Hanging and Hanging God (John Eric Killinger, 2014)

NOTE: This article is taken from the Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion, pp. 768-771:


Deriving from two Old English words hangian and hon, and supported by the Old Norse hengja/hanga, “to be suspended,” hanging is also influenced by the Sanskrit sankata, “hesitate,” and the Latin cunctari, “to delay, defer, suspend.” Despite the fact that the terminology “hanged” is usually reserved for legal language, the word has also extended into metaphoric usage (e.g., I’ll be hanged, hang-up, and hanging out). There are affinities in Hebrew ( לה , ta¯laˆ, “hang up, let down, dangle, put to death by hanging,” Genesis 40:22, 2 Samuel 21:12; Esther 9:14) and Greek kremamai and kremannymi (κρέμαμαι in the LXX (Septuagint), but seven times as Kremάnnumi (κρεμάννυμι) in New Testament, referring to dependence on the entire law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40), execution of the two crucified with Jesus (Luke 21:39), and specifically to “crucifixion” in Galatians 3:13, even though it is derived from the Deuteronomic code (,לױולא ta¯laˆ ’al in Hebrew for “hanging after execution”)). With the prepositions around and on, this Greek usage also literally meant hang, as in the millstone hung around one’s neck (Matthew 18:6) and the snake that bit Paul on the hand (Acts 28:4), respectively. Hanging upside down, as St. Peter reputedly suffered, is a mark of humiliation and derision, a reversal of what the person stood for prior to being hanged. Such a method of hanging was called “baffling” (Spenser 1978, p. 956).


Hanging was, according to the Old Testament, allowed but seems to have occurred after a person was executed. In compliance with Deuteronomic law, the body was to be removed before nightfall so as not to pollute the land given by God as an allotment. Even as early as the story of Joseph in Egypt, hanging consisted primarily of beheading followed by the displaying of the decedent’s head on a pike. King David’s eldest son Absalom caught the long locks of his hair in the low branches of an oak tree during his flight and was left hanging “between heaven and earth.” Disregarding the order to spare the king’s son, Joab, David’s chief general, kills Absalom with three spears to the heart (2 Samuel 18:9–15).

Death of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:9–15).
Death of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:9–15).

A liminal feature occurs in hanging. This is particularly true with regard to hanging gods such as Jesus the Nazorean who claims oneness with God, Odin the Norse All-father, Attis, and Osiris, who prior to his Dionysian dismemberment hung like Jesus for 3 days. According to Frazer (1914/1936, 1922/1996), the Phrygian satyr of Lydia, Marsyas, along with Adonis, Artemis, and even the fair Helen, ought to be included in this list of hanging gods. We might ourselves include Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab who had a crucifixion in his face (Melville 1967, p. 111) and the twelfth card of the Major Arcana in Tarot known as the Hanged Man. This liminal feature is intermundia, a state of being suspended between worlds suffused with death and rebirth – it is the presence of the absence of ananke, or necessity. It is not-space space and not-temporal temporality in much the same way as the alchemists called the lapis philosophorum the not-stone stone, or lithos ou lithos (λίθος oύ λίθος). Cicero (2000), in his De natura deorum, translates Epicurus’ term intermundia as metakosmios (μετακόσμιος), the place wherein he consigns the Greek pantheon. Metakosmios is derived from the verb metakosmeo (μετακοσμέω), rearrange, modify, and changed in aspect. Metaphorically it is a new arrangement, a change of condition, even a change of character, indicating its transformative aspect.

Dionysus hung on tree with sacrament of loaves of bread and jars of wine.
Dionysus hung on tree with sacrament of loaves of bread and jars of wine.

Hanging, this pathos of the god, even human hanging, often occurs outside the city wall. Jesus was crucified on the green hill of Golgotha outside of Jerusalem. Odin underwent hanging on the windswept World Ash Tree, Yggdrasil, away from human and divine contact, yet rooted to all and none. Osiris was encased in Set/Typhon’s beautifully wrought sarcophagus that became hung up and further entombed in the trunk of a tamarisk tree after floating down the Nile, which is also “up” as it would be northward, for as above, so below. Attis, who in alchemy is synonymous with the Egyptian god Osiris, performs his self-mutilation under a sacred pine tree and, in accordance with later ritual, is portrayed in effigy and hung on the pine tree as the officiating leader of the Attis-Cybele rite sheds his own blood to promote the fertility of the crops for the coming year. The Attis-Cybele myth is linked to the Artemis-Actaeon myth (and that of Isis-Osiris) and those of the respective fragmentations of Dionysus and Orpheus, whose misogynistic “madness” causes the Thracian maenads to tear him apart. The spirit of union not yet extracted is still part of the greatest dilemma of human beings today, according to Schwartz-Salant (1995). This is the “conclusion” to the problem and recognition that fragmentation, rather than repression, has a greater significance for development and pathology. Thus, being wounded to the point where one is branded a heretic or even an apostate necessarily moves the soul to action.

