All posts for the month August, 2013

David as Cadmus (Part Three)

Published August 28, 2013 by amaic


Taken from:

For Part One, see:

David as Cadmus (Part Three)
By John R. Salverda

The reign of King Cadmus (David?)

Many of the motifs making up the Greek myth that covers the later part of King Cadmus’ reign, have clearly been borrowed from the Israelite history of the end of King David’s reign. The Greek myth is familiar to us largely through “The Bacchantes” (or “Bacchae”) a well known ancient play that was written by Euripides (c. 410 BC.), and also somewhat from Ovid’s retelling of the tale in his “Metamorphoses” (Book III. 511-733, c. 8 AD.). A partial list of themes that appear to have been appropriated from Israelite history for use in the Greek myth are; a licentious procession of the god where the King partakes of the dance (2nd Samuel 6:14), a lady who was inadvertently seen while she was bathing (2nd Samuel 11:2) and through whose apparent scheming a Prince of the Kingdom was killed (1st Kings 2:19-25), and another Prince who assumes the abdicated Kingship (2nd Samuel 15:13), was caught in a tree and killed by a throng that was loyal to the old king (2nd Samuel 18:9-15) and had retreated to a wooded area outside the city (2nd Samuel 15:14). Generally speaking these points, in and of themselves, are remarkably comparable enough, but in my view the details of these events, combined with the story of the founding of Thebes by Cadmus, leave little doubt that the Greek myth of King Cadmus originates with the Hebrew story of King David.

As I hope the reader may come to realize, literally scores of whole quotations could be lifted verbatim from the Bacchae and be applied, just as accurately, to the Scriptural account concerning the revolt of Absalom. But first, let us set the stage by comparing the story of the introduction of the rites and religion of the Greek god Dionysus into the city of Thebes, a main theme in Euripides’ play, with the introduction of the religious reforms of King David into the city of Jerusalem.

David’s Dance, Dionysian Processions

Perhaps the most difficult hurdle to overcome in recognizing the idea that the Greek mythological character Cadmus may be based upon the Hebrew historical figure David, is in accepting the notion that the great Israelite King could have had a role in promulgating the lewd dionysian rite of the phallic procession. But, on the other hand King David was notoriously famous for dancing naked in front of the Ark, in the company of other “worthless fellows,” exposing themselves to the slave girls (2nd Samuel 6). Was this not, at least some form of a phallic procession? Samuel Sharpe (1799-1881), the famed Egyptologist, bluntly tells us; “The ark of Osiris (identified by the Greeks with Dionysus), with the sacred relics of the god, was ‘of the same size as the Jewish ark, … carried by priests with staves passed through its rings in sacred procession, as the ark round which danced David, the King of Israel.” In the Scriptural account, King David seems to be giving his approval to the adoption of a more vulgar form of worship than, based upon the stark disparagement of Michal, the Israelites had been accustomed to. In fact, this is just the kind of licentious revelry which one would expect to have occurred when Dionysus entered Thebes, and Cadmus danced as in Euripides and his “Bacchae.”

David could not have acted on his own initiative alone in this regard, he must have had significant public support to make such drastic religious reforms. We do know that there were, among the Israelites, those who had observed the teachings of Balaam regarding the heresy of Baal Peor; “Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, …” (Numbers 31:16). The religion of Baal Peor was certainly orgiastic, and it was a direct competitor for the hearts of the Israelites (who were, at the time, in the process of changing their lifestyle, from nomadic herdsmen into city dwelling farmers, and perhaps genuinely believed that they needed a “fertility” religion to help them with their transition). The story of Zimri and Cozbi (numbers 25:6-18) is an obvious allusion to the ritual of “sacred marriage” (hieros gamos), a well attested to fertility rite that was used all over the Mediterranean, in Egypt, and in Babylon. Perhaps Michal was righteously indignant in her criticisms of the King in this case. And even though it was certainly David’s intention to “bless his household” with her, David had to be content to get his “honor” by his maidservants instead. It was perhaps at the insistence of Michal, and not necessarily by the sanction of David, that there was no “sacred marriage” ritual, or fertility, in their house for the rest of her life; “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.” (2nd Samuel 6:20-23). It could be that Michal was speaking for all of those who were opposed to the new religious reforms that were instigated by David at the time.

Cadmus also is credited with the instigation of the phallic procession by the Greeks. According to Herodotus, Melampus (who spread the calf god religion among the Greeks just as Balaam had done among the Israelites,) learned and received the worship of Dionysus from Cadmus; “My belief is that Melampus got his knowledge of them (the name of Bacchus, the ceremonial of his worship, and the procession of the phallus) from Cadmus the Tyrian, and the followers whom he brought from Phoenicia into the country which is now called Boeotia.” (Histories Book 2.49). Euripides also depicts Cadmus as promoting Dionysus. (Eur. Ba. 181.) As did Nonnus as well, “He (Cadmus), showed forth the Euian secrets of Osiridos (Osiris) the wanderer, the Aigyptian Dionysos. He learned the nightly celebration of their mystic art, and declaimed the magic hymn in the wild secret language, intoning a shrill alleluia.” (Nonnus, Dionysiaca 4. 268 ff)

A main part of these practices was a sacred procession that included indecent dancing, in which a specially appointed priesthood provided music and carried a chest-like container as a cultic object. to quote Oppian (c. 220 AD.) “… they laid the holy child in a coffer of pine and … they danced the mystic dance and beat drums and clashed cymbals in their hands, to veil the cries of the infant. It was around that hidden ark that they first showed forth their mysteries, and … they arrayed a gathering of their faithful companions to journey … at the instance of Dionysus who delivers from sorrow. Then the holy choir took up the secret coffer …” (“Cynegetica,” page 181). Take note that it was the “holy choir” that had the job of carrying the “coffer.”

Now, having covered some of the similarities between the religious reforms imposed upon the Hebrews at Jerusalem by King David, and the introduction of Dionysus among the Greeks of Thebes by King Cadmus, let us examine and compare the two accounts that tell of the latter parts of their respective reigns. The Scriptural version found in the second book of Samuel is commonly referred to as “The Revolt of Absalom,” while the Greek was largely, but not exclusively, known from a play that was written by Euripides and is called “The Bacchae.”

The “Revolt of Absalom” as the “Bacchae”

The King Abdicates

In both cases the old King had voluntarily abdicated the throne while he was still alive, leaving his ambitious Prince to be set in his place. Although it is clear that Pentheus had become king during the lifetime of Cadmus I can find no story describing the circumstances surrounding his coronation. It is however evident, according to Euripides, that the old King left off without too much fuss. “Now Cadmus has given his honor and power to Pentheus,” (Eur. Ba. 43). Similarly there is no story about the anointing of Absalom. However, we do learn, after the fact, that he was indeed officially anointed as king. “And Absalom, whom we anointed over us, is dead in battle. Now therefore why speak ye not a word of bringing the king (the old King David) back?” (2nd Samuel 19:10). There is also an allusion to the possibility that Absalom may have been crowned during an absence in Hebron.

We are informed by the Scriptures that Absalom had been away in Hebron when David decided to lead the people out of Jerusalem. “… So he arose, and went to Hebron. But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron.” (2nd Samuel 15:9-10). Upon hearing that Absalom, had assumed the Kingship while he was away in Hebron, David gathered up his loyalists and fled the city. It was, no doubt, the aforementioned “spies” of Absalom, that informed him of David’s “mischief.” Compare this detail to the words of Pentheus in the Greek play, who also, had been away from the Kingdom when he heard rumors, of the sudden departure, of a large number of the Theban citizenry; “I had left my kingdom for a while, when tidings of strange mischief in this city reached me” (Eur. Ba. 215-216).

There Was No Temple to House the God

Ovid gives us another clue that helps us to equate Cadmus with David when he makes the prophet say to Prince Pentheus; “all hail the new god Bacchus! Either thou must build a temple to this Deity, or shall be torn asunder … And all shall come to pass, as I have told, because thou wilt not honour the New God.” (Meta. Book III 522) Here we can see that, according to Ovid, there was no temple built yet at the time of the rebellion of Pentheus. Even though Herodotus, Nonnus, and others claim that Cadmus was instrumental in instituting the rites of Dionysus, he had not yet built a temple. A temple was called for, “thou must build a temple” however neither Pentheus nor Cadmus would build it. This, of course, parallels the history of King David as well, who had, as yet, built no temple to house the Ark at the time of Absalom. David wanted to build it but he was not allowed to. The Temple was built shortly thereafter by another of David’s princes, Solomon (1st Chronicles 28:3-6).

The Populace Departs

A large portion of the populace had deserted the city, against the wishes, and in rejection of, the former Prince’s newly acquired regal authority. They took up harbor outside the city, beyond a river, in a nearby wooded area that was associated with a mountain. “Wherefore these are they whom I have driven frenzied from their homes, and they are dwelling on the hills … and there they sit upon the roofless rocks beneath the green pine-trees, …” (Eur. Ba. 33-38) The vacating people of Jerusalem took up a very similar expedition; “ And all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people passed over: the king also himself passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over, toward the way of the wilderness.” (2nd Samuel 15:23). Now the citizens of Jerusalem passed over the Kidron (and the Jordan) as they were headed for the wooded area in the mountainous region of Ephraim (see 2nd Samuel 18:6 and Joshua 17:15), while those of Thebes crossed the Asopus as they retreated to the woods in the mountain, or hills, of Cithaeron. “we had left the homesteads of this Theban land and had crossed the streams of Asopus, we began to breast Cithaeron’s heights,” (Eur. Ba. 1044-1045). Also coincidental is the following, admittedly trite, detail; “And David went up by the ascent of mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot: and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.” (2nd Samuel 15:30). Presumably they all followed David’s lead in going barefoot as well, for one of the spies of Pentheus informs him; “I have seen, O king, those frantic Bacchanals, who darted in frenzy from this land with bare white feet” (Eur. Ba. 665).

The old King sides with those who had left

In the Scriptures, we find that the old King David himself had led the people out of Jerusalem in fear of what the new King Absalom might do to them “And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.” (2nd Samuel 15:14). Regardless of this verse, it was not only “his servants” that left with him. All the Cherethites and Pelethites, 600 men of Gath, The throng attached to Ittai the Gittite, and all the Levites, were among those who departed, and at 2nd Samuel 15:23, the phrase “… all the country wept with a loud voice, and all the people…” is used to describe those who were with him. But why? Surely Absalom did not seek to kill everyone. He may have wanted David out of the way, but the Scriptural account doesn’t really give an adequate explanation for the entire group to have retreated to the wilderness. David even tried to excuse and dismiss many of them who would seemingly be able to return with apparent impunity, but they steadfastly refused. They wanted to remain absent from their homes in the hills with David for some reason, but it probably was not for fear of their lives.

In the Bacchae by Euripides a large portion of the citizenry had left Thebes in order to celebrate the newly established religious rites without fear of it’s prohibition by Pentheus, who says; “… I hear that our women-folk have left their homes on pretence of Bacchic rites, and on the wooded hills rush wildly to and fro, honouring in the dance this new god Dionysus” (Eur. Bac. 215-221). Just before Cadmus deserted Thebes with his people, he tried to reason with Pentheus, but his stubborn Prince would not be placated. Pentheus responded to the appeasements of Cadmus thusly; “Don’t lay a hand on me! Go off and hold your revels, but don’t wipe your foolishness off on me.” (Eur. Ba. 344) Here we learn that Cadmus had not only abandoned the city with those of his citizenry who were in defiance of their newly empowered potentate, but we can tell by the phrase, “Go off and hold your revels,” that he most likely took a leading role in the event. Although the old King Cadmus participated in them (Eur. Ba. 180-185), not everyone accepted the newly introduced religious practices.

Freedom of Religion and Women’s Suffrage

Despite the many remarkable resemblances between the Greek and Hebrew accounts of the nature of the civil strife, there are at least two striking differences that seem to defy a satisfactory resolution. First there is the fact that the Greek version blames the unrest squarely upon the Prince’s rejection and banning of a recent religious reformation, while the Hebrew original doesn’t seem to mention it. The second diversion is that of gender. Among the Greeks the retreating revellers are mainly characterized as the Theban women, while among the Hebrews it was not. Perhaps a little closer reading of the Scriptures will render a solution. We do know that David had indeed instituted religious reforms that some found controversial, but these don’t seem to be mentioned in regards to the revolt of Absalom; or do they?

Consider Shimei who, as David went out of Jerusalem, came out and cursed him. He was “a man of the family of the house of Saul” and had a retinue of at least a thousand men (2nd Samuel 19:17). The words of his curse were; “The LORD hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the LORD hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man.” (2nd Samuel 16:8). Notice how Shimei, in taunting David, was touting Absalom. His apparent endorsement of Absalom, coupled with the fact that he had a large following, would seem to indicate that Shimei was somewhat of a spokesman for a sizeable faction of the populace, namely those, disenfranchised, former Saul supporters, who were dissatisfied with the administration of David’s Kingship, and now felt comfortable in promoting, as their champion, Absalom.

The resentments that built up during the civil war between David and Saul was still a matter of contention in the Kingdom, and Absalom no doubt, took full advantage of the schism by pandering to the “Saulite” constituency. The “house of Saul” and his partisans were not only disgruntled over the vengeful treatment that they had received at David’s hand, but also at issue, if we consider the complaint of Michal, Saul’s daughter, was the matter of the King’s recent religious reforms; “And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.” (2nd Samuel 6:16). Furthermore, the charge of Pentheus, so saying that the rites of Dionysus were, “… introducing a new complaint amongst our women, and doing outrage to the marriage tie” (Eur. Ba. 355), could have come out of Michal’s own mouth! For Michal’s marriage to David was ruined due to his introduction of these new, rather salacious, religious ceremonies, “Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.” (2nd Samuel 6:23).

When King David went out of Jerusalem with his supporters, it was in a procession of the Ark, just as it was when he first brought the Ark into Jerusalem; “And the king went forth, and all the people after him, and tarried in a place that was far off. … And lo Zadok also, and all the Levites were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God: and they set down the ark of God; and Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city.” (2nd Samuel 15:17,24). Shimei, interrupts this somber procession, and in doing so displays, like Michal, an utter disrespect for the King and his solemnities. Shimei was portrayed by Ginzberg in his “Legends of the Jews,” as a staunch opponent to Egyptian influences in Israel, Ginzberg goes on to place Jeroboam’s calf god clearly within the category of such Egyptian influences; “So long as Shimei, who was Solomon’s teacher, was alive, he did not venture to marry the daughter of Pharaoh. When, after Shimei’s death, Solomon took her to wife, the archangel Gabriel descended from heaven, and inserted a reed in the sea. About this reed more and more earth was gradually deposited, and, on the day on which Jeroboam erected the golden calves, a little hut was built upon the island. This was the first of the dwelling-places of Rome.” (Ginzberg, “Legends of the Jews,” Volume IV. Chap V. in the article entitled, “The Marriage of Solomon”). Therefore it is not unreasonable to assume that, at least to some degree, the Absalom supporters such as Shimei, who had remained in the city, had as part of their grievance, a rejection of King David’s (Egyptian style) religious reforms. This is of course, was just as the attitude of Pentheus was toward the new rites of Dionysus, as the revellers were being led out of Thebes in their similar ritualistic procession (keeping in mind that, according to Oppian from “Cynegetica,” page 181, a Dionysian procession also involved a sacred choir carrying an Ark that was the locus of the god).

Next let us turn our attention to the discrepancy of gender. We can tell from Euripides, Ovid, and others, that not only did the women of Thebes abandon the city; “… have I driven raving from their homes, one and all alike … mingling amongst the sons of Thebes.” (Eur. Ba. 33-38); “The crowd all run, fathers, mothers, young girls, princes and people, mixed together, swept towards the unknown rites.” (Ovid Meta. Book III. 528). However, the Greek myth definitely emphasizes the female involvement in the Dionysian movement, even to the point of assigning major leadership roles to them. Furthermore the Scriptural account seems to indicate that it was not only David and his “mighty men” that fled Jerusalem at that time; “He took his household with him, his wives and children, that he might protect them in this day of danger, and that they might be a comfort to him in this day of grief. Masters of families, in their greatest frights, must not neglect their households.” (“Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary,” on 2nd Samuel, 15:13-23) “Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible” has this to say about the term “little ones” at 2nd Samuel 15:22; “and all the little ones that were with him; that belonged to him and his men, and no doubt their wives also.” Likewise the “Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament” has this to say about the same verse; By “the little ones” (taph) we are to understand a man’s whole family, as in many other instances (see at Exodus 12:37).

The ancient religion of Dionysus held a particular appeal for women. For them it was a refreshing change from the, mostly patriarchal, forms of worship that were largely unavailable to them at the time. And it was not so strictly female as were the religions of the mother goddesses, such as those of Rhea, Cybele, and Demeter. The religion of Dionysus welcomed all, men and women alike. It had a male god who was the son, and a duplicate of, the previously existing chief of the gods Zeus. And it also claimed the “mother goddess religion” as its own origin; it took pride in the fact the rites and rituals of the mother goddess had been appropriated by Dionysus and were being used in his worship. It was a very “Democratic” and all inclusive religion. At first, it was not well accepted, eventually however, as in the case of Thebes, it had become widely recognized and tolerated. King David also took care to include the women in his religious reforms. At the time of David’s famous procession of the Ark, when he reinstalled the Korahites and introduced his well known “dance,” he supplied the makings of a feast to both man, and notably, to women; “And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, as well to the women as men, to every one a cake of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine. So all the people departed every one to his house.” (2nd Samuel 6:19) “And he dealt to every one of Israel, both man and woman, to every one a loaf of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine. (1st Chronicles 16:3) The phrase so saying that King David included the women, seems to be inserted into the statement as a significant novelty, for it does not say simply “the whole multitude of Israel” or “every one of Israel” but rather, the point is emphasized in order to make sure that we understand, even the women were included in the revelry.

