The Queen of Heaven Revisited

It has been over a year since I had an epiphany that convinced me that early Christianity was a reworking of an ancient Queen of Heaven cult.  There were a variety of clues that led me to this conclusion.

Queen of Heaven

The first indication of this is Mary, the Queen of the Universe and mother to Jesus.  Mary was analogous to the Gnostic Sophia in that Mariamne means rebel, and Sophia’s actions which gave rise to the universe were a form of rebellion.  With these figures, we have a mythological underpinning linked to the notion of the divine feminine, which is likewise pervasive across other myths.  Both Sophia and Mary managed to give birth without the expected male counterpart.

There is a curious phenomenon in early sects which I think builds a bridge to this notion of the divine feminine.  There were women in several heretical Christian sects who were very high ranking; according to early heresiologists, including Irenaeus and Hippolytus, these women were centerpieces in their respective cults.  When I first read about these high ranking women, I wondered if there was correlation between Mary’s archetype, in their respective Christian communities – the mother and bride, so to speak.  In his tome, Hippolytus has the Naassenes (arguably a corruption of the term Nasarenes) revering Mariamne, a disciple of James.  One tempting speculation is that those Naassenes saw James as Jesus Christ!  This presumption is compatible with the early adoptionistic notion that the Christ descends onto a man.  The name of the man would then be subject to change once he received the Spirit, as indicated in Acts of the Apostles, when Saul became Paul after receiving the Spirit.

The Paraclete

Early Christian leaders, such as Simon Magus, Apelles, Montanus, and others, saw themselves as the Paraclete – that is to say, they were the current owner of the Christ Spirit, which facilitated communication between the human host and heaven’s spokespeople.  The early sects had the male Paraclete and his bride – the high ranking woman, who heresiologists often purported shared her name with a Greek mythical character (Helen, Philumene, Charis); an implication is that early Christian communities had 2 Paracletes: one male and one female.  This notion is substantiated in descriptions of Elxai, who had one male and one female 96 mile tall spirit in the sky; this Elchesite framework is compatible with Irenaeus of Lyon’s description of the Ebionites (AH i.26.2), who believed the Christ Spirit descended onto Jesus in the form of a dove.  Epiphanius of Salamis wrote that Elxai had Ebionite and Nasarene followers, which hints at an equivalence:  the Ebionites were Nasarenes.  When we integrate the Naassene framework which had James and Mariamne occupying similar roles as other Paraclete pairs, coupled with a presumption that the Ebionites were early James followers, we seem to have a parallel framework between all these mentioned sects: Male and female leaders who represented material versions of the Holy Spirit, which later became known as the Paraclete.

Hebrew Roots

Both terms, Ebionite and Nasarene, are rooted in Hebrew.  Ebion means poor, which makes the Ebionites candidates for Paul’s poor, whom Paul begrudgingly promised to deliver cash in Galatians 2:10.  Irenaeus of Lyon wrote that the Ebionites hated Paul!  We might presume Paul’s own claim to the Paraclete undercut James’, which could have given rise to Ebionite resistance.

Nasar is Hebrew for to keep, guard, or preserve.  In Acts 24:5, Paul is accused of being the “ringleader of the Nazarenes”*.

*Note:  I believe this was an obfuscation, as the earliest Nazarenes probably resembled the Ebionites in their distaste for Paul.

Another implementation of this Hebrew word is Netzerite, which means branch (Isa 11:1, 60:21).

This word modulation is a critical element of the language, and provides much explanatory power in the inclination to link concepts together in the literature.  Branches are children of trees.

This relationship to the tree, in the context of the parent/child relationship, is relevant.  Ancient Hebrew did not have vowels, and therefore branch and keep were the same written wordנצר

The Johannine Texts

A reference the keepers is found in Revelation 12:17, which equated those keepers of the law with the children of the heavenly woman chased from heaven by dragon.  This is a clear reference to the Hebrew term Nasar.  Those children were likewise the siblings of the messiah – they are the brothers and sisters.  A parallel in another Johannine (John community) canonical text, the Gospel of John, was that the unnamed mother of Jesus gave authority to Jesus which catalyzed his magical powers in John 2:4-9.  At the end of the Gospel, Jesus’s mother received Jesus’s disciple as an adopted son before Jesus died on the cross (John 19:25-27).

My first assumption about the woman from Revelation 12 was that it was a reference to Sophia, the Gnostic Wisdom aeon who catalyzed the disconnect between the material realm and the highest heaven.  This assumption is corroborated by Irenaeus of Lyon, who claimed that the Valentinians (who had a robust creation story which included Sophia) were vociferous consumers of the Gospel of John (AH iii.11.7).  It is no stretch to presume that the Gospel of John and Revelation would have been used in conjunction during the 2nd century; in other words, the Valentinians probably consumed Revelation.  That Irenaeus also stated that the Valentinians believed Sophia gave birth to the Logos (AH i.11.1) amplified my presumption that the divine lady, who stood in the sun with her feet on the moon and stars in her hair, was a rethinking of Sophia.

