From the December 1, 2013 issue of the online journal Popular Archaeology,
posted at http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/december-2013/article/the-phaistos-disk-a-new-approach4
under the headings Cover Stories, Viewpoints
The Phaistos Disk: A New Approach
Part 5: Created 1600 years BCE, the Phaistos disk records parallels to the life of Jesus.
By Peter Aleff Sunday, December 01, 2013
In the earlier parts of this series, as published in Popular Archaeology, Victoria Shockley and I showed how the symbols on the formerly mysterious Phaistos Disk were not writing but represented the signs on the fields of an ancient game board which reproduced its makers’ vision of the sky and its inhabitants (see links at end of article for previous installments*). You saw that it displayed the northern constellations and the major periods of the ancient Egyptian calendar as well as the important motions of the moon, from the standard 30-day month to the Saros eclipses and the 56-year cycle of major and minor standstills.
Today you can examine how the Disk maker incorporated into this game board path yet another key astronomical and calendrical sequence which is the “life” of the “sun head” from the beginning of the path until the “death” field 58. You will probably be surprised how much that “sun head’s” career on the Disk anticipates the life of Christ reported in the much later Gospels.
A “command” for “life” “in the sky” to go “down”
In field 57, just before that “death” field, the “down arrow” next to the “bough of life” signals that this “life” is ending, and it supports the identification of its neighbor 58 with Senet’s "House of Death" because 57 ominously announces that event. The three Phaistos signs in this field look like pictographs for these items:
The first of these signs is a twig or bough with five leaves or branches. Such boughs were a frequent symbol for life, growth, and revival, like the Jewish Menorah which is derived from a very similar shape with seven branches, or like the Mesopotamian tree of life with nine leaves shown below. The "sky-slash" added below this bough indicates that this "life" was in the sky, as discussed in Part 2, which introduced this "sky-slash."
Plugging these generic values into the ideograms of that field 57 before "death" yields a "command" for "life" to go "down", or an equivalent statement that "life" and "power" will go "down". Both those interpretations fit perfectly as announcements of the death in the next field.
A sound and meaning from the “T-shirt” sign
The meaning of field 58 as “death” is further confirmed by the upside-down “T-shirts” and the fallen “sun head” in field 59. The head’s falling forward is self-explanatory, and the T-shirts express distress through their inversion, particularly when compared with their right-side-up position in the duplication of that sign group in field 47.
As in the modern symbolism of flying a flag upside down, turning something on its head is an intuitive and apparently universal expression of distress or damage; the Egyptians used it that way and even called the world after death the "inverted world". The Phaistos field with those inverted signs implies that the Cretans shared that same metaphor. The duplication of this sign group twelve spaces earlier, but right-side-up, suggests that the pieces were sent back to that first field with those signs if they landed on the one after death, similar to the setback from the corresponding field 27 in Senet that some vivid ancient descriptions of that game seem to imply, and to the setback of usually twelve fields from the “maze” in field 42 that still survives in the Game of the Goose.
These “T-shirts” may well be the only sign on the Disk for which we can deduce the ancient name of the object depicted, with a meaning that the context confirms. Their pictograph resembles the Egyptian and Mycenaean body armor corselets that the early Greek Pylos tablets from less than four centuries after the Disk call "thorax". These cuirass-like corselets were linen tunics with bronze plates sewn into their thick layers to protect the warriors who wore them. They are prominent props in the Iliad which repeatedly describes some of them as "much decorated" and "elaborately crafted", including those that failed to do their job and allowed their wearer to get pierced by arrows or spears.
In the entire epic, these words of praise are heaped on such corselets more often than on any other object, illustrating their importance in the world Homer describes from just a few centuries after the Disk. The “T-shirts” that represent those corselets here also look similar to the syllabic sign "ta" from the Linear B script which appeared on Crete a couple of centuries after the Disk was made, and they supply the perfect label for this abode of danger and doom after death.
The name of these corselets, "thorax", is now a loan word from Greek in many European languages to designate the chest cage these corselets protected. The ancient Greeks, in turn, and apparently also the Cretan Disk maker, had borrowed the term from the Hurrians in Syria together with that armor type since theirs was reputed to be the best. The Hurrians wrote its name "trjn" in the vowel-less Ugaritic script, and this seems to have led to "thor" or "tar" in Greece and Crete. A double "thor" or "tar" for the two T-shirts in this field after death spelled then something like "thor-thor" or "tar-tar" and evoked, of course, the infamous Tartarus from the Greek myths. This was a place of deep distress after death, and it appears here to have had the same name and reputation on the pre-Greek Disk.
Tartarus as west-west
The "tar" interpretation of the "T-shirt" matches also the many other occurrences of that sign on the Disk because the meaning of this syllable is known. The poet and mythographer Robert Graves pointed out that "tar" must have meant "west" in the pre-Hellenic language of Crete. He argued that traces of that language survived in geographical names which often persist long after the namers were replaced by speakers of other tongues.
Just think, for instance, about the profusion of Native American names on American maps, from Massachusetts and nearby Narragansett Bay to California's Siskiyou Mountains and Mexico's Popocatépetl volcano, to mention just a few examples.
Similarly, long after the language used on Crete had become Greek, the Cretan word "tar" was preserved in the names of ancient places in the west, such as ancient Tarrha, now Tara, the principal port of western Crete. This was the equivalent of many a Westport on modern English and North American coasts and even rivers.
It also seems logical to assume that the pre-Greek Cretans, the dominant seafarers of their time, would have given names in their language not only to their own places but also to some of their destinations. Their words still echo in Tartessos, the silver city of Spain, far to the west, and some scholars also hold that the fabulous trading town of Tarshish was to be found to the west.
The west was, of course, not just a direction but was also synonymous with the land of the dead. In Egypt as well as in other cultures, the direction where the sun went to die every evening had always been the traditional home of the dead, and the Greek Odysseus had to sail west to find the world of the dead.
The association of the sign for body armor with the sunset direction to the land of the dead is easy to understand because this corselet was inherently connected with fighting and grim death, as a look at the Iliad illustrates. Such battle gear was made for encounters with death. The picture of this armor cuirass was therefore probably, for people who were exposed to death in battle, an intuitively obvious symbol for the realm and direction of death.
The inverted T-shirts after the death field suggest then that Tar-tar meant in Cretan "west-west", or "westernmost west" since the repetition of a word was typically used to emphasize its meaning.
Sun and moon on the bald head’s cheek
The two bald heads in Phaistos 58 and 61 also tell us who died on that “death” field 58. Each of them bears two small circles imprinted on their cheek, one above the other as in our numeral 8. These illustrate the meeting of the two big circles in the sky which completed an astronomical cycle and so led to the death of the sun.
Two circles stacked just like these, the top one sometimes opened to look like the sickle of the new moon, were in early Classical Greece the emblem on the herald staff of Hermes, the messenger of the Olympian gods. These circles identified him as the "Psychopompus"or"Conductor of Souls" and guide to Hades, the realm of the dead. They became later stylized as the entwined snakes of the caduceus that is now, ironically, the logo of the medical profession whose practitioners are supposed to keep us out of that realm.
