Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Palm of the Phoenix: The Kappu Symbol in Natib Qadish

24 [Ugaru] (month); Shanatu 84 (year)

Unknown photographer,
unknown copyright.
Ancient Canaanite texts and material culture contain many meaningful symbols for Canaanite polytheists: Baʻal Haddi’s war-clubs, young hero Aqhat’s bow, a cup of blessing, an eight-pointed star, a four-rayed solar disk,  and more. I like the palm, both the tree and the palm of the hand, and their layers of symbolism.

The first time we see the symbol of the palm-of-hand alone inscribed is on a stele from a Canaanite stele from Bronze Age Hazor: two hands reach toward a crescent moon. This stele comes from 13th century BCE Hazor.



Around the same time, many statues of Canaanite deities display a "blessing pose" with a palm facing forward toward the viewer. (This contrasts with smiting pose where a deity stands in stride and raises a hand or a weapon overhead.) This statue comes from circa 1200 BCE (Late Bronze Age) from the city of Ugarit. The deity statue now resides in the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. One hand holds a smashed cup, and the other hand, formerly palm forward and raised, has broken. 

Photo taken by Mary Harrsch and used 
as requested under Creative Common license 
Later, we see the symbol inscribed on stele in Iron Age Israelite culture at Khirbet el-Qom,7th-8th centuries BCE .The symbol in the Khirbet el-Qom inscription appears to be used in a protective sense. The inscriptions invokes the protection of Yahweh and his Asherah.
Unknown photographer. Unknown copyright.


We see the symbol again  in stelae dedicated to Tanit in Phoenician and Carthaginian cultures. 

Photo by Guy Martin.  Copyright Unknown

Both the Phoenicians and the Israelites are daughter-cultures to the Canaanites; the Carthaginian culture is a daughter of the Phoenicians, and a grand-daughter of the Canaanites.

The Ugaritic word for the palm of the hand is kappu, and this is our word for this symbol. Other cultures refer to this symbol as the hamsa or khamsa, the Hand of Miriam, or the Hand of Fatima. The word "hamsa" or "khamsa" means "five" in Arabic.  If you're curious, the word for "five" in Ugaritic is "khamishu".

On a different, but related note, the date palm tree is associated with Athirat because of the tree's life-giving qualities: food, shade, and as an indication of water because they grow where water or rain is present. The fronds of the palm also resemble the palm of the hand, and hence the name “palm” in English.

The Greek name for the daughter culture of the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, is derived from a Greek word “phoinike” referring to the famed purple dye created by the Canaanites and their daughter culture, the Phoenicians. "Phoinike" and "Phoenician" are linguistically related to the scientific name for date palm: Phoenix dactylifera. “Dactylifera” means “date-bearing,” but it relates back to the Greek word for finger, and points the way back to the palm-of-hand.

The bird of splendors called Phoenix Greek tales, also relates to "phoinike" and Phoenix dactylifera:  it was thought that the bird originated in Phoenicia and had Phoenician-purple plumage. 

Photo by Tess Dawson
Thus the kappu, the palm-of-hand symbol, encompasses the ancient blessing pose, sacred stelea and iconography, Athiratu’s date palm tree, Canaanite purple dye, and a magnificent bird reborn in fire. I can think of no better symbol to represent Natib Qadish and Canaanite religion.

The modern pewter kappu below surrounds the image of a date palm tree and a pomegranate.

Photo Credits
Hazor stele photo: I am uncertain as to its origins. The photo itself is old, but I do not know how old. The art the photo depicts is itself public domain, but the photo may not be. 
Ilu photo: Take by Mary Harrsch. Creative Common License.
Khirbet el-Qom photo: I am uncertain as to its origins. The photo itself appears old. The art depicted in the photo is public domain, but the photo may  not be. 
Tanit Stele: Photo by Guy Martin, I am unaware of its copyright. It is found here: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/archeosm/archeosom/magen-s.htm
Kappu amulet with pomegranate and date palm tree: My own photo of a piece of jewelry I own.Please do not reproduce or redistribute without permission and proper credit. 

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