Aspourgos = Joseph?
Did the Scythians
The following article is a bit difficult but also interesting and in my
opinion very important especially for those amongst us who are inclined
towards an historical-academic approach to Brit-Am belief.
The article is based on a review of "The Syncretic Creed of Hellenized Jews
From Tanais (Northern Black Sea Region)" by IRMA HAYNMAN. Offprint from
"Proceedings of the Eleventh World Congress of Jewish Studies; Division B:
The History of the Jewish People; Volume 1, Second
I met Ms. Haynman some years ago. She did not accept the Brit-Am
explanation of history. At the time I was not aware of the value of her
research. Her paper deals with certain cultural phenomena that do however
support the Brit-Am position.
Haynman's article is only 7 pages long or rather six, since most
of the last page is a listing of references. The paper is also quite terse,
presents the bare facts in all their complexity of context and leaves it to
the reader to either draw his own conclusions or follow the writer in
apparent leaps of comprehension to the implied conclusions. Even so, every
line in this article is valuable. Every point she makes is controversial
but nevertheless consistent with the evidence.
Points from Haynman's Article That Are especially Important For Brit-Am
[Brit-Am comments are given within squared brackets] .
Tanais was a trading center at the
places where the name "Sambat" and "Sambation" was recorded as a personal
name form early times and the
Ten Tribes. Tanais was also important in Scandinavian mythology and Snorre
of Iceland related the area to that from which the ancestral gods of
and their fellows]
The city, according to Haynman, may have been founded by Greek
settlers and influenced by Greek characteristics but its population was
basically Scythian. [Tanais was on the shores of the
area Greek colonists had founded several cities.] The Greek influence was
never really very strong in Tanais and what there was appeared at a
relatively late date. Tanais was Scythian in the sense that the Royal
Scythes and the Arasacid Parthian rulers were Scythians. [The whole area
had once been controlled by Royal Scythes and kin. These were being pushed
out and moving westward. They were being replaced by Sarmatians and others.
The city of
Scythe-type ethnic composition even though the surrounding peoples were no
longer close kin of theirs.] Tanais was a major trading center from the
300s BCE to the 300s CE. It had worldwide importance as a supplier of grain
from the Scythian hinterland and competed with
Hellenized (Greek-influenced) Thracian-Scythian dynasties from outside the
city ruled Tanais and practiced the cult of Aphrodite-Astarta that had
Inside Tanais the only cult was that of Zeus Hypsistos. This was a
monotheistic religion the same as that prevalent elsewhere in the region
especially amongst the Dacae and Getae [whom Brit-Am has identified as also
of Israelite descent. The Dacae were considered a western branch of the
Scythian Sakae. The Getae were a branch of the Goths]. Some scholars have
attributed the cult of Zeus Hypsistos to Jewish influence. [The cult is
considered to be "monotheistic" according to historians and students of
religion who are speaking on a relative level. We would not necessarily so
consider it. Along with Zeus Hypsistos they also revered other lesser
deities and their belief system was quite pagan]. Jews were present in the
area, were influential, and some of the Jews did attempt to reformulate
their religion in terms more aligned with the general Hellenized culture of
the area. Even so, the overall consensus is that the worship of Zeus
Hypsistos was of native origin and only marginally influenced by Judaism,
if at all. Haynman implies that the cult of Zeus Hypsistos outside of
Tanais may have been due to Jewish, Christian, or other influences but
inside Tanais it was unique and indigenous. Haynman quotes J. Ustinova
("The Thiasoi of Theos Hypsistos in Tanais", History of Religions 31,
1991,2) who associated the cult in Tanais with the Sacae-Scythians. [The
Sacae-Scythians were Israelites, ancestors of the Angles and Saxons and
In Tanais they never eat pork even though the surrounding Iranian and Greek
peoples did [The royal Scythians and their kin also did not eat pork
according to Herodotos]. The Massagetae sacrificed horses to a deity named
"Tanais" according to Maximus Tyranius (8.8). [This suggests that the
Massagetae worshipped the same deity as that of Tanais. The Massagetae were
east of the
Goths". They too were of Israelite descent.] Some of the followers of Zeus
Hypsistos in Tanais had Greek names, others had Iranian names, and still
other had "Jewish" [i.e. Hebrew] names. One of the recorded Jewish names is
"Sabation" [which could be pronounced in that area, as "Sambation"]. The
three types of name were about equally distributed. In addition to Zeus
Hypsistos in Tanais they revered a "great mother" identified with Astarte.
There was a dynasty in Tanais known as "Aspourgos", as well as a cult by
the same name.
"Aspourgos" was a name taken by one of the kings when he had
["Aspourgos" may have also been a name found amongst surrounding peoples].
There was a religious and military organization of "Aspourgians" on an
island near Tanais. [The monarch] <<Aspourgos belonged to the
Arsacides-Royal Scythian family from the Tanais [Don] river region, the
other branches ruled over Parthia, Arminia, the Kushana Empire (Strabo
11.9.2).>> (Haynman, p.57). [The Arsacides were the rulers of the Parthian
Tribes" and elsewhere. Steven Collins has also written at length on this
subject.] Some scholars trace the name "Aspourgos" to the Iranian "aspa"
meaning horse or to the Akkadian-Syrian "aspuraku" meaning "horseman". The
name however had a different original connotation and any similarity with
the word for "horse" and the like deviates from the real root of the name.
Haynman quotes the opinion of S.P. Tolstoi ("Iz predystorii Rusi",
Sovetskaja Etnografieija 6-7, 1947) linking "Aspourgos" to Jesus or to
another ancient deity in the
Haynman traces the name "Aspourgos" to the Semitic-Hebrew root "asaph" (to
gather in) and to "biraka" which she understands to, mean "thy
self-creation" or something similar. She points out that the name Joseph
has the same origin.
