard, it is interesting that the zodiac was called "Mazzaroth" (Job 38:32) in Jewish tradition, which is also translated as "animal circuit" (diereriem in Afrikaans). In this tradition, these constellations were viewed as animals led by a man on a string. Among these are the Bull (Taurus), the Ram (Aries) and the Lion (Leo). During the two millennia before 2200 BC the Bull and Lion were located at the equinoctial/solstice points (i.e. at the entrances to the Otherworld). As such, these had a great impact on the later worldview of the ancients.

It is possible that the early Israelites associated the other equinoctial/solstice constellations also with animal figures (in accordance with the name that they gave to the zodiac). As such, the animal signs at the other two "corners" of the earth (or: entrances to the Otherworld) might have been an eagle and the man leading the animals (which we know today as the constellations of the Scorpion and Water-drawer). Once we understand the ancient view of the cosmos, it seems logical that the four beasts around the throne of God are a lion, bull, eagle and man - which represent the three animals and the man who leads them at the four corners of the earth (Ezek. 1:10; Rev. 4:7). As such. they signify God's rule over the four corners of the cosmos. In Ezekiel, these are composite figures. They are called, as one expects, "cherubim" (Ezek. 10:1).

The fallen cherub

I previously discussed the serpent of the garden story in the Book of Genesis (see part 4 of the series). This serpent is presented as operating in conflict with God's command. I argued that this very same conflict is depicted in the ancient Mesopotamian story of Etana, in which the eagle on top of the cosmic tree stands in opposition with the snake at the bottom. It seems that these were ancient symbols for two opposing cosmic realms, namely heaven and the underworld [7], associated with two opposing groups of gods who are mentioned in the oldest Sumerian literature that we have (dating from about ~2600 BC [8]). On the one hand we have An, the lord of heaven, which I take as the Sumerian form of the Semitic God El [9] and the gods associated with him; on the other hand, we have Enki, the "Lord of the Earth/Land" and the gods associated with him. At that stage, the symbol of the snake was associated with the Sumerian god Enki and his domain.

In the garden story in the Book of Genesis the only cherubim referred to are those who are said to have guarded the entrance to the garden; in Ezekiel's story about the garden of God (Eden) another cherub is mentioned. According to Ezekiel's story, there was once a very important cherub in the garden of God on the mountain of God who was eventually chased from there. This cherub is described as "the anointed cherub that covereth" (Ezek. 28:14). The tradition about such a creature which once covered the feet of the king of the gods but who was later chased from there was a very old one (going back to the Ur III period at the end of the third millennium BC). In the Mesopotamian story, this was an eagle (called an "Anzu") who stole the "tables of destiny". These tables belonged to the king of the gods (who ruled over the council of the gods) - stealing these tablets may imply that this eagle wanted to take control of that high position. The Anzu is often depicted in the top of the world tree which symbolizes the cosmic axis.

According to the Biblical story, the reason why this cherub was chased from the mountain of God is that it became proud because of its beauty (Ezek. 28:17). This is also what is said about the enormous cedar in the garden of Eden, namely that it became proud because of its great height (Ezek. 31:10). In general, it seems that Ezekiel refers to an ancient motif, namely that of the polar star which "fell" from its high position when the cosmic axis moved from there in accordance with the progression of the poles. There was a Mesopotamian myth that this star fell from that high position to the horizon, where it was visible as the morning star (Jupiter) [10]. The mentioned cherub elevated himself in exactly the same manner, and will, accordingly, also fall in the same manner.

The heavenly Anzu (cherub) who exalted himself, might in the context of the celestial skies be associated with the northern constellation of Draco - the dragon (serpent) that lies stretched out over the northern polar region [11]. As such it is maybe not without reason that the polar star Thuban is indeed in the tail of this heavenly dragon. But how did the heavenly eagle developed into a heavenly serpent? We find that the Anzu is first associated with a snake in one of the heroic stories told about the great Akkadian king, Naram-Sin, grandson of Sargon the Great, who ruled over the "four corners" of the known world in the ancient land of Mesopotamia (in ~2250 BC). He was the first king ever in Mesopotamia who was worshipped as a god while he was still alive (at a young age, after subduing his enemies who came against him from the four corners of the world). According to tradition, his personal symbol combined the eagle with a snake [12]. As such it became a fiery flying snake which is also referred to in the Book of Isaiah as the symbol of one of the later Mesopotamian kings who modeled their reign on that of the ancient Akkadians, namely the Neo-Assyrian king Sargon (Isa. 14:29) (I have argued in part 4 of the series that the serpent of Genesis 3 was also later regarded as such a being).

