“Babylonian influence becomes particularly prominent in the great Nabataean kingdom whose principal capitals were Petra [p. 16] and Damascus, and whose history can be traced from their first mention by Ashurbanipal in the middle of the seventh century B.C., to their absorption into the Roman Empire in A. D. 106. They were a North Arabic race who used the Aramaic script, and their principal male deity is Dusura, rendered into Greek as Doundares, and identified by the Greeks with Dionysus. The name means ‘he of Shara’ (dhu Sara), i.e., ‘he of the mountain range esh-shara,’ at Petra, and he is a Sun-god according to Strabo. Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, writing in the fourth century, preserves the only illuminating informa- tion about the mythology of this great cult of the Nabataeans. As he was born and educated in Palestine, and served in a monastic order there, his statement must be taken authoritatively. He says that the Nabataeans praised the virgin whose Arabic name is Chaabou. In Nabataean the Arabic nominative ending in u is regularly preserved in proper names, and Epiphanius undoubtedly heard the word ka’bu, ‘square stone,’ symbol in Nabataean religion for both Dusares and the great Mother-goddess, Allat of the Nabataeans. An Arabic writer says that a four-sided stone was worshipped as Allat, who in a Nabataean inscription was called ‘Mother of the gods’ . . Epiphanius states that Dusares was the offspring of the virgin Chaabou and only son of the ‘lord’ (Ka’bu). The Panegyrarchs of Nabataean cities came to Petra to assist in the festival of his birth, which was celebrated on the twenty-fifth of December.
“Worship of a dying god, son of the Earth-mother, was the principal cult of this North Arabian people during the period immediately before and after the life of Jesus of Nazareth in Palestine. The title of the Mother-goddess, Allat, is ‘Mother of the gods’ here, and a translation of the title of the great Mother-goddess of Babylonia, belet ilani, ‘queen of the gods,’ whose title in Sumerian is also ‘goddess Mother.’ Dusares and Allat of the Nabataeans are an Arabian reflex of the great Babylonian myth of Tammuz and Ishtar; and if the god is identified with Dionysus, the original character common to both is that of a Sun-god and patron of fertility. Strabe describes the Nabataeans as a particularly abstemious people; the Greeks and Romans called Dusares the Arabian Dionysus or Bacchus; and a statue of him found in the Hauran portrays him as a deity of the vine. The cornucopia and patera are also characteristic of Dusares on coins of Nabataean cities as an Arabian. Bacchus Dusares is a Greek and Roman deity. The celebration of his birth in December at Petra and the north- ern cities of Bostra and Adraa in the Hauran with games and festivities is a replica of the spring festivities at Babylon, when the death, burial, and resurrection of Marduk were celebrated with weeping, which was exchanged for rejoicing. The meaning of the actia dusaria at Petra may be inferred from the similar festival at Alexandria in Egypt, there called after an unexplained Egyptian word Kikellia, or in Greek the Cronia, which also occurred by night on the twenty-fifth of December. In this festival an image of a babe was taken from the temple sanctuary and greeted with loud acclamation by the worshippers, saying, ‘the Virgin has begotten.’ On the night of the fifth of December, a festival occurred before the image of Core; it ended with bringing forth from beneath the earth the image of Aion, which was carried seven times around the inner sanctuary of Core’s temple. The image was then returned to its place below the surface of the earth. Epiphanius, in whose writing this Egyptian cult is described, identifies the virgin mother of this myth with the Greek underworld goddess Core, as he does the virgin mother of Dusares, Chaabou of the Nabataeans. There is a wide syncretism here in this Arabic religion, composed of Babylonian, Greek, and Egyptian elements; and beyond all doubt the Nabataeans possessed an elabo- rate cult of Tammuz and Ishtar, of Osiris and Isis, of Dionysus and Basilinna, the equivalent of Proserpine- Core, in which this deity was represented as a youth, son of the Mother-goddess, who was reborn yearly in midwinter and who died in the summer.
“ ‘The Mother-goddess of the Nabataeans, Allat, identified with Core by the Greeks, is essentially the North Semitic Astarte, and the Babylonian Ishtar.’ ”—Stephen H. Langdon, “Semitic Mythology,” in Vol. 5 of The Mythology of All Races. Boston: Archaeological Institute of America, Marshall Jones Company, 1931, 15-19.
Christmas, Easter, and Halloween
by Vance Ferrell