The Kushites and the Gods:
Diodorus Siculus a Greek historian of the classical ages devoted an entire chapter of his Magnus opus on world history, the Bibliotheke Historica, or Library of History (Book 3), to the Kushites [“Aithiopians”] of Meroe. Therein he repeats the story of their great piety, their high favor with the gods, and the fact that they were the first of all men created by the gods and were the founders of Egyptian civilization, invented writing, and given the Egyptians their religion and culture. (3.3.2). Concerning the Kushites, Diodorus stated:
“Now they relate that of all people the Aithiopians [Ethiopians] were the earliest, and say that the proofs of this are clear. That they did not arrive as immigrants but are the natives of the country and therefore rightly are called authochthonous is almost universally accepted. That those who live in the South are likely to be the first engendered by the earth is obvious to all. For as it was the heat of the sun that dried up the earth while it was still moist, at the time when everything came into being, and caused life, they say it is probable that it was the region closest to the sun that first bore animate beings”….
“They further write that it was among them that people were first taught to honor the gods and offer sacrifices and arrange processions and festivals and perform other things by which people honor the divine. For this reason their piety is famous among all men, and the sacrifices among the Aithiopians are believed to be particularly pleasing to the divinity.”
The Lion of the South:
Apedemek the Lion was one of the most important gods of ancient Kush. A warrior god, he symbolized the regality, strength and the courage of the African Lion. The lion was also viewed as the emissary of the sun; a totem symbolizing light, truth, regeneration, and fertility.
Apedemek might have been a special kushitic aspect of the ancient kushitic progenitor God Amun, the hidden one, the eternal God, the father of all the Gods and men. The Kushites sometimes called Amun the Lion of the South. Similarly, Apedemek the lion godman, was also known as the Lion of the South, Strong of Arm.
In times of war, trouble, or threats from the foreign powers, Apedemek was especially important to the Kushites. In a sense he was a god of political redemption, ever with his devotees, steadfast and strong. The Kushites swore by his potency, he was much venerated, his cult was widespread, and his symbols dominated national consciousness.
Apedemek was usually depicted as a man with a lionâ€™s head wearing a crown, sometimes he was depicted with a scepter and at other times with some instrument of war. He was alternatively depicted in classical Kushite bas-reliefs as a man with a woman, or as a lion devouring the enemies of the nation. A depiction of the god , at the Apedemek temple in Naqa near Meroe shows the lion of the south in a three headed form striking a poise strikingly similar to yoga positions.
The Lord of the Royal Power:
Apedemek was the guardian of the Kushitic royal family as such he was also known as â€œthe lord of royal powerâ€. The lion was the totemic symbol of the Kushite royal family. Thus Apedemek the conquering lion of the south was fervently venerated by the royal family. Even today the image of the lion Apedemek remains pervasive among the ruins of Napata and Meroe.
The symbol of the lion was depicted along high streets, at intersections, carved on temples and palaces. It was also the royal insignia.
The royal house of Kush established and patronized lion sanctuaries (living symbols of Apedemek), and temples associated with Apedemek such as the Apedemek Temple at Naqa south of Meroe. Lions were also favored as royal pets. Lion thrones were much favoured by the kings of Kush.
Thus one could rightly describe the kings of Kush as the original lion kings. The clients of a lion god that protected them by devouring their enemies just like the lions depicted on pictograms on the walls of numerous kushite temples. Those kings were the original royal priesthood of the lion god of the south.
It is trite knowledge now that the Egyptians described themselves as the descendants of the Kushites. Egypt is the gift of the river Nile following richness of soil and human inspiration from the inner depths of Africa to the costal waters of Egypt.
The Egyptians learned many things from the early Kushites including the knowledge of the science and the gods. According to the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus who had traveled in Egypt around 60 BC it was widely claimed that:
“â€¦ the Egyptians are colonists sent out by the Ethiopians, Osiris [“King of Kings and God of Gods] having been the leader of the colony . . . they add that the Egyptians have received from them, as from authors and their ancestors, the greater part of their laws.”
It is then not surprising that Apedemek just like all the other gods of Kush turned up in ancient Egypt. But in Egypt, the adoration of Apedemek was subliminated and took on dramatic forms.
In Egypt, Apedemek was venerated in the district of Kom Ombo in Philae Island, and at Kalabsha near its borders with Kush, and at Bubastis and Leontopolis (two cities situated in the Nile delta).
The lion was a powerful symbol in ancient Egypt as it represented strength and courage. The great cat was also considered the supreme guardian. Tamed lions sometimes accompanied kings into battle to confer their beneficence and protection to the entire army as the physical presence of the great lion god Apedemek . Also, the lion was connected with the rising and setting of the sun and was thought to be ancient guardian of the horizon.
The primordial cult of the lion later developed other aspects manifested in the forms of the more popular leonine gods like the Sphinx, Sekmet, Aker (double sphinx), and Tefnut.
The god Aker was the double form sphinx who was thought to guard the sun as it entered and exited this worldly horizon. Shu, god of the dry air was a lion-headed god, while Tefnut goddess of moist air was represented as a lioness-headed deity.