Hanged Man Tarot, Effigy of Dionysius on Stake, Attis on a Stake

Prayers and other cultic acts carried out in the hope of fertile land and crop abundance occur in the rites of Tammuz. Ezekiel 8:14 refers to the lamentation of the women over the death of Tammuz ( תּמּזוּז , Θαμμούζ) as an abomination to the Lord in the kingdom of Judah. Tammuz, or Dumuzi (whose name means “proper son [or child]”), was the Sumerian shepherd who married Inana, died, and was resurrected by her. Even Inana must be executed and hung like a piece of rotting meat in the underworld. When she ascends, she gives up Tammuz in her place. He escapes, then is captured, only to be freed by the love of Inana. Like Persephone, Tammuz is to spend half the year in the underworld, the other half upon the earth. The mythology of Inana-Tammuz is reckoned to date back to 3000 BCE and encroached upon ancient Palestine, being given some recognition in various circles of the culture of Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s astonishment is at seeing the lamentations of the Tammuz cult infringe upon the sacred center of Jewish religion. Despite such lamentations being viewed as supplementary to the worship of YHWH, the abomination of it lies in its being an insult to the “living God” and nothing short of apostasy.

Inanna on the Ishtar Vase French museum Louvre
Inanna on the Ishtar Vase
French museum Louvre

Tammuz is related to Osiris and also to the mythology of the Phoenician Adonis, whose origins are not of the Greek classical period but semitic. According to Zimmerli (1969/1979), the lament of the death of Adonis (the Phoenician vegetation god type) is also attested in the Septuagint versions of 1 Kings 14:13 and Jeremiah 22:18 (242). Adonis’ name derives from adon אדװ) ), meaning “master, ruler, lord.” Ado¯n is the aleph and tav, alpha and omega, the one who was, is, and is to come. The Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) uses Adonai to refer to the tetragrammaton YHWH, and this would connect Tammuz/Adonis/Osiris with Jesus in this respect. Not only this, it freights the reading of Ezekiel 8:14 with difficulty, imbuing it with a kind of fundamentalist repression, for example, “If you are not with me, you are against me.”

Etruscan Statue of Adonis, Semitic God that Dies and Resurrects Every Year
Etruscan Statue of Adonis, Semitic God that Dies and Resurrects Every Year

The liminal state involved in hanging may be long or short. The unusual swiftness of Jesus’ execution, which only lasted a matter of hours, comes as both a surprise and astonishment. Performed as a deterrent against rebelliousness, many Roman crucifixions lasted as long as 3 days. Jesus was forced to carry the patibulum, or crossbeam (also “dungeon,” “torture”), probably several hundred meters to the execution site where the seven-foot-tall stipes (vertical beam) would have been erected and awaiting him. Curiously, the vertical pole, called stipes in Latin, means both “tree trunk” and “instrument of torture.”

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The chronicling of Osiris the great Egyptian god of resurrection, found primarily in Plutarch (1936), had nine watchers and nine mourners, aligning it with Odin’s nine whole nights and nine songs. Like the division of the uroboros in the Pistis Sophia into twelve aeons, Osiris’ night realm was divided into twelve parts. In Kabbalah, the number twelve represents the philosopher’s stone. Twelve also is represented by the Hebrew letter lamed ( ל). Lamed is the heart and central letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Because it towers over the other letters, it represents the King of kings, an attribute also given to the Hanged Man, the twelfth trump of the Tarot’s Major Arcana. The poles of this Tarot card could refer to the Egyptian two-finger amulet that was placed either in the swaddling of the mummified remains of the deceased or loose in the coffin. These amulets represented the two fingers of the god who helps Osiris ascend the Ladder of Re¯.

The resurrection of Osiris, from a bas-relief carving in the temple of Sethos I at Abydos, Nineteenth Dynasty c. 1300 BC.
The resurrection of Osiris, from a bas-relief carving in the temple of Sethos I at Abydos, Nineteenth Dynasty c. 1300 BC.

The Norse god Odin’s hanging lasted nine whole nights, according to the Ha´vama´l of the Poetic, or Elder, Edda. Like Jesus, Odin suffered impaling with a spear, screamed as he reached for the runes, which might perhaps have been tinged with the horror of forsakenness (as he received no bread or drink-filled horn), and sacrificed himself to himself. In the process, he learned nine powerful songs. As his wisdom grew he came to know 18 powerful charms or runes, the twelfth of these, curiously, concerning the freeing of a hanged man for conversation. This death of god to become god is not unlike the death of Jesus on the cross. It is the death of God effected in God, the breaking of old patterns that bind, limit, or restrict one’s nature – the interface of religare (religion as tied or bound back to a previous state of existence) punishing religere (religion as embodiment of reflection and connection) or remembering versus unforgetting, as in the alchemical representation of the winged and wingless birds forever attached to one another. Odin, like Teiresias, goes through a purgation through suffering in token of new insight. Thus the metaphor of hanging as transformative act demonstrates that the hanged god moves through a transition from knowing about to becoming being, as in the movement from knowledge/curiosity to unknowable ultimate reality (K! O).