Hermes put the living to sleep and woke them up at will by laying this staff upon their eyes, and he summoned the deceased the same way. Then he guided their departing souls to the afterworld. This function is shown on the wine-mixing crater below by the vase painter Euphronios: Hermes, in the center, directs Sleep and Death to carry the slain Trojan ally and hero Sarpedon to Hades. The emblem at the top of Hermes' messenger staff, a closed circle surmounted by an open one, symbolized the meeting of sun and moon and identified its bearer as the guide of the dead. This is a parallel to the "death" field on the Disk that followed such a meeting, and also to the Egyptian messenger of the gods Thoth who weighed the sin burden of hearts and then guided the "justified" ones to Osiris.
This placing of Hermes' two circles over the eyes of the deceased seems to survive in the folk custom to send off the dead with pennies on their eyes. That the two-circle emblem appears on the Disk not on the eyes of the deceased but marked on his cheek may be artistic license on the part of the pictograph designer who had to place this mark where it could be seen most clearly on that profile without cluttering other lines.
To find this emblem from the staff of Classical Greek Hermes marked on the cheek of this head from the much earlier Disk found in Crete should not surprise us: gods usually kept the symbols which defined them, and Hermes was a very ancient and long-lived god who continued to rule medieval European alchemy as the "Thrice-Great Hermes" long after his Olympian colleagues had been consigned to the dustbin of history. And long before we hear of Zeus and most others of his clan, already the thirteenth-century BCE Linear B tablets from Pylos mention Hermes as "Hermahas", along with a few other gods who survived into Classical times.
Even farther back, Hermes shared many basic myths and functions with the hoary Egyptian god of scribes and reckoning Thoth. Thoth’s Egyptian name “Djehouti” meant "messenger", just like the job description of Hermes, and he guided souls already in the Pyramid Texts where he was to "ferry the dead across the 'winding waterway' on his wings". (Hermes kept these wings, though on his feet.)
In one of the best known scenes from the "Book of the Dead", Thoth also supervised and recorded the weighing of the heart in the "Hall of Judgment" through which all dead Egyptians had to pass before they could enter eternal life. Hermes had the same job though he performed it himself: one of the Athenian black-figure vases, our earliest major corpus of mythological scenes in Greek art which dates mostly from the sixth century BCE, shows him weighing souls with a beam scale identical to that of Thoth (and to that of the Archangel Michael in later Christian iconography).
Hermes also "invented" in Greece a number of arts and instruments which had long existed in Crete and even earlier in Egypt where some of them were specifically ascribed to Thoth. Examples are the latter’s gifts of astronomy, board games, mathematics, and writing, as well as the weights and measures which Hermes claimed also to have brought.
The two circles as time limit for the sun
The emblem Thoth wore on his head for his function as "Measurer of Time" was a circular disk, the sign of the sun, with a crescent moon placed above it. It looked very similar to the one Hermes wore on his staff. The meaning of this calendar-master’s trademark was probably that the passage of lunisolar time was punctuated by the "Joining of Sun and Moon" which defined the cyclical life of the sun.
If the two joined circles on Hermes' staff depict a "joining" of the sun with the moon, as in the crown of Thoth the measurer of time, then we should not be surprised to find midway between Egypt and Greece also the bald head from Crete marked with these same two circles as the common emblem of those closely related Egyptian and Greek mortuary gods.
As usual for such shared emblems, the two circles on Hermes' staff seem to have meant the same as those above Thoth's crown, and those same two circles on the Cretan bald head's cheek are likely to have symbolized the same. In the context of the Disk, they seem to imply the end of the time allotted to the "sun head", and so to confirm again the interpretation of the bald head as expression of the long-haired head’s death at the end of his cycle.
The two circles on the “bald head’s” cheek may then stand as shorthand for something like "The 'Great Year' between the meetings of new sun and new moon is over and time has run out for the old sun. Thoth-Hermahas marks this event on the dead sun with his emblem as measurer of time, and he guides the sun’s soul into the afterworld".
This mark on the Phaistos “bald head” in the field of “death” matches the timing of death in Senet right after a joining of sun and moon, except that the Egyptians used a different year-length for their calculations and so came up with a different period between such meetings. The similarity of the concept despite this difference in timing confirms that both examples were based on the same idea.
The 19-year and 25-year cycles between “meetings of new sun and new moon”
The 57 fields before “death” on the Disk match the 57 seasons in 19 of the Egyptian and Cretan three-season years. This interpretation also fits the 19 occurrences of the “sun head” on the Disk. Nineteen years is the time between the "meetings of sun and moon" when the midwinter solstice coincides again with the appearance of a new moon. This natural cycle is still used in modern computations for the dates of Easter, and it was important in many ancient calendars where these meetings completed a "Great Year" and measured the lifespan of the sun. When that “Great Year” was over, the sun died and was reborn for the next cycle.
This cycle is currently named after the Classical Greek astronomer Meton who described it in 432 BCE, but Babylonians had used it in their calendar at least a century earlier. It is based on the remarkable coinsidences that
A synodic month is the time it takes the moon to complete its phases, and a sidereal month measures the time until the moon returns to the same background of stars. A draconic month is the time it takes for the slightly inclined lunar orbit to cross the ecliptic and return; the crossing points are called nodes and were believed to be the dwellings of the dragons that swallowed the moon to cause its eclipses, thus the name “draconic”. This name endures to this day although most modern astronomers have abandoned the idea of those dragons. The 19 years are only about two hours short of 235 synodic months, or 235 + 19 = 254 sidereal months. The 255 draconic months are about half a day off from that 19-year cycle and so produce the further coincidence that eclipses in one such “Great Year” repeat themselves on the same dates during the next such cycle before they drift away another half day.
The “death” of the sun head at the end of the Disk path, followed by the “distress” of “Tartarus” and then the “resurrection”, matches the Senet endgame theme of a journey through death and then through great danger towards victorious regeneration. In Senet, however, the cycle between meetings of sun and moon lasted 25 years because the Egyptian calendar makers kept a schematic 365-day solar year cycle next to their observation-based lunar calendar. In this artificial scheme, 25 of these truncated civil years have 9,125 days, whereas 309 synodic lunar months total 9,124.955 days. The shortfall is only about one hour, or one day off in 600 years. Reconciling these two cycles gave the Egyptians a simple scheme for fixing the civil-calendar dates of the various lunar festivals in each year of the recurring cycles.
The earliest surviving account of this 25-year cycling method appears on a Demotic papyrus dated from 144 CE or later, and some scholars think the cycle was instituted no earlier than about the fourth century BCE. The dates in that Demotic list were about a day off, so those scholars deduced that this must be the error accumulated since the start of the count. However, that "start of the count" seems to have been only the time of the last correction, one among many prior ones that kept the calendar tuned. The discrepancy at the time of that Demotic record meant then simply that such a correction was about due again. This seems confirmed by the fact that a Middle Kingdom inscription appears to refer to the intercalations from this method and so implies a much greater age for that cycle.
Indeed, the civil calendar on which that artificial 25-year cycle is based was already in place during Old Kingdom times or even earlier. That cycle seems to be of similar age because the foundations of pharaonic kingship appear to have been built on it. From the earliest times on, the king was identified with the sun god Horus, and the logic of the sun’s dying at the end of its cyclical meetings with the moon required that the king would have to die at that time, too.
A substitute for the death of the sun king
However, this would have been highly inconvenient for any individual kings. To avoid this fate, one of them soon came up with the idea of using a bull as a magical substitute for that killing. This switch was probably easy to sell since the kings already identified themselves with bulls for their obvious strength and power. All a king needed to do was to single out a particular bull and treat him as if he were a king. Accordingly, the Egyptian royals and their priests created the cult of the Apis bull and greatly revered each Apis from the very beginnings of the pharaonic civilization. Apis received divine honors already by the Second Dynasty and was usually depicted with a sun-disk prominent in his god’s crown.
