Regular readers know that I like myths and legends, and I’m interested in tracing their origins and connections across time and space. That’s one reason I was excited last night to discover as I was doing some more reading in the Akhbar al-zaman, an early medieval collection of legends about Egypt known to Arabic writers, that a section in Murtada ibn al-‘Afif’s Prodigies of Egypt describing the antediluvian construction of fortresses in Chaldea inscribed with scientific knowledge appears in that book as well, word for word. Murtada had attributed the legend—a close parallel to the myth of Surid and the pyramids—to an ancient, partially destroyed manuscript he had found. I was quite surprised to learn that the Akhbar was either this manuscript or shared a common source with it. Interestingly, since this material appears in the Akhbar in association with Christian chronographic material that appears to be a corrupt version of Anianus’ chronography, it suggests that the Surid pyramid story was modeled on this one.
That kind of question is interesting to me because it doesn’t require us to believe that the Great Flood ever happened, or that any of the myths of Noah, Surid, or the Chaldean king Darmashil had any basis in reality. On the other hand, the kind of question that is much less interesting can be found in a two-part article (here and here) running this week on Ancient Origins, from an author who is a part of an apparently very active subculture attempting to resurrect the nineteenth century Genesis-first philosophy whereby Greek mythology was merely a corruption of the Bible.
John R. Salverda, an apologist for British Israelism, a Tea Party Nation member, and a user of casually racist language about “the Blacks” and “the Negroes,” denies the well-known belief that Europe was named for the Greek myth of the Phoenician maiden Europa, the sister of Cadmus, whom Zeus carried away in the form of a bull. His reason for it is that he thinks that there was an actual historical event that led to the naming of Europe. (“Europe” only became the name of a continent in the Hellenistic period, gradually expanding from limited use for the lands below the Balkans.) Oh, and just for laughs, it turns out that Europe was named by some of the Lost Tribes of Israel so God is the best! Seriously: The author laments that the public knows pagan myths better than the Jewish myth of the Lost Tribes.
Salverda’s warrant for this is a rationalizing account of the Europa myth offered by Herodotus in Histories 1.2 whereby the Greek author reported his belief that the bull form of Zeus represented a raiding party of Cretans, who were long famous for their use of bulls in ritual. Salverda feels that he can rationalize the story in a different way, taking the maiden Europa to be allegorical. He claims that one particular Semitic people, the Jews, symbolized nations as virgins, giving the examples of the virgin daughter of Sidon for Phoenicia (Isaiah 23:12), the virgin daughter of Babylon for Chaldea (Isaiah 47:1), and the virgin daughter of Egypt (Jeremiah 46:11). He might also have mentioned the inverse of this, the whores that represent Israel and Judah in Ezekiel 23:4, clearly playing off of this trope.
From this, our author notes that the northernmost leader of the Jews was Jeroboam, and thus claims that the Greeks feminized and transliterated Jeroboam into Europa, and the golden calves he set up in Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12-26-30) into the taurine Zeus. This is problematic as an assertion since the Greek translators of the Septuagint transliterated it as Hieroboam, which is unlike Europa; I can find no plausible philological path from Jeroboam to Europa, even given the Greeks’ notoriously bad transliteration skills. Worse, Jeroboam reigned in the late tenth century BCE, more than three centuries after the fall of the Mycenaeans, who had had regular contact with the Levant. Europa is already firmly entrenched in Greek mythology by the time of Homer (Iliad 14.321) around 750 BCE, giving a scant 150 years for Jeroboam to be transformed into a Phoenician maiden. We can cut that time significantly if we accept that eight glass plaques depicting a woman riding a bull that were found in a beehive tomb at Midea and date to Mycenaean times were meant to represent Europa. If this is correct, as Martin Nilsson argued in Minoan-Mycenaean Religion, then the story of Europa predates that of Jeroboam. The identification of this and other Mycenaean depictions of women on bulls is not undisputed.
Salverda would like us to parallel Biblical accounts of the scattering of the Lost Tribes to Greek myths of various Mediterranean cultures tracing their lineage to the sons and brothers of Europa. “Considering the Scriptural narrative concerning the scattering of Israel’s Ten Tribes, the Greek myth of Europa and, the ensuing accounts, describing the western migrations by her Levantine kinsmen, display remarkable historic accuracy.” This need not be due to Biblical influence. The Greeks could see where the Phoenicians established colonies, and it takes no great imagination to attribute them to an ancient diaspora. The Greeks also attributed the Persians to Perseus and the Medians to Medea, so any such “connections” reflect more Greek socio-political considerations in the Classical and Hellenistic periods than they do Iron Age events. A key aspect of Greek historiography is that all people are connected through a few elite families that grew up after the Flood.
Salverda then identifies Jeroboam’s enemy Asa as the continent of Asia. This is prima facie false since the name Asia can be found on the Linear B tablets of Pylos as aswiai more than 300 years earlier. The Mycenaean digamma (w) drops out in later Greek, so aswiai > asiai > Ἀσία > Asia. He goes on to identify Minos as Manasseh, though recognizing that Manasseh reigned a bit late. He proposes a conflation, with the Greeks in error. Unfortunately, Minos is widely acknowledged to be a royal title of the Bronze Age kings of Crete, likely one of the few words deciphered in Linear A, and well established by the time of the Iliad (13.450), composed in all likelihood before Manasseh was even born around 709 BCE. Based on the false comparison, Salverda links the Minotaur (“bull of Minos”) to Moloch, the Phoenician god associated with child sacrifice, later identified with Kronos/Saturn. Salverda sees the infant sacrifice offered to Moloch as the same as the annual tribute of fourteen Athenian youths fed to the Minotaur. Cadmus, for Salverda, is David, though for no discernable reason other than an obscure mention in Isaiah 11:10-12 of assembling outcasts, likened here to Cadmus retrieving his sister.
Salverda concludes by saying that he won’t make the argument that Europeans are really the true Jews from the Lost Tribes, but, he says, there’s good reason to believe so. It’s British Israelism with a slightly more Continental flair, but no less circular an argument: Assume the Bible is true and that everything else is a corruption of it, and then conclude the same.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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