Odin hanging on the World Tree.
Odin hanging on the World Tree.

Like Odin, the Hanged Man card of Tarot’s Major Arcana is often depicted with his head deep in the earth, seeing its secrets as Odin saw the secrets of Yggdrasil. With the card turned upside down, the hanged man appears to be dancing in the abyss over which he had been suspended. This curiously links Odin with trickster associations. Connected with this is the sense of eutony (eu´tone_o, eutoneo¯), meaning “having or possessing faculties.” Its shadow aspect includes the meaning “distension.” Kestenburg (1978) describes eutony as a stretching out, “transsensus.” Characterized as breathful flowing, eutony/transsensus is similar to the diaphragmatic breathing practiced in yoga and tai chi, as well as choral and opera singing, and the playing of wind instruments that spiral us back to the Phrygian satyr Marsyas and the vanity of his musical challenge of Apollo. As a follower and comforter of Cybele following the death of Attis, he was renowned as a flautist, and because of his fame, he provoked Apollo into a musical contest. Marsyas would have won had not Apollo dared Marsyas to play his pipes upside down. Marsyas lost the duel, with the result that Apollo hung and flailed him upon a pine tree.

The Torment of Marsyas (Le Supplice de Marsyas), Louvre Museum, Paris.
The Torment of Marsyas (Le Supplice de Marsyas), Louvre Museum, Paris.

Such suffering, then, is helpful to us. It can indeed, as Moltmann (1974) asserts, be spiritually healthy. Despite being vulnerable, afraid, and alone, we wait for what will come and we are on the verge of something greater than we can know or about which we can think or attain through action. That is beginning to experience a new level of consciousness without preventing the advent of what can come, if indeed it is on its way.

Sarcophagus from 200’s or 300’s of Dionysus pole being lifted at Spring Festival
Sarcophagus from 200’s or 300’s of Dionysus pole being lifted at Spring Festival


  • (2000). De natura deorum, Academica. (trans: Rackham, H.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Elliger, K., Rudolph, W., Ruger, H. P., & Weil, G. E. (Eds.). (1977). Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Funditus renovata ed.). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. (Original work published 1967).
  • Frazer, J. G. (1936). The hanged God. In Adonis, Attis, Osiris: Studies in the history of oriental religion, (Vol. 1, 3rd ed., pp. 288–297). London: Macmillan. (Original work published 1914).
  • Frazer, J. G. (1996). The golden bough: A study in magic and religion (Abridged ed.). London: Penguin. (Original work published 1922).
  • Kestenburg, J. (1978). Transsensus-outgoingness and Winnicott’s intermediate zone. In S. A. Grolnick, L. Barkin,&W. Muensterburg (Eds.), Between fantasy and reality: Transitional objects and phenomena (pp. 61–74). New York: Jason Aronson.
  • Larrington, C. (Trans.). (1996). The poetic edda. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Melville, H. (1967). Moby-Dick (H. Hayford & H. Parker, Eds.). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1851).
  • Moltmann, J. (1974). The crucified God: The cross of Christ as the foundation and criticism of Christian theology (trans: Wilson, R. A. & Bowden, J.). New York: Harper & Row.
  • (1936). Isis and Osiris (trans: Babbitt, F. C.). In Moralia (Vol. V, pp. 7–193). London: William Heinemann.
  • Rahlfs, A. (Ed.). (1979). Septuaginta: Id est Vetus Testamentum graece iuxta LXX interpretes (Duo volumina in uno ed.). Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft. (Original work published 1935).
  • Schwartz-Salant, N. (1995). Jung on alchemy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Spenser, E. (1978). The faerie queene (T. P. Roche, Jr., Ed.). London: Penguin.
  • Wansbrough, H. (Ed.). (1985). The New Jerusalem Bible. New York: Doubleday.
  • Zimmerli, W. (1979). Ezekiel 1: A commentary on the book of the prophet Ezekiel, chapters 1–22 (F. M. Cross & K. Baltzer, Eds.; trans: Clements, R. E.). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
Mosaic from “The House of Dionysus” in Paphos, Cyprus, dated 300s A.D. A halo of light surrounds Dionysus’ head similar to popular Christian iconography
Mosaic from “The House of Dionysus” in Paphos, Cyprus, dated 300s A.D.
A halo of light surrounds Dionysus’ head similar to popular Christian iconography

Bel and the Dragon (Daniel 14; LXX)

Daniel, Bel and the Dragon (France, 15th century)
Daniel, Bel and the Dragon (France, 15th century)

The text of Bel and the Dragon is most likely based on a Hebrew or Aramaic original that no longer exists (the medieval Aramaic manuscript of the Chronicle of Jerahmeel might contain a descendent of the Hebrew Vorlage). In addition to that, no Jewish writer quotes from Bel and the Dragon, neither was any of it found at Qumran. The Greek text of Bel and the Dragon exists in two versions: The OG, or LXX, and according to Theodotion. The text of the Septuagint version is only preserved in â967, the Syrian translation of the Hexapla by Origin (Syh), and the Codex Chisianus from the eleventh century (MS 88). In early Christian times, the Theodotion translation became more prevalent and is the one that is quoted by the early church fathers who considered Bel and the Dragon to be canonical. Bel and the Dragon consists of at least two independent stories, the one of the destruction of the idol Bel, the one of the killing of the animal, and possibly a third about Daniel in the lion’s den. The tales are often dated to the second century B.C.E., but an exact date cannot be determined.