In the approximately 400 years between the time that the story of King David, as King Cadmus, was brought to Thebes by the “Phoenicians,” and Euripides wrote his play, the story evidently underwent a process which may be termed transgenderization. This process occurred under the influence of traditional mythic convention, whereby the introduction of the god Dionysus was invariably initiated by, and largely spread amongst, the females of the population. This mythic norm had been established long before the time of Euripides and manifests itself regularly throughout the corpus of Greek mythology. This convention appears to have gotten its origin, as a result of an attempt by earlier mythographers to stick to the traditional form, of the various Greek versions of the Hebrew event, that is known Scripturally as “the incident of Baal Peor.” In accordance with “the teachings of Balaam,” women displayed what the Greeks would later describe as madness, by setting up operations on the outskirts of the camp and engaging in drunken licentiousness, in an attempt to lure the male population out of the congregation of Israel in order to engage them in the raunchy worship of Baal Peor (Numbers 25). This story was widely known in Greece, and practically every group of “Phoenician” immigrants who settled there, brought their own version of the tale with them.

I propose that the Thebans had originally received the story of Absalom’s revolt, in much the same form as we have in the Scriptural narrative, indeed, as I hope the reader will realize, they had preserved quite a bit of it intact, all the way down until the days of Euripides. However, the earlier mythographers were not satisfied with the story, they had apparently determined that it lacked a few essential religious/symbolic elements that were, what they considered to be, absolutely necessary in telling a story about the introduction of the Dionysian rituals. So they tweaked the story a bit to include a few of the usual motifs, such as, the role of the maddened women, as well as the theme of the three daughters of the king. These elements were known to them, from other Greek myths, such as the Argive story of the three daughters of Proetus, the three daughters of Minyas, and the Athenian story the three daughters of Cecrops. In each of these tales we have three daughters of the king, one of whom is obliged to undergo a deadly ordeal. The Cadmeans harbored a special affinity toward the Danaans of Argolis, thus the story of the three daughters of Proetus most closely resembles the story of Pentheus. In both cases the women, under the influence of Dionysus, abandon the city for the nearby hills; and, the son, of one of the three daughters, is dismembered by the three. This is the form of the tale that was apparently adopted by the Thebans, and was skillfully edited into their own version of a well established doctrine. Thus, in transgenderizing it, the Greeks were simply altering the story to conform with, and to better suit, their understanding of the way that the rites of Dionysus were introduced amongst the populace originally.

The exiled throng were divided into three companies

The exiled throng were divided into three companies, one of which was led by the eventual killer of the Prince. In the Scriptures we have; “And David sent forth a third part of the people under the hand of Joab, and a third part under the hand of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and a third part under the hand of Ittai the Gittite. …” (2nd Samuel 18:2). While the corresponding line from the Greek myth has; “I saw three companies of dancing women, one of which Autonoe led, the second your mother Agave, and the third Ino.” (Eur. Ba. 680). It was Joab who speared Absalom in his tree, while it was Agave who speared Pentheus in his tree.

The Usurping Prince is Deceived by Seditious Counsel

The feigned capitulation of the Ark and the god

In the Hebrew Scriptures the God was represented by the Ark which was being carried in a kind of procession out of the city to be with His worshippers who were accompanying King David. But David sent the Ark (the objectification of God) back to Absalom under the idea that the priests would mislead his recalcitrant Prince under interrogation, and give bad advice and misinformation. “And lo Zadok also, and all the Levites were with him, bearing the ark of the covenant of God: and they set down the ark of God; and Abiathar went up, until all the people had done passing out of the city. And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city … Zadok therefore and Abiathar carried the ark of God again to Jerusalem” (2nd Samuel 15:24, 25 and 29). We have learned that King Cadmus, like King David, had accompanied the absented populace retreating to Mount Cithaeron (Eur. Ba. 344). But we also find that the god was, just at first, going with them, for as Dionysus says; ” I myself will go to the folds of Cithaeron, where the Bacchae are, to share in their dances.” (Eur. Ba. 63). But then, just as did the Ark in the Scriptural account, he “consents” to be returned to Thebes. Of course as in both stories, the people’s “focus of worship,” had returned to their respective cities with an ulterior motive.

Like Pentheus, Absalom may have deluded himself into thinking that he had “captured” the “God” and His priesthood, however, just as in the Euripides’ rendition of the tale, the “god and priest” had returned to the city willingly and with a deceitful plan in mind. In the Greek story of Pentheus, it was Dionysus, in the guise of a mortal stranger, who claimed to be a divinely ordained priest and said to the Prince; “Dionysus, the son of Zeus, initiated me. … face to face he entrusted his mysteries to me.” (Eur. Ba. 466 and 470). According to the servant of Pentheus, the disguised god, or rather “the stranger,” as he is here called, “was docile in our hands and did not withdraw in flight, but yielded not unwillingly. He did not turn pale or change the wine-dark complexion of his cheek, but laughed and allowed us to bind him and lead him away. He remained still, making my work easy” (Eur. Ba. 436-441). The plan was to mislead the Prince with deceitful counsel so as to bring evil down upon him.

Interrogating an operative of the Divine

In both stories we have a scene where the Prince, seeking counsel, began questioning one who “spoke the words of g/God” and was given “foolish” misinformation designed to mislead him to his doom. The two Scriptural characters, Hushai and Ahithophel, appear to have been merged into one by the Greek mythographers. Thus the Greeks usually have only one figure who is interviewed by Pentheus. In Euripides it is, as we have said, Dionysus in the guise of his priest, but in Ovid and others it is a mortal priest who speaks for, or does the bidding of, the god. This is much more like the Scriptural original but even there, we will find that the mortal is being completely directed by God in order to accomplish the Princes’ demise.

Much of the Greek tragedy of the Bacchae is devoted to the interrogation by Pentheus of Dionysus disguised as the mortal priest of the god. A very similar scenario is presented in the Hebrew story of Absalom’s rebellion, where Absalom spends some time questioning Ahithophel the prophet, who speaks the word of God (“And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counselled in those days, was as if a man had enquired at the oracle of God: …” 2nd Samuel 16:23), and Hushai the Archite, a spy sent by David. Now, Ahithophel’s counsel had been turned into “foolishness” by God, in accordance with a request made by David (2nd Samuel 15:31). Thus, while Pentheus was unknowingly being misdirected by the god Dionysus, Absalom was listening to Ahithophel without knowing that his counsel was being completely subverted by God. In each case the questioning eventually shifts into the Prince taking deceitful advice from the operatives. Hushai is particularly artful and elusive under Absalom’s examination (2nd Samuel 16:16-19), his cunning responses being remarkably reminiscent of the exchange between Pentheus and the “stranger” (Dionysus) which prompted Pentheus to finally remark “Again you diverted my question well, speaking mere nonsense.” (Eur. Ba.479), and further, “How bold the Bacchant is, and not unpracticed in speaking!” (Eur. Ba.491).

In comparing the Scriptural account to the Greek Bacchae, one cannot help but notice the similarities between the respective presumptive Princes’ interrogations of the corresponding priests. For, in each case, the mortal who was speaking the words of the god, was attempting to “buy time” for the evacuees. He had to squelch the notion that the prince should immediately send out an army to bring back the people by force, and instead convince the Prince to go himself, in person, to retrieve the wayward citizens. Dionysus is portrayed as saying; “But if ever the city of Thebes should in anger seek to drive the the Bacchae down from the mountains with arms, I, the general of the Maenads, will join battle with them. On which account I have changed my form to a mortal one and altered my shape into the nature of a man.” (Eur. Ba.50-55). It was evidently the intention of Pentheus to take immediate martial action as he is made to say; “all who are gone forth, will I chase from the hills” (Eur. Ba. 228). And; “But we must not hesitate. Go to the Electran gates, bid all the shield-bearers and riders of swift-footed horses to assemble, as well as all who brandish the light shield and pluck bowstrings with their hands, so that we can make an assault against the Bacchae.” (Eur. Ba. 780-785) Similarly Absalom, under the advice of Ahithophel, wanted to send out an army immediately, “this night,” to retrieve his citizens; “… Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David this night: … And I will bring back all the people unto thee … And the saying pleased Absalom well, … ” (2nd Samuel 17:1,3,4). However, both Pentheus and Absalom were persuaded by subversive counsel against this hasty course of action, they were both told that their opponent was receiving divine assistance; “… For the LORD had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring evil upon Absalom.” (2nd Samuel 17:14). While Dionysus tells the Prince how the revellers are favored by god; “Pentheus, though you hear my words, you obey not at all. Though I suffer ill at your hands, still I say that it is not right for you to raise arms against a god, but to remain calm. Bromius (the god Dionysus) will not allow you to remove his votaries from the mountains where they revel.” (Eur. Ba. 788-792). And the two were respectively warned against the possibility of a slaughter; Absalom was told, “… it will come to pass, when some of them be overthrown at the first, that whosoever heareth it will say, There is a slaughter among the people that follow Absalom.” (2nd Samuel 17:9). Likewise Dionysus tells Pentheus, “sacrifice to the god rather than kick against his spurs in anger, a mortal against a god.” to which Pentheus replies, “I will sacrifice, making a great slaughter of the women, as they deserve, in the glens of Cithaeron.” Dionysus then warns, “You will all flee. And it will be a source of shame that you turn your bronze shields away from the thyrsoi of the Bacchae.” (Eur. Ba. 794-799). Finally they each opt to take the treacherous advice in favor of undertaking an alternate mission, in person; “Therefore I counsel … that thou go to battle in thine own person.” (2nd Samuel 17:11) “ I will go openly; thou wert right to say so.” (Eur. Ba. 818).

The incestuous desires of the Prince

Also, in each case, the Prince was advised to engage in a strange voyeuristic sexual enterprise with his mother and his aunts. In the Scriptures Absalom was told to set up a tent, in full view of the populace, move his father’s harem into it, and have sex with them in front of the whole city (2nd Samuel 16:21). In the Greek version Pentheus is advised that he could “look upon” his mother and aunts, “going at it like rutting birds,” engaging in the usual licentious activities that he would expect from women in a Bacchic orgy, ” clutching each other as they make sweet love” (Eur. Ba. 597). Pentheus was all for it, exclaiming that he would, “give an enormous amount of gold for that!” (Eur. Ba. 811). When the god brought Pentheus to the gathering of his mother and aunts, he complained that, “from where we are standing I cannot see,” and further insisted, “on the hill, ascending a lofty pine, I might view properly the shameful acts” (Eur. Ba. 1060). It seems as though the Greeks modified the tale to take away the shock factor of the Prince actually taking his mother and her “sisters” as wives. And yet, the Greeks who retold the story must have looked upon this indiscretion as most heinous, for they make this sin to be the one that directly causes the death of Pentheus in his tree. It is entirely plausible that the Hebrew tellers of the original tale may also have blamed the death of Absalom on the fact that he “went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel,” for it is widely admitted that this was indeed the ultimate act of usurpation.

The similarities are evident but the differences may also be quite telling, for while it is admitted that Absalom actually had sexual relations with his own father’s harem, Pentheus is accused only of “looking upon” or “seeing” his mother and aunts. This particular inconsistency may very well help to identify the origin of the tale as Hebrew, for it is well known that, among the Hebrews, the term, “seeing nakedness” is an often used and attested to sexual euphemism, indicating illicit sex or rape. This expression for sexual union is used throughout the incest prohibitions in Leviticus 18:1-18, 20:17-21,9 where, for example, we read: “And if a man shall take his sister, his father’s daughter, or his mother’s daughter, and see her nakedness, and she see his nakedness; it is a wicked thing; …” (20:17) “seeing nakedness” inferring “having sex with.” Thus we can easily see how the Prince’s indiscretion could have been softened by the Hebrew tellers of the tale as, “looking upon” his mother and aunts, while the Greek listeners took the euphemism literally.

Wives or Daughters

Now, the reader may wonder why the wives of King David should be portrayed as the daughters of his Greek counterpart King Cadmus. This may not be so much of an inconsistency as it looks to be at first glance. For the wives, or concubines, of David may very well have become his “daughters,” not actually, but legally. Absalom had been anointed as King in David’s stead, as such, he took the King’s harem and used them as his wives; “So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.” (2nd Samuel 16:22). This appears to be in accordance with the customs of the time and even recognized by David when Absalom had died and David returned to the Kingship; “And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.” (2nd Samuel 20:3). This may not have been so much an act of vainglorious cruelty, as many modern commentators have suggested, but merely a legal formality. For his erstwhile wives were now his daughters in law, so he “went not in unto them” and, even though he was still alive, the women were consigned to “widowhood” because their husband, David’s son, had died. Presumably, Maacah, the mother of Absalom was among those women. Thus, when the Greeks told the story, they may have been a bit confused about the relationships between the King and the women; they became the daughters of Cadmus and Pentheus as one of their sons, became one of Cadmus’ grandsons.

The Death of the Stubborn Prince

The Fateful Tree

In each case the Prince got stuck in a tree where he was spotted by the exiles. Each was speared and brought down from the tree alive. Where each would be brutally dispatched by a group of awaiting insurrectionists. We can thank Ovid for recording the fact that Pentheus was speared while up in the tree. “his mother was the first to see Pentheus, the first roused to run at him madly, the first to wound him, hurling her thyrsus.” (Ovid Meta. Book III. c.710). Then the other Bacchantes mobbed him and tore him to pieces; “all the eager host of Bacchanals … each one with blood-dabbled hands was tossing Pentheus’ limbs about.” (Eur. Ba. 1131-1137). The Scriptures relate a very similar story about the death of Absalom; “And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away. And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak. … Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak. And ten young men that bare Joab’s armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him.” (2nd Samuel 18:9,10 and 14,15). Note the peculiar and enigmatic phrase, “up between the heaven and the earth” because there must have been some symbolic significance therein. For it was apparently either important, or at least impressive, enough to have been remembered, and repeated, in the Greek version as well. For when Dionysus wanted to make sure that Pentheus was seen in his tree, the god shined a miraculous light upon him “between heaven and earth.” As Euripides puts it; “He (Pentheus in his tree) was seen by the Maenads more than he saw them, for sitting on high he was all but apparent, and the stranger was no longer anywhere to be seen, when a voice, Dionysus as I guess, cried out from the air: “Young women, I bring the one who has made you and me and my rites a laughing-stock. Now punish him!” And as he spoke he raised between heaven and earth a dazzling column of awful flame.” (Eur. Ba.1075-1085) Admittedly, this is perhaps just a coincidence but it is certainly a remarkable one, and it may be just one more bit of evidence of how much the Greek story relied upon the Hebrew original (even the column of flame is a well known Hebrew motif).

The King’s Proverbial Lament

Even though the treacherous Prince had conspired against his own displaced subjects, the mourning of the old King for his dead Prince was proverbial in each case. As Cadmus laments In the Bacchae; “O grief beyond measuring, one which I cannot stand to see, that you have performed murder with miserable hands. Having cast down a fine sacrificial victim to the gods, you invite Thebes and me to a banquet. Alas, first for your troubles, then for my own. How justly, yet too severely, lord Bromius the god has destroyed us, though he is a member of our own family.” (Eur. Ba. 1244-1252). So we learn of David’s anguish in the Scriptural account; “And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom. And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son. And the people gat them by stealth that day into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle. But the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2nd Samuel 19:1-4) Both stories tell of how the King, so wronged by his Prince, was never-the-less quite inconsolable.

Furthermore, the reactions of the respective killers can be compared. For Joab could not see what he had done wrong in killing Absalom, and he was ashamed that David was so distressed about it; “And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom. … And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, …” (2nd Samuel 19:1,5). Neither did Agave realize that what she had done was wrong, nor could she understand why Cadmus was so distressed about it, as she says to him; “But what of these matters is not right, or what is painful?” (Eur. Ba. 1264)

The Head of Pentheus

The story of the death of the fractious Prince was followed up, in each case, with an account of how his body was abused. Absalom’s body was mutilated by a mob and “tossed” into a pit, while Pentheus was torn to pieces by the Bacchantes and “scattered.” But the Greek tale goes on to tell how the severed head of Pentheus was brought back to Cadmus who looks upon it, as he cries his lament over his lost Prince. While the Scriptural narrative says nothing about the dismemberment of Absalom. There is however a legendary account that was well known enough to be included in Ginzberg’s “The Legends of the Jews,” that does indeed affirm that Absalom’s head was taken off, the quote from Ginzberg runs thusly; “David’s intercession had the effect of re-attaching Absalom’s severed head to his body.” (Volume IV. Chap IV. in the article entitled, “Absalom’s Rebellion”). Ginzberg’s account further indicates that this divine miracle was granted “on account of David’s eightfold repetition of his son’s name in his lament over him.” We can plausibly assume therefore, that the legend is here indicating that the famous lament of King David was, in part, a reaction to his finding out that Absalom’s head was severed, for the miracle of re-attaching it was done on David’s behalf and in response to his cries.

