Tyre's Mythology and Religion
Phoenician Mythology and Religion are difficult, unfortunately the Phoenicians had Papyrus Paper, which in the humid climates of Phoenicia did not withstand the test of time. So what we know of the religion, comes from clay tablets of Mesopotamia, texts from Egypt, the Bible and Greek histories. Additional problems arise due to the use of "Ba'al", which translates as "Lord". Like the English word "Lord" it can mean the main "God" i.e., "our Lord in Heaven", it can mean "all gods" in a generic since and can also be a title of respect for people. The city God of Tyre is "Melkart", but he is sometimes called Ba'al Melkart i.e., Lord Melkart. The Bible frequently refers to "Ba'al" as if he was a single God, this probably is not correct. The Greeks compounded the problem by their attempts to translate the Phoenician Gods into the equivalent Greek God. The Greeks related "Melkart" to Hercules and "Ba'al" to Zeus and during the Hellenenization of Phoenicia the transformation was complete with Melkart becoming Hercules and Ba'al becoming Zeus.
The creation myth is very similar to the Greek myth whereby Zeus is saved from being eaten by his father Cronus by his mother who replaces the baby Zeus with a stone. Zeus later grows up and forces his father to regurgitate his brothers and sisters. The Near East myth follows the sequence so closely that borrowing almost certainly took place and thus the Greek myth shows aspects of Babylonian, Hittite, Hurrian and Canaanite mythology. This borrowing must either have occurred in the Bronze Age or some time later and been lifted either directly from the Hittites or through the neo-Hittite states of Syria. The creation myth follows:
Heaven Anu (Uranus in Greek) is castrated by Kumarbi or (Cronos in Greek). Kumarbi rules for a number of years and sires three sons. He swallows his offspring, who include a storm god and a god of waters, but in the case of the storm god he is tricked into swallowing a stone instead. The storm god eventually overthrows Kumarbi who, in the ‘Song of Ullikumi,’ attempts to gain revenge. Kumarbi not only releases the brothers he also releases the "stone" which takes on a power of its own as a result of having been within the body of a god. In the Song of Ullikummi, Kumarbi’s attempts to overthrow the weather god are assisted by his nurturing of the stone. It grows rapidly on the shoulder of a Titan figure, the god Upellur (Atlas in Greek). Ullikummi, the giant child of earth, makes war on the storm god, daring to approach the very gates of heaven, a feature seen also in the story of Typhon.
Note: This is why the Phoenicians worshipped certain "Stones" and "Pillars". The regurgitated stone is also worshipped on Crete and a sacred stone was likewise worshipped at Delphi.
After creation a race of demi-gods discovered that fire could be produced by rubbing pieces of wood together and gave this discovery to mankind. After the demi-gods came giants whose names were given to the mountains they inhabited and from them Cassius, Lebanus and Antilebanus received their names. Then were born two brothers Shamenrum (Hysuranius) and Usoos the hunter. Shamenrum dwelled near the site of the future town of Tyre. There was a conflict between the two brothers. A storm arose and caused trees to rub together and the forests burned. Usoos took a tree broke off its boughs and turned it into a boat. He was the first to venture on the sea. Sailing to an island he dedicated two pillars one to fire and the other to wind. There he performed sacrifices for years - mortals continued to worship at these pillars.
Foundation Myth of Tyre:
The foundation myth of Tyre starts when an "oracle" instructed the first men on earth to build a ship and land on floating rocks, designated as "ambrosial rocks", on which grew an olive tree harboring an eagle and a serpent and enveloped by a fire that did not consume its branches. They were to then capture and sacrifice the eagle. Usoos or in other versions Hercules/Melkart taught the people how to make boats and taught them to sail. Then the first men carried out the instructions after sacrificing the eagle the floating rocks became fixed and "Tyre" was founded. As such, the citizens of "Tyre" considered themselves amongst the original people of earth.
