J. Rendel Harris
Castor and Pollux raping Phoebe and Hilaeira, Roman sarcophagus c. 160 CE. (Wikimedia Commons)
J. RENDEL HARRIS (1852-1941) was a British Biblical scholar and mathematician. His Boanerges was a synthesis of world mythology, which he believed was founded on a fundamental myth of heavenly twins who represented the duality of day and night, civilization and the wild, etc. Harris's cross-cultural comparison drew on universal motifs and Indo-European derivations and conflated these into proof of a universal twin cult. In the excerpts from three chapters below, I present Harris's argument about Jason as a heavenly twin, the connection between Jason and early Herbraic and Semitic cults, and with Christianity itself. Harris compares Medea's annointing of Jason with Mary's annointing of Jesus, but, ever the Christian, rejects his own question whether the Bible had been "Jasonized," arguing instead that the Jason cult must be limited to non-Christian faiths. The reader is invited to read the whole of Boanerges at Archive.org for the complete 400-page study.
THE VOYAGE TO COLCHIS OF JASON AND HIS COMPANIONS
Now we come to the Greek legends of ship-building and of navigation: if we could assume that the Greeks learnt the art of navigation from the same source as they learnt the alphabet, we might infer the Dioscuric origin of their ship-building from what has preceded: but this is just what a nautical people like the Greeks would be very slow to admit, even if it were pointed out that Tyre and Siilon were a thousand years older than Athens. So we must discuss the matter de novo, and see if we can find a meaning in the story of Jason and the first ship Argo, of which he was the captain.
The story of the voyage to Colchis is the most popular of of all the Greek myths; it gave rise to a literature of its own, which we comprehensively denominate Argonautica, and from the prevalence of games in honour of Jason (Jasoneia) and associated religious rites, we may conjecture that the story of Jason and his argonauts supplied many a dramatic entertainment, quite apart from the magnificent treatment given to the subject by Euripides. The story was one that invited popular drama; there was the landing at Lemnos, where the women had organised a republic of their own, to the exclusion of their own husbands and kin, whom they appear to have killed; the fight between Pollux and the King of the Bebryces, which is described vividly enough by Apollonius Rhodius, and still more so by Theocritus; and then the adventures in Colchis, the taming of the fiery bulls, the capture of the golden fleece from the dragon who guarded it, and the subsequent adventures of Medea, her rejuvenescence of the aged father (some say, of Jason also, as though Jason were an elderly man), and their subsequent elopement to Corinth; — all of these things are capable of dramatic treatment, and some of the greatest Greek poets have been busied with them. In modern times the story of Jason has been studied chiefly with a view to the elucidation of the mythology that is involved in the story: it was one of the most successful hunting grounds of the scholars in search of Solar Myths; here at all events, there does seem to be a naturalistic explanation of the popular Greek story, for the golden fleece, which had to be rescued from the dragon, was a not inapt figure of the Sun which had been swallowed up by the Demon of the Dark, and must be recovered from the far eastern land beyond the Black Sea. Thus Jason becomes a solar hero, and the rescuer of the imprisoned luminary, and Medea is his attendant maiden of the Dawn. However much the mythological school to which we refer may be justly discredited, there is nothing impossible in the explanation of the Argonaut saga by their methods. There is, however, another method of approaching the subject which will yield us results which are much more certain, and may be far-reaching in the mythological problem itself. Suppose we leave Colchis, and the Golden Fleece, and Medea on one side for the present, and begin at the other end, with the building, launching, and navigation of the good ship Argo. She is popularly believed to have been the first Greek ship that was ever launched. Argo, her builder, had Athena standing by him to direct his skill; the goddess has furnished him with some talismanic boards of Dodona oak, to incorporate with his Thessalian pine. She will watch over the launching of the ship, and will appear for the help of the voyagers in difficult situations.
How was the ship manned? Here we have to work through a variety of traditions, contained in the Argonautic literature: according to the Pseudo-Orphic tradition, she was a ship of fifty oars. Pindar, however, has only a crew of ten heroes, along with Mopsus their seer. Other estimates run even higher than fifty. Apollonius Rhodius, who is, almost certainly, the source of the Pseudo-Orpheus, counts fifty-five. It must be obvious that the ship has been enlarged since it was built! How could such a ship be the first ship launched, or the voyage to Colchis her trial trip? If there is anything primitive about the Argonaut tralition, we must reduce the size of the ship and the length of her voyage. We must work out successive strata of the mariner's skill and daring, as we were able to do in the Phoenician legends, and see what lies at the bottom of the imposing mass of traditions.