Idolatry and Zoolatry

Nothing is known about the creation and the origin of the idol and the snake in Bel and the Dragon. There is no reason given for why they exist unless one wants to take into consideration the note that the priests and their families gain profit from Bel’s and probably also the animal’s existence. The idol consists of clay with a bronze outer layer, although only Theodotion’s version mentions explicitly that it was made by human hands. It is portrayed as being fed and cared for by the Babylonians in typical ancient Near Eastern fashion; and it is its inability to eat that will be used by Daniel to prove that it is nothing more than a created image. While the animal that the Babylonians worship is truly alive, Daniel will still defeat it, this time by using the animal’s ability to eat. The text of Bel and the Dragon does not mention that the Babylonians ascribe any powers to the idol or the animal. The only “proof ” that Bel was alive and of value is that he could eat and drink. All in all, only a little attention is given to the points of argument that are of utmost importance in Hebrew Bible idol texts: whether the idol was made, and whether it was really alive and had any powers.

While the Babylonians in the story treat the idol and the snake as if they were gods, Bel and the Dragon does not spend any time at all comparing them to the one true God. When Daniel is asked why he does not worship them, he simply answers that he worships no one but “the God who created heaven and earth,” the “God of the gods,” and that he worships no one but “the living God who has created heaven and earth and has dominion over everything living.” Thus, it is highlighted that God is living (Th), is the creator (OG+Th), and has dominion over everything (OG). Meanwhile, neither version of Bel and the Dragon mentions God’s acting in history on Israel’s behalf, God’s laws or covenant, or God’s judgment, as is typical for a text of the Second Temple period.

The destruction of the idol and of the snake by Daniel takes the most space in the story. It is an intentional destruction performed in order to prove that neither the idol nor the animal are gods. The experiments conducted by Daniel are so easy that even the simplest of minds can understand them. In the case of Bel, Daniel devises a plan to prove that the food provided for the idol is not eaten by him but by the priests and their families. Precautions are taken to ensure the correct execution of the experiment: the doors are locked and sealed with the rings of the king and respectable priests, and the floor of the temple is secretly covered with ash in order to preserve footsteps of intruders. The next morning, the betrayal is revealed when the footsteps of the priests and their families are found. Because of the simplicity of the experiment and the foolproof precautions, there can be no doubt to the reader that it was not Bel but the priests who had been eating the provisions. In the case of the animal, Daniel again acts intentionally. He claims that he can kill the animal without weapons and does so with a mixture of pitch, fat, and hair. In either case, divine command or support are not necessary. As in most Diaspora literature of the Second Temple period, the authority of the Gentile king is not questioned, and actually, Daniel appears to be on friendly terms with the king. Daniel wants to prove, however, that there is no reason to worship Bel or the animal because they are powerless and, in the case of Bel, lifeless.1


The Focus on Food and Mouth

In biblical literature and beyond, idols have mouths but cannot speak or eat. This simple observation is re-used and expanded in Bel and the Dragon where eating and not eating determines life or death in four instances:

  1. When Bel’s ability to eat (OG 7) or to eat and drink (Th 6, 7) are used to test whether the idol is living, it is demonstrated that Bel does neither, and thus is inanimate. Subsequently, the idol is handed over to Daniel and destroyed.
  2. The priests and their families use the food provided for Bel for their own nourishment, but after this is discovered, in OG they are handed over to Daniel (22) and in Theodotion they are killed by the king (22). Their eating leads to their demise.
  3. In the case of zoolatry, it was shown that the simple equation of eating=living=divine no longer holds. Worshipped animals eat and are alive, but they are not gods. Therefore, Daniel’s treatment of the animal is the culmination of the story, and the only such tale that we have from the Second Temple period. In a twist of humor, it is the animal’s very ability to eat that leads to its death.
  4. There is another instance in Bel and the Dragon where the motif of eating is used. When Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den, the seven lions do not devour him (OG 31–32) even though they are not fed anything else (Th 32). Instead, Daniel is saved from starvation after six days when Habakkuk miraculously brings him food.


Theodotion versus Old Greek

Of the two versions, Theodotion uses more of the traditional Jewish material that was found in the Hebrew Bible’s descriptions of idolatry and zoolatry. OG, however, appears more removed from the traditional arguments.

While OG does not give any hint as to the origin of the idol, Th 5 reiterates the old idea that it is not alive. Theodotion’s Daniel asserts that the idol is not a “living god,” and has “never eaten or drunk anything” (Th 6, 7). In this version, Daniel also disputes that the snake is a “living God” (Th 24). In OG, “living” and “drinking” are not mentioned (OG 6–9), although they are found in the description of the snake (OG 24). Neither version has a refutation of the special powers of the idol or the animal.