Sekhmet a lioness headed deity represented the destructive aspect of the power of the lion cult. Sekhmet appears to be the ancient feminine form of the lion Apedemek. She was said to have relentlessly pursued and destroyed the enemies of Ra, in the day that humans rebelled against him.
Current archaeological research has connected ancient links between, Sekhmet, the Egyptian lion goddess and the Kushite cult of the lion. This connection may belong to the pre-dynastic Egypt and as such indicates positively that the lion goddess could have been originally introduced into Egypt from Kush.
Nefertem and Bes, two male deities were also linked with the symbol of the lion from Kush. Nefertem was a lion-headed sun god of the lotus, healing and perfume. Bes dwarf god of sexuality and childbirth, was depicted with either the ears and mane of a lion or as wearing a lion-skin cape.
Moreover, the ancient Egyptians conceived Hathor, goddess of love, as the Eye of Ra and so she was also linked to lionesses. The cobra goddess, Wadjet, in a similar fashion had a lioness form when she was identified as the Eye of Ra.
The Lion in Diaspora:
Imperial Egypt of Thutmosis III (1500BC) spread the civilization of Egypt and Kush all over the world. Egyptian and Kushitic religious thoughts, symbols, traditions and rituals became pre-dominant in the ancient world right till the 4th century AD with the destruction of the temple of Isis at Philae by Emperor Justinian of Rome. Until this barbaric act of ethno-chauvinism, the Kushite goddess Isis was the primary deity of the ancient world. She was worshipped throughout the Palestine and Arabia, Asia Minor, Greece as far as Babylon and Persia.
It was Homer and Herodotus who suggested that almost all the ancient gods and goddesses of ancient Greece were Egyptian in origin. A critical examination would make the same suggestion in respect of Persia, Sumer, Babylon, classical Arabia, and Canaan.
The lion god along with its cult of royal priesthood was equally widespread in the ancient Diaspora. Virtually all the lions symbols and cults of that one encounters in ancient cultures can be traced to the ancient Apedemek of Kush, great of strength renowned in wonders, the great lion god of the south.
One of the most famous derivatives of Apedemek the lion of Kush was the leonine tribal god and its kingly priest cult of Judah, otherwise known as the lion of Judah, strong of the arm (read: the conquering lion of Judah) and the royal line of David.
The Judahite Lion:
We know that the ancient Hebrews were deeply influenced by Egyptian culture and symbols in their religious practices. For instance, a Hebrew tradition held that Moses was a master in all aspects of Egyptian sciences and philosophy.
It is also trite that after years of having colonized and civilized Palestine, Egypt left indelible cultural and religious signature in Palestine. The Canaanites had their patheon of Egyptian derived gods and goddesses like Bel, Ashtoreth, Herackles, Imohtep etc.
The Hebrews were not any different than the other equally less prominent tribes and nations of those times. The model of the Hebrew god has been said to be based on Amun, while others have made a case for Aton, the one indivisible god introduced by Akhenaten.
Several ancient Hebrew tribes had animal symbols or totem similar to what one would observe in ancient Egypt. Genesis 49 listed their associated symbols. Issacharâ€™s was a strong ass, Danâ€™s was a serpent, Naphtaliâ€™s was a hind, and Gad translated to goat. Finally, Benjamin a wolf, and Judahâ€™s symbol was a lion, the primordial lion, on its journey from Kush to Egypt on to Palestine.
The Lion Of Judah:
The cultural connections between the lion of Judah and the lion of the South cannot be ignored. Just like in Kush, the lion of Judah was the symbol of strength in a troubled world. Just as in Kush, the lion of Judah was also a symbol of the royal mandate and heritage of the ruling house of Judah. The lion protected and provided redemption to the royal house of Judah in its time of trouble.
Israelites of Judah extraction were very pre-occupied with the imagery of the lion just like in Kush. The lion was the protector of Judah, the defender of the royal crown and the nation. Due to the virility, the lion is ascribed with regenerative powers. The royal house of Judah had a tradition of a lion as a messiah. A man like David, a true lion hearted hero who would bring judgments to the heathen nations.
King Solomon was often symbolized as a lion. He was supposed to have been brave and wise like a lion. Tradition has it that Solomon had lion sanctuaries in his palace at Jerusalem. He had lion pets. Even his throne was a copy of the lion throne that was more likely to be found in Kush where Apedemek has been long venerated than in Judah which had been associated with a complex of faceless gods, mountain gods, volcanic gods, baals, bulls, and astoreths.
According to the old testament: Solomon’s throne,
“â€¦. had six steps, and the top of the throne was round behind: and there were stays [handrests] on either side on the place of the seat and two lions stood beside the stays. And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other upon the six steps there was not the like made in any kingdom.”– First Book of Kings (10: 19-20).
The Axumite Connection:
The Axumite Ethiopian Imperial House (The Lion Of Judah):
The Axumite Kingdom of Kush came to replace the Meroite kingdom of Kush after the latter faded in prominence. King Ezana of Axum was known to have sacked the ancient city of Meroe about 350 AD. At that time, it was said that the Mereoites had departed Meroe and another people called the Nobas lived there.