However, we need not rely solely upon the Jewish legend, compelling as it may be, to account for the Greek myth about the head of Pentheus. For the Greek tale, which ends with the treatment of the Princes’ head by Agave as a trophy; “No, but I (Agave), wretched, hold the head of Pentheus.” (Eur. Ba. 1284); may very well have been embellished with a story that was appended onto the Hebrew original, about the head of Sheba ben Bichri.

Joab, who had taken the lead in killing Absalom, did receive a head as a trophy. Perhaps not Absalom’s head, but the head of Sheba ben Bichri. For the death of Absalom was not quite the end of the revolt of Absalom, as Sheba resumed the rebellion and presumably sought to convince Israel to make him king in Absalom’s stead. The Scriptures liken Sheba to Absalom; “… shall Sheba the son of Bichri do us more harm than did Absalom …” (2nd Samuel 20:6). Noteworthy is the fact that an unnamed “wise woman” was responsible for the decapitation of Sheba; “Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. … And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king.” (2nd Samuel 20:22) Presumably Joab brought with him the head to show the King, and thus we have a plausible parallel, however garbled the Greeks seem to have gotten it, to the myth of the aftermath of Pentheus’ death. The confusion seems to have occurred due to the fact that Joab killed Absalom and, shortly thereafter, carried back the head of the next “Absalom,” Sheba, to King David as a trophy. In the Greek version the two figures, Absalom and Sheba, seem to have become merged into the one character Pentheus. The two fatal deeds, first the spearing in the tree, and then the consequent dismemberment of Pentheus, are written into the Bacchae as a continuous action, both committed by a woman, the mother of Pentheus, Agave.

Now, Agave has previously been compared with Joab (Hebrew Yo-av, not so dissimilar to the Greek Ag-ave with a soft “G,”); they both led one of the three companies into which the dispersed people had been divided; they both speared the stubborn Prince in the tree; and, appended onto each version of the rebellion, is an episode where they both carried a dismembered head back to the city and the King. Furthermore, Joab is one of the “sons of Zeruiah” (“And there were three sons of Zeruiah there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel …” 2nd Samuel 2:18. Joab and the other “sons of Zeruiah” are referenced as such, over 20 times throughout the Scriptures, mostly in the books of Samuel.) who were in turn, foremost among the mighty men of David. Now, the name “Zeruiah” can be interpreted to mean “the sown one of Yah” (as in the name “Zerubbabel” which means “the one sown of Babylon”), thus it is analogous to the Greek term “Spartoi” meaning “the sown ones.” The Greek Spartoi were to Cadmus, as the mighty men were to David. While Agave was obviously not one of the Spartoi, she was however married to the chief of the Spartoi, Echion who sired Pentheus upon her; “Pentheus, son of Echion and Agave, denied that Dionysus was a god, and refused to introduce his Mysteries.” (Hyginus, Fabulae 184).

Admittedly, the idea that the soldier Joab, a man, could have been transformed by the Greeks into Agave, a woman, no matter how militant, seems difficult to grasp, perhaps even ridiculous. But the early Greek mythographers determined that they needed to incorporate, what they considered to be a very important motif, that of the triple daughters of the king, into the myth. And, as this motif usually included the idea that one of the three daughters had to undergo a deadly ordeal, in this case the sacrifice of her own son, they developed the character Agave to play the role of Joab. As Joab was a prominent member of David’s mighty men, so Agave was married to the chief of Cadmus’ Spartoi. Thereby, in accordance with regular Greek symbolism, it was one of the three daughters of the king who killed the prince, her son.

Miscellaneous Resemblances

The length of hair and “beauty” of the Prince

Dionysus says to Pentheus while preparing him to go to the fatal tree, “Upon thy head will I make thy hair grow long.” (Eur. Ba. 831). Philostratus of Lemnos (c. 190 AD – ? also known as Philostratus the Elder) describes a painting he saw, that depicted the general beauty and hair of the Prince; “Pentheus, … very youthful, with delicate chin and locks of reddish hue, … From those locks he derived his vigour, and he imparted vigour to them; but this itself was his madness, that he would not join Dionysus in madness.” (Philostratus the Elder, 1. 18, “Bacchantes”). Take note of the “family resemblance” to David who, when a youth, also had “locks of a reddish hue”; ”… he (David) was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. …” (1st Samuel 16:12). Also notice how Goliath describes David in his youth, as “ruddy, and of a fair countenance.” (1st Samuel 17:42). Furthermore take note, that according to Philostratus, Pentheus “derived his vigour” from, and “imparted vigour to” his hair, which became the cause of the “madness” that he had in not joining Dionysus. And compare this to the Rabbinical opinion wherein it is said that, the vanity with which he displayed his beautiful hair, became his snare and his stumbling-block. From the Mishnah we have; “By his long hair the Nazarite entangled the people to rebel against his father, and by it he himself became entangled, to fall a victim to his pursuers” (Mishnah Soṭah, i. 8).

Of Absalom’s hair it was said, “And when he polled his head, (for it was at every year’s end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king’s weight.” (2nd Samuel 14:26). From Rabbinical tradition we have; “As for his marvellous hair, the account of it in the Bible does not convey a notion of its abundance. Absalom had taken the vow of a Nazarite. As his vow was for life, and because the growth of his hair was particularly heavy, the law permitted him to clip it slightly every week. It was of this small quantity that the weight amounted to two hundred shekels.” (Louis Ginzberg “The Legends of the Jews,” Volume IV. Chap IV. in the article entitled, “Absalom’s Rebellion”). It is noteworthy in this quote from Ginzberg’s “Legends” as well as the Mishnah, that Absalom is referred to as a “Nazarite.” This is perhaps due to his custom, in accordance with the usual Nazarite vow, to let one’s hair grow long, with the intention of offering it in sacrifice before the Temple, at an annual polling. That this tradition was not unfamiliar to the Greeks may be obscurely alluded to in the Bacchae, where Pentheus threatens to shear the hair of Dionysus who replies; “My locks are sacred; for the god I let them grow.” (Even more noteworthy is the fact that a Nazarite, such as Absalom, must abstain from wine; thus, another resonance with his Greek counterpart Pentheus, who similarly disdained the rites of the wine god.)

Now, as to the fabled beauty of Absalom it was said; “But in all Israel there was not a man so comely, and so exceedingly beautiful as Absalom: from the sole of the foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.” (2nd Samuel 14:25). Perhaps the “manly” Greeks (among whom “Greek love” and pederasty were proverbial, compare; Prince Ganymede, Prince Hyacinth, and Prince Pelops.), upon hearing of the luxuriant hair and celebrated beauty of Absalom, considered such flamboyant characteristics to be attributes of an effeminate affectation. For in their retelling of the tale, they give Pentheus, almost derisively, the disguise and aspect of a woman. Dionysus says; “I want him to be a source of laughter to the Thebans, as he is led through the city in women’s guise” (Eur. Ba. 855). The god further remarks upon the appearance of Pentheus made up as a woman; “… wearing the clothing of a woman, … In appearance you are like one of Cadmus’ daughters.” (Eur. Ba. 915-918).

Oak or a Pine?

In the Scriptures the calamitous tree of Absalom was an oak, but in the Bacchae it was a pine, so why the discrepancy between the Hebrew oak and the Greek pine? Whether the death of the Prince occurs in an oak, as in the Scriptural story, or a pine, as in the Greek, it is never-the-less in one of the top two, insofar as sanctity goes, of Dionysus’ sacred trees. And in the Bacchae, the ritualistic use of either pine or oak, is apparently a matter of personal or local preference, rather than of divine edict. For, in the Bacchae, the worshippers of Dionysus are given the choice between them; “Crown yourself in honor of Bacchus with branches of oak or pine.” (Eur. Ba. 109,110). Even though the pine is more prevalent in Greece, and Euripides names it as the chosen sacrificial tree of Pentheus, he does perhaps leave us a hint that there may once have been an alternate account of the death scene, for, near the end of the play, he has Cadmus say; “I turned back to the mountain to bring from thence my son who was slain … in the oak-groves” (Eur. Ba. 1225-1230). Thus, the “discrepancy” is made to seem rather insignificant.

The Mule

Another conspicuous distinction between the Greek and Hebrew tales has to do with how the respective princes had gotten into their respective fateful trees. The Hebrew original has Absalom, going out personally to retrieve those who have left the city. This was in accordance with the bad advice given to him during his interrogation of David’s spy. He rides upon a mule. It is the mule itself that is responsible for placing him in the tree (2nd Samuel 18:9,10). The Greek myth makes Dionysus, disguised as a mortal priest, advise Pentheus to go on a similar personal mission. Dionysus leads him out to the revellers, and it is the god himself that places him in the tree. As a witness to the death of Pentheus reports; “And then I saw the stranger perform a marvelous deed. For seizing hold of the lofty top-most branch of the pine tree, he pulled it down, … doing no mortal’s deed. He sat Pentheus down on the pine branch, and let it go upright through his hands steadily, taking care not to shake him off. The pine stood firmly upright into the sky, with my master seated on its back.” (Eur. Ba. 1063-1075) (No doubt the Hebrews too, saw the “hand of God” in their version of this incident.) An observant student of Greek mythology will have no trouble reconciling the two accounts, for the mule is the familiar companion to Dionysus, his counterpart, or alter ego, so to speak (See Nonnus, Dionysiaca 37. and Hyginus, “Poetica Astronomica” II, 23). Therefore the “divinely commissioned” mule of the Hebrew original, was easily understood by the Greek mythographers to be Dionysus himself.

Ahijah and Teiresias

Among the Israelites there was a very famous prophet, whose name was Ahijah. Ahijah was blind. “Ahijah could not see, for his eyes were set by reason of his age” (I Kings, xiv. 4). Ahijah was said to have been active as early as the time of David and to have been an important official of his. He was supposed to be identical with Ahijah the Levite, who was placed by King David in charge of the treasures of the house of God and of the treasures of the dedicated things (I Chron. xxvi. 20; see B. B. 121b, Rashi). According to II Chron. ix. 29, the history of Solomon’s reign was written by him. Ahijah was regarded as having lived an unusually long life. Abraham ben David of Posquières, in his notes to Maimonides, says that Ahijah was, “a member of David’s court of justice”. “Ahijah was … a disciple of David; and finally he became the teacher of Elijah before his death.” (Maimonides, in the introduction to his “Yad ha-ḤazaḲah,”) From David (born about 1040 BC.) to Elijah (died about 850 BC.) is about 190 years, easily seven generations.

The city of Thebes was also said to be served by a very similar and well known prophet whose name was Teiresias. To quote Apollodorus; “Now there was among the Thebans a soothsayer, Tiresias, … and he had lost the sight of his eyes. … He also lived to a great age.” (“Library” 3.6.7). “Tiresias … decided in Jove’s favour, Juno with the back of her hand angrily blinded him, but Jove because of this gave him seven lives to live, and made him a seer wiser than other mortals.” (Hyginus Fabulae 75) “But now he is speaking of Teiresias, since it is said that he lived seven generations — though others say nine. He lived from the times of Cadmus down to those of Eteocles and Polyneices.” (Tzetzes on Lycophron, 682) Eteocles and Polyneices are the sons of Oedipus (Identified by Velikovsky as Tutankhamen and Smenkhkare the sons of Akhenaten; Who are, in turn further identified by Damien Mackey as Jehoram and Ahaziah the sons of Ahab).

Although Ahijah was indeed said to have lived a very long life, there is one other aspect of his legend that the Greeks may have taken in attributing to Tiresias his mythical longevity. In the Rabbinical literature Ahijah was purported to have been; “one of the seven long-lived saints whose successive lives extend over the whole history of mankind; each having transmitted the sacred lore from his predecessor to the one succeeding him, while shielding the generations of his time by means of his piety.” (Ab. R. N. version B. xxxviii., Seder ‘Olam R. i., and B. B. 121b For the underlying idea, see Ḥag. 12b, and Yoma, 38b, with reference to Prov. x. 25, Heb.). According to this tradition Ahijah lived over six hundred years, having received his “wisdom” from … Serah, the daughter of Asher (From the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia article “Ahijah the Prophet”). Here Ahijah is portrayed as part of a continuum existing since the beginning of human history. Noteworthy also, insofar as our identification between Ahijah and Tiresias goes, is the concept that Ahijah’s immediate predecessor in this continuum was a woman, Serah. This circumstance may serve to explain why it was said that Tiresias had, previous to his career with Cadmus, been a woman. It was this story, that Tiresias had lived previously as a woman, for which he was once called upon to settle a dispute between Hera and Zeus, as to who received more pleasure from love making, men or women. He famously answered; “If the pleasures of sex would be counted as ten; Then nine go to women, one only to men.”

Actaeon as Adonijah

The Woman Seen Bathing

The scriptural editors could easily have omitted the episode of King David’s indiscretion with Bathsheba. However, presumably in the interest of historical accuracy, they left it in, even at the expense of their great king’s reputation. The Greeks however, had no such scruples. The reputation of their great King Cadmus remained intact, for they apparently protected the reputation of their king. As there was a woman, in the Greek myth, who was seen bathing, but it was not King Cadmus who saw her, it was one of his princes whose name was “Actaeon.” In the scriptures King David was punished in regards to Bathsheba, one of his princes was killed. Later in the story of King David, another of his princes is put to death through the conniving intervention of Bathsheba, his name was Adonijah.

The fate of Actaeon is not fully delineated by Euripides in the Bacchae, however he does refer to it a few times incidentally. It is a bit disappointing to me that Euripides doesn’t seem to endorse the version of the Actaeon tale that includes him inadvertently catching sight of the bathing goddess. Other mythographers have related the “bathing woman” version of the story though, such as Ovid, Seneca, Apollodorus, Callimachus, and Aeschylus. Hyginus tells it in this way; “Actaeon, … saw Diana bathing and desired to ravish her. Angry at this, Diana made horns grow on his head, and he was devoured by his own dogs.” (Hyginus, “Fabulae” 180). And again; “When Diana, … was bathing in the stream called Parthenius (of the Maiden), Actaeon, … caught sight of the goddess, and to keep him from telling of it, she changed him into a stag. As a stag, then, he was mangled by his own hounds.” (Hyginus, “Fabulae” 181).

The, “woman seen bathing” theme, was apparently a popular one among the “Phoenicians” that founded Thebes, because another myth, from the Theban cycle, uses a similar motif. For it is said that the prophet and counsellor of King Cadmus, Tiresias, was blinded for seeing Athena as she bathed. (cf. Callimachus, “Hymns” v. 57 ff.). Nonnus refers to the same motif when he tells of how Zeus became smitten with Persephone thusly; “Persephone … moistened her skin with a refreshing bath, floating in the cool running stream, and left behind her threads fixt on the loom of Pallas. But she could not escape the all seeing eye of Zeus. He gazed at the whole body of Persephone, uncovered in her bath.” (“Dionysiaca” Book 5. 597-610 ff.) This has relevance to the Theban cycle of mythology also in that Zeus, unable to resist her beauty, ravaged her and their issue was Zagreus (otherwise known as Sabazios), the original Dionysus, whom Cadmus is credited with promoting. Furthermore the name “Persephone,” based, as I suppose, upon the name of the Israelite city of “Beersheba” is like the name “Bathsheba,” and it is not beyond reason that both David, and his great queen Bathsheba, may have been deified by some of those apostate Israelites, as the “Phoenicians,” who told the tale originally.

While He was Hunting, He Saw The “Goddess”

It is generally accepted that Actaeon was in the act of hunting when he came upon the bathing beauty; “Actaeon, … when weary with hunting, … looked while Artemis was bathing” (Pausanias, “Description of Greece” 9.2.3). Similarly, we find in the rabbinical literature, that King David was performing an act of hunting when he chanced to see the bathing Bathsheba; “Bathsheba was making her toilet on the roof of her house behind a screen of wickerwork, when Satan came in the disguise of a bird; David, shooting at it, struck the screen, splitting it; thus Bathsheba was revealed in her beauty to David” (Sanh. 107a). Now, it is true that, in the Greek myth, the bathing beauty was a goddess, while the Scriptural Bathsheba was simply a mortal woman. It may well be that we are underestimating the esteem, with which King David’s great queen, was held by the israelite population, notably those who had emigrated to Greece. That the Israelites looked upon Bathsheba as something more than simply an ordinary mortal woman is evident from a further reading of the previously cited rabbinical literature where it goes on to say; “Bathsheba was providentially destined from the Creation to become in due time the legitimate wife of David.” Here we are led to believe that Bathsheba, had a special creation, at the time of the garden of Eden, to be incarnated at the time of David, when she was predestined to be his queen. In Greece, the transplanted Israelites would have no qualms about deifying their great queen of Zion. In fact, the well known alternate name for Artemis, “Diana,” is a plausible transliteration of the name “Zion,” which is in turn, a widely accepted allegorical feminine personification of the city of Jerusalem.

