Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Prophet Balaam Also Known As Priapus: John R. Salverda

John R. Salverda is here commenting on an article on Balaam that can be found (e.g.) at:


The character known from the Scriptures as Balaam, almost certainly had a real existence. Evidence for his historicity comes not only from the finds at Deir Alla, but there are other sources that testify to this, rather widely known, seer. In Thrace and Asia Minor he was known as “Priapus.” The Greeks have a “myth” about him arguing with his mule that goes as follows;

Dionysus had a favorite mule who had carried him faithfully throughout his life, however, for some reason the creature had lapsed into madness and was acting crazy. So, Dionysus decided to take him to the oracle at Dodana seeking some advice about a cure. He also took Priapus as a traveling companion. Along the way, no doubt in an attempt to get the cause of the mule's strange behavior from the creature's own point of view, the god granted his donkey the ability to talk. However, Priapus immediately fell into an argument with the mule, apparently over who had the greatest sexual prowess. Well, as the donkey was winning the argument, Priapus became uncontrollably angry and began beating the miserable creature with a stick again and again until the poor animal was dead. (Hyginus, in his "Poetica Astronomica" II, 23; see also his, "Fabulae," 160) Some say that it was this talking mule, who was set by Dionysus amongst the stars as one of the Asseli, in the constellation of the Presipae (the manger), that appears within the Zodiacal sign of Cancer.

Practically every part of this Greek myth has it's counterpart in the Scriptural story of Balaam's ass. As it is Priapus who has an argument with, and beats the talking mule with a stick, it must be he who is to be identified with Balaam, who likewise complains that his ass had "mocked" him. Dionysus is to be identified with Baal-Peor, (the calf god) whom Balaam taught (to which the term “the teaching of Balaam” refers). The reference to sexuality has its’ Scriptural counterpart in the Dionysian licentiousness that was supposed to accompany the rites of Baal-Peor.

Similarly, Priapus was known for attempting to “dishonor” Hestia, the virgin goddess (the Virgin Israel?) and he would have succeeded but for the timely loud braying of the ass he rode in on which woke Hestia up (Ovid Fasti 6.319).

King Midas (from central Asia Minor) had asses ears bestowed upon him by Apollo (Apollo-Pieria?), perhaps because he had harkened unto the teachings of Balaam.

Balaam was so well known in Asia Minor that hundreds of years later in the days of St. John the revelator, and hundreds of miles away in the city of Pergamos (Western Asia Minor), people were still clinging to his teachings (Revelations 2:14).

So much for the people of Thrace an Asia Minor and their version of Balaam, “Priapus.” In Greece proper they had their own version of Balaam, an even more popular character, whom they called “Melampus.” At least three Greek settlements had their own versions of the Balaam story that they had brought with them and transferred to their Greek colonies.

Melampus was a widely known prophet who could understand the speech of animals. In each local version of the Melampus story, the native King would hire him after difficult negotiations (just as in the Scriptural rendition of Balaam‘s tale), to lift a curse. This he would do by teaching the “proper” observance of the rites of Dionysus (the calf god). This is the essence of his story told at Orchomenus, about the daughters of King Minyas, at Argos, about the daughters of King Proetus, and also the story of King “Phylacus.”

Take note of the name “Phylacus” in comparison to the name of King Balak, (Balaam and Balak = Melampus and Phylacus) After an extremely difficult negotiations period, Phylacus hired Melampus to lift a curse of sexual infertility. In this story Melampus understands the speech of animals and injures his foot/leg.

All straight from the Scriptural story of Balaam and from a distant source that actually predates the final editing (by Ezra and Nehemiah) of the Old Testament. Once again the Greek myths, (written, as I believe, by uprooted Israelites) can help to verify the scriptures.

-John R. Salverda


Great stuff, John, I love it. Can I put up those comments?

If you are short of time, why not take some of the most impressive pieces and make short articles of these, rather than - at this stage - attempting to write a compendium.

Just a thought.

Damien M.