The Roman author Aelianus describes how this carefully chosen bull received pharaonic and/or divine honors: Apis was perfumed with the sweetest odors and anointed with precious unguents, and any time he appeared in public, a crowd of boys sang hymns to him because the soul of Osiris was in Apis just as it was in pharaoh. Other traditions describe Apis also as the incarnation of Ptah. That creator god from Memphis was similarly linked with the king and had or was his own sacred bull, called Mnevis and very similar to Apis.
Yet, despite all these honors, the canonical lifespan of the sacred Apis bull was limited to 25 years, and this surrogate for the king got usually killed when he reached his 26th year. This is why the “death” in Senet occurred on field 26. Some authors give thirty years as his allotted time, and an inscription on an Apis mummy from the Ptolemaic period indicates that its bearer had lived at least 26 years. However, Plutarch and Ammianus Marcellinus both say that Apis was slain after he had lived 25 years, and this is also the age quoted most often for earlier times. So, when the time came for the king to die, the priests killed the divine Apis instead by drowning that proxy in their sacred lake. Then they mourned him with great lamentations and went to search for his successor.
Since the death square in Senet corresponds to the first of the two Phaistos fields with the bald head, it is noteworthy that the priests who killed Apis also shaved their heads in mourning and stayed bald until they found the new Apis, as reported by Pliny the Elder (Natural History, VIII, 71:184).
And just as the Egyptian 25-year cycle between meetings of sun and moon appears to be much older than its first surviving written documentation, the corresponding 19-year cycle we find on the Disk was also attested long before Meton or the first Babylonian records of its use. The 19 “sun heads” and 57 seasons before the death field on the Cretan Disk show us now that its maker also knew this “Metonic” cycle more than a millennium before those Babylonians.
Moreover, according to the ancient Roman writer Diodorus Siculus, the so-called Hyperboreans who lived beyond the North wind and worshiped at a “spherical temple” which must have been Stonehenge seem to have known this cycle already during the much earlier heyday of this monument since he wrote:
“The account is also given that the god [Apollo] visits the island every nineteen years, the period in which the return of the stars to the same place in the heavens is accomplished.”
In addition, Professor Gilbert Murray noted long ago in "The Rise of the Greek Epic" (1907) that the solar hero Odysseus warred and traveled for nineteen years to rejoin his weaving and unweaving moon-wife Penelope at the beginning of the twentieth.
Homer’s Odysseus arrived in the garb of an old beggar, in biting cold weather, and won his wife and kingdom back on the day of the sun god Apollo’s great festival (20:307 and 21:288), meaning the winter solstice. We are also told repeatedly that "this very month -- just as the old moon dies and the new moon rises into life -- Odysseus will return!" His first incognito night on the island is "a foul night, the dark of the moon", so the festival on his third day there coincided with the appearance of the new moon and therefore with one of the 19-year "meetings of sun and moon"(14:307, 14:519, and 19:351).
The same timing relates the Disk also to Samson whose name means "little sun" and who is among the most prominent examples for the equation of life-force with hair. The Bible says in Judges 15:20 that "he was Judge over Israël for twenty years", and this timing was significant enough to emphasize because we are told the same again in verse 16:11. In the inclusive way of counting discussed above, the "twenty years" meant he died after the end of the nineteenth.
Moreover, Samson died on the feast day of the Philistine chief god Dagon. Dagon was the father of Baal the storm and vegetation god (Ugarit Text #137 from the Epic of Kret) and was apparently another form of the pantheon ruler and sky-god El, the father of the gods. Festivals to sky gods tend to occur on days of special events in the sky, so this feast is likely to have marked a solstice, and Samson’s end seems to fit the pattern. In other words, Samson's career conformed to that of his Philistine neighbors’ bristle-haired “sun-head” from the slightly earlier Phaistos Disk.
These apparent traces of a "twenty" year lifespan for the sun in Crete and Greece and Philistia, and the importance of the corresponding 25-year Egyptian cycle in the pharaonic Senet, invite the speculation that the also very popular "Game of Twenty Squares", which was often featured on the back of Senet boards, might have alluded to that same "twenty" year cycle as the more elaborate game on the Disk. The last square of the twenty would then presumably have been reserved for the apotheosis of the game pieces that had traveled, like the sun, through the nineteen preceding stations.
The career of the “sun head” and that of Jesus Christ
Samson was not the only biblical figure whose life followed the template provided by the Disk.
There are even more specific similarities between the “sun-head” from Phaistos and the much later Jesus Christ who has many sun-like traits. This successor of the ancient sun god said he was “the light of the world” (John 8:12), and his “face shone like the sun” (Matthew. 17:2). It is no accident that his Church later placed his birth on the date of the earlier sun kings’ rebirth, three days after the midwinter solstice.
This identification of a savior king with the sun was not unique to Christianity. For instance, the Dead Sea Scrolls say similarly about the expected messianic priest of the Qumran sect that “His eternal sun shall burn brilliantly”. Moreover, in most of the Egyptian-influenced cultures of the Bronze and Iron Age Levant the human king routinely had "the sun" as one of his titles, and that sun-king was also supposed to be the protector of his people and their savior from danger.
Moreover, the story of the Christian celestial king matched that of the “sun-head” on the Disk not only in its general outline, as for all those common sun kings, but also in many details. One of the clearest clues in this comparison is the pairing of the sun-head in many fields with an emblem that appears to symbolize the "circuit of the sun" through the zodiac and the sun-head's rulership over its world.
The “world circle” zodiac with the world ruler
Thirteen of those nineteen sun-heads appear together with a circle sign that contains a concentric pattern of seven dots, one in the middle and six around it, and that occurs only four other times without that sun-head: twice with the “jug” of the zodiac constellation Aquarius, once with the double tablet of “divine law” which apparently stood also for the zodiac constellation Gemini or “Twins”, and once in field 37 with three of the same signs as in 11 to show the completion of a 27-day sidereal month, or the moon’s return to the same place in the zodiac.
This sign looks like a cross-section through a coaxial cable but should not be taken as proof that the Disk maker had cable TV. Instead, this design seems to have had a religious significance because it also appears on a sealing from the Old Palace at Knossos. Seals were magical objects of power that carried usually no profane images, so this design has a sacred flavor.
The shape of this sign suggests that it may have been a symbol for the world, as defined by the sun’s circuit around the sky which the Egyptians and many other people had long represented by a circle, often with a smaller circle or dot at the center. Here are some examples of Egyptian hieroglyphs, with the sign numbers and meanings from Sir Alan Gardiner's "Egyptian Grammar":
In this interpretation of the circle as the circuit of the sun, the dot in the middle of the Phaistos sign is the earth, and the six outer dots plus the six spaces between them represent the twelve stations of the ecliptic into which people had by then divided this circuit.
We call these stations the zodiac. That concept in its modern form is documented only from New Babylonian times on, more than a millennium after the Disk. Indeed, the first surviving list of stars that used twelve zodiac signs of equal length to describe their positions dates only from about 410 BCE. However, the Egyptians had traditionally divided the sky into three times twelve = 36 about equal parts, the decans, which they used as star clocks for measuring the hours of the night and the progress of the seasons. The constellations they devised for this system match in many cases those that were transmitted to us from Greece. And in Mesopotamia, many of the individual zodiac constellations were attested long before their first surviving use as an equally spaced reference system for describing the passage of time or the locations of planets. For instance, the Babylonian names for the constellations Taurus, Leo, and Scorpio were derived from the earlier Sumerian language which was long extinct by the time those names turn up in the later written records.
