|Those sacred Virgins|
- Saturday, December 8 2007, 20:54:27 (CET)|
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Those Sacred Virgins
It’s always bothered me the way Europeans describe Shamhat as a prostitute, when she is a temple priestess of Ishtar. The ancient Mesopotamians had a very different attitude towards sexual union than did the Hebrews and later Puritans they inflicted on us. The women who gathered at the temple to engage in sex with any passerby were not in it for personal gain…it was not a shameful thing, an illicit business transaction, to be done in the dark, around corners. You can imagine how exhilarating and mystical things like erections and orgasms, menstrual blood and ejaculation would have been to people who had no idea of the physical mechanisms or method of procreation; “strange urges” and passionate fulfillment, not to mention the miracle of pregnancy and the creation, in woman’s miraculous body, of an entirely new human bean. To them it must have seemed divine, god-like, otherworldly. Women were paying homage to the love goddess through sex which was, after all, responsible for Life itself…for growth in population which produced scholars, kings, poets, artists, musicians, architects, soldiers and farmers to make a great civilization; surely the sexual source of all this wealth could not be bad…or evil. On the contrary, it was a blessing, something to delight and rejoice in.
Mitchell’s book sees Shamhat in this light…when she goes to Enkidu and strips naked, arousing him to make love and remain erect for seven days, she isn’t prostituting herself…she’s bringing a man-beast to civilization, to culture, to decent food and clean clothes and the bath…also to one who will be his dearest friend, Gilgamesh. Woman is recognized as the civilizing force…not a whore, as she becomes in Puritan society. Sex is a great mystery, it is magic…it is the source of life and wealth and music and art, literature and writing and medicine and agriculture…without it there is nothing of value and no high culture, as the Sumerians were famous for…first among the ancients, if not first on earth.
Looking at what Christianity offered vs. Islam, to the Assyrians, I’ve always felt Islam was a much better fit. Christianity found the Assyrians at their lowest ebb…stripped of empire, living among their conquerors, forgetting all their past glories except perhaps the ghosts of ruins not yet buried completely, they were ripe to think in terms of a Messiah…where one had never been needed before…maybe in the next life..or maybe led by a Jew, they might rise to the level of the gods again. But it also required a kind of humility and abasement that was foreign to them…I also think the best of them died defending their heritage and we today are the descendants, if we are, of those who ran…but that’s another subject.
If, as we are told, Assyrians converted to Christianity, it was to humble themselves in the dust, to turn cheeks and butts, to see themselves as unworthy, to apologize for their former greatness, their “brutal savagery”, as the Hebrews saw it…these things could not have been congenial. And then Islam came on a fiery steed, waving a sword to defeat an overbearing and intolerant Christian Empire, which was hostile to the Christian sects of Mesopotamia…and soon after to ride off towards the West to conquer and spread the civilizing influence of the ancient Assyrians all the way to Europe and beyond the Atlantic…here was something! Here was a reawakening of the Assyrians at their very best….here was a call to mount a horse again, strap your sword to your side and ride off to conquer those barbarians and Christian thugs who would sooner or later come for you, as they were gunning for everybody…here was something Assyrians could relate to…something familiar from their own past…a past that never included a Messiah or the fumbling of the ancient Hebrews, the Keystone Kops of the ancient world who definitely needed divine rescue, so incapable were they on their own.
In this sense…the Islamic promise of holy virgins in a Paradise where God dwells is in line with our own culture and history, which was worlds away from the Hebrews who gave us Christ and sexual repression. The divine priestesses of Ishtar performed acts of devotion when engaged in sex, not prurient pawing for money. Our ancestors had great civilizations…not the puny sort of thing Solomon reveled in…Solomon, whose supposed great temple has never yielded up even one brick while the ruins of sexy Sumer produced unparalleled riches, is thought now to have been a pious fraud…the Hebrews despised sex, loathed it…looked down on it as perhaps a constant reminder that all those Jews, or ten thousand more, couldn’t build an outhouse let alone a palace anyone can find …trapped as they were on a “chosen site” no one else wanted and, thankfully, taken away periodically to learn some manners and culture at the finishing schools of the great empires around them where they “worked” their way through college.
Surrounded by the glorious and gloriously sexual empires of Egypt, Greece, Assyria, Babylonia , Persia and Rome…the Hebrews learned to despise sex because it did them no good.
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