The King’s Concubine

In the Greek myth it was not Cadmus, but his prince Actaeon, who committed the indiscretion of seeing the bathing woman, and was accordingly killed by her. In the scriptural account Bathsheba, at least two times, attempted to have Adonijah killed by bringing a damning account, concerning him, to the king. First, she informed the aging King David as to Adonijah’s ambition, to become his heir; “And Bathsheba went in unto the king … And she said unto him, My lord, thou swarest by the LORD thy God unto thine handmaid, saying, Assuredly Solomon thy son shall reign after me, and he shall sit upon my throne. And now, behold, Adonijah reigneth; and now, my lord the king, thou knowest it not” (1st Kings 1:15-18). This attempt was unsuccessful however, because neither David nor the new king Solomon, took any punitive action against Adonijah. Later, after the death of King David, Bathsheba informed her son, King Solomon, of Adonijah’s desire to take one of old King David’s concubines, Abishag the Shunammite (1st Kings 1:3,4), as a wife; “Bathsheba therefore went unto king Solomon, … And she said, Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah thy brother to wife. And king Solomon answered and said unto his mother, And why dost thou ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? ask for him the kingdom also …” (1st Kings 2:19-22). The Scriptures make it seem as though Bathsheba was asking on behalf of Adonijah, however, she must have realized how her son Solomon would react to such a seditious request, and she certainly would not be amenable to having her own son replaced as heir to the throne (she displayed this disposition earlier when she tattled to King David against Adonijah’s ambition). As could be predicted this request was seen as an act of usurpation, and so King Solomon had Adonijah executed.

Not every ancient Greek account agrees as to the crime of Actaeon. And, just as it was not Adonijah who saw Bathsheba bathing, some versions of the Actaeon myth, perhaps based upon a better understanding of the original, omit the bathing beauty narrative. Indeed, Euripides himself, as we have said, does not seem to ascribe to it, he blames Actaeon’s punishment on his boast to be superior to Artemis, in hunting. And, just as Adonijah was executed over his choice of a royal bride, so, some Greek mythographers described Actaeon’s crime in similar terms; “Stesichorus of Himera says that the goddess cast a deer-skin round Actaeon to make sure that his hounds would kill him, so as to prevent his taking Semele to wife.” (Pausanias, “Description of Greece” 9. 2. 3). Apollodorus weighs in on the subject; “Actaeon, … was devoured on Cithaeron by his own dogs. He perished in that way, according to Acusilaus, because Zeus was angry at him for wooing Semele;.” (Apollodorus, “Library” 3.4.4). And another ancient source has; “Actaeon, who, as the myths relate, was torn to pieces by his own dogs.The reason for this bad turn of fortune of his, as some explain it, was … he purposed to consummate the marriage with Artemis” (Diodorus Siculus, “Library of History” 4. 81. 3-5). Stesichorus, as reported by Pausanias, and Apollodorus call the forbidden woman Semele, an earthly concubine of Zeus and the mother of Dionysus. However, for the purposes of this article, she was another one of the “daughters” of Cadmus. As such, the relation of Semele to Actaeon was not unlike the relation of Adonijah to Abishag; the mother of Adonijah, Haggith, was the “sister” of Abishag by virtue of the fact that they were both wives of David, his father. The identification between the “daughters” of Cadmus, and the “wives” of David has been speculated earlier, and this version of the story of Actaeon fits it nicely. Even in the account that is told by Diodorus Siculus, where Actaeon desires to wed the goddess Artemis (“Diana”) herself, we may find a, however dim, recollection of the Scriptural narrative wherein Adonijah seeks to wed a “queen” of “Zion” in order to consolidate his claim to the throne of David.

The Fifty Runners, Hunters? Dogs?

The punishment of Actaeon was executed through his fifty dogs, who were turned upon him; “Actaeon, … was later eaten up on Cithaeron by his own … fifty hunting dogs” (Apollodorus, “Library” 3. 30). Ovid names more than thirty of them, with names like; Melampus (Blackfoot) swift as the wind, Ichnobates (Tracker), Oribasos (Ranger), Nebrophonos (Rover), Theron (Stalker), Laelaps (Storm), Agre (Hunter), Aello (Tempest), and Pterelas (Flight) unsurpassed for speed, (Ovid, “Metamorphoses” 3. 138 ff.); and then Ovid goes on to say; “and many more too long to tell.” The fifty dogs of the Greek myth, is a bit reminiscent of the Scriptural story of Adonijah, who had also employed a pack of fifty, not dogs, but runners; “Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, I will be king: and he prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him.” (1st Kings 1:5). Having a pack of fifty runners, was apparently a meaningful prerequisite for anyone aspiring to become a king in those days, for the same thing was said of Absalom when he was attempting to usurp the throne; “Absalom prepared him chariots and horses, and fifty men to run before him.” (2nd Samuel 15:1). Some translations of these verses refer to the runners, as royal guards, or body guards.

The Roman emperors had employed such runners, footmen who would precede the chariot at full speed, (they referred to them as “cursores”). The Egyptians and the Persians also used runners before the king’s horse. Adonijah hoped by this display of regal pomp to win the esteem of the people. That the tradition of the Roman cursores was a direct byproduct of the Hebrew convention is revealed by the reporting of a very particular practice. The highly respected, Louis Ginzberg, in his, “The Legends of the Jews,” Volume IV. Chap IV. in the article entitled, “the family of David” says; “The fifty men whom he (Adonijah) prepared to run before him had fitted themselves for the place of heralds by cutting out their spleen” (see also, Sanh. 21b; ‘Ab. Zarah, 44a). Cutting out the spleen? About a thousand years later we find that the Romans were performing the same weird operation; “With the view of increasing the swiftness of runners the Romans used to eradicate their spleen either by performing the operation of extracting that organ or by administering drugs supposed to have the effect of destroying it.” (Pliny, “The Natural History,” XI. 37) “… Laurentius Pignorius understood that in his own time (c. 1631 AD.) extraction of the spleen was practised upon the runners of the Grand Sultan” (from Tract de Servis).

The “runners” of the Hebrew Kings were apparently the same as the “cursores” of the Roman Emperors, right down to their eradicated spleens. The Roman Emperors also employed them as footmen, porters, and couriers. Among the French they were called chasseurs, a word which indicates not only “footmen” but also “hunters,” one of their duties was to chase down outlaws that were wanted by the crown, for which purpose they kept and used dogs. In fact, the concepts of a runner, and a hunter, seem to be closely related, we can see the relationship in words like, chase, drive, stalk, and tracker.

The fact that the usurping princes of King David kept a pack of fifty runners, or royal guards as they are sometimes called, perhaps has significance in regards to the fifty dogs of Actaeon. However, there is no hint in the scriptures that David’s prince was killed by his runners. On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the fifty runners of Adonijah, had turned upon him when they heard of the installation of Solomon as king, as did the rest of his retinue; “And all the guests that were with Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way.” (1st Kings 1:49). In this way, his fair-weather entourage, had plausibly earned the metaphoric title “dogs,” in exhibiting an expedient loyalty that faltered when it became no longer convenient. In the very next verse Adonijah, who had been a bold and dashing young chieftain, displayed a craven act of cowardice by taking possession of the horns of the altar; “And Adonijah feared because of Solomon, and arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar.” (1st Kings 1:50). The worst thing that one who seeks to master a pack of “dogs” can do, is to display cowardice, and the loss of his following is a normally expected consequence. The Greek myths also, make something of the sudden fear that overcame the prince. In fact, the motif of “being turned into a deer” may itself be allegorical of his “suddenly becoming fearful.” Thus, we read in Ovid; “his courage turned to fear. The brave son of Autonoe took to flight, … Fear made him hesitate to trust the woods, and shame deterred him … While doubting thus his dogs espied him there” (Ovid, “Metamorphoses” 187-206 ff.). And, a little more explicitly, in Fabius Planciades Fulgentius (a late 5th – early 6th century mythological commentator,) who quotes Anaximenes and Homer as his sources; “Anaximenes, … says that Actaeon loved hunting, but … he grew afraid. He had the heart of a stag, as Homer says: “Heavy with wine, having the eyes of a dog and the heart of a stag.” But while the excitement of the hunt left him, he did not love the qualities of dogs, for in idly gratifying them he lost all his substance; for this reason he is said to have been devoured by his own hounds.” (Fulgentius, “Mythologies” Book 3.3).

Perhaps something can be gleaned about the dogs of Actaeon from a study of “the Telchines,” usually depicted as “dog headed,” they are are variously described as, a family, a class of people, or a tribe. Eustathius states that originally they were the dogs of Actaeon, who were changed into men. (from his, “Commentaries on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey” p. 771). Strabo, and others, indicate that the Telchines were the same as the Kouretes; “Some represent the Corybantes, the Cabeiri, the Idaean Dactyls, and the Telchines as identical with the Kouretes, … they represent them, one and all, as a kind of inspired people and as subject to Bacchic frenzy, and, in the guise of ministers, as inspiring terror at the celebration of the sacred rites by means of war-dances, accompanied by uproar and noise and cymbals and drums and arms, and also by flute and outcry.” (Strabo, “Geography” 10. 3. 7). Here Eustathius and Strabo combine to transform the “dogs of Actaeon” into a “class of people” who, as the “Kouretes,” can be looked upon as some sort of “ministers.” For the Kouretes, the guards of Zeus, were the prototype of the royal guard “The Kouretes in full armour, guarding the infant (Zeus) in the cave, beat their shields with their spears that Cronus might not hear the child’s voice.” (Apollodorus, “Library” i. 4,).

While, as we have said, the Scriptures give us no indication that Adonijah was killed by his own royal guard, they do say that he was killed by one, “Benaiah.” However, this Benaiah must have been a very influential individual among the “royal guard guild,” for he was the overall head of the kings royal guard. Benaiah was a priest (1st Chronicles 27:5) who commanded the Cherethites and Pelethites (2nd Samuel 8:18, 20:23); and was placed by King David over the guard (1st Chronicles 11:25; 2nd Samuel 23:23). In Adonijah’s attempt at the kingship, Benaiah sided with Solomon (1st Kings 1:8-44 f.) and took part in proclaiming the latter king. On the death of David, Solomon ordered Benaiah to put Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei, to death (1st Kings 2:25, 34, 46). As we can see, it was within his duties, as the head of the royal guard, to track down and execute those outlaws who were wanted by the crown.To those who retold the story, it may have seemed especially ironic that one who had previously been protected by the royal guard, should in the end, be dispatched by them. It may have been this circumstance that was responsible for the idea that the “dogs” of Actaeon had turned upon their former master.

When the conspiracy of Adonijah was made known, David summoned Benaiah into his presence and ordered him to put Solomon on “the King’s mule” and go to the fountain of Gihon (an apparent coronation ritual). He ordered the entire bodyguard under Benaiah to accompany them. This “bodyguard” was called “the servants of your lord” at 1st Chronicles 1:33, but further clarified a few verses later, at 1:38, as “the Cherethites, and the Pelethites.” Thus the phrase “Cherethites and Pelethites” was referring to the bodyguard of David; If, as is often suspected, the Carites (Carians) and Cherethites (2nd Kings 11:4) are identical, then the same troop was still in existence in the time of Athaliah. (The Egyptian kings Psammetichus and Amasis used Carian mercenaries and the Carians also formed the bodyguard for the kings of Lydia.) The Septuagint, in the Prophets, translates “Cherethites” by “Cretans.” Carians, the famous mercenaries of Greek antiquity, are mentioned, by Herodotus ii. 152, 171; Thucydides, iv. 8; Hesychius, under “Karitai” and “Archilochus.” Herodotus says that “Carians” served King Minos of Crete. Perhaps Strabo took the Carians or Cherethites of Crete, for the Kouretes whom he says were the same as the “dog headed” Telchines. “In Crete, not only these rites, but in particular those sacred to Zeus, were performed along with orgiastic worship and with the kind of ministers who were in the service of Dionysos, I mean the Satyrs. These ministers they called Kouretes” (Strabo, Geography 10. 3. 11). This would at least, help to connect the dots between the “dogs” who killed Actaeon, and the Cherethites under Benaiah who killed Adonijah.

Actaeon is like Pentheus as Adonijah is like Absalom.

If you weren’t careful you might think that the expression “and his mother bare him (Adonijah) after Absalom” (1st Kings, 1:6), is indicating that Absalom and Adonijah were born of the same mother (we learn elsewhere in the Scriptures that they came from two different mothers), or that it is a simple chronological reference. However, according to the Rabbinical literature, the statement is used to indicate that both these sons of David were of the same type and that their actions were similar (B. B. 109b, Midr. Teh. on ii. 7). According to Euripides, both princes of Cadmus, Pentheus and Actaeon, were torn to pieces at the same spot on Mount Cithaeron. (Eur. Ba. 1291 f.). In Nonnus the death of Actaeon even further mirrors the death of Pentheus by his placing Actaeon up in a tree for the fatal episode; “For as he sat up in a tall oak tree amid the spreading boughs, he had seen the whole body of the Archeress bathing” (Nonnus, Dionysiaca, Book 5, 291 f.). Take note that it was an oak tree this time, as it was in the story of the Absalom, and not a pine as in the story of Pentheus. Nonnus also treats the scattering of the torn apart body in much the same way as the myth of Pentheus does; “Often you passed that tree where lies what is left of Actaeon; often you went by those pitiable bones of a dappled fawn, disjointed, scattered on the ground far apart,” (Nonnus, Dionysiaca, Book 5, 497 f.). Later Nonnus changes the tree from oak to olive (a much more “messianic” symbol); “Like a fool I … scrambled up a handy branch of the pure olive, to spy out the naked skin of Artemis … I slipped down from the tree headlong into the dust,” (Nonnus, Dionysiaca, Book 5, 473 f.).

Possessing “Horns”

There does seem to be an inordinate amount of attention paid to the mention of the term “horns,” among the Greek mythographers who told the story of Actaeon; “What of the doom of Cadmus’ grandson, when the antlers of the long-lived stag covered his brow with their strange branches, and his own hounds pursued the master? … he gazed into the still pool’s water and saw his horns” (Seneca, Oedipus 751 ff.) “Diana made horns grow on his head, and he was devoured by his own dogs.” (Hyginus, “Fables,” 180) “Oh, it was pitiful to witness him, his horns outbranching from his forehead” (Ovid, “Metamorphoses,” 138) “she fixed the horns of a great stag firm on his sprinkled brows; … He saw his horns reflected in a stream and would have said, “Ah, wretched me!” but now he had no voice, and he could only groan.” (Ovid, “Metamorphoses,” 187). Notice that he was not simply changed into a deer, but many sources seem to go out of their way to point out that Actaeon “got” or “possessed” horns. Perhaps there was an early version of the tale that Seneca, Hyginus, and Ovid, had relied upon, that was taking a bit of poetic licence with an original account whereby the arrogant prince, intimidated by the defection of his erstwhile chasseurs, had sought protection by “taking hold” of the “horns” of the altar; ”And all the guests that were with Adonijah were afraid, and rose up, and went every man his way. And Adonijah feared because of Solomon, and arose, and went, and caught hold on the horns of the altar. And it was told Solomon, saying, Behold, Adonijah feareth king Solomon: for, lo, he hath caught hold on the horns of the altar, …” (1st Kings 1:49-51).

The Prophet Nathan and the Myth of Actaeon

The story of Actaeon does not appear to be naturally a part of the story of Pentheus, Euripides does mention it incidentally a few times but it doesn’t play a major part in the story. Pentheus, as he is being torn apart, does try in an attempt to gain her pity, to remind his aunt Autonoe of the fate of her son Actaeon. It does seem as though a different source supplied this story. Perhaps the story of Actaeon was taken from the lost, so called,”Book of Nathan the Prophet.” Nathan is named as the writer of a history of the reigns of David and Solomon; “Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer” (1st Chronicles 29:29, see also, 2nd Chronicles 9:29). Now, nobody knows what was written in the lost book of Nathan the prophet. However, it is probable that the book dealt, at least, if not exclusively, with episodes in the life of David in which Nathan himself took part. There are really only four such episodes; Firstly, Nathan appears to have been responsible for helping King David to institute, the previously refer to, “dionysian” religious reforms; “And he set the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the LORD by his prophets.” (2nd Chronicles 29:25). Secondly, it is the Prophet Nathan who informs King David that he will not be allowed to build the temple (2nd Samuel 7:4-16); Thirdly, Nathan reproves David for his indiscretion in the Bathsheba affair (2nd Samuel 12:1-7); And finally Nathan, working closely with Bathsheba, takes a hand in motivating the king when he seems apathetic in the face of Adonijah’s insurrection (1st Kings 1:5-39). Take note, that besides the temple episode, Nathan seems to have dealt with the very parts of King David’s story that seemed to have served as the origin for the Greek myth of Actaeon.There does seem to have been what we may fairly call “the Nathan source.” One that included a synopsis of the stories of Bathsheba and Adonijah as seen through the eyes of the prophet Nathan. This source was available to the writers of 2nd Samuel, but apparently was not available to, or not trusted by, the editors of Chronicles which otherwise seems to be a mere retelling of the story found in 2nd Samuel. For Nathan is not mentioned in Chronicles in connection with the Bathsheba episode nor with that of the anointment of Solomon.

A Summary and Conclusion of “David as Cadmus”

Now, the story of Cadmus was carried to Greece by the “Phoenicians,” it was accompanied by the arrival of the alphabet. The arrival of the alphabet can be dated by its form, since it most closely resembles the style of letters that was used on the Mesha stele, it has been dated to the ninth century BC. At that time the Hebrews also used this same alphabet, no doubt the biography of King David was originally written in it. It certainly does not stretch the imagination to suppose that stories such as that of King David, came to Greece along with, the so-called, Phoenician letters.