Moreover, the Classical Greek descriptions of the sky by the astronomer Eudoxus (about 400 to 350 BCE) and the poet Aratus (about 315 to 240 BCE) reflected a system of constellations that had been developed around the middle of the third millennium BCE in either Mesopotamia or Crete, or both, but was clearly outdated by the time of these writers. Indeed, the modern astronomers Michael Ovenden and Archie E. Roy found that the positions and times for the rising and setting of stars, which these Classical writers had listed in minute detail, were grossly wrong for their times but had been correct about two thousand years earlier. Yet, that discrepancy did not prevent those obsolete data from dominating the Greek and Roman teachings on astronomy for another thousand years and from thereby demonstrating already back then the power of received opinion over observable facts.
It seems therefore likely that much of the ancient astronomical knowledge had been acquired and codified into a system long before the time of its first surviving written record, and that the Bronze Age Cretans could easily have been familiar with a division of the ecliptic into individual stretches that were possibly still unequal but similar to those of the zodiac, or to those of the "sun circuit" sign above.
If we accept for now this interpretation of the circle as the solar circuit along the zodiac, then its pairings with the sun head most likely mean that the latter is there identified as ruler of “all that the sun circles”, that is, of the world. Ruling the world was a standard part of the job description for most early sun gods.
Teaching divine law at age twelve
This interpretation of the dotted circle as the circuit of the sun, or the zodiac, may help to understand some of the traditions about the ancient sun god in his role as ruler, as illustrated on the Disk, and the continuity of those basic traditions for his Christian successor.
To begin with, the pairing of this sign with the sun-head appears only once on the first side of the Disk, in field 12.
This evokes the first public appearance of Jesus which he made at the precocious age of twelve when he famously expounded the religious laws to the sages in the Temple at Jerusalem (Luke 2:42-48).
Twelve was a number firmly associated with the sun, from the twelve months of the solar year and the twelve constellations of the zodiac along its path to the twelve hours of the day and of the night. Twelve years was also the age when Egyptian boys lost the "lock of youth" that identified them as children and began to be considered as men. The timing was a precursor to the Hebrew ceremony of bar mitzvah that still marks a boy's passage into adult obligations after the completion of his twelfth year. (Full adulthood, however, was reached in both cases only at age 30.)
The emphasis on the connection with the temple teachings or divine law in that story matches the tall double sign which shares field 12 with the “sun head” and “zodiac circle”. That sign looks like a double stela with rounded top and sides, split by a line down its middle, and it evokes the double plume in the crowns of Egyptian pantheon rulers which symbolized the double feather of Maat, the goddess of divine law.
The location as well as the shape of that Phaistos sign in field 12 both fit the traditional connection of the “divine law” with the events in Year 12 of God's son.
Moreover, field 12 contains also a sign that looks like an “up” arrow, a counterpart to the “down” arrow we encountered in field 57. That “up” meaning matches here the rise of the miraculous boy and future ruler from anonymous obscurity to his first public notice and acclaim.
The age of twelve for such a prominent public appearance also fits a very similar episode in the demotic story of the Egyptian boy Se-Osiris which was written on the back of some official documents in Greek from 48 CE that are now in the British Museum. Based on the writing style and letter forms, the story on their back appears to have been added during the latter half of the second century CE, or roughly at about the same time when the existence of the four Gospels which were later declared canonical, including Luke's, is also first attested around 180 CE in the writings of the church father Irenaeus of Lyon.
The name of Se-Osiris meant “son of Osiris” which is usually the title of Horus, the sun god who was also believed to be incarnated in each reigning pharaoh. His father Osiris, the Egyptian resurrection god, had sent Se-Osiris to earth for a limited time to help the humans, just as the Christian God did with his son Jesus. And just as Jesus did in the Jerusalem Temple, Se-Osiris amazed the sages in the temple of Ptah with his wisdom and prophecies and knowledge of the divine laws, and he was also twelve at the time.
Similarly, the Indian Buddha was another solar figure who was said to have lived as a mortal sage (563 to 483 BCE) to enlighten mankind. His life story was embroidered with a web of fantastic legends and miracles that provide many parallels to the life of Christ. According to John G. Jackson’s “Pagan Origins of the Christ Myth”, these are said to include a tale that "at the age of twelve, Buddha excelled the learned men of the temple in knowledge and wisdom" (1988, page 20).
Initiation with dove at 31
The next time we see the “zodiac-circle-and-sun-head” pair, after its initial appearance in field 12, is in the "initiation" field 31 at the new beginning of the path on the other side of the Disk.
This corresponds again to the story of Jesus because after that first public manifestation in the Temple at age twelve, he disappeared from view until he began his ministry with his baptism by John the Baptist. This occurred when Jesus was "about thirty" (Luke 3:23). Luke probably meant, in the ancient way of counting, that Jesus had completed 30 years and was baptized or “initiated” at the beginning of his 31st, as shown on Disk field 31.
This is not a coincidence because 30 was the age when a man reached adulthood, both in ancient Egypt and among the biblical Hebrews. This number measured the count of days in a standard month as well as the first half of the all-encompassing sixty which was the Mesopotamian "Great One". Completing 30 had therefore a mythological value far greater than just the chronological meaning. The rebirth or initiation into the advanced part of life would therefore belong at the beginning of the second half of the life-path, in field 31, and so matches a tradition as old as the Sumerians' sexagesimal system of counting and as the Egyptian calendar.
Accordingly, the age of 30 was a defining mark for many ancient careers reported in the Bible. Joseph the second-youngest son of the patriarch Jacob was said to have been 30 years old when he became pharaoh's vizier and right-hand man (Genesis 41:46); the prophet Ezekiel claimed to have seen his first vision of God in his 30th year (Ezekiel 1:1); Saul was reportedly 30 years old when he became king of Israel (1 Samuel 13:1), and David was anointed to that office at this same age (2 Samuel 5:4). And the Egyptian Heb-Sed festival of royal renewal was meant to be celebrated after 30 years of the king's reign. It fits therefore this long established pattern that the “sun head” on the Disk got its renewal after the first 30 fields of its path.
We saw earlier that baptism was a form of initiation and renewal, and indeed, the “rosette of rebirth” is associated with this ritual in field 31. It has the “sky-slash” identified in Part 2 which means here that this renewal took place in the sky. In addition, the “scepter of command” identifies the so initiated as a ruler appears next to that “rosette”, together with the “dove” that prominently marked also the baptism of Jesus as Luke 3:22 describes it:
“....the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove, and there came a voice from heaven: ‘Thou art my Son, my Beloved; on thee my favor rests.’”
The signs in the Phaistos “initiation” field 31 suggest that its ancient initiation was the equivalent of that later baptism, and that the appearance of the “dove” in this context conveyed the same meaning of divine presence and acceptance into a higher realm.
Doves as symbol of the renewal goddess
A dove was in Crete the defining attribute of at least one major goddess. Doves perched on the heads of several female ritual statuettes, from before the time of the Disk to many centuries later. These include, for instance, the famous "younger snake goddess" shown below which was found in the Palace of Knossos in 1903. She holds a snake in each outstretched hand and features a dove on her head. Snakes were obvious symbols of renewal because of their ability to shed their old skin, so the goddess holding them expressed the same concept.
