Warsaw archaeologist solves 100-year-old mystery surrounding identity of anonymous god
A Polish archaeologist has unlocked a 100-year-old mystery after identifying over 200 inscriptions addressed to an anonymous god.
Aleksandra Kubiak-Schneider had been carrying out research in an ancient metropolis in today’s Syria known as Palmyra when she made her discovery.
Initially a modest caravan city, it grew to become one of the Mediterranean’s largest metropolises in the first and second centuries, brokering trade between the Roman Empire and the Far East - Persia, China and India.
During excavations at the beginning of the 20th century, archaeologists came across approximately 2,500 inscriptions in Aramaic on various architectural elements.
Around 200 texts dated mainly to the 2nd and 3rd centuries contained mysterious references to a deity: "Blessed is his name forever, Lord of the World and Merciful.”
Ever since scientists have been trying to work out which god the specific phrase was directed to and used the stopgap term “Palmyrene Anonymous God.”
Now Kubiak-Schneider says she thinks she has cracked it.
She told the Science in Poland (Nauka w polsce) portal that the inscriptions had been carved on stone altars and were perhaps originally located in temples.
She said: “There was a tendency to believe in one God … and the taboo of uttering the name of a deity … were seen here, because these formulas resembled and bring to mind biblical connotations.”
She continued that the specific way of addressing the anonymous deity was the same as with hymns sung and recited in thanksgiving for help received from deities in building the temples of ancient Mesopotamia from the first millennium BC onward.
This would have been in honour of many important deities and that there were many deities who deserved an eternal hymn of thanksgiving, adding that "Merciful" Bel-Marduk, the highest Babylonian god, was also worshiped in Palmyra.
She said: “He saved people and gods from Tiamat, a monster that embodies chaos and darkness. The "Lord of the World" in turn may refer to Bel, the Lord of the Universe, as well as Ba'alshamin, the god of storms and fertility.
“Not using the gods' own names in the case of dedication was therefore a sign of respect, despite the Palmyreans knowing perfectly well the names of the deities they professed to.
“There was no single Anonymous God, only every god who was attentive and favourable deserved an eternal hymn.”
She added that this is important because it shows the continuity of pre-Hellenistic traditions in the Middle East, which influenced the shape of today's monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
As part of the NCN program, Polonez Bis 1, the inscriptions will now go to the University of Wroclaw for further study.