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From old times to our days …. Easter, Passoer, Pesach or simply Zatik – the Celebration of the Zenith of the Nature

April 11, 2014

The Jews around the world have celebrated the Passover seder, marking the exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. However, modern scholars suspect the holiday had a different, even more ancient origin, well before the Jewish people even took shape.

According to some scholars, it goes to the worship of the Canaanite rain god Baal. He is mentioned in the Bible time and again, but no details are given about the myths associated with him. To learn about these, we must consult the library found in Ugarit, an ancient city on the Mediterranean coast of modern-day Syria.

There we find, written in a language very close to Hebrew, detailed accounts of the mythology and religion of Canaan. Among them is a story which explains why the rain stops each spring and returns every fall: the Canaanite god of death Mot kills Baal, each year anew. Baal spends his summers in the netherworld, Sheol, until being resurrected again in the fall.

“It was me who confronted mightiest Baal, I who made him a lamb like a kid in the breach of my windpipe”, – Mot tells Baal’s sister Anath in the poem describing this myth.

Mots likening Baal’s killing to eating livestock may be key to understanding the original symbolism of Jewish Passover. Perhaps by eating “a kid or lamb”, the Canaanites were symbolically recreating Mot’s consumption of Baal, hoping that this would stop the rain on time.

This could explain the dictum that the bones of the Passover sacrifice must be kept intact, which the Bible does not explain. Maybe the ancient Hebrews thought that if the bones of the symbolic representation of the Baal were broken, this would adversely affect the resurrection of Baal in the fall, when rains are once again needed.

Most possibly, Biblically-derived holiday has Canaanite roots. But could it be connected to the Amorites  (the nomad shephards) or the people of agriculture who lived in Canaan before the shephards? Obviously, it had a lot to do with the people of agriculture who inhabited Canaan before the Amorites invaded it.

Originally, it was the festival of the celebration of the zenith of nature, later, when the Amorites had invaded Canaan, it became a holiday celebrated at the full moon nearest to the vernal equinox when the firstlings of the lambing season were offered, no doubt originally to the fertility-god of the flocks in a lunar context.

Although the origins of the festival and its original purpose are obscure, the one thing that looms clear through the haze of this weird tradition,’ as Frazer says, ‘is the memory of a great massacre of firstborn,’ for its outstanding feature is the annual commemoration of the historic night on which the angel of Yahweh was alleged to have set forth on his bloody campaign against the Egyptians. But the various accounts of the festival have been so overlaid with later ideas brought into relation with the Exodus tradition, that it is by no means easy to separate the several strands in the complex pattern that has emerged. That it was connected primarily with the sacrifice of the firstlings is highly probable, as is indicated by the injunction to slay a male lamb, kid or goat without blemish on the 14th of Nisan at the opening of the rainy season in the spring.” The Ancient Gods, E.O. James, pgs. 148,149.

As we see, what many peoples celebrate today, is some kind of a “hybrid” holiday originated in Canaan after the Amorites invaded it. Thus, there lived at least two different ethnic groups with different traditions.

If you look at the Shemoth [Exodus] verses, you may believe that that the killing of the firstborn only applied to the Egyptians and their animals and that it was just a judgment against them, but these accounts have been edited to remove the earlier elements of an outright sacrifice of firstborn to the deity, which included humans and did not apply to just an exodus account. Below are passages from Shemoth that speak about the firstborn belonging to YHWH.

Shemoth 13:1-16, “then YHWH spoke to mosheh, saying,  set-apart to me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of yisrael, both of man and beast; it belongs to me”.

Now look back at the passage of Shemoth 34. It clearly states that the first offspring of every womb belongs to YHWH, is devoted in a sense and has to be redeemed. But redemption or the concept of substitution is not the original concept, it is the response to a situation of sacrificing the firstborn to the deity, perhaps after the waves of the warrior patriarchal systems needed more men to replenish their fallen troops. This concept of a substitution is an ancient one, appearing in Sumerian cuneiform texts. Ea is an ancient Sumerian deity, considered the Lord of Men. In the Akkadian he is called Enki, whose patron city was Eridu. In a text labeled A1, we see the doctrine of substitution involving a lamb dedicated to Ea.

“To the wise man he spoke: a lamb is a substitute for a man, a lamb he gives for his life, The head of the lamb he gives for the head of the man, the neck of the lamb he gives for the neck of the man, the breast of the lamb he gives for the breast of the man”. Cuneiform Parallels to the Old Testament, pg. 195.

While the original setting of Pesach was of families and one sacrifice per household, after the establishment of the temple in Jerusalem, the later biblical editors added passages stating that sacrifices needed to be done in the temple, not in the local family and village settings. This centralization of the temple also centralized the redemption process, enriching the priesthood.

Modern Syria is the place where the traditions of two were interrelated by force, it was at Emar where Zukru festival (a mixed traditions of two) was set up. The Emar rite would have celebrated a spoken approach to Dagan (which actually has a dual name meaning a fish in one language and a corn in another), a prayer that renewed the link between the people and the God who was ultimately responsible for its survival as a community.” Time at Emar, pg. 124.