One may assume that this snake eventually lost its wings to become the current constellation of Draco. In Biblical tradition, we also read about this northern constellation of the snake. It is mentioned in the Book of Job where we read: "By his spirit he (i.e. God) has garnished the heavens; his hand hath formed the crooked serpent" (Job 26:13). It is quite possible that the "great red dragon" which appears as a sign in heaven in the vision described in the Book of Revelation, is based on this northern constellation of the dragon (snake). Here he is called the "old serpent" as well as the Devil and Satan (Rev. 12:9; to be overthrown by the archangel Michael). We may interpret this as meaning that the constellation of Draco is taken as a symbol of Satan and his aspirations to rule the cosmos.
The archangel Michael overthrowing Lucifer, by Francesco Maffei (ca 1656)

We find a similar story than the one told by the prophet Ezekiel in the Book of Isaiah (Isa. 14). In this case, the one who exalted himself is called the "king" of Babylon. He is said to have exalted himself in his heart and wanted to place his throne above the stars of God on the mount of the congregation. We read that this king wanted to take his seat at the head of the council of the gods on the mountain of God, as their king. But in the same way that the polar star associated with this high position eventually lost that position, and is imagined to have fallen to the horizon, so the king of Babylon would also fall according to the prophet. The reference here is clearly not merely to the physical king of Babylon, but to Marduk, the god of Babylon. According to the mythology of Marduk, the son of Enki, he was an adversary who led a rebellion in the council of the gods and as such his rise to kingship over the gods was recognized in Babylon. This is clearly what the prophet Isaiah refers to. Even though Marduk exalted himself in this way, he will eventually fall and be judged (see also Ps. 82:6-7).

The rebel god Marduk, who became an adversary in the council of the gods, is the figure that was eventually associated with the Biblical figure of the Satan ("the adversary"; who played exactly the same role in the Biblical council of God). The Canaanite equivalent of the Babylonian god Marduk was the god Baal, who shared the same characteristics as well as the same mythology, namely as the adversary in the council of the gods [13]. In the Ugarit texts, Baal is, for example, depicted as spitting in disrespect in the council when he disagreed with a decision taken by El, the father of the gods. Eventually, he led a rebellion after which he became king on his own mountain, i.e. Mt. Sapan (also called Mt. Hazzi; today Jebel Aqra) near Ugarit, where he was worshipped as such by the Canaanites. The devil is also presented in Jewish tradition under a related name, namely Beelzebub, the Greek form of Baal-Zebub, a name which also appears in the Canaanite Ugarit literature, where "zebub" (zbl) means "prince" [14]. In the Ugarit texts, this god is called "Prince, Lord of the Earth".

The Biblical figure of the Satan cannot be understood apart from the ancient concept of the council of the gods (or: God) in which he was the leader of a rebellion. This is how Satan is also depicted in other Biblical passages (see Job 1:6-12; Zech. 3:1-2), namely as the adversary in the council of God [15]. According to the Book of Revelation, he will have access to that council until the time comes when this "accuser of the brethren" will finally be cast from heaven (Rev. 12:10; see Zech. 3:1-5).

Although the Fall is an ancient event (in the context of the starry cosmos, the northern and southern poles of heaven were taken as symbolizing the opposing forces in the cosmos; see part 5 of the series), the rise of the god who became the adversary in the council of the gods, and who eventually became known as Satan (the adversary) in the Bible, was only recognized as such from the early second millennium BC [16]. It was only in the beginning of the Old Babylonian period (~1800 BC) that this rebel god (Marduk) was exalted to become king in the council of the gods in Babylonia (during the reign of Hammurabi) and the mythology surrounding his rise to the throne was only penned down much later in the Babylonian Enuma Elis (although it might have been part of an older oral tradition going back to Old Babylonian times).

