Drug Abuse in Scripture and Other extra-Biblical Writings
THE SEX GODDESS ISHTAR OF ANCIENT NINEVEH
AND THE COGNATE DRUG ABUSE
‘She [Nineveh] is a fair harlot, (Hebrew זונה zõnãh, LXX πόρνη pórne) and well-favoured, skilled in sorcery (Heb כשפים kashãphim, the magical plant ‘off-cuttings’, LXX φαρμάκων pharmákon drug enchantments, potions, spells and charms etc.)...that sells the nations by her fornications, and peoples (KJV ‘families’) by her sorceries - literally ‘her pharmacopeia’ Nahum 3:4 LXX trans. Benton.
Confer Nahum 3:4 KJV - Heb - LXX - NIV etc. see below for full versification.
Ancient Nineveh נינוה was the capital of Great Assyria which flourished from early times until the fall of the Empire in about c. 612-609 BC. It was to this ‘great city’ that the Prophet Jonah was sent by God to preach repentance: for they knew not ‘their right hand from their left’. Jonah 4:11
The Lord had spoken:
“Their wickedness is come up before me” Jonah 1:2
The religion of pagan Assyria was polytheist, derived mainly from Babylonian when Assyria was still part of the early Babylonian empire. The national god was Ashur, the god of war, in later neo-Babylonian pronounced Assõr, unique in the Assyrian pantheon in that, according to the later scribes of the time his name was a
corruption of that of the primeval deity An-sar, meaning the ‘upper firmament’. In Christian and Judaic cosmology synonymous with the ’upper waters’ of the High Eternal Heaven from which also the Genesis Angels are said to have fallen. Cf. Genesis 1:7, (Enoch 15:2-6) ISBE vol. 1 p.293 plus column right The Firmament.
Relief: The Assyrian Ring with Wings. Symbol of the Chief Deity Ashur, God of War Public domain
His female counterpart and goddess of Nineveh was the fertility goddess Ishtar, goddess of love, war and sex. Sacred prostitution was central to the cult of Ishtar throughout the ancient east where one of her cities, ancient Erech of
Mesopotamia was actually named ‘town of the sacred courtesans’. Scholars maintain that the ‘love goddesses’ of the ancient east, Ishtar/Astarte and the other female deities were “as cruel as they were wayward” (Mackenzie). Wikilink
Image: The Babylonian Astarte - The Ishtar of Nineveh Public domain
It is sometimes disputed that the temple harlot herself, the Hebrew קדשה Qedesã literally ‘a separated one’ (in the male form the קדש qades) was a prostitute in strict sense of the word, where, according to the Ugaritic tablets she is seen as a priestess salaried by the temple where ritual copulation was part of her religious duties. The story of the widow Tamar at Genesis Chapter 38 would clearly indicate however that the rôle of consecrated קדשה Qedesã (verse 21) and the common harlot, the Hebrew זונה (זוה) zõnãh (verse 15) were interchangeable. The LXX translates both these words with the Greek singular πόρνη pórne.
Scripture and other historical evidence, partic. from Herodotus and Strabo would plainly assert that the pagan temple, forbidden in Israel under the Deuteronomic code, (Deut. 23:17-18) was in fact often a licensed brothel legalized under the pagan cultis and as such employing both the common harlot, the Hebrew זונה zõnãh, and the consecrated קדשה Qedesã.
The Hebrew prophets give graphic accounts as to the extent which heathen adulteries and idolatries had syncretized with the sanctuaries of Israel and the worship of Yahweh, and yet, as Jesus Himself did not place the harlots beyond the pale of redemption (St. Matthew. 21:31-32) a merciful God proclaimed of a people that lacked understanding: (Cf. Jonah 4:11).
Hosea 4:14 NIV
The cult of the Qedesã exists to this day
(Wikipedia article ‘Religious Prostitution’ ancient and modern)
THE DRUGS CONNECTION
‘Harlotry and wine - new wine’ LXX μέθυσμα ‘strong drink’ Hosea 4:11
In common with Babylon and the ‘hanging gardens’ Nineveh was also famed for its herbal plantations ‘above and below the city’. The cylinder of Sennacherib, who rebuilt Nineveh and ruled from c. 705 - 681 BC records ‘He laid out plantations, wherein grew all the sweet-smelling herbs of Palestine and Phoenicia’. ISBE vol. 5 p.2150.