Emar’s temple archive preserves dozens of fragments and a smaller number of long descriptions of rituals, along with a variety of lists of offerings and deities (Emar 369-535 in Arnaud’s transliterations of the Akkadian texts). This collection includes at least three types of calendar-based texts. Only one text (Emar 373) treats a single event, the zukru ‘festival’ (Sumerian ezen), celebrated for seven days every seven years at the full moon of a month called ‘the head of the year’ (sag.mu)”. Time at Emar, pg. 9. “…by a long list of deities that is introduced by the heading ‘For the seven days of the zukru festival they serve all of the gods of Emar.’ This period began on the 15th of sag.mu, as set forth in line 44″. Time at Emar, pg. 69.

This festival, which may have begun as being observed every seven years, came to be observed every year.

“The focus on planting appears to begin on the same 15th day in the text for six months, when the diviner scatters seed after an offering to Dagan as Lord of the Seed (be-el numun)”. Time at Emar, pg. 103 and note 236.  “Dagan Lord of the Seed represents the fertility needs of the grain fields, the foundation for sustenance. This title highlights Dagan’s early association with grain, and later it was turned out into the sacrifices of calves and lambs (amar/buru and sila/puhadu) which was actually an Amorite tradition or like it was mentioned in a number of texts – a nomadic tradition.

If we look carefully at the description of Pesach within the parasha we find that the Pesach ritual itself is derived from an another pagan ritual which has a lot to do with zukru tradition, which, on its turn, was based on the traditions of at least 2 ethnic groups: people of agriculture and nomadic shephards.

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The holiday in Armenia is called Zatik. And only the Armenians kept its pre-christian name. By all means, the ancestors of the Armenians tried to give this important information from generation to generation.

Other peoples (like Boulgarians, Russians) consider Easter as Пасха or Песах (Pesah) or Passover, or Pesach (from: פֶּסַח in Hebrew, Yiddish; Tiberian: [pɛsaħ] Modern Hebrew: [ˈpesaχ] Pesah, Pesakh; Yiddish: Peysekh, Paysakh, Paysokh) and celebrate it as an important Biblically-derived but Jewish festival.

The Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation  from slavery in ancient Egypt  ruled by the Pharaohs, and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses.

Armenian families put lentils or other sprouting grains on a tray covered with a thin layer of cotton, and keep it in a light place of the house until Zatik when sprouts appear. These green sprouts, symbolizing spring and awakening of nature, are the “grass" on which people place colored eggs to decorate the holiday table. For Armenians, Zatik eggs are prepared by boiling fresh eggs.

Armenian families put lentils or other sprouting grains on a tray covered with a thin layer of cotton, and keep it in a light place of the house until Zatik when sprouts appear. These green sprouts, symbolizing spring and awakening of nature, are the “grass” on which people place colored eggs to decorate the holiday table. For Armenians, Zatik eggs are prepared by boiling fresh eggs.

Christian churches try to represent this holiday inherited from the Jewish one. Actually, it has nothing to do neither with Christianity nor with the Jews.

Easter and Pesah are two different holidays of two different ethnic groups.

The modern English term Easter, cognate with modern German Ostern, developed from the Old English word Ēastre or Ēostre. This is generally held to have originally referred to the name of a goddess Ēostre, a form of the widely attested Indo-European dawn goddess. So, as we see it goes to pagan times which proves that the celebration of this holiday has pre-christian roots.

g_imageNow let’s try to find out who is that Indo-European dawn goddess. Her name is reconstructed as Hausōs (PIE *h₂ewsṓs- or *h₂ausōs-, an s-stem), besides numerous epithets. Derivatives of *h₂ewsṓs in the historical mythologies of Indo-European peoples include Indian Uṣas, old Greek Ἠώς (Ēōs), Latin Aurōra, and Baltic Aušra (“dawn”). Germanic *Austrōn- is from an extended stem *h₂ews-tro-.

Greek Ἠώς (Ēōs) is the earlist one among the mentioned examples but as usual the official sources forgot to mention the Armenian one. If we take away the common Greek ending os we get Ē (Armenian Է) which in Armenian has a sacred meaning and has a lot to do with Ēa which was originally Āe (H’āe) meaning great grandmother. For the people of Haya, it was connected to the one who gives birth  (the one who brings a life into this light world from the dark waters (the womb) – the mother. The mother was associated with the Earth – mother Earth which shines, awakes every year in spring.

The name *h₂ewsṓs is derived from a root *h₂wes / *au̯es “to shine”, thus translating to “the shining one”. Both the English word east and the Latin auster “south” are from a root cognate adjective *aws-t(e)ro-. Also cognate is aurum “gold”, from *awso-. The name for “spring season”, *wes-r- is also from the same root. The dawn goddess was also the goddess of spring, involved in the mythology of the Indo-European new year.

 for this holiday they put on the table the baked and fresh green, the first grown green of the season

for this holiday they put on the table the baked and fresh green, the first grown green of the season

 for this holiday they put on the table the baked and fresh green, the first grown green of the season

In this context it is interesting to mention how the Armenians name this holiday, in Armenia it is Zatik.

