The Pantheon of Tayma’

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Tayma was an important trade and religious center in North Arabia which attained prominence during the reign of king Nabonidus, the last king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, during the 6th century BCE. Nabonidus lived there for ten years and ruled over a vast tract of desert extending from Tayma to Yathrib dotted with oases. He settled colonies of Babylonians in these oasis after fighting, then making peace with some unknown Arabian tribes. The Babylonians brought Aramean deities to the oasis as attested in this Aramaic Stele: "in the 22nd year … ' [in Taym]a, Ṣalm of Mahram and Shingala and Ashima*, the gods of Tayma, to* Ṣalm of [Hajam] . . appointed him on this day [in Tay]ma which … therefore … which Ṣalm-shezeb, son of Pet-osiri, set up [in the temple of S]alm of Hajam, therefore the Gods of "Tayma ma[de gra]nts to Ṣalm-shezeb, son of Pet-osiri, and to his seed in the temple of Ṣalm of Hajam. And any man who shall destroy this pillar, may the Gods of Tayma pluck out him and his seed and his name from before Tayma! And this is the grant which Ṣalm of Mahram and Shingala and Ashima, the gods of Tayma, have g[iven] to Ṣalm of Hajam … from the field 16 palms, and from the treasure of the king 5 palms, in all 21 palms year by year. And neither Gods nor men shall bri[ng out] Ṣalm-shezeb, son of Pet-osiri, from this temple, neither his se[ed] nor his name, who are prie[sts in] this temple [forever]." - Ṣalm-shezeb the priest.

The inscription records how a new deity, Ṣalm of Hajam, was introduced into Tayma by the priest Ṣalm-shezeb, who further provided an endowment for the new temple, and founded a hereditary priesthood. On one side of the stone the god Ṣalm of Hajam is represented in Assyrian fashion, and below him a priest stands before an altar. The name of the priest, Ṣalm-shezeb, means ”(the God) Ṣalm has saved” or ”Ṣalm saves (me)," an Aramaic name. The name of the priest's father is Egyptian, Pet-Osiri meaning "he whom Osiris gave." Tayma was at the crossroads for the caravans going to Egypt or Mesopotamia which made it an obligatory stop for travelers. And thus, like other oasis-caravan cities such as Palmyra, Tayma had a cosmopolitan character. Though this doesn't necessarily mean that his father was Egyptian as names don't always indicate ethnicity. We know that in Egypt Aramaeans gave their children Egyptian names and in the Greco-Roman period Arabs in Egypt would do this as well.


The chief God of Tayma was Ṣalm of Mahram. The word ṣalm is cognate with the Arabic صنم which today means idol/image but it could also mean "the strong one." Another explanation is that it is connected to the Arabic ẓalām ظلام (dark) and the Assyrian kakkabu dhalmu, the planet Saturn. Mahram is a place name apparently preserved in the Arabic Mahramah محرمة near Jebel Selma, close to Tayma. The word means holy place/sacred area. C. J. Gadd has compared the Tayma cube with steles found in Harran with astronomical symbols (the star of Ishtar-Venus, the winged disc of the sun God Shamash and the crescent of the moon God Sin). It is in Harran that we find many theophoric names with Salmu. A deity named Salmu is attested in many Aramaic inscriptions elsewhere and in Assyrian deity lists. This Ṣalmu might be the same one in Tayma where we also find the emblem of the sun God, the winged disk. It appears at the top left of the Tayma cube hovering above a humanoid figure. According to Gadd, the figure on the Tayma cube would be Ṣalm of Hajam being received by the Gods of Tayma, while the disk would be Salm of Mahram.

It is more likely that Ṣalm is represented by the bull-head altar since bullheads are frequently found with inscriptions mentioning Ṣalm, suggesting that Ṣalm was a lunar deity. This might be why Nabonidus was so interested in Tayma, he was a devotee of the moon God Sin and relocated to a city that was the center of moon God worship. The issue is that the inscriptions with bull-heads don't mention which Ṣalm they are referring to and the bull-heads themselves have solar disks between the horns anyway. Regardless, the fact that we have terms such as Ṣalm of Mahram and Ṣalm of Hajam indicate that Ṣalm was believed to be a tutelary deity of a given locality like the gny' (jinn) in Palmyra. In Palmyra there were many jinn who acted as tutelary deities of villages, settlements, encampments, orchards and tribes. Deities being "of" places is not unheard of in North Arabian, South Arabian and Aramaic, the most famous example being the Nabatean Dushara (of Shara). Ṣalm of Hajam, who was being introduced to Tayma in the inscription, might have come from Al-Hajam الهجم in Yemen. Another deity, Ṣalm of rb, also had a temple in Tayma. Inscriptions found in Najran and Jordan also record the deity Ṣalm. When Tayma waged war against Dedan or the Nabateans it was Ṣalm who lead these wars. Inscriptions mention nsr lslm (supported/aided Ṣalm) similar to the Quranic nasara نصر. Salm is found in many theophoric names such as *ṣlmd' "*Ṣalm has known," ṣlm'l "Ṣalm is God," and ṣlmškr "Ṣalm has been thanked."