The ‘new wine’ of Hosea 4:11 (Heb. ותירוש tîrõsh lit. something ‘squeezed’ or ‘pressed out’) where connected with harlotry and idolatry and translated ‘strong wine’, μέθυσμα méthusma in the LXX probably reflects an original שכר shekãr ‘strong drink’ which denotes an intoxicating draught of any sort and seen often to stand alongside or synonymous with, among others, the Hebrew ממסך mimsãkh ‘a spiced wine’ as either mixed or mingled. Many of these ‘mixed wines’ prepared with herbs and spices of various kinds, were highly potent and widely used for medicinal or recreational purposes. ISBE vol. v p.3086-7.
Some also were narcotic, where it known from Scripture and other ancient records (partic. the Jewish Baba mezia 83b) that wine drugged with opium, myrrh and possibly mandrake, (the Biblical ‘love apples’ of Genesis 30:14, Song of Solomon 7:13) were prescribed as anesthetic, medicinal or recreational in ancient times. Also, although classed as an illicit ‘sorcery’ at least in Hebrew law, (e.g. Exodus 22:18) it is clear from the Biblical narratives that addictive and harmful substance was widely employed for occult purposes in the ancient near-east. For a possible cannabis citation in Scripture download Free eBook.
See Concordance for versification.
E.g.. Isaiah 5:22, 65;11, Proverbs 23:30 St. Mark 15:23. St. Matthew 27:34 HBD vol. iii p.332.
Nahum, who prophesied against Nineveh between c. 663 BC and the fall of the City in 612 BC plainly asserts:
She [Nineveh] is a fair harlot (Heb. זונה zõnãh, LXX πόρνη pórne) and well-favoured, skilled in sorcery...
(LXX φαρμάκων pharmákon ‘drug enchantments’ KJV ‘witchcrafts’ again from the Hebrew כשפים kashãphim, the magical plant ‘cuttings’ or ‘off cuttings’)
...that sells the nations by her fornication (LXX πόρνεία pórneia ‘harlotry, pornography’) and peoples (KJV ‘families’) by her pharmacopeia (LXX φαρμάκοις pharmákois ‘charms’ ‘philtres’ ‘love potions’ etc. )
Cf. Nahum 3:4 KJV
Based on Brenton’s LXX translation (1844) ‘pharmacopeia’ is the only amplification made to Brenton’s English
Available Internet Archive - Public domain
See also Isaiah 47:8-15 concerning Babylon.
“The men of Nineveh shall rise up in judgement on this generation and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah is here”. St. Luke 11:32
Apart from harlotry, herbal abuses and military prowess Nineveh was also famed for its great Cuneiform and Akkadian interlinear library. Discovered in 1850 it was found to include a history much in agreement with the Old Testament, along with treaties on mathematics, botany, medicine, ancient lexicography and etymologies. The doorway to the library was guarded on either side by figures of Ea, the god of letters and culture, in his priestly robe of fishskin. A fish-god Dagon (from דג dag, ‘a fish’) was also worshipped by the Canaanites.
The city of Nineveh itself, situated on the left bank of the Tigris opposite what is now Mosul in modern Iraq, was originally called Ninua or Ninâ meaning ‘enclosed water’ which scholars maintain implies a connection with the Semitic nun, metaphorically ‘water born’ though again literally ‘a fish’. Although some dispute the etymological connection the idea of a sacred fish was pre-eminent in the lower pantheon. The temple destroyed by Samson was dedicated to the fish-god Dagon. Judges 16:23-30.†
Graphic: The Fish-god Dagon Courtesy The Blue letter Bible
The Story of Jonah
A Parabolic and Allegoric History
The Prophet Jonah was called by God to preach repentance to the heathen city of Nineveh between c. 785-760 BC.
Jonah, as a Hebrew, had little compassion however for the sinful nation, - should God save the Assyrian , the enemy of Israel! - and Jonah ‘rose up to flee from the presence of the Lord’. Jonah 1:3
In disobedience to God he forsook his commission and fled to Joppa where he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish. God however sent ‘a great wind’ at which Jonah, knowing he had disobeyed God’s call was willing that the fearful and superstitious mariners should throw him overboard as the instigation of the evil. (Heb. ‘calamity’) and the tempest stilled.
Yet God, in foreseeing all things had prepared דג־נדול dãg gãdól ‘a great fish’, LXX κήτει μεγάλω originally ‘a sea-monster’, only in later Greek ‘a whale’, which swallowed Jonah who remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights as Jesus also was ‘three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’ Jonah 1:17 = St. Matthew 12:40.