Suppose we take the story as we find it in Apollonius Rhodius. Here we have a long galley propelled by oars, the rowers being no doubt placed two by two on each thwart. Jason is the captain, Tiphys the steersman, Mopsus (shall we say?) the chaplain.
As the rowers are arranged in pairs, it is not surprising that the catalogue of the able seamen should also fall into pairs, in an extraordinary degree. In fact, the greater part of the crew are pairs of brothers, and of the brothers, most are twins. Sometimes this is positively stated, and some- times it can be inferred. In such cases it is natural that they should sit side by side. The only difficulty will arise where the one brother is very strong, and the other very weak. For instance, Herakles is on board, and unless we are much mistaken, Iphikles is there too. Now, Iphikles, if he were on board, would be no match for Herakles. Apollonius tells us, in fact, that they had to put the strongest man in the ship against Herakles, who rows so hard that he actually breaks his oar, and has to go ashore in search of another.
Then as is well known, Castor and Pollux are on board. Pollux being the boxing champion of the company, who will presently have his hands full in a match with Amykos, the king of the Bebryces. Not only are the Heavenly Twins on board in their conventional form,
' the great Twin-Brethren
To whom the Dorians pray,'
but their deadly enemies, the Messenian twins, Idas and the far-seeing Lynceus, are there. In ordinary mythology, Idas and Lynceus fight with Castor and Pollux over certain maidens whom they have appropriated, and they kill Castor, the mortal-born twin, when he is hiding in a hollow oak. We understand about the oak-tree, what we do not understand is how the two pairs of twins are so amicably settled in the same oak-built ship.
The next thing we notice is that there are a number of other twins on board. The name Amphion betrays them, and the occurrence of names compounded with Amphi. For Amphion is only a shorter form of Amphigenes, and is not in the first instance a name at all. It simply means 'twin-born.' Thus it does not necessarily connote the Theban brother of Zethus; it may be anybody's twin-brother.
Keeping this simple point before our minds, we understand that if Deucalion, the son of Minos, is on board, and Amphion his brother, they are twin-brethren; and the same will be true of Asterios the son of Hyrperasios and his brother Amphion; this last case is interesting, because Hyperasios is the same name as Hyperion, and means the Sky-god. Asterios and his brother were Sky-children.
So far we have the twin-brethren, the only doubtful case being Iphikles. There is some confusion in the tradition about Iphikles. The form appears to be Iphiklos, which would make little difficulty if it were not that he is described as son of Phylakos. Another tradition makes him the son of Eurytos, and there are also Argonaut lists which contain Iphitos and Iphis. It seems to me to be most natural to assume a primitive Iphikles, brother of Herakles, and then to allow for the corruption of the name.
Our next pair is Zetis the Boread, and Kalais his brother. Apparently this is not the Theban Zethos; that the brothers are twins is definitely stated by Ovid.
There may be as many as eighteen twins on board Apollonius' ship. Even if the number should be much less, it is significant. Moreover, if we should sometimes fail to identify the second brother of a pair, as perhaps in the case of Herakles and Iphikles, yet when the twin motive has been recognised, the presence of a single brother out of a pair is significant. If Pollux only were to be found on board, Pollux is a heavenly twin, and to that extent the ship is Dioscurized. This is what our investigation has led us to, that since the ship Argo was largely manned by twins, and was partly made of holy oak, the nucleus of the myth of the building and voyaging of the Argo is that the first ship known to the Greeks was an oak tree with twins on board, which is precisely the same result as we arrived at for Romulus and Remus on the Tiber.
This naturally raises the question as to the first composition of the crew. We have Argos for the builder, who may be a mere disguise for the all-seeing Heaven, the parent of the twins in one point of view, but who are the original twins? Is Jason himself a twin, and if he should be one, who is the other?