In time, this rebellion in the council of the gods became part of the Biblical understanding of the council of God. The appearance of this perspective in so many Biblical passages suggests that it was deeply embedded in Biblical tradition - going back long before the time of the exile [18]. Although this rebel-god was worshipped as king of the gods in Babylonia and in Canaan, in Israel he was always remembered as the adversary in the council of God (i.e. his kingship was rejected). Eventually, the story of this rebellion became one of the most enduring motifs associated with that council in both the extra-Biblical as well as Biblical traditions.


In this essay, I focus on the cosmic dimensions of the Garden of Eden. The earthly garden was viewed in the context of the ancient worldview, in which the "garden of God" (heavenly paradise) was associated with the mountain of God in a cosmic sense. I showed that the Garden of Eden should be viewed as an earthly representation of the heavenly realm. The basic features that are mentioned regarding the Garden of Eden, for example, the remarkable tree(s) in the middle of the garden, the four rivers, the mountain of God, the fallen cherub - should not merely be understood in an earthly context, but in a cosmic context. In the ancient worldview, the celestial skies served as model or archetype for earthly holy places - and it seems that the Garden of Eden had been regarded as such a place.

The ancient worldview was very different from our own. When we, however, have some basic understanding of that worldview, we are in a position to make sense of various Biblical passages that we would not otherwise understand [19] - or would interpret purely from a contemporary context (in Biblical Criticism this worldview is often described in very simplistic terms; this, however, reflects more about the mindset of these scholars than about those ancient peoples). In this regard, the story of the fallen cherub is of special importance. He was in Eden - according to Ezekiel's account - although this refers to the heavenly realm where he once served God. There are many Biblical passages which in various ways tell the story of this cherub/god, who exalted himself in the council of God, and who eventually became known as Satan in the Biblical tradition. From a Biblical perspective, his role is not merely of historical interest; he is active today (1 Pet. 5:8) and will still play a very important role in events to come.

