In my post "Boaz and Jachin" I talked about the significance of the fact that Solomon built his temple on a threshing floor. The reason why this is significant is because in the past threshing floors were not only used for threshing and winnowing, but were also used as solar observatories and for ceremonies which were part of a solar cult. At the end of that article I suggested that the First Temple, whose entrance was oriented towards true east, towards the area of the horizon where the sun rises, was a temple dedicated to the sun and built by sun worshipers. And I said that we actually have indications that this could in fact have been the case.
Well some might say that just because the temple was oriented towards the east, that doesn't mean that the people who built the temple worshiped the sun. For instance look at the early Christian churches which were also oriented towards the east. Does that mean that the early Christians were also sun worshipers?
To this I will just say :)
That the builders of the first temple were sun worshipers we are actually told by the scriptures. In Ezekiel 8:16 we read this:
"In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign Lord came on me there. 2 I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man.[a] From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. 3 He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem...He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. With their backs toward the temple of the Lord and their faces toward the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east.
One of the common archaeological characteristic of the early Christian churches is that they were oriented toward East, i.d. toward the Rising Sun, the same orientation found in the First temple. So the orientation of the Christian churches can't be used as the proof that the first temple was not a temple of sun worshipers. Quite the opposite. It raises questions whether the early Christians were sun worshipers too.
The early Christian practice of praying facing East, in the direction of the rising sun, was such a big problem, that Tertullian (born c. AD 160) felt constrained to write in his “Apology,” and again in his writing “Against Valentinian”:
"Others... believe that the sun is our god... though we do not worship the orb of day painted on a piece of linen cloth.... The idea no doubt has originated from our being known to turn to the east in prayer."
Tertullian was not the only one who was at pain to explain why Christians pray facing the rising sun in the east. According to Saint Gregory of Nyssa: "the Orient was the birthplace of mankind, and the earthly garden of paradise". Saint Thomas Aquinas spoke of: "the East as the place of our Lord’s life and death, the direction from which He would come on judgment day".
Which of course makes no sense if you are an Egyptian Christian, or Indian Christian, or Armenian Christian...The only reason why the early Christians prayed facing the rising sun in the east, which makes sense, is because they were sun worshipers too, just like the builders of the First Temple....
Ezekiel (622 - 570 BCE) strongly disproved of sun worshiping practices that he had observed in the First temple. The fact that people still prayed to the sun during the time of Ezekiel is very interesting, because it shows how strong this solar cult was among the people of Judah. Ezekiel was born during the reign of Josiah (649–609 BCE). And it was Josiah, who according to the Hebrew Bible, instituted major religious changes aimed at eradicating the solar cult which flourished in Judah before and during his time. How strong the solar cult was in Judah just before the time of Josiah can be seen from the royal seal of the Kingdom of Judah from the time of the King Hezekiah (739 - 687 BC).
The seal bears the symbol of a winged sun and two ankh symbols, which symbolize life.
This means that the solar cult was not a minor religious curiosity. It was a state religion whose main temple was the First temple. A state religion supported by at least a significant part of the Judah's population.
So when Josiah started his religious reforms, not everyone was pleased. A lot of people saw these changes as sacrilege and continued to practice the old solar religion. We know that this was the case because we find evidence of the solar cult among the people of Judah again and again in the following centuries.
Now as part of his crusade, Josiah did the major cleanup of the First temmple. In 2 Kings 23:11 we read:
"He (Josiah) removed from the entrance of the LORD's Temple the horse statues that the former kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun... He also burned the chariots dedicated to the sun..."
This is most peculiar. We have a temple, build on a threshing floor (ancient solar observatory). The temple was oriented towards the east, and in the temple people prayed to the rising sun as if it was a god. And the temple housed a chariot and horses dedicated to the sun god???
Who was this sun god to whom ancient kings of Judah dedicated horses and chariot?
Well Helios of course.
Here is a depiction of Helios, the old titan (Old European) sun god. He is mostly depicted as a youth with sun ray halo driving the chariot pulled by winged horses across the sky, from east to west.
Why do I think that this god was Helios? Well because 800 years after Josiah removed Helios from the first temple, he reappears in synagogues in Holy land.
The Beth Alpha or Bet Alpha or Bet Alfa is a sixth-century synagogue located at the foot of the northern slopes of the Gilboa mountains near Beit She'an, Israel.
The central nave floor mosaic panel features a Jewish adaptation of the Greco-Roman zodiac. The zodiac consists of two concentric circles, with the twelve zodiac signs appearing in the outer circle, and Helios, the Greco-Roman sun god, appearing in the inner circle. The outer circle consists of twelve panels, each of which correspond to one of the twelve months of the year and contain the appropriate Greco-Roman zodiac sign. Female busts symbolizing the four seasons appear in the four corners immediately outside the zodiac. In the center, Helios appears with his signature Greco-Roman iconographic elements such as the fiery crown of rays adorning his head and the highly stylized quadriga or four-horse-drawn chariot. The background is decorated with a crescent shaped moon and stars. As in the "Binding of Isaac" panel, the zodiac symbols and seasonal busts are labeled with their corresponding Hebrew names.
This zodiac wheel, with Helios or Sun in it's center is found in contemporaneous synagogues throughout Israel such as Naaran, Susiya, Hamat Tiberias, Huseifa, and Sepphoris.
