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18. The Spread of Pagan Idolatry (§§150-170)

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18. The Spread of Pagan Idolatry (§§150-170)




150. In case it may be found surprising that so soon after the Flood the descendants of Noah degenerated to such a level of idolatry and immorality as this, it must be remembered that the united testimony of the Hebrew Scriptures and of the ancients was that the generation of the Tower in Shinar were arrogant, boastful, and antipathetic to the One True God in the extreme. They purposefully defied the Almighty by building their Tower, and were otherwise guilty of the most shameless violence and sexual perversion. They were sophisticated technologically, but morally degenerate. The warrior élite which migrated to Egypt represented the cream of the Hamitic stock. Their culture by far surpassed anything known in Africa before them, but in the great tombs at Naqada where many of them were interred, there is clear evidence of deliberate dismemberment and cannibalism. The marrow was extracted from the bones of the deceased by means of a sharp instrument, which left grooves on the inner surface of the bones, and teeth marks, in some cases, were visible to modern investigators on the surface. The flesh of the dead person, and particularly the bone marrow, were devoured, presumably, as Petrie rather coyly put it, “to secure the transmission of the qualities of the dead to his descendants.” Such practices as these, done with official sanction, prove the extent of the apostasy of the Tower builders and their offshoots in the valley of the Nile.


151. The sophistry with which these idolaters excused their excesses is well illustrated by the following discourse ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus. The form is late — Hellenistic, pagan Gnostic — but the content was believed by its transmitters to express, using Greek philosophical terminology, the authentic Egyptian paganism of Hermes Trismegistus c. 2000 BC. Hermes Trismegistus is here presented referring to his own “grandfather” Hermes (viz. the Second Hermes, Cush), the god Thoth of Hermopolis (Eshmunein) in Middle Egypt, and also to the grandfather of his interlocutor, Asclepius, viz. the older Asclepius, the pagan physician. The latter was the deified vizier and architect Im-hotep (called Imouthes by the Greeks) of the Third Dynasty, the designer of the Step Pyramid of king Djoser. The passage is a defense of the blasphemous doctrine that man could “make gods,” which is well known to have been the native Egyptian belief well back into the days of the Old Kingdom. (Scott, Hermetica, Asclepius III. 37-38a, my comments added in square brackets and my emphases):