When one compares the two versions for comparisons with God, more differences become evident. Theodotion 5 has a longer, creed-like statement made by Daniel, which includes the ideas that God is living, has created heaven have been proven to be false. Theodotion thus clearly expresses the idea that the Gentile king will admire (and maybe convert to) the Jewish God of Daniel, if it is only proven that his own gods are worthless. The God of the OG version is simply called “the Lord” (OG 4). At the end of the story, the king praises God’s greatness, but he does not address God in the second person and as “Lord” so that the possibility of a conversion of the king is suppressed (OG 41). Both versions, however, preserve the accusation by the Babylonians that the king has become a Jew.

The actual destruction of the idol and the snake again receives different emphases. Theodotion 22 has the more violent version and clearly indicates who killed whom: the king kills the priests, and is accused of toppling Bel and killing the snake (Th 28). In OG, the priests are “handed over” to Daniel, but it is not reported that they are killed (OG 21).37 Bel is destroyed, but the text is not clear about who does the destroying (OG 21). Here, the king is accused only of toppling Bel and killing the snake (OG 28).

From these observations, it can be concluded that OG preserves a wisdom-like version of the story that must be attributed to a more reserved strand of Second Temple Judaism, one that was perhaps more interested in conforming to Hellenistic standards and ideals than the author of Theodotion.38 OG is farther removed from the traditional material of stories that narrate the destruction of idols: it does not focus on the differences between the Jewish and Gentile gods, it does not mention the fate of Bel’s priests, and credits no one with the destruction of Bel. The Theodotion version, however, is a bolder version of the story, and can probably be attributed to a more aggressive and perhaps nationalistic strand of Judaism. It preserves more traditionally Jewish material, has more attributes for the Jewish God, comes closer to an actual conversion of the king to Daniel’s God, and features a more aggressive attitude of both the king who kills the priests, and of Daniel who destroys the animal and Bel, as well as his temple.

Both versions of Bel and the Dragon appear to accept Gentile sovereignty, but attempt—more or less aggressively—to convince their surrounding culture and earth, and rules over everything. OG 5 limits this statement to God’s creative powers, but later adds that the Lord is the God of gods (7). The most striking difference is that in Theodotion God is clearly Daniel’s God (Th 4, 25, 41), whose greatness is acknowledged by the king after the idol and the animal that Jewish religious practices are just as common sense as Hellenistic ones. It is characteristic for this attitude that the story culminates in the king becoming a monotheist, yet the texts never entirely prove or acquit him of the accusation that he became a Jew.





bel-and-the-dragon bel-and-the-dragon1

On Virgintiy (St. John Damascene, 8th century)

NOTE: This article is taken from The Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Chapter 24. This is one of the few catechisms that are blessed for spiritual children under Geronda Ephraim—and by extension the Father Confessors under him—to read. Catechisms and authors to be avoided due to frequent errors: Metropolitan Kallistios Ware, Archbishop Stylianos of Australia, Archbishop Paul of Finland, Archbishop Lazarus Puhalo, Metropolitan Sotirios of Canada, Fr. Stanley Harakas, Fr. Anthony M. Coniaris, etc. the list is endless. Suspect publishing houses include Light & Life, Conciliar Press, Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Synaxis Press, etc.


Men who are carnal and given to pleasure belittle virginity and offer by way of testimony the saying, ‘Cursed be every man who raiseth not up seed in Israel.’1 But we, made confident by the fact that God the Word took flesh of a virgin, declare that virginity is from above and was implanted in men’s nature from the beginning. Thus, man was formed from the virgin earth. Eve was created from Adam alone. Virginity was practiced in paradise. Indeed, sacred Scripture says that ‘they were naked, to wit, Adam and Eve: and were not ashamed.’2 However, once they had fallen, they knew that they were naked and being ashamed they sewed together aprons for themselves.3 After the fall, when Adam heard ‘Dust thou art, and unto dust return,’ and death entered into the world through transgression, then ‘Adam knew Eve his wife: who conceived and brought forth.’ 4 And so to keep the race from dwindling and being destroyed by death marriage was devised, so that by the begetting of children the race of men might be preserved.5


But they may ask: What, then, does ‘male and female’ mean, and ‘increase and multiply’?6 To which we shall reply that the ‘increase and multiply’ does not mean increasing by the marriage union exclusively, because, if they had kept the commandment unbroken forever, God could have increased the race by some other means. But, since God, who knows all things before they come to be, saw by His foreknowledge how they were to fall and be condemned to death, He made provision beforehand by creating them male and female and commanding them to increase and multiply. So let us continue along the road and see what the increments from virginity are, which is nothing else than to talk about chastity.