It is perhaps an obstacle to some that the Greeks called these people Phoenicians, the Hebrew Scriptures do not use the term Phoenicians they use instead Canaanites, or men of Tyre. But this obstacle is easy to overcome when we realize the fact that King David had a close ally in Hiram of Tyre, and that King Solomon had a fleet of ships stationed at Joppa that plied the Mediterranean with a mixed crew of Israelites and Tyrians. The Hebrew alphabet, along with the story of King David, could easily have come to Greece on one of these ships.

Consider the following list of separate motifs offered in chronological order, concerning the myth of Cadmus;

He was a culture hero and an obvious Messianic character
His commission was to search out and bring home Europa (whom I suppose to be named after Jeroboam, the first king of the northern ten tribes of Israel,) who had been lost among the nations (Ezekiel 37:21-24).
He was from “Phoenicia” otherwise known as “Canaan” and “Israel” (Genesis 17:8)
He killed a gigantic monster
He knocked it out with a thrown stone,
and cut off it’s head with a sword. (1st Samuel 17:49-51)
He raised up a group of “Mighty Men,” the Spartoi.
These elite warriors would become his aristocracy (2nd Samuel 23:8-39)
He sent a task force of his men on an expedition to get water.
The water was guarded and the attempt to retrieve it put the men at great risk.
He poured the water out as a libation. (1st Chronicles 11:15-19)
Before he founded his capital city he was counselled by a prophet while he was in a cave. (1st Samuel 22:5)
A cow marked the location of his future capital.
He bought the cow from the farmer who owned it,
and sacrificed it upon an altar at the site of the new city. (2nd Samuel 24:22-25)
He built the city, named it “Cadmea” (the “city of Cadmus”), after himself, and it became an annex to his larger capital of Thebes. (as did David with his “city of David” at Jerusalem, both were citadels built upon a hilltop that was within the precinct and associated with the larger city).
He was largely responsible for introducing the rites of Dionysus among the Greeks.
He danced in the procession which brought the god into the city of Thebes.
In a Dionysian procession, indecent dancers were accompanied by a sacred choir of warrior priests, called the Kouretes, loudly clashing cymbals and timbrels, carrying an ark (2nd Samuel 6:14,15).
Compare the Greek Kouretes with the Hebrew Korahites (1st Chronicles 15:19 and 26:1)
Dionysus, identified by the Greeks with Osiris, was therefore one of the gods of the Egyptians (whom the Israelites also worshipped, see Joshua 24:14).
Near the end of Cadmus’ reign, and while he was yet alive, his prince took over the kingdom (2nd Samuel 15:9-10).
He abandoned his former city with a group of his people, and their god, against the will of the presumptuous prince who had usurped the throne.
The “ark carrying” religion was with him. (2nd Samuel 15:17,24)
They crossed over a river (2nd Samuel 15:23),
and went to a wooded area in a mountainous region (the mountainous region of Ephraim, see 2nd Samuel 18:6 and Joshua 17:15)
The exiled throng were divided into three companies (2nd Samuel 18:2).
The god consented to be returned to the city in order to face the insolent Prince. (2nd Samuel 15:24, 25 and 29)
There was a covert strategy to foil the plans of the Prince by giving him bad advice. (2nd Samuel 15:31)
The Prince was deceitfully advised to go out and see the revelers for himself. (2nd Samuel 17:11)
The Prince desired to go and “look upon” his mother and aunts as they engaged in their sexual activities. (2nd Samuel 16:21)
The Prince was up in a tree “between heaven and earth” when he was caught and killed. (2nd Samuel 18:9,10 and 14,15)
He was speared (2nd Samuel 18:14)
His head was taken off. (Ginzberg’s “The Legends of the Jews,” Volume IV. Chap IV. in the article entitled, “Absalom’s Rebellion”)
Cadmus cried out a poignant lament when he found out that his Prince had been killed. (2nd Samuel 19:1-4)
The killer could not understand the grief of Cadmus. (2nd Samuel 19:5)
Another of Cadmus’ Princes was killed through the conniving machinations of a great woman who was seen bathing. (1st Kings 2:25)
This Prince had sought to wed one of the “daughters” of Cadmus. (1st Kings 2:19-22)

Now, I submit that there is no way that this entire list of intricately detailed corresponding motifs could have occurred both, among the Greeks, for inclusion in their ancient mythology, as well as among the Hebrews, for inclusion in their scriptures, without any cultural connection between the two. The similarities are just too many, the resemblances are too close, the plots are too well aligned, and the degree to which the respective order of the events match is too exacting. The story that the Greeks tell of their great culture hero Cadmus, is obviously based upon the same story that we can read about in the Hebrew scriptures concerning their great King David.

-John R. Salverda

“The battle of Thermopylae … has become some sort of foundation myth of Western civilization”.

Published August 21, 2013 by amaic


the Metamorphoses of a Myth

The battle of Thermopylae and the war between Greece and Persia have an almost mythological status in western civilization. However, there are some nasty aspects to this popularity. A discussion of

Frank Miller, 300 (1998; comic book)

Zack Snyder, 300 (2006; movie)

Tom Holland, Persian Fire (2005; history book)


The works discussed have shown that the study of ancient history in the twenty-first century has two serious defects: historians are still suffering from their nineteenth-century blindness towards the Near East, and know less about theory and method than they used to do in the early 1900’s.

A well-known story

The story is well-known. In 480 BCE, the Persian king Xerxes tried to conquer Greece with an army that was so large that it needed an equally large fleet to bring sufficient supplies. After three hundred Spartan hoplites and their allies, who offered resistance at Thermopylae, had been defeated, the Persians could proceed to Athens, the largest town in Greece. They were still looting the city, when their navy was defeated at Salamis, and although the Persians still had naval superiority, Xerxes decided not to take unnecessary risks, and retreated. The ruins of Athens testified that he had achieved his main goal.

The naval battle had not been decisive, and no one knows why Xerxes did not return. In 1992, Pierre Briant, the greatest iranologist of our age, has suggested that a rebellion in Babylonia demanded the great king’s attention.[1] There is indeed some evidence for this theory, but it has recently been shown that at least the cuneiform sources do not support it sufficiently.[2] Whatever the explanation, the key fact is that only a small Persian army was left behind to guard the king’s conquests. In 479, it was defeated at Plataea, and in 475, the last Persian stronghold in Europe, Eïon, was captured by the Athenian commander Cimon. The Greco-Persian war was over.

The battle of Thermopylae is just an incident in this great war, but over the centuries, it has become some sort of foundation myth of Western civilization. Novels were devoted to it, like William Golding’s The Hot Gate and Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire. In 2005, historian Tom Holland accepted this myth in his Persian Fire; and Frank Miller’s award-winning comic book 300 is now a major movie.

The reason for this continuing interest in the Greco-Persian war and the battle of Thermopylae is easy to find: the brilliant account by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c.480-c.425), included in the seventh book of his Histories, one of the most entertaining and accessible texts from Antiquity. Unfortunately, the great care with which he separates facts from opinion has not always inspired later historians, and it is not exaggerated to say that “Thermopylae” is rapidly becoming political propaganda. And that is to be regretted, because novels, comic books, and movies are -more than scholarly research, which reaches not many people- the way people conceptualize the past.


First: the story by Herodotus, who is sometimes “father of history” but might as well be called the “father of investigative journalism”. He always presents both sides of a story, offers variant explanations, and seeks to separate facts from opinion. In his account of the battle of Thermopylae, he makes it clear that he knew more than one story about the treason that enabled the Persians to circumvene the Greek positions (7.213-214). A bit later, when he has reached the moment on which the Greeks discover that they will be surrounded, Herodotus states what he believes is the last thing he knows for certain: that the Greek army desintegrated (7.219). He does not know what happened after this moment, because none of the Spartan soldiers who remained at Thermopylae survived. Therefore, he introduces the sequel with gnomê, the word he often uses to introduce his own ideas (7.220).

His hypothesis, and the beginning of the myth, is that Leonidas knew an oracle that offered him a choice: either he had to die, or his town would be destroyed. This may be a correct hypothesis. A modern one is that the Greeks were retreating and that the Spartans were cut off before the could leave the trap. This may also be correct. We simply do not know. The historian Hignett has called Thermopylae “an unsolved riddle”, and that’s about everything we can say about it.

Fighting for freedom

This general ignorance has not dissuaded the American artist Frank Miller to use Herodotus’ hypothesis as basis of his classical comic book 300. He has successfully created a visual language to render Herodotus’ literary arsenal. For example, the Greek researcher inserts in his story an element from Homer’s Iliad: the Spartans fought for the possession of Leonidas’ dead body. This must be fiction (who could have told Herodotus?) but any Greek would have recognized the suggestion that the Spartans fought like the heroes of yore. Miller could not use this trick, so he presents his Spartans as fighting almost naked, because we all know from our movies that action heroes become invulnerable once the put off their shirt (e.g., Rambo, Die Hard).

So far, so good. Miller runs into trouble when he offers an interpretation of the story. The Spartans, he says, sacrificed themselves for the freedom of Greece. And not only for Greek liberty: the Spartans were “the world’s one hope for reason and justice”, and the Persians were living “in a sea of mysticism and tyranny”. Although Thermopylae was a defeat, it showed the world what free men are capable of, inspired the other Greeks, and therefore saved Greek culture and all of western civilization.

Miller’s reading of Thermopylae and the Greco-Persian wars is not unique. It can also be found in Persian Fire, a book by the British historian Tom Holland, published in 2006. It is a good read, if you can ignore exuberant lines like “As the storm clouds of seeming Persian invincibility loomed ever darker over Ionia, so strange shadows from the past returned to haunt Athens, too”. In his introduction, Holland states that democracy, rationalism, and the philosophy of Plato would not have existed if the Persians had not been expelled from Europe. The book is completely different from Miller’s comic book, but in one respect they are similar: Herodotus’ story about self-sacrifice has become the foundation myth of western civilization.


Holland and Miller are not the first to make this claim. Holland refers to nineteenth-century philosophers like Hegel and Mill, and he could have added the famous art historian J.J. Winckelmann (1717-1768) as well. The general idea is that the Greeks were a special nation that possessed qualities (like rationality and a passion for liberty) that the nations of the ancient Near East were lacking. Of course quoting non-specialists is not the best way to argue a thesis, but the authors referred to by Holland are not the only ones. He could also have quoted a serious historian like Eduard Meyer (1855-1930), who in 1901 maintained that the Greco-Persian war marked the birth of western civilization, defined by rationalism, freedom, and democracy.[3]

But one has to be careful when one accepts judgments that were offered more than a century ago. Meyer’s arguments were analyzed in a famous theoretical discussion with Max Weber (1864-1920), who is best known as one of the founders of the social sciences, but started his career as a historian and was a pupil of Theodor Mommsen. Weber’s question was simple: how did Meyer know that a Persian victory would have obstruct the rise of freedom, democracy, and rationalism? Weber could easily prove[4] that Meyer’s reasoning was counterfactual: he explains the significance of an event by pointing at what would have happend if it had not taken place. And counterfactual explanations are rarely accurate.

Take, for instance, these considerations. In 493, a mere thirteen years before Xerxes invaded Greece, his general Mardonius (one of Xerxes’ main advisers) had accepted democracy as system of government of the Greek towns in the Persian empire. And how hostile were the Persians towards mysticism? The research program of the Chaldaeans in Persian Babylonia had a purely scientific method. In Xerxes’ eastern capital Taxila, Panini wrote the world’s first scientific book of grammar. And in Judah, the book of Job was written, in which God and man discuss the nature of good and evil. These are not the products of the presumed “sea of mysticism and tyranny”. For any example Meyer and Holland mention, one might offer a counter-example.

Offering examples and counter-examples is not the best way to proceed. What is necessary is a grand theory that enables us to compare the relative weight of Greek and Persian rationalisms. A possible candidate is Richard Dawkins’ recent theory about cultural memes, which may also help us find a way to make meaningful judgments about the importance of Greco-Roman culture, compared to other cultures, as “root” of western civilization. One might, for example, want to weigh the influence of the Greek inheritance and other influences.

As far as I know, no ancient historian has ever attempted this, and it is easy to see why: no one wants to cast doubt on the European foundation myth. Although, for the moment, the truth of the statement that “the project of reason started in Greece” can not be established, the statement is the recognized consensus and adds cement to western society.


Taken from:


Panthea and the Assyrian General, a Garbled Greek Version of Judith and Holofernes

Published August 21, 2013 by amaic



[226] IN the preceding chapters of this work, we have followed mainly the authority of Herodotus, except, indeed, in the account of the visit of Cyrus to his grandfather in his childhood, which is taken from Xenophon. We shall, in this chapter, relate the story of Panthea, which is also one of Xenophon’s tales. We give it as a specimen of the romantic narratives in which Xenophon’s history abounds, and on account of the many illustrations of ancient manners and customs which it contains, leaving it for each reader to decide for himself what weight he will attach to its claims to be regarded as veritable history. We relate the story here in our own language, but as to the facts, we follow faithfully the course of Xenophon’s narration.

Panthea was a Susian captive. She was taken, together with a great many other captives and much plunder, after one of the great battles which Cyrus fought with the Assyrians. [227] Her husband was an Assyrian general, though he himself was not captured at this time with his wife. The spoil which came into possession of the army on the occasion of the battle in which Panthea was taken was of great value. There were beautiful and costly suits of arms, rich tents made of splendid materials and highly ornamented, large sums of money, vessels of silver and gold, and slaves—some prized for their beauty, and others for certain accomplishments which were highly valued in those days. Cyrus appointed a sort of commission to divide this spoil. He pursued always a very generous policy on all these occasions, showing no desire to secure such treasures to himself, but distributing them with profuse liberality among his officers and soldiers.

The commissioners whom he appointed in this case divided the spoil among the various generals of the army, and among the different bodies of soldiery, with great impartiality. Among the prizes assigned to Cyrus were two singing women of great fame, and this Susian lady. Cyrus thanked the distributors for the share of booty which they had thus assigned to him, but said that if any of his friends wished for either of these captives, they could have [228] them. An officer asked for one of the singers. Cyrus gave her to him immediately, saying, “I consider myself more obliged to you for asking her, than you are to me for giving her to you.” As for the Susian lady, Cyrus had not yet seen her, but he called one of his most intimate and confidential friends to him, and requested him to take her under his charge.

The name of this officer was Araspes. He was a Mede, and he had been Cyrus’s particular friend and playmate when he was a boy, visiting his grandfather in Media. The reader will perhaps recollect that he is mentioned toward the close of our account of that visit, as the special favorite to whom Cyrus presented his robe or mantle when he took leave of his friends in returning to his native land.

Araspes, when he received this charge, asked Cyrus whether he had himself seen the lady. Cyrus replied that he had not. Araspes then proceeded to give an account of her. The name of her husband was Abradates, and he was the king of Susa, as they termed him. The reason why he was not taken prisoner at the same time with his wife was, that when the battle was fought and the Assyrian camp captured, he was absent, having gone away on an em- [229] bassage to another nation. This circumstance shows that Abradates, though called a king, could hardly have been a sovereign and independent prince, but rather a governor or viceroy—those words expressing to our minds more truly the station of such a sort of king as could be sent on an embassy.

Araspes went on to say that, at the time of their making the capture, he, with some others, went into Panthea’s tent, where they found her and her attendant ladies sitting on the ground, with veils over their faces, patiently awaiting their doom. Notwithstanding the concealment produced by the attitudes and dress of these ladies, there was something about the air and figure of Panthea which showed at once that she was the queen. The leader of Araspes’s party asked them all to rise. They did so, and then the superiority of Panthea was still more apparent than before. There was an extraordinary grace and beauty in her attitude and in all her motions. She stood in a dejected posture, and her countenance was sad, though inexpressibly lovely. She endeavored to appear calm and composed, though the tears had evidently been falling from her eyes.

The soldiers pitied her in her distress, and [230] the leader of the party attempted to console her, as Araspes said, by telling her that she had nothing to fear; that they were aware that her husband was a most worthy and excellent man; and although, by this capture, she was lost to him, she would have no cause to regret the event, for she would be reserved for a new husband not at all inferior to her former one either in person, in understanding, in rank, or in power.

These well-meant attempts at consolation did not appear to have the good effect desired. They only awakened Panthea’s grief and suffering anew. The tears began to fall again faster than before. Her grief soon became more and more uncontrollable. She sobbed and cried aloud, and began to wring her hands and tear her mantle—the customary Oriental expression of inconsolable sorrow and despair. Araspes said that in these gesticulations her neck, and hands, and a part of her face appeared, and that she was the most beautiful woman that he had ever beheld. He wished Cyrus to see her.

