Saturday, July 19, 2008

Vespasian checks out Carmel (no, not to see former mayor Clint Eastwood).

This is from 69AD when Vespasian was wrapping up the Jewish war and planning to become Roman Emperor - from Tacitus, Histories II.78.

"After this speech from Mucianus, the other officers crowded round Vespasian with fresh confidence, encouraging him, and reminding him of the responses of prophets and the movements of the heavenly bodies. Nor was Vespasian proof against this superstition, for afterwards, when master of the world, he openly retained one Seleucus, an astrologer, to direct his counsels , and to foretell the future. ... at first, however, the honors of a triumph, his consulate, and the glory of his victories in Judea, appeared to have justified the truth of the omen. When he had won these distinctions, he began to believe that it portended the imperial power. Between Judea and Syria is Mount Carmel; this is the name both of the mountain and the Deity. They have no image of the god nor any temple; the tradition of antiquity recognizes only an altar and its sacred association. While Vespasian was there offering sacrifice and pondering his secret hopes, Basilides the priest, after repeated inspections of the entrails, said to him, "Whatever be your purposes, Vespasian, whether you think of building a house, of enlarging your estate, or augmenting the number of your slaves, there is given you a vast habitation, boundless territory, a multitude of men." These obscure intimations popular rumor had at once caught up, and now began to interpret. Nothing was more talked about by the common people. In Vespasian's presence the topic was more frequently discussed, because to the aspirant himself men have more to say."

Carmel seems to be a popular name with quite a history. We have Carmel-by-the-Sea in Northern California and Carmel Valley near San Diego. In the Bible, Carmel first shows up in a list of places conquered by the Israelites in Joshua 12:22. Next Saul made a statue to honor himself on Carmel in 1 Samuel 15:12 after messing up the instructions with regard to the Amalekites. Then there is Nabal and Abagail who get David's attention in 1 Samuel 25. On Mount Carmel is where Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal. In Isaiah and Jeremiah, Carmel is used as a symbol of some great blessing, whereas Amos and Nahum mention the beauty of Carmel withering due to curses.

I wonder a bit about the prophecy regarding Vespasian. The practices described on Mount Carmel seem to follow Jewish practices - no image of the deity, just a simple altar. On the other hand, inspecting the entrails is not a Jewish practice, but rather a pagan one for fortune telling. Had the priest(s) simply made a Jewish-pagan fusion ritual on his own? Or did someone make up the story and add in both Jewish and pagan elements? Certainly we have no way to know. The location on Carmel is asserted to be something that traces to antiquity, meaning lost to history in this case. Anyway, I was just having some fun tracing the name Carmel and wondering why it seemed to be such a timeless symbol, even if I don't know what the symbol fully represents.

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