by H. Crosthwaite
FURTHER evidence for an electrical explanation of oracles is to be found in the Greek word elektron, amber, Latin electrum. It has two meanings: amber, the tears of the Heliades, sisters of Phaethon, when he was killed trying to drive the sun's chariot through the sky; and a metal, four parts gold to one of silver. Tacitus refers to it as glaesum, flotsam and jetsam, found on the shores of what he calls, in his Germania, the Suebic Sea.
There is uncertainty about the gender of the Greek word. The form elektros is found, both masculine and feminine, as well as the usual neuter form elektron. Its derivation is unknown. It may be connected with elektor, shining, of the sun  . A link with helko, pull, has been suggested, because of the attracting power of amber. Examples of its use: "having a gold chain, strung at intervals with amber beads," "meta d'elektroisin: eerto"  ; a necklace, strung with amber beads, like the sun  .
I suggest that we look at the links between Greece and the eastern Mediterranean in the period of, very roughly, 1500 B. C. to 500 B. C.. We find evidence of a knowledge and application of electricity throughout the area.
One of the most remarkable artefacts mentioned in the literature of Israel is the Ark of the Covenant. A recent study of the ark has been carried out by De Grazia, in God's Fire. There, in Chapter 4, he describes the ark in action. Readers are referred to the book for a full account of all the evidence, but a brief summary here may be helpful.
The ark was basically a Leyden jar, or collector of electrical charge, with the lid of the box supporting two cherubim, figures with wings. The cherubim were earthed, in electrical contact with the ground. Between them, and insulated from them, was a rod, which collected atmospheric charge. The high priest probably controlled a mechanism which enabled him to adjust the position of the rod to vary the display and sound of the ark. The "mercy seat" is the wings of the cherubim, with the kapporeth or lid of the box underneath.
There are representations of Egyptian arks which support this reconstruction. Kabhodh, a word associated with the ark, is the radiation. One may compare Greek kephale, head, and Latin caput, and capio, take or contain; compare also the fire playing round the head of Romulus, and of the slave boy Servius
Tullius. 'El', as in Hebrew 'Elohim' and 'El', means god. I suggest that elektron is 'el ek thronou', Greek for 'God out of the seat'. The Greekless reader needs to know that 'th', theta, was originally pronounced as a t followed by an aspirate, not like English th as in 'thing'.
There are many references in the Old Testament to images of Yahweh on the ark, ea. Psalm XCIX: l: "He sitteth between the cherubims; let the earth be moved."
Exodus XXV: 22: "And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the Ark of the Testimony..."
II Kings XIX: 15: "which dwellest between the cherubims." The link between god on earth and god in the sky, suggested by Heraclitus and the Delphic oracle, may appear in Psalm XVIII: 9 & 10: "He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet. And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind."
In Exodus XXV: 10 & 11, we learn that the ark is made of wood, overlaid with gold, and in verse 17 that the mercy seat is of pure gold. "And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about." Exodus XXVI contains references to the use of silver for some of the ark's equipment.
The use of gold, and some silver, could perhaps be the origin of the later use of the word electrum to denote a metal. In any case gold and silver are excellent electrical conductors.
The ark operated best on a foundation of stones. The Roman augur, too, used a stone for an earth contact. That the fire in sacrifice was 'ethereal' fire, not ordinary fire, is suggested by the fact that water and blood were used to drench an altar and its foundation. This would increase conductivity, and Elijah used this technique. He took twelve stones for an altar, made a trench, and poured twelve barrels of water on the burnt offering, so that the water filled the trench  . "The fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice..."  . Compare the report by Plutarch on the death of the Pythia, after much extra water was poured over a goat unwilling to shiver.
We now have an explanation of the word 'enelysios' for a place struck by lightning. It is sacred, because Zeus Kataibates, Zeus who descends, is god, 'el', in it, as in the tomb of Semele in Thebes.
