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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Arahant”, (Pali), Sanskrit arhat (“one who is worthy”), in BUDDHISM, a perfected person, one who has gained insight int the true nature of existence and has achieved NIRVANA (spiritual enlightenment). The arahant, having freed himself from the bonds of desire, will not be reborn again.

The state of an arahant is considered in the THERAVADA tradition to be proper goal of a Buddhist. Four stages of attainment are described in Pali texts: (1) the state of the “stream-enterer”—i.e. a convert (sotapanna)—achieved by overcoming false beliefs; (2) the “once-returner” (sakada-gamin), who will be reborn only once again, a state attained by admonishing lust hatred, and illusion; (3) the “never-returner” (anagamin), who, after death, will be reborn in a higher heaven, where he will become an arahant. a state attained by overcoming sensuous desire an ill will, in addition to the attainments of the first two stages; and (4) the arahant. Except under extraordinary circumstances, a man or woman can become an arahant only while living in a monastery. Those who become arahants serve as especially efficacious “fields of merit” for those who have not yet attained the final goal.

MAHAYANA Buddhists criticize the arahant ideal on the grounds that the BODHISATTVA is a higher goal of perfection, for the bodhisattva vows to remain within the cycle of rebirths in order to work for the good of others. This divergence of opinion is one of the fundamental differences between the Theravada and Mahayana traditions.

In China, as well as in Korea, Japan, and Tibet, arahants (Chinese: Iohan; Japanese: rakan) were often depicted on the walls of temples in groups of 16. They represent 16 close disciples of the BUDDHA GOTAMA who were entrusted by him to remain in the world in order to provide people with objects of worship.

Arahant

(Comeback on 12/20/14 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Aranyakas”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Arachne”, (Greek: “Spider”), in Greek mythology, the daughter of Idmon of Colophon in Lydia. Arachne was a skillful weaver who challenged ATHENA. The goddess wove a tapestry depicting the gods in majesty, while that of Arachne showed their amorous adventures. Enraged at the perfection of her rival’s work, Athena tore it to pieces, and in despair Arachne hanged herself. But the goddess out of pity loosened the rope, which became a cobweb; Arachne herself was changed into a spider.

(Comeback on 12/19/14 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Arahant”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Arabian Religions”, the religions practiced by the Arab tribes before the time of the Prophet MUHAMMAD and the embracing of ISLAM (7th century CE). These religions were polytheistic, and while some deities were held in common among various tribes and even with non-Arab peoples, and certain religious practices were likewise shared, there was also much local particularity. Knowledge of these religions remains incomplete. The principal sources are incised rock drawings (the oldest of which, dating back several millennia, suggest cults of the bu of the bull and of the ostrich), rock inscriptions in several Arabic dialects, monuments, and lesser archaeological remains, including written documents. Contemporary Jewish, Greek, and other writers make mention of Arabic gods and practices, and the QUR’AN and other Islamic writings and practices also preserve elements of the pre-Islamic religions.

Most of the gods of the Arab tribes were sky gods, often associated with heavenly bodies (shiefly the Sun and the Moon), and to them were ascribed powers of fecundity, protection, or revenge against enemies. At the head of the South Arabian pantheon was ‘Athtar, associated with VENUS and corresponding to the Mesopotamian ISHTAR.

‘Athtar had superseded the ancient supreme Semitic god Il or EL, whose name survives nearly exclusively in theophoric names (names derived from or compounded with the name of a god; for example, Herodotus, meaning “given by Hera”). ‘Athtar was a god of the thunderstorm, dispensing natural irrigation in the form of rain. When qualified as Shariqan, “the Eastern One” (possibly a reference to Venus as the Morning Star), he was invoked as an avenger against enemies.

Next to ‘Athtar, who was worshiped throughout South Arabia, each kingdom had its own national god, of whom the nation called itself the “progeny” (wld). In Sabia’ the national god was Almaqah (or Ilmuqah), a protector of artificial irrigation, lord of the temple of the Sabaean federation of tribes. The symbols of the bull’s head and the vine motif that are associated with him are indicative of a sun god, a male consort of the sun goddess. In Ma’in the national god Wadd (“Love”) originated from North Arabia and probably was a moon god: the magic formula Wd’b, “Wadd is [my?] father,” written on AMULETS and buildings, is often accompanied by a crescent moon with the small disk of Venus. In Hadramawt the national god Syn was also a sung god. The sun goddess Shams was the national deity of the kingdom of Himyar. Other aspects of Shams are certainly concealed in some of the many and still obscure South Arabian female divine epithets.

As to the various lesser or local deities, the nature and even the gender of many remain unknown. In Qataban, Anbay and Hawkam are invoked together as (the gods) “of command and decision [?].” The name Anbay is related to that of the Babylonian god NABU, while Hawkam derives from the root meaning “to be wise.” They probably represent twin aspects o Babylonian Nabut-Mercury, the god of fate and science and the spokesman of the gods. In Hadramawt, Hawl was probably a moon god. In Ma’in, Nikrah was a healer patron; his shrine, located on a hillock in the middle of a large enclave marked by pillars, was an asylum for dying people and women in childbirth.

