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Testo in occasione della Giornata contro la violenza sulle donne.
Archaeological excavations in Palestine dating back to the Bronze Age reveal several little statues of the goddess Astarte. According to scholars, the layers they were found in are referred to the Canaanite civilization before the invasion and conquest by the Israelites (14th-13th century BC).
Other little statues were found in layers which have been referred to as “Israelites” of the first period of the Iron age and as “of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah” (12th-7th century BC).
These stylized female figures with so ostentatiously exposed breasts and genitals are clear symbols of fertility, intended merely as sexual act giving life; and appearing in both layers, the Canaanite and the Israelite, let us assume that the worship of Astarte was common to the two peoples since the beginning of the Iron Age.
Always in the same site, Tell Beit Mirsim, South-West of Jerusalem, also a bas-relief was found, showing a goddess surrounded by a snake and this is particularly interesting because it is an indication of the relationship between the ancient goddess of fertility and the later-to-come Eve.
When, around 1300 BC, the Israelites occupied the promised land of Canaan, they found religious practices similar to those of the Sumerians and Babylonians, focusing on two female figures: the mother of the gods, Asher, and her daughter Astarte (Ashtoreth in Hebrew). Asher, who in effect can be considered the oldest of Canaanite goddesses, is mentioned in a source of 1750 BC.
In the Bible instead she is mentioned with the name “Grove” and this refers to the worship of the tree of life, symbol of this goddess. Scholars speculate that her cult lasted uninterruptedly until the fifth or sixth century BC.
But not all commentators agree that Astarte was his daughter: it is indeed likely that Astarte was just one of her aspects. According to Shahrukh Husain “Astarte is called the “Queen of Heavens”. The original meaning of her name was “womb”, which suggests that she was a goddess of fertility. She was also patron of the coastal city of Sidon, where she took the name of “the Virgin of the Sea”.
In the Bible, Astarte is called Ashtoreth, a title that combined the name with the vowels of boshet, which is the Hebrew word for shame. Later, when Christian theologians took up the war against Ashtoreth or Astarte, they came to make her a demon, considering her an emissary of Satan, so, in the eyes of the church, the offering of food, beverages or ointments, became an act of adoration bestowed to the devil.
Before the expulsion from Paradise caused by the ambiguous relationship with the serpent, in the sources Eve did not have a name, she was only Isha, meaning woman.
But after she was “introduced” to the snake, she learned the good and evil from the tree of knowledge (sexual intercourse that makes a human being similar to God, that is allowing the creation of life) and then was punished by the great patriarchal God, “Man called his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living beings” (Genesis 3,20).
There are many efforts by the rabbinic literature first and by the Christian then to demean the important role of Eve as a primitive mother.
In Babylonian, Egyptian and Greek myths dealing with cosmogony, all creation began from ground or water, that is from a primary female element. Also the name Adam, in Hebrew adamah, meaning land, indicates the birth of the first man from the Earth Mother Goddess. But this first myth was irreversibly changed by misogynist and macho conceptions of the Yahweh-followers tradition of the creation of the world as the only action of a god father.
Eve as a great mother then, but also as a sacred whore.
The figure of the prostitute is, in the Semitic world, very important, even if today to us this may appear as a contradiction. In Hebrew the word kaddosh means “sacred”, while kaddesha means prostitute. Prostitutes were the protagonists of many sacred rites of fertility, which are widely attested in the sources.
One of the most important scholars of the Semitic religions, William Robertson Smith, argues that “in Biblos, in Phoenicia, Babylonia and Cyprus foreigners were paid to agree to deflower local virgins during public rituals designed to celebrate fertility. A later tradition reported that there was an Amorite custom according to which “before marriage man and women indulged in orgies for seven consecutive days”.
Jewish later tradition considers these rites on a rear base, so that Samuel condemns the vile practice of his subjects to join with sacred prostitutes. “Now Eli was very old when he heard about everything that his sons used to do to all the people of Israel and how they used to have sex with the women who were stationed at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He said to them, “Why do you behave in this way? For I hear about these evil things from all these people. This ought not to be, my sons! For the report that I hear circulating among the people is not good” (I Samuel, 2:22).
But this confirms that the rites were still practiced. Even in Baalbek-Eliopolis, in Syria, they doggedly continued until the fourth century AD in spite of Christianity, which had emerged throughout the region.
Vulva exposed by the first great mothers, from Astarte and Eve (who had to cover it with a fig leaf) becomes the sancta sanctorum, and the sacred prostitute is the vehicle for the elevation and the approach of man to the Great Goddess. In fact, even the god of Jews can not help but stress the importance of prostitution, by commanding to his beloved son, the prophet Hosea, to marry a prostitute for the salvation of Israel:
“When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, he said to him, “Go marry a prostitute who will bear illegitimate children conceived through prostitution, because the nation continually commits spiritual prostitution by turning away from the Lord.” So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Then she conceived and gave birth to a son for him” (Hosea 1, 2-3).
Despite the efforts made by rabbis commentators, fertility rites were too deeply rooted in religious and social fabric of the period to be completely passed over in silence or deleted. And several tracks remain in the Bible as a witness, such as Exodus 34, 12-16 when God tells Moses “Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land where you are going, lest it become a snare among you. Rather you must destroy their altars, smash their images, and cut down their Asherah poles. For you must not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Be careful not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone invites you, you will eat from his sacrifice; and you then take his daughters for your sons, and when his daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will make your sons prostitute themselves to their gods as well”.
Moses, who still, incidentally, was of Egyptian origin, had forbidden the Israelites to follow the rites of fertility based on sacred prostitution common in his time among all Semitic peoples.
“You must never bring the pay of a female prostitute (…) into the temple of the Lord your God in fulfillment of any vow, for both of these are abhorrent to the Lord your God” (Deut., 23-18).
The Western myth borrows the biblical Eve, condensation of all the Semitic sacred prostitutes that had preceded her, and transforms her snake into a symbol that reflects its ancient meanings. If the snake of Eve had been the cause of her downfall, the new snake, her baby, the phallic symbol of the Virgin Mary, will have to be the means of salvation not only her but to the whole world (Iakov Levi).