If we can show that Jason was a twin, then we have added two more proofs of twin-dom in the crew of the Argo, Jason and Askalaphos-Asklepios.
Without discussing minutely the relation between Jason and Jasios and Jasion (Usener explains that Jason with a long a comes from the root Iamai in the same way as Jasios with a short a comes from Iaomai, and that they may be considered equivalent), I am going to maintain the correctness of the tradition that the twin-brother of Jason is Triptolemos (= Jasion?), and that the reason why Jason goes to sea, and Triptolemos stays on land, is that the common functions of the Twins have been divided. We shall show presently that the Twins are patrons of the plough and of the ship; and if that be the case, as Triptolemos is well known in Attica as the inventor of the plough and the friend of Demeter the corn-mother, we can see why (a) Triptolemos remains on shore, and (b) why there are stories of Demeter falling in love with Jasion. In reality it was Jason's twin-brother to whom she was attached; perhaps he had the name Jasion before he was called Triptolemos.
If this explanation is correct, then Jason belongs to the Heavenly Twins, and discharges some of the functions proper to the Twins, leaving the agricultural duties to his twin-brother.
We have now shown reason to believe that Askalaphos is an Oak-bird (either the owl or the woodpecker) and that Jason is the twin who first, in Greek tradition, went to sea in a trunk of holy oak. Moreover, there is a connection between Jason the first navigator and Askalaphos the first boat-builder. The ancients all say that Jason was the son of Aeson, but they betrayed, by the familiar sound of the name, that it was a mere invention of afterthought. As to Jason's mother, there are several variant traditions; amongst them there is one preserved by Tzetzes' that his mother was named Scarphe: Scarphe is only a variant for Scalphe and implies that Jason is a twin descended from the woodpecker (or conceivably the owl). There can be little room for doubt that we have traced the Argonaut story to its origin, we are behind the epos, and behind the saga, we have arrived at the first stages of man's explanation of the world and its phenomena and his own traditional practices.
It remains to be investigated whether the starting point of the story of ship-building is in Greece or in Phoenicia. Is Jason originally a Semite?
The first thing that suggests itself is that the name is commonly derived from the Greek Iaomai, to heal, and implies that Jason had leech-craft. The name would on this supposition be Greek and not Semitic. That the Twins should be healers is well known, from the Acvins of India to Protasius and Gervasius the boni medici of Milan. To contradict this supposition we should have to say that they were healers indeed, but that the leech-craft had come in later, superposed upon the nautical-craft with which they came accredited, say, from Phoenicia. This is not impossible, but inasmuch as leech-craft is early in the lore of the Twins, it is, to say the least, unlikely.
It was G. F. Grotefend who first suggested the Phoenician origin for Jason and equated it with Joshua. If the Septuagint made Joshua into Jesus, why should not the Greeks of an earlier day have made Joshua into Jason (‘Iesous’), which we see staring at us in its Ionic form all over the pages of Apollonius Rhodius? The hypothesis is certainly attractive enough: but where shall we find in Phoenicia, and amongst the Phoenician twins, the name of Joshua? Does it underlie the name Onso, which we were discussing previously? It is hardly likely. And if Joshua is the missing Semitic original, how does his name compounded with Jahu appear in Phoenician origins? It will be seen that the hypothesis is beset with difficulties as far jus Phoenicia is concerned.
The name of Joshua does, however, become Graecized into Jason, in the time of Greek influence in Palestine, following on the invasion of Alexander. […] Grotefend […] affirms that Homer and his followers know nothing of a Greek ancestry for Jason, and that it is, therefore, reasonable to interpret his name by Semitic analogies, which brings out Joshua as underlying Jason.
The Phoenicians were the first to sail the Aegean and the Euxine, but the Greeks expelled them from their stations in the islands, and then ascribed to themselves the origin of ship-building, and the daring of the primitive navigator; as the Phoenicians must have been a sea-going people long before the Greeks were heard of, it seems that Grotefend must be right in saying that Jason came from Phoenicia. We are not far, now, from the Lake of Galilee and can hardly avoid the question whether the Lake was navigated before the Mediterranean was ventured. If it was so dared, Jason may be Galilean before he was Phoenician.
