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The 'God with the Upraised-Arm' in Near Eastern Mythology: An Astronomical Archetype?
All of these characteristics are indicative of the constellation Orion (see Figure 14 which is an Islamic depiction of Orion, portrayed from outside the celestial globe, hence it is reversed), although it far from proves the case. Treating the Ugaritic god Baal as representative of this group of gods may prove illuminating however.
The myths concerning Baal have two major themes, which are very similar to the mythic themes surrounding Horus. The first is Baal's battle with Yamm, which personifies the battle of order against chaos. The other is Baal's death at the hand of Mot, and subsequent resurrection. This myth clearly suggests the yearly cycle, and also that Baal may well be a constellation. In a direct parallel to the Horus-Seth confrontation, Baal finds out that he is to be swallowed by Mot, the god of death and drought. His descent suggests that he is a sky-god: he is to be 'numbered with those who descend into the earth' and set his face 'to go to the mountains where [the sun sets]' (Colless 1994, pp. 166-167). Also, after his death Athtar (who is identified with Venus) tries to take Baal's throne, but he cannot reach it (Gray 1969, p. 75). In his absence 'Shapash (the Sun) the luminary of the gods glowed hot, the heavens languished under the hand of Mot (drought)...the days passed into months' (Colless 1994, p. 169), a clear indication of the heat of summer. Baal's return heralds the return of the rain, for he was believed to be manifest in the storms of late autumn and winter (Gray 1969, p. 81). While acknowledging that cultivation was of the utmost importance to these early civilisations, it is difficult to subscribe to the common opinion that this is a 'vegetation myth' (Ringren 1973, p. 134). Certainly this is part of it, but it encompasses more than this. For the result of the weather gods' disappearance is not restricted to the suffering of vegetation; every aspect of life is affected (Deighton 1982, p. 71). This indicates an allegory for seasonal change. And the seasonal marker par excellence of the Mediterranean was Orion. His heliacal rising indicated summer, and the time of threshing; his evening appearance the approach of winter and its attendant storms (Allen 1963, p.306). Even taking into account the precession of the equinoxes, this attribute of Orion would have been reasonably constant for the time period concerning ancient civilisation in the Near East.
The similarity in depictions of this god across the Near East argues for its importance. Deighton (1982, p. 29) mentions that 'certain types of scene are repeated time and time again...the wealth of meaning which must have lain behind the monuments...was so alive to those who produced them that they did not require any explanatory notes'. Also the common mythological motifs: Baal goes into the earth, the Hittite weather god is deemed to have withdrawn into a hole; Horus' victory marks the return of the cooling north wind, Marduk's vanquishing of Tiamat results in the 'bringing of rain and coolness' (Colless 1994, p. 102). The acceptance of this 'God with the Upraised Arm' as Orion, and as seasonal marker, fits the pictorial and textual evidence well. Needless to say, restricting any definition of these gods to one particular manifestation is unwise. The significance of the ancient gods was manifold to their respective cultures, the many aspects of Osiris being good evidence of this. But the archetypal model upon which the 'God with the Upraised Arm' was based is quite probably the constellation Orion, in both depiction and 'nature'. Describing these mythological concepts as agricultural in nature only covers part of the territory, as agriculture depends upon the celestial cycles. The importance of these cycles to ancient people cannot be underestimated. It is a proven fact that they recognised significant 'markers' within this cycle, and it is only natural that one of most important of these should be the constellation of Orion. To paraphrase Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough (1922, p. 506): in the course of our enquiry it has, I trust, been made clear that there is another natural phenomenon to which the conception of death and resurrection is as applicable as to the agricultural cycle. This phenomenon is the yearly death and resurrection of the constellation of Orion, as represented in the mythic themes concerning the various incarnations of the 'God with the Upraised Arm'.
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