God of the Week 8/10/09: Adonis
Adonis is an ancient Mesopotamian deity; one of the dying and rising gods that may have inspired the Jesus story of Christian tradition. Adonis appears to have begun his mythical existence as Tammuz. The Semetic term “adon”, which eventually evolved into his name, is simply a generic term for “lord” or “god”, and the variation “Adoni” is used in the Old Testament to refer to Yahweh. Oddly enough, there is also a dietary parallel between Judaism and the worshipers of Adonis: since Adonis is symbolically killed by a boar, his worshipers refrain from eating pork.
The worship of Adonis was practiced for many centuries across many cultures across the Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean region, and Asia Minor, but mainstays of the cult seem to have been weeping women in feasts known as Gardens of Adonis.
The tragical story and the melancholy rites of Adonis are better known to us from the descriptions of Greek writers than from the fragments of Babylonian literature or the brief reference of the prophet Ezekiel, who saw the women of Jerusalem weeping for Tammuz at the north gate of the temple. Mirrored in the glass of Greek mythology, the oriental deity appears as a comely youth beloved by Aphrodite. In his infancy the goddess hid him in a chest, which she gave in charge to Persephone, queen of the nether world. But when Persephone opened the chest and beheld the beauty of the babe, she refused to give him back to Aphrodite, though the goddess of love went down herself to hell to ransom her dear one from the power of the grave. The dispute between the two goddesses of love and death was settled by Zeus, who decreed that Adonis should abide with Persephone in the under world for one part of the year, and with Aphrodite in the upper world for another part. At last the fair youth was killed in hunting by a wild boar, or by the jealous Ares, who turned himself into the likeness of a boar in order to compass the death of his rival. Bitterly did Aphrodite lament her loved and lost Adonis. – The Golden Bough, chapter 29
The Ezekiel quote mentioned above is from 8:14, Ezekiel is often dated to the Babylonian Exile in the early sixth century.