Tales of the mystical creatures appear in early Arabian and later Islamic mythology. An individual member of the jinn is known as a jinni, djinni, or genie. Throughout the Quran and other Islamic texts they are mentioned frequently. The Quran says that the jinn were created from a smokeless and “scorching fire”, but are also physical in nature, being able to interact in a tactile manner with people and objects and likewise be acted upon.

The earliest evidence of the word, can be found in Persian, for the singular Jinni is the Avestic “Jaini”, a wicked (female) spirit. Jaini were among various creatures believe among pre-Zoroastrian peoples of Persia.

The jinn, humans, and angels make up the three known sapient creations of God. Like human beings, the jinn can be good, evil, or neutrally benevolent and have free will like humans.

Jewish lore mention a creaturr called Shedim, who are akin to the islamic concept of Jinn. They are said to eat, drink, procreate and die, are also mostly invisible and in some accounts, they inhabited the earth before mankind until human beings replaced them, similar to the Jinn in Islam.


The Queen of Sheba

queen_sheba_poynter_1890The Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon is one of the most famous diplomatic visits in the Bible, but we know very little about this powerful monarch.  Her visit appears in religious texts sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, however, her name was never mentioned.  We are not exactly sure where “Sheba” even is.  She is described as a “Queen from the South”, who came to visit King Solomon to test his great wisdom.  She brings with her a treasure trove of frankincense, myrrh, gold and jewels as well as a head full of riddles.  He answers them to her satisfaction and converts her to worship Yahweh.  Then she returns to her country.  That is the last the Bible mentions her, but there are additional stories about this powerful queen.

One of the candidates for the location of Sheba is the Horn of Africa, specifically Ethiopia.  This is one of the two places the trees which produce frankincense grow.  The Queen of Sheba features prominently in the Kebra Nagast, the Ethiopian holy book.  There is a story about how this legendary beauty had one human leg and one leg that was hairy and cloven footed “like a goat”.  Solomon was curious about this and had the floor of his palace polished until it shone like a glass mirror.  Then had the unsuspecting queen walk across it and saw her deformed leg, but it was transformed into a human leg before his eyes.  

There is an additional story about how the queen warns Solomon that as an unmarried woman, she was going to put up with no funny business and he was not to touch her.  Solomon agreed as long as she would not take anything of his.  Solomon then invites the queen to a great banquet full of extremely salty and savory food, but offers nothing to drink.  The queen returns to her chambers and awakens extremely thirsty.  She goes looking for something to drink, and find a pitcher of water next to Solomon’s bed.  She takes a drink and he awakes and informs her she has broken her agreement.  So they end up in bed together.  Solomon has obviously not seen the HR consent video.  Between this story and the upskirt mirror floor, Solomon kind of sounds like a jerk.  Anyway after this night together, the queen returns home pregnant with Solomon’s child.  She bore a son, who she named Menelik, meaning “Son of the Wise”.  Years later, Menelik visited his father in Jerusalem and everyone remarked on the resemblance between father and son.  Solomon offered Menelik the throne of Israel, but Menelik refused returning to his capital in Aksum taking with him the Ark of the Covenant.  According to Ethiopian tradition, the Ark is there to this day in a special chamber in the courtyard of St. Mary’s Church.    However, the ruins at Aksum are a thousand years after the time of Solomon.

Another tradition has the kingdom of Sheba being in the Arabian peninsula, or what is modern day Yemen.  This is near the crossing to Africa and is only a few kilometers from the horn of Africa.  Marib was the capital of the ancient Kingdom of Saba, which could easily have been mistranslated or written as Sheba.  In Marib, excavations are underway of a temple known as the Mahram Bilqis or Temple of Bilqis.  In the Islamic tradition, Bilqis is the name given to the Queen of Sheba.  This is not mentioned in the Koran, but in later stories.  These stories include the goat leg legend, but in this story both of her legs are like a goat and they are not healed.  