152. “[Hermes Trismegistus speaking to his pupil Asclepius:] Our ancestors were at first far astray from the truth about the gods; they had no belief in them, and gave no heed to worship and religion. [Meaning: the earliest, God-fearing, generations had nothing to do with a multiplicity of gods, or with idolatry!] But afterwards, they invented the art of making gods out of some material substance suited for the purpose. And to this invention they added a supernatural force whereby the images might have power to work good or hurt, and combined it with the material substance; that is to say, being unable to make souls, they invoked the souls of daemons [meaning the spirits of departed heroes; also add from the Latin “… or of angels,” i.e. of good or evil, but non-human, spirits], and implanted them in the statues by means of certain holy and sacred rites. We have an instance in your grandfather, Asclepius [referring to the earlier Asclepius, viz. Im-hotep of Dynasty III], who was the inventor of the art of healing, and to whom a temple has been dedicated in the Libyan mountain, near the shore of crocodiles [i.e. near Arsinoe, otherwise known as Crocodilopolis, in the Fayum, an area built up particularly during Dynasty XII, the traditional era of Hermes Trismegistus]. There lies the material man, that is, the body [of Im-hotep]; but the rest of him, — or rather, the whole of him, if it is conscious life that constitutes a man’s whole being, — has returned to heaven. And to this day he renders to the sick by his divine power all the aid which he used to render to them by his medicinal art. Again there is my grandfather [viz. the Second Hermes, Cush, here called grandfather of Hermes Trismegistus], whose name I bear. Has he not taken up his abode [viz. by the supposed indwelling of his departed spirit] in his native city, which is named after him [i.e. Hermopolis Magna, “Hermes’ City,” the modern Eshmunein in Middle Egypt, and the ancient center of the cult of Thoth-Hermes], and does he not help and safeguard all mortal men who come to him from every quarter? [This is a reference to Hermes’ role as guardian of travelers and migrants; by analogy with the earlier statement regarding Asclepius the healer, this implies the original man behind the god was a notable migrant, as, indeed, Cush was, from Mesopotamia to Egypt.] And Isis too, the wife of Osiris [Osiris being the deified king Djer of the First Dynasty], — do we not know how many boons she confers when she is gracious, and how many men she harms when she is angry? For terrestrial and material gods are easily provoked to anger, inasmuch as they are made and put together by men out of both kinds of substance. And hence it has come about that the sacred animals are recognized as such by the Egyptians, and that in the several cities of Egypt people worship the souls of the men to whom these animals have been consecrated as living statues [i.e. the animals were treated as living idols in which the spirits of the deceased were believed to reside]; so that the cities are governed by the laws which those men made, and bear their names. Thus the same animals which some cities think it right to worship and revere are in other cities held in small esteem; and this, Asclepius, is the reason why the cities of Egypt are wont to make war on one another. [The following excerpt has been inserted here in the Scott edition from 27d:] Moreover, in time to come the rulers of the land will be made gods, and their worship will be established in a city at the very border of Egypt, a city which will be founded towards the setting sun, and to which men of every race will speed by land and sea. [This is a prophecy ex eventu, a reference to the deification of the Hellenistic and Roman kings in Alexandria, and according to the same principle that they were “living idols.”] — Asclepius. But tell me, Trismegistus, where are such deified rulers to be found in our own day? — Trismegistus. Their worship is established in the great city in the Libyan mountains. [A second reference to the region of Arsinoe in the Fayum; also at this point the excerpt ends.] — Asclepius. And these gods who are called “terrestrial,” Trismegistus, by what means are they induced to take up their abode among us? — Trismegistus. They are induced, Asclepius, by means of herbs and stones and scents which have in them something divine. And would you know why frequent sacrifices are offered to do them pleasure, with hymns and praises and concord of sweet sounds that imitate heaven’s harmony? These things are done to the end that, gladdened by oft-repeated worship, the heavenly beings who have been enticed into the images may continue through long ages to acquiesce in the companionship of men. Thus it is that man makes gods. And you must not suppose, Asclepius, that the operations of the terrestrial gods are to no purpose. The celestial gods dwell in the heights of heaven, and there each one of them unswervingly accomplishes the part assigned to him in the ordering of the Kosmos; but these our gods on earth below see to things one by one, predict events by means of sacred lots and divination, foresee what is coming and render aid accordingly; they assist, like loving kinsmen, in the affairs of men. Thus the celestial gods rule over things universal; the terrestrial gods administer particulars.”


153. The religion of Cush, the Second Hermes, exalted the cursed Serpent to a position of special divine honor. The following is the account of Sanchuniathon (for the context of this citation in the original see §411, below, >>):


154. “The nature then of the dragon and of serpents Tauthus [Tauthos, Thoth, the Second Hermes] himself regarded as divine, and so again after him did the Phoenicians and Egyptians: for this animal was declared by him to be of all reptiles most full of breath, and fiery. In consequence of which it also exerts an unsurpassable swiftness by means of its breath, without feet and hands or any other of the external members by which the other animals make their movements. It also exhibits forms of various shapes, and in its progress makes spiral leaps as swift as it chooses. It is also most long-lived, and its nature is to put off its old skin, and so not only to grow young again, but also to assume a larger growth; and after it has fulfilled its appointed measure of age, it is self-consumed, in like manner as Tauthus himself has set down in his sacred books: for which reason this animal has also been adopted in temples and in mystic rites.


155. “We have spoken more fully about it in the memoirs entitled Ethothiae, in which we prove that it is immortal, and is self-consumed, as is stated before: for this animal does not die by a natural death, but only if struck by a violent blow. The Phoenicians call it “Good Daemon” [= Agathodaimon]: in like manner the Egyptians also surname it Kneph [= Kem-atef]; and they add to it the head of a hawk because of the hawk’s activity.


156. “Epeïs also (who is called among them a chief hierophant and sacred scribe, and whose work was translated [into Greek] by Areius of Heracleopolis), speaks in an allegory word for word as follows: “The first and most divine being is a serpent with the form of a hawk, extremely graceful, which whenever he opened his eyes filled all with light in his original birthplace, but if he shut his eyes, darkness came on.”