[1] Although the cosmic "topology" served as archetype for all earthly holy places in accordance with the principle "as above, so below", the original assignment of that topology to the heavenly realms happened in the context of the ancient people projecting earthly topological features (a mountain, the see, the cosmic tree etc.) into the order which they observed in the sky.
[2] Geoffrey Cornelius and Paul Devereux write: “The first scientific description of this cycle (i.e. of 25 800 years) is credited to Hipparchus (2nd century BC) but earlier cultures incorporated aspects of the phenomenon into myth, especially the precession of the equinoctial and solstitial points, which appear to move backward against the fixed stars by about 1º every 72 years." Cornelius, Geoffrey & Devereux, Paul 1996. The Secret Language of the Stars and Planets. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. p36.
In about 2200 BC the sun moved from the constellation of the Bull into the constellation of the Ram. This cosmic event formed the basis for the story about the killing of the "heavenly bull" by the heroes of the Epic of Gilgamesh - which goes back to at least the early second millennium BC. They also cut down the enormous cedar that grew in the garden near the mountain of the gods. This "cutting down" of the cedar depicts the cosmic axis moving away from the polar star Thuban (the same image is later used by Ezekiel; this image of the tree being cut down originated with the ritual felling of such trees by the great Akkadian kings in about 2350-2200 BC).
Those people did not only understand the heavenly movements of the stars; it would have been quite easy for them to trace out this polar circuit in the northern starry heavens in the centuries after the pole moved away from Thuban (which was a very observable event just like the end of the era of Taurus in about 2200 BC). Since the second polar star, namely Polaris, does not lay too far from the first on this heavenly circle - they are about one-fifth of the total circumference of the circle removed from each other - the ancient peoples of Mesopotamia might have been able to correctly project at least this part of the heavenly course in the period of a thousand years after the cosmic axis moved away from Thuban (Thuban would have served as the basis on which the further movement of the pole was traced). They would also have been able to make rough calculations of the time that it would take for the poles as well as the sun to complete this progression. In later periods the cyclical movement of the northern pole was depicted with the symbol of a snake that bites its tail ("ouroboros" in Greek) in the framework of the constellation of Draco.
[3] The reason why the second tree is called the "tree of life" becomes clear within the context of the shamanistic connotations of the story that I discussed in part 4 of the series. The shamanistic experience was eventually replaced in many societies with a more sophisticated kind of mystical experience for which we have a lot of literature available that enable us to understand it better. In this case, these two trees are clearly delineated as part of that experience. The first tree is a symbol of the egoistic self (ego), which has to die before the true self can manifest itself. In the various mystical traditions around the world, the new self, which grows like a new tree in the place of the old ego, is often said to involve the acquiring of immortality and even godhood. In this context, the name "tree of life" seems to be especially applicable. The path towards accomplishing that is made difficult by inner entities which guard this tree with a "flaming sword", so to speak. When we understand the trees in the Garden of Eden in this way, it is not so much the fruit of two different trees that are referred to, but the outcome of the use of the fruit of the tree: at first in obtaining a certain kind of knowledge (see part 5 of the series) but then also in acquiring "eternal" life.
In Christian tradition, the cross of Jesus Christ adheres to that cosmic "design" (archetype). As such, it is also taken as a tree in a sense very similar to that in the garden story: death and resurrection are associated with this "tree" (Acts 5:30 etc.). In this case, it is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who died on the cross. The possibility of "death and resurrection" in the psychological landscape of the human soul is now accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit who applies the work of Jesus Christ on the cross in the life of the believer. Now the "sacrifice" of Jesus - which serves as an archetype for such a spiritual experience (of death to sin and resurrection to a new life) in the life of individuals - provides the basis on which the inner work in the soul is accomplished (see Romans 6:1-11). Although the process seems similar (to that in the shamanistic/mystical experience) due to the common potentialities of the human soul, the manner in which these are accomplished and the eventual outcome are fundamentally different (through human effort; through faith). In the mystical experience one might typically encounter a snake spirit (for example, when using Ayahuasca [4]) to whom control of one's life is given; in the Christian experience, the Holy Spirit empowers the human spirit when control is given to Him. God forbids the first, He requires the second.
[4] See Hancock, Graham. 2015. The Divine Spark. London: Hay House.
[5] This is a simplified version of the ancient worldview. They actually distinguished three cosmic regions: heaven (the mountain of God (or: the gods)), the underworld and the apsu. The apsu seems to have its Biblical equivalent in the abyss or "bottomless pit".
