Ancient Spell

I came across this story about a spell written on an Egyptian tomb which may be the world’s oldest Semetic text.  The whole thing is cool, but I especially love that “Believing that some snakes spoke the Semitic language of the
Canaanites, Egyptians included the magic spells in inscriptions on two
sides of the sarcophagus in an effort to ward them off.”

Why yes, it makes perfect sense that some snakes would speak the Semitic language of the Canaanites.  How else could Eve have understood the serpent in the Garden?

I tease, but I also wonder.

There’s a theory that the story of the expulsion from the Garden is about Yahweh’s ascendancy over a goddess, possibly Ishtar, to whom the tree of Knowledge and the serpent would have been sacred.  This theory goes something like this–the two creation myths in the Bible are not incompatible.  All gods got together and created men and women and then set about focusing on the men and women who they would claim as their own, tight focus in on the protagonist of our story, Yahweh, and his folks.

Other gods work as teams, but Yahweh wants to be the only god of his people.  Fine, except that there are other gods around, using the same land with their people nearby.  So Yahweh has to make a rule–do what you want, but stay away from this (or these, depending on if you read the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life as the same or different trees) tree (leaving unspoken, “because it belongs to that goddess and hanging out at that tree might accidentally run you into her”).

And yet, if you read it this way, your heart almost breaks for Eve.  Here she is, faced every day, with God coming into the Garden in the cool of the evening, looking, as He does, like a man, like Adam.  And there, near the Tree that is forbidden to them, a Sacred being visits that she resembles.  That impulse, to see yourself as truly belonging to the Universe and not just an afterthought hastily scraped together out of bone and mud, it’s compelling and understandable.

Did I have a point?  I can’t remember.  The Tylenol is kicking in.

It’s just that there’s something compelling to me about the serpents that speak the same language as the Semetic people, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. 

14 thoughts on “Ancient Spell

  1. I’m hazy on my Babylonian myths. Doesn’t Atis, Ishtar’s consort, die by snakebite? If so, all the greater reason a male divinity will make the tree and its acolytes off-limits.And, veering wildly off topic, I used to share an office with Richard Steiner.

  2. Shush up! I loved watching him wrestle. Ha, I kid. That’s the other Rick Steiner.Attis is Cybele’s consort. He chops off his penis and dies. Ishtar’s consort is Tammuz, a shepherd god, who she sends to the underworld after escaping from there herself.

  3. Oh, OK. Who dies of snakebite, then? Or doesn’t anyone? I could have sworn I was half-remembering a myth of a young god or hero dying that way. From somewhere around the Mediterranean and parts contiguous.Alright, I just googled it and found:

    There is a myth about a king that died from snakebite who was miraculously resurrected due to the virtuous devotion of his wife. She implored on his behalf to Shiva, and on the god’s instructions, floated the body of her husband down the Ganges on a raft. Twelve days later, he was miraculously resurrected.

    but I don’t think I was actually thinking of that, I think I must have been thinking about Eurydice being bitten by a snake. So clearly, I need a myth refresher course.

  4. Oh, hee, I thought Jeffrey was talking about penises. I think if there’s anything we can learn from this, it’s this: if you are visited by a god or goddess, stay away from snakes.

  5. That’s a fine piece of wisdom. It ranks with the most important thing I ever learned: if you’re in a folk song, don’t go near a river.

  6. If it were saying "Come, come to my house, my beloved," I might be tempted. Hard saying. In the end, no matter how magnificent or eloquent a penis is, they come attached to that complicating factor.

  7. I thought that was what the penis’s mother said. I’m soooo confused. But then I already established that earlier in this thread.BTW, I love the trope of the importance of monsters’ mothers. (I hasten to point out that the monster in this case is the snake, not the penis.) I’ve always thought that Beowulf would have been better off if before tangling with Grendel, he had gone by Grendel’s house and knocked on the screen door and said, "Grendel’s Mother! Oh, Grendel’s Mother, can Grendel come out and fight?"

  8. No, it was what the snake’s mother said (I think). I just hoped the penis would be smart enough to realize what a good pick-up line that was.I am completely fascinated by monsters’ mothers, too. And I love that Grendel’s mother is such a bad ass.

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