There may be other instances of 'el' in Greek and Latin. Samothrace, the home of electrical experiments, is referred to as "Elektria tellus" (Valerius Flaccus 2: 431).
'Elysium' seems a possibility, but there is also the 'destination' idea derived from the future tense eleusomai of the verb erchesthai, to come.
Elakata means wool, on a distaff, elakate. -akate suggests akamatos, tireless. Wool has long been recognised as having some special significance; it may be the clouds from which a god, or heavenly body, appears. Alauda, lark may be 'great songstress', from al, high or great, and aude, voice.
Alcis, or Alci, was a deity, or deities, of the Naharvali, a German tribe mentioned by Tacitus, Germania.
The Hittite god Alalu was the god who was displaced by Anu, who is the Hittite equivalent, in this context, of Ouranos. Elektrophaes, gleaming like amber, occurs in the Hippolytus of Euripides, line 741.
Elipharmakos is a plant for staunching blood. Before we leave the Psalms, here are two more quotations: Psalm LXVIII: 4: "Extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name Jah, and rejoice before him." I suggest that here we have a link with one of the Titans, Iapetos. The Greek verb petomai means fly, so the name Iapetos probably means 'Ia who flies'.
Psalm XXIX: 7 has: "The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire."
When the ark was producing a visual display, there would be sound effects. It was regarded as an oracle; "towards the oracle of thy sanctuary..."  . Any student of speech or singing knows that if one whispers the English vowels slowly in succession from E to U and back changes of pitch of the whispered notes are inevitable. The reader is invited to try this, portamento, several times. The resulting whispered sound is 'Yahweh', a tolerable sound representation of a sine wave such as characterises alternating current.
Such a sound must not be intoned casually. There was a fear that electrical shocks or lightning strikes might result. Sympathetic magic will be discussed in later chapters dealing with the Greeks and the Egyptians. The Romans called certain days of the year fasti, other days nefasti. Public business was not performed on the unlucky days, dies nefasti. Fas means 'right', and is linked with the verb 'fari', to speak. Dies fasti may have been favourable days, on which the god was present and spoke.
The Greek thespesios means 'divinely sounding', of the voice. It is used of the Sirens  , and of the voice of a minstrel  . It also means ineffable, that which can be spoken only by god. It can mean marvelous.  . Thespiodos, prophetic, is applied to persons, and also is used by Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1134, with phobon, fear.
The divine sound was associated with the wind blowing in trees, as at Dodona; against a statue, e. g. that of Memnon at Thebes, and in the prophetic grotto at Egyptian Thebes  , sounding like a lute string.
At the oracle of Zeus at Dodona, prophecy was associated with the sound of brazen gongs, oak leaves rustling in the wind, with the cooing of doves, and with the sound of the water of the sacred spring. The possibility that the priests, the Selli, had to maintain good earth contact by never washing their feet, suggests that electrical forces were involved, and this theory is strengthened by the fact that there was a circle of tripods touching each other, round a sacred oak, itself having associations with Zeus Kataibates, Zeus who descends.
The ship Argo was built partly of timber from Dodona, and spoke. Mopsus, one of the Argonauts, was traditionally linked with Deucalion, the flood survivor, and founded an oracle at Claros in Asia Minor.
There is an interesting similarity between the Greek omphe, divine voice, and omphalos, a stone found at Delphi and elsewhere, which may represent the stone that Kronos devoured, thinking that it was the infant Zeus. In general, sounds were important in Greek religion. The Bacchae, line 156, mentions "barubromon hupo tumpanon" to an accompaniment of deep sounding drums to the song, dancing, and flutes. Baines, in Woodwind Instruments and their History, gives instances of flutes and drums being sacred in themselves, as well as the music which is produced from them.
There is a reference to elektron in Pliny: "Chares vero (sc. dixit) Phaethontem in Aethiopia Hammonis neso obisse, ibi et delubrum eius esse atque oraculum electrumque gigni" Chares has said that Phaethon perished in Ethiopia in the island of Hammon, and that there is a shrine of his there, and an oracle and electrum are created  . Note the present tense of gigni: 'are created'. not 'have been created'.
