Baal Peor and the Marzeah Feast

(updated Sept 3, 2014)

“Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings during the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?   You shall take up Sikkuth your king, and Kiyyun your star-god– your images that you made for yourselves, and I will send you into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts. (Amos 5:25-27 ESV)

One of the difficulties in interpreting these verses in Amos is that the deities mentioned are obscure.   Kiyyun is usually taken to be a Mesopotamian deity named Kaiwan which means “the steady one”, a name for Saturn.  We know nothing about this deity except that the name appears in a list of Mesopotamian gods from a cuneiform text .  Sikkut is usually thought to be Sakkuth, another obscure deity whose role in the pantheon was cupbearer to the gods.  Sakkuth’s temple was in the city of Der, on the border of Elam –  a long ways from Israel!  (DDD – Dictionary of Deities and Demons)  It may be that these obscure deities, Sakkuth and Kaiwan, are actually mentioned in this passage, but it is also possible that the MT is a little garbled here and that the LXX preserves a better reading,

Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Raephan, the images of them which ye made for yourselves. (Amo 5:26 LXE)

It is not difficult to reconcile the first clause of the LXX with the MT.   With just a small change in vowel points, Sikkut becomes sukkat, which means a tent or dwelling.  Likewise, malach can easily be repointed to read Molech –  a deity often attested in the OT.   So the LXX reading ‘tent of Molech’ seems better than the MT reading ‘Sikkuth your king’.    The second phrase in the LXX  reads ‘star of your god Raephan’.  This is more difficult to reconcile with the MT.  It is hard to say if the LXX is simply trying to smooth a difficult text or if it is preserving a more reliable Hebrew text.  M. Pope notes that Ugaritic texts often speak of underworld spirits called the rephaim and the malku.   They seem to be equivalent to the Annunaki in Mesopotamian texts.  In Amos they appear together in the singular with the root letters MLK (Molech) and RPU (Raephan?).  Pope argues that MLK and RPU were underworld deities that rose to receive the sacrifices offered to the dead during the marzea feast.   (see below)

The naming of these two deities is further strengthened by the fact that Amos places the idolatrous worship of these deities in the context of Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the desert.   He asks the rhetorical question, “Did you bring sacrifices and offerings during your 40 years in the wilderness?”    (see note 2).  In asking this question, Amos reminds Israel of the purity of their worship before reminding them of what happened next.  “Yea, ye took up the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god Raephan, the images of them which ye made for yourselves.” (Amo 5:26 LXE)  The worship of these images is best understood in connection with the events that took place at Baal Peor as narrated in the book Numbers.   In this case, Baal Peor is equivalent to the MLK and RPU.

Although the book of Numbers does not suggest that the deities worshiped at Baal Peor were connected to the underworld, a verse in the Psalms connects the worship at Baal-peor to sacrifices for the dead.

They joined themselves also unto Baal-peor, And ate the sacrifices of the dead. (Psa 106:28 ASV)

We can learn more about this feast from Ugaritc texts that link the rephaim to a funerary feast called the marzeah.   According to M. Pope, the name of the feast is probably derived from the root word rzh which in Arabic means “to fall down from fatigue or other weakness and remain prostrate without the power to rise.”  (Pope, M. H. and M. S. Smith (1994). Probative pontificating in Ugaritic and biblical literature : collected essays. Münster, Ugarit-Verlag)  The goal of the marzeah feast was to get hammered.

Probably the best known reference to the marzea feast comes from an Akkadian text found at Ras Shamra (13th BC) in which El gets so drunk he sees an apparition and ends up ‘wallowing in his excrement and vomit’.   (Pope 1994, 155 ff).  A cup found in the same room as the text illustrates the marzea.

Depiction of El receiving wine offering. Courtesy: Monsieur Claude F.-A., SchaefferLe culte d'El à Ras Shamra (Ugarit) et le veau d'or (supplément à la séance du 25 février), Persee
Depiction of El receiving offerings of wine.
Courtesy: Monsieur Claude F.-A.,Schaeffer Le culte d’El à Ras Shamra (Ugarit) et le veau d’or (supplément à la séance du 25 février), Persee

Another Akkadian text refers to an invitation to a marzea feast sent to the rephaim by the hero Danel after his son, Aqhat, is killed.  (Pope 1994, 171).