North Arabian gods are named for the first time in the annals of the 7th-century BCE Assyrian king Esarhaddon, in which he reports having returned to the oasis of Adumatu  (Dumat al-Jandal) the idols previously confiscated as war booty by his father, Sennacherib. Among the gods named by Esarhaddon are ‘Atarsamain, ‘Atarquruma, Nukhay, and Ruldayu. Herodotus wrote that the Arabs worshiped as sole deities Alilat, whom he identifies with both OURANIA and APHRODITE, and Orotalt are phonetic transcriptions of the same name, Ruda, a sun god. In the Nabataean kingdom the counterpart of Dionysus was the great god nicknamed du-Shara (Dusares), “the one of Shara” from the name of the mountain overlooking Petra. He was a rival to Shay’ al-Qawm, “the Shepherd of the People,” he “who drinks no wine, who builds no home,” the patron of the nomads and also worshiped by the Lihyanites. Nukhay, perhaps a solar god, was worshiped by the Thamudaeans and Safaites.

Al-Ilat, or AIlat (“the Goddess”), was known to all pantheons. She is a daughter or a consort, depending on the religion, of al-Lah or ALLAH (“the God”), Lord of the KA’BA in MECCA. Al-Ilat formed a trio with the goddesses al-‘Uzza (“the Powerful”) and Manat (or Manawat, “Destiny”). Among the Nabataeans al-‘Uzza was assimilated to Venue and Aphrodite and was the consort of Kutba’ or al-Aktab (“the Scribe”; MERCURY); among the Thamudaeans, however, she was assimilated to ‘Attarsamay (or ‘Attarsam). Manat was depicted as NEMESIS in the Nabataean ICONOGRAPHY. The three goddesses were called the “Daughters of Allah” in pre-Islamic Mecca, and they are mentioned in the Qur’an (53:19-22).

The sanctuaries, sometimes carved in the rock on high places, consisted of a HARAM, a sacred open-air enclosure, accessible only to unarmed and ritually clean people in ritual clothes. There the baetyl, a “raised stone,” or a statue of the god, was worshiped. The Nabataeans originally represented their gods as baetyls on a podium, but later they gave them a human appearance.

The stone-built temples of the Nabataeans and South Arabians were more elaborate structures, consisting of a rectangular walled enclosure, near one end of which was a stone canopy or a closed cella or both, which contained the altar for sacrifices or the idol of the god. The Ka’ba in Mecca, which became the sacred shrine of the Muslims, has a similar structure: it is a closed cella (which was full of idols in pre-Islamic times) in a walled enclosure, with a well. A baetyl, the Black Stone, is inserted in the wall of the Ka’ba; it is veiled by a cloth cover (the kiswah).

To the gods were offered, on appropriate altars, sacrifices of slaughtered animals, LIBATIONS and fumigations of aromatics, votive objects, or persons dedicated to serve in the temple. A ritual slaughter of enemies in gratitude for a military victory is mentioned at the rock SANCTUARY of the sun goddess of Himyar.

In addition to the northwestern Arabian Kahin, “soothsayer,” several kinds of priests and temple officials appear in Lihyanite, Nabataean, and South Arabian inscriptions, but their respective functions are not clear. North Arabian queens and ancient Qatabanian rulers bore priestly titles. In Saba’, some priests (rshw) of ‘Athar, recruited on a hereditary basis from three clans, took office in turn for seven years as kabir (Semitic for “Great,” or “Mighty”), in charge of the collection of the tithe and of the rites aimed at obtaining rain.

The priests interpreted the oracles, which, throughout Arabia, were mostly obtained by cleromancy (istiqsam): the answer (positive, negative, expectative and so on) to a question asked of the god was obtained by drawing lots from a batch of marked arrows or sticks. Among the many other forms of DIVINATION known from pre-Islamic Arabia, only oneiromancy, or divination by means of dreams (possibly after incubation in the temple), is well attested in Sabaean texts.

Throughout pre-Islamic Arabia, “truces of God” allowed people to attend in security the yearly PILGRIMAGES to important shrines. The rites included purification and the wearing of ritual clothing, sexual abstinence, abstention from shedding blood, and circuits performed (tawaf, dawar) around the sacred object; they were concluded by the slaughter of animals, which were eaten in collective feasts. Today such practices still form the core of the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

The sovereigns of Saba’ performed a rite called “hunting the game of “Athtar and the game of Kurum.” This rite was aimed at obtaining rain, and that is also the aim of a formal tribal ibex hunt still performed today in Hadramawt (an ancient South Arabian kingdom that occupied what are now southern and southeastern Yemen and the present-day Sultanate of Oman [Muscat and Oman]). Istisqa’, a collective rogation for rain with magical rites, in times of acute drought, is mentioned by the Muslim tradition and in two Sabaean texts. The rite is still part of the Islamic ritual.

South Arabian texts confessing offenses against ritual cleanliness, along with data from classical sources and the Muslim tradition on pre-Islamic customs, contribute to outline an ancient Arabian code of ritual cleanliness similar to that of the Leviticus and Muslim jurisprudence.

