Mystery Deity Mentioned as “Lord of the Universe” Identified in Ancient Palmyra

Science has long been baffled by the identity of an unknown god depicted in inscriptions found in present-day Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra. However, the case appears to have been solved now, according to a Polish archaeologist who has managed to identify a deity referred to as the “Lord of the Universe.”

According to researcher Aleksandra Kubiak-Schneider, about 200 texts were found among 2,500 Aramaic inscriptions scattered throughout Palmyra dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. They all contained mysterious phrases addressed to one deity: “The Lord of the Universe,” “Merciful,” and “He whose name is blessed forever.”

Kubiak-Schneider told Science in Poland: “These inscriptions were on stone altars intended for burning the fragrant sacrifice of incense, juniper grains, and other aromas and for pouring liquids.”

Over the last 100 years, scientists have attempted to locate which deity was the recipient of this particular phrase, during which time it was called “the Nameless God of Palmyra.”

“This was interpreted as monotheistic manifestations and tendencies to worship the only God, a mystical dimension of the cult of the Lord of Heaven, Baalshamin, as well as a taboo against speaking the name of the deity similar to that existing in Judaism because these phrases have been evoking and still evoke biblical connotations.” explained the Polish researcher.

The researcher noticed that the way of addressing the anonymous deity was similar to the hymns sung and recited in Mesopotamian temples of the first millennium BCE that mentioned Marduk-Bel (Babylon’s most famous deity), Nabu (literacy’s patron god), Nergal (god of the underground), and Hadad (storm and rain god).

Kubiak-Schneider believes that multiple deities were the recipients of the hymn of thanksgiving. Her interpretation is that the epithet “Merciful” refers to Bel-Marduk, who was worshipped in Palmyra as well as Babylon, who saved people and gods from Tiamat, a monster that embodies chaos and darkness.

The “Lord of the World,” she believes, can refer to Bel, the Lord of the Universe, as well as Baalshamin, the god of storm and fertility identified with Zeus.

A photograph of ancient writings in the ancient city of Palmyra. Depositphotos.
A photograph of ancient writings in the ancient city of Palmyra. Depositphotos.

There is only one phrase that can be universal, meaning that the phrase ‘He whose name is blessed forever’ refers to the deity that listens to the prayer and deserves eternal glory, as demonstrated in ancient hymns and prayers from Babylonia and Assyria.

Hence, the non-use of the god’s name in dedications was a sign of respect. The archaeologist argues that the Palmyreans knew the names of their deities.

According to Kubiak-Schneider, it is not surprising that the image of the deity does not appear on the altar, which in this case has nothing to do with the prohibition on displaying the divine face. Rather than an anonymous God, each god who listened to and favored requests deserved eternal praise, according to the researcher.

The elite and moderately wealthy families financed these inscriptions at Palmyra. Both women and men commissioned them, as well as slaves, freed former slaves, free people, and Roman citizens.

An image of the Ruins of the ancient amphitheater in Pamlmyra. Depositphotos.
An image of the Ruins of the ancient amphitheater in Palmyra. Depositphotos.

Kubiak-Schneider believes that her discovery is essential because it proves that pre-Hellenistic traditions remained alive in the Middle East, influencing today’s great monotheistic religions.

Additionally, her study indicates that religious poetry was used in rituals almost 2,000 years ago, but it has not been preserved until now. According to research, the deities had many names and titles according to their circumstances and who addressed them.

In polytheistic systems, like Palmyra, Mesopotamia, or the Roman Empire, each name conveys a different message, showing different aspects of the gods.

The ancient metropolis of Palmyra acted as a trading hub between the Roman Empire and the Far East-Persia, China, and India.

By the 1st and 2nd centuries, it had become one of the largest metropolises in the Mediterranean region.

In addition to long colonnades and numerous temples dedicated to various gods, it became famous for its picturesque and monumental stone architecture.

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Source: Curiosmos

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