Last Clash of the Titans Part 8: The Mount of Assembly and the God of the Dead

The Bible is a chronicle of the long war by the fallen elohim, their demonic offspring, and human collaborators against the authority of our Creator. Mountains have played a key role in this rebellion.

Mount Hermon

The concept of the mount of assembly was known to the pagan neighbors of the ancient Israelites. As far back as the time of Sumerian dominance in Mesopotamia, the third millennium B.C. (3000–2000 B.C.), it was believed the divine council led by the chief god, Enlil, met at his temple in the city of Nippur, the E-kur (House of the Mountain). Remember, Enlil himself was called “Great Mountain.”

To the Canaanites in the time of the Judges, roughly 1300–1200 B.C., their creator-god El met with his “assembled congregation” (in Ugaritic, pḫr mʿd) on Mount Hermon in the “tents of El.” Although scholars would present this the other way around, the tents of El reflect the dwelling of Yahweh, the Tent of Meeting and the tabernacle, which housed the Ark of the Covenant for more than three hundred years before Solomon built the Temple on Mount Zion.

You see, this whole war is about the mountain. The divine rebel’s goal is to establish hismount of assembly above that of Yahweh’s. That is still his greatest wish. (It may be the goal of many of these rebel gods, actually. The history of war between nations suggests that there may be as much competition between the fallen elohim as there is between the Fallen and Yahweh.) The prophets, psalmists, and apostles knew about this war for the mount. As you read the Bible with a careful eye, you’ll see references to other mountains that the Fallen hoped to establish as the har môʿēd.

So, which mountain did Isaiah identify? According to scholar Edward Lipinski, El’s mount of assembly was probably Mount Hermon,[i] but that isn’t the one in view in Isaiah 14. The Hebrew phrase yarkete tsaphon, rendered “far reaches of the north,” is the key to identification. The phrase is used only three places in the Hebrew Bible, so looking at the other occurrences gives us important context.

For example, in Psalm 48, the psalmist compares Zion to yarkete tsaphon:

Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north [yarkete tsaphon],
the city of the great King. (Psalm 48:1–2, ESV; emphasis added)

How do we know the psalmist’s intent? Well, first of all, Mount Zion isn’t in the “far north.” Everyone in David’s day knew there was plenty of real estate north of Zion, even inside Israel. Second, while Zion is beautiful, it’s a bit short on elevation. It’s not even the tallest peak in Jerusalem. At 2,428 feet, the Temple Mount is almost a hundred feet lower than the modern Mount Zion (the former Western Hill was thought to be more fitting for David’s palace, so it was renamed Zion in the first century), and almost three hundred feet below the highest spot on the Mount of Olives. In short, the psalmist was making a point about theology, not geography.

The “far north” in Psalm 48:2 refers to another cosmic mountain, a mount of assembly (har môʿēd) that everyone in the ancient world knew was the home of the palace of the king of the Canaanite gods, Baal:

A seat was prepared and he was seated at the right hand of Valiant Baal, until the gods had eaten and drunk. Then Valiant Baal said, “Depart, Kothar-and-Hasis! Hasten! Build a house indeed; hasten! Construct a palace! Hasten! Let them build a house; Hasten! Let them construct a palace, in the midst of the uttermost parts of Zaphon. A thousand square yards let the house take up, ten thousand acres the palace!”[ii] (Emphasis added)

Baal sits like the base of a mountain
Hadad [proper name of the storm-god, Baal] settles as the ocean,
in the midst of his divine mountain Zaphon,
in the midst of the mountain of victory.
Seven lightning-flashes […],
eight bundles of thunder,
a tree-of-lightning in his right hand.[iii] (Emphasis added)

Highlight this, at least in your mind: The mount of assembly of the divine rebel in Eden is the holy mountain of the Canaanite storm-god Baal.

In other words, the rebel from Eden evidently manifested to later humans as the storm-god—Baal to the Canaanites and Israelites, Zeus to the Greeks, Jupiter to the Romans, Teshub to the Hurrians, and Tarhunz to the Hittites (and maybe even Indra to the Indians, Thor to the Norsemen, and so on). This is not only a key historical detail, it’s important to understanding end-times prophecy.

Why? Because we know exactly where this mountain is. Mount Zaphon is known today as Jebel al-Aqra, a 5,600-foot peak in Turkey on the border with Syria, near the mouth of the Orontes River on the Mediterranean Sea. The Amorite kingdom of Ugarit was based only twenty-five miles south of Zaphon.