Cyrus said, “No; he would not see her by any means.” Araspes asked him why. He said that there would be danger that he should forget his duty to the army, and lose his interest in the great military enterprise in which he [231] was engaged, if he should allow himself to become captivated by the charms of such a lady, as he very probably would be if he were now to visit her. Araspes said in reply that Cyrus might at least see her; as to becoming captivated with her, and devoting himself to her to such a degree as to neglect his other duties, he could certainly control himself in respect to that danger. Cyrus said that it was not certain that he could so control himself; and then there followed a long discussion between Cyrus and Araspes, in which Araspes maintained that every man had the command of his own heart and affections, and that, with proper determination and energy, he could direct the channels in which they should run, and confine them within such limits and bounds as he pleased. Cyrus, on the other hand, maintained that human passions were stronger than the human will; that no one could rely on the strength of his resolutions to control the impulses of the heart once strongly excited, and that a man’s only safety was in controlling the circumstances which tended to excite them. This was specially true, he said, in respect to the passion of love. The experience of mankind, he said, had shown that no strength of moral principle, no [232] firmness of purpose, no fixedness of resolution, no degree of suffering, no fear of shame, was sufficient to control, in the hearts of men, the impetuosity of the passion of love, when it was once fairly awakened. In a word, Araspes advocated, on the subject of love, a sort of new school philosophy, while that of Cyrus leaned very seriously toward the old.

In conclusion, Cyrus jocosely counseled Araspes to beware lest he should prove that love was stronger than the will by becoming himself enamored of the beautiful Susian queen. Araspes said that Cyrus need not fear; there was no danger. He must be a miserable wretch indeed, he said, who could not summon within him sufficient resolution and energy to control his own passions and desires. As for himself, he was sure that he was safe.

As usual with those who are self-confident and boastful, Araspes failed when the time of trial came. He took charge of the royal captive whom Cyrus committed to him with a very firm resolution to be faithful to his trust. He pitied the unhappy queen’s misfortunes, and admired the heroic patience and gentleness of spirit with which she bore them. The beauty of her countenance, and her thousand personal [233] charms, which were all heightened by the expression of sadness and sorrow which they bore, touched his heart. It gave him pleasure to grant her every indulgence consistent with her condition of captivity, and to do every thing in his power to promote her welfare. She was very grateful for these favors, and the few brief words and looks of kindness with which she returned them repaid him for his efforts to please her a thousand-fold. He saw her, too, in her tent, in the presence of her maidens, at all times; and as she looked upon him as only her custodian and guard, and as, too, her mind was wholly occupied by the thoughts of her absent husband and her hopeless grief, her actions were entirely free and unconstrained in his presence. This made her only the more attractive; every attitude and movement seemed to possess, in Araspes’s mind, an inexpressible charm. In a word, the result was what Cyrus had predicted. Araspes became wholly absorbed in the interest which was awakened in him by the charms of the beautiful captive. He made many resolutions, but they were of no avail. While he was away from her, he felt strong in his determination to yield to these feelings no more; but as soon as he came into her presence, all these res- [234] olutions melted wholly away, and he yielded his heart entirely to the control of emotions which, however vincible they might appear at a distance, were found, when the time of trial came, to possess a certain mysterious and magic power, which made it most delightful for the heart to yield before them in the contest, and utterly impossible to stand firm and resist. In a word, when seen at a distance, love appeared to him an enemy which he was ready to brave, and was sure that he could overcome; but when near, it transformed itself into the guise of a friend, and he accordingly threw down the arms with which he had intended to combat it, and gave himself up to it in a delirium of pleasure.

Things continued in this state for some time. The army advanced from post to post, and from encampment to encampment, taking the captives in their train. New cities were taken, new provinces overrun, and new plans for future conquests were formed. At last a case occurred in which Cyrus wished to send some one as a spy into a distant enemy’s country. The circumstances were such that it was necessary that a person of considerable intelligence and rank should go, as Cyrus wished the messenger [235] whom he should send to make his way to the court of the sovereign, and become personally acquainted with the leading men of the state, and to examine the general resources of the kingdom. It was a very different case from that of an ordinary spy, who was to go into a neighboring camp merely to report the numbers and disposition of an organized army. Cyrus was uncertain whom he should send on such an embassy.

In the mean time, Araspes had ventured to express to Panthea his love for her. She was offended. In the first place, she was faithful to her husband, and did not wish to receive such addresses from any person. Then, besides, she considered Araspes, having been placed in charge of her by Cyrus, his master, only for the purpose of keeping her safely, as guilty of a betrayal of his trust in having dared to cherish and express sentiments of affection for her himself. She, however, forbore to reproach him, or to complain of him to Cyrus. She simply repelled the advances that he made, supposing that, if she did this with firmness and decision, Araspes would feel rebuked and would say no more. It did not, however, produce this effect. Araspes continued to importune her with de- [236] clarations of love, and at length she felt compelled to appeal to Cyrus.

Cyrus, instead of being incensed at what might have been considered a betrayal of trust on the part of Araspes, only laughed at the failure and fall in which all his favorite’s promises and boastings had ended. He sent a messenger to Araspes to caution him in regard to his conduct, telling him that he ought to respect the feelings of such a woman as Panthea had proved herself to be. The messenger whom Cyrus sent was not content with delivering his message as Cyrus had dictated it. He made it much more stern and severe. In fact, he reproached the lover, in a very harsh and bitter manner, for indulging such a passion. He told him that he had betrayed a sacred trust reposed in him, and acted in a manner at once impious and unjust. Araspes was overwhelmed with remorse and anguish, and with fear of the consequences which might ensue, as men are when the time arrives for being called to account for transgressions which, while they were committing them, gave them little concern.

When Cyrus heard how much Araspes had been distressed by the message of reproof which he had received and by his fears of punishment, [237] he sent for him. Araspes came. Cyrus told him that he had no occasion to be alarmed. “I do not wonder,” said he, “at the result which has happened. We all know how difficult it is to resist the influence which is exerted upon our minds by the charms of a beautiful woman, when we are thrown into circumstances of familiar intercourse with her. Whatever of wrong there has been ought to be considered as more my fault than yours. I was wrong in placing you in such circumstances of temptation, by giving you so beautiful a woman in charge.”

Araspes was very much struck with the generosity of Cyrus, in thus endeavoring to soothe his anxiety and remorse, and taking upon himself the responsibility and the blame. He thanked Cyrus very earnestly for his kindness; but he said that, notwithstanding his sovereign’s willingness to forgive him, he felt still oppressed with grief and concern, for the knowledge of his fault had been spread abroad in the army; his enemies were rejoicing over him, and were predicting his disgrace and ruin; and some persons had even advised him to make his escape, by absconding before any worse calamity should befall him.

[238] “If this is so,” said Cyrus, “it puts it in your power to render me a very essential service.” Cyrus then explained to Araspes the necessity that he was under of finding some confidential agent to go on a secret mission into the enemy’s country, and the importance that the messenger should go under such circumstances as not to be suspected of being Cyrus’s friend in disguise. “You can pretend to abscond,” said he; “it will be immediately said that you fled for fear of my displeasure. I will pretend to send in pursuit of you. The news of your evasion will spread rapidly, and will be parried, doubtless, into the enemy’s country; so that, when you arrive there, they will be prepared to welcome you as a deserter from my cause, and a refugee.”

This plan was agreed upon, and Araspes prepared for his departure. Cyrus gave him his instructions, and they concerted together the information—fictitious, of course—which he was to communicate to the enemy in respect to Cyrus’s situation and designs. When all was ready for his departure, Cyrus asked him how it was that he was so willing to separate himself thus from the beautiful Panthea. He said in reply, that when he was absent from Panthea, [239] he was capable of easily forming any determination, and of pursuing any line of conduct that his duty required, while yet, in her presence, he found his love for her, and the impetuous feelings to which it gave rise, wholly and absolutely uncontrollable.

As soon as Araspes was gone, Panthea, who supposed that he had really fled for fear of the indignation of the king, in consequence of his unfaithfulness to his trust, sent to Cyrus a message, expressing her regret at the unworthy conduct and the flight of Araspes, and saying that she could, and gladly would, if he consented, repair the loss which the desertion of Araspes occasioned by sending for her own husband. He was, she said, dissatisfied with the government under which he lived, having been cruelly and tyrannically treated by the prince. “If you will allow me to send for him,” she added, “I am sure he will come and join your army; and I assure you that you will find him a much more faithful and devoted servant than Araspes has been.”

Cyrus consented to this proposal, and Panthea sent for Abradates. Abradates came at the head of two thousand horse, which formed a very important addition to the forces under [240] Cyrus’s command. The meeting between Panthea and her husband was joyful in the extreme. When Abradates learned from his wife how honorable and kind had been the treatment which Cyrus had rendered to her, he was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude, and he declared that he would do the utmost in his power to requite the obligations he was under.

Abradates entered at once, with great ardor and zeal, into plans for making the force which he had brought as efficient as possible in the service of Cyrus. He observed that Cyrus was interested, at that time, in attempting to build and equip a corps of armed chariots, such as were often used in fields of battle in those days. This was a very expensive sort of force, corresponding, in that respect, with the artillery used in modern times. The carriages were heavy and strong, and were drawn generally by two horses. They had short, scythe-like blades of steel projecting from the axle-trees on each side, by which the ranks of the enemy were mowed down when the carriages were driven among them. The chariots were made to contain, besides the driver of the horses, one or more warriors, each armed in the completest manner. These warriors stood on the floor of the vehicle, [243] and fought with javelins and spears. The great plains which abound in the interior countries of Asia were very favorable for this species of warfare.


Abradates immediately fitted up for Cyrus a hundred such chariots at his own expense, and provided horses to draw them from his own troop. He made one chariot much larger than the rest, for himself, as he intended to take command of this corps of chariots in person. His own chariot was to be drawn by eight horses. His wife Panthea was very much interested in these preparations. She wished to do something herself toward the outfit. She accordingly furnished, from her own private treasures, a helmet, a corslet, and arm-pieces of gold. These articles formed a suit of armor sufficient to cover all that part of the body which would be exposed in standing in the chariot. She also provided breast-pieces and side-pieces of brass for the horses. The whole chariot, thus quipped, with its eight horses in their gay trappings and resplendent armor, and with Abradates standing within it, clothed in his panoply of gold, presented, as it drove, in the sight of the whole army, around the plain of the encampment, a most imposing spectacle. [244] It was a worthy leader, as the spectators thought, to head the formidable column of a hundred similar engines which were to follow in its train. If we imagine the havoc which a hundred scythe-armed carriages would produce when driven, with headlong fury, into dense masses of men, on a vast open plain, we shall have some idea of one item of the horrors of ancient war.

The full splendor of Abradates’s equipments were not, however, displayed at first, for Panthea kept what she had done a secret for a time, intending to reserve her contribution for a parting present to her husband when the period should arrive for going into battle. She had accordingly taken the measure for her work by stealth, from the armor which Abradates was accustomed to wear, and had caused the artificers to make the golden pieces with the utmost secrecy. Besides the substantial defenses of gold which she provided, she added various other articles for ornament and decoration There was a purple robe, a crest for the helmet, which was of a violet color, plumes, and likewise bracelets for the wrists. Panthea kept all these things herself until the day arrived when her husband was going into battle for the first time with his train, and then, when [245] he went into his tent to prepare himself to ascend his chariot, she brought them to him.

Abradates was astonished when he saw them. He soon understood how they had been provided, and he exclaimed, with a heart full of surprise and pleasure, “And so, to provide me with this splendid armor and dress, you have been depriving yourself of all your finest and most beautiful ornaments!”

“No,” said Panthea, “you are yourself my finest ornament, if you appear in other people’s eyes as you do in mine, and I have not deprived myself of you.”

The appearance which Abradates made in other people’s eyes was certainly very splendid on this occasion. There were many spectators present to see him mount his chariot and drive away; but so great was their admiration of Panthea’s affection and regard for her husband, and so much impressed were they with her beauty, that the great chariot, the resplendent horses, and the grand warrior with his armor of gold, which the magnificent equipage was intended to convey, were, all together, scarcely able to draw away the eyes of the spectators from her. She stood, for a while, by the side of the chariot, addressing her husband in an un- [246] der tone, reminding him of the obligations which they were under to Cyrus for his generous and noble treatment of her, and urging him, now that he was going to be put to the test, to redeem the promise which she had made in his name, that Cyrus would find him faithful, brave, and true.

The driver then closed the door by which Abradates had mounted, so that Panthea was separated from her husband, though she could still see him as he stood in his place. She gazed upon him with a countenance full of affection and solicitude. She kissed the margin of the chariot as it began to move away. She walked along after it as it went, as if, after all, she could not bear the separation. Abradates turned, and when he saw her coming on after the carriage, he said, waving his hand for a parting salutation, “Farewell, Panthea; go back now to your tent, and do not be anxious about me. Farewell.” Panthea turned—her attendants came and took her away—the spectators all turned, too, to follow her with their eyes, and no one paid any regard to the chariot or to Abradates until she was gone.

On the field of battle, before the engagement commenced, Cyrus, in passing along the lines, [247] paused, when he came to the chariots of Abradates, to examine the arrangements which had been made for them, and to converse a moment with the chief. He saw that the chariots were drawn up in a part of the field where there was opposed to them a very formidable array of Egyptian soldiers. The Egyptians in this war were allies of the enemy. Abradates, leaving his chariot in the charge of his driver, descended and came to Cyrus, and remained in conversation with him for a few moments, to receive his last orders. Cyrus directed him to remain where he was, and not to attack the enemy until he received a certain signal. At length the two chieftains separated; Abradates returned to his chariot, and Cyrus moved on. Abradates then moved slowly along his lines, to encourage and animate his men; and to give them the last directions in respect to the charge which they were about to make on the enemy when the signal should be given. All eyes were turned to the magnificent spectacle which his equipage presented as it advanced toward them; the chariot, moving slowly along the line, the tall and highly-decorated form of its commander rising in the center of it, while the eight horses, animated by the sound of the trumpets, and by [248] the various excitements of the scene, stepped proudly, their brazen armor clanking as they came.

When, at length, the signal was given, Abradates, calling on the other chariots to follow, put his horses to their speed, and the whole line rushed impetuously on to the attack of the Egyptians. War horses, properly trained to their work, will fight with their hoofs with almost as much reckless determination as men will with spears. They rush madly on to encounter whatever opposition there may be before them, and strike down and leap over whatever comes in their way, as if they fully understood the nature of the work that their riders or drivers were wishing them to do. Cyrus, as he passed along from one part of the battle field to another, saw the horses of Abradates’s line dashing thus impetuously into the thickest ranks of the enemy. The men, on every side, were beaten down by the horses’ hoofs, or overturned by the wheels, or cut down by the scythes; and they who here and there escaped these dangers, became the aim of the soldiers who stood in the chariots, and were transfixed with their spears. The heavy wheels rolled and jolted mercilessly over the bodies of the [249] wounded and the fallen, while the scythes caught hold of and cut through every thing that came in their way—whether the shafts of javelins and spears, or the limbs and bodies of men—and tore every thing to pieces in their terrible career. As Cyrus rode rapidly by, he saw Abradates in the midst of this scene, driving on in his chariot, and shouting to his men in a phrensy of excitement and triumph.

The battle in which these events occurred was one of the greatest and most important which Cyrus fought. He gained the victory. His enemies were every where routed and driven from the field. When the contest was at length decided, the army desisted from the slaughter and encamped for the night. On the following day, the generals assembled at the tent of Cyrus to discuss the arrangements which were to be made in respect to the disposition of the captives and of the spoil, and to the future movements of the army. Abradates was not there. For a time, Cyrus, in the excitement and confusion of the scene did not observe his absence. At length he inquired for him. A soldier present told him that he had been killed from his chariot in the midst of the Egyptians, and that his wife was at that mo- [250] ment attending to the interment of the body, on the banks of a river which flowed near the field of battle. Cyrus, on hearing this, uttered a loud exclamation of astonishment and sorrow. He dropped the business in which he had been engaged with his council, mounted his horse, commanded attendants to follow him with every thing that could be necessary on such an occasion, and then, asking those who knew to lead the way, he drove off to find Panthea.

When he arrived at the spot, the dead body of Abradates was lying upon the ground, while Panthea sat by its side, holding the head in her lap, overwhelmed herself with unutterable sorrow. Cyrus leaped from his horse, knelt down by the side of the corpse, saying, at the same time, “Alas! thou brave and faithful soul, and art thou gone?”

At the same time, he took hold of the hand of Abradates; but, as he attempted to raise it, the arm came away from the body. It had been out off by an Egyptian sword. Cyrus was himself shocked at the spectacle, and Panthea’s grief broke forth anew. She cried out with bitter anguish, replaced the arm in the position in which she had arranged it before, and told Cyrus that the rest of the body was in the [251] same condition. Whenever she attempted to speak, her sobs and tears almost prevented her utterance. She bitterly reproached herself for having been, perhaps, the cause of her husband’s death, by urging him, as she had done, to fidelity and courage when he went into battle. “And now,” she said, “he is dead, while I, who urged him forward into the danger, am still alive.”

Cyrus said what he could to console Panthea’s grief; but he found it utterly inconsolable. He gave directions for furnishing her with every thing which she could need, and promised her that he would make ample arrangements for providing for her in future. “You shall be treated,” he said, “while you remain with me, in the most honorable manner; or, if you have any friends whom you wish to join, you shall be sent to them safely whenever you please.”

Panthea thanked him for his kindness. She had a friend, she said, whom she wished to join, and she would let him know in due time who it was. In the mean time, she wished that Cyrus would leave her alone, for a while, with her servants, and her waiting-maid, and the dead body of her husband. Cyrus accordingly withdrew. As soon as he had gone, Panthea [252] sent away the servants also, retaining the waiting-maid alone. The waiting-maid began to be anxious and concerned at witnessing these mysterious arrangements, as if they portended some new calamity. She wondered what her mistress was going to do. Her doubts were dispelled by seeing Panthea produce a sword, which she had kept concealed hitherto beneath her robe. Her maid begged her, with much earnestness and many tears, not to destroy herself; but Panthea was immovable. She said she could not live any longer. She directed the maid to envelop her body, as soon as she was dead, in the same mantle with her husband, and to have them both deposited together in the same grave; and before her stupefied attendant could do any thing to save her, she sat down by the side of her husband’s body, laid her head upon his breast, and in that position gave herself the fatal wound. In a few minutes she ceased to breathe.