Because these two places are close together, it is possible that they were both part of the Kingdom of Sheba and that Bilqis ruled both Ethiopia and southern Yemen from Marib.  Louise Schofield believes she has found one of the sources of the Queen of Sheba’s wealth in northern Ethiopia.  She found a temple dedicated to the moon god with Sabaen inscriptions, the language of Sheba.  From there they found the remains of a large battle and mines.  Despite the evidence of Sheba, there is no primary evidence of the existence of its queen.  Perhaps those are revelations that are still waiting for us


The Vanishing Persian Army of Cambyses

Persian warriors, a detail from the frieze in Darius’ palace in Susa. Pergamon Museum / Vorderasiatisches Museum, Germany. Image credit: Mohammed Shamma / CC BY 2.0.
Persian warriors, a detail from the frieze in Darius’ palace in Susa. Pergamon Museum / Vorderasiatisches Museum, Germany. Image credit: Mohammed Shamma / CC BY 2.0.

When your dad is Cyrus the Great, you have a lot to live up to.  He began the Achaemenid Empire and reigned over the territory from Asia Minor to India.  Unfortunately, Cyrus met his match in a warrior queen named Tomyris and went to his long home.   (More on her in this post:  http://www.historynaked.com/tomyris-the-woman-who-brought-down-cyrus-the-great/ )  This left his son Cambyses in charge.  There had been a bit of trouble when he was overseeing things for his father in Babylon.  No one is quite sure, but the Chronicle of Nabonidus indicates there was an issue during the very important New Year’s Akitu festival.   Possibly with Cambyses being armed during the ceremony, which was expressly forbidden.  However, all of this was glossed over as Cambyses was the chosen heir and took the throne around 530 BCE.

To set Cambyses off on the right foot, he took up the conquest of Egypt.  Although the Egyptian empire had been weakened, it was no pushover.  Pharaoh Amasis was ready to fight and had allied himself with Greek mercenaries to augment their navy.  Unfortunately, their Greek allies turned coat and didn’t fight.  There is no record of a sea battle, and the Persians marched in six months later and defeated the Egyptian army.  Amasis was dead and his son Psammetichus was captured and surrendered, receiving honorable treatment.  What is telling also is the admiral of the Egyptian fleet, Wedjahor-Resne, became Cambyses’ right hand man soon after the conquest.  Perhaps there was some more turncoating afoot?  Who knows.  What is known is Cambyses was recognized as the new pharaoh of Egypt with Wedjahor-Resne by his side as adviser.

However, not everyone was ready to play nice with the Persian conquerors.  According to Herodotus, in 524 BCE the priests at the Temple of Amun at the Oasis of Siwa rejected Cambyses.  That wasn’t going to stand, and Cambyses sent an army of 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to march into the desert and take care of these rebel priests.  Herodotus reports the god Amun must not have liked someone trying to beat up on his priests and sent a sandstorm to swallow up the army.  Since that day, no one has found hide nor hair of them.  And that was that.  Well, not exactly.  Experience has shown you can’t die from a sandstorm alone.  So what happened to the 50,000 men?

19th century engraving of The Lost Army of Cambyses. Public domain.
19th century engraving of The Lost Army of Cambyses. Public domain.

Egyptologist Olaf Kaper believes he has the answer.  In 2014 he published his findings and based on his research, he believe the army was not headed for Siwa but for the Dachla Oasis.  This was the location of a shadowy figure in Egyptian history, Petubastis III.  He is thought to have been a local price and possibly a member of the old royal line.  He was the leader of the rebel movement against Cambyses.  Kaper found an inscription by Petubastis III that he defeated the lost army of Cambyses via an ambush.  After this, he was crowned pharaoh in the lower Egypt capital of Memphis.  He believes Cambyses’ successor Darius I put forth the sandstorm story to cover up his predecessor’s shameful defeat.

However, two other archeologists, Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni, believe they found the resting place of the lost army.  They believe the army did not travel the well known route, but tried to sneak to Siwa around the back.  Instead of gaining surprise in battle, they only found the khamsin, the strong, hot wind from the Sahara desert.  In an excavation in 2009, they found a mass grave with hundreds of bleached bones and skulls.  Amongst the bones were Persian artifacts, such as arrow heads and horse bits.  Additional excavation has not been started according to the Egyptian authorities.

So was the army lost to natural elements or a military blunder?  Without additional study, we will never know.