Grotefend's suggestion that Argo in Phoenician meant a long ship (Heb. Arha, = long) is not so convincing. I should rather have expected the first ship to be called oak, or thunder, or woodpecker. This point can be left in suspense with a strong mark of philological doubt.
Is there anything that will confirm us in accepting Grotefend's judgement as to the meaning and origin of the Jason legend? I think I have found such a confirmation. On an ancient gem, figured in King and Monro's illustrated Horace, will be found a representation of the very pair of twins in a boat, whom our analysis detected at the back of the Argonaut legends. The two figures are seated in a boat, facing one another, and holding between them something like an amphora with handles: they have caps on their heads, but note that they are not the egg-shaped caps of the Dioscuri, but the conical caps of the Kabiri. So then, the verdict must be that the primitive sea-going twins were remembered as Kabiri in some quarters. Jason and his companion were a couple of Kabirs, which is the point that we wished to confirm.
JASON AND THE SYMPLEGADES
It was pointcd out in a previous chapter that the passage of the Symplegades or Clashing Rocks, at the entrance to the Euxine, by Jason and his companions, was not an incident found that could be limited to the supposed first Greek voyage of discovery. The Clashing Rocks occurred elsewhere, which showed that they had really nothing to do with the Euxine, nor anything to do with Jason, imagined to be a definite historical character. The Clashing Rocks, as we have said, occur elsewhere: we found them, for example, in South America, which does not exactly lie on the Euxine. In a modified form, they appear as Clashing Doors, in which the passer through may be caught and perhaps destroyed, or split trees which come together again and imprison the un-wary. The theme is clearly the same: there is an attempt on the part of some one or more persons to force a passage into somewhere or after somebody, and a little study of the various stories of heroes who, usually in pairs, make attempt to pass the Clashers, will show that it is the Sky-boys or Thunder-boys who are gone in search of the Sun, lost for a time to mortal view in the Western Sea, or which is the same thing, swallowed for a time by the Dragon and the Darkness. Into this underworld the heroes will penetrate in order to liberate the captive Sun. This theme is one that is well known to us. Sometimes it is varied, and the theme is the wooing of the Daughter of the Sun. The change could be explained, but it is not necessary at this point; what is necessary is to register the facts and then in the light of the facts, to simplify the involved problems. For example, without going into North or South America, we know from the folk-songs of Lithuania, that our own ancestors believed in Sons of God (dewa deli) who rode upon a chariot in order to woo the daughter of the Sun.
[I]t is said that the Acvins delivered Surya the daughter of the Sun, and the Tyndarids delivered Helen; and, as we shall show, the Theban Twins, Zethos and Amphion, rescue their mother Antiope. Nor must we forget the story of the Signs of the Zodiac, which is told by Jerome of Prague, and how they liberated the Sun, who had been imprisoned in a dark tower, using for this purpose a huge hammer with which they broke into the tower and battered it down. Here the signs of the Zodiac evidently stand for the Heavenly Twins. These and similar cases all arise out of the same theme, that the Sun (or the daughter of the Sun) has been carried off, or swallowed or imprisoned, and must be recovered. The Twins, who are the children of the Sky, undertake the search and the recovery. Naturally one will go East and the other West; naturally, too, they become identified with the Morning Star and the Evening Star. When this is made clear, we do not need to explain the Symplegades as real rocks, nor interpret the passage of them rationalistically. It has been suggested, for example, that the danger of the rocks at the entrance of the Euxine led to the sending on in advance of a ship's boat, named the Dove, to test the openness of the passage: and it resulted that where the Dove, the ship's boat went, the Argo could follow. This is mere dreary rationalism, trying to get rid of a miracle. The rocks are not real rocks: the passage is not into the Euxine but into another world. The Twins run the risk of being swallowed like their sire. The real Symplegades are the Clashing Doors of the mouth of the great Dragon of the Dark. Our heroes run a risk indeed in venturing into the interior of that dragon and making him disgorge. This is expressed by the Argo losing the end of its rudder, the dove which has been sent in advance its tail feathers; and Jason, perhaps, his sandal. We may treat these incidents as poetical embellishments but we must not explain them away rationalistically in the hope of retaining a real voyage by ordinary people in the story. The value of the incident of the Symplegades is that it enables us to see that we are following the working of the human imagination engaged in the explanation of a simple natural phenomenon, the recurrence of Day and Night. As this is an important result, we must not say with Medea's nurse in Euripides, that we wish Jason had never passed the Symplegades.