As for the Egyptian gods, such characteristic head gear was used to identify their divine wearers and to express their nature. Sometimes the doves were also substitutes for the goddess, as in a miniature shrine from the Old Palace of Knossos where three doves sit on three columns.
At other times, they seem to be her attendants, like the two doves in a gold ornament from the grave circle at Mycenae which flank a triple shrine with a horned altar and so confirm again the holy associations of that bird.
Dr. Nanno Marinatos, a noted scholar of religion on ancient Crete and Thera, says about doves in Cretan contexts:
“It is generally agreed that the bird is the embodiment of the divinity. I, on the other hand, am more inclined to believe that the bird is one of the sacred animals of the goddess, her celestial messenger.”
The details of this distinction may have been subject to variations in the judgment of individual worshipers, just as in the later theological disputes about whether the bread and wine in Christian Eucharist ceremonies are the flesh and blood of Christ or only represent it. In either case, the “dove” in Phaistos 31 was a symbol firmly linked with a Cretan goddess involved in renewal.
The Disk itself confirms this association in field 16 which groups the “dove” together with the “lady”, the “bough of life”, plus the “ear of grain” and the “fish” which looks like a mackerel, a diet staple for fishing folks.
The two signs "grain" and "fish" can both be read as symbols of life-sustaining fertility and renewal of the principal food sources, comparable to Jesus' miracle of feeding a multitude with two fish and five loaves of bread made from grain.
The “dove-woman’s” association with those signs, including the "bough of life", identifies her clearly again as a “Lady of Life”.
The Disk also illustrates the conciliatory Cretan approach to what would only much later become said theological dispute. In field 16, the “dove” appears together with the “woman” and probable goddess, so it is here her companion and thus functions as her symbol or sacred animal. In field 31, however, the stand-alone “dove” seems to embody her presence which was required for the initiation, just as in the Gospel verse which specifies that the Spirit descended “in bodily form like a dove”.
It seems that the ancient Cretans had wisely solved the dispute between “is” or “represents” by flexibly accepting both meanings.
(The third occurrence of that “dove”, in field 53, is also likely to stand for a goddess representing the moon, as you saw in part 4.)
In any case, the presence of that life-renewing “dove” in field 31 fits again the proposed “initiation” and “new beginning” or baptism at this beginning of the second track with the mid-life “birth, death, rebirth rosette”.
It also fits the role of doves in later Classical Greece where they were sacred to Aphrodite, the powerful but often capricious goddess of love and new life. Aphrodite, by the way, was no stranger to the Game of the Goose because she rode sometimes on the back of a goose and remained associated with gambling and games. For instance, a favorable dice toss of two sixes was called “Aphrodite”.
Doves sitting on double axes
The involvement of the dove goddess with the renewal expected from an initiation or, in the case of a coffin tenant, from a rebirth into the Cretan version of paradise, is also illustrated on the Hagia Triada sarcophagus from about two or three centuries after the Disk.
One of the paintings on the sides of that sarcophagus shows a scene from either a funeral or a mortuary cult. A woman pours a libation offering into an elevated vessel which stands on an altar between two of the “sacred pillars” often found in Cretan iconography next to altars. These pillars are here topped with double pairs of so-called “double axes”, and on each of them sits a dove.
Such “double axes” were an important symbol of renewal in the religion of ancient Crete, comparable in Christianity to the role of the cross, which they resemble. They turned up frequently in the two cult caves which were deemed birthplaces of the Osiris-like Cretan Zeus, or else they were dedicated to Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth. This confirms that they were a symbol closely connected with birth and new life. By sitting on this powerful sign of new life, the doves re-affirmed thus their essential role in this then all-important complex of beliefs about renewal, rebirth, and/or regeneration.
Whatever the various names and other aspects of that dove goddess may have been, it seems clear that she brought about the initiate’s renewal, just like the Egyptian sky goddess who routinely rejuvenated the sun, the king, and the mummies. These all re-entered her dark womb so that she could bear them to a new morning, a new youth, and a new life.
The Phaistos “dove” in the starting field of the second path section appears then to act there as representative of the goddess and to have performed the same function of initiation into a higher level of life as that Egyptian sky goddess, and as her Hebrew counterpart, the dove-shaped Holy Spirit in the Gospel’s baptism scene. Indeed, that biblical Holy Spirit was female in Hebrew and Greek. She was the biblical Woman Wisdom who had been with God at the creation of the world, and she was the Jewish Kabbalists' Shekinah who represented the presence of God.
In the Eastern branch of Christianity, that Holy-Spirit dove-deity remained female as Hagia Sofia, or Holy Wisdom, to whom some of the East Roman emperors built in Constantinople the then most revered church in all Christendom. (The image of the Hagia Sofia church below is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)
This Woman Wisdom became the male Holy Ghost only in the West Roman version of Christianity, long after she played her initiation role in the female-goddess form of a “dove” on the Disk and then again in the Gospel.
A nineteen-year career and twelve disciples
The “dove” as symbol of divine endorsement in the "Initiation" field 31 on the Disk is further matched by the “command” scepter between that dove and the "rebirth rosette" with the “sky-slash” which confirms there the newly initiated sun-king’s position of power.
That baptism in field or year 31 began the year-marking career of the “sun head” and also the active ministry of Jesus. The side of the Disk that starts with this defining event shows twelve pairings of the “sun head” with the “world circle or zodiac”, just as the post-baptism Jesus had twelve disciples.
This number of those pairings on the second side of the Disk may imply that this side represents one year, the 31st, at the end of which Jesus died, 19 years after its first public appearance at the Passover festival when he first visited the Temple at the age of twelve. Although the Gospel of John appears to allot three years to Jesus’ ministry, this Disk timing parallels the three synoptic Gospels in which Jesus seems to have spent about one year after his baptism at the age of “about thirty” until his crucifixion at the Passover festival.
The Passover festival in ancient Israël was held on the first full moon after the spring equinox. Its date was regularly adjusted to the nineteen-year cycle that had long served as the basis for the Jewish calendar and that had also governed the meeting of sun and moon on the Disk.
Twelve, of course, was a common number for followers of a sun that ruled over twelve daylight hours and twelve months in its calendar year, and that traveled each year through twelve zodiac signs. For the latter reason, twelve was also the number of major deeds for many solar heroes, such as the twelve adventures of Gilgamesh, the twelve episodes of the Samson story, or the twelve labors of Heracles before he rose to Mount Olympus and its twelve gods. The twelve tribes of Israël may well owe their quantity to the same astronomical symbolism of that number.
Judas fallen in Tartarus
The twelfth “sun-head-and-circle” pair on that second Disk side is the thirteenth on the entire path. True to this already then unlucky number, it winds up in the “Tartarus” field 59, just as most self-respecting solar heroes’ labors or adventures included a trip to the underworld, and just as the midwinter-born sun died during the thirteenth moon after its birth. The distress in that “Tartarus” is highlighted by the upside-down position of the adjacent "tar corselets", and the “sun head” in its thirteenth pairing with the “zodiac-circle” has fallen forward.