The Date of Christmas

christmas-tree-1-570x427“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”  Luke 2:8.   This is a part of the infancy gospels that are very familiar to us.  The shepherds out in the fields with their flocks and being visited by the Heavenly Host and told to go find the Christ child.  If this is indeed true, then this throws the date of December 25 as the date of Christ’s birth into shadow.  The flocks were kept in corrals unwatched at night every season but lambing time, which took place in the spring.  Only during lambing times were shepherds in the fields with their flocks to watch for any ewes about to give birth.  Although some advocate argue sheep reserved for temple sacrifices would have grazed unfettered even in winter.  So how did we settle on December 25 as the celebration of Christ’s birth?  One word.  Syncretism.  

The early Church was not much concerned with the date of Christ’s birth as his death and resurrection were the main focus of their teaching.  Some Church fathers even announced it was sinful to even try to figure out the exact date and celebrate it.  It was compared to celebrating Christ’s birthday “as though He were a King Pharaoh.”  However, as the infancy gospels gained popularity, so theologians tried to pin down the date and came up with a hodgepodge-  January 1, January 6, March 25 and May 20.  The first recorded mention of Christmas being celebrated on December 25 is in 336 during the reign of the Emperor Constantine.  Due to his experience at the Milvian Bridge, Constantine was busy making Christianity the main religion of the Roman Empire.  He was facing some stiff competition.  

Many religions have a main holiday on the winter solstice, which is right around December 25.  The Golden Bough:  A Study in Magic and Religion by James George Frazer describes rituals of the Egyptians depicting the new born sun as an infant and other cultures leaving their shrines on midnight of the winter solstice crying, “The Virgin has brought forth! The light is waxing!”  The Virgin in this case being a goddess not Mary.  The famous Roman mid-winter festival of Saturnalia was also celebrated at this time.  One of the main religions was the cult of Mithras.  This cult originated in Persia and swept the Roman world in the first century BCE.  Emperor Aurelian had even made it the state religion.  Natalis Solis Invicti, or “Birthday of the Invincible Sun God”, Mithras was installed as state holiday in 274 CE.  These were all popular and beloved celebrations. Constantine was facing an uphill battle to get people to give these up.  Enter syncretism.

Syncretism is the merging or amalgamation of the customs of different religions or cultures.  In short, Christianity plopped their new holiday of Christmas squarely on top of the existing celebrations.  Many of the symbols were co-opted as well-  Christmas trees from the Germans, mistletoe from the Celts, snowflakes from the northern climates.  Early Christian writers did not refer to a conspiracy to take over pagan holidays.  There was not “War on Yule” as it were.  There seems to be an organic move to rebrand these celebrations that people liked into one which fit with the new Christian religion.  We do not even get the hint that these celebrations were set deliberately over the old pagan ones until 12th century writings.  Christmas trees and other traditions are also thought to have been borrowed at a later date.  That does not mean that there was not more than coincidence that placed Christmas in December.  In 661, Pope Gregory the Great sent a letter to missionaries in Britain recommending the local festivals be celebrated as the feasts of the Christian martyrs.

As with many things, it was probably a combination of calculation and coincidence.  Because of it we have a lovely holiday to celebrate in the deep midwinter.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you and yours!


Sources available on request

The Twists and Turns of Outremer

Illustration from the Old French translation of Guillaume de Tyr's Histoire d'Outremer
Illustration from the Old French translation of Guillaume de Tyr’s Histoire d’Outremer

After the defeat of the Byzantine Empire at the battle of Manzikert, Emperor Alexius Comnenus turned to his European counterparts for help. Although there was no lost between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church, Pope Urban saw an opportunity. The holy places of Christianity had been in the hands of Islamic conquerors for over 400 years. It was time to get them back. Hence the First Crusade, which allowed Alexius to retake western Anatolia and the crusaders to take Jerusalem. Although Godfrey of Bologne, the leader of the First Crusade, declared there should be no man wearing a crown where Christ wore the Crown of Thorns, his successors had no problem declaring themselves king. Thus the Crusader States were born.