Noah's Ark

When Noe was ordered to enter the ark and was entrusted with the safeguarding of the seed of the earth, he was given this command, which reads: ‘Go in thou and thy sons, and thy wife, and the wives of thy sons.’7 He separated them from their wives, so that with the help of chastity they might escape the deep and that world-wide destruction. However, after the cessation of the flood, the command was: Go out thou and thy wife, thy sons, and the wives of thy sons.’ 8 Here, see how marriage was again permitted for the sake of increase. And, then, did not Elias, who rode up to heaven in a fiery chariot,9 embrace celibacy and was not approval of this shown by his being endowed with a superiority over men? Who closed the heavens? Who raised the dead? Who divided the Jordan?10 Was it not Elias the virgin? And did not Eliseus, his disciple, ask for the grace of his spirit in double, and receive it, when he displayed equal virtue?11 And what about the three children? Was it not by practicing virginity that they became stronger than the fire, because by virginity their bodies had become impregnable to fire? Was there not a Daniel, whose body the teeth of wild beasts could not penetrate, because it had been hardened by virginity?12 When God was about to appear to the Israelites, did He not enjoin them to keep their bodies pure?13 Did not priests purify themselves and thus enter the sanctuary and offer sacrifices? 14 Did not the Law proclaim chastity to be a great vow?


Thus, the prescription of the Law must be taken in the more spiritual sense. For there is a spiritual seed which through charity and the fear of God is conceived in the womb of the soul, which in turn travails and brings forth the spirit of salvation. It is in this sense that the passage is to be taken which reads: ‘Blessed is he who has seed in Sion and kindred in Jerusalem.’15 What, indeed! Even though one be a fornicator, a drunkard, or an idolater, will he be blessed, provided only that he has seed in Sion and kindred in Jerusalem? No one in his right mind would say that.


Virginity is the habitual state of the angels, the peculiar characteristic of every incorporeal nature. We are not saying all this to decry marriage, God forbid, because we know that the Lord blessed marriage by His presence,16 and we know the passage which says: ‘marriage honorable and the bed undefiled.’ 17 We do, however, know that virginity is better than good. For with the virtues, as well as with the vices, there are greater and lesser degrees. We do know that, with the exception of the first parents of the race, all mortals are offspring from marriage, for our first parents were the work of virginity and not of marriage. Celibacy, however, is an imitation of the angels, as we have said. So, virginity is as much more honorable than marriage as the angel is superior to man. But what am I saying an angel? Christ Himself is the glory of virginity, not only because He was begotten of the Father without beginning, without change, and without coition, but also because, when He became man like us, He for our sake took flesh of a virgin without any carnal union and exhibited in Himself the true and perfect virginity. But He did not make this a law for us, because ‘all men take not this word,’18 as He Himself said. He did, however, instruct us by His example and give us the strength to keep virginity, for to whom is it not clear that virginity is being observed among men now?

Glykofilousa (Filotheou Monastery)

The begetting of children which results from marriage is certainly good. Marriage, too, is good, because it does away with fornication and by licit intercourse prevents the frenzy of concupiscence from being excited to illicit actions.19 Marriage is good for those for whom continence is impossible, but virginity is better, because it increases the fecundity of the soul and offers prayer to God as a seasonable fruit. ‘Marriage honourable, and the bed undefiled. For fornicators and adulterers God will judge.’20




  1. Deut. 25.5-10.
  2. 2.25.
  3. Gen. 3.7.
  4. 3.19; cf. Rom. 5.12; Gen. 4.1.
  5. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man 17 (PG 44.188-189).
  6. 1.27,28.
  7. 7.1; 6.18.
  8. 8.16,
  9. 4 Kings 2.11.
  10. 3 Kings 17.1; 17.22; 4 Kings 2.8.
  11. 4 Kings 2.9,14.
  12. Dan. 3.50; 6.22.
  13. Exod. 19.15.
  14. Lev. 21.
  15. 31.9 (Septuagint).
  16. John 2.2.
  17. 13.4.
  18. 19.11.
  19. 1 Cor. 7.2.
  20. 13.4.

Also see St. John Damascene’s other works:

The Fount of Knowledge: An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith

Barlaam and Ioasaph

On Heresies

Apologia of St John of Damascus Against Those who Decry Holy Images

On Islam: The Heresy of the Ishmaelites

The Chalcedonian Christology of St John Damascene: philosophical terminology and theological arguments


Difficult Passages of the Old Testament

NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, many of the monastics do not have a blessing to read the Old Testament (usually those in the noviciate). Various reasons are given from “it’s not necessary,” “the New Testament is more important,” “you hear all the most important parts read in Church,” etc. The following passages, most of which the Orthodox Church Fathers never made commentaries on, are taken from the Septuagint (LXX):

LXX Psalm 1
LXX Psalm 1


Some of the more difficult Old Testament passages for an Orthodox Christian are the ones dealing with urolagnia and coprophagia [those of a weak stomach should not google these terms].


Ezekiel 4:12-15 – God Commands Prophet Ezekiel to Eat Human and Oxen Feces!

And thou shalt eat them [as] a barley cake: thou shalt bake them before their eyes in man’s dung. And thou shalt say, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel; Thus shall the children of Israel eat unclean things among the Gentiles. Then I said, Not so, Lord God of Israel: surely my soul has not been defiled with uncleanness; nor have I eaten, that which died of itself or was torn of beasts from my birth until now; neither has any corrupt flesh entered into my mouth. And he said to me, Behold, I have given thee dung of oxen instead of man’s dung, and thou shalt prepare thy loaves upon it.