Even some Armenian churchmen are trying to make the meaning closer to the word zatel which means seperate and in this way they are trying to “make” some connection with the Jewish legend it brings its real meaning and real roots out. The word zatel, meaning to separate, has nothing to do with that Jewish legend but it has a lot to do with the separation of four periods of a year – spring, summer, autumn and winter.

For the people of Haya (Aya) all seasons were very important, thus the separation of spring from winter was not more important than the separation of other seasons.

Spring was important for another reason: in that period of time the seeds take root and vegetation begins to grow. The Armenians worshiped the small creatures – the best fighters with aphids, the creatures which have always been the pledge of good harvest – Zatik.

Zatik in Armenian is Coccinella magnifica. Coccinellidae are known colloquially as ladybirds (in Britain, Ireland, the Commonwealth, and the southern United States), ladybugs (originating in North America) or lady cows, among other names. When they need to use a common name, etnomologists widely prefer the names ladybird beetles or lady beetles as these insects are not true bugs.

 

Interestingly, these beetles are also known as the beloved creatures or the animals of the God, for example in French they are called bête à bon Dieu, in Russian божья коровка, in Bulgarian божа кравица, in Serbian бoжja òвчица ! In Flemish, for example, they are called lieveheersbeestje which means the beloved beetles of the God.

Amazingly, in Armenia there is an old tradition not to kill these small creatures, if you find one, you need to take, put on your finger, make a wish and say – Fly !! You are free and make my wish come true. Why do these small but nice creatures deserve such a name and such an attitude?

 rice with raisins and dried fruit which symbolizes prosperity

rice with raisins and dried fruit which symbolizes prosperity

It has a direct connection with the nature, with the zenith of the nature. Not many people probably know but our ancestors found out it long before that these creatures are the best fighters with aphids, also known as plant lice. Moreover, they are the most active exterminators of a species of plant-feeding mite that is generally considered a pest, so-called Tetranychus urticae (common names include red spider mite and two-spotted spider mite) which are originally native only to Eurasia, but has acquired a cosmopolitan distribution.

A couple of ladybugs can destroy up to 4000 spider mites. For our ancestors these creatures were the protectors of their good harvest, accordingly the symbols of the prosperity of their families and the land.

The word Zatik is a message from our ancestors, the remembrance of our traditions and the symbol of the celebration of the zenith of the nature. It has nothing to do with zatel or Jewish Passover.

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fish which symbolizes fertility

Armenians are the nation of traditions, for this holiday they put on the table the baked and fresh green, the first grown green of the season, rice with raisins and dried fruit which symbolizes prosperity and fish which symbolizes fertility and wine. Armenian wine making traditions go back to over 6000 years. The modern Armenians possessed a highly developed culture of wine-growing. So for the Armenians wine is a part of their traditions, their heritage, not the symbol of the blood, indeed !

Maybe, some of the readers will go against by saying that fish is a sign of early Christians, yes, they used that symbol but the fact is that even before the Christianity fish was a sacred symbol of fertility. Absorbed into Christian culture, the symbol can become as sacred as it was before. This symbol is not an exception.

Armenian Gata

Armenian Gata

Armenian families put lentils or other sprouting grains on a tray covered with a thin layer of cotton, and keep it in a light place of the house until Zatik when sprouts appear. These green sprouts, symbolizing spring and awakening of nature, are the “grass” on which people place colored eggs to decorate the holiday table. For Armenians, Zatik eggs are prepared by boiling fresh eggs.

One of the Armenian traditions at Easter is the “egg fight.” It’s fun for the kids. Everyone takes an egg  and taps each other’s eggs. One person holds his or her egg and the other tries to break the tip with the egg. The one who has the unbroken egg at the end is the winner and the collector of the all broken eggs!

P.S. Easter is a moveable feast. In the 20th century, some individuals and institutions have propounded a fixed date for Easter, the most prominent proposal being the Sunday after the second Saturday in April. As I mentioned above the celebration of the zenith of the nature is on 21st of March according to the sacred calendar of the Armenians but the Armenian church changed it and made it common to the christian world.

Here I would like to mention that at a summit in Aleppo, Syria, in 1997, the World Council of Churches (WCC) proposed a reform in the calculation of Easter which would have replaced the present divergent practices of calculating Easter with modern scientific knowledge taking into account actual astronomical instances of the spring equinox and full moon based on the meridian of Jerusalem, while also following the Council of Nicea position of Easter being on the Sunday following the full moon.

zatik

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One Comment
  1. Most words were pre-christian. It would be interesting to see what you thought of the etymological breakdown given in wiktionary. There are those who would argue that the realization of holiness through history is similar to a hand held telescope, slowly turning into focus until the image is made perfect.

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