Illustration of Palestinian Christian home in Jerusalem, ca 1850. By W. H. Bartlett

(Comeback on 12/18/14 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Arachne”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Aqsa Mosque”, mosque regarded by most Muslims since the 12th century as the third holiest (after those of MECCA and MEDINA), located on the edge of the Old City in Jerusalem. It is part of “the noble SANCTUARY” (al-haram al-sharif), which covers the site where the TEMPLE OF JERUSALEM once stood (the area is also known as the Temple Mount). Its name was derived from a passage in the QUR’AN (17:1) that speaks of MUHAMMAD’s miraculous Night Journey (IRSA’) from the Sacred Mosque (in Mecca) to the blessed “most distant Mosque” (al-masjid al aqsa), which became identified as the mosque in Jerusalem. According to some Islamic traditions Muhammad led other prophets in prayer there prior to his ascension (MI’RAJ).

The al-Aqsa Mosque was built by the Umayyad ruler al-Walid (d. 715), who also built the great mosque at Damascus. The plans of al-Aqsa Mosque can be reconstructed with a fair degree of certainty despite subsequent alterations and repairs. The mosque consisted of an undetermined number of naves (possibly as many as 15) parallel to each other in a north-south direction. It has a large internal space with a multiplicity of internal supports and an axial nave (a wider aisle on the axis of the building), which served both as a formal axis for compositional purposes and as a ceremonial one for the prince’s retinue. The building was heavily decorated with marble, mosaics, and woodwork. There was no courtyard because the esplanade of the former Jewish temple served as the open space in front of the building.

In the 20th century al-Aqsa Mosque, together with the DOME OF THE ROCK, served as the symbolic focal point for the Palestinian nationalist movement. Palestinian leaders are interred nearby. After Israel gained control of east Jerusalem in June 1967, in accordance with the Israel Law for the Protection of the Holy Places, administration of the HARAM area remained in the hands of the Muslim authorities. The site is still maintained by the Jordanian ministry for religious endowments.

(Comeback on 12/16/14 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Aqsa Mosque”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Aqhat Epic”, ancient West Semitic legend probably concerned with the cause of the annual summer drought. The Aqhat Epic is known only in fragmentary form from three tablets in Ugaritic dating to c. 14th century BCE that were excavated from the tell of Ras Shamra in northern Syria. The epic records that Danel, a sage and king of the Haranamites, had no son until the god EL finally granted him a child, whom Danel name Aqhat. Some time later Danel offered hospitality to the divine craftsman KOTHAR, who in return gave Aqhat one of his marvelous bows. That bow, however, had been intended for the goddess ANATH, who became outraged that it had been given to a mortal. Anath made Aqhat a variety of tempting offers, including herself, in exchange for the bow, but Aqhat rejected all of them. Anath then lured Aqhat to a hunting party where she, disguised as a falcon, carried her henchman, Yatpan, in a sack and dropped him on Aqhat. Yatpan killed Aqhat and snatched the bow, which he later carelessly dropped into the sea. Because of the blood shed in violence, a famine came over the land, leading Aqhat’s sister and father to discover the crime and to set about avenging it. The conclusion is not known, however, because the text breaks off at that point.

(Comeback on 12/16/14 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Aqsa Mosque”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Apotropaic Eye”, a painting of an eye or eyes used as a symbol to ward off evil. It is seen in many cultures, for instance, the symbol commonly appears on Greek black-black figured drinking vessels called kylikes (“eye cups”), from the 6th century BCE. The exaggeratedly large eye on these cups may have been thought to prevent dangerous spirits from entering the mouth with the wine. The apotropaic eye is also seen in Turkish and Egyptian art.

(Comeback on 12/15/14 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Aquat Epic”.

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Taken from the Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions

Here is a dose of daily religion from A to Z.

Today’s religious topic is as follows:

“Apotheosis”, elevation to the status of a god. The term (from Greek apotheoun, “to make a god,” “to deify”) recognizes that some individuals may cross the dividing line between divine and human.

Ancient GREEK RELIGION was especially disposed to belief in heroes and DEMIGODS. Worship after death of historical persons or worship of the living as true deities occurred sporadically even before the conquests of Alexander the Great brought Greek life into contact with Oriental traditions. Ancient monarchies often enlisted the support of divine or semi divine individuals.

The corresponding Latin term is consecratio. The Romans, up to the end of the republic, had accepted only one official apotheosis, the god QUIRINUS having been identified with Romulus. The emperor Augustus, however, broke with this tradition and had Julius Caesear recognized as god; Julius Caesar thus became the first representative of a new class of deities proper. The practice was steadily followed and was extended to some women of the imperial family and even to imperial favorites. The public practice of worshiping an emperor during his lifetime, except as the worship of his GENIUS, was in general confined to the provinces. The most significant part of the ceremonies attendant on an imperial apotheosis was the liberation of an eagle, which was supposed to bear the emperor’s soul to heaven.

Apotheosis of George Washington

(Comeback on 12/14/14 and continue to learn about religion. Tomorrow you’ll read and learn more about “Apotropaic Eye”.

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