The Bible also makes reference to the marzea.  Jeremiah is forbidden to enter the ‘house of mourning’ (bet marzeach) because God had purposed to bring disaster on his people (Jer 16:5-9).    Jeremiah is also commanded not to make a bald spot on his head or to cut himself – practices that were forbidden in Deut. 14:1.  Thus it appears that the bet marzeah is associated with other forbidden forms of mourning for the dead. The prophet Amos also mentions a marzea feast but in this context, it clearly means ‘revelry’ and is associated with wine and music. Was it also associated with a feast for the dead?  Amos doesn’t make this connection but it is possible that the meaning of marzea was originally confined to a funerary feast but was broadened to include all kinds of revelry.

The marzea feast also appears in later, non Biblical texts and inscriptions.  For example, texts from Palmyra that date to the Hellenistic period make reference to a marzea feast held “at the houses of celebrated hetairai and served by beautiful girls as waitresses and musicians; the affair, understandably, often ended in sacrifices to Aphrodite Pandemos.” (Pope 1994, 170 citing Guhl and Koner, The Life of the Greeks and Romans)   Interestingly enough, Rabbinic texts refer to the sacrifices offered to Peor as marzehim (Pope 1994, 169; Sifre Numbers 131) and also relate the idolatrous worship at Peor with the mayumas festivals that were “observed along the Mediterranean, especially in port cities like Alexandria, Gaza, Ashkelon and Antioch, with such licentiousness that Roman rulers felt constrained to ban them.”  (Pope 1994, 169)  It is noteworthy that these festivals were particularly associated with coastal cities on the eastern Mediteranean.  Is it possible that the feast was transmitted to the Roman and Greek world through the Carthaginians?  R. Good cites several Carthaginian stelae that make reference to the mayumas festival.

“for the mayumas of the people of Carthage”

Good suggests that the etymology of mayumas is found in the semitic terms: mai = water;  yumas = carry, and thinks that this was a water carrying ceremony. This is probably the same ceremony described by Lucian writing in the 2nd century BC.   Lucian describes a ceremony that was practiced at a Syrian temple called Hierapolis renown for the antiquity of the religious worship practiced there.  He writes that twice a year (the solstices?) an image of gold, crowned by a golden pigeon is carried down to the sea.  Water from the sea was brought back to the temple in Hierapolis.  Furthermore, Lucian states that pilgrims from all around the world would carry sea water to the temple to pour it down a fissure in the rock in the floor of the temple to commemorate the receding of the Flood.  Lucian thought that the temple at Hierapolis was dedicated to Atagartis (Syrian fertility goddess) but was built by Dionysus based on his eyewitness report that a “pair of phalli of great size are seen standing in the vestibule, bearing the inscription, “I, Dionysus, dedicated these phalli to Hera my stepmother.” (The Syrian Goddess

The Athenian Festival of Anthesteria shares many similarities to the mayumas festival.  It was a three day long festival that was foremost a drinking festival dedicated to Dionysius.  During the feast, a sacred marriage was performed.  The dead were believed to roam the streets during the three days of the festival.   It might seem strange to have a sacred marriage connected to a funerary feast but these two elements are often connected in pagan ritual.  John Garstang writes,

The conception of the Great Mother as goddess of the dead is by no means strained or unnatural, for the resurrection and future life is a dominant theme in the universal myth associated with her. And just as the dead year revived in springtime through her mediation, so she may have been entreated on behalf of the dead for their well-being or their return to life.  (

The idolatrous worship at Baal Peor also combined sacrifices for the dead and fertility rituals.  But can the Anthesteria, Mayumas or Marzeah festivals be related in any way to the idolatry at Peor?  Apparently the makers of the Byzantine Madaba map thought so, for on the map they identify Baal-Peor as “Betomarseas alias Maioumas” (the house of Marzeah or Mayumas).  (Pope 1994, 169)  Thus the Byzantines connected the worship of Baal Peor with the Marzeah festival and the Mayumas festival.  I think that is pretty amazing!