JASON AND TRIPTOLEMOS
When we were discussing the functions of the Twins, from the point of view of their beneficences to the human race, we were able to show that they had been credited, inter alia, with the invention of the plough and the yoke: and this discovery is one of the fundamental traits of twin-legend in its European development: even when the twins have become heroized, the ancient symbols are still attached to their cult, often in the form of weapons which they use, or instruments which they are imagined still to manufacture.
In the case of Triptolemos it was quite easy to detect the plough in his cult. He is the Attic father of the plough, and it is in his honour that three ploughs are carried in the festival of the Thesmophoria; tradition made him the darling of Demeter, to whom he had been entrusted by his father King Keleos. Keleos, being the Green Woodpecker, was naturally the parent of the Heavenly Twins, and Demeter, the Corn-Mother, was with equal propriety made the guardian of the Heavenly Ploughman, attached to her service either as an adopted child, or received into her companionship as a friend and perhaps a lover.
In dealing with the relationship of Jason and Triptolemos, it was suggested that in the case of Jason the emphasis had been laid on the Twin as ship-builder and navigator, while in the case of Triptolemos, the stress was on the Twin as agriculturist. It looked like a case of divided functions. No doubt this is a convenient way of studying the question, and is a not unfair summary of the legends. We must, however, admit that the division of function is not as complete as it appears. In the first place, Triptolemos is not bounded altogether by the limits of his ploughed field. At Antioch he was honoured with a festival on Mount Cassius, and Philo of Byblus tells us that the shrine on Mount Cassius was commemorative of a shipwreck near by of certain descendants of the Dioscuri: from which it was easy to see that there was a Dioscureion on Mount Cassius, and that shipmen prayed there or thitherward, using the name of Triptolemos where we should have expected Jason.
In the next place, Jason is not so exclusively nautical Jason as that he can rid himself of connection with agriculture. It may, perhaps, at first sight, seem to be an undue stretch of Colchis, the imagination to take the hero of Colchis back into the humbler arts of life, with which war has apparently nothing to do. We cannot, however, ignore the prominence which is given in the story of the Golden Fleece, to the labours assigned to Jason by the father of Medea. He must yoke fire-breathing bulls and plough with them; then he must sow dragons' teeth, and overcome the brood of armed men that will arise. The last feature of the conflict is one which recurs again in the story of Kadmos, so closely connected in many ways with that of Jason. Does it not seem as if the starting point for the growth of the legend as to the dragons' teeth was to be found in the simple statement that the Heavenly Ploughman or Twin taught us how to yoke cattle and attach them to the plough? Let this story lose its simplicity and become heroized; we have then the material for some at least of the exploits of Jason. If this explanation be correct (I owe it in part to Miss Harrison), then Jason is still a Ploughman, even when he has become High Admiral of the first Greek fleet; in other words, the division of function between Jason and Triptolemos was not as complete as, at first sight, it might appear to be.
The relations between the legend of Kadmos and that of Jason are still obscure. I do not, at present, see how to elucidate them. Probably it is better to work away on the line where we discovered Jason., the evolutionary line of a twin-cult, and leave Kadmos for further study in the light of rapidly increasing mythological knowledge.
On the whole it appears that the perplexing mass of the Argonautic legends is beginning to break up into strata: we have shown that there is a stratum of twin-cult revealed by the invention and use of the plough and yoke, another stratum which betrays the origin and development of ship-craft, a third in which the Twins appear as heroes, after the manner of the twin cults in North and South America, where the prominent idea is that of sending the Sky-children or Thunder-boys in search of their lost father the Sun. This last stratum of belief ought to end in the evolution of a cult of the Morning Star and the Evening Star; amongst its leading themes is that of a devouring dragon on the one hand, and an imprisoned solar splendour on the other.