Dear Damien,

Here's one you can post;

Here is a very impressive connection between the Greeks and the Hebrews for you; The ancient “Hebrews” (Kabeiroi?) employed a group of loudly singing, warrior priests, to guard and carry the “Ark of God” (the cradle of Zeus?). These were called the “Korahites” (Kouretes), or “Korah’s sons” (“Korah bene,” Korybantes?). “… the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with an exceedingly loud voice.” (2Ch 20:19).

During the wandering of the Jews, Korah and 250 of his followers were destroyed for rebelling against Moses. One such rebellion was the golden calf incident. The sons of Korah were preserved however and given their special responsibilities. They carried and guarded the Ark, not only singing loudly but also clashing cymbals and blowing trumpets. They were a group of warrior priests especially noted for their use of the sling and the bow.

The myths of the Kouretes are easily derived from the story of the Korahites, notably the wandering of Io by Apollodorus (Apollod. 2.1.3). He says that in the course of Io’s (the Jew‘s) wanderings, Hera had the Kouretes carry off Epaphus (the Egyptian calf god Apis) from Egypt to Syria, for which Zeus destroyed them.

They guarded/carried, not only the babes Zeus and Epaphus but also Dionysus/Zagreus calf gods all.

Of course, this identification brings up a very disturbing notion, namely that the Ark of the Covenant and the statue of the golden calf were closely related spiritual cult objects, even taken for each other. Consider this; King David dancing naked in front of the Ark and in the company of other “worthless fellows” exposing themselves to the slave girls, (2 Samuel 6) was a phallic procession; the likes of which one would expect when Dionysus was taken to Thebes and Cadmus danced as in Euripides and his “Bacchae” (I shall identify these two incidents in an up coming article about Cadmus and David).

Everywhere the “Phoenicians” (residents of the land of Israel) went, they took with them the tradition of the Kouretes. Crete (Europa), Rhodes and Samothrace (Cadmus), Carthage (Dido), and Phrygia were largely populated with people from the land of Israel, and were noted for the “mystery” religion of these same noisy, dancing, warriors.

Don’t take my word for it, do the research for yourself. Let me help you;

The Kouretes From Greek Mythology

The Korybantes (Ancient Greek:

Κορύβαντες) were the crested dancers who worshipped the Phrygian goddess Cybele with drumming and dancing. They are also called the Kurbantes in Phrygia, and Corybants in an older English transcription. The Kuretes were the nine dancers who venerate Rhea, the Cretan counterpart of Cybele, Mother of the Gods. A fragment from Strabo, book vii,[1] gives a sense of the roughly analogous character of these male confraternities, and the confusion rampant among those not initiated:

Many assert that the gods worshipped in Samothrace as well as the Kurbantes and the Korybantes and in like manner the Kouretes and the Idaean Daktyls are the same as the Kabeiroi, but as to the Kabeiroi they are unable to tell who they are"

These male dancers in armor, kept time to a drum and the rhythmic stamping of their feet. Dance, according to Greek thought, was one of the civilizing activities, like wine-making or music. The dance in armor (the "Pyrrhic dance" or Pyrriche [

Πυρρίχη]) was a male coming-of-age initiation ritual linked to a warrior victory celebration. Both Jane Ellen Harrison and the French classicist Henri Jeanmaire[3] have shown that both the Kouretes (Κουρῆτες) and Cretan Zeus (called "the greatest kouros (κοῦρος)" in the Cretan hymn found in an inscription at Palaikastro)[4] were intimately connected with the transition of young men into manhood in Cretan cities.

The Phrygian Korybantes were often confused by Greeks with other ecstatic male confraternities, such as the Idaean Dactyls or the Cretan Kouretes, spirit-youths (kouroi) who acted as guardians of the infant Zeus. In Hesiod's telling of Zeus's birth,[5] when Great Gaia came to Crete and hid the child Zeus in a "steep cave", beneath the secret places of the earth, on Mount Aigaion with its thick forests; there the Cretan Kouretes' ritual clashing spears and shields were interpreted by Hellenes as intended to drown out the infant god's cries, and prevent his discovery by his cannibal father Cronus. "This myth is Greek interpretation of mystifying Minoan ritual in an attempt to reconcile their Father Zeus with the Divine Child of Crete; the ritual itself we may never recover with clarity, but it is not impossible that a connection exists between the Kouretes' weapons at the cave and the dedicated weapons at Arkalochori", Emily Vermeule observed.[6] Among the offering recovered from the cave, the most spectacular are decorated bronze shields with patterns that draw upon north Syrian originals and a bronze gong on which a god and his attendants are shown in a distinctly Near Eastern style.[7]