Coin of Gordian III with Ambrosial rocks and olive tree
Europa (yoo-ROH-pa). Europa was a princess who lived on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in a land known long ago as Phoenicia, Europa's father was Agenor. One night Europa dreamed that two women each wanted Europa for their own. One of the women, named Asia, was familiar and she begged Europa to stay with her, and not leave with the other woman who was a stranger. The woman named Asia was the mother who gave birth to her, and nursed her, she told Europa. But the strange woman, whispered to Europa that Zeus himself had stated that Europa should go with her. Europa awake from her dream at once both afraid and excited. "I only pray that things will turn out well" she thought to herself.
That morning, full of wonder and joy from the mysterious dream, Europa gathered her friends and went to the meadow. Europa was gathering wildflowers, Zeus, who had been wounded by a dart from the bow of the mischievous cupid, saw Europa and fell in love with her. Overwhelmed by love, Zeus transformed himself into the form of a magnificent white bull and appeared on the sea shore, where Europa came upon the beautiful white bull. The bull was uncommonly gentle and did not inspire fear. Europa at first decked the bulls horns with flowers, but in time was emboldened to climb upon its back. Whereupon the bull - actually the god Zeus in disguise - took off at a trot and dove into the sea. Europa was carried off to the island of Crete, where she became the mother of Zeus' children - King Minos, King Rhadamathus of the Cyclades Islands, and Price Sarpedon of Lycia. Zeus gave Europa presents, one of them was a wonderful dog called "Laelaps" which was so swift that no beast could escape him.
When Cadmus, her brother, married Harmonia, Europa gave her a necklace, which she had received from Zeus.
After having children with Zeus, Europa married the king of Crete "Asterius", who adopted her sons, and after her death, she was worshiped under the name of Hellotis in Crete. As a present Zeus gave three gifts the bronze giant "Talos" to guard Crete, Laelaps and a javelin that never missed. The Hellotia festival was held in her honor. At last, Zeus reproduced the shape of the white bull "Taurus" to seduce Europa from the stars.
Approximately 200 years before the Trojan War (+/- 1400 BC). Cadmus, in search
of his abducted sister Europa, settled in Boeotia. In the new land he founded
the city of Cadmea, later called Thebes. Cadmus is credited for having brought
the art of writing from Phoenicia to Greece and was the first to combine consonants
with vowels, thus teaching the secrets of correct speech.
According to the legend, when the princess Europa disappeared (see legend of Europa) from Phoenicia (Tyre) her father Agenor, the son of Belus I of Egypt and Anchinoe, the daughter of the river god Nilus, sent his sons in search of her, telling them not to return until they had found their sister. They searched for her in what is now Europe but she was never found because Zeus (disguised as a bull) had brought Europa to the shore by Mount Dicte in Crete.
Europa's brother Phoenix gave up the search and settled in part of Phoenicia, which was called after him, and so
did Cilix, who became king in Cilicia, the southeastern most coastal region of Asia Minor, and so did Thasus, who also gave up
the search and settled on the large island off Thrace, thus founding the city of Thasos. Also, other relatives, brothers or perhaps cousins, went away in search of Europa. Cepheus , son of Belus or of Phoenix, who was the father of Andromeda, the wife of Perseus, settled in Ethiopia; and Phineus, whom the ARGONAUTS are said to have met became king of Salmydessus in Thrace.
Cadmus, who was from the city of Tyre, sailing northwards from Sidon in Phoenicia, put ashore at Calliste,
the island north of Crete later called Thera (Santorini), he left on this island a group of settlers under the leadership of
Membliarus, son of Poeciles. Calliste came to be called Thera because many generations later Theras (son of Autesion, son
of Tisamenus, son of Thersander, son of Polynices, son of Oedipus, son of Laius, son of Labdacus, son of Polydorus II,
son of Cadmus) came to the island to claim his rights. On Theras' arrival to Calliste, the descendants of Membliarus gave up the
kingship to him of their own accord, for they considered that Theras' family went back to Cadmus himself. and so Theras,
having become king, renamed the island, and called it Thera after himself.
