The Eshmun Thread

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billd89
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The Eshmun Thread

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Review of Adonis und Esmun: eine Untersuchung zur Geschichte des Glaubens an Auferstehungsgötter und an Heilgötter von Wolf Wilhelm Grafen BAUDISSIN [1911], in Revue Biblique, Volumes 21-22 [1912], p.122:

Eshmun, it is said, must be a young god because he is a Son god. But from the fact that the Greeks were able to forge a genealogy for him, will we conclude that the Phoenicians considered him as a Son? The Son of whom? Of Astarte? Yet he would rather be her husband or her lover. Of the great Baal? but he is never related to him; if we identify him with lolaos, he will be the younger companion of Herakles, but not his Son. Also there is a positive reason to affirm that Eshmun was not a young god, it is that the Greeks commonly and without hesitation assimilated him to Asklepios (1). If M. Baudissin did not quote a single representation of Asklepios as a young god, it is undoubtedly because nothing similar was known: Asklepios is always represented under the features of a bearded man, in all the maturity of the age. So he had recourse to another assimilation. The frequency of the type of Dionysus on Phoenician coins, especially at Sidon, Baudissin takes as the equivalence of Eshmun with the Young God of the Vine. The argument is seductive. But finally one has never hesitated to assimilate Eshmun to Aesculapius; no text even compares him to Dionysus. Would it not be necessary, in order to do so, to establish first a serious comparison between Aesculapius and Dionysus?

And it is even more difficult to find in everything that always concerns Damascios' Eshmun except the slightest trace he died and was resurrected. If he is identified with Iolaos, he has resurrected Herakles. In this role again, we recognize Asklepios-Aesculapius; but it is in vain that M. Baudissin looks for any relation between the Doctor-God who heals, and even resuscitates his companion, and the Young God resuscitated by his lover. As for making of the Doctor God a god of vegetation, there would be some appearance if one heard of salutary and medicinal plants (2), but we would be far from the theme of the spring vegetation which dries up to be reborn, and consequently far from the resuscitated god who is necessary to M. de Baudissin. Here again the look-alike Asklepios blocks the road. With his admirable conscience of the duties which are imposed to the scholar, the author recognizes without detour that this god is, in no way, the image of the life of the dying and reborn nature (p.343, note 3).

Certainly one does not have the pretension to summarize in these few lines the rich argumentation of Baudissin; one believes oneself obliged to say that for learned and iugenious that it is, it is powerless to produce the conviction. To all the arguments of detail is opposed the very clear distinction of the images that the antiquity knew better than us.

The connection of the two gods, Adonis and Eshmun, with an Astarte, is not a feature which brings them closer than it brings Adonis closer to Baal-Hammôn, the paredre of Tapit; or the Lady of Byblos and Astarte of Sidon are two persons at least as distinct as Astarte of Carthage and Tanit.

(1) B., really too reserved this law, wonders (p. 244) if Eshmun is in himself a Healing God or if this quality was attributed to him after he had been identified with Asklepios. The scruple is strange, for if Eshmun had not at least been a healer, would he ever have been identified with a demigod who was only that?

(2) The root smm in Arabic has designated 'healthy plants'.

Twice we have already encountered the name 'lolaos'. Its identity with Eshmun would be the best reason to rejuvenate the god of Sidon, and between lolaos and Asklepios any relation is not lacking, since lolaos did resuscitate Hercules. To tell the truth, it is not so much as a doctor as by the lucky idea of using a quail, but one should not look too closely at this. The difficulty is that Iolaos seems to have its precise equivalent in the Phoenician language; it would therefore have been distinguished from Eshmun (1). However, this would not prevent that there was no certain resemblance between these two divinities, and this resemblance was probably enough for Polybius (2) to name Iolaos among the Carthaginian gods, while he was thinking of Eshmun. But it must be admitted that the threads of the question remain quite entangled. Baudissin ends up supposing a Sardinian god Iolaos, of Libyan origin, who was identified with Greek lolaos, and who was with Melqart in the same relation as this Greek god with Herakles (p.294). Admirable coincidence of names and roles! If it were proved that the Cypriot Eshmun was really in definite relations with Herakles-Melqart (p.294 ff.), would it not be necessary to conclude, as Baudissin is not far from doing further on (p. 309), that in Cyprus this Eshmun took a particular nuance, and would one be mistaken in attributing it to the influence of the Greek legend of lolaos? The problem of lolaos remains very obscure, but one could not, in good criticism, use such a risky comparison to qualify the powerful protector of Carthage. Baudissin sees in Eshmun a kind of Adonis who would have developed in the direction of the power and the divinity; but the texts know nothing of this transformation, if it is not at the time of Damascios; at that time one was powerless to discover the veil of the origins; one compensated oneself by the syncretism of the combinations.

If Baudissin was mistaken about the nature and character of Eshmun, we have no reason to complain. Under his guidance, one learns a lot on the way, even if one does not reach the goal. The Carthaginian religion is put in a new light by the author; its analogies with those of Sidon are made more evident, without the author having pretended to pierce the mystery of this enigma, Carthage having been founded by Tyre. [...]

With regard to Eshmun, the author already makes contact with the Old Testament. The Healing God evokes the memory of the Bronze Serpent, broken by Hezekiah (II Kings 18:4). Where did this object come from, to which the Israelites burned incense? From Moses, according to the account in Numbers (21:4ff.). But B. believes that this account was imagined to explain and justify the place of the Nekhustan in the Temple; it would therefore have no value. It can only be inferred that the Bronze Serpent was not found on the spot. As it comes neither from Arabia (4) nor from Egypt, it was borrowed from the

(1) This is the argument that seemed to me to be decisive, Studies on Semitic Religions, 2nd ed. p. 126. (2) In the famous oath that enumerates the gods of Carthage (Pol. 7.9.2f.).

(3) All this dissertation seems to be detinitive, at least as to the grammatical relationship of the words Eshmun-Astarté, Eshmun-Melqart, etc. (4) The word "Eshmun" is a word which is not used in the Bible.

(6) M. de Baudissin has not taken into account the name who was noted by Fathers Jaussen and Savignac (Mission archéologique en Arabie, p. 250 ff.) in a Minean inscription and which they have encountered again, as will be seen in the announced volume devoted to a second mission.

Really one does not recognize, in this series of conjectures, the stale sense of the author. These are the procedures of literary criticism that are cast in a vacuum. From the point of view of the history of religions, the little story of Numbers has a perfectly clear meaning; the bronze serpent is an ex-voto (1 Sam. 6, 17 f.), with the special stamp that it is made in advance. I have been saying for a long time now (RB. 1900, p. 286) that this object, made of brass, was forged before arriving at Oboth, that is to say at the station of Phunon where there are precisely copper mines, which could very well have been exploited in the time of Moses. The story of the bronze snake therefore has all the appearance of a true story. Why turn it into an etiological legend that would not even reach its goal?

Through Adonis who is not quite a god, through Eshmun who has become quite a god, the work moves towards the God of the Old Testament. This God is a God who resurrects; it is from Him that Jews and Christians, not to mention Muslims, expect the resurrection.

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