[6] The Sumeriologist Jean Bottero writes: "The Sumerians more than others obviously must have had the idea of doubling the visible world by an entirely invisible, explicative and directive world". In Bottero, J. 2001. Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia. Chicago University: Chicago. p 45.
[7] This should actually read "the apsu" but a full discussion of the relation between the apsu and underworld, both of which were situated "under" the earth, is beyond the scope of this essay. As master of the southern Sumerian lands around Eridu (where the apsu was located), the god Enki was probably in the early period regarded as overlord over both these regions even though the goddess Ereshkigal ruled the underworld (long before the god Nergal took over as ruler of that region).
[8] Van Dijk, J. 1976. Le Motif Cosmique dans la pensée Sumérienne. Acta Orientalia 28:1-59. 
[9] In my view, we should regard the names An and El as the Sumerian and Semitic equivalents of the very same God, in the same manner, that we call the Judaeo-Christian God both God (in English) and Dieu (in French). Their character and role in the council of the gods are exactly the same (he is regarded as the "father of the gods"). This would be in agreement with the Biblical view that God was worshipped in the ancient world (also in Sumer) long before His appearance to Abram (Gen. 2-11). At that early period, the manner and form in which the ancient people worshipped God were obviously very different from the time after his revelation to Abram (and Moses).
[10] See De Santillana, Giorgio & Von Dechend, Hertha. 1968. Hamlet’s Mill. p444.
[11] The Anzu was depicted as a lion-headed eagle - with the eagle presenting the thunderclouds and the lion-head the roaring thunder. It symbolized the rain cycle in Mesopotamia according to which water evaporated from the southern marshes and sea before forming as dark clouds over the northern mountains. As such, it may be understood as a symbol of time. The constellation of Draco - which may be regarded as a snake that bites its tail - is also a symbol of cyclical time.
There is also a snake constellation, called Hydra, at the bottom of the cosmic axis (laying in the waters of the Deep). The ground for placing these constellations at the top and bottom of the cosmic axis was most definitely the shamanistic depiction of the world tree with an eagle in the top and a serpent at the bottom. In the context of the cosmos, all sorts of stories were told about these constellations - in the Biblical tradition they are also mentioned in the context of God's great power (Is. 27:1; 51:9 etc.). 
[12] In the epic Naram-Sin and the Lord of Apisal, in Joan Goodnick Westenholz (ed.). 1997. Legends of the Kings of Akkade. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
[13] The Mesopotamian and Canaanite worlds came in close contact since the time of the Akkadian kings in the second half of the third millennium BC, whose campaigns led them to the Mediterranean coast. Later, even before the Kassite invasion of Babylonia (they controlled Babylonia since 1595 BC), there was a great migration from Mesopotamia to the west. In the Gilgamesh Epic the mountain of the gods, which was traditionally placed to the north of Mesopotamia, is now found in the "Cedar Mountains" in the west, which originally referred to the Amanus and later to the Lebanon mountains. As such, the great mountain of the gods became associated (in both Sumer and Canaan) with a mountain peak in Lebanon (see part 3 of the series for a more detailed discussion). 
This implies a shared mythology associated with this mountain. In Sumer/Babylonia this mountain, where the council of the gods gathered, was called "Hursag", in the Canaanite Ugarit texts it became "Hursanu" (a different, higher mountain peak than Mt. Sapan of Baal). The "father" of the gathered gods was called An in Sumer and El in Canaan. The Babylonian rebel god who led an insurrection against the king of the gods was Marduk, who was also called Bel (Lord); in Canaan, it was Baal (Lord). The character and role of Marduk/Baal in the council of the gods are the same: a weather god (sharing various symbolic depictions) who dies and become resurrected in the context of the seasonal cycle (see the Marduk Ordeal text performed during the New Year celebrations). In the context of the council of the gods, he is the leader of a great rebellion which resulted in him replacing the previous king of the gods (in Sumerian tradition: Enlil, son of An - whom we can also regard as a form of El; I will discuss this in the next part of this series) in Babylonian and Canaan mythology (but not in Israelite tradition).  
In Babylonian tradition, the great enemy who came against the land and was slain by Marduk before he became king, was Tiamat (the Sea) (said to be sent by Enki in an early version and by Enlil in later versions of the story - see note 16 below). In Canaanite tradition, Baal's opponent was Yam, the sea prince (who was under El's patronage), whom he had slain to become king of the gods. It is clear that Yam has his equivalent in Tiamat (with El's patronage of Yam based on Enlil's patronage of Tiamat - which reflect later versions of the Babylonian tradition; probably from about the middle the second millennium BC). 
For a more detailed discussion, see my book Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012), chapter 6. See also Mullen, E. Theodore. 1980. The Divine Council in Canaanite and Early Hebrew Literature. Chico (California): Scholars Press.
[14]  Kapelrud, Arvid S. 1952. Baal in the Ras Shamra Texts. Copenhagen: G. E. C. Gad.
[15] Gerda de Villiers of Pretoria University's theological department wrote an article on Satan in the journal TEO (July 2012) in which she tries to argue that the Old Testament (OT) Satan is very different from the one found in the New Testament (NT). In her view S/satan is not necessarily a particular being in the OT since the word "satan" (adversary) is used in various ways (one would expect that context plays a role in such interpretation!). According to her the view that Satan is the archenemy of the Lord, is not found in the OT ("we should not read the later devil of the New Testament and Christian church into the [OT] texts"). Rather, in the OT satan is at most a figure under God's control who appears with other similar supernatural beings in His throne room.  