Madaba Map showing Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. The place of Baal Peor was across the Jordan in the very upper left hand corner of the map.  (Madaba Museum)

The Anthesteria was the precursor for All Souls that is still celebrated in Latin American countries in November.

(MAA Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology – Cambridge)

A write up from the museum describes the Day of the Dead in this way:

Celebrations last for 3 days and begin with the construction in each house of an altar for the spirits of a family’s dead, both adults and children. The altars are decorated with fruits and flowers and later dishes of food are added to sustain the souls of the dead. Special breads, sweets and toys are made in the form of skeletons and are to be seen everywhere.” The Day of the Dead in early November emphasizes death as Carnival in the Spring celebrates regeneration.  (MAA Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology – Cambridge)

Both the Anthesteria and All Souls have the dead as participants in the celebration.


(1)  qubba (Num 25:8) – Phineas pursues an Israelite man and a Midianite woman into a ‘tent’ or ‘chamber’ and executes them.  The sin here seems to be compounded in that the tent may have been a sacred shrine called a qubba and usually translated as tent.  The word quBBâ is only found here.  It is probably referring to a Midianite sacred shrine.  According to Epiphanius the chief deity of the Arabs was Dhu l-Shara and had his chaabou in Petra.  It is not clear from Epiphanius whether the temple in Petra was meant or the quadrangular black stone which represented Dhu l-Shara.  Al-Bakri relates that the tribe of Bakr b. Wa’il together with the main body of the Iyad tribe had their centre of worship in Sindad in the region of Kufa and that their holy tent (bayt) there was called Dhat al-Ka’abat.  A similar word is used to describe the most sacred Islamic shrine in Mecca – the kaaba – and also appears in an Arabic dedicatory inscription on a wall mosaic in the Dome of the Rock where the Dome of the Rock is referred to as a kubba – a word that apparently refers to a sacred shrine.

(2) One of the central tenets of Wellhausen’s documentary hypothesis was that the elaborate instructions for sacrifice are the invention of disenfranchised priests writing in the Exilic period.  Wellhausen designates these late priestly texts ‘P’.  He argues that in the pre exilic period, there was no well defined ritual for sacrifice but that the people offered sacrifices in the tradition of the Patriarchs.  Amos 5:26 is used by Wellhausen to support his contention that sacrifice was not a central feature of Israelite ritual, which of course contradicts the Priestly documents in which sacrifice plays a central role.   Wellhausen thinks that the obvious answer to Amos rhetorical question is ‘no’ – the Israelites did not offer sacrifices in the Desert.  According to Wellhausen, they knew nothing of the Mosaic code.  But the burden of proof falls to Wellhausen to explain why the Israelites would have ceased offering sacrifices in the desert.  Sacrifices were offered continually in the Biblical text and in the ANE in general.  The only reason one would not sacrifice is if one did not have meat.  Perhaps such a condition did prevail at times during the sojourn of the Israelites in the wilderness but this has nothing to do with the date of Mosaic legislation.

Which Came First?

For the truth is, that the tabernacle is the copy, not the prototype, of the temple at Jerusalem.  The  resemblance of the two is indeed unmistakable, but it is not said in 1Kings vi. that Solomon made use of the old pattern and ordered his Tyrian workmen to follow it.  (Wellhausen, Prolegomena)

Although Wellhausen accepted that a tent sanctuary may have existed before the temple, he argues that the description of the tabernacle in Exodus is nothing more than a pious fiction.  But the evidence points in the opposite direction.  The description of the temple in the Bible relies upon information found already in the description of the tabernacle and not vice versa.  Here are some reasons why:

