Making a new divine man ca 215
His name appears as various abbreviations; here I will call him IS; his title is CHR/Chrest. The texts in which he first appears have not yet been fully and properly treated, in my opinion; they are pre-Christian by some centuries; some are plain Chrestian, some are gnostic and some are Manichaean, which is at least partly gnostic.
The cultural milieu of his creation is not Judea/Palestine, but the Arabic region of Syria and Northern Mesopotamia, including places such as Irbil. Edessa, Nisibis, Dura Europos, Palmyra and Hatra.
This image is of a statue found at Hatra in 1951 and from the inscription on its base (in conjunction with coins found at Nisibis) we learn he is king of Adiabene; I agree with the scholarly view that he is the king described variously as Izates/Izas and Ezad, who converted to Judaism ca 35, whose mother was the famous "Helen" partial-convert (with, according to her sarcophagas, the name Sara).
By the 3rd century, this king was not just a 'religious' figure, he was divine.
In the 19th century, Izates/Izas/Ezad had been identified in a rock relief at Batas (Iraq). It has been pock-marked with bullet holes over the years.
Fortunately, an archaeologist was able to make a good drawing before this extra damage.
In his right hand, he almost certainly holds aloft a symbol similar if not identical to those carried by a similar figure in Greco-India during the 1st century:
This king was described by only one person of his time - Josephus - and every historian from imperial Rome onwards has largely accepted this as historical, factually true. Yet as no king exists in any other historical or archaeological record as Izates, Izas or Ezad, and "Helen" exists as Sara in the archaeological record, we ought to be forced to accept that Josephus has changed his actual identity.
Josephus tells us: his birth was presaged by an angelic annunication: But as he was in bed with her one night, he laid his hand upon his wife's belly, and fell asleep, and seemed to hear a voice, which bid him take his hand off his wife's belly, and not hurt the infant that was therein, which, by God's providence, would be safely born, and have a happy end.
We know that this account by Josephus held importance for his readers in his time and later:
- During the war following the extra-judicial killing of James, royals from Adiabene won great acclaim fighting Rome.
- The tomb built outside Jerusalem by Helen was a tourist attraction ever since; a round stone would roll back automatically on each annual anniversary.
- Helen became the butt of merciless parody in the textual tradition later claimed as Christian, including the New Testament.
- The invention of a 'Simon Magus' in the New Testament - probably to cover the identity of Saul/Paul - to advise Felix on how to gain a wife (Drusilla) of king 'Azizus' - also a full convert to Judaism - is likely a false claim to have take a wife of Izates (who had actually died just beforehand, making Drusilla a widow).
- In The Shepherd of Hermas, later taken out of the New Testament, an important role is given to a woman named Grapte (Thou shalt therefore write two little books, and shalt send one to Clement, and one to Grapte. So Clement shall send to the foreign cities, for this is his duty; while Grapte shall instruct the widows and the orphans); the palace of Grapte in Jerusalem was built for a member of the Adiabene royal family, specifically a relative of Izates, according to Josephus. The same name appears in a legal text found in the Cave of Letters, associated with Julia Crispina, who has the title episkopos/bishop.
That Izates backed Qumran (we know from the one letter found among the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Adiabene backed Judea in the First Jewish-Roman War, makes him and his children important to Rome at that time; that they enter the textual tradition shows how they continued to be important long after.
The readers of Josephus could enjoy how he played with the names - much as authors of the New Testament books later played with names of their enemies (a trick possibly picked up from Josephus, whom they used to provide much of their material - they all shared the same enemies - the Messianic Jews of Qumran).
This enmity aimed at Adiabene and its royal family builds; as Izates becomes divine at the end of the 2nd century, the two run in tandem - Roman enmity (in the West) and divinity in the East, Arabia. They come to a crescendo at the same time, with Caracalla invading Adiabene to personally attack the royal tombs, and Izates becomes a fully-fledged divine man.
The significance of this last was not lost on the Severans, whose women are the hereditary high-priestesses at Emesa (the solar Baal), for Julia Domna commissions ca 215 The Travels of Apollonius of Tyana, supposedly a miracle-worker in the early 1st century. A whole new genre of such literature now appears, including Acts of Thomas.
What's in a name? A possible translation of Izates is Angel; Syriac sources call him Ezad:
The term yazata is already used in the Gathas, the oldest texts of Zoroastrianism and believed to have been composed by Zoroaster himself. In these hymns, yazata is used as a generic, applied to God as well as to the "divine sparks", that in later tradition are the Amesha Spentas.For instance, Aredvi Sura Anahita (Ardvisur Nahid) is both a divinity of the waters as well as a rushing world river that encircles the earth, which is blocked up by Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) thus causing drought. The blockage is removed by Verethragna (Vahram), and Tishtrya (Tir) gathers up the waters and spreads them over the earth (Zam) as rain. In stories with eschatological significance, Sraosha (Sarosh), Mithra (Mihr), and Rashnu(Rashn) are guardians of the Chinvat bridge, the bridge of the separator, across which all souls must pass.In the 1860s and 1870s, the linguist Martin Haug interpreted Zoroastrian scripture in Christian terms, and compared the yazatas to the angels of Christianity.Now, modern, linguistic scholarship takes a skeptical view of the angel translation. Myself, I think of the angelic annunciation and then see this:
Obverse: King standing left holding sceptre. Reverse: Nike standing right holding wreath & palm.
That's the numismatic point of view, for what it's worth - and I don't rate it highly. The fact is, nobody knows for sure very much of this Scythian dynasty. Rather as with the Parthians, not uncoincidentally, I think.
More: Origins of Christianity