This fate parallels that of Judas, the thirteenth member in Jesus' supper group who "betrayed" him and was damned (although the recently re-discovered Gospel of Judas asserts that he actually helped Jesus to accomplish his purported mission of dying on behalf of all human sinners). One of the two biblical reports about Judas’ punishment on earth even mirrors his fate on the Disk. In Matthew 27:5, that disciple merely hanged himself, but Acts 1:18 gives a graphic description which could well reflect the same tradition as the icon on the Disk : “he fell forward on the ground, and burst open, so that his entrails poured out.” The fallen head in field 59 with the upside-down "T-shirts" is about as close to that dismal fate of Judas as the Disk designer could express with his or her limited stamps.
The fisherman with sword and divine law
Judas is not the only disciple of Jesus foreseen on the Disk. Petrus appears there, too. In field 38, the head in its “circle-and-sun-head” pair does not look straight forward but halfway down, not completely fallen like the fatally distressed “sun head” in field 59 but rather as if bowed in shame. This half-fallen or bowed head shares its field with a "divine law" sign, a “fish”, and a human figure that carries a “sickle or key or curved sword” of a type then attested from Crete.
This combination evokes Simon Petrus, the disciple of Jesus whom the Gospels describe as a fisherman and as the only one who carried and used a sword (John 18:10). This was also the disciple who repeatedly denied knowing Jesus, followed by his crying shame and repentance when the predicted rooster call made him recognize his disloyalty.
The curved implement this disciple carries resembles the weapon of many sun gods, as shown in ancient representations of Marduk, Amon-Ra, and Shamash, and it shares its shape with the “jawbone of an ass” that Samson used to slay a thousand Philistines.
The number of field 38 with the bowed down “sun-head” is twice nineteen and thus presumably a prominent number in a world based on a nineteen-year cycle. Similarly, the disciple with the sword held the most prominent place within that group of followers.
The biblical Petrus got appointed to administer the divine law on earth, and also to guard the entrance to heaven. This matches the “divine law” sign in this field, and his sword would have symbolized his power to carry out those jobs, just as the cherubim who had earlier barred the entrance to the Garden of Eden did so with whirling and flaming swords.
In addition, this "sword" in the pictograph evokes also the shape of an early key, as used for the ancient Egyptian locks with moveable pins that are the ancestors of our modern tumbler locks.
Whatever object that human figure in field 38 may have held, its resemblance with a typical key of that time could well have led to the key as the currently most prominent attribute of the Catholic Saint Peter. Even more important than his association with the sword is now that with his large key to the Pearly Gates of Heaven, as asserted in Matthew 16:18-19:
"To you I will give the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
The authority of binding and loosing on earth and in heaven is conferred by the divine law. Indeed, the bowed “sun-head”, the carrier of the “sword or key”, and the “fish” share their field with the sign for “divine law”. This also fits here that key-carrier's gate-guarding function of admitting or rejecting those who wanted to enter heaven -- a judging of the dead similar to that reported for Osiris, Minos, and Jesus.
In other words, Simon Petrus may well have received some of his traits from the long-standing associations portrayed in that field. That “sword- and/or key”-carrying man with the “fish” and the “divine law” sign in the Disk field of the bowed “sun head” was then likely the first recorded forerunner of the Catholic Saint Peter who started the long line of Popes that continues in direct and unbroken succession to this day.
Resurrection on the third day
The rest of the “sun head's” path on the Disk parallels again closely that of Jesus. The “sun-head” lost its life in field 58 and was reborn in field 61 which is the third field after its death. Jesus lost his life and was said to have risen from the dead on the third day after his death.
(The Gospels don't agree on when he died: the synoptic ones of Matthew, Mark, and Luke say he was crucified on the 15th of Nisan, after the Passover meal, but John 13:1 asserts it was on the 14th, before the Passover festival. This makes it uncertain whether Jesus died on Thursday or on Friday before his resurrection on Sunday.)
The traditionally asserted timing of three days corresponds to the three days Heracles spent in the belly of the underworld monster Tiamat. It matches the period of apparent immobility of the sun at the solstices when it seems to “stand still” for three days before an observer can perceive it to move again. We find this temporary death also in the book of the biblical prophet Hosea which is said to date from the 8th century BCE. Hosea wrote in verse 6:2:
“... after two days he [the Lord] will revive us,
on the third day he will restore us,
that in his presence we may live.”
This prominent mention of a third-day resurrection, about halfway in time between the Disk and Jesus, confirms that this was a continuous tradition also in the Bible.
Regeneration by lily and the child from heaven
The career of the “sun-head” on the Disk also includes an Osirian-flavored divine generation and miraculous conception as a clear parallel to the divine birth of Jesus. The clue for this part of the story is the "lily" in the “Tartarus” field 59, between the signs of the “maze” and the “bough of life”. The characteristic leaves along its stalk and the just opening bud on its pictograph make it easy to recognize this plant as a “lily”.
Lilies were a common motif in ancient Cretan as well as Mycenaean and Aegean art. Some of them appear in contexts that hint what they meant to the artists and their audience. For instance, a carnelian seal stone, found in a tomb at Pylos in Greece from about 1500 BCE, shows a woman who offers, or smells, two blooming lilies on a horned altar. Their presence on that altar implies that they had a sacred dimension. And on a painted pottery fruit-stand from the Old Palace at Phaistos, two dancing women flank a larger one who raises her arms in the typical posture of the goddess statuettes. That goddess holds in each hand a lily. Dr. Nanno Marinatos says about the scene in her book “Minoan Religion: Ritual, Image, and Symbol”:
“Given that nothing is fortuitous or merely ornamental in this kind of simple art, the lily must have some significance. It is a typical spring flower, and can thus be best regarded as a seasonal determinative. (...) The lily typifies the spring.” (pages 149 and 195)
Spring is the season of regeneration, and this symbolism fits perfectly the contexts of the lily on the Disk. Moreover, the lilies on the altar in that picture described above take the place of the “double axes” which the Cretan goddess figurines hold up more commonly when shown in that posture. The substitution of the lilies for the normally expected double axes in that scene supports again that the lilies and axes had equivalent meanings. We saw above that double axes were connected with birth and renewal. Their association with lilies is also illustrated on a beautifully painted storage jar from the Palace of Knossos, now in the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, on which the redoubled double axes appear to grow out of a field of lilies and are further paired with rosettes as additional symbols of renewal. (One of those rosettes has 19 petals, another reminder about the 19-year cycle.)
This association of lilies with double axes is even clearer on a painted clay plaque, also from Knossos and pictured below, on which double axes are growing directly from lily stems.
Return of the lily from death
That “lily” from the "Tartarus" field 59 appears again in the setback counterpart of that “Tartarus” which copies all the latter’s signs in field 47. Beyond that mechanical repetition as part of this group, the “lily” occurs only in two additional places:
If we plug in a meaning of “regeneration” for the “lily” sign, then the sequence of its appearances becomes a narrative about the fate of the deceased's immortal part that survives his passage through “Tartarus” and returns to the “sky” to be reborn, exactly like the posthumous seed of the dead Osiris that transmitted his live essence to Isis for his regeneration as Horus. This "soul" or "spiritual DNA" appears here as a “lily” and returns from the world beyond “death” to the womb of the “night sky” or "queen of heaven" Isis in field 4 to produce her miraculous conception of Horus as the new Osiris. The "up arrow" next to the “lily” in that field 4 promises the lily-soul's regeneration or rebirth.