  1. Only the two inner rooms of the temple are included in its measurements.  The porch (vestibule) and side chambers (a three tiered side structure called the yaso) are not included.  It stands to reason that the general layout of the temple is based on a two room structure (ie. the tabernacle) to which the vestibule and side chambers were additions.
  2. The overall proportions of the temple are very close to those of the tabernacle, and may have been exactly the same depending on how the corner frames of the tabernacle fit together.  It is reasonable to assume that Solomon’s temple was twice the length and twice the width of the tabernacle but was three times its height.  Despite the extra height of Solomon’s temple, the inner sanctuary (dbîr) was 20 x 20 x 20 cubits.  These cubic proportions match that of the ‘holy of holies’ in the tabernacle.   It seems that the cube was important enough that a 10 cubit space was left above the inner sanctuary of Solomon’s temple or the inner sanctuary was raised by 10 cubits.  The likely reason for this is that Solomon’s temple wished to maintain certain ideal proportions (the cubic proportions of the inner sanctuary) while taking liberty with others (such as the height of the building).  If the cube is the ideal proportion for the inner sanctuary, then it is more likely that the temple gets its proportions from the tabernacle and not vice versa.
  3. Unlike the tabernacle, there is no indication in the account of the building of the temple that it was made according to a divinely revealed pattern.   The reason for this is most likely because the account in Kings assumes that its readers know that the pattern for the sanctuary was already given in the Sinai theophany.  Thus, the construction of the temple follows an already established tradition.
  4. When considered alone, the description of Solomon’s temple has gaping holes in it.  For example, it goes into great detail about the pillars that stood in the porch of the temple, the cherubim that stood in the inner sanctuary, the bronze sea and stands, but it gives no description of the altar, the ark of the covenant, the tables, the incense altar, or the menorahs.  The detailed parts of the description are limited to those items that are not already described in the tabernacle pericope.   It is reasonable to conclude that the temple description relies on the elaborate description of the tabernacle found in the last chapters of Exodus.

While the description of the tabernacle and that of the temple agree in broad outline, there are numerous differences in the details of the descriptions that indicate that they have their genesis in very different contexts.    Evidence for this assertion may be found in the choice of decorative motifs, the placement of the brazen altar, the proportions of the court, the number, names and order of the gates.  The tabernacle lacks features central to the descriptions of Solomon’s temple, Ezekiel’s temple and the Temple Scroll and vice versa.  All of this suggests that the description of the tabernacle does not lie on a literary continuum somewhere between Solomon’s temple and  Ezekiel’s eschatological temple but rather predates the description of Solomon’s temple.

A more detailed presentation is found here

Mary – Part 1

The main street of the city is dark and empty.  Here and there an oil lamp burns, casting crazy shadows across large smooth cobbles stones.  A drizzling rain makes the large cobbles wet and slippery.   A girl appears on the street, dragging a small case behind her.  She is wearing what was once a very fine dress, but that was long ago… a life time ago.  Tired and weak from travel, her foot slips and she falls heavily, still holding tightly to her case.  She cries out in the darkness but there is no one to hear her.  Even a bustling city must sleep sometimes.

The girl lay shivering in the street, too weak to rise.   As the night grew deeper, a cool desert wind arose.  It was bitterly cold, and she had nothing with which to stay warm.  Then a figure appeared in the distance, flitting from shadow to shadow.  The girl drew back in fright as a man approached her wearing a dark cloak with a hood pulled over a lean and crooked face.

Thief: How now, a little skirt, alone in the night, lying in the dirt.  Tis sad to see, one so frail as thee,  frightened… and oh so very helpless…

Mary: Oh Shadow of the night, you fearful figure, with eyes that glint and teeth that glimmer.  Your fingers are long, and slyly you move, like a fox in a field, eyeing a hare in a noose.

Thief: Look at the tears, that flow down her cheeks.  What have you done, girl in the night, to end up alone, and out of sight…?

Mary:  Spare me your pity you vile man.  My tapestry is woven, its ugly pattern I have chosen.

Thief:   Ah, I know who you are!  You are the one, chosen by love to marry the king’s son?  We’ve all heard the story, about the girl who listened to a charmer.  You could have been a queen!  With jewels, and gold, and ladies in waiting.  You had it all, but now you have nothing!

Mary:   Tis true! I am that one, and oh, what I have done I will take to the grave, for now there is no one left to save.

Thief:  Ah, lady of sorrow, your end has not come, there will be a tomorrow.  Your life I do not desire, but pearls and gold, or perhaps a beautiful sapphire!  [reaches for the girls purse]

Mary:  Stay back!  Have pity!  On a helpless girl, in this great big city!

Thief: [looking through the girls things]   A brick of cheese, a crust of bread.  Ah ha!  A hole in the lining!  A clever enough trick, but not for my cunning.  Now look!  Something magnificent!  A gift from the king!  To make you his own, a beautiful ring!

