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So do they unto this day - This must have been written before the Babylonish captivity; because, after that time, none of the Israelites ever lapsed into idolatry. But this may chiefly refer to the heathenish people who were sent to dwell among the remains of the ten tribes.
On these nations and the objects of their worship, I present my readers with the following extracts from Dodd and Parkhurst.
2 Kings 17:30. The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth. We have here an account of the idols which were consecrated by the different nations, transplanted by the king of Assyria to Samaria. It is difficult, however, and has afforded a large field for conjecture, to give any satisfactory account concerning them. The reader will find in Selden, Vossius, and Jurieu, much upon the subject. Succoth-benoth may be literally translated, The Tabernacles of the Daughters, or Young Women; or if Benoth be taken as the name of a female idol, from בנה to build up, procreate children, then the words will express the tabernacles sacred to the productive powers feminine. And, agreeably to this latter exposition, the rabbins say that the emblem was a hen and chickens. But however this may be, there is no room to doubt that these succoth were tabernacles wherein young women exposed themselves to prostitution in honor of the Babylonish goddess Melitta. Herodotus, (lib. i., c. 199), gives us a particular account of this detestable service. "Every young woman," says he, "of the country of Babylon must once in her life sit at the temple of Venus, [whom he afterwards tells us the Assyrians called Melitta], and prostitute herself to some stranger. Those who are rich, and so disdain to mingle with the crowd, present themselves before the temple in covered chariots, attended by a great retinue. But the generality of the women sit near the temple, having crowns upon their heads, and holding a cord, some continually coming, others going. [See Baruch 6:43]. The cords are held by them in such a manner as to afford a free passage among the women, that the strangers may choose whom they like. A woman who has once seated herself in this place must not return home till some stranger has cast money into her lap, and led her from the temple, and defiled her. The stranger who throws the money must say, 'I invoke the goddess Melitta for thee.' The money, however small a sum it may be, must not be refused, because it is appointed to sacred uses. [See Deuteronomy 23:18]. The woman must follow the first man that offers, and not reject him; and after prostitution, having now duly honored the goddess, she is dismissed to her own house. In Cyprus," adds the historian, "they have the same custom." This abomination, implied by Succoth-benoth, the men of Babylon brought with them into the country of Samaria; and both the name of the idol Melitta, and the execrable service performed to her honor, show that by Melitta was originally intended the procreative or productive power of nature, the Venus of the Greeks and Romans. See the beginning of Lucretius's first book De Rerum Natura. Mr. Selden imagines that some traces of the Succoth-benoth may be found in Sicca Veneria, the name of a city of Numidia, not far from the borders of Africa Propria. The name itself bears a near allusion to the obscene custom above taken notice of, and seems to have been transported from Phoenicia: nor can this well be disputed, when we consider that here was a temple where women were obliged to purchase their marriage-money by the prostitution of their bodies. See Univ. Hist., vol. xvii., p. 295, and Parkhurst's Lexicon on the word סך.
The men of Cuth made Nergal. - Cuth was a province of Assyria, which, according to some, lies upon the Araxis: but others rather think it to be the same with Cush, which is said by Moses to be encompassed with the river Gihon; and must, therefore, be the same with the country which the Greeks call Susiana, and which to this day is called by the inhabitants Chusesta. Their idol, Nergal, seems to have been the sun, as the causer of the diurnal and annual revolutions of the planets; for it is naturally derived from נר ner, light, and by גל gal, to revolve. The rabbins say that the idol was represented in the shape of a cock; and probably they tell us the truth, for this seems a very proper emblem. Among the latter heathens we find the cock was sacred to Apollo or the sun, (see Pierii Hieroglyph., p. 223), "because," says Heliodorus, speaking of the time when cocks crow, "by a natural sensation of the sun's revolution to us, they are incited to salute the god." Aethiop. lib. i. And perhaps under this name, Nergal, they meant to worship the sun, not only for the diurnal return of its light upon the earth, but also for its annual return or revolution. We may observe that the emblem, a cock, is affected by the latter as well as by the former, and is frequently crowing both day and night, when the days begin to lengthen. See Calmet's Dictionary under the word, and Parkhurst's Lexicon.
The men of Hamath made Ashima. - There are several cities and countries which go under the name of Hamath; but what we take to be here meant is that province of Syria which lies upon the Orontes, wherein there was a city of the same name; which when Shalmaneser had taken, he removed the inhabitants from thence into Samaria. Their idol Ashima signifies the atoner or expiator, from אשם asham. The word is in a Chaldee form, and seems to be the same as אשמת שמרון ashmath Shomeron, the sin of Samaria, mentioned Amos 8:14, where ashmath is rendered by the Lxx. propitiation. It is known to every one who has the least acquaintance with the mythology of the heathen, how strongly and universally they retained the tradition of an atonement or expiation for sin, although they expected it from a false object and wrong means. We find it expressed in very clear terms among the Romans even so late as the time of Horace, lib. i., ode 2: -
Cui dabit partes scelus expiandi Jupiter?
And whom, to expiate the horrid guilt, Will Jove appoint?
