Ḏušarē, (Nabataean Arabic: 𐢅𐢈𐢝𐢛𐢀 dwšrʾ) also transliterated as Dushara, and Dousárēs, is a pre-Islamic Arabian god worshipped by the Nabataeans at Raqmu (Petra) and Hegra (Madain Saleh) (of which city he was the patron). Safaitic inscriptions imply he was the son of Allat, and that he assembled in the heavens with other gods. He is called "Ḏušarē from Petra" in one inscription. Ḏušarē was expected to bring justice if called by the correct ritual.
Ḏušarē is known first from epigraphic Nabataean sources who invariably spell the name dwsrʾ, the Nabataean script denoting only consonants. He appears in Classical Greek sources Δουσάρης (Dousárēs) and in Latin as Dusares. The original meaning is disputed, but early Muslim historian Ibn al-Kalbi in his "Book of Idols" explains the name as Dhū l-Šarā (Arabic: ذو الشرى), meaning likely "The One from Shara", Shara being a mountain range south-east of the Dead Sea. If this interpretation is correct, Dushara would be more of a title than a proper name, but both the exact form of the name and its interpretation are disputed.
In the critical political period after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, when the Nabataeans were afraid that Rome could take over the Nabataean kingdom, Rabbel II, ruler of the Nabateans, declared a small group of particular deities as his own to allow all Nabataeans to find their deities among them. Instead of having tons of local deities there was now a kind of pantheon with a relatively small number of deities. At the head of this pantheon is Dushara. God of the mountains, storm God, vegetation God, a God with solar features, the supreme God of Petra, Lord of the stonemasons, protector of clans and of the Nabatean dynasty. Across the kingdom, several dedications set up by third parties pledged their devotion to "Dushara the God of our lord (king X)." Nabataeans often used a formula of naming Dushara first, followed by "and all the gods" in inscriptions. On a silver coin of Obodas III it reads on the reverse "brkt dšr", benedictions/blessings by Dushara. He is a protector and some inscriptions ask to be put “in the eye of“ (qadam) Dushara, that is under His protection. The veneration of Dushara as supreme God continued into the Roman period when the Kingdom of Nabataea was turned into the Roman province of Arabia Petraea.
When the first Nabataeans explored the Edomite Mountains sometime in the 5th or 4th century BC they must've been impressed by the landscape, the wilderness and the fertility of this region at the slope between the Edomite plateau and the Araba. There they sensed a Mighty God as Lord of this region just as the Hebrews did (Deuteronomy 33:2 "The LORD came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir" Judges 5:4 "When you, LORD, went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water") and just as the Edomites did. They came to know Him as Dushara. Dhūal-Sharā(t) means “the One of the Sharāt (Seir) mountain range.” The Arabic dhū element betraying their North Arabian origin.
In Greek times, he was associated with Zeus because he was the chief of the Nabataean pantheon as well as with Dionysus. A shrine to Ḏušarē has been discovered in the harbour of ancient Puteoli in Italy. The city was an important nexus for trade to the Near East, and it is known to have had a Nabataean presence during the mid 1st century BCE. The cult continued in some capacity well into the Roman period and possibly as late as the Islamic period. This deity was mentioned by the 9th century CE Muslim historian Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi, who wrote in The Book of Idols (Kitab al-Asnām) that: "The Banū al-Hārith ibn-Yashkur ibn-Mubshir of the ʻAzd had an idol called Ḏušarē." Safaitic inscriptions mention animal sacrifices to Ḏušarē, asking for a variety of services.
Zeus, Dionysus or Helios?