Mary:  Give that back you cruel man, with heart of stone, whose filching fingers and glittering eyes dare to take what I most prize.

Thief:   One seeks treasure and another pleasure.  What is the harm, if there is no measure?

Mary:  Fine! Take the ring!  It is a fitting end.  A promise was made, and a covenant broken!

[the thief walks off with the ring in his hand]

The Times are a Changin!

In 1997 Bill Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act that excluded same sex couples from federal benefits.  13 years later Bill Clinton disavowed that same legislation, stating that,  “…the fabric of our country has changed, and so should this policy.”   Likewise, Barak Obama initially opposed same sex marriage in his 2008 election campaign but reversed his position 6 months before his 2012 campaign for reelection. (source) Joe Biden suggests that one of President Obama’s most significant achievements will be his championing of gay rights.  (source)  Hillary Clinton did not speak out publicly in favour of gay marriage until 2013.   In an interview with NPR she observed how quickly public opinion has changed on this issue.  “I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage and I don’t think you probably did either… we are living at a time when this extraordinary change is occurring and I am proud of our country…” Clinton said in the interview.   (source)

Both Bill and Hillary Clinton acknowledge that same sex marriage was unheard of in their own generation but no longer.  The times, they are a changing!  So where do we go from here?  A study recently issued by the APA (American Psychological Association) may provide a clue.  It warns that the sexual portrayal of children (particularly girls) in the media is becoming “increasingly common’ (source).  The increasing acceptance of sexual images of children is also evident in the very lenient laws Canada has toward online sites containing sexualized images of children – the courts apparently favoring the freedom of expression over the safety of our children.    One other instance is the ‘manga’ cartoons that have successfully circumvented Japan’s laws against child pornography. (source)

Despite the increasingly sexual portrayal of children in the media, pedastery remains shockingly wrong for most people who live in the West.  But it hasn’t always been viewed this way.  It was a normal part of Greek and Roman society.

In his book, Meditations, the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, thanks his mentors.  He singles out his adoptive father in particular for praise.

In my adoptive father I observed a smooth and inoffensive temper, with great steadiness in keeping close to measures judiciously taken; a greatness proof against vanity and the impressions of pomp and power. From him a prince might learn to love business and action, and be constantly at it; to be willing to hear out any proposal relating to public advantage, and undeviatingly give every man his due; to understand the critical seasons and circumstances for rigour or remissness. To have no boy-favourites.  (Meditations)

Marcus Aurelius thought it worth mentioning that his step father did not have boy-favorites.  Apparently many other rich Roman patrons did have boy-favorites, the most famous of which was Antinous, Hadrian’s boy favorite.  Antinous was only 11 or 12 when he was introduced to the aging emperor – 35 years his senior.  Within several years of their introduction, Antinous accompanied Hadrian on all his tours of the empire until he died mysteriously on the Nile on October 130 AD, at the time of festival of Osiris.  It was possible, even likely, that Antinous death in the Nile was a voluntary human sacrifice.  Dio Cassius thought so. (source) And certainly the circumstances are suspicious.   This probably explains why Hadrian deified Antinous and erected statues of him throughout the Roman world.  Over 100 such statues have been discovered.

Antinous made to look like Osiris - the Egyptin god of the underworld.  Location: Vatican Museum in Rome
Antinous made to look like Osiris – the Egyptin god of the underworld. Location: Vatican Museum in Rome

Another source that reveals the widespread practice of pedastery in the Roman world is a work titled the Banquet of the Learned (Deipnosophistae) by written he Athenaeus in Rome (3rd century AD).  Athenaeus notes that in Greek myths, the gods “were fond of having boys” but there was a debate whether this fondness should be traced back to Zeus or to Minos (the ancient deified king of the Cretans).

And many men used to be as fond of having boys as their favourites as women for their mistresses. And this was a frequent fashion in many very well regulated cities of Greece. Accordingly, the Cretans, as I have said before, and the Chalcidians in Euboea, were very much addicted to the custom of having boy-favourites. Therefore Echemenes, in his history of Crete, says that it was not Zeus who carried off Ganymedes, but Minos. But the before-mentioned Chalcidians say that Ganymedes was carried off from them by Zeus; and they show the spot, which they call Harpagium; and it is a place which produces extraordinary myrtles.

