Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Marzichu: Feasting and Drinking Club to Honor the Dead

A Canaanite marzichu [i] referred both to a specific club and a gathering of that specific club; the club would meet at least once a year, and the club functioned privately--outside the temple's auspices.

In ancient times, the marzichu included only land-owning upper class men. They would choose a club member’s home to meet in and would draw up a contract for meeting there on a regular basis. The leader of the club was usually owned the house in which they met. Club members would drink and feast at a marzichu. Texts describe the chief god of the pantheon, Ilu, as over-indulging at marzichu. Club members would invoke the names of their beloved dead to join them in their feast. Each marzichu had its own patron deity: records indicate Ilu in Ugaritic texts, Eshmun and Ba‘al Tzapan in Phoenician texts, and ‘Aglibol or Malakbel in Palmyran texts.[ii] Biblical accounts represent marzeach (the Hebrew word for marzichu) as events where celebrants would recline on ivory beds, eat rich meat, drink wine until inebriated, play music, and anoint themselves with perfumed oils.

A sample contract for starting a marzichu would look like this:

“Of the marzichu (chief’s name) founded: (chief’s name) has set aside a room for the marzichu. If (chief’s name) turns out the marzichu from his house, he shall pay the marzichu fifty silver pieces. (Chief’s name) shall be the chief of the marzichu. He shall collect one piece of silver from each member of the marzichu. If a member asks for the return of his silver piece, he must pay a fine of two silver pieces to the marzichu. Witnessed by (name of marzichu member #1), son of (name of father of marzichu member #1) and by (marzichu member #2), son of (name of father of marzichu member #2).”[iii] The designations of “member #1” and “member #2” are arbitrary. The title of the leader of the marzichu is rabbu, which translates as “great” and “chief;” his role is similar to the president of a club. The fee which the chief collects from the club likely goes to the food and drink that will be served.

It was likely that this obligatory once-a-year meeting was held during summer, however it could have been held at any time of the year. In Natib Qadish, modern Canaanite religion, the meeting occurs during the month of Dabchu-Pagruma, in the autumn, either during the full or new moon: this evens out the ritual holiday calendar, and the name of the month, Pagruma, means "corpses" in Ugaritic, while Dabchu means "shared festival meal."

[i] Parker 193-4. See also Smith, Mark S. The Ugaritic Baal Cycle, Volume I: Introduction with Text, Translation and Commentary of KTU 1.1-1.2. E.J. Brill, Leiden, the Netherlands, 1994, pgs. 141-3.

[ii] Smith 141-2

[iii] Pardee, Ritual and Cult at Ugarit, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, USA, 2002, p. 218

Today is:

22 Dabchu-Pagruma, Shanatu 85

Image Credits:

This is my own photo.

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