Cadmus left Callist, accompanied by his mother "Telephassa" and sailed to Thrace here Cadmus was taught the initiatory rites of Iasion. After his mother's death, Cadmus came to Delphi to inquire about Europa, but the oracle told him not to worry about his sister and instead he should let himself be guided by a white cow and found a city in the place where the animal should stop to rest. So Cadmus, obeying the oracle, journeyed through Phocis, northern coast of the Gulf of Corinth, where he met a white cow. He followed her a long way, over hill and mountain, through valleys and across rivers. Finally, the cow laid down on a knoll in the middle of a large plain-the perfect spot for a walled city.
Due to the method of founding the city, Cadmus decided to sacrifice the cow to the goddess Athena. With that purpose in mind, he sent one of his men to get water from the spring later called Dirce (some have said Castalia).When the man he sent never returned, he sent two more men to see what had happened. They did not return either and he sent the rest of his men, a few at a time, after the others. Finally, he was left alone and went to see for himself what was keeping his men. from the spring. The spring belonged to Ares, which was guarded by a dragon/serpent said to be the offspring of the god Ares, or sacred to him. This dragon, which had a golden crest, flashed fire from his eyes, had a triple tongue, teeth ranged in triple row, and a body swollen with poison, had devoured Cadmus' companions. At first, Cadmus was afraid it would eat him too, but the dragon was very sluggish and sleepy after eating so many men and Cadmus slew the dragon easily. Unfortunately, now Cadmus had no men. He looked to the gods and since he had sacrificed the cow, Athena answered his plea. "Don't worry," said the goddess. Just plow a field and sow the dragon's teeth in the furrows." Cadmus followed Athena's strange advice and as soon as the teeth were sown, fully grown warriors sprang up. They all ran at Cadmus and again he feared for his life, but again Athena stepped in. "Throw a rock among them!" she told Cadmus. Again, Cadmus did as the goddess said, and at once the warriors fought each other fiercely, accusing their neighbor of being the thrower of the rock. In the end, only five remained living, and those were wounded badly. Cadmus nursed them back to health and they helped Cadmus establish the city of Thebes. These warriors are called SPARTI and it is said that in Cadmus' time the greatest power, after his, was in the hands of the SPARTI.. Cadmus, because he had slaughtered Ares' darling dragon, was forced to serve Ares for what was called an eternal year, which is equivalent to eight regular years.
Coin of Gallinius with Cadmus fighting the serpent
After having paid his penalty to Ares, Cadmus, with Athena's help,
became king, receiving Harmonia, daughter of Ares and
Aphrodite, as wife from Zeus. She received, as a wedding present, a couple of interesting items, known as the Robe &
Necklace of Harmonia, which provoked those who possessed them, through the ambitions, betrayals and other nonsensical behaviors of many men and women, a number of murders, wars and other tragedies including the utter ruin of the city that Cadmus founded. Cadmus was one of the greatest men of his time, and that is why his wedding was magnificent, many gods and goddesses attending, besides the parents of the bride. And on his wedding day, they say, Cadmus attained the highest honor and prosperity a mortal man can receive, for he, like later Achilles' father Peleus, was able to hear the MUSES sing. Cadmus and Harmonia received a number of gifts from the gods: a jewel set throne from Hera, a lyre or perhaps a scepter
from Hermes, a crown from Hephaestus, a spear from Ares, the Robe & Necklace from Athena or perhaps Aphrodite or
Hephaestus or even Europa, and sacred rites of the mother of the gods (Rhea) along with cymbals and kettledrums from
Electra III, the Pleiad, who is said to have nursed Harmonia.
However, the land where Cadmus founded his city was not empty when he arrived,
for a couple of nations, the Hyanteans and
the Aonians, occupied Boeotia. Before them, it is said, the Ectenes, ruled by King Ogygus, lived in Boeotia, until they were
decimated by pestilence and perished. Ogygus had two daughters, Aulis and Alalcomenia, after whom the Boeotian cities are
called, and some say that Eleusinus, after whom the city of Eleusis in Attica is called, was his son. But according to others
Eleusinus is the son of Hermes and Daira, one of the OCEANIDS.
