"and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz." Ezekiel 8:14
Most modern Jews refer to the Fourth Hebrew Month as "Tammuz", the name of a pagan fertility deity mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel. The prophet Ezekiel described a vision in which an angel brought him to the Temple in Jerusalem:
"Then he brought me to the door of the gate of Yehovah's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz." Ezekiel 8:14
In the 19th century, archaeologists began to uncover archaeological remains that shed light on the ancient pagan religion that led the Israelites astray. Today we know the women were weeping over Tammuz, because he was a fertility god who represented the life cycle of wheat. In Israel, wheat becomes ripe in early Summer when the wheat plant dies, leaving behind a viable seed that can be planted the next year. The Winter rains provide moisture, causing the new wheat crop to rise out of the ground. Unlike in Europe and North America, the Summer in Israel is characterized by a dry period with no rain in which everything green dies and the Winter is characterized by rain with abundant growth and life. The ancient pagans believed that this agricultural cycle of Summer death and Winter rebirth was a shadow picture of the life of Tammuz. The god Tammuz died in early Summer leaving behind the life giving food that sustained the world; then he was resurrected in the Winter, beginning the cycle again.
Tammuz is often thought to be a Babylonian fertility god. However, a stone monument discovered at Arad in southern Israel may be the earliest representation of the Canaanite Tammuz. The "Arad Stela" (see above image) dating to the Early Bronze Age shows a personified grain deity standing and lying down. Archaeologists have suggested that this represents the death and resurrection of Tammuz.
Later Israelites in the time of Ezekiel adopted this pagan belief. The women were weeping over Tammuz because of his tragic death, which brought life to the world.
Today, echoes of the worship of Tammuz survive in Jewish tradition. The name Tammuz itself only appears in the Bible in reference to this pagan deity. However, Jewish tradition adopted the name "Tammuz" for the Fourth Hebrew Month. Over the centuries the pagan origins of the "Month of Tammuz" were forgotten, only to be rediscovered in modern times. Jewish tradition considers Tammuz to be a month of mourning, and rabbinical Jews even observe a fast on the 17th day of the month. They also refrain from listening to music and other joyous acts from the 17th to the end of the month. The origins of these mourning practices have become obscured over time, and today tradition associates them with the destruction of the Temple. Little do they know that mourning during the Month of Tammuz began long before the destruction of the Temple with a mourning over the death of Tammuz.
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