It may be noticed in passing that the common explanation of Jason as the Great Healer, does not seem to be warranted by the Argonautic story: nor does there seem to be any special development of mantic art which is so commonly allied with medicine in early times. In the case of the Argonaut expedition the mantic element is supplied from other quarters; Mopsus, for example, in the ship; Phineus on the land. The medical and magic part, including the peculiarly Dioscuric art of rejuvenescence, appears to have been transferred to Medea. This does not mean that Jason was inexpert in such arts; there are occasional suggestions, I believe, to the contrary; but these are not the features by which Jason impressed himself on the men who fashioned the great Argonautic tradition. For them he was not, first and foremost, the healer or the prophet: he was the daring sailor, the solar hero, and in a lesser degree the Heavenly Plough-man. He cannot be understood, however, either in his greater or lesser functions, without the aid of the twin-cult.
In confirmation of the foregoing belief that original functions have been heroized in the Jason story, let us look more closely at the ploughing of Jason as it appears in the verses of Apollonius Rhodius. Miss Harrison points out to me that Jason is assisted in the yoking of the bulls by the Tyndarids, so that we have a case of the Twin being assisted by the Twins. The meaning is that the task of yoking the team requires two, and since Jason's twin is not on hand, it has been arranged in advance that Castor and Polydeuces shall come to his assistance, as soon as by one mighty effort he has forced the fire-breathing bulls to their knees. […] [S]ince Jason is alone, another pair of twin yokers will come to his assistance. Thus the Spartan Dioscuri are also connected with the plough and the yoke, and it is a fair question whether this may not after all be the meaning of their cult symbols, the Dokana or sacred cross-beams.
In the course of the analysis we have brought out Twins another point, which might have been suggested to us by the nature of the case: the Twins who are responsible for the plough and the yoke must also be answerable for the taming of the beasts who are to bear the yoke and drag the plough. The bull is tamed for this very purpose. Now we were well aware that Castor is the primitive horse-breaker, under which title he occurs constantly in Homeric and other verse: we now see that the Twins are bull-tamers as well as horse-tamers, otherwise they would invent the yoke and plough in vain. We add this to their other functions, and assume that the appearance of the Tyndarids at this point in the Argonaut story is a part of the functional heroization of the legend.
In the story of Jason and Triptolemos, we were able to detect a pair of Twin Brethren, who were also the Patrons of the Art of Ploughing. At first sight it seemed as if Jason had left his plough on the shore, when he went to sea: but when he arrives at Colchis, we find the craft resumed in a heroic fashion, which leaves Triptolemos far behind. So Jason also was a Heavenly Ploughman, and the division of labour between him and his brother is superficial. They are really one in an art which requires two persons, if we may judge from the way the Tyndarids come to the help of Jason in the Argonaut legend, and put the yokes on the necks of the bulls whom Jason had brought to the ground. The heroization of the story of the taming of oxen for the plough (no small feat in the history of man) may now be regarded as intelligible.
DIOSCURISM AND JASONISM
Now let us turn to what is, perhaps, the most difficult and the most obscure part of our investigation, the extent to which Twin-cult can be traced in Palestine.
Is it conceivable that we might find in Palestine any of those Jasoneia which Strabo says were so common in Media and Armenia? The mixed racial character of the population of Northern Israel renders it a not unlikely hypothesis. Suppose we move out of the districts and cities that are Paneas altogether Phoenician into the frontiers of Phoenicia, where the population is mixed; such a city as Paneas (better known as Caesarea Philippi) will be a good centre for antiquarian research. Its name Paneas, and its sacred grotto of Pan, show Greek influence, its devotion to a succession of Caesars, from Augustus to Nero, and perhaps to Julian, supplies Roman influence; Eusebius, however, tells us that it was a Phoenician city and is strongly supported in the statement. So that we have in Paneas a meeting point of religions and of cultures, the Phoenician having the mark of predominance in early times.
Now Eusebius tells us a curious archaeological story with regard to Paneas, namely, that it was the place of residence of the woman whom the Lord healed of a twelve-years' sickness, and that she had, in gratitude for healing, erected, near her own house, a monument on a lofty pedestal, representing herself in the attitude of a suppliant with outstretched hands, receiving the blessing of the Lord [along with a healing herb]. Now with regard to this story of Eusebius, it would probably be safe to say that no reasonable person believes it: indeed, Eusebius himself does not appear to have seen the figures. It is evidently a case of converted monuments such as we recognise when Jupiter Capitolinus is set up as S. Peter in the Church of the Vatican, or when the pilgrim from Aquitaine was told by her guides that a pair of Egyptian statues which she saw were those of Moses and Aaron.