[Note: some have tried to interpret “dung” as fuel here but nothing in those verses relate to anything at all about fuel and it specifically says to bake it “with” dung. Moreover the verses speak of “defiled bread” and “abominable flesh” which obliterates the fuel theory. During biblical times barley served as a poor-man’s staple. They also fed their cattle barley, which may explain the adding of dung (with its undigested barley) to the cake to increase the barely content.]

Prophet Ezekiel

4 Kings 18:27 – Eating Dung and Drinking Urine

And Rapsakes said to them, Has my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? [has he] not [sent me] to the men who sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own water together with you.

[Note: This is 2 Kings in the KJV. Any mention of eating feces and drinking urine in any secular writing would be considered obscene and sick by any righteous minded Christian. Some Protestant translations use the word “piss” instead of “water” which is interesting considering that was one of the original “seven dirty words” that were considered highly inappropriate and unsuitable for broadcast on the public airwaves in the United States, whether radio or television. As such, they were avoided in scripted material, and bleep censored in the rare cases in which they were used].

Malachi 2:2-3 – Scatology

If ye will not hearken, and if ye will not lay [it] to heart, to give glory to my name, saith the Lord Almighty, then I will send forth the curse upon you, and I will bring a curse upon your blessing: yea, I will curse it, and I will scatter your blessing, and it shall not exist among you, because ye lay not this to heart. Behold, I turn my back upon you, and I will scatter dung upon your faces, the dung of your feasts, and I will carry you away at the same time.

[Note: At Pitesti Prison, outside Bucharest, Christian prisoners were compelled to participate in blasphemous versions of Romanian Orthodox liturgical rites: a parody baptism was performed as their heads were dunked in a bucket of urine and feces. Coercion techniques used to humiliate an individual and destroy the human personality many times include the use of urine and feces].

Prophet Malachi
Prophet Malachi


Deuteronomy 23:13-15 – Commandments for Fecal Disposal

And thou shalt have a place outside of the camp, and thou shalt go out thither, and thou shalt have a trowel on thy girdle; and it shall come to pass when thou wouldest relieve thyself abroad, that thou shalt dig with it, and shalt bring back the earth and cover thy nuisance. Because the Lord thy God walks in thy camp to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemy before thy face; and thy camp shall be holy, and there shall not appear in thee a disgraceful thing and [so] he shall turn away from thee.

[Note: The commandment to dispose of feces outside of the military camp was apparently given because God personally wished to walk through the camp].

3 Kings 14:10 – Urinating on Walls

Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Roboam, and will cut off from Roboam him that pisseth against the wall.

[Note: This is 1 Kings in the KJV. The word ‘pisseth’ translates from the Hebrew word ‘shathan’ [shaw-than’] which means to make water, i.e. urinate, or piss].

Illustration of Jeroboam setting up two golden calves, Bible Historiale, 1372
Illustration of Jeroboam setting up two golden calves, Bible Historiale, 1372


Ezekiel 23:1-23 – The Sister Whores Oola and Ooliba

Though there are numerous Orthodox Patristic commentaries, unfortunately there do not seem to be any Patristic commentaries elucidating the deeper meanings of this chapter. The story of the sister whores Oola and Ooliba gives a moral lesson against the sins of the flesh, yet it describes their adventures in such pornographic detail. Verse 21 compares the size of men’s penises to donkey genitals and the sperm flow to that of horse issues. If the lustful descriptions described in chapter 23 were not biblical, but rather taken from a secular source, they would be considered corrupting.