The French called them Outremer, which literally meant “over the sea”. These consisted of the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli, which all owed fealty to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. They were really divided into two spheres of influence- the northern governed by Antioch and the southern governed by Jerusalem. Both areas had different goals and enemies. Antioch, which influenced Edessa and Tripoli, was mainly ruled by Normans and were embroiled with issues with Armenia, the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim states of Aleppo and Mosul. Jerusalem, however, was mainly concerned with Damascus and Egypt.

After Godfrey of Bologne, Jerusalem was ruled by the brother of Godfrey of Bologne then after his death passed to Baldwin II de la Bourg. Rule then passed to his daughter Melisende. Because of the constant state of war, women had a much higher life expectancy of the men. While a man was in the field, his spouse could exercise her husband’s authority jure uxoris, through the medium of the wife. At the request of the French king, Louis VI, Melisende was married to Fulk of Anjou, the grandfather of Henry II of England. After much political intrigue, their son Baldwin III became king. Who was succeeded by his brother, Amalric. He had a son and a daughter with his wife Agnes of Courtenay, who was descended from the rulers of the County of Edessa. However, once Amalric ascended to the throne after his brother died childless, he threw Agnes in a convent and had the marriage annulled. He then married Maria Comnena, a grand niece of ruling emperor Manuel I Comnenus, and had a daughter, Isabella.

All while this was going on, in Egypt a new power was growing. Saladin had just succeeded his uncle Shirkuh as vizier of Egypt. He was on the move and took the city of Eilat, which was Jerusalem’s connection with the Red Sea. Amalric called to his allies in Europe, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. In the meantime, there was more trouble in Jerusalem. Amalric’s son and heir, Baldwin, was found to be a leper. Historians believe he had tuberculoid leprosy as he originally was quite active as a rider and did not have any visible physical disfigurement. His tutor, William of Tyre, discovered something was wrong because the prince and his playmates had a game of digging their fingernails into each other and Baldwin felt no pain. Baldwin was still designated as heir, but his sister Sibylla took on extreme importance as she was next in line. Since Baldwin had leprosy, it was not expected for him to have heirs. Everyone was extremely interested in who Sibylla would marry, since it would be he who took on the crown of Jerusalem in right of his wife. In 1176, Sibylla married William Longsword of Montferrat. It was a good match, but William died soon after leaving Sibylla pregnant with a son, whom she named Baldwin just to keep things confusing.

Amalric’s son, Baldwin, became Baldwin IV on 1174 at the age of 13. His regent was his father’s cousin, Raymond III of Tripoli, who made a treaty with Saladin. As soon as Baldwin gain control of the throne, he refused to ratify the treaty and attacked Damascus. After a series of maneuvers, they met Saladin at the Battle of Montgisard and won with the help of the Knights Templar in 1177. It is thought that the combination of being in the field and the onset of puberty, accelerated Baldwin’s leprosy into the disfiguring lepromatous leprosy. As by 1179, Baldwin had declined so far as he could not remount his horse without aid. By the 1180’s, Baldwin was blind and bedridden and turned over power to his sister’s new husband.

With Baldwin IV declining, Sibylla’s remarriage took center stage. There were factions in the court vying to get control over Sibylla, who with her husband would be regent for her young son Baldwin of Montferrat. In 1180, she was married to Guy of Lusignan. If you remember from previous posts, the Lusignan’s were an ambitious family from southern France with ties to both the English and French throne. In short, they were trouble. He was considered a weak commander and when Saladin attacked the castle where Baldwin IV’s half sister Isabella’s wedding was being held, Guy hesitated. Baldwin had to rise from his sickbed to break the siege. That was enough for Baldwin, and he attempted to have his sister’s marriage annulled and removed Guy as regent.

When Baldwin IV finally succumbed to leprosy in 1185, he left the throne to Sibylla’s son, Baldwin, with Raymond of Tripoli as regent. You can imagine how well Guy took that. Poor little Baldwin V only reigned for a year and died at the tender age of 9. That left Sibylla as sole queen on the condition she would annul her marriage. She double crossed them, and after she was crowned queen plucked the crown off her head and put it on Guy’s. She boldly declared, “I make choice of thee as king and as my lord; for whom God hath joined together let not man put asunder.” They were stuck with the Lusignan and the consequences would be disastrous.


Sources available on request