Now, on his arrival Cadmus, with the help of his Phoenician army, defeated
both Hyanteans and Aonians, expelling the former
nation and assimilating the latter, and some say that he also defeated the Temmicans, who were early inhabitants of Boeotia as
The new city of Thebes that Cadmus founded had many streets measured at right
angles and was embellished with Phoenician
art. It has been told that Cadmus planned the future seven gates of Thebes, said to correspond to the seven zones of heaven,
but they were not built until the times of King Amphion. The gates of Thebes were dedicated to the following celestial bodies: the first to the Moon, the second to Hermes (Mercury), the third to Aphrodite (Venus), the fourth, for being in the middle of the planets, to Helius (Sun), the fifth to Ares (Mars), the sixth to Zeus (Jupiter), and the seventh to Cronos (Saturn). For Cadmus considered the sun to be in the middle, whereas a couple of millennia after him some thought that not the sun but the earth was in the middle, and yet others coming after them thought again, as Cadmus did, that the sun is in the middle.
Some say that the city was called Cadmea after Cadmus, and that only afterwards, during the reign of Amphion, was called
Thebes after Thebe, the wife of Amphion's brother Zethus. But others say that Cadmus himself called the city Thebes after
Egyptian Thebes, which was founded by his father.
After having many children, Cadmus and Harmonia left Thebes in order to defend the Encheleans, a people leaving in
southern Illyria, which is the region north of Epirus, and there defeated the Illyrian intruders. During their absence, their son
Polydorus II became king, but it is also said that Pentheus, son of the Sparti Echion II and Agave II, daughter of Cadmus,
succeeded him on the throne.
In the same way that Danaus, the father of the DANAIDS, is believed to have
brought the gift of water by irrigating Argos,
Cadmus is credited for having brought words and thoughts to the whole of Hellas, fashioning tools to echo the sounds of the
tongue by mingling vowels and consonants in a connected and silent system. This, they say, he had learnt from the Egyptians,
for his father Agenor had lived nine years in Memphis and founded Egyptian Thebes. And besides writing, Cadmus became
acquainted in Egypt with astronomy, learning the course of the sun, the measure of the earth, and the phases of the moon.
Some have said that Zeus gave Harmonia to Cadmus in recompense for having helped him to restore the harmony of the
world, destroyed by Typhon's attack on heaven. For Pan, following Zeus' instructions, gave Cadmus a flute and disguised him
as a shepherd, and Zeus asked Cadmus to bewitch Typhon's wits with a delusive tune. So when Cadmus tuned up, Typhon,
attracted by the deceitful notes of the syrinx, appeared, and Cadmus, through a stratagem, convinced him to bring the sinews of
Zeus that Typhon had in his power, thus leading him to his doom. And when Zeus recovered his power, they say, he also
informed Cadmus of his sister's fate.
Cadmus being so closely acquainted with the gods, taught some of the God's mysteries to men. The soothsayer who understood the language of birds and worms named Melampus, son of Amythaon, son of Cretheus, son of Aeolus, taught in the name of Dionysus II, the way of sacrificing to him, and the phallic procession to all Greeks, having learned all these things, along with the prophetic art, from Cadmus. But there are those who deny this, saying that Cadmus' daughter Semele was violated in Egyptian Thebes, where Cadmus lived, and that Cadmus, in order to avert slander from his outraged daughter, said that her son was the son of Zeus, and not, as he really was, the son of an unknown rapist. And they add that, as this son was then identified with Osiris, the Egyptian god, many generations later Orpheus found it convenient to say that Osiris was Dionysus II, thus instituting new rites for the son of Zeus and Semele. They also affirm that mankind forgets its own achievements because of various kinds of catastrophes, as for example the Flood, and that consequently Cadmus cannot be considered to be the first to bring the letters to Hellas, for the alphabet had existed before, and had been forgotten. And then again, the Laconians used to say that Semele, after giving birth to Dionysus II by Zeus, was discovered by Cadmus, who put her and her child into a chest, which was washed up by the waves in Laconia. They affirmed that Semele was already dead when they were found, but little Dionysus II they brought up.
While they were in Illyria, Cadmus and Harmonia were turned into serpents
as he had been warned after slaying the dragon
of Ares: "Why, Cadmus, do you gaze on the serpent you have slain? You too shall be a serpent for men to gaze on." After this, Zeus sent them to the Elysian Fields, although some say that they dwell in the Islands of the Blest. Illyrius is the last child of Cadmus and Harmonia. He was born in Illyria.