And Jonah, from the belly of the fish made supplication, and prayed unto the Lord:
And again God commanded Jonah:
“ Arise go unto Nineveh and prophesy against it that I bid thee ” Jonah 3:2
And Jonah arose, and went to the great city and prophesied:
“ Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown “ Jonah 3:4
And the king declared a fast, and issued a decree, that the people should repent of all the evil that was Nineveh, and the violence of there hands. And God saw their works, that they had turned from their evil, and God spared Nineveh.
For the full story of Jonah in the KJV or other versions with full commentary and lexicon please visit
Blue Letter Bible
Many commentaries point out that it is far from certain that ‘a whale’ is meant in the story of Jonah. The NT κήτους at St. Matthew 12:40 may be derived from a redundant primary meaning ‘a chasm’, ‘to gape or yawn’ hence many prefer ‘sea-creature’ or ‘sea-monster’ as the RVmg at St. Mt. 12:40. The Hebrew word for ‘whale’ at Jonah 1:17 is גדול דג dág qádôl ‘a great fish’ as the KJV. In the LXX this word translates, from later Greek κήτει μεγάλω ‘a whale’ as generally in the English New Testament at Mt.12:40.
The Old Testament LXX and Hebrew synonyms appear variously: δράκων ‘a dragon’, ‘serpent’ or ’sea-moster’, AVmg ‘sea-calves’ at Lam. 4:3 from the Hebrew תנים tannim at e.g Ezekiel 32:2 (Genesis 1:21) a plural form which is probably a scribal slip for תנין tannin meaning, in the very literal, ‘a creature of ululation’ hence ‘a whale’ at Jonah 1:17 in the LXX, a sense also applied to non-aquatic creatures in the Revised Version at Lamentations 4:3
. Cf. HBD vol. i p.620, vol iii p.332. NBD p.1325. ISBE vol v p.3082.
Strong’s Concordance No. H8577, G2785, G5490
Historical and Prophetic
Whatever ‘the whale’ may or may not have been there is no doubt, from the amount of recorded detail alone that the story of Jonah has a factual and historical basis even where an element of ‘the miraculous’ is present. As such the narrative has always been accepted by the Jews. The story was also proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospels as a prophetic ‘sign of the times’. Mt:12:39-40, Luke 11:30. There is sadly however apparently no mention of the preaching of Jonah in the great library of Nineveh where much was destroyed by the Babylonians at the fall of the city in 612 BC.
As a didactic or teaching from history the story of Jonah has clearly also a moral interpretation. The parabolic view cannot be used however as an expedient to remove the miraculous from the narrative. To do so would invalidate Christ’s reference to the story as God’s prophetic work in history.
The allegoric interpretation is more complex than the parabolic but no less probable. Jonah represents Israel and the Christian Church were the Gospel of Salvation is universal, preached even to the enemies of Israel. The fish is Nineveh and Babylon in the world term in which, as Israel was captive, the Church is buried with Christ in Death. (Romans 6:3-14, 1 Peter 5:13). The ‘three days and three nights’ are the decent into hell (‘the heart of the earth’ Mt 12:40 ) from which Christ will rise [is risen] in ascendent Glory. The story of ‘the whale’ and Jonah’s deliverance can also be seen allegorically as a parabolic of the ‘end times’ tribulation and the final victory of good over evil. See St. Matthew:12:39-41, 24:21. St. Luke 11:30-32, etc.
Image courtesy Gospelgifts .com
† Note: The Greek ΙΧΘΥΞ adopted by the Early Christians as a sign of faith was acrostic for ‘Jesus [Ι] Christ, [Χ] God [Θ] the Son [Υ] and Saviour [Ξ]’ and although the acronym spelled literally ‘fish’ and undoubtedly carried overtones of the ‘Spirit’ or ‘water-born of baptism’ - the Early Christians did actually term themselves ‘the little fish of the sea’ - this was in no way connected with any form of fish-worship which was in fact outlawed by the Deuteronomic Code at Deuteronomy 4:18
For a further elucidation of Nineveh and Babylon in the world term with full OT and NT Lexicon and Concordance
FREE eBOOK Drug Abuse in Scripture.
Biblical Source Index
(i) International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, (ISBE) 1960, vol v p.3082. .(EErdmans) (ii) New Bible Dictionary,(NBD) IVF 1962, p.1325. (iii) Hastings Bible Dictionary, 1902, (HBD) vol i p.620, vol.iii p.332.
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