Instances of elektron and Yahweh: Iliad XIX: 398: Automedon takes the reins, and behind him goes Achilles, shining like elektor Hyperion, the bright sun.
Homeric Hymn to Artemis: "I sing of Artemis of the golden spindle (chryselakaton)."
Frazer, The Golden Bough 60, says that "Holiness, magical virtue, taboo, or whatever we may call that mysterious quality which is supposed to pervade sacred or tabooed persons, is conceived by the primitive philosopher as a physical substance or fluid, with which the sacred man is charged just as a Leyden jar is charged with electricity; and exactly as the electricity in the jar can be discharged by contact with a good conductor, so the holiness or magical virtue in the man can be discharged and drained away by contact with the earth, which on this theory serves as an excellent conductor for the magical fluid. Hence in order to preserve the charge from running to waste, the sacred or tabooed personage must be carefully prevented from touching the ground; in electrical language he must be insulated, if he is not to be emptied of the precious substance or fluid with which he, as a vial, is filled to the brim."
It is interesting to reflect, at the time of writing (1987), on how close Frazer came to an electrical theory of magic and divination.
Old Testament, I Kings VII: 29: (Phoenician work for Solomon's temple) "On the borders were lions, oxen, and cherubims."
We have seen the possibility of a connection between El and Elysium. In Odyssey IV: 561 ff., Proteus prophesies to Menelaus: "You will not die in Argos, but the immortals will send you to the Elysian plain at the ends of the earth, where dwells red-haired Rhadamanthus, where life is easiest for men, with no snowfall, no violent storm or rain, but Ocean sends always the sweetly sounding breezes of Zephyrus to restore men."
Hesiod, Works and Days 171: The demi-gods dwell in the Islands of the Blest at the ends of the earth. They live free of sorrow in the Islands of the Blest along deep-swirling Ocean, blessed heroes ....
Pindar, Olympian II: 71: The righteous go to the Tower of Kronos where the breezes blow round the Islands of the Blest.
Euripides, Hyppolytus 732: The chorus wish that they were under the lofty cliffs, that a god would change them into birds, that they could rise up, over the shores of Eridanus, where the thrice-sad daughters of Phaethon shed amber-gleaming tears.
Aristophanes refers to Zeus Kataibates in his Peace, line 42. Trygaeus's slave, feeding a huge dung-beetle, his master's pet, says: "This must be the monster of Zeus Kataibates." There is a pun: 'Dio -Skataibates' = 'descending in the form of dung'.
We have mentioned already the use of stone as a foundation for the ark in Old Testament, I Samuel VI. In verse 11 we are told that when it was returned, the Philistines laid on the cart the coffer with the mice of gold and the images of the emerods. Verse 19 gives a possible clue to this: "And he smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter. And the men of Beth-shemesh said, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? and to whom shall he go up from us?"
I Samuel VII: 6 gives a hint of electrical technique: "And Samuel said, Gather all Israel to Mizpeh; and I will pray for you unto the Lord. And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned against the Lord." (Mizpeh in Hebrew is an altar).
II Samuel VI:( David and all the chosen of Israel fetch the ark from Baale of Judah. They play before it on instruments of fir wood, cornets, and cymbals) Verse 6: "And when they came to Nachon's threshing-floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God."
After this accident, David was afraid of the Lord that day (verse 9) and the ark was taken aside into the house of Obed-edom.
The Greek threshing-floor, aloe, halos, or dinos, was sacred: Iliad V: 499; Hesiod, Works and Days, 599.
II Samuel VI: 12ff.: "And it was told king David, saying, The Lord hath blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all that pertaineth unto him, because of the ark of God. So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness. And it was so, that when they that bare the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed oxen and fatlings. And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod."
II Samuel XXI: 20: The reference to giants, one of