There was once a time, you must know, when purple was still an ornament forbidden to men; it lay concealed in the round cavity of a tiny shell. A fisherman captured some of these; he at first thought that he had obtained some fish, but when he saw that the shell was rough and hard, he was vexed with what he had caught, and threw it away as the mere offal of the sea. A sheppard's dog found this windfall and crunched it with its teeth, the blood of the dye streamed all over the dog's mouth staining its muzzle and indelibly imprinting the purple on its lips. The shepherd thought it was due to a wound. He went and washed it out in the sea-water, but the "blood' only shone the brighter. When he touched it with his hands, some of the purple rubbed off. He realized that the shell contained an ingredient of great beauty. He took a fleece of wool and pressed it into the interior of the shell trying to find out its secret; and the wool too appeared as though blood-stained, like the dog's muzzle, thence he learned the appearance of the dye. He therefore took some stones and broke the outer shell which hid the substance opened the hiding-place of the purple and thus discovered what was a very treasury of dye.
Hercules was enamored of a native nymph called Tyrus. One day the lovers were walking along the shore followed by Hercules' dog. The dog found a murex on one of the rocks with its proboscis protruding from its shell. He seized and devoured it. The dog's jaws were colored with the juice. When the nymph saw the beautiful tint she refused Hercules' unless he would give her a garment of equal beauty. Hercules returned to the shore and collected a quantity of the juice and dyed a garment for his mistress.
Coin of Elagabalas with Ambrasial rocks, olive tree and dog chasing Murex
Ba'al EL "Lord EL"(Protector of the Universe) is the leading deity and is frequently only refereed to as Ba`al "Lord". He is the god most actively worshipped in Canaan and Phoenicia, he is the the Storm God, source of rain storms, but also spring mist and summer dew. He is considered responsible for the growth of vegetation, and for the maintenance of life. However, he is not a crop or vegetation god. He is considered a forceful God and frequently shown striding forth carrying a mace and spear or a lightening bolt and sometimes transforms himself into a bull. He was the son of Dagan. He embodies royal power but could be influenced by evil. he continually fights for order vs chaos against the god Yahm and life vs death against the god "Mot"( the god of drought, blight, sterility and decay). He is also called: "Rider of the Clouds", "Master of the Earth", and "Thunderer". Ba'al EL resides on Mount Zaphon, north of Ugarit.
The Greeks considered "Ba'al" to be Zeus and the Egyptians Osiris or Ammun. The Hebrews consider "Ba'al" as the chief god of the Canaanite's; however it is not clear; If "Ba'al" is actually a specific God or just an abbreviated form of a more complete name;. as "Ba'al translates as "Lord" and could be used in front of the names of kings as well as of gods; and therefore maybe should always be followed with the specific "Lord", i.e. Ba'al EL (Protector of the Universe), Ba'al Melkart (Lord of Tyre); Ba'al Shaminm (Lord of Heaven), Ba'al Rose (Lord of promontory), Ba'al Maraab (Lord of Healing), Ba'al Lebanon (Lord of Mount Lebanon), etc.or if these various specific"Lords" are different personifications of the same God - "Ba'al".
It should be noted that "Jews" refer to God in the Hebrew Bible as Eloh, Elohaino or Elohim (these are all considered forms of "EL").
Astarte, Ashtarte, Ashtoreth or Asteria and Astronoe in Greek:
Coin of Elagabala- Astarte temple with altar group > Coin of altar group and > Civic issue with head of Astarte
Astarte is the chief female deity of Tyre and is sometimes known as Baalat "Dear Lady". She was the daughter of Ouranos and was called the "Queen of Heaven" and mother of Earth. She was identified with the moon and reigned over the whole land. She is sometimes called the Mother of Melkart. Cult statures of Astarte take many forms and were left as votive offerings at shines and sanctuaries as prayers for good harvest, for children and for protection and tranquility in the home.
