Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Zorostrian shrine in Antioch

Antioch was a melting pot of eastern religions. As Norris points out, Egyptian cults gained particular traction (Isis notably) due to the interaction with the Ptolemaic realm. However, Syria also bordered the Parthian lands where Zorostrianism reigned. There is an interesting reference in Al Mas'udi's work in Arabic "The Meadows of Gold" which is related by Guy LeStrange in his book, Palestine under the Moslems (page 368)... it says:

"There is at Antakiyyah a building called Ad Dimas (the Crypt). It stands on the right-hand side of the Great Mosque, and is built of huge blocks of stone, as though of 'Adite (Cyclopeian) days, and it is wonderful to see. On certain of the nights of summer, the moon's (beams) as she rises each night, shine in through a different window. It is said that this Ad Dimas is a Persian building of the time when the Persians (under Sapor, in A.D. 260) held Antakiyyah. and that it was built to be their Fire Temple." (Mas., iv. 91.) "

It is worth showing the other version of this text (by Barbier du Meynard) which is still regarded in some circles as the best translation of Mas'udi. In the French version:

"Il y a dans la ville d'Antioche , à droite de la mosquée cathédrale, un édifice qu'on nomme dimas (crypte, catacombe); il est bâti en pierres adites, c'est-à-dire en blocs massifs. Tous les ans, dans certaines nuits d'été, la lune, en se levant, entre par une des portes situées au faîte. On prétend que le monument nommé dimas était primitivement un temple du feu bâti par les Perses, quand ils possédaient Antioche."

This text is noticeably different to LeStrange's embellished version.

This building referred to may be to a temple of Mithras (a cult to which Julian has sometime been linked) or may indeed be some Zorostrian shrine. It is very interesting because it also gives us a relatively definite location as the Grand Mosque is still extant, down near the River Gate. What the author means by the "right-hand side" is not clear but it seems to indicate that this structure was hard-by the Mosque. If the blocks were so large it may have just ended up getting buried as the city "rose" over time rather than be dismantled for reuse. At least it is a target that archaeological efforts could be exerted upon.

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