King Ezana of Ethiopia was the first Axumite king to have adopted Christianity. This was after more than two thousand years a mix of â€œkushitic/proto-semiticâ€ religious philosophy.
Yet, since it has been argued that Axum was always under the influence of Kush in the ancient times as to be considered one of its districts, it is reasonable to assume that the knowledge and veneration of the great gods of Kush was wide spread in Axum including Apedemek the lion of the south. It appears thus, that even as time has moved on, the veneration of Apedemek of the south continues on today in his original territory of Kush, by one of the original peoples of Kush, in the form more universally known today as the Ethiopian lion of Judah.
The Queen of Sheba:
An ancient Axumite text written in Geeze narrates the classical love story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba which led to the birth of a son Menelik the first who ended up ruling Ethiopia and establishing the Ethiopian ruling house that claimed a pedigree of three thousand years by the time of Emperor Haile Selassie I the last Emperor from that Solomonic dynasty.
The Queen of Sheba is claimed by the Ethiopians to be one of the ruling Kandakas (Empresses) that ruled ancient Kush or one of its principalities. She must have been a devotee of the lion of the South. Perhaps, this connection might help explain King Solomonâ€™s strange pre-occupation with the symbol of the lion of Kush (now called the lion of Judah) around this time.
Menelik, the Conquering lion Of Judah:
Anyhow, the Queen of Sheba after a period of stay in Judah eventually returned to Ethiopia with certain aspects of the Hebrew religious thoughts as well as religious teachers. It appears however that she left an even greater legacy of her tradition thoughts and religious symbols in Judah. The lion of Judah philosophy and cult.
It had happened that the Queen of Sheba was pregnant with King Solomonâ€™s child when she left Judah. She later gave birth to a son, Menelik, a youth of great beauty and intelligence, strong and brave like the lion his ancestor. Menelik eventually succeeded his mother to the throne and his dynasty apparently ruled in Ethiopia for three thousand years. That dynasty is known as the Solomonic dynasty of Axum.
Menelik was similarly pre-occupied with the lion symbol. In validation of the primordial lion of Kush, the lion was the protector of King Menelik the first and the rest of his dynasty until Emperor Haile Selassie I the last conquering lion of Judah that sat on the Ethiopian throne.
The lion was and remains the protector of Axumite Ethiopia. The symbol of a fully grown male African lion also called â€˜moa amebessaâ€ was found on the Ethiopian national flag, on its currencies, churches, parks, palaces and literature. Never was a nation more committed and devoted as the Axumite Ethiopians in their veneration of the ancient lion symbol.
The Ethiopian Emperors kept lion as household pets. Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia was known to own several lions which often sat before his royal presence. Tradition also held that every morning every Ethiopian Emperor was required to take a walk with the lion in the palace lion sanctuary as proof of his continued legitimacy on the throne (and perhaps his continued endorsement by the living symbols of Apedemek, the eponymous lion of Judah).
This is further proof of the intimate linkages between the Ethiopian cosmogony and the African male lion symbol. It is always in their national thought. Consequently, the Ethiopian royal throne was also known as the throne of the lion of Judah and he that sat on it was worthy to be called by the name of the lion.
It is most interesting that, only the Axumite Ethiopian branch of the Davidic/Solomonic royal house bore the royal appellation â€œthe conquering lion of Judah.â€ The Palestinian/Israelite branch had no such name, and could barely recognize the significance of the lion symbol after the passing of the Solomonic age. For since those times, this image as often occurred with many ancient legacy lost its meaning and place in Hebrew cosmogony, and became a hollow, calcified caricature of its ancient pre-eminence.
Why did the Ethiopians focus on the lion of Judah whereas the Hebrews lost the meaning altogether? Given that they were from the ancient kingdom of Kush where Apedemek was glorified and venerated, the Axumite Ethiopians were already legacy devotees of Apedemek. Association with the lion god or its clergy was a historical continuity for those Kushites.
The Hebrews probably derived the symbol of the male African lion either from Egypt (where it sought refugee for 400 years) or from Kush. In these two very ancient and distinguished land Apedemek of Kush had been widely venerated for countless ages. The Queen of Sheba (a province of Kush), herself another great devotee of Apedemek by dint of her nationality and royal lineage must have reinforced the worship of this great god in the land of Judah upon her visit because ever since then the lion of Judah has remained a strong religious symbol in nearly all the Hebrew derived philosophy.
The purpose of the royal visit to Jerusalem becomes more comprehensible in this light. It was a probably a missionary journey undertaken in the name of Apedemek, the lion of the south, strong of the arm. Perhaps it was a formal visitation between different branches of a connected college of royal Priesthood of Apedemek. Whatever the reason, it must also have related to the sacred symbol of the fully grown male African lion (first observed in Kush), Apedemek the lion of the South or Judah. For ever since that visit the symbol of the lion has dominated the connected consciousness of Judah and Axumite Ethiopia.