As a male deity, the moon was worship by the Sumerians and by the Semites in general. The moon-god was known as Sin among the eastern Semites and as Erah or Yerah in the "west." Throughout the Middle East the moon was regarded as a deity particularly in the Mesopotamian centers of Ur and Haran where Abraham the Patriarch spent its early years.

The moon-god Sin is well-known in the Sumerian pantheon through the stimulating discoveries of the late Sir Leonard Woolley at Ur, sin's chief cult-center in southern Mesopotamia. The moon, marking as it does the regular passage of time, particularly impressed the ancients, and was the god chiefly venerated in the pre-Christian civilization of southern Arabia.There was great interest in trade overseas and over the desert, where expeditions might take months and even years. Time reckoning was an important factor in provisioning an expedition and in estimating its duration and the period for which income would be suspended. This may possibly explain the supreme regard in which the moon-god was held.

It is significant that the Semites of the great caravan city of Palmyra in the first three centuries in the Christian era also gave high priority to the worship of the moon (Yerakh or Yarkhibol). The high regard for the moon in Sumerian religion may point to the voyage of the Sumerian settlers, who evidently came in an organized expedition by the Persian Gulf, which would involve a reckoning of months. In view of what we have noticed of the cult of the moon in the mercantile states of southern Arabia and Palmyra, it is surely not a mere coincidence that, after Ur, the most important cult-center of the moon-god in Mesopotamia was Haran in northern Mesopotamia, which actually means "caravan."[*]

The popularity of the moon cult is attested by the frequency of theophoric names with the divine element Sin or Erah. The Israelites were warned against worshiping the moon and convicted transgressors were punished by stoning.

"And when you look up to the sky and behold the sun and the moon and the stars, the whole heavenly host, you must not be lured into bowing down to them or serving them. These the Lord your God allotted to other peoples everywhere under heaven." (Deut. 4:19)

"If there is found among you, in one of the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who has affronted the Lord your God and transgressed His covenant, turning to the worship of other gods and bowing down to them, to the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, something I never commanded, and you have been informed or have learned of it, then you shall make a thorough inquiry. If it is true, the fact is established, that abhorrent thing was perpetrated in Israel, you shall take the man or the woman who did that wicked thing out to the public place, and you shall stone them, man or woman, to death." (Deut. 17:2-5)

Nevertheless, under Assyrian influence, the moon cult was introduced into Judah by King Manasseh (II Kings 21:3): "He rebuilt the shrines that his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he erected altars for Baal and made a sacred post, as King Ahab of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the hosts of heaven and worshiped them."

The altars built by King Manasseh were subsequently abolished by King Josiah (II Kings 23:5/12): "He suppressed the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to make offerings at the shrines in the towns of Judah and in the environs of Jerusalem, and those who made offerings to Baal, to the sun and moon and constellations of all the host of heaven.... And the king tore down the altars made by the kings of Judah on the roof by the upper chamber of Ahaz, and the altars made by Manasseh in the two courts of the House of the Lord. He removed them quickly from there and scattered their rubble in the Kidron Valley."


[*] In Haran the mother of King Nabaona'id, the last king of Babylon (556-539 BCE), was a priestess of the moon-god.




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