157. “Epeïs here intimates that he is also of a fiery substance, by saying “he shone through,” for to shine through is peculiar to light. From the Phoenicians Pherecydes also took the first ideas of his theology concerning the god called by him Ophion and concerning the Ophionidae, of whom we shall speak again.


158. “Moreover the Egyptians, describing the world from the same idea, engrave the circumference of a circle, of the color of the sky and of fire, and a hawk-shaped serpent stretched across the middle of it, and the whole shape is like our Theta (θ), representing the circle as the world, and signifying by the serpent which connects it in the middle the good daemon.


159. “Zoroaster also the Magian, in the Sacred Collection of Persian Records, says in express words: “And god has the head of a hawk. He is the first, incorruptible, eternal, uncreated, without parts, most unlike (all else), the controller of all good, who cannot be bribed, the best of all the good, the wisest of all wise; and he is also a father of good laws and justice, self-taught, natural, and perfect, and wise, and the sole author of the sacred power of nature.”


160. “The same also is said of him by Ostanes in the book entitled Octateuch.


161. From Tauthus, as is said above, all received their impulse towards physiological systems: and having built temples they consecrated in the shrines the primary elements represented by serpents, and in their honor celebrated festivals, and sacrifices, and mystic rites, regarding them as the greatest gods, and rulers of the universe. So much concerning serpents.”


162. So, then, in the Hamites’ home territory, Ham and his son Cush, as well as other kings of the first post-diluvian dynasty, and an assortment of beasts, creeping things and lifeless statues, were “made into gods.” Ham and Cush were identified with the Egyptian deity, Amun, and with the sun-god, Ra. Cush, as Amun-Ra of Siwa or Hammon, was identified in turn with Bel, the sun-god of Mesopotamia, known as Marduk in Babylon and Asshur or Anshar in Assyria. This god had usurped the role of the Sumerian Ninurta as the chief captain of the gods, as the pagans put it, against the forces of chaos.