The question then arises as to whose statue it was, if it was not a representation of Jesus. […] Assume it to be a statue of Jason and Medea; we then explain the herb in the representation, it is part of Medea's magic. When Medea made medicine for the protection of Jason, she took for a chief ingredient the saffron from a crocus-like plant which had been fed with the ichor of the suffering Prometheus:
'And the flower of it blossomed a cubit the face of the earth above,
As the glow of the crocus Corycian, so was the hue thereof.
Upborne upon pale stalks twain, and below in its earthly bed
The root thereof as flesh new severed was crimson red.'
Apoll. Rhod. III. 85:3—8.56.
This flower about a cubit high may very well be the plant which Eusebius describes. Eusebius expressly says that it grew at the Lord's feet, upon the column itself: later writers, like Theophanes, say that it grew underneath the basis of the statue, which appears to be a misunderstanding of Eusebius.
The correctness of our own interpretation may be inferred from the fact that the Greek artists did represent the flower.
On a Neapolitan vase, where the capture of the Golden Fleece is delineated, the flower may actually be seen growing near the root of the tree on which the Fleece is suspended, between Medea, who is charming the snake, and Jason who is seizing the Fleece. The vase-painting may be seen as copied in Roscher from a study of Heydemann's'.
Assuming, then, that we have here a statue of Jason and Medea, we can now see why the people of the place came to say it was a statue of Jesus; for the known equivalence of Jason and Jesus made such an identification perfectly natural. It was not an arbitrary guess, and when Jesus was identified, it was easy to identify the woman, with the aid of the gospel.
We need not be surprised at finding a statue of Medea in Paneas; when Domitian adorned Antioch with monuments and sanctuaries, he established a temple of Asklepios, and built public baths in honour of Medea, whose statue was there set up. It seems clear that the latter statue had a religious as well as an artistic intention. If Medea was an object of devotion in Antioch in the first century of the Christian era, as well is Triptolemos, there is no reason why Jason and Medea should not have been honoured as healers and helpers at Paneas'.
We have now conjectumlly restored Jason into close Jasonism geographical contiguity with Jesus. Each of them also is a twin, and their names are capable of a close parallelism: one of them is a Kabir, the other has been shown to be a Dioscure. If it was lawful to suggest Dioscurism as an interpreting factor in the legends of the Old and New Testament, then Jasonism, as a subordinate form of Dioscurism, may equally be invoked. This suggestion, however, raises some difficult historical problems. For example, one of thebest remembered points in the Argonaut story was that Medea, inflamed with love for Jason, provided him with an unction that should preserve him from the fire-breathing bulls and from the ileath-dcaling dragon whom he had to face, before he could capture the Golden Fleece. In Apollonius' account, Medea gives Jason the medicament, and tells him to anoint his whole body with it, as if with ointment. Later writers represent Medea as herself acting as anointer. […] There can be little doubt that the statement “Medea anointed Jason” was very familiar in literature and in art.
When Apollonius tells us the story in the Argonautica, Medea produces from her sash or breast-band the protective charm, offers it to Jason, who gladly receives it; and then she stands before him, and in a flood of teal's declares her love, and beseeches that he will remember Medea when he is gone.
'She, with a downcast glance, and maiden fear.
Bedewed her cheek divine with many a tear:
Grieving that he, her love, ere long would be
Far from her gaze, and wandering o'er the sea.
O'er virgin modesty her eyes prevailed
And with a troubled speech she him assailed;
Remember me, she said, and took his hand,
If e'er thou comest to thy fatherland;
Thy poor Medea, far remote, will pay
Thy memory with remembering alway.'
Apoll. Ro. III. 1062—1070.
Here we have the unction and the weeping woman. Notice, too, that in the Paneas monument also it is a weeping woman: for Mahilas tells us that he visited Panesis, and found there, in possession of a converted Jew, named Bussus, a copy of the petition which the woman presented to Herod, in which she tells the story of her appeal to the Lord: 'I, falling before him, flooded the ground with my tears, confessing my daring.'