Cyrus expressed his respect for the memory of Abradates and Panthea by erecting a lofty monument over their common grave.


Taken from:

Judith of Bethulia and Joan of Arc

Published August 7, 2013 by amaic



Damien F. Mackey

Introductory: Joan ‘The Maid’: Like An Old Testament Woman


This article will be presented along the lines of Plutarch’s parallel lives. The ancient historian Plutarch had taken certain famous characters of antiquity, Greek and Roman, and had paired them, pointing out what he considered to be their common moral virtues or failings.


There is no doubt that the Jewish heroine, Judith of Bethulia (c. 700 BC), and St. Joan of Arc (c. 1400 AD) make a special pair; Joan of Arc actually being referred to as a “second Judith”.


In some ways, the story of Joan of Arc reads like an ironical, even satirical, version of the Book of Judith.

Here we are interested in the lives of our paired heroines largely from their beginning to their great military victory, comparing and contrasting them.


Donald Spoto in Joan. The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint (Harper, 2007) has a chapter five on Joan of Arc that he entitles “The New Deborah”. And Joan has also been described as a “second Judith”. Both Deborah and Judith were celebrated Old Testament women who had provided military assistance to Israel. Let us read of what Spoto has to say on the subject, starting with comparisons with some ancient pagan women (pp. 73-74):


Joan was not the only woman in history to inspire and to give direction to soldiers. The Greek poet Telesilla was famous for saving the city of Argos from attack by Spartan troops in the fifth century B.C. In first-century Britain, Queen Boudicca [Boadicea] led an uprising against the occupying Roman forces. In the third century Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra (latter-day Syria), declared her independence of the Roman Empire and seized Egypt and much of Asia Minor. Africa had its rebel queen Gwedit, or Yodit, in the tenth century. In the seventh appeared Sikelgaita, a Lombard princess who frequently accompanied her husband, Robert, on his Byzantine military campaigns, in which she fought in full armor, rallying Robert’s troops when they were initially repulsed by the Byzantine army. In the twelfth century Eleanor of Aquitaine took part in the Second Crusade, and in the fourteenth century Joanna, Countess of Montfort, took up arms after her husband died in order to protect the rights of her son, the Duke of Brittany. She organized resistance and dressed in full armor, led a raid of knights that successfully destroyed one of the enemy’s rear camps.

Joan [of Arc] was not a queen, a princess, a noblewoman or a respected poet with public support. She went to her task at enormous physical risk of both her virginity and her life, and at considerable risk of a loss of both reputation and influence. The English, for example, constantly referred to her as the prostitute: to them, she must have been; otherwise, why would she travel with an army of men?

Yet Joan was undeterred by peril or slander, precisely because of her confidence that God was their captain and leader. She often said that if she had been unsure of that, she would not have risked such obvious danger but would have kept to her simple, rural life in Domrémy.

[End of quote]


Some of these above-mentioned heroines, or amazons, can probably actually be identified with the famous Judith herself – she gradually being transformed from an heroic Old Testament woman into an armour-bearing warrior on horseback, sometimes even suffering capture, torture and death – whose celebrated beauty and/or siege victory I have argued on many occasions was picked up in non-Hebrew ‘history’, or mythologies: e.g. the legendary Helen of Troy is probably based on Judith, at least in relation to her beauty and a famous siege, rather than to any military noüs on Helen’s part.

And, in the Lindian Chronicle of the Greco-Persian wars, in a siege of the island of Hellas by admiral Darius, also involving a crucial five-day period, as in the Book of Judith, the goddess Athene takes the place of Judith in the rôle of the heroine, to oversee a successful lifting of the siege.

In the name Iodit (Gwedit) above, the name Judith can, I think, be clearly recognised.

And, re the possibility of Judith’s having been represented by the Greeks as a “poet” (with reference to the city-saving “Greek poet Telesilla” above), I have wondered whether the mystical and musical Judith was even the model for the famous ‘Greek’ poet Sappho.

And I have even proposed that the wisdom-filled Judith might even have been the model, too, for the interesting and highly intelligent and philosophically-minded Hypatia of Alexandria. Now I find in the Wikipedia article, “Catherine of Alexandria”, that


  • the latter is also likened to Hypatia, and that


  • Hypatia is said to have lived 105 years (Judith’s very age: see Book of Judith 16:23) before Hypatia’s death:


Historians such as Harold Thayler Davis believe that Catherine (‘the pure one’) may not have existed and that she was more an ideal exemplary figure than a historical one. She did certainly form an exemplary counterpart to the pagan philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria in the medieval mindset; and it has been suggested that she was invented specifically for that purpose. Like Hypatia, she is said to have been highly learned (in philosophy and theology), very beautiful, sexually pure, and to have been brutally murdered for publicly stating her beliefs. Catherine is placed 105 years before Hypatia’s death, although the first records mentioning her are much later.

Because of the fabulous character of the account of her martyrdom and the lack of reliable documentation, the Catholic Church in 1969 removed her feast day from the General Roman Calendar. But she continued to be commemorated in the Roman Martyrology on November 25. In 2002, her feast was restored to the General Roman Calendar as an optional memorial.

Finally, as according to tradition, she not only remained a virgin by governing her passions and conquered her executioners by wearying their patience, but triumphed in science by closing the mouths of sophists, her intercession was implored by theologians, apologists, pulpit orators, and philosophers. Before studying, writing, or preaching, they besought her to illumine their minds, guide their pens, and impart eloquence to their words. This devotion to St. Catherine which assumed such vast proportions in Europe after the Crusades, received additional éclat in France in the beginning of the fifteenth century, when it was rumored that she had spoken to Joan of Arc and, together with St. Margaret, had been divinely appointed Joan’s adviser.


[End of quote]


Now, continuing on with Spoto (op. cit., p. 82):


It was not [Joan of Arc’s] military expertise that won her the enduring loyalty of her people; it was rather Joan’s utter and complete fidelity toward God that evoked reverence. Thus little time passed before poets and chroniclers compared her to Deborah, Esther and Judith, formidable women in the Hebrew Scriptures who heeded messages from God and brought relief to their people at critical times. Deborah victoriously led a coalition of tribal militias against a Canaanite army. Another threat to the Hebrew people was put down through the intervention of Esther, and Judith was a faithful widow who captivated and then decapitated the Assyrian general Holofernes.

Joan did not share the bloodlust of these ancient heroines, but she was regarded as in their tradition, equally patriotic and just as effective on behalf of her nation. As early as the summer [of 1429], the Hebrew heroines appear in a famous poem about the Maid by Christine de Pisan, written and circulated in July 1429.


[End of quote]


Joan of Arc: Like An Ironical Version of the Book of Judith


Some aspects of the story of Joan of Arc read a bit like an ironical, even caricature, version of the book of Judith. Joan the Maid shows the utmost deference and respect towards the Dauphin, Charles VII, both representing the French. The Dauphin himself, though, seems to be a character most undeserving of any such respect. He is weak, vacillating, vain and treacherous. A similar opinion of the Dauphin Charles can be gauged from the New Advent site ( (quoting H. Thurston (1910). St. Joan of Arc. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company):




No words can adequately describe the disgraceful ingratitude and apathy of Charles and his advisers in leaving the Maid to her fate. If military force had not availed, they had prisoners like the Earl of Suffolk in their hands, for whom she could have been exchanged. Joan was sold by John of Luxembourg to the English for a sum which would amount to several hundred thousand dollars in modern money. There can be no doubt that the English, partly because they feared their prisoner with a superstitious terror, partly because they were ashamed of the dread which she inspired, were determined at all costs to take her life. They could not put her to death for having beaten them, but they could get her sentenced as a witch and a heretic.

Moreover, they had a tool ready to their hand in Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, an unscrupulous and ambitious man who was the creature of the Burgundian party. ….


[End of quote]


But Joan was driven by her Divinely-inspired task, according to which the Dauphin was marked out as being the favoured one. The Dauphin, though, is not fully on Joan’s side. He, characteristically, treats her with a mixture of curiosity, interest, contempt and betrayal.


Now, in the Book of Judith, all the deference and respect shown by the heroine towards a royal person is entirely faked, part of Judith’s ruse, because it is directed towards the enemy leader, Holofernes. He, somewhat like the Dauphin, was second to the Great King (of Assyria), hence not crowned. Judith in fact has nothing but contempt for Holofernes and the Assyrians (somewhat like Joan’s attitude towards the English). But she will tell Holofernes, very much in Joan of Arc fashion – but with complete irony in Judith’s case – that, after his victory (Judith 11:19): ‘… I will lead you through Judea, until you come to Jerusalem; there I will set your throne. You will drive them like sheep that have no shepherd, and no dog will so much as growl at you’.

Judith claimed before Holofernes to be a messenger from God who was now supposedly favouring the Assyrians (v. 19): ‘For this was told me to give me foreknowledge; it was announced to me and I was sent to tell you’.

In Joan’s case, the ruse was on the part of the Dauphin, not her. “To test her, the king had disguised himself, but she at once saluted him without hesitation amidst a group of attendants” (New Advent). Her opening words to him were direct and to the point just like Judith’s had been to Holofernes (Spoto, p. 48): ‘My most eminent lord Dauphin, I have come, sent by God, to bring help to you and to the kingdom’.

Spoto adds: “It was as direct and unadorned a summary as the Dauphin – and anyone else before or since – could ask. Help for him and for France: that was her message and her vocation”. But her reverence for the Dauphin was completely honest.


Judith, on the other hand, had nothing but contempt and irony in her heart when she had similarly, with all customary protocol, greeted Holofernes, who was – just like the Dauphin – assembled with his impressive entourage (Judith 10:23): “When Judith came into the presence of Holofernes and his servants, they all marvelled at the beauty of her face. She prostrated herself and did obeisance to him, but his slaves raised her up”.

The pressure upon the young girl at the time must have been enormous.


Spoto says of Joan that (ibid., p. 49): “Charles was fascinated by the seventeen-year old girl who stood calmly and confidently before him … after a brief but apparently intense private conversation, he seemed to one member of his court to be “radiant””.


Certainly ‘fascination’ is one word that could also be used to describe Holofernes’ impression of the young Judith, though the biblical text uses “passion”, as well as “greatly pleased with her”, and it has “[being] merry” rather than being “radiant (Judith 12:16-17, 20):


Holofernes’ heart was ravished with her and his passion was aroused, for he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her. So Holofernes said to her, ‘Have a drink and be merry with us!’

…. Holofernes was greatly pleased with her, and drank a great quantity of wine, much more than he had ever drunk in one day since he was born.


Joan [Jehanne], as we read, was regarded by the enemy, the English, as a “prostitute”.

And Holofernes likewise presumed Judith [Jehudith], in a camp full of men, to be fair game, saying to his chief eunuch, Bagoas (Judith 12:12): “ … it would be a disgrace if we let such a woman go without having intercourse with her. If we do not seduce her, she will laugh at us’. This Bagoas had summoned Judith to the tent of his master, Holofernes, with the words (12:13): ‘Let this pretty girl not hesitate to come to my lord to be honoured in his presence …’ .

Similarly had Jean de Metz first addressed Joan (Spoto, p. 37), “M’amie [“Sweetheart” or “Honey”] …”.


Whilst Joan will eventually attend the coronation of Charles (New Advent): “…on Sunday, 17 July, 1429, Charles VII was solemnly crowned, the Maid standing by with her standard, for — as she explained — “as it had shared in the toil, it was just that it should share in the victory”,” Judith will not have to suffer the humiliating indignity of attending a victorious Holofernes’ being crowned in Jerusalem.


Her Reputation


Though the English, who did not know her, regarded Joan as a “prostitute”, a “witch”, and a “heretic”, those who had known her from her early days considered her always to have been a most exemplary girl (New Advent):


Her Childhood


All the witnesses in the process of rehabilitation spoke of her as a singularly pious child, grave beyond her years, who often knelt in the church absorbed in prayer, and loved the poor tenderly.

Great attempts were made at Joan’s trial to connect her with some superstitious practices supposed to have been performed round a certain tree, popularly known as the “Fairy Tree” (l’Arbre des Dames), but the sincerity of her answers baffled her judges. She had sung and danced there with the other children, and had woven wreaths for Our Lady’s statue, but since she was twelve years old she had held aloof from such diversions.

[End of quote]


Rousing praise of Judith even from her childhood is likewise expressed by Uzziah, the chief magistrate of Bethulia – whom I have identified with Isaiah himself in:


The Book of Judith Expands the Prophet Isaiah


Thus (Judith 8:28-29): “Then Uzziah sad to her, ‘All that you have said was spoken out of a true heart, and there is no one who can deny your words. Today is not the first time your wisdom has been shown, but from the beginning of your life all people have recognized your understanding, for your heart’s disposition is right’.”

Judith, too, had danced and sung and had led the women of Israel in a dance, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and being crowned with olive wreaths (15:12-14:16:1-17), though this was not during Judith’s childhood, but after the victory over the Assyrians. It was Judith, a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was thus crowned.


Her ‘Voices’


We read of this fascinating attribution to Joan of Arc in the New Advent article:


Her Mysticism: the “Voices”


It was at the age of thirteen and a half, in the summer of 1425, that Joan first became conscious of that manifestation, whose supernatural character it would now be rash to question, which she afterwards came to call her “voices” or her “counsel.” It was at first simply a voice, as if someone had spoken quite close to her, but it seems also clear that a blaze of light accompanied it, and that later on she clearly discerned in some way the appearance of those who spoke to her, recognizing them individually as St. Michael (who was accompanied by other angels), St. Margaret, St. Catherine, and others. Joan was always reluctant to speak of her voices. She said nothing about them to her confessor, and constantly refused, at her trial, to be inveigled into descriptions of the appearance of the saints and to explain how she recognized them. None the less, she told her judges: “I saw them with these very eyes, as well as I see you.”

Great efforts have been made by rationalistic historians, such as M. Anatole France, to explain these voices as the result of a condition of religious and hysterical exaltation which had been fostered in Joan by priestly influence, combined with certain prophecies current in the countryside of a maiden from the bois chesnu (oak wood), near which the Fairy Tree was situated, who was to save France by a miracle. ….


[End of quote]


Re Judith’s undoubted mysticism, I wrote this in my university thesis (A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah and its Background, Vol. 2, ch. 3, p. 68):


  1. Craven (Artistry and Faith in the Book of Judith, Society of Biblical Literature, Dissertation Series No. 70, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1983), following Dancy’s view that the theology presented in Judith’s words to the town officials rivals the theology of the Book of Job … will go on to make this comment: …“Judith plays out her whole story with the kind of faith described in the Prologue of Job (esp. 1:21 and 2:9). Her faith is like that of Job after his experience of God in the whirlwind (cf. 42:1-6), yet in the story she has no special theophanic experience. We can only imagine what happened on her housetop where she was habitually a woman of regular prayer”. ….

[End of quote]


Her Virginity


Judith, like Joanna, Countess of Montfort above, became military involved on behalf of her people only after her husband had died.

But she, a widow, may also have been a virgin.

In the shorter Hebrew version of the Book of Judith, the heroine Judith is called, not “the widow”, but “the virgin” [Interestingly, regarding one of Joan’s ‘voices’, the beautiful Catherine of Alexandria: “Both Christine de Pizan and Geoffrey de la Tour Landry point to Catherine as a paradigm for young women, emphasizing her model of virginity and “wifely chastity” …. “Catherine of Alexandria”, Wikipedia.]

. “… Joan began to identify herself as “la Pucelle” – the maid, the Virgin” (Spoto, p. 33). Spoto adds on p. 57: “To confirm that Joan was no liar when she called herself la Pucelle, “The Maid”, a group of women, under the supervision of the king’s mother-in-law, was asked to confirm that Joan was indeed a virgin. The examination was performed; she was a virgin”.

Joan’s armor was seen as a defence against any potential attempts on her chastity.

And certainly the guardianship of her chastity (virginity?) is also a strong theme in the Book of Judith. In fact Judith makes a point of telling her townspeople, upon producing the head of Holofernes from her food bag, that (Judith 13:16): ‘…I swear … that he committed no sin with me, to defile and shame me’. Judith, despite her long life, never married again (16:22): “Many desired to marry her, but she gave herself to no man all the days of her life after her husband Manasseh died and was gathered to his people”.

Joan, for her part, had actually been engaged to be married. Her decision on this was equally unusual for her time as was Judith’s, for hers. Spoto tells of it (p. 30):


Regarding her engagement, the little that survived on the record is so unusual as to be shocking for its time: she repudiated her parents’ wishes and declined the deal they had made with the boy and his family. Because the agreement to marry was a legal covenant, Joan was sued for breach of contract. Canon law, however, requires a free assent of the will in order to validate a marriage, and because that was lacking, the sacrament of matrimony could not be performed. The local bishop dismissed the case in Joan’s favor, and the rejected suitor receded into the mists of oblivion whence he had briefly emerged. This was, Joan later said, the only time she disobeyed her parents.

