Back on 02/17/2020 Maya Margit reported that archaeologists had unearthed a 3,000 year old temple to the Canaanite God Rešeph:
Led by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Prof. Michael Hasel of Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, the team published their findings in the Levant journal last month following years of excavations.
Located in south-central Israel, Tel Lachish is the site of the biblical Lachish, a major Canaanite city during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages that was later conquered by the Israelites. It was one of the only Canaanite cities to survive into the 12th century BCE.
“We excavated a new temple in the northeast corner of the site that dates to the 12th century BCE,” Garfinkel told The Media Line. “It was extremely rich with objects and also [had] an inscription, which is very, very rare. The last time a Canaanite inscription was found was about 40 years ago.” The aforementioned inscription was found on a pottery shard and features the oldest-known example of the letter “samekh.”
“In general, temples in the ancient Near East were not like churches or synagogues that you could enter,” Weissbein said. “It’s a different type of cultic activity. Only a few elites – priests or maybe kings – entered to do some rituals there because it was a house of gods, not a house of worship in a way… We found two figurines of male deities,” Weissbein stated. “They probably represent Baal, one of the main deities of the Canaanites, like a storm god or a fertility god … and another deity called Resheph, more of a warlike deity.”
Well, not quite Weissbein. Although Rešeph is unquestionably a mighty warrior, he is also the Hurler of Thunder, the Lord of Fire and Destruction and God of Fever, Illness and Pestilence. He was worshiped in Ugarit, Syro-Palestine, Phoenicia, Egypt and the Eastern Mediterranean and has a growing cult among contemporary polytheists from different traditions. Our household maintains a shrine for him, and I have a strong suspicion that there’s history between Rešeph and Dionysos (though I’ll save that for another post.) Needless to say, when I caught the story about the unearthing of Rešeph’s temple on the Wild Hunt, my interest was piqued.
Especially when I read the bit about the Samekh inscription.
Samekh has a numerical value of 60, and is the 15th letter in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Phoenician alphabets – where in the latter it is called sāmek, and has the following shape 𐤎, thought to represent a tent-peg, a tree or something like the djed-pillar.
Now I am not going to go into the mysteries of this Phoenician letter as they are not mine to share – but Hebrew gematria is totally up for grabs!
In discussing the significance of this letter Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin of Chabad.org begins by telling the following anecdote:
Yaakov had been terribly ill for weeks. He finally decided to ask R. Mordechai of Neshchiz for advice. “Rebbe,” he sobbed, “please help me. I am extremely sick. I have gone to every doctor in town, but none of them has a cure for me.”
“It seems that you haven’t gone to the right doctor,” replied R. Mordechai. “Go immediately to Anipoli and talk to the specialist there. Then you will be cured.”
Yaakov thanked the Rebbe for his advice, hired a wagon, and set out for Anipoli. When he arrived there, he rushed over to the first person he saw and asked, “Please, tell me where the great specialist lives. I am very ill and must see him right away.”
The person was puzzled. “You came to Anipoli for a specialist?! This is such a small village, we don’t even have a doctor here.”
Disappointed and frustrated, Yaakov returned to R. Mordechai of Neshchiz. “Rebbe,” he said, “I don’t understand. You sent me to Anipoli, but the people told me that not only is there no specialist there, there is not even a doctor.”
“Hmm. They don’t even have a doctor?” questioned the Rebbe. “So did you ask the people what they do when someone is sick?”
“I did,” Yaakov replied. “They told me that when someone is sick, they pray to G‑d and rely on Him to cure them.”
“Now do you understand?” R. Mordechai explained. “The people in Anipoli go to the greatest specialist in the world. They pray to G‑d. He is the one Who cures us all.”
And then informs us:
The numerical value of the samech, the fifteenth letter of the alef-beis, is sixty. In the Priestly Blessing recited every morning there are fifteen words and sixty letters. When the kohen blesses the people, he must put his two hands together. According to the Mishnah there are thirty bones in each hand, sixty when the hands are joined. What is unique about the Priestly Blessing? The results of such blessings are swift and without interruption, similar to the strength of a current of mighty water that no dam can stop. The Priestly Blessings embody the concept of the samech: infinite light and power.
Rabbi Raskin goes on to note:
The circular aspect of the samech represents support, like the rings that encircle and hold together all the elements of the lulav. The ring also symbolizes a couple’s commitment to each other. A woman symbolizes her uncompromising support of her husband by circling him seven times under the chuppah. Similarly, the man’s commitment is symbolized by the giving of a ring. When you pick up someone who has fallen, you support and encircle him or her. With the wedding ring we are saying in effect, “This ring has no beginning or end, no highs or lows. The characteristic of encircling is constant. So, too, will my commitment to you be constant, encompassing your whole being, regardless of the highs and lows of the relationship.”
So in other words Samekh is about a circular disease – a coronavirus, if you will – which we will only survive by loving and supporting one another as well as priestly prayer to the Healing Gods.
Hail Rešeph, may your protection and restoration be upon all those whose lips are sweet from tirelessly praising your precious name! Rešeph! Rešeph! Rešeph!