163. Returning now to the kings who remained in Shinar — as well as being depicted, in the more primitive mode, as a conquering Ninurta figure, Gilgamesh was identified with the Sumerian god of the underworld and of the planet Mars, Nergal or Eragal “Lord of the Great City.” This divine name was translated into Canaanite as Melqart (“King of the City”) and was transmogrified into Greek as Herakles (Eragal > hera-kl + grammatical suffix), the so-called Tyrian Herakles of the city Tyre in Phoenicia. Herakles was commonly represented in a form derived from that of his oriental forerunner Gilgamesh, in combat with monsters. In Peri Theon Thouros-Baal or Ares, Mars (= Nergal, Eragal) fights against and defeats the giant Kaukasos (Caucasus) “of the tribe of Japheth.” In Armenian and Georgian tradition the giant Caucasus (Kovkas, Kavkas), the eponymus of the mountain, is one of the seven brothers of Haig, the chief of the Japhethite opponents of Bel-Nimrod, Haig’s home territory being the mountains of Ararat. In Peri Theon, the giant Caucasus is killed by Thouros, the successor of Nimrod, who then seizes his land. In the Georgian Chronicles (ed. Thomson, Armenian, 14f., Georgian, 12f., for a translation of one Georgian text, see §677.6, below, >>) a successor of Nimrod similarly seizes the land of the giant Caucasus. The Georgian Chronicles first describe how Nimrod was defeated and slain by Haig and Caucasus. Then the giant Caucasus disappears from the record. Though no specific mention is made of Caucasus’ death, “a giant of the race of Nimrod,” called by the Persians “Afridun” (Fredun, Feridun etc.), is said to have reversed their victory, seizing by violence the territory of Caucasus, and installing in it his governor Adarma. (§677.8, below, >>.) As Afridun is traditionally identified with the Mars-like “Nimrod son of Canaan,” i.e. Thouros-Baal, it is clear the “Persian” tradition referred to in Peri Theon and the Iranian legend in the Georgian Chronicles have a common origin. Nimrod son of Canaan is the Sumerian Gilgamesh. Thouros/Afridun versus Caucasus, the giant inhabitant of the mountains of Caucasus, reminds one of Gilgamesh versus Huwawa, the giant inhabitant of the Cedar Forest of the Amanus and Lebanon ranges of North Syria, the former being part of what was known in antiquity as the “Caucasus” chain. Caucasus was probably an interpretation of the name Huwawa, or rather of Humbaba, or Hum-Hum, as the name is found written later. The base form is huw or hub or hum, reduplicated, and contracted. The initial sign hum can be read alternatively kus (kus2) or guz, and the form Hum-hum might be read Kus-kus, becoming Caucasus (Greek Kaukasos) in later transcription. Also the same sign is translated into Akkadian as gaau or kaau, with the identical basic consonantal form, and means “bear the teeth, rage, be furious,” reflecting the typical facial form of Huwawa in Mesopotamian iconography. Caucasus was one of the mountains believed to embody in its structure the defeated monster Tuphon (Pherecydes in the scholiast on Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica II. 1214, and ibid. 1208-1215) and Tuphon is the Greek name for the Sumerian monster Asag or Anzu which represents the House of Kish, defeated by Ninurta, i.e., in one of his incarnations, Gilgamesh. Fragments of epic tradition liken Gilgamesh’s crushing of Kish to Ninurta’s quelling of Asag. Ninurta’s other defeated opponent, Anzu, was the heraldic symbol of Kish. However, the kingdom of Aratta in the Iranian mountains which opposed Enmerkar of Uruk was also likened to Anzu in the epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta (see generally §611.1ff., below, >>, specifically §611.20, below, >>), and this implies Aratta, like Kish, was viewed as a demonic enemy of the god Ninurta. Enmekar’s name in the epic, as often elsewhere, was written En-me-er-kar, meaning “Lord/priest (enme) [of the] rebellious (kar [kar2] = naphu) subordinate[s] (er = urdu),” Naphu-urdu = Nimrod. However, the Sumerian name might be split differently, En-mer-kar, and the second element “mer” understood as the name of the storm-god, Mer, who was identified with Adad and Ninurta, as if the king’s name meant “Lord (en) flashing (kar) storm (Mer).” Enmerkar’s attack on Aratta could be interpreted accordingly in terms of the assault of Ninurta (Mer) on Anzu. The fact that Mount Caucasus in the same Iranian highlands, specifically Japhethite territory, features in the Greek myth as the location of the monstrous opponent of the hero-god (and similarly in Armenian and Georgian tradition, but with a reversal of the divine and demonic roles), implies a fusion in the underlying tradition of the various identifications of Anzu, that is, with Kish, on the one hand, and with Aratta on the other. Evidence of the process in relation to the battle of Gilgamesh with Huwawa can be found in the fourth, most terrifying dream seen by Gilgamesh before he met his opponent, in which Huwawa is symbolized by the immensely powerful, roc-like bird Anzu, but has his wings clipped by the sun-god Shamash, Gilgamesh’s divine protector. (Old Babylonian fragment, ed. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, vol. I, p. 241ff.)


164. Melqart-Herakles was also believed to be the ancestor of the Phoenician (Canaanite) royal house. That house traced its descent, in other words, from Gilgamesh of the First Dynasty of Uruk, a connection demonstrated equally by the descent of Adonis (Tammuz), in Phoenician tradition, from Phoenix, the national eponymus. In Plutarch’s Osiris myth (§618, below, >>) he features as “Malcander” (= Melqart, cf. the form Melkantharos for Melkarthos, Melqart, in Eusebius, De Laude Constantini XIII. 3), the king of Byblos and consort of Astarte (Eshterah).