Aholah and Aholibah
Aholah and Aholibah

And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of man, there were two women, daughters of one mother: and they went a-whoring in Egypt in their youth: there their breasts fell, there they lost their virginity. And their names were Oola the elder, and Ooliba her sister: and they were mine, and bore sons and daughters: and [as for] their names, Samaria was Oola, and Jerusalem was Ooliba. And Oola went a-whoring from me, and doted on her lovers, on the Assyrians that were her neighbors, clothed with purple, princes and captains; [they were] young men and choice, all horseman riding on horses. And she bestowed her fornication upon them; all were choice sons of the Assyrians: and on whomsoever she doted herself, with them she defiled herself in all [their] devices. And she forsook not her fornication with the Egyptians: for in her youth they committed fornication with her, and they deflowered her, and poured out their fornication upon her. Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, into the hands of the children of the Assyrians, on whom she doted. They uncovered her shame: they took her sons and daughters, and slew her with the sword: and she became a byword among women: and they wrought vengeance in her for the sake of the daughters. And her sister Ooliba saw [it], and she indulged in her fondness more corruptly than she, and in her fornication more than the fornication of her sister. She doted upon the sons of the Assyrian, princes and captains, her neighbours, clothed with fine linen, horsemen riding on horses; [they were] all choice young men. And I saw that they were defiled, [that] the two [had] one way. And she increased her fornication, and she saw men painted on the wall, likenesses of the Chaldeans painted with a pencil, having variegated girdles on their loins, having also richly dyed [attire] upon their heads; all had a princely appearance, the likeness of the children of the Chaldeans, of their native land. And she doted upon them as soon as she saw them, and sent forth messengers to them into the land of the Chaldeans. And the sons of Babylon came to her, into the bed of rest, and they defiled her in her fornication, and she was defiled by them, and her soul was alienated from them. And she exposed her fornication, and exposed her shame: and my soul was alienated from her, even as my soul was alienated from her sister. And thou didst multiply thy fornication, so as to call to remembrance the days of thy youth, wherein thou didst commit whoredom in Egypt, and thou didst dote upon the Chaldeans, whose flesh is as the flesh of the asses, and their members [as] the members of horses. And thou didst look upon the iniquity of thy youth, [the things] which thou wroughtest in Egypt in thy lodgings, where were the breasts of thy youth. Therefore, Ooliba, thus saith the Lord; Behold, I [will] stir up thy lovers against thee, from whom thy soul is alienated, and I will bring them upon thee round about, the children of Babylon, and all the Chaldeans, Phacuc, and Sue, and Hychue, and all the sons of the Assyrians with them; choice young men, governors and captains, all princes and renowned, riding on horses.



II Kings 6:14-16, 20 – David Uncovers Himself

And David sounded with well-tuned instruments before the Lord, and David [was] clothed with a fine long robe. And David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of a trumpet. And it came to pass as the ark arrived at the city of David, that Melchol the daughter of Saul looked through the window, and saw king David dancing and playing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

And David returned to bless his house. And Melchol the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and saluted him, and said, How was the king of Israel glorified to-day, who was to-day uncovered in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the dancers wantonly uncovers himself!

[Note: King David was dancing and leaping vigorously while uncovering himself to the crowd].

King David dancing

Isaiah 20:2-3 – Prophecy in the Nude

Then the Lord spoke to Esaias the son of Amos, saying, Go and take the sackcloth off thy loins, and loose thy sandals from off thy feet, and do thus, going naked and barefoot. And the Lord said, As my servant Esaias has walked naked and barefoot three years, there shall be three years for signs and wonders to the Egyptians and Ethiopians; for thus shall the king of the Assyrians lead the captivity of Egypt and the Ethiopians, young men and old, naked and barefoot, having the shame of Egypt exposed.

[Note: Although Saul acted on his own, God gave Isaiah a direct injunction to prophesy in the nude, and that it should continue for three years. The Fathers don’t really focus on Isaiah’s nudity. St. Jerome states, “Isaiah goes naked without blushing as a type of captivity to come.” (Letter XL, to Marcella). Also see Micah 1:8].



Genesis 4:17 – Cain’s Wife

And Cain knew his wife, and having conceived she bore Enoch; and he built a city; and he named the city after the name of his son, Enoch.

[Note: What wife? At that time only Adam & Eve, Cain and Abel existed on the Earth. The only possibility comes from, either a grave omission from the Bible, or his mother Eve served as his wife. The second possibility would mean incest. Though, St. Ephraim the Syrian states, “Cain, therefore, separated himself from his parents and his kin because he saw that they would not intermarry with him.” Commentary on Genesis, 3.11.1

After Cain killed his brother, God protected him by setting “a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” (v.14). Considering the earth supposedly had only Adam’s family, who should kill him? And what kind of mark could have protected Cain? In Syriac Christianity, early exegesis of the “curse” and the “mark”, associated the curse of Cain with black skin—though later Orthodox teaching would evolve to Noah’s curse changing Canaan/Ham’s skin black. Certain Baptist sects, as well as the Mormons, also teach that Cain’s mark is black skin.

As for the incest of Lot and his daughters, see Righteous Lot and His Daughters by St. Ephraim the Syrian.

Cain & Abel


Song of Songs 7:11-13

Come, my kinsman, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us go early into the vineyards; let us see if the vine has flowered, [if] the blossoms have appeared, if the pomegranates have blossomed; there will I give thee my breasts. The mandrakes have given a smell, and at our doors [are] all kinds of choice fruits, new and old. O my kinsman, I have kept [them] for thee.

[Note: Though the Fathers try to give a spiritual and allegorical interpretation of Solomon’s Song, this poetry gives Scriptural testimony for love, sex and the beauty of the female body, a rare and usually ignored portion of the Bible by many fundamentalist Christians.

The mandrakes mentioned here describe a Mediterranean herb of the nightshade family of plants. To this day in the Middle East, people believe it overcomes impotence in men and acts as a powerful aphrodisiac. Even the roots have a decidedly phallic appearance. Ancient physician, Galen, wrote that pomegranate possessed antifertility properties. Many women in ancient days used pomegranate, (as well as other plants) for birth control, with little interference from religious or political authorities. Studies in the 1930s showed that pomegranate reduced fertility in laboratory animals, much as modern contraceptive pills do. [Archaeology, March/April 1994]