Ḏušarē, being a mountain God, is also be a storm God as is custom in the Ancient Near East, which would give Him a fertility aspect. A parallel can be drawn with Dhu-Ghābat, “He of the thicket”, the supreme God of the Lihyanites, Ḏušarē is in the same way a God of vegetation and fertility. This fertility aspect allowed for the identification of Dushara with Dionysus as God of fertility but the evidence for this is inconclusive. Several ancient writers, including Herodotus from the 5th century BC, Strabo from the 1st century AD, and lexicographer Hesychius from the 5th century AD, all say that the Arabs worshipped Dionysus. Hesychius in particular directly equates Dushara and Dionysus but this is not attested in Nabatean inscriptions. Nor is there any evidence for Dushara being depicted as Dionysus in Petra. The Hauran, which became the center of Arabia Petraea, is known for its agriculture including grapes. Si', a temple of pilgrimage known from Safaitic inscriptions is full of grape and vine imagery though it was probably a temple to Ba'al Shamin not Dushara nor Dionysus. There are depictions of Dionysus in Petra but none are linked to Dushara. Dushara's identification with Dionysus might have to do with the cult of the dead and resurrection, linking Him with Osiris. Its interesting to note that Dushara's consort Al'uzza was associated with Osiris's consort, Isis. More on this later.
Ḏušarē as supreme storm God was more often compared with Zeus. His assimilation with Zeus seems natural as both are the respective heads of Their pantheons and are storm Gods. Evidence for this pairing can be found on a 1st century BC bilingual inscription from Miletus, Greece at the temple of Apollo: "Syllaeus, brother of the king, on behalf of king Obodas عبادة, dedicated to Zeus Dusares Soter (ساتر Savior)." Another inscription in the island of Delos mentions Zeus Dusares. Eagle and lion imagery in His temples might show a link with Zeus-Hadad though this can also imply a solar aspect, power or protection without a direct link to Zeus. Dushara was called Zeus Hypsistos in Petra and this title was also given to Ba'al Shamin in Palmyra, another supreme storm God, though this does not mean that Dushara is Ba'al Shamin. The cult of Zeus Hypsistos was widespread and could be attached to the local supreme God of many places. One coin depicts a deity's bust above thunderbolts and thunderbolts are found in many temples though not directly linked to Zeus nor Dushara. Another coin has a bull on the obverse side which might suggest a link with Zeus-Hadad but this is local money and it probably doesn't refer to a deity in Syria. It rather expresses the fertility aspect of Dushara. An altar dedicated to Zeus Hagios was found on the northern bank of Gaia, today Wadi Musa, opposite the Temenos of Dushara's temple (Qaṣr al-Bint) and there's another one in Siq. There is also a terracotta relief of Zeus Ammon found at the Temple of the Winged Lions.
As Lord of Heaven with solar features Dushara could be associated with Helios. This goes back to Strabo (or rather his informer Athenodoros) informing us that the Nabataeans "worship the sun, building an altar on the top of the house (or temple?), and pouring libations on it daily and burning frankincense." The presence of eagles in many temples might imply solar imagery and the epithets of Dushara include aspects of Sol Invictus like one from Suwayda set up by a priest of Dushara which honors Him with the title aniketos (invincible), an epithet normally reserved for Sol Invictus. In Hegra an inscription describes a God "who separates night from day," which might refer to Dushara. If it does it might mean Dushara is a creator God. Solar deities were common throughout the Near East such Elagabal of Emesa and Heliopolitanus of Baalbek. Palmyra had three distinct solar Gods, Shamash, Yarhibol and Malakbel. Either Elegabal or one of the Palmyran Gods became Sol Invictus though scholars are in disagreement as to which one. In Petra there are approximately 15 to 19 high places, many of which may be associated with the worship of Dushara, based on the presence of betyls and the simplicity of architecture atop each space. These could also link Dushara to the sun. If Helios was assimilated with any deity in Nabataea it would've been Dushara but there's no direct link. There are depictions of Helios in Petra, like there are of Dionysus, but usually as part of façades with other Olympian Gods or as part of the 7 classical planets without any association with Dushara. Dushara definitely has solar features but as Lord of Heaven and not as a sun God in a triad with a moon deity and Venusian deity as seen in Duma and Tayma.