The Tzippori Synagogue (Sepphoris Synagogue,) is an ancient synagogue discovered in Tzippori, a Roman-era Jewish city in the Galilee. Based on numismatic evidence, the synagogue appears to have been built in the first half of the fifth century. In the center of the nave floor, there is a large Zodiac with the names of the months written in Hebrew. Helios sits in the middle, in his sun chariot.
The Hammat Tiberias Synagogue is an ancient synagogue on the outskirts of Tiberias, located near the hot springs just south of the city. The synagogue dates to 286 and 337 CE, when Tiberias was the seat of the Sanhedrin.The mosaic floor is made up of three panels featuring the zodiac, and Helios, the sun god. Women who symbolize the four seasons of nature appear in each corner.
It is important to note that this image of Helios does not appear anywhere in Synagogues in Jewish diaspora. It is only found in Synagogues in holy land.
Now what is Helios doing in the synagogues?!?
Well currently, there is a scholarly debate going on regarding the relationship between Judaism and general Greco-Roman culture in late-antiquity. Some interpret the popularity that the zodiac maintains within synagogue floors as evidence for its Judaization and adaptation into the Jewish calendar and liturgy. Others see it as representing the existence of a “non-Rabbinic” or a mystical and Hellenized form of Judaism that embraced the astral religion of Greco-Roman culture.
Interestingly there is no mention of the Solar cult of the First temple and the possibility that the the appearance of Helios in synagogues marks the reemergence of this cult in the holy land???
As I already mentioned, Ezekiel sees priests in the First Temple worshiping the sun. Interestingly, Josephus records an Essene practice that he says was handed down to them by the forefathers where it appears that they were praying to the rising sun (War 2.8.5).
Qumran scrolls, which are attributed to the Essens, seem to confirm that Josephus was telling the truth. In the Hodayom, there are several references to prayer at dawn. 1QH 4:5 states:
"I thank thee, O Lord, for Thou hast illuminated my face by Thy covenant, and I seek Thee, and sure as the dawn Thou hast appeared to me as perfect light.
Church fathers Origen (Contra Celsius 1.26, 5.6), Clement of Alexandria (Stromata, 6.5.41), and maybe even some of the New Testament Epistles (Col 2:16-23, Heb 2:5) are aware of some Jewish practices that involved worship of objects in the sky.
So were the synagogues with Helios built by Essenes?
In the Book of Enoch, which dates to at least a couple of centuries before Christ, and have been very important for the further development of the Qumranic (Essenic) Judaisms, we find an impressive part (the Astronomical Book) about the course of the Sun and the use of a solar calendar (found also in Qumran). The use of this Solar calendar was considered extremely important. Which is to be expected from the sun worshipers.
On the "Hebrew calendar" Wiki page we read:
"Many of the Dead Sea (Qumran) Scrolls have references to a unique calendar, used by the people there, who are often assumed to be Essenes. The year of this calendar used the ideal Mesopotamian calendar of twelve 30-day months, to which were added 4 days at the equinoxes and solstices (cardinal points), making a total of 364 days...With only 364 days, it is clear that the calendar would after a few years be very noticeably different from the actual seasons, but there is nothing to indicate what was done about this problem. Various suggestions have been made by scholars. One is that nothing was done and the calendar was allowed to change with respect to the seasons. Another suggestion is that changes were made irregularly, only when the seasonal anomaly was too great to be ignored any longer
I will suggest here that the Solar calendar used by the Qumran community and before then by the people who wrote the Book of Enoch did not slide at all. I believe that it was regularly readjusted every winter solstice, when the new sun, solar year, was born. This is very easy to do if you know how to use threshing floor as a solar observatory. Which is why the First temple was built on the threshing floor. It made determining of the winter solstice, the starting point of the new solar year easy, which ensured that the calendar never slipped.
Was this solar calendar which was used by the writers of the Book of Enoch and by the Qumran community the calendar used in the First temple? I believe so. Solar worshipers, who built their temple on a threshing floor, a solar observatory used for determining the date and the time based on the movement of the sun definitely used solar calendar. They would have seen this as part of their religion.
This solar calendar of the First temple was later almost fully substituted by the lunar calendar of the Second temple. This lunar calendar was probably a borrowing from the Babylonians. It could have been brought back from the exile or could have been introduced even later according to some scholars. You can read more about this change of calendar in these three books and many more:
"Calendrical Variations in Second Temple Judaism" by Stéphane Saulnier
"Out of the Cave: A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Dead Sea Scrolls Research" by Edna Ullmann-Margalit
"Enoch and Qumran Origins: New Light on a Forgotten Connection" edited by Gabriele Boccaccini
This change of calendar was not just "the change of calendar".
The Book of Enoch makes it is clear that there were some Jews that considered the Second Temple as impure, and were clearly trying to restore a cult which was as much as possible near to the one of the First Temple. The solar cult.
It appears that the worship or veneration of the sun (or other objects in the sky for that matter) which had a precedent in the First Temple period and is condemned by Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and which Josiah tried to eradicate through his "reforms", never really completely died out. And this is why centuries after Josiah removed chariot and the horses dedicated to the sun from the First temple, Helios appears in synagogues in holy land.
But then, around the 6th century AD Helios disappears from the synagogues never to be seen again.
So here we are left with two questions:
1. Where did Helios come to holy land from?
2. Where did Helios go from the holy land to?
I will talk about this in my next posts...