Taken from John R. Salverda’s
Sisyphus, the “Joseph” of Greek Myth
Salmoneus as the Patriarch of Judah
The enmity between the House of Joseph (as the Christians) and the House of Judah (the Jews) is comparable to that between Sisyphus and Salmoneus. Sisyphus keeps trying to establish his stone upon the archetypical mountain, while Salmoneus had appropriated the worship of god to his altars exclusively.
The story of Salmoneus seems to be based, however loosely, upon the history of the House of Judah with it’s holy city at Jerusalem, which was referred to once upon a time as, “Salem,” and made the capitol because it’s great Temple was founded there by it’s famous King Solomon. At the beginning of Judean history, is the story of Judah and Tamar. Here we have a tale that has perplexed Biblical scholars for centuries not so much for what it contains, but rather for where it is located. Right smack in the middle of the Joseph cycle, just as he is being sold to Potiphar at the end of chapter 37, comes chapter 38 which contains the entire story of Judah and Tamar with no mention of Joseph throughout, and then, at the start of chapter 39, the narrative returns to the story of Joseph once again right where it left off, at the selling of Joseph to Potiphar, the continuity of the Joseph cycle being completely interrupted. This, apparent artificial, location of the Judah story we are told, in what seems more like a stretch than an explanation, is positioned to contrast the steadfast virtue of Joseph against the incestuous unrighteousness of Judah. Regardless of the Judah episode’s placement, studying the Sisyphus cycle of Greek mythology as it relates to the Joseph cycle in the Scriptures, testifies in favor of believing, at least, that the Judah story was already a part of the Joseph cycle, even before the Joseph cycle was included in the book of Genesis. This is evident because, the myth of Sisyphus, ostensibly a collection of the Joseph stories that was current before it’s inclusion in the Genesis narrative, already contains it’s own version of the birth of Tamar’s twins, as the story of Tyro’s twins.
Before we get on with the comparison of these two stories let us first compare the names of the two mothers. The name “Tyro,” we are informed by Robert Graves, author of, “The Greek Myths,” was the name of “… the Goddess-mother of the Tyrians …” this was, no doubt, merely a worn down version of the more well known form of the name for the mother goddess of the Canaanites, “Ashterah,” omitting the prefix, “Ash-” as perfunctory. Now, as is well known, the Greeks referred to the Canaanites as Phoenicians, a name that derives from the Greek name “Phoenix” which means, in their language, “palm tree,” however, in Hebrew the word for “palm tree” is “Tamar.” Thus, both women can be said to have names that associates them with the Phoenicians. Incidentally, the mother-in-law of Tamar, the wife of Judah, known only as, “the daughter of Shua” in the Scriptures, is identified as a Canaanitess, while the wicked step mother of Tyro, whom the Greeks called Sidero is thought to be the eponym of
Sidon theoriginal settlement of the Canaanites. Because, unlike the name Tyro, the name “Sidero” has retained it’s prefix, it is even more plausibly derived from the name of the widely known Canaanite goddess Ashterah. (those who doubt the original identification between the two names Sidero and Ashterah should consider the two comparable English terms sidereal and astro-.)
Let us now continue with the comparison of the two stories, of course, anyone who studies the two accounts will find many differences between them, no doubt the differences are as important, if not more important, than are the similarities, which are also many and are quite comparable. Both the stories of Tamar and Tyro begin with the killing of two brothers. In each case the pair of brothers die as a prerequisite to explain two things, why the respective women had no children, and why they were sent away to the place where each would eventually become pregnant with, each their own, set of twins. The two brothers who die in the tale of Tyro were her own children, (by Sisyphus) while those in the story of Tamar were her two husbands and represented her chance to have children. Tamar was sent away to live with her father, while Tyro was banished from Thessaly along with her father. Tamar’s father-in-law Judah became a widower, while Tyro’s father Salmoneus became a widower. Each woman, in the land of their exile, desiring to become pregnant, made a plan that involved waiting at a place where they each expected their intended to pass, Tyro on the riverbank at the confluence of two rivers, the Enipeus and the Alphieus, while Tamar waited on the roadside where the road to Enaim branched off of the road to Timnah. In each case, the sex act itself was intentionally deceptive, because one of the partners wore a disguise so as not to be recognized. Of course, as we have said, twin boys were born, in each case, as a result of the deception. Furthermore, the paternity of each pair of twins came into question, Salmoneus, Tyro’s father, doubted the fatherhood of her twins, while Judah, Tamar’s father-in-law, also had to be convinced in regard to her pregnancy. In each story, before the respective twins were born, the true father was revealed and he gave a little speech to the respective women, the intent of which was to justify, each their own, pregnancies and to legitimize the eventual progeny of it. Another weird coincidence, is the fact that both tales include a report, so saying that the first born was marked at birth, and got a colorful name as a result, the Scriptural “Zerah” was named after the “scarlet” ribbon that was tied around his wrist to mark his preeminence, while the mythical firstborn “Pelias,” was named for the “black and blue” mark that he received when a horse stepped on his face at his birth. As it turned out, with each set of twins, both children grew up to be the founders
of illustrious houses among the Aeolians and the Judeans respectively. Well, so much for the part of the myth of Salmoneus which has to do, however little, with Sisyphus, we shall now continue with the rest of the saga of Salmoneus.
Besides having an echo of the earliest history about the nation of Judah, these Greeks seem to have a few more details to add, such as the name “Salmoneus” itself, which is an obvious Greek version of the name of that most illustrious of Judean rulers King Solomon. With this realization, an evolution of the myth of Salmoneus can be surmised to have occurred in three steps; firstly, the story about the birth of the Judean twins, Perez and Zerah, whose story, as we have said, precipitated the birth myth
of the Greek twins Neleus and Pelias; secondly, the addition of the city of “Salem” and the founding of the Temple by “Solomon,” is ostensibly what lead to the use of the name “Salmoneus” as well as the notion that he founded a city called “Salmonia,” and appropriated the worship of Zeus to his altar; and thirdly, in the end of the myths about Salmoneus, we are told of the divine destruction of Salmoneus and his city, Salmonia. This third point would appear to have been too late to have been included in Greek mythology however, as the famous mythographer, H. J. Rose has pointed out, “It is noteworthy that Homer knows nothing of any evil reputation of Salmoneus, of whom indeed he speaks respectfully.” (“A Handbook of Greek Mythology,” p.83). The Homeric writings are much earlier than the rest of Greek mythologies and it was probably not until the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC., that an evil reputation became attached to the character of Salmoneus. The destruction of Jerusalem was looked upon by some, including the Greeks apparently, to have been an act of punishment upon the city, brought about by God Himself, this no doubt, gave rise to the parallel Greek myth about the destruction of Salmonia.-