This role of the “lily” also matches its symbolism in the Catholic tradition where this flower is a symbol of purity and of the Immaculate Conception. Indeed, a lily has been often associated with the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. Like Isis and many other ancient sky goddesses, Mary was also venerated by Catholics as "queen of heaven" long before Pope Pius XII made that ancient title official for her in 1946. Many paintings of that Annunciation, from early medieval to modern times, show the Archangel Gabriel bringing a lily to Mary to symbolize her miraculous conception, as in the example below. Alternatively, some of the painters placed a vase of lilies between her and the announcing angel.
And indeed, in field 10 which is the seventh field from field 4, we see that “lily” again, this time paired with the newborn "baby". This matches the typical divine gestation periods of seven months or seven days reported from ancient Egypt. Also, a surviving fragment from the Gospel of the Hebrews says that Christ spent seven months in Mary's womb(as recorded at http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/gospelhebrews-ogg.html). The other signs in field 10 identify that “baby” as related to or identical with the "sun-head", and as born to rule with the "scepter of command". We saw earlier that the “sky-slash” attached to the “baby” meant that it was in or of the sky.
We can thus follow the travel of that lily on the Disk through these three steps:
1: Despite the distress of the inverted or fallen signs in the "Tartarus" field 59, the “life” next to the “maze” is regenerated and its essence survives as the “lily”.
2: That “lily” escapes from “Tartarus” and “travels” “up” into the “night sky” of field 4, just as the seed/soul of the dead Osiris enters the sky goddess Isis, or as the archangel Gabriel brings the lily as sign of her impregnation to the “queen of heaven” Mary.
The upcoming birth is foreshadowed in field 9. The three signs there are: the “tar” T-shirt for “west” which was the place of the underworld, the boat as sign of “travel”, and again the “up” arrow. The combination can be read as “travel west and up”, or also as “travel up [from] the west" or from the underworld.
3: The “lily” gets reborn in field 10 as the soul of the “baby”. The “sun head” there conveys the nature of that “baby” with the “sky-slash” as the reborn sun, and the scepter of “command” conveys his destiny as ruler.
The interpretation of that sign as “baby” fits not only its appearance but also its location in the tenth field since in the ancient inclusive way of counting, human babies were born in the tenth month, as stated in the Bible’s Wisdom of Solomon 7:2. In other examples, the sun hero Heracles was born "in the tenth sign", and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes (4:10) reports that this god was born “when the tenth moon was set fast in the sky”. Those long ancient pregnancies are attested not only in the Bible and in Greek myth. Two Ptolemaic-time Greek inscriptions also quote the Egyptian goddess Isis as saying “I burdened woman with the newborn babe in the tenth month”.
The modern shortening of the average human gestation span to nine months may suggest that life is easier for modern mothers, but it owes more to semantics than to medical progress and has no more practical meaning than the strictly mathematical proposition that nine women working together should produce a baby in one month.
The birth of the "baby" in field 10 thus reflected the typical duration of human pregnancies in the ancient system of counting. However, the seven-field interval between the “lilies” with the “night sky” in 4 and with the “baby” in 10 matches also the divine gestations of Osiris in his mother Nut and that of Christ in his mother Mary. As a senior goddess Nut did not have to put up with all of the human burden; her pregnancy with Osiris required only seven days, and Mary had to wait only seven months. That is one day or month for each field of this interval when you count, again in the ancient inclusive fashion, both the beginning and the end where the "lily soul" reappears in the seventh field after its return to the regenerating “night sky”.
The location of the baby combined thus the human timing of birth with its divine shortcut. This was appropriate for the birth of a god who was also a human, such as Osiris and his son Horus who was the new sun but was also believed to be incarnated as the pharaoh, or such as Jesus who was the Son of God but was also said to have walked on Earth as a human.
The three independent occurrences of that “lily” suggest therefore that it plays here the role of the Osirian seed, or the immortal part of the deceased, that leaves the Tartarus-bound body at death and returns to the celestial womb for its regeneration to a new life. And they illustrate the steps by which the "lily-soul" acts as the death-conquering spirit of life and regeneration by returning to heaven from the dead sun at the end of its cycle to then become the soul of the new sun ruler as he was born.
The value of the record on the Phaistos Disk
All these similarities between the original Egyptian resurrection and the ancient Cretan “sun head” as well as the Christian Jesus derived from it, could be mere coincidences. However, the number and precision of the matches make that appear highly unlikely when you look at this condensed comparison between the careers of the “sun head” and of Jesus:
Moreover, these are not isolated parallels, but the many borrowings of the Christian faith from earlier beliefs have long been known and studied. For instance, even the rather conservative Wikipedia entry on "Jesus Christ in comparative mythology" states:
"It has been noted since antiquity, and in modern scholarship since the 19th century, that Jesus Christ has striking parallels to other deities worshipped in Hellenistic religion, specifically to the cult of Dionysus in the Greek mystery religions and with the Buddha.”
Add to this the synthetic Egyptian god Serapis whom Ptolemy I Soter “the Savior” (367 to 283 BCE) commissioned to be created from a mix of Zeus and Asklepios as well as Osiris and a few other gods of that time. He had this new god custom-made to unite his Greek and Egyptian subjects with a common religion, and the standard portrait of Serapis became the model for that of Jesus Christ. Also, the cult of the originally Persian sun-and-zodiac god Mithras was popular among Roman soldiers and long competed with that of the very similar Christian Jesus, and there are many other examples of parallels.
The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Saint Justin Martyr (100 to 165 CE) and his followers tried to explain those similarities of Christian and earlier pagan religions as "demonic imitations" planted by the devil to misguide true believers. They thereby set an example for later Church authorities who would accuse that same devil to have scattered dinosaur bones through deep geologic layers to cause doubts among the faithful about the biblical story of creation.
However, pace diabolus, the long and well documented history of ancient solar worship suggests that these matches between ancient religions are rather due to the survival and re-use of old and long entrenched stories and beliefs about the sun and its organically grown personifications that helped to shape the new narrative.
The career of the “sun head” stamped on the Disk appears to have recorded a package of traits and deeds that were a part of the ancient Cretan and Near-Eastern luni-solar religions and that survived to get included in the later accounts about Jesus Christ. Such an accretion of myths around the nucleus of a famous or legendary person is a frequent phenomenon known in many traditions.
A good example of such borrowings is the popular tale of the baby abandoned in a reed basket floating down the river. We find it not only in the life of the biblical Moses but also in a 7th century BCE biography of king Sargon I (2334 to 2279 BCE), founder of the Akkadian Dynasty, and in many other myths that also incorporated variations on this theme.
And the massacre of newborns ordered by a tyrannical ruler that led to Moses' being placed in that basket on the Nile got echoed in King Herod's alleged infant killing that caused Jesus' parents to flee to the Nile but that is nowhere attested outside the New Testament.
Similarly, the Athenian propagandists who promoted their monster-slaying and underworld-escaping local champion Theseus adapted many of the deeds in his saga from the exploits of the earlier Heracles. This older sun hero, in turn, had borrowed heavily from the Mesopotamian sun hero Gilgamesh, and apparently also from the mythological model for the “sun head” on the Cretan Disk. That “sun head” then helped to provide the template for its Canaanite counterpart Samson, and apparently also for Jesus.
In his book about “The Samson Saga and its place in comparative religion”, the mythologist Abram Smythe Palmer described a century ago how this works:
“The myth is a parasite which is ready to twine around any stem; and the very ancient elements of tradition embodied in the adventures of Gilgamesh were woven together by the scribes or narrators round the name of their own national hero or demi-god. Among the Canaanites they gravitated towards Samson, the mighty man of valor, the sun man, whom the people held in honor.