Depictions of Ḏušarē
In Petra, Dushara was mostly depicted as a baetyl, a cult stone, which was common for all deities. No doubt most of the rock-cut niches with betyls in Petra were dedicated to Dushara, but not all. Though some examples can be found carved into rock faces, others are freestanding and moveable. There are also portable baetyls that can be carried by hand. The 10th century encyclopedia Suda states, under the entry of "Theusares" (Dushara): "This is the God Ares in Petra in Arabia … The image [of the God] is a black stone, rectangular, unhewn, four feet tall and two wide. It stands on a base of gold. To this they sacrifice, and they pour on it the blood of the animal victims." Its interesting to note that worship of Ares is attested in the Hauran though there doesn't seem to be a connection to Dushara there, the author probably just confused the term Dusares with Theos Ares. The Ares of the Hauran is most probably the God Arsu, not Dushara.
The preference for aniconic representations of deities was not a religious taboo like in Judaism but simply an age-old cultural tradition that was briefly interrupted by an episode of Hellenism promoted by the Nabataean royal court. When the province of Arabia Petraea's capital was shifted from Petra to Bostra the baetyl of Dushara came to be understood as an omphalos, a cult stone that was the hub of the universe like the one at Delphi. Aniconic images and figurative images were often used side by side such as in the Dushara medallion (which is probably Obodas Theos not Dushara), in the temple of Dushara which had figurative sculptures in the façade but housed a baetyl inside, and in some coins where the baetyl is flanked by animals or Nike. We also have a sculpture in the Hauran depicting Dushara as a bearded God wearing robes and holding a scepter and perhaps as the Titan Aion in an interpretatio Graeca in this fresco from Shabwa (bottom left.) Dushara was also depicted as a young cuirassed God with thick long locks, wearing a laurel wreath as seen in coins from Bostra, Dar'a and Kerak from the 2nd to 3rd centuries. This is probably inspired by the coins of Alexander the Great. Additionally, Dushara is depicted as a baetyl placed on a mōtab in some coins. A mōtab is a shaped block of rock or platform used to carry or house a baetyl. We've also found terracotta figurines of a child God and a Goddess. These were speculated to be Eros, Harpocrates, Aion, Hermaphrodite, Ruda or even a temple boy.
Birth of Ḏušarē
More recently they have been connected to a report of Epiphanius of Salamis about the birth of Dushara from a virgin (Panarion 4th century AD) and some scholars have concluded that the figurines could represent Al-‘Uzza and Her son Dushara, although this suggestion was not adopted by other scholars. Its more likely that Epiphanius's account is of Dushara and His mother Allat, not Al-'Uzza, since Allat was given the epithet "Mother of Gods" and Al-'Uzza seems to be Dushara's consort, not mother. That being said, here is Epiphanius's report:
"The leaders of the idolaters … in many places hold a great feast on the very night of Epiphany… First of all, in Alexandria they hold festival in what is called the Coreum, which is a great temple, namely the sacred precinct of Core. They stay awake the whole night singing hymns to the idol to the accompaniment of flutes. They keep it up the entire night, and after cockcrow torchbearers descend into an underground shrine and bring up a wooden statue seated naked on a litter… They carry the statue in a circle seven times around the very center of the temple to the accompaniment of flutes, kettledrums, and hymns and thus reveling carry it back down to the place underground. Asked what the rite means, they say: Today at this hour Core (meaning the virgin) engendered Aeon. This is also done in the city of Petra ... in the temple of the idol there. They sing hymns to the virgin in Arabic, calling her in Arabic “Chaamu”, which means Core or “virgin”, and the one born from her “Dusares”…The rite is also performed in the city of Elusa on that night as in Petra and Alexandria."