Is it possible that the Gospel itself has been Jasonized by the insertion of a story in imitation of or in parallelism to the anointing of Jason? We remember the beautiful account of the woman who washed our Lord's feet with tears and anointed him with costly unguent. What makes the story suspicious is that it was told at different places and times, and apparently of different people. Mark's story is of a woman who comes in with costly unguents into the house of Simon the leper at Bethany, who wan entertaining Jesus. John, who evidently knows the Marcan story, deliberately corrects Mark, and maintains that it was Mary of Bethany who anointed the Lord. Luke transfers the whole story to the hou.se of a Pharisee named Simon, who, in a somewhat supercilious manner, was entertaining Jesus at dinner, and declares that the woman was a great sinner. We take it for granted that .so extraordinary an incident did not occur twice. So does the author of the fourth Gospel. The discrepancies in these accounts certainly lend a colour to the suggestion that we are dealing with legendary matter that is trying to make itself historical. If that should be the right interpretation, there is no likelier quarter in which to seek for the origin of the story than in the tale of Jason and Medea.
The difficulty, however, at once suggests itself that the Mary and cases are not really parallel : it is easy to write down the two sentences
Medea anointed Jasion,
Mary anointed Jesus,
and to point out their literary parallelism; but in the latter case the unguent is of surpassing sweetness, and fills the house with odour; in the former case, if tradition can be trusted, it was an evil-smelling compound. When Horace had some unusually strong garlic at one of Maecenas' dinners, he compared the smell of it to the medicine with which Medea anointed Jason, and to the horrible poison which she prepared for the daughter of Croon. […]
We may suspect also that its taste was as detestable as its smell; for there was a tradition, preserved to us on a single monument, an Attic vase from Caere, which represents Jason as actually swallowed by the dragon, and subsequently disgorged. It is natural to suggest that just as the fire- breathing bulls did not like the smell of Medea's medicine, so the dragon did not like the taste of it. We can hardly, then, compare the Medean unguent with the spikenard of the Gospel.
We are now faced with the problem of the determination of the limits of a possible Dioscuric influence. It is clearly one thing to be able to explain or remove a miracle, with which an account has been surcharged, by the hypothesis of popular Dioscuric influence; but it is quite another to relegate to the region of artificial legend an incident which is altogether free from miraculous elements, and the description of which is marked by the vividness of a story that is truly told. A true history becomes more credible when its miraculous accre- tions are removed; but a history, whose fundamental events are subtrahible, ceases, even if it be vividly told, to have the confidence of the reader. Such, at least, is the impression which is at first produced, by the application of Dioscurism (including Jasonisin) as an elucidating factor to the Gospel. We proceeded on the hypothesis that we had discovered in Dioscurism a critical vera causa: this was certainly the case in the legends of Genesis, and in the freely-handled narration of the second book of Maccabees; whether our application of the same methods of explanation to the New Testament is illicit, is the question that we must try to decide. Certainly there can be no a priori exclusion of the Dioscuric hypothesis: it has explained for us too many situations to be treated with critical contempt. On the other hand, it is quite likely that the methinl is applied by us in the New Testament sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. It is surely right when it is explaining Boanerges, and perhaps right when it explains that the young disciples who bore that name wished to invoke the doom of Sodom on the inhospitable Samaritans; for the angels in the story of the Destruction of Sodom are clearly Dioscures. Here the parallel is perfect, and can be reinforced from a Dioscuric incident in the second book of Maccabees, where the story of Sodom can again be seen to furnish a parallel to the narrative. Possibly, also, the twice told tale of the miraculous haul of fish may be credited to popular Dioscuric beliefs; though here there are objections that will readily be felt: on the other hand, such accounts as the marriage in Cana (in spite of the involved miracle), and the anointing of the Lord, are so simple and natural, that one hesitates to cover them with the hypothesis of the invention of a folklorist. It would be foolish to speak dogmatically of our results at this stage of the investigation: we have certainly resolved some riddles, but whether we have carried our explanations into regions that did not need such elucidation, let the reader judge, who is occupied with ourselves in the evaluation of the Biblical story.
Source: Rendel Harris, Boanerges (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913).