Correlation

Despite the links between the lady from Revelation, who was chased to Earth (Rev 12:1), but eventually returns like a bride adorned for her bridegroom* (Rev 21:2), this story was also reminiscent of a Canaanite tradition, which had Asherah imprisoned by the sea God Yam.  In this story, Asherah’s son, Ba’al, battled a red 7-headed dragon in order to free his mother from imprisonment.  In the Valentinian story, Sophia was likewise imprisoned – trapped as a result of her creation, Yaldabaoth, awaiting the cross of the Logos to disarm the archons (Col 2:14-15).

*Note:  Rev 21:2 is in reference to the new holy city; however, other texts make a clear equation between the crowned lady and the restoration of the city – the two were synonymous (2 Esdras 9:38, 2 Esdras 10:27).

I started to wonder if all 3 of these traditions shared the same root.  This matter is likewise intriguing in that Judaism and the Canaanite religion shared similar history and genetics.

The Purge of Canaanite Elements

Most Jews and Christians today would be surprised to learn that Judaism prominently featured characters who were featured in the Canaanite religion.  1 Kings 15 describes King Asa, who purged Asherah from the temple.  His attempts were not permanently successful.  The term Asherah occurs many times across the Old Testament, but the impression we get is that there were cultists in the 1st temple era who blasphemed by worshiping Asherah, a feminine tree idol.  King Josiah burned the wooden pole which represented Asherah in 2 Kings 23:6.  The impression of Asherah in the Old Testament is that a frivolous cult insisted on worshiping her, despite her unholiness.  Passages that describe this time in Jewish reconstructed history make it clear that the Asherah idol was also referred to as the Queen of Heaven (Jer 44:18).

The Losing Side

Josiah’s purge of the Asherah pole and related artifacts was not without pushback.  Throughout Jeremiah, there were people who resisted Josiah’s new Orthodoxy.  Women in the Book of Jeremiah lament that their failure to burn incense, bake bread, and pour out wine for the Queen of Heaven brought on Jerusalem’s destruction and its people’s expulsion from their holy land.

There is also non-canonical literature which makes reference to Josiah’s purge.  1 Enoch describes the “Apocalypse of Weeks”, which gives chronological history as the writer saw it.  Here is 1 Enoch 93:7-8

And after that in the fifth week, at its close, The house of glory and dominion shall be built for ever.  And after that in the sixth week all who live in it shall be blinded, And the hearts of all of them shall godlessly forsake wisdom

In 1 Enoch, the 5th week had a house of glory built, but by the sixth week, the house’s inhabitants were blinded, and they abandoned Wisdom. The fifth week represented the construction of Solomon’s temple, and the sixth week was Josiah’s reform.

What precipitated this abandonment?  Recall it was Josiah’s so-called Deuteronomic reform which purged the Queen from the temple and Orthodoxy.  The Deuteronomic reform was so-named because the “long lost book of the law” which Hilkiah discovered during his renovation was actually major portions of Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy 4:6 represents such abandonment:

Keep therefore and do [the commandments]; for this is your wisdom and your understanding…

In other words, Moses was inserted into the Jewish Orthodoxy, and he (and his law) replaced an older theology which included worship of the Queen of Heaven.  Wisdom was formerly the Queen, but Moses replaced  it with his law.  Another obvious Moses insertion is Exodus 6:2-3

God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them.

The Tree

The idol that represented Asherah was the Asherah Pole, which was a large, carved tree.  In other words, the tree was a symbol of the lady.  The notion of a particular spirit living within a living thing, so often found in Christianity, is present in this Jewish tradition as well.

2 Chronicles 15:16 describes an event where King Asa, some 250 years before Josiah, cut down the tree his mother worshiped, and burned it.

There is a Gnostic text, On The Origins of the Earth, which has Sophia Zoe (Eve) breathing life into Adam and then going to live in a tree.

She put mist into [the archons’] eyes and secretly left her likeness with Adam. She entered the tree of knowledge and remained there

The Gnostic text refers to the lady entering the tree of knowledge (in Eden).  We get a competing assertion in Proverbs 3:

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding…She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed…By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place;

1 Enoch 26.1 remembers a cut tree as well:

And from there, I went to the middle of the earth, and saw a blessed,well watered place, which had branches which remained alive, and sprouted from a tree which had been cut down.

We have the notion of the lady entering the tree, with some disagreement about which tree it was, knowledge or life.  My assumption is that the lady was originally the tree of life, and the reference to knowledge was a later Gnostic inversion.

A Speculation about the Eden Story

An implication of the lady’s adherents equating her to the tree of life is striking, and fits within the context of the Deuteronomic reform, which injected Moses into the Orthodoxy, simultaneously removing the lady and her periphery:  The Eden story is a corruption of an earlier tradition.  

The lady was Wisdom, and this earthly wisdom was replaced by the law (Deut 4:6), which also became Wisdom.  That is why she became Sophia in the Gnostic traditions.  Sophia was Wisdom, who was a later iteration of the Queen of Heaven.  The most plausible explanation of these data,  at least in my mind,  was that the tree dichotomy in the Eden story replaced an earlier formulation.

It is not a surprise then that Epiphanius of Salamis describes the Nasaraenes as a Transjordan quasi Jewish group which practiced Jewish customs and celebrated the holidays,  but rejected the Deuteronomic canon and believed they had the “true” writings of Moses (Panarion 1.3.19.2: “But they hold that the scriptures of the Pentateuch are not Moses’ scriptures, and maintain that they have others besides these”).

Interestingly enough, Epiphanius relayed that the term Nasaraean means rebels, similar to the reference to Mariamne and Sophia!

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Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

17 thoughts on “The Queen of Heaven Revisited”

  1. “And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valor, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths. None remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land.” – 2 Kings 24:14

    My take is that the Ebionites are those that stayed behind when Judah was taken into captivity. These Ebionites would have worshipped Asherah and had their religion displaced when the captives returned and built what was essentially a Zoroastrianism religion in its stead.
    My feeling is however that the Ebionites are not the main root of Christianity, as the reverence for the Queen of Heaven is so inconsistent amongst the different groups. I am assuming that the Alexandrian Jews are forming an opposition to the current priesthood, and some are rediscovering the ‘native’ religion. The main drivers of this movement are educated and certainly not poor, they are able to create literature and philosophy, but it suits their agenda to define their religion as one that champions the displaced Ebionites – hence the Ebionite legend.
    I do not think we have any writings from anyone who claims to have been an Ebionite, but we do have a notion that they were orthodox in their Judaism and despised Paul’s teachings, but this is based on many assumptions that the Ebionites existed as a Jerusalem Church. If they were orthodox, then would they be aligned with the ‘idolatry’ of the Queen of Heaven cult? Paul’s alleged writings are more against orthodoxy and are accommodating of ‘idolatry’.
    The Ebionite legend is of ‘meekness’, ‘self-denial’, ‘communal living’ and ‘turning the other cheek’, but the enemies of Paul are described as violent and overtly proud. (Acts gives us both!)
    We have jumped to a conclusion that Ebionites are the Jerusalem Church described in Acts, and therefore are Judaic Christians at war with Paul. If we ignore the Book of Acts, would we still make this assumption?
    Paul’s alleged writings do tell us of a schism between Orthodox and Hellenistic Christianity, but I suspect this divide is occurring outside of Judea.

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    1. I don’t mean to overplay the notion that the Ebionites were in Jerusalem. On the contrary, groups that resemble them seem to be in Syria. I also don’t mean to dig heels into the notion that they were actually poor. Although we do get the impression that early Christians were spread across multiple socioeconomic rungs, clearly the writers of these texts were at least in the upper 20%, given that they knew how to read and write and seem (almost universally) familiar with Greek philosophy. The poor might refer to “poor in spirit”, which stands to reason, given Paul’s characterization of them.

      Frankly, it’s hard to find any Jerusalem roots in Christianity at all; rather, it seems to be that Christian writers had a serious reverence for Jerusalem, the way modern Muslims have for Mecca, or the way Catholics have for St Peter’s, going so far as to pray towards Jerusalem in some cases. But the goal across many of these sects was to erect a “New Jerusalem,” which is what Revelation is really all about, IMHO. For groups such as the Montanists, the New Jerusalem was in Phrygia.

      That being said, I think there were Hebrew speakers among the ranks (which would be expected even if none of them were from Jerusalem), which explains various familiarity with Hebrew terms, despite the Greek text.

      In my theory, part of the disconnect for early Christianity in terms of the heresy of the Queen of Heaven is explained by multiple tiers within the mystery. Perhaps it was the case that early initiates were not even aware of a reverence for the Queen of Heaven. It was only upon deeper initiation that the mystery underlying Revelation (and the Gospels) was revealed. We can refer to the Valentinians for these deeper layers of initiation hiding within the general population of Christians; there were very high ranking Valentinians who simultaneously towed the pre-Orthodox line in public while privately maintaining Gnostic creation stories and other Gnostic components. And of course, the Queen did manifest for the Valentinians in the form of Sophia…

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  2. Let me propose another thought.
    I think Mythicists have ignored an important clue staring them in the face.

    Isaiah 53 – “The Suffering Servant” looks very much like a mini-gospel, and not just a text that early Christians have managed to co-opt into their new theology.
    There might be many ways to interpret it, but most orthodox scholarship would suggest it was written to be prophetic and therefore was obscure to its contemporary audience. However, I think prophecy makes more sense if it is attributed to an ancient writer but can be understood by contemporary readers (ie the ye-olde coffee stained manuscript!). In which case, The “Suffering Servant” is an early Gospel, and an old one compared to all others we know.

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    1. That is reasonable. I honestly don’t spend a lot of time concerning myself with the “historical” Jesus or typical mythicist topics these days, as I find this conjecture about the “lost lady” much more interesting. Of course, the topics do overlap, and I’m probably more mythicist than historicist.

      But in terms of why the servant must suffer, that’s an intriguing question. Most conventional readers would presume it would be to redeem the sins of humanity…or at least to reformulate Judaism. My own sense is that that earthly suffering was allegory for more celestial events. I’ve made the claim that the purpose of Jesus dying was to tear the temple veil, and thus open up communication between Christians and heaven; in this line of thinking, this communication had been broken since the Aaronic priesthood had replaced the Melchizadek priests, which eventually gets us back to pre-Deuteronomic Judaism (and the Queen).

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      1. Having a look more closely, I see that the Suffering Servant is written in past tense. and has no relationship to content before and after it. (It actually starts at 52:13) Part of a collection of songs that somehow got accidentally added to Isaiah?
        I don’t think it lends much to a historical Christ, but points to some older traditions about the Christ Myth.

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      2. It’s difficult to say how early Christians saw it. There was a concerted effort to presume that the Christ had manifested on earth many times over history, so that Isaiah is in reference to the past might not have been a problem

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  3. Interesting. I was just re-reading “Did Moses Exist” and one of its contentions is that Exodus 15 is an embellishment of an old Canaanite tradition of the battle between Ba’al vs Yam where Moses represents Ba’al and the Pharaoh as Yam the Leviathan. I think that Judaism without Mosaic tradition survived until the common era and probably until the end of the second century and no wonder some Church fathers say that some maintained their faith with Moses absent. If there are Christian denominations who denounced the Deuterocanonicals, some Jews adhere only to the works of the prophets.

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    1. All these things seem to have become incredibly obfuscated, but I think it’s basically consensus that the Deuteronomic reform represented a merger and reformulation of separate pre orthodox traditions

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  4. Re: The Lost Lady

    Jeremiah 44:

    Interesting that the Queen of Heaven worship is being specifically associated with Jews living in Egypt.

    1 Kings 10:1 / 2 Chronicles 9:1 :

    Seems to be lots of legends about the Queen of Sheba that might be worth pursuing. I also note that Solomon is of course a great wise King in legend, but also associated with Idolatry and Asherah worship. It does seem there was absolutely no way they could rewrite Solomon as a ‘bad’ King, but they could not fail to acknowledge his links to Asherah worship. Solomon’s prestige takes a hit from the Deuteronomic reforms. Might be worth looking for gnostic writings about Solomon?

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      1. Solomon is not a hero for the gnostics! in fact he is the dragon from Revelations who tries to chase the woman and child. But Solomon is tricked and given a different virgin – yet she does bear a Christ Child. There are 13 Kingdoms with different stories of the same event – no doubt different spiritual realms where the same event is manifested in different ways.

        “Solomon sought her, he and Phersalo(?) and Sauel and his armies, which had been sent out. Solomon himself sent his army of demons to seek out the virgin. And they did not find the one whom they sought, but the virgin who was given to them. It was she whom they fetched. Solomon took her. The virgin became pregnant and gave birth to the child there.” – The Revelation (Apocalypse) of Adam.

        “The Testimony of Truth” is quite plain speaking for gnostic writing. It is a shame that we have lost the bit that starts going into the beliefs of the different gnostic sects!

        Plot thickens!

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      2. Sorry, but there is more!

        In “Testimony of truth”, Solomon imprisons the demons who helped him build the temple in seven water pots*.
        According to this account, the demons escape when the Romans conquer Jerusalem.

        So I think the Queen of Heaven was subjugated by Solomon who is the powerful ruling god, but she is released by the Christ with seven demons cast out of her. Mary Magdalene!

        * – Note: The Wedding at Cana had six stone water pots.

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      3. There is also a so-called Testament of Solomon, heavily Christianized and medieval; there, the Babylonions (instead of the Romans) destroy Solomon’s temple and release the demons. The Seal of Solomon derives from this story.

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