Also, from Panarion of Epiphanius, a 4th century Palestinian monk. First he speaks about the Temple of Kore in Alexandria, and then he speaks about the birth of Dushara in Petra and in Elusa:
"First in Alexandria in the Koreion as they call it – a very large temple, the precinct of Kore (Isis). All night long they keep vigil, chanting to their idol with songs and flutes. The nocturnal service over, at cock-crow torch-bearers go down into an underground chamber and bring up a wooden image, sitting naked on a litter, with the imprint of a golden cross on its forehead, two similar imprints on its hands, and other two on its knees, all told, five golden marks impressed upon it. They carry the image itself seven times round the central part of the temple with flutes, timberls and hymns. And after the procession they bring it down again to its underground quarters. If asked what they mean by this mystery, they make answer: This day and hour Kore (that is, the Virgin), has given birth to Aion (a personification of time). Again, at Petra, the metropolis of Arabia, that is the Edom mentioned in the Scriptures, in the idol-house there the same thing takes place. They hymn the virgin in the speech of Arabia, calling her in Arabic Chaamou, that is “Kore”, or “Virgin,” and her offspring Dousares, that is “Only-begotten of the Lord.”In the town of Elousa also the same thing takes place that night as happens there in Petra and Alexandria."
The festival occurred at the winter solstice on the 6th of January and was celebrated as a mystery in several Mediterranean cultures. The birth of Ḏušarē can be compared with the birth of Jesus as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ took place on the 6th of January in the East until Justinian, who in 560 AD urged the Christians in Jerusalem to adopt the earlier Roman date. This brings us back to solar imagery for the cult of Christ was often identified with the Sun among early Christian Arabs; Christ had risen at sunrise and the resurrection was equated with the rising, the second coming was expected from the east, early churches often faced the east. The birth of Mithras also occurred at this night. The winter solstice was a birth of light and expressed fertility, the rebirth of vegetation. The continual rebirth of deities makes Them immortal. The concept of rebirth and resurrection was common to many ancient Semitic religions. This was particularly prevalent in Phoenician religion, where it was a part of the cult of Melqart. Melqart was often Hellenized as Adonis, and was related to the ancient Sumerian Dummuzi, biblical Tammuz, where rebirth and resurrection figured highly.
Like the mysteries at Eleusis and those of Isis and Osiris the festival must've been a profound experience. Gathering at the temple of Ḏušarē in the evening of the 5th of January, staying the whole night, and singing hymns to the accompaniment of flutes and drums. Perhaps they partook in some entheogens or fasting or perhaps the long hours of singing and music was enough to induce a mystical experience or trance. After many hours, the first light, the Morning Star, and the rising of the sun announces the birth and epiphany of Dushara, indicated also by revealing the baetyl, which then is carried seven times in a circumambulation around the temple to be presented to all worshippers, making the epiphany public. Interestingly, Muslims circumambulate the Ka'ba seven times as well and the Ka'ba itself is akin to a baetyl. In fact, baetyl means "house of God" and that's how the Ka'ba is described. The city in which this occurred, Elusa, was connected to the cult of Venus in the Roman period and its name comes from Al'uzza. Note that Adonis, a dying and rising God, was the lover of Venus/Aphrodite. Going back to the figurines, they may be representative of a young Dushara. Since many are found in homes its possible that the owners wished for children or that the figurines were used in household worship. The innocence of child Gods inspired more confidence than the older Gods. They were hopeful and wise. They administered justice, gave prophecies and granted oracles. The figurine has Egyptian influences confirming Epiphanius's connection between Petra, Elusa and Alexandria and perhaps to the mysteries of Isis and Osiris.
Places Associated with Ḏušarē
Dushara is directly mentioned in 9 Nabataean inscriptions in Petra, more than any other deity, and in 206 Safaitic inscriptions making Him the 3rd most popular deity among Safaitic nomads. He is even found all the way to the Gulf of Naples in Pureoli where an open-air temple was built around 54 BC by a person named Banhoba. Located inside the temple is an altar and three marble bases which each bear the same inscription in Latin: "DVSARI SACRVM" (Dushara's shrine). There's also mention of an offering of two camels though this is probably camel figurines such as this one and not actual camels. Dushara's cult even found its way to Egypt as well, possibly Tell ed-Defenneh, and to some Greek islands. Though these trading colonies declined after the annexation of the kingdom by Rome, Dushara's worship continued in the Nabatean realm. Dushara had many local manifestations such as Dushara-A'ra of Bostra, Dushara of Gaia, Dushara of Madras, and various priesthoods set up at Imtan, Bostra and Umm al-Jimal. Dushara was also the protector of a large rock-cut tomb complex in Wadi Turkmāniyyah which was a ḥaram (sacred space) dedicated to Him, his mōtab and all the Gods. A ḥaram is a sacred space that provides protection for trees, animals, and even fugitives. This particular mōtab was not an altar but the mountain landscape of Petra itself as the seat of the God.