Kouretes also presided over the infancy of Dionysus, another god who was born as a babe, and of Zagreus, a Cretan child of Zeus, or child-doublet of Zeus. The wild ecstasy of their cult can be compared to the female Maenads who followed Dionysus.

Homer referred to select young men as kouretes, when Agamemnon instructs Odysseus to pick out kouretes, the bravest among the Achaeans" to bear gifts to Achilles.[9] The Greeks preserved a tradition down to Strabo's day, that the Kuretes of Aetolia and Acharnania in mainland Greece had been imported from Crete.[10]

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(Apollod. 2.1.3) Hera next sent a gadfly to infest the cow,8 and the animal came first to what is called after her the Ionian gulf. Then she journeyed through Illyria and having traversed Mount Haemus she crossed what was then called the Thracian Straits but is now called after her the Bosphorus.9 And having gone away to Scythia and the Cimmerian land she wandered over great tracts of land and swam wide stretches of sea both in Europe and Asia until at last she came to Egypt, where she recovered her original form and gave birth to a son Epaphus beside the river Nile.10 Him Hera besought the Curetes to make away with, and make away with him they did. When Zeus learned of it, he slew the Curetes; but Io set out in search of the child. She roamed all over Syria, because there it was revealed to her that the wife of the king of Byblus was nursing her son;11


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The Korahites From Hebrew Theology

The record speaks with some emphasis of a line of Korahites doorkeepers.

In the latest Old Testament times one Mattithiah, "the first-born of Shallum the Korahite," held "the office of trust over the things that were baked in pans" (1 Chronicles 9:31). Shallum was "the son of Kore, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah." In this expression 15 or more generations are omitted between Ebiasaph and Kore, and perhaps as many between Kore and Shallum. The record proceeds to supply some of the omitted names between Kore and Shallum. The representative of the line in David's time was "Zechariah the son of Meshelemiah" (1 Chronicles 9:21). In all periods the Korahites were "keepers of the thresholds of the tent." Back in the time of "Phinehas the son of Eleazar," "their fathers had been over the camp of Yahweh" (1 Chronicles 9:19,20). Zechariah was, in his time, "porter of the door of the tent of meeting" (1 Chronicles 9:21), and Shallum was still the chief of the porters (1 Chronicles 9:17). The record for David's time supports and supplements this. It says that the doorkeepers, according to the arrangements made by David, included a Korahites contingent, its leading men being Meshelemiah and his son Zechariah (1 Chronicles 26:1,2,9,14), and that Meshelemiah was "the son of Kore, of the sons of Asaph." Adopting the common conjecture that Asaph is here a variant for Ebiasaph, we have here the same abridgment of the genealogical list as in 1Ch 9.

In 1 Chronicles 12:6 we have an account of 5 men who are designated as "the Korahites," who joined David when he was at Ziklag--Elkanah, Isshiah, Azarel, Joezer, Jashobeam. They are described as expert warriors, especially with the bow and sling...

More interesting, however, than the fighting Korahites who claimed succession from Moses to Nehemiah, are the. "sons of Korah" who were somehow connected with the service of song. One of the genealogies is introduced by the statement:

"These are they whom David set over the service of song in the house of Yahweh, after that the ark had rest. And they ministered with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, until Solomon had built the house of Yahweh in Jerus" (1 Chronicles 6:31,32). ... In this way we are introduced to David's 3 great leaders in choral and orchestral music. Among them Heman the Korahite has at first the place of primacy, though Asaph, later, comes to the front. The events just referred to are mentioned again, more in detail, in the account of David's bringing the ark to Jerusalem.