Besides being the home of Baal’s palace, it was believed to be the holy mountain of Teshub and the place where Zeus battled the chaos-monster, Typhon. That conflict was very similar to Baal’s battle with the chaos god of the sea, Yamm, both of which echo the original story, Yahweh’s defeat of Leviathan.[iv] Zaphon was so important in ancient Israel that its name became the Hebrew word for the compass point “north.”[v]

Now, let’s add a couple more bits of data to chew on. The fourteenth chapter of Isaiah is even more intriguing than it appears. First, let’s look closer at verses 18 and 19:

All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
each in his own tomb;
but you are cast out, away from your grave,
like a loathed branch,
clothed with the slain, those pierced by the sword,
who go down to the stones of the pit,
like a dead body trampled underfoot. (Isaiah 14:18–19, ESV; emphasis added)

What did the prophet mean by calling the rebel from Eden “a loathed branch”? Most English translations agree that the Hebrew word netser means “branch,” although a couple opt for “shoot.” The range of adjectives chosen by translators includes “loathed,” “repulsive,” “rejected,” “worthless,” and “abominable,” but they convey the same sense—something utterly detestable. But even allowing for differences in culture and language over the last 2,700 years, the phrase “loathed/worthless/abominable branch” seems odd. It is not at all clear what connection there could have been between graves and branches, abominable or otherwise, in the eighth century B.C.

Scholar Christopher B. Hays has suggested an explanation: Perhaps Isaiah meant something different because the Hebrew word netser might not have been the word he used.

[The] term is best explained as a loanword from the common Egyptian noun nṯr. Nṯr is generally translated “god,” but is commonly used of the divinized dead and their physical remains.It originally came into Hebrew as a noun referring to the putatively divinized corpse of a dead king, which is closely related to the Egyptian usage.[vi] (Emphasis added)

Considering what we’ve just discussed in the previous sections about the Rephaim, the “kings of the nations,” being the venerated dead kings of the Amorites (in other words, the “divinized dead”), Hays’ proposal rings true.

Now, why a loanword from Egypt? The influence of Judah’s southwestern neighbor is evident in the book of Isaiah. The prophet warned Hezekiah not to trust in an Egyptian alliance to protect his kingdom (Isaiah 30:1–2, 31:1–3), which Isaiah called “a covenant with death” (Isaiah 28:15). However, recently discovered seals from King Hezekiah feature the image of a scarab (dung beetle), a sacred symbol in Egypt.[vii] So, borrowing an Egyptian word would not have been unusual for Isaiah, especially given the poor opinion he had of Judah’s neighbor.

The adjective translated “abhorred” or “abominable,” Hebrew ta`ab, is significant. It modifies the noun netser, which would normally have a positive connotation. In this context, ta`ab may suggest “ritually impure.”[viii] If so, then Isaiah made a profound declaration here about the rebel from Eden: The “loathed branch” was actually an “unclean god,” and in the context of the Rephaim greeting the rebel upon his arrival in Sheol, it describes an unclean god of the dead—exactly the role assigned to Lucifer after he was kicked out of Eden.

[i] Lipinski, op. cit., p. 69.

[ii] Ugaritic text KTU 1.4 v 49–57. In Wyatt, N. (2002). Religious Texts from Ugarit(2nd ed.) (London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press), p. 104.

[iii] Ugaritic text KTU 1.101 R 1–3. Ibid., pp. 388–389.

[iv] See Psalm 74:14. The victory of a warrior god over Chaos is a common theme in ancient Near Eastern religion: Zeus vs. Typhon; Baal vs. Yamm (or Tiamat); Tarhunz vs. Illuyanka; Marduk (or Enlil, or Enki) vs. Tiamat, etc. Although many scholars would disagree, it is my view that these accounts are derivative of what actually happened, as described in Psalm 74.

[v] Talshir, D. (2003). “The Relativity of Geographic Terms: A Re-investigation of the Problem of Upper and Lower Aram” (pp. 264–265). Journal of Semitic Studies XLVIII/2.

[vi] Hays, C. (2012). An Egyptian Loanword in the Book of Isaiah and the Deir ʾAlla Inscription: Heb. nṣr, Aram. nqr, and Eg. nṯr as “[Divinized] Corpse” (p. 17). Journal of Ancient Egyptian InterconnectionsVol. 4:2.

[vii] Mariottini, C. (2014). “The Seal of Hezekiah.”, retrieved 4/16/18.

[viii] Hays (2012), op. cit., p. 18.