The second deity mentioned is Šingala. Like Ṣalm, Šingala is found in many Aramaic theophoric names like Saggildaa "Saggil is judge" or Tab-Sagal "Saggil is good." Over the years there have been many explanation for the name Shingala. One suggestion is that it might be connected with the Goddess Shigal mentioned in Late Syriac sources like the lexicon of Bar Bahlul which claims She is the Chaldean equivalent of Aphrodite. Another is that it might be a compound of the Akkadian moon God Sin and some other word. Perhaps the Sumerian word gal which means "great," "the great Sin," or maybe it is Sin-egalla’ "Sin of the palace," or Sin-gly "Sin uncovers." Many more suggestions have been offered by various scholars, none truly satisfactory. Shingala or variants of it don't appear in any Akkadian deity lists. The best explanation we have is that Shingala is a compound of Shinga and El meaning "the great God" or "El is great." Such divine names are often found in Semitic deities such as the Amorite Yakrubel and the Hebrew El Shaddai. Sadly this doesn't tell us much about the nature or personality of this deity but Shingala is most likely a lunar deity.

Ašima doesn't show up in any cuneiform texts unless we accept the identification with Ishum, an Akkadian God who acts as a divine night watchman, tasked with protecting houses at night, and also associated with various underworld deities, especially Nergal and Shubula. Ašima was first incorrectly read as Ashira, a mother Goddess who appears in a number of ancient sources including South Arabian inscriptions. Ašima is found in Aramaic texts in Egypt in the compound name ’šmbyt’l "Ashima's baetyl." In the Hebrew Bible we find a mention of Ashima being worshipped by the people of Hamat 2 Kings 17:30 The men of Babylon made Succoth Benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima. Like the previous deities, Ashima shows up in Aramaic personal names such as 'šmzbd "Ashima has given." Ashima comes from the root word 'šm or اسم in Arabic, meaning "name." As far as we know, Ashima is a Goddess, thus completing the Sun, Moon and Venus triad with Ashima as Venus, Ṣalm as the Sun and Shingala as the Moon. A similar triad is found in Dumat, another caravan city in Arabia. All the Taymanitic deities mentioned so far seem to be Aramean in origin and were first attested in North Syria before they show up in Tayma.

When Nabonidus made Tayma his home, he introduced the worship of many Akkadian deities including Nabu, patron God of literacy, the rational arts, scribes, and wisdom, His consort Tashmetu, Marduk, patron deity of the city of Babylon, Nanaya, a Goddess of love, closely associated with Inanna/Ishtar. These deities may have influenced or been transformed into Nabatean deities mentioned in the Greco-Roman period such as Al-Kutbay, a God of scribes like Nabu and Allāt and Alʿuzza may have been influenced by Nanaya. Ishtar, goddess of love, war, and fertility, is also mentioned in cuneiform fragments found in Tayma and Her cult has long been connected to those of Allāt and Alʿuzza, all three are considered Venusian deities. The Mesopotamian empires eventually succumbed to the Achaemenid Empire and its during this period that we start hearing about what are usually considered Arabian deities proper, though invoked in Imperial Aramaic, the lingua franca of the region. Salm continues to be worshipped but we start hearing about deities such as Manafu, known as Manaf in Islamic sources, attested in the Hauran as Zeus Manaphos and even mentioned in Palmyra with Tammuz. The Goddess Manawatu, commonly known as Manāt, also shows up in this period. The Nabateans and Lihyanites fought over Tayma though this doesn't seem to have affected it's pantheon.

Neo-Babylonian Period

  • Ṣalm/Ṣalam: A tutelary solar deity associated with the sun disk and bull
  • Šingala/Šangila: Likely a lunar deity
  • Ašima: A Venusian Goddess
  • Nabu: God of writing and wisdom. His name means "to prophesize"
  • Tašmetu/Tašmetum: Consort of Nabu. Her name means “the lady who listens”
  • Marduk: God of Babylon astrologically associated with the planet Jupiter
  • Nanaya: Goddess of love associated with eroticism and sensuality
  • Ištar: Goddess of war and love associated with beauty, sex, divine justice, and political power

Persian Period

  • Ṣalm/Ṣalam: This tutelary solar deity continues to be worshipped in this period
  • Manafu/Manaf: A God equated with Zeus in the Hauran
  • Manawatu/Manawat/Manat: Goddess of time, fate, fortune, destiny and death

See also