Young slave boys were used  to serve food in the symposium where they were they became the objects of lust.

Sophocles, too, had a great fancy for having boy-favourites, equal to the addiction of Euripides for women. And accordingly, Ion the poet, in his book on the Arrival of Illustrious Men in the Island of Chios, writes thus:- “I met Sophocles the poet in Chios, when he was sailing to Lesbos as the general: he was a man very pleasant over his wine, and very witty. And when Hermesilaus, who was connected with him by ancient ties of hospitality, and who was also the Proxenus of the Athenians, entertained him, the boy who was mixing the wine was standing by the fire, being a boy of a very beautiful complexion, but made red by the fire: so Sophocles called him and said, ‘Do you wish me to drink with pleasure?’ and when he said that he did, he said, ‘Well, then, bring me the cup, and take it away again in a leisurely manner.’ And as the boy blushed all the more at this, Sophocles said to the guest who was sitting next to him, ‘How well did Phrynichus speak when he said- ‘The light of love doth shine in purple cheeks.’ [Sophocles and an Eretrian discuss poetry] …and Sophocles again turned to pursue the conversation with the boy; for he asked him, as he was brushing away the straws from the cup with his little finger, whether he saw any straws: and when he said that he did, he said, ‘Blow them away, then, that you may not dirty your fingers.’ And when he brought his face near the cup he held the cup nearer to his own mouth, so as to bring his own head nearer to the head of the boy. And when he was very near he took him by the hand and kissed him. And when all clapped their hands, laughing and shouting out, to see how well he had taken the boy in, he said, ‘I, my friends, am practicing the art of generalship, since Pericles has said that I know how to compose poetry, but not how to be a general; now has not this stratagem of mine succeeded perfectly?’ And he both said and did many things of this kind in a witty manner, drinking and giving himself up to mirth: but as to political affairs he was not able nor energetic in them, but behaved as any other virtuous Athenian might have done.” (Athenaeus Deipnosophistae – Book 13)

Athenaeus also describes a dance in which young boys took part.

For Demodocus sang while “boys in their first bloom” danced, and in the Forging of the Arms a boy played the lyre while others opposite him “frisked about to the music and the dance.” (Athenaeus Deipnosophistae – Book 1)*.html

Pedastery was also part of the Gymnasium.

Ball-players also paid attention to graceful movement. Damoxenus, at any rate, says: “A youngster, perhaps sixteen or seventeen years old, was once playing ball. He came from Cos; that island, it is plain, produces gods. Whenever he cast his eye upon us seated there, as he caught or threw the ball, we shouted together, ‘What rhythm! what modesty of manner, what skill!’ Whatever he said or did, gentlemen, he seemed a miracle of beauty. Never before have I heard of or seen such grace.  Something would have happened to me if I had stayed longer; as it is, I feel that I am not quite well.” Even Ctesibius, the philosopher of Chalcis, liked to play ball, and many of King Antigonus’s friends would strip for a game with him. Timocrates the Laconian wrote a treatise on ball-playing.*.html Famous ball-players were Demoteles, brother of Theocritus the Chian sophist; also one Chaerephanes. He, when following a licentious young man, would not converse with him, and moreover prevented the young fellow from inducing his passion. So the young man said, “Chaerephanes, if you will stop following me you shall have of me everything you desire.” “What!” he replied; “I converse with you?” “Why, then,” said the young man, “do you persist in following me?” To this he answered, “I like to look at you, but I do not approve of your morals.”*.html

So apparently many within Roman society would have been quite comfortable with modern attitudes towards homosexuality and even the sexualizing of children.  On at least one point, however, the ancient Romans differed from modern progressives.  There is no indications that the Romans or the Greeks ever felt compelled to change the definition of marriage.  It is doubtful that any society before our own time thought it was a good idea to have two men raise a child or two woman.

How you have fallen oh Helel, Son of the Dawn.  You said I will ascend to Heaven, I will become like the Most High…  but you have been brought to down to the farthest reaches of the pit.