Friday, January 11, 2013

Jesus's Ass: A Canaanite's View of J.C.

I was in the middle of a book review when a hoard of somber people walked in procession next door. Even the little sparrows all sat for a moment—a small flock of them, seated in the diamond-spaces of the chain link fence, the industrial veil separating my living space from that of the dead. It’s a humid, overcast day in the summer. I had contemplated opening up the house and shutting off the air conditioning because I am a cold-blooded cheapskate and I like warm weather far better than cold. But I’m glad I didn’t open the windows because I wouldn’t have wanted to intrude on their service. There were a lot of people there, many more people show up as they feel the loss more keenly of a life cut too short and I wonder if this is the story outside my window.

I live near a cemetery. I love it because I think cemeteries are beautiful--beautiful in form, beautiful in function. They serve as a poignant reminder of life’s value. This real estate location has difficult moments, but they are the trade-off for the quiet, the beauty, and the experience. I see the whole process: the preliminary examination of the site, the grave digging, then the procession and the graveside rite. Afterwards for a month, people will stop by and pay their respects to the newly deceased—a person, who according to my tradition, has joined the ranks of the rapiuma: the shades of the dead, the ancestral spirits who can aid the living.

During these somber moments, I will leave my desk, stand quietly in my home and look out the windows as the people gather, and I will make a swift prayer for them and for their loved one. Usually, I add to the prayer something like, “If they would be willing to accept my prayer.” I know full well that the people and the loved one they bury are likely Christian, and I know full well that some of them would not accept my prayer.

But this time as I prayed and looked out window, I sensed a being near me with a hand on my right arm. In my mind, I got a sense of “Don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure they accept,” followed with a sense of approval which implied “If I agree with it and they honor me, then they will of course accept.” I think he may well have been Jesus the Carpenter from Nazareth, whom I spent many Sundays stuck in stuffy churches learning about.
This was the Jesus of the tax collector, the Jesus who visited the untouchables, the Jesus who allowed women in his ranks even when the surrounding culture would have looked on in askance. This is the Jesus who made it special point to pay attention to the people that nobody likes, the unpopular people.

I’m not saying nobody likes me I’m gonna eat some worms, but unless I’m good friends with a Christian, they usually get fidgety around me, more so than they would get around a Wiccan, or a Druid, or an Asatruar. Why? Because some of my gods and goddesses are mentioned by name and especially forbidden in the Bible. Jezebel, a true devotee of the goddess ‘Athtartu (known better in New Age and Pagan circles by the Greek name “Astarte”), was later labeled as a “whore” for worshiping “foreign” deities. Deities, it turns out, who weren’t so “foreign” after all. It was her four-hundred some-odd prophets of Baʻal Hadad, my storm god, whom Elijah put to death in the old tales. And, as I found out earlier this year, it turns out she is one of my ancestresses, according to legend.

So let’s face it, I’m not really popular with the Bible bunch, and there are countries where my religion is outlawed. And frankly there are days where I’m not really popular with the Wiccan circle, either, as some scratch their heads and can’t figure me out or my religion. I get trouble from both sides. So What Would Jesus Do? He’d probably have lunch with me and offer to help with the dishes.

Jesus, from a Canaanite view, cuts an interesting figure. In my studies, I’ve learned a great deal more about the culture that surrounded him (provided he is more substantial than a legendary figure). The gifts the three wise men gave him, according to the tale, involved gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold symbolizes wealth through power, and therefore kingship. Frankincense, because the resin was used as an offering to the deities, symbolized priesthood. Myrrh found ancient use as both an offering and as a curative, therefore this resin represented the role of physician and healer. Therefore the gifts indicate that this little wee one would grow up to be a king, a priest, and a healer. That’s something they don’t cover in Sunday school.

A matter Sunday school teachers get just plain wrong revolves around an ass. Well, a donkey, that is. When Jesus on Palm Sunday rides through the streets of Jerusalem on a donkey, what he is really saying is “Hey Romans, bite my lovely Jewish...[donkey]!” The donkey for a thousand years before him had been a symbol of royalty. The goddess Athirat (later called Asherah in Hebrew) rides a donkey. The Canaanite legendary king Dani’il (the original Daniel) rides a donkey. By engaging in this symbolism, he was portraying the Roman’s worst nightmare: revolution. Jesus was declaring himself king. There’s no doubt in my mind why the Romans, being Roman, felt the need to make an example of him gangsta-style.

So what an image of Jesus doing standing next to me as I prayed for these mourners? I think he, as a rapiu, was letting me know that he approved of my prayer even if they didn’t. And because I had his approval, they would receive the benefits of the prayer even if they didn’t like me or my stinky old polytheism. I learned a little more in that instant, too. Jesus was a Jewish boy living in old Canaan and he like everyone else there had a significant amount of Canaanite ancestry and inherited some of Canaanite polytheistic culture. When he died—and I’m not even going to touch the matter of resurrection here—when he died, people began to worship his spirit, the rapiu, after death.

This is a very common thing in Canaanite culture: people honored their rapiuma. The rapiuma were deceased kings and heroes, and memorable people, but I believe that any and everyone can become a rapiu when they die. Jesus became a demi-deified rapiu. The ancient Canaanites believed that bringing offerings could strengthen a being, rapiu or deity. The being could then have greater strength with which to help those who honored him. The rapiuma were known to aid the living: I believe this is where the popular Western idea of our beloved dead becoming “angels” who watch over us began. Indeed I think anyone growing up surrounded with Christianity or Judaism has an inheritance to Canaanite polytheism.

Jesus as a rapiu has been receiving offerings and prayers for a couple of millennia now. It amazes me how neatly Jesus fits into a Canaanite interpretation. I don’t have to agree with Christians’ view of him, I don’t have to agree about his miraculous birth or his dying and reviving, I don’t have to agree about how a prayer is only heard if one prays in his name, I don’t have to agree with monotheism, and I certainly don’t have to agree with some basic tenants of Christianity and Judaism. But at least as a qadish I can understand him now and I can appreciate him as one of the honored dead. With that understanding comes a sense of peace.

Today is:
0 Khiyyaru (month), Shanatu 85 (year)

This date reflects a date in the Canaanite calendar according to primary documents from the city of Ugarit, dated to 1200 BCE (3200 years ago). Each lunar month begins on a chudthu (new moon). Today is day 0 of Khiyyaru, the day of the new moon. The Canaanites made greater offerings to the deities during each chudthu and malatu (full moon). Our next holiday, 'Ashuru Shamni, the Festival of Oil, is in seven days from this day of the new moon, i.e. January 18, 2013.

Image Credits: This is an image from the early 1900's and is in public domain.


  1. Stuff like this makes me think again that Jesus was probably someone I would have liked, had he been real. I tend toward the belief that His existence was on a mythic level.


    1. I think you're likely right, Soli--either mythic or a conflagration of a few different individual people with new stories born of rumor or creativity.

  2. Hi Tess, very good entry. Thank you so much. As I struggle to understand my own spirituality and place in the cosmos and slowly come closer to ILu's children, articles like this deeply touch me. Jesus is a very important and spiritual influence in my life and understanding how that might work as I grow a deeper relationship with the Canaanite Gods & Goddesses helps me profoundly.


  3. My gosh! I have held this belief for YEARS and have never seen it articulated by another. Wow. Thanks!

  4. You're welcome, Lynn! Thanks for reading.