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According to Chronicles 9 and 26 and elsewhere in the writings of the Korahites were simply doorkeepers and guardians of the temple Possibly the late priestly story in Numbers 16 regarding the rebellion of Korahites and of the signal judgment that overtook them is the late traditional record of a rebellion of this guild of temple singers against the priests These were designated in post exilic days as the sons of Aaron that is the guild of priests that guarded the ark Hebrew ark In II Chronicles 20 however the Chronicler speaks of the Korahites singers but he assigns their activity to an early period in Israel's history thus confirming the conclusions already drawn In the days of the Levites of the sons of the Kohathites and of the sons of the Korahites stood to praise Jehovah the God of Israel with an exceedingly loud voice

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Not only did the ground open and swallow all the men that pertained to Korah and their goods "alive," a fire came from God and "consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense" along with Korah (Numbers 6:32-35).

One of their family's duties was to carry the ark of the covenant.(Deuteronomy 10:8; I Chronicles 15:15)

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-John R. Salverda

Dear John

I find it satisfying whenever you give a convincing Greek context to a biblical story,such as Balaam, and then a name like Phylac(us) - which one would not instinctively associate with Balak - becomes credible, makes sense. Sometimes, however, I do not see, 'feel', the connection (which does not necessarily mean that you are wrong, of course).

In the case of David, I would be more inclined to believe that an innocent display of religious exuberance, which became unwittingly exhibitionist, would have later been taken as full-on eroticism and orgiastic by the pagans.

There is no suggestion that Yahwistic religion involved phallic ritual.

Some thoughts

Dear Damien,

Yes, but the religion of Baal-Peor was certainly orgiastic, and it was a direct competitor for the hearts of the Israelites (nomads who had to become city dwelling farmers and perhaps were looking for a "fertility" religion to help with their transition). The story of Zimri and Cozbi is an obvious allusion to the ritual of "sacred marriage," a well attested to rite that was used all over the Mediterranean in Egypt and in Babylon. David was no saint, and perhaps Michal was correct in her accusations (certainly there was no "sacred marriage" ritual, or fertility, in their house for the rest of her life).

Please consider the following quote from Herodotus with David as Cadmus and Balaam as Melampus;

"48. … the feast of Dionysus is celebrated by the Egyptians in the same way as by the Hellenes in almost all things except choral dances, but instead of the phallus they have invented another contrivance, namely figures of about a cubit in height worked by strings, which women carry about the villages, with the privy member made to move and not much less in size than the rest of the body: and a flute goes before and they follow singing the praises of Dionysus. As to the reason why the figure has this member larger than is natural and moves it, though it moves no other part of the body, about this there is a sacred story told. 49. Now I think that Melampus the son of Amythaon was not without knowledge of these rites of sacrifice, but was acquainted with them: for Melampus is he who first set forth to the Hellenes the name of Dionysus and the manner of sacrifice and the procession of the phallus. Strictly speaking indeed, he when he made it known did not take in the whole, but those wise men who came after him made it known more at large. Melampus then is he who taught of the phallus which is carried in procession for Dionysus, and from him the Hellenes learnt to do that which they do. I say then that Melampus being a man of ability contrived for himself an art of divination, and having learnt from Egypt he taught the Hellenes many things, and among them those that concern Dionysus, making changes in some few points of them: for I shall not say that that which is done in worship of the god in Egypt came accidentally to be the same with that which is done among the Hellenes, for then these rites would have been in character with the Hellenic worship and not lately brought in; nor certainly shall I say that the Egyptians took from the Hellenes either this or any other customary observance: but I think it most probable that Melampus learnt the matters concerning Dionysus from Cadmus the Tyrian and from those who came with him from Phoenicia to the land which we now call Boeotia." (Herod. 2,48,49)

As always, I greatly appreciate your thoughts, -John

Dear John
Certainly "David was no saint", as you say. The Uriah situation was appalling of course.
Though David probably became a saint in the end, a 'man after God's own heart'. Who can boast that?
There is no suggestion in the Scriptures - which we know do not hide the faults of kings - that David's Ark of the Covenant gyrations were in any way offensive to God or constituted any elements of apostasy.

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