Old myths come to be fastened on persons or localities that strike the popular imagination, and are made the centers of tradition. Around the founder of a faith like Buddha, or a king and conqueror like Charlemagne, there gather the tales that have descended from the past, and form a mythical Buddha and a mythical Charlemagne by the side of the historical ones.” (New York reprint 1977, pages 215 and 231)
The same process appears to have influenced the stories about Jesus Christ, the central figure in all the Christian religions.
A good example of such an accretion to the tales about Jesus from older sources is the resurrection of Lazarus, as reported in the Gospel of John (11:2 to 44). This story parallels closely the Egyptian mortuary ritual of the sun god Horus resurrecting his dead father, and any deceased who were soon all identified with the latter. The Greeks called that father Osiris but in Egyptian the name of this ruler and judge of the dead was "Asar", or "el-Asar" when preceded by the definite article appropriate for gods, the way we say "the Christ". Accordingly, the town where Jesus is said to have performed this miracle, and which John called Bethany, is el-Azariyeh in Arabic (http://randalldsmith.com/bethany-el-azar). The Latin ending "-us" in Roman-occupied Palestine makes this Egyptian name "el-Asar-us", and there are many parallels for the wearing away of the initial "e" to make that name "l-asar-us".
This name is not the only similarity. As D.M. Murdock documented in her "Christ in Egypt: the Horus-Jesus Connection", John's account of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus matches in many details the ancient Egyptian ritual of re-awakening a mummy, as described in the Pyramid Texts and in the Book of the Dead. The parallels included an anointing and a washing of feet; the presence of two sisters, one of them weeping; the assertions that the deceased was only sleeping and that the officiant was the "Lord of Resurrection" in Egypt or the "Resurrection and the Life" in the case of Jesus; the opening of the tomb and the mention of the decaying corpse's smell after being dead four days; the priest who represented Horus and likewise Jesus calling out the imperative "come forth" to awaken the deceased; and finally the loosening of the bandages. (Stellar House Publishing, Seattle, 2009, pages 305 to 308)
(Never mind Plutarch's account in which the goddess Isis reassembles the dead Osiris to only then conceive Horus from him. The ancient Egyptians saw no contradiction in Horus being also the one who in the ritual resurrected his future father. They relied on this time-traveling god to repeat this feat for each mummy.)
There are many other instances where John and the other Gospel writers borrowed extensively from Egyptian, Greek, and Jewish sources. They usually rewrote the stories around that source kernel, but if they had submitted their writings to a modern professional journal, its editors would have rejected their amalgam right away for the easily detected plagiarism which was commonplace back then.
Also, there are major discrepancies between the four canonical Gospels. For instance, none of the other three knew of this greatest miracle that Jesus supposedly performed and that would certainly have been worth mentioning. They also give mutually exclusive accounts on important items such as the ancestry of Joseph or the details of Jesus' last days, and even about the timing of his crucifixion which was their central event. Those direct contradictions show that their writings, as well as the rest of the New Testament, are composites meant to have religious and literary but no historical value, and that none of their writers had any personal knowledge of the events they claimed to describe.
Indeed, when the authors of that New Testament, several generations after the reported death of Jesus, wrote down the mix of hearsay accounts and third-hand tales in the Gospels we received, these stories had by then become a prime target for this mythical buildup with borrowings and pre-existing legends.
Their efforts to present Jesus as divine required that this new god meet the traditional criteria and basic career narrative that had long been associated throughout the region with sun gods revered for their cyclical resurrection. This cultural background followed the astronomical pattern for those gods who traveled through the twelve signs of the zodiac and followed a nineteen-year cycle between meetings of the new solstice sun with the new moon. Their rebirth on the third day after their cycle had ended was also a frequent part of that package since that was the time after the apparent death of the immobile solstice sun when it began again to visibly move along the horizon. It was therefore a natural development that those who asserted and promoted the divinity of Jesus made sure his story fit this time-honored template to make it acceptable to their audiences.
Seen in this context, the path on the Disk displays the earliest coherent record of this template that happened to survive the wholesale destruction of earlier connections when scroll-burning and hieroglyph-hacking religious fanatics tried for centuries to obliterate all testimonies to the pagan roots of the Christian religion. The Disk preserves the original scaffold of ancient mythological themes on which the much later Christian religion was built, and it allows us now to improve our understanding of the primeval sky-based beliefs that still shape our modern world.
In the next part of this series you will further see how the depiction of the sky on the labyrinth board appears to have served as a model for the layout of King Solomon’s Temple precinct. Like other ancient builders of Temples, he built it to reproduce the sky on Earth. That board offered such an excellent diagram of the sky and its well-ordered cycles that his father David could honestly believe its plans had been drawn by God’s own hand. Stay tuned for more surprises!
A more complete interpretation of the Phaistos Disk can be read in Solomon’s Sky: The Tapestry of Heaven from the Phaistos Disk
, authored by Peter Aleff.
For the next 30 days, interested readers may access the online copy of the entire book at http://phaistosgame.com/PhaistosforPopularArchaeology.htm.
Cover Photo, Top Left: Phaistos Disk inscription detail. Wikimedia Commons
Read the entire series of this article:
Part 1: The case for the Phaistos Disk as an ancient game board, 12/1/2012,
Part 2: The reconstructed ancient labyrinth gameboard and its chart of the northern sky. 3/5/2013,
Part 3: The race between the light and dark sides of the moon on the Phaistos gameboard. 6/1/2013,
Part 4: Eclipses and lunar standstill cycles on the Disk, 9/1/2013
Part 5: Created 1600 years BCE, the Phaistos Disk records parallels to the life of Jesus
Part 6: The Labyrinth sky chart as template for the layout of Solomon's Temple,
to be published in the 3/1/2014 issue of Popular Archaeology.
Part 7: The evolution of the game on the Labyrinth board into Chess,
to be published in the 6/1/2014 issue of Popular Archaeology
A complete reading of this new interpretation of the Phaistos Disk is about to be published in Peter Aleff’s upcoming book “Solomon’s Sky: The Tapestry of Heaven from the Phaistos Disk
For the next 30 days, interested readers may access the online copy of the entire book at http://phaistosgame.com/PhaistosforPopularArchaeology.htm.
All illustrations not otherwise credited are © 1987 to 2013 by Peter Aleff and are reproduced here with his permission. Cover Photo, Top Left: Detail of the Phaistos Disk. Wikimedia Commons
Peter Aleff started inquiring about history and mythology even before he learned to read, and he has continued ever since. He studied history and philosophy at the University of Basel in Switzerland as well as mathematics and the dismal science of economics. Then he decided to earn a living and took technical courses at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Métiers in Paris, France, to begin a career in engineering and managing manufacturing companies. He worked first in France and then in several American states where he was awarded three U.S. patents for some of his inventions.
In his free time, he researched in particular the history and meanings of board games and wrote in 1982 the rough but essentially entire draft outline of the present story about the Phaistos Disk under the title "The Labyrinth Game", then re-created that ancient game for modern users. Over the next three decades, during a busy work life but in anticipation of some day finding the time to compile and publish this fascinating story, he collected relevant books and articles and notes to flesh out the context and ramifications of the information found on the Disk. Then he pulled it all together in "Solomon's Sky: The Tapestry of Heaven from the Phaistos Disk
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