165. Like his brother, Gilgamesh, the king Dumuzi or Tammuz, son of Lugal-banda, was deified. He became an object of fervent worship throughout the ancient Near East. His death was explained as the result of a mysterious, and, as it turned out, a fatal desire on the part of his divine lover, Inana or Ishtar (Venus), to descend into the Netherworld. (For the historical background of this myth see §326, below, >>, §328, below, >>.) When Inana arrived in the infernal realm, she was stripped bare at the command of Ereshkigal, the Queen of that land, and hung up for dead on a stake. Her fellow gods managed to revive Inana by trickery, but, in order to ensure her return to the land of the living, she was compelled to provide a substitute for herself in Hell. When she arose from the dead for this purpose, accompanied by a demon escort, she scoured her old haunts for a suitable candidate. Finally she came upon her lover, the shepherd Tammuz, king of Uruk, reveling, of all things, instead of mourning her loss. In a fit of rage, she handed him over to the demons, and he was dragged off to Hell. The death of Tammuz, thus accounted for, was mourned in a great public ritual each year at the end of the midsummer month Tammuz (roughly corresponding to the modern month July), which received its name from him. The precise time was when the star Sirius (identified with Tammuz as well as with Ninurta) was first visible after its season of invisibility rising above the eastern horizon just before sunrise, a point in the year termed the star’s “heliacal rising.” Sirius is the most brilliant fixed star in the sky, and is located at the foot of the constellation Orion. This is the time of maximum heat in Mesopotamia. An image of Tammuz was brought out for public display at this time and played an important part in the festal ritual. The barrenness of nature coinciding with the commemoration of his death was held by his devotees to be an apt symbol of the barrenness of existence without the earthly presence of Tammuz. Drought conditions prevail for the following six months. At the end of Kislimu (roughly equivalent to December), from which time verdure begins to return to the land of the two rivers, Tammuz was believed to have returned from the Underworld and from the clutches of its Queen, Ereshkigal. The revived spirit of Tammuz was now evident to those devoted adherents in the fertility and fruitfulness of the fields. It was, however, only at a cost that Tammuz could return. His beloved sister, Geshtinana, whose name means “(Sweet as) Wine,” and who desperately sought for her brother when he was absent in the Underworld, had to take his place there for the succeeding six months. In the agricultural interpretation of the myth, Gesthtinana represented the vintage which thrived during the months of his absence. She was identified with Nin-edina (Belet-seri) or Ninana (Venus as the goddess of the fertility of the field), and functioned in the Underworld as the scribe of Ereshkigal. Divine love (Inana) had consumed Tammuz, reproductive love (Nin-edina, Belet-seri, Ninana) now saved him. When summer came around the cycle was repeated. Throughout the ancient East the memory of Tammuz was kept alive in the myth and ritual of this fertility cult.


166. From Babel the cult spread to other nations. In Phoenicia, Tammuz-Adonis was imprisoned for six months in the Underworld with Persephone (a substitute Greek name for Ereshkigal, Queen of Hell) and for six months was free in the upper world to sport with his lover Aphrodite (Inana, Venus). An alternative scheme — more fitting the weather patterns in northern climes — divided the year into three portions: the first third (originally allocated to the god in solitude) Adonis subsequently left to Aphrodite, the second he spent with Persephone, and the last third was Aphrodite’s original portion. In this scheme only one third of the year was barren and lifeless, matching conditions in more northerly lands, and two-thirds verdant. Adonis’ death was celebrated with great weeping and wailing at the Adonia festival in midsummer. The timing was dictated by the “heliacal rising” of Sirius. A procession was held in which the idol of Adonis was paraded in public.


167. In Egypt the god anciently equated with the Phoenician Adonis, viz. Osiris, was buried with great ceremony and a profusion of ritual mourning, at Abydos, the traditional site of the grave of Osiris, in midsummer at the heliacal rising of Sothis, the Egyptian name for Sirius, and approximately the time when the Inundation of the Nile commenced. A great procession was held in which the idol of Osiris was displayed in public. Six months later at the end of the Egyptian month Khoiak (roughly equivalent to December), a second festival took place in which a chopped-down fir-tree (the Djed pillar) was set up as a symbol of Osiris’ approaching resurrection in the verdure of spring, and a seed-doll was fashioned, which was kept for one whole year and then buried at the return of the same festival, ready to sprout in the subsequent six months, commencing with the second of the three seasons into which the year was divided (cf. the three thirds of the year in the Phoenician myth), the season of peret or the “coming out” of seeds. A large part of the myth of Osiris was concerned with the search for and recovery of his remains by his spouse Isis from their resting place in the Phoenician city of Byblos. This implies the rites as they were practiced in Egypt were borrowed from the Levant.