Her view is typical of Biblical Criticism where the Biblical tradition is not considered as substantially continuous (atomizing the Biblical material). She shows total disregard for the ancient context in which the Biblical text originated; she does not consider the fact that the "adversary" in the council of the gods was a very old motif in ancient Middle Eastern and Biblical tradition (see the discussion above). As such, he was always the direct opponent (adversary) of God. To really understand this, we should distinguish between God's role as "father of the gods" (El-Elyon; see Ps. 82:6) and as King in the Council (Yahweh, as replacing the earlier El-Shaddai; for these roles in the council, see the next essay in this series). Satan's name comes from his role as the adversary - as the one who desired to be king in the council!
Although there are minor differences in the manner that Satan is depicted in the OT and NT (since the coming of Jesus Christ defined a new phase in the heavenly conflict), the first continues into the second. Although Satan's role in the council of God is not accentuated in the NT (except in Rev. 12), he is nonetheless named Beelzebub in accordance with his origins and is depicted as the "king" of an opposing kingdom (Matt. 12:26) - in accordance with the fact that this god became king on his own mountain after his rebellion in the council of the gods (worshiped as Baal on Mt. Sapan etc.). In the NT Satan's role as the one who opposes God's work on earth is accentuated.
[16] It may be of interest to readers that the Marduk/Baal mythology, according to which this god led a rebellion in the council of the gods, was taken from the mythology that developed around Naram-Sin [17], the great king who was the very first king who exalted himself as god among the other gods. In this tradition, he was depicted as the opponent of the king of the gods in their council, as the one who led a rebellion against him. We have already seen that the symbol of the Anzu, combined with a snake, is said to have been introduced by him. His use of that symbol might have been the basis for the story of the Anzu who stole the "tablets of destiny", who tried to exalt himself but in the process became a fallen creature - the story which seems to lie at the basis of the Biblical story of the fallen cherub told by Ezekiel.
Who was this Naram-Sin, who may be regarded as the greatest king of ancient times (until the time of Caesar Augustus), and who seems to be the historical figure behind various images later used for Satan in Biblical tradition? Should we regard him in some manner as the opposite of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? He lived at the end of the era of the Bull; Jesus Christ lived at the end of the era of the Ram. One can speculate that we might regard him as a kind of anti-Christ in whom the god who later became known as Satan in Biblical tradition, became manifest. There might have been other such figures even earlier in history. A detailed discussion falls outside the scope of this essay.
[17] (Reference in Note 16) See the epic Naram-Sin and Erra, in Joan Goodnick Westenholz (ed.). 1997. Legends of the Kings of Akkade. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.
[18] The elevation of Marduk to become the king of the gods in Babylonia happened sometime after Abraham left that country. This would be the reason why we find no trace of the Marduk mythology in the Mesopotamian material in the Book of Genesis - in my view this material was brought by Abraham's family from that land and was later incorporated in the Book of Genesis.
According to the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament dating from the third to second century BC) Abraham started his journey from Harran to Canaan in ~1837 BC. This date is in agreement with the Mesopotamian high chronology according to which the invasion of the Elamites in northern Syria (an event described in Genesis 14) took place in 1822 BC, in the time of the Elamite ruler Siwe-palar-huppak. This was before Hammurabi became overlord over all of southern Mesopotamia after his victory over Rim-Sin. The Sumeriologist Thorkid Jacobsen took Hammurabi's rise to become king of all of Babylon (after this victory) as the occasion when Marduk became acknowledged as the king of the gods in Babylonia. Marduk's new position is reflected in the preamble to the law code of Hammurabi (Jacobsen 1976:189). 
Jacobsen, Thorkild. 1976. The Treasures of Darkness. New Haven: Yale University.
[19] Readers who would like to do more reading on the topic of the ancient worldview may consult the following works, which I regard as the best in their genre:
De Santillana, Giorgio & Von Dechend, Hertha. 1968. Hamlet’s Mill. An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and its Transmission through Myth. Boston: David R. Godine. 
Horowitz, Wayne. 1998. Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud. (Ref.
The author has written a book on the Sumerian roots of the Bible (Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012)) and is a philosopher and scientist (PhD in Physics; MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy, science and eschatology.

Read also the other parts of the series on the Book of Genesis:
Intro: The Book of Genesis - the Sumerian hypothesis
If readers find the article interesting, they are welcome to share it or forward it to others, including their pastors or other scholars. 

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