The answer is, "Apollo," the god of light. Some think that, as Asuman or Suman, asman, in the Persian language, signifies heaven, the Syrians might from hence derive the name of this god; who, they suppose, was represented by a large stone pillar terminating in a conic or pyramidical figure, whereby they denoted fire. See Parkhurst on the word אשם asham, Calmet's Dictionary, and Tennison on Idolatry.
2 Kings 17:31. The Avites made Nibhaz and Tartak. - It is uncertain who these Avites were. The most probable opinion seems to be that which Grotius has suggested by observing that there are a people in Bactriana, mentioned by Ptolemy, under the name of Avidia, who possibly might be those transported at this time into Palestine by Shalmaneser. Nibhaz, according to the rabbins, had the shape of a dog, much like the Anubis of the Egyptians. In Pierius's Hieroglyphics, p. 53, is the figure of a cunocephalus, a kind of ape, with a head like a dog, standing upon his hinder feet, and looking earnestly at the moon. Pierius there teaches us that the cunocephalus was an animal eminently sacred amongst the Egyptians, hieroglyphical of the moon, and kept in their temples to inform them of the moon's conjunction with the sun, at which time this animal is strangely affected, being deprived of sight, refusing food, and lying sick on the ground; but on the moon's appearance seeming to return thanks, and congratulate the return of light both to himself and her. See Johnston's Nat. Hist. de Quadruped., p. 100. This being observed, the נבחז nibchaz, (which may well be derived from נבח nabach, to bark, and חזה chazah, to see), gives us reason to conclude that this idol was in the shape of a cunocephalus, or a dog looking, barking, or howling at the moon. It is obvious to common observation that dogs in general have this property; and an idol of the form just mentioned seems to have been originally designed to represent the power or influence of the moon on all sublunary bodies, with which the cunocephaluses and dogs are so eminently affected. So, as we have observed upon Nergal, the influence of the returning solar light was represented by a cock; and the generative power of the heavens by Dagon, a fishy idol. See Parkhurst on נבחז who is of opinion that Tartak תרתק is compounded of תר tar, to turn, go round, and רתק rathak, to chain, tether; and plainly denotes the heavens, considered as confining the planets in their respective orbits, as if they were tethered. The Jews have a tradition that the emblem of this idol was an ass; which, considering the propriety of that animal when tethered to represent this idol, is not improbable; and from this idolatrous worship of the Samaritans, joined perhaps with some confused account of the cherubim, seems to have sprung that stupid story by the heathens, that the Jews had an ass's head in their holy of holies, to which they paid religious worship. See Bochart, vol. ii., p. 221. Jurieu is of opinion that as the word Nibhaz, both in the Hebrew and Chaldee, with a small variation, denotes quick, swift, rapid; and tartak, in the same languages, signifies a chariot, these two idols may both together denominate the sun mounted on his car, as the fictions of the poets and the notions of the mythologists were wont to represent that luminary.
The Sepharvites burned their children - to Adrammelech and Anammelech. - As these Sepharvites probably came from the cities of the Medes, whither the Israelites were carried captive, and as Herodotus tells us that between Colchis and Media are found a people called Saspires, in all likelihood they were the same with those here named Sepharvites. Moloch, Milcom, and Melech, in the language of different nations, all signify a king, and imply the sun, which was called the king of heaven; and consequently the addition of אדר adar, which signifies powerful, illustrious, to the one, and of ענה anah, which implies to return, to answer, to the other, means no more than the mighty or the oracular Moloch. And as the children were offered to him, it appears that he was the same with the Moloch of the Ammonites. See Univ. Hist. and Calmet. Mr. Locke is also of opinion that these two names were expressive of one and the same deity. What they were, or in what form, and how worshipped, we have not light from antiquity to determine.
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Their graven images - The Babylonians appear to have made a very sparing use of animal forms among their religious emblems. They represented the male Sun, Shamas, by a circle, plain or crossed; the female Sun, Anunit, by a six-rayed or eight-rayed star; Nebo by a single wedge or arrow-head, the fundamental element of their writing; the god of the atmosphere by a double or triple thunderbolt. The gods generally were represented under human forms. A few of them had, in addition, animal emblems - the lion, the bull, the eagle, or the serpent; but these seem never to have been set up for worship in temples. There was nothing intentionally grotesque in the Babylonian religion, as there was in the Egyptian and Phoenician.
So do they unto this day - The mixed worship, the union of professed reverence for Yahweh with the grossest idolatry, continued to the time of the composition of this book, which must have been as late as 561 B.C., or, at any rate, as late as 580 B.C. 2 Kings 25:27. It did not, however, continue much longer. When the Samaritans wished to join the Jews in rebuilding the temple (about 537 B.C.), they showed that inclination to draw nearer to the Jewish cult which henceforth marked their religious progress. Long before the erection of a temple to Yahweh on Mount Gerizim (409 B.C.) they had laid aside all their idolatrous rites, and, admitting the binding authority of the Pentateuch, had taken upon them the observance of the entire Law.
on 2-kings 17 :41
17:41 So - In like manner, and after their example. These - Who came in their stead.