168. The mysteries of Osiris, according to Herodotus, were imported into Greece by the immigrant Egyptian king Danaus, who was identified by Manetho with Pharaoh Haremheb of the XVIIIth Dynasty. The Greeks called Osiris Dionysus, Bacchus and Iacchus. Iacchus played an important part in the mysteries of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis in Attica. According to tradition, these mysteries were introduced from the same Egyptian source, in a time of drought, by Erechtheus, an ancient king of Athens in the latter half of the second millennium BC. In the Eleusinian mysteries, Iacchus corresponded to the Egyptian Osiris and the Phoenician Adonis (Tammuz), Demeter to the Egyptian Isis, and Kore, the daughter of Demeter, to Geshtinana or Nin-edina in the Sumerian myth who alternated with Tammuz in the Underworld. Kore, in the Homeric version of the myth, was believed to spend one third of the year in the Underworld, and two thirds of the year in the upper world with her mother and the other Olympians: in another version the terms were of six months each. These periods corresponded precisely to the balance of the half and third of the year (in the original version) allocated variously to Adonis with Aphrodite in the Phoenician myth, the emphasis in Eleusis being on the goddess (Kore = Nin-edina, Geshtinana) rather than the god (Iacchus = Adonis, Tammuz). When she was seized by the god of the dead and taken into the Underworld, Kore was sought disconsolately by her mother Demeter, as Isis, in Egyptian myth, sought sorrowing the remains of Osiris, and in both cases, a child of the host household which received the wandering goddess was burned by her in “purificatory” fire before the object of her search was obtained. The Lesser Mysteries of Kore were celebrated in the Attic month Anthesterion (February/March). The Greater Mysteries of Demeter were celebrated in the Attic month Boedromion, which corresponded (according to a letter of Philip of Macedon in Demosthenes’ De Corona) to the Macedonian month Loos, which corresponded, in turn, to the Babylonian month Tammuz. The highlight of the latter festival was a great procession in which the idol of Iacchus (Dionysus) was carried from Athens to Eleusis.


169. Kore’s disappearance into the Underworld was symbolized by the cutting down of a branch, shaped into an image of the maiden. In the early Christian era the mourning for Kore lasted forty days and terminated with the burning of the image. The forty day period of lamentation was adopted by the adherents of Cybele — a deity commonly identified with Demeter — and they mourned similarly up to the notional date of the Spring equinox, March 25th. The period ended on what they called Quadragesima, “the fortieth.” This pagan rite, including even its terminology, became an important part of the religious calendar of the Christianized Roman Empire, and is known today in the West as “Lent.” The dead Attis in the cult of Cybele, identified with Iacchus and Dionysus, and pictured hanging dead on a pine tree on March 25th, was swapped for the crucified Jesus in this blatant merging of Christianity and paganism, and the date of the crucifixion was shifted officially to March 25th — an astronomically impossible date for the Passover when Jesus was actually crucified.


170. It was believed in pre-Nicene Christian circles that the Eleusinian mysteries commemorated the fall of Eve, and the intrusion thereby of sin into the world: thus the celebrants chanted the name Eve, which meant “female serpent.” The cry was expressed in writing as “Euoe,” or something similar. An alternative form “Oua” gave rise to the word “ovation” for a shout of acclamation. This word was held to be the same as the Biblical Eve = Heb. avvah, i.q. ayyah = “living/breathing creature” par excellence, interpreted “mother of every living/breathing being” in Gen. 3. 20; but equally ayyah = living creature in the sense “beast” par excellence, viz., as in Arabic, Gesenius-Tregelles, s.v. ayyah (1), a serpent. So also Eve, Heb. avvah, was interpreted to mean “serpent,” that is, Adam’s serpent, in Rabbinic exegesis (Bereshith Rabba 21. 11 and 22. 2). The clear implication is that the mysteries commemorated, not merely the fall of Eve, but more specifically her seduction by the serpent, which made her one body with the beast. (Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus, II. 12. 2, Theophilus Ad Autolycum II. 28, Epiphanius, Expositio Fidei c. X, Migne PG XLII, col. 800-801.) The corruption of Adam by Eve was reduplicated in the seduction of the sons of God by the daughters of men. Geshtinana, the sister of Tammuz or Dumuzi, corresponding to the Biblical Naamah, sister of Tubal-cain, was one of the latter (see further §422, below, >>). The names Geshtinana and Tammuz were then transferred in the cult of Nimrod-Enmerkar from the pre-diluvian to the post-diluvian era and applied to post-diluvian figures. The fall of Eve became the fall of Naamah-Geshtinana, and the fall of Naamah-Geshtinana the fall of the divinized sister of the post-diluvian king Tammuz.