[End of quote]


Neither Judith nor Joan was in any way intimidated by men.

Spoto (ibid., p. 31): “[Joan] was, in other words, not intimidated by men, whether they were soldiers or bishops”. Cf. Judith 8:10-36; 10:9-10, 11; 10:11-13:11.


Her Garments and Her Mission


What the heroine wears is a major theme in both stories.

Judith, who customarily “put sackcloth round her waist and dressed in widow’s clothing” (Judith 8:5), undergoes a complete ‘makeover’ in order to captivate the Assyrians. The description of her elaborate washing and dressing with the aid of her maid can be read in Judith 10:2-8. Judith will use all her feminine beauty and appeal to carry through her Divinely-inspired mission. Her beautiful appearance was her passport into the camp of the Assyrians.

Joan, by contrast, will become almost man-like in order to fulfil her mission. Her much-discussed wearing of male attire (“the monstrous dress, difformitate habitus”), will, by contrast to Judith, in many ways complicate matters for her. Thus New Advent:


Finally [Joan] was suffered to seek the king at Chinon, and she made her way there with a slender escort of three men-at-arms, she being attired, at her own request, in male costume — undoubtedly as a protection to her modesty in the rough life of the camp. She always slept fully dressed, and all those who were intimate with her declared that there was something about her which repressed every unseemly thought in her regard. ….

[End of quote]


And again from the article, “Joan of Arc”:


Joan of Arc wore men’s clothing between her departure from Vaucouleurs and her abjuration at Rouen. …. This raised theological questions in her own era and raised other questions in the twentieth century. The technical reason for her execution was a biblical clothing law. …. The nullification trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that stricture.

Doctrinally speaking, she was safe to disguise herself as a page during a journey through enemy territory and she was safe to wear armor during battle. The Chronique de la Pucelle states that it deterred molestation while she was camped in the field. Clergy who testified at her rehabilitation trial affirmed that she continued to wear male clothing in prison to deter molestation and rape. …. Preservation of chastity was another justifiable reason for crossdressing: her apparel would have slowed an assailant, and men would be less likely to think of her as a sex object in any case…..

She referred the court to the Poitiers inquiry when questioned on the matter during her condemnation trial. The Poitiers record no longer survives but circumstances indicate the Poitiers clerics approved her practice. In other words, she had a mission to do a man’s work so it was fitting that she dress the part….. She also kept her hair cut short through her military campaigns and while in prison. Her supporters, such as the theologian Jean Gerson, defended her hairstyle, as did Inquisitor Brehal during the Rehabilitation trial. ….

[End of quote]


There is a constant tension in the tale of St. Joan about her wearing male attire or reverting back to women’s clothing.

Moreover, as one of the points upon which she had been condemned was the wearing of male apparel, a resumption of that attire would alone constitute a relapse into heresy, and this within a few days happened, owing, it was afterwards alleged, to a trap deliberately laid by her jailers with the connivance of Cauchon. Joan, either to defend her modesty from outrage, or because her women’s garments were taken from her, or, perhaps, simply because she was weary of the struggle and was convinced that her enemies were determined to have her blood upon some pretext, once more put on the man’s dress which had been purposely left in her way.

Neither Judith nor her ever faithful maid carried any sort of weapon into the Assyrian camp. But Judith does in the end, like Joan, get to wield a sword. It is the sword of Holofernes by which Judith will decapitate the Assyrian commander-in-chief (Judith 13:6-8); just as David had used the sword of Goliath to kill the giant.

The sword of Joan of Arc had mystical value (New Advent):


Returning to Chinon, Joan made her preparations for the campaign. Instead of the sword the king offered her, she begged that search might be made for an ancient sword buried, as she averred, behind the altar in the chapel of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois. It was found in the very spot her voices indicated. There was made for her at the same time a standard bearing the words Jesus, Maria, with a picture of God the Father, and kneeling angels presenting a fleur-de-lis.

[End of quote]


Both Joan and Judith sharply divide opinion as to their character and personality. In the case of Joan, for instance, we read (“Joan of Arc”):


Documents from her own era and historians prior to the twentieth century generally assume that she was both healthy and sane. A number of more recent scholars attempted to explain her visions in psychiatric or neurological terms. Potential diagnoses have included epilepsy, migraine, tuberculosis, and schizophrenia. …. None of the putative diagnoses have gained consensus support because, although hallucination and religious enthusiasm can be symptomatic of various syndromes, other characteristic symptoms conflict with other known facts of Joan’s life. Two experts who analyze a temporal lobe tuberculoma hypothesis in the medical journal Neuropsychobiology express their misgivings this way:


“It is difficult to draw final conclusions, but it would seem unlikely that widespread tuberculosis, a serious disease, was present in this ‘patient’ whose life-style and activities would surely have been impossible had such a serious disease been present.” ….


In response to another such theory alleging that she suffered from bovine tuberculosis as a result of drinking unpasteurized milk, historian Régine Pernoud wrote that if drinking unpasteurized milk could produce such potential benefits for the nation, then the French government should stop mandating the pasteurization of milk. …. Ralph Hoffman, professor of psychology at Yale University, points out that visionary and creative states including “hearing voices” are not necessarily signs of mental illness and names her religious inspiration as a possible exception although he offers no speculation as to alternative causes.

Among the specific challenges that potential diagnoses such as schizophrenia face is the slim likelihood that any person with such a disorder could gain favor in the court of King Charles VII. His own father, Charles VI, was popularly known as “Charles the Mad,” and much of the political and military decline that France had suffered during his reign could be attributed to the power vacuum that his episodes of insanity had produced. The previous king had believed he was made of glass, a delusion no courtier had mistaken for a religious awakening. Fears that King Charles VII would manifest the same insanity may have factored into the attempt to disinherit him at Troyes. This stigma was so persistent that contemporaries of the next generation would attribute to inherited madness the breakdown that England’s King Henry VI was to suffer in 1453: Henry VI was nephew to Charles VII and grandson to Charles VI. Upon her arrival at Chinon the royal counselor Jacques Gélu cautioned, “One should not lightly alter any policy because of conversation with a girl, a peasant… so susceptible to illusions; one should not make oneself ridiculous in the sight of foreign nations…. ”

Contrary to modern stereotypes about the Middle Ages, the court of Charles VII was shrewd and skeptical on the subject of mental health. ….

Besides the physical rigor of her military career, which would seem to exclude many medical hypotheses, Joan of Arc displayed none of the cognitive impairment that can accompany some major mental illnesses when symptoms are present. She remained astute to the end of her life and rehabilitation trial testimony frequently marvels at her astuteness:


“Often they [the judges] turned from one question to another, changing about, but, notwithstanding this, she answered prudently, and evinced a wonderful memory. …”.


Her subtle replies under interrogation even forced the court to stop holding public sessions. …. If her visions had some medical or psychiatric origin then she would have been an exceptional case.

[End of quote]


In the case of Judith, M. Stocker (Judith Sexual Warrior. Women and Power in Western Culture, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998), for instance, who in her comprehensive treatment of the Judith character and her actions, will compare the heroine to, amongst others, the Old Testament’s Jael – a common comparison given that the woman, Jael, had driven a tent peg through the temple of Sisera, an enemy of Israel (Judges 4:17-22) – Joan of Arc, and Charlotte Corday, who had, during the French Revolution, slain the likewise unsuspecting Marat, will allow for this quite grim picture of Judith (pp. 13-15): “If viewed negatively – from an irreligious perspective, for instance, Judith’s isolation, chastity, widowhood, childlessness, and murderousness would epitomize all that is morbid, nihilistic and abortive”.

This, though, is not how her fellow Bethulians, and fellow Israelites, were to consider Judith, as we learn from their rapturous praise of her and her lasting fame (Judith 15:8-10 and 16).

Craven (op. cit., p. 95), with reference to Ruskin, writes: “Judith, the slayer of Holofernes; Jael, the slayer of Sisera; and Tomyris, the slayer of Cyrus are counted in art as the female “types” who prefigure the Virgin Mary’s triumph over Satan”.


Judith will not take with her any weapon, but will end up killing her enemy with his sword; Joan will take up and wield the sword, but will not kill anyone.


The Siege and the Heroine’s Leadership


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


The historian Kelly DeVries describes the period preceding her appearance with, “If anything could have discouraged her, the state of France in 1429 should have.” The Hundred Years’ War had begun in 1337 as a succession dispute to the French throne with intermittent periods of relative peace. Nearly all the fighting had taken place in France, and the English use of chevauchée (similar to scorched earth) tactics had devastated the economy.


Historian Stephen W. Richey explains her attraction as the only source of hope for a regime that was near collapse (ibid.):


“After years of one humiliating defeat after another, both the military and civil leadership of France were demoralized and discredited. When the Dauphin Charles granted Joan’s urgent request to be equipped for war and placed at the head of his army, his decision must have been based in large part on the knowledge that every orthodox, every rational, option had been tried and had failed. Only a regime in the final straits of desperation would pay any heed to an illiterate farm girl who claimed that the voice of God was instructing her to take charge of her country’s army and lead it to victory…. ”.

[End of quote]


Similarly Israel, by the time of Judith’s intervention, has suffered from decades of successive invasions and defeats by the Assyrians.


Both Orleans (France) and Bethulia (Israel) were strategically placed in the north, so that their fall would mean the eventual loss of the capital city. Thus the strategic importance that New Advent claims for the fort of Orleans:


The English had laid siege to Orléans, which was the only remaining loyal French city north of the Loire. Its strategic location along the river made it the last obstacle to an assault on the remainder of the French heartland. In the words of one modern historian, “On the fate of Orléans hung that of the entire kingdom.” …. No one was optimistic that the city could long withstand the siege. …,


is just like that which Judith will claim to her fellow citizens for Bethulia (8:24): ‘Therefore my brothers, let us set an example for our kindred, for their lives depend upon us, and the sanctuary – both the Temple and the altar – rests upon us’.

“Note the importance of Bethulia”, wrote R. Charles. “It was the key of the whole situation”. (The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English: with Introductions and Critical and Explanatory Notes to the Several Books, vol. 1, “Apocrypha”, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1913, p. 254, n 4).

Both Judith and Joan are represented as having completely taken over from a failed male leadership up to that point, and being stunningly successful due to their total dependence on the power of God. Judith bursts on to the scene with: ‘Listen to me, rulers of Bethulia. What you have said to the people today is not right …’ (Judith 8:11). She will now advise them where they have gone wrong, and she will plan a new strategy, and then carry it right the way through, in the end giving the Israelite militia orders as to how they are to proceed tactically. This is all exactly in harmony with Joan (“Joan of Arc”):


She defied the cautious strategy that had characterized French leadership. During the five months of siege before her arrival, the defenders of Orléans had attempted only one aggressive move and that had ended in disaster. On 4 May the French attacked and captured the outlying fortress of Saint Loup, which she followed on 5 May with a march to a second fortress called Saint Jean le Blanc. Finding it deserted, this became a bloodless victory. The next day she opposed Jean d’Orleans at a war council where she demanded another assault on the enemy. D’Orleans ordered the city gates locked to prevent another battle, but she summoned the townsmen and common soldiers and forced the mayor to unlock a gate. With the aid of only one captain she rode out and captured the fortress of Saint Augustins. That evening she learned she had been excluded from a war council where the leaders had decided to wait for reinforcements before acting again. Disregarding this decision, she insisted on assaulting the main English stronghold called “les Tourelles” on 7 May. …. Contemporaries acknowledged her as the heroine of the engagement after she sustained an arrow wound to her neck but returned wounded to lead the final charge. ….


“…the Maiden lets you know that here, in eight days, she has chased the English out of all the places they held on the river Loire by attack or other means: they are dead or prisoners or discouraged in battle. Believe what you have heard about the earl of Suffolk, the lord la Pole and his brother, the lord Talbot, the lord Scales, and Sir Fastolf; many more knights and captains than these are defeated.”


Her Letter to the citizens of Tournai, 25 June 1429; Quicherat V, pp. 125–126, trans. Wikipedia.


Even the opening of the city’s gates by the town magistrates is what Judith also had ordered, so that she and her maid could descend into the valley and on into the camp of the Assyrians. The chief magistrate, Uzziah, and, in the case of Joan, Jean D’Orleans, now, for a time, become secondary figures in the drama, full of admiration for Judith, or for Joan.

The force is irresistible.

“The people who came after [Joan] in the five centuries since her death tried to make everything of her: demonic fanatic, spiritual mystic, naive and tragically ill-used tool of the powerful, creator and icon of modern popular nationalism, adored heroine, saint. She insisted, even when threatened with torture and faced with death by fire, that she was guided by voices from God. Voices or no voices, her achievements leave anyone who knows her story shaking his head in amazed wonder.” ….


Similarly I wrote of Judith in my thesis (ibid., p 53):




Judith’s heroic act on behalf of her people, for which she received the greatest praise and adulation from the high priest and other officials – and from the people of Israel in general – is virtually unprecedented as a single act of patriotism and enormous courage. And this by one whom the [Book of Judith] text calls a “young girl”! It can take its place It can take its place amongst the most heroic moments throughout the entire history of the human race.


Not to us, but to God give the Glory


From beginning to end, Judith recognises herself as a creature and an instrument of an almighty and utterly powerful God. There is never any hesitation or vacillation on her part. In other versions of the Israelite triumph over Assyria (e.g. 2 Kings 19:35), the victory is attributed to an angel of God, which does not contradict the Book of Judith. Indeed, according to the Douay version of Judith, she will say (13:20): ‘But as the same Lord liveth his angel hath been my keeper both going hence [into the camp of the Assyrians], and abiding there, and returning from thence hither’.

That angel may have been Michael the Archangel himself, one of Joan’s apparent ‘voices’, thought to be the protector of the Jewish people (Daniel 10:21).

Joan, too, puts all her trust in God and the same St. Michael. Though she, unlike Judith, sometimes lapses into phases of seeming uncertainty and confusion, often under extreme duress of course; an aspect of Joan of Arc that is exploited in modern film versions of her life. New Advent speaks of both the angel and the sometime confusion of the heroine:


Joan, pressed about the secret sign given to the king, declared that an angel brought him a golden crown, but on further questioning she seems to have grown confused and to have contradicted herself. Most authorities (like, e.g., M. Petit de Julleville and Mr. Andrew Lang) are agreed that she was trying to guard the king’s secret behind an allegory, she herself being the angel; but others — for instance P. Ayroles and Canon Dunand — insinuate that the accuracy of the procès-verbal cannot be trusted. On another point she was prejudiced by her lack of education. The judges asked her to submit herself to “the Church Militant.” Joan clearly did not understand the phrase and, though willing and anxious to appeal to the pope, grew puzzled and confused. It was asserted later that Joan’s reluctance to pledge herself to a simple acceptance of the Church’s decisions was due to some insidious advice treacherously imparted to her to work her ruin. But the accounts of this alleged perfidy are contradictory and improbable.


Her courage for once failed her. She consented to sign some sort of retraction, but what the precise terms of that retraction were will never be known. In the official record of the process a form of retraction is in inserted which is most humiliating in every particular. It is a long document which would have taken half an hour to read. What was read aloud to Joan and was signed by her must have been something quite different, for five witnesses at the rehabilitation trial, including Jean Massieu, the official who had himself read it aloud, declared that it was only a matter of a few lines. Even so, the poor victim did not sign unconditionally, but plainly declared that she only retracted in so far as it was God’s will. However, in virtue of this concession, Joan was not then burned, but conducted back to prison.

[End of quote]


(“Joan of Arc” article):


Joan of Arc became a semi-legendary figure for the next four centuries. The main sources of information about her were chronicles. Five original manuscripts of her condemnation trial surfaced in old archives during the 19th century. Soon historians also located the complete records of her rehabilitation trial, which contained sworn testimony from 115 witnesses, and the original French notes for the Latin condemnation trial transcript. Various contemporary letters also emerged, three of which carry the signature “Jehanne” in the unsteady hand of a person learning to write. …. This unusual wealth of primary source material is one reason DeVries declares, “No person of the Middle Ages, male or female, has been the subject of more study”.



And I have shown now in many articles how the triumphant victory of Judith has dominated both BC and AD literature.

I repeat Judith’s victory over Holofernes and the Assyrians “can take its place amongst the most heroic moments throughout the entire history of the human race”.

Parallels John Fisher and John the Baptist

Published August 3, 2013 by amaic


Taken from:


St John Fisher was executed on 22 June 1535, and Thomas More on 6 July.

Wikipedia has an interesting paragraph on the significance of the date of Fisher’s execution…

However, a public outcry was brewing among the London populace who saw a sinister irony in the parallels between the conviction of Fisher and that of his patronal namesake, Saint John the Baptist, who was executed by King Herod Antipas for challenging the validity of Herod’s marriage to his brother’s divorcée Herodias. For fear of John Fisher’s living through his patronal feast day, that of the Nativity of St John the Baptist on 24 June, and of attracting too much public sympathy, King Henry commuted the sentence to that of beheading, to be accomplished before 23 June, the Vigil of the feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist. His execution on Tower Hill on 22 June 1535, had the opposite effect from that which King Henry VIII intended as it created yet another parallel with that of the martyrdom of St John the Baptist who was also beheaded; his death also happened on the feast day of Saint Alban, the first martyr of Britain.

St John Fisher[Wikipedia]