Note: This is the concluding part of a 5-part series of articles
In the Yoruba/Afro-Brazilian Candomble cult of Sango, we encounter a crucifixion story whose parallels with the Christian Golgotha crucifixion story could not be incidental. The association of trees, sacred poles (the maypole, for instance ), phallic figurines sculptured in wood (Ose-Asherah figurines), wooden mystic torture wheels (Ixion's wheel of torture), wooden cross designs (swastika designs, wheels of life, fire-wheels, Ankh etc.) and crucifix torture implements with springtime (Easter time) regenerative powers of nature and immortality all converge on antique cults of the dead in which trees (especially evergreen trees) were symbols of immortality and afterlife.
In the Yoruba/Afro-Brazilian Candomble cult of Sango, the warlike, hot-tempered deity, Sango, legendary king of Oyo, was deposed by his subjects who had grown weary of the arbitrary tyranny of his rule (the old Freudian parricide motif). Wandering in exile somewhere in "Tapa" country, Sango commits suicide in a fit of depression, by hanging from an Ayan tree. His companions in exile, however, spread the news that the great king had not actually died on the Ayan but had only been translated to the skies in apotheosis. His death was interpreted along the lines of the popular docetist "heresy" of the Mohammedans and Gnostics with regard to the death of Jesus at Golgotha: Sango had only seemed to hang on the stake; a substitute had been miraculously provided.
The idea of substitute offering is very old in religious tradition, and it informs the universal practice of offering sacrifices to the gods to expiate the sins of religious community or individuals: In Genesis 22, we read of the substitutional sacrifice of a ram for Isaac. In Leviticus 16:20-22, we read of the ceremony of the scapegoat ("Azazel") on which the sins of the entire religious community was laid. The concept of the substitute in sin offering is echoed again in Isaiah 53:6, in reference to the prophetic Suffering Servant: ".. YHWH hath laid on him the iniquity of us all…"
In practically all traditional cultures the religious community seeks to escape the consequences of real and imaginary wrongdoing with substitutional sacrifice: the idea is that the gods will accept a swap, as in trading or mercantile dealing. The prohibitions in relation to hanging of a victim on a tree or stake in cases of capital punishment in Deut. 21:22-23, seems to be associated with particular practices involved in human sacrificial rites in Canaanite tree cults,("for he that hangeth is accursed of deity"). The prohibition that the body should not remain all night upon the tree but be buried on the same day was scrupulously observed at Jesus' crucifixion (John 19: 38-42)
The practice of offering a human individual as substitutional offering to the gods at annual festivals for the sins of the entire community is universal. In many cultures the preferred victim is a "virgin." Early European visitors commented on the common practice of sacrificial ritual impalement of virgins on wooden stakes to ward off evil in communities along the West African coast. Similar practices are reported worldwide: the ancient Celtic tribes had virgin sacrifice customs associated with their Samhuin (Halloween) festivals, the Ancient Romans and Greeks all had antique "virgin" sacrifice traditions. While we do not have any direct reference to the practice of virgin sacrifice among the Ancient Israelites, Judges 11:30, could be an indirect reference to an antique tradition (compare Is 57: 4,5).
The virgin was often chosen from among the virgin priestesses of the deity (there is a cross-cultural association of virginity with "purity" cognate with the Christian belief that Jesus was sinless, "the lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world").
The virgin so chosen was supposed to look upon her choice by deity as rare honor for she was chosen to redeem society by her sacrifice: she was the wife of deity consecrated to deity in suffering and death.
1. Geddes and Grosset(1997); Ancient Egypt: Myth and History.
2. Saul M. Olyan. Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel. Society of Biblical Literature, 1988
3. Willliam G. Dever. Did God have a Wife? Archeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel. Eerdmans Pub Co, 2008.
JohnThomas Didymus is the author of "Confessions of God: The Gospel According to St. JohnThomas Didymus"