Only one inscription mentions the temple of Dushara. The wadi just north of the temple has an altar with a head of Zeus and a dedication to the "Holy God … Dusari[os]." There was also a "theatron" dedicated to Dushara, which are bench-like installations in the courtyard of a temple, perhaps the one behind the Temple of the Winged Lions or the temenos of Dushara's temple. Dushara protected the tombs at Hegra and some inscriptions mention other deities after Him: "And may Dushara and Manotu and Her Qaysha curse anyone who sells this tomb or buys it or gives it in pledge." Other inscriptions mention Allat and Hubal. The place most associated with Dushara, however, is Gaia/Al-Ji. Another deity, Al-Kutba, is also associated with Gaia. A Greek inscription from the Hauran states "To the God of Gaia and his angel Idaruma" but its unclear if this is meant to refer to Dushara or Al-Kutba. Beginning in the 3rd century Bostra held Greco-Roman style games every 4 years called the Actia Dusaria celebrating the Battle of Actium and Dushara. Other major sites throughout the kingdom include Adraa, Hurawa (Khirbet et-Tannur), Khirbet edh-Dharih, Iram (Wadi Ramm), and Hegra. The Adraans were known for their pilgrimages to Petra where they would give offerings to Dushara. Hurawa is one of the most important sites since it existed solely as a temple complex without a neighboring village. This probably means it was a place of pilgrimage. The temple is linked to Qos and Atargatis who were assimilated with Dushara and Allat respectively.
Traits and Attributes
Dushara is the head of the Nabatean pantheon. His name means “the One of the Sharāt (Seir) mountain range.” He is a storm, mountain and fertility God and Lord of Heaven. Dushara was called Zeus Dusares Soter (Zeus Dushara Savior) and Zeus Hypsistos (Zeus Most High). He was worshipped at temples, mountaintops and open-air shrines all over the Nabatean realm and even in some trading colonies in Egypt, Greece and Italy. Dushara was usually depicted as a baetyl, a cult stone. This can be freestanding, carved onto a rockface or handheld and portable. There are also some figurative depictions of Dushara as a young cuirassed God, a child God, or an older robed and bearded God. One fresco in Shabwa might depict Aion as an interpretatio romana of Dushara. His depiction as Aion and as a child God might reference His mysteries that were celebrated in Petra and Elusa on the winter solstice. Devotees would stay up all night chanting hymns and playing music before Dushara's baetyl was revealed announcing the birth of Dushara. This links him to other dying and rising God mysteries such as those of Isis and Osiris, Adonis, and Dionysus. Dushara's consort is Al-'Uzza and His mother is Allat. The fact that Dushara continued to be worshipped after the annexation of the Nabatean kingdom into the Roman empire demonstrates the Nabateans' wish to associate themselves with the culture of the past which is essentially what we are doing. They achieved this by the continuation of their main cult, the worship of Dushara, Lord of Heaven.
- The many faces of Dushara – A Critical Review of the Evidence
- The Seven Stars, Allāt from ʿmn and Dusares from Rqm: A new Safaitic astronomical text
- The Religion of the Nabataeans: A Conspectus
- NABATAEAN FERTILITY MYTH, PLACE, TIME, RITUALS AND ACTORS BASED ON ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE
- Piecing Together the Religion of the Nabataeans
- The Religion and Rituals of the Nomads of Pre-Islamic Arabia
- Nabataean Dushara (Dusares) - an overlooked cuirassed god
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