She shares many of the qualities of her sister "Anath" the goddess of love and war and at one time the two may have been one goddess
A marble base relief from Tyre has been interpreted as showing Astarte who has just delivered Melkart sitting under a flaming tree on which a serpent is entwined. The new born Melkart suckles a doe on whose back an eagle (Zeus) stands. A serpent crawls towards the doe and serpent. This represents the Tyrian trinity of Ba'al EL (father), Astarte (mother) and Melkart (son).
In Greco-Roman period she is associated with Aphrodite, Artemis and Juno and the Egyptian goddesses Isis and Harthor.
The bible frequently refers negatively to the goddess "Ashtoreth", which is believed to be a Hebrew combination of Astarte and "boshet" (shame) and becomes a general name for all goddesses of paganism.
Easter is named for Ishtar or "Astarte". The pagans celebrated spring and fertility in the name Ishtar. Around the 2nd century AD Christian missionaries seeking to convert the tribes of northern Europe realized that the time of the crucifixion of Jesus roughly coincided with the spring time celebrations and Christian Easter gradually absorbed the traditional symbols of the spring/fertility festivals.
The egg symbolizes birth and fertility - Ancient Egyptians and Persians colored eggs to give as gifts during the spring festival.
The rabbit or hare comes out at night to feed and so was associated with moon goddess and of course the rabbit has long been a symbol of fertility.
Melkart of Tyre:
In Aramaic Melkart simply means "Lord" (Melk) of the "City" (Kart)
Civic issue of Tyre with head of Melkart and club of Melkart/Hercules
Melkart of Tyre was the son of EL, (Zeus according to the Greeks), who was the son of Ouranos and brother of Cronos. Originally Melkart may have been just one incarnation of Ba'al, but as the son of Zeus the Greeks saw him as Hercules and the Phoenicians of the Greco-Roman periods portrayed him as Hercules with a muscular body and holding a club and lion's skin. Both gods fought lions. Melkart appears to have been a sun-god, the god of light and fire. He is the King of the Underworld and as such associated with the annual cycle of vegetation.
Being the son of EL (Zeus), the Greeks considered him to be Hercules. Herodotus actual made a trip to Tyre to explore this relationship as the temple of Melkart was reported to date back to 2750 BC, but the Greek Hercules was assumed to have lived during the age of Heroes before the Trojan war. Herodotus concludes that thru time there may have been more than one Hercules; i.e., a son of Zeus who strived to prove himself worthy of being a God.
Temple to Ba'al at Palmyra: Note the two (2) columns and the entrance offset (not center as in Greek/Roman temples)
Herodotus describes two pillars in the great temple of Tyre one was of gold and the other was said to be of emerald (Tyrian Green Glass?) and was hollow, and therefore could be constantly lit from within. This great temple made Tyre the cult center of Hercules. Only the High Priests of Tyre were allowed to enter the temple
The straits of Gibraltar are called the "Pillars of Hercules" in classical text based on the two pillars at the temple of Tyre. According to legend this is where Heracles pressed to separate Europe from Africa. It is also said to be the location where Atlas holds up the world.
In early spring Tyrians celebrated the festival of the awakening or resurrection of Melkart as a fertility God. Starting with Antiochus IV (175 - 164 BC) a great festival in honor of Melkart/Hercules was held every fifth year in Tyre, which included Athletic games and costly sacrifices.
Anath or Anat
Anath was the goddess of "Love and War". She was the sister and help mate of "Ba'al". She was a beautiful "Virgin" famous for her youthful vigor and ferocity in battle. According to the myth of "Baal's" death and resurrection, she mourned and searched for Baal and finally helped to retrieve him from the underworld.
Anath was adopted by Ramses II and added to the Egyptian pantheon. Egyptian representations of Anath show her as a nude goddess, often standing on a lion and holding flowers.
Adon or Adonis
Adonis is a handsome young God. The death of Adonis marked the annual rites of morning when his river "Nahr Ibrahim" becomes red with his blood. One myth is that he had a love affair with Ashtarte, which another god envied. The other god takes on the form of a wild boar and attacks and kills Adonis and where his blood fell there grows red poppies every year. However, Ashtarte weeps for his loss and promises to bring him back to life every spring.
Adonis became part of Greek mythology although the legends change slightly.