<<AND SHE [Rachel, the mother of Joseph] CONCEIVED, AND BARE A SON; AND
SAID, GOD HATH TAKEN AWAY [Hebrew "asaph", gather in, take away] MY
<<AND SHE CALLED HIS NAME JOSEPH [Joseph connotes both "gather in" and
["add on", i.e. God has taken away and will add to me more]; AND SAID, THE
LORD SHALL ADD TO ME ANOTHER SON>> [Genesis 30:23-24].
The second part of the name Haynman also links to Joseph:
<<AND HE MADE HIM [i.e. Pharaoh made Joseph] TO RIDE IN THE SECOND CHARIOT
WHICH HE HAD; AND THEY CRIED BEFORE HIM, BOW THE KNEE [Hebrew: "Avrech"] :
AND HE MADE HIM RULER OVER ALL THE LAND OF EGYPT>> [Genesis 41:43] .
The word translated as "BOW THE KNEE" in Hebrew is "Avrech" and actually
connotes "My Father reigns" or something similar as we explained in our
commentary on Genesis (see "Biblical Truth" by Yair Davidiy). Haynman links
the name "Aspourgos" to the two elements in names associated with Joseph.
Haynman (p.58) says that the cult of "Aspourgos" in Tanais had the same
origins as that of the Assyrian-Caucasian Aseph/Savaz, Biblical Joseph
"abreh" [i.e. "avrech"] (Gen. 41:43), Bosporan Aspourgos, Thracian
Sabazius/Attis, and Central Asian Sijawish.Each of [the] deities evolved
in different ethnical and historical milieu, but retained common features."
[Some, or all, of these cults were associated with peoples of Israelite
descent so it is natural that they had features in common]. She relates
the cult also to "chariots of the sun" worshipped by idolatrous kings of
<<AND HE [King Josiah son of Amon] TOOK AWAY THE HORSES THAT THE KINGS OF
JUDAH HAD GIVEN TO THE SUN, AT THE ENTERING IN OF THE HOUSE OF THE LORD, BY
THE CHAMBER OF NATHAN MELECH THE CHAMBERLAIN, WHICH WAS IN THE SUBURBS, AND
BURNED THE CHARIOTS OF THE SUN WITH FIRE>> [2-Kings 23:11].
She suggests that Hosea also refers to the same superstitions:
[Hosea 14:3] ASSHUR SHALL NOT SAVE US; WE WILL NOT RIDE UPON HORSES:
NEITHER WILL WE SAY ANY MORE TO THE WORK OF OUR HANDS, YE ARE OUR GODS: FOR
IN THEE THE FATHERLESS FINDETH MERCY.
Haynman then suggest that Aspourgos was associated with Joseph by
Hellenized Jewish immigrants and by Christians. She also says that the
guilds (organizations) in Tanais dedicated to Aspourgos had ceremonies that
recalled (or were later interpreted as recalling) the messianic aspects of
Joseph, the selection of Joseph as ruler, and the reconciliation of Joseph
with his brothers (Genesis 45:4,5). She even suggests a link with Christianity:
"Thus, the tradition of the first dying messiah Ben [son of] Joseph could
be rooted in the recognized solar connections of Joseph" (p.59).
[Hynman apparently believes that the story of Joseph was a myth derived
from Semitic mythology. It was, she claims, part of a general cultural
tradition that also gave rise to the cult of Aspourgos. Since Joseph and
Aspourgos had common features and a common origin it was natural that the
two should later be identified as one and the same by those who were
familiar with the story and traditions concerning both. That is what Hynman
implies. We would say something else. We have shown that the Scythians were
descended from the Lost Ten Tribes. They had been exiled because they
worshipped foreign gods and went in the ways of the nations around them.
They had been influenced by pagans and pagans by them. They were also
apparently largely illiterate and given to superstitious fancies.
Nevertheless something of the original beliefs must have remained. They
would have revered Joseph the forefather of their two most important tribes
and rulers and by whose name they are referred to in scripture. After the
synthesizing practice of pagans they would have had no difficulty in
adapting their memories of Joseph to general pagan beliefs around them. The
people of Tanais did have their own independent form of monotheistic
belief, similar to but not derived from Judaism. They did not eat pork.
They were part of the Sacae-Scythian people who had Israelite tribal names
and are shown for other reasons to have been of Israelite descent. It may
therefore be concluded that they revered "Joseph" under the name
"Aspourgos" because they were descended from Joseph. The guilds connected
with Aspourgos really did have ceremonies commemorating traditions about
Joseph. They also retained some degree of monotheistic sentiment because
they were of Hebrew origin. This was also the reason they did not eat pork
whereas all other peoples in the region at that time did. They were largely
illiterate superstitious pagans fighting for their life and often on the
move from one place of exile to another, subject to influences and
pressures of all the peoples around them who sometimes ruled over them and
at other times were subjects of theirs. Even the language they had to use
in their new homes was a different one. We can expect deviations from the
story of Joseph as we know it with the central theme being, to some degree,
retained. We know about these features of the people of Tanais because
archaeologists and historians have been able to study them. These
researchers have suggested that the features found in Tanais were part of
the Sakae-Scythian culture in general.
We can accept the basic conclusions of Haynman while rejecting aspects of
her interpretations. In my opinion she has done a great service and
provided us with additional evidence confirming Brit-Am conclusions.
"Aspourgos" is identical with Joseph. He was revered by the most important
elements amongst the Scythians who also retained something of their
Israelite monotheistic tradition.