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.
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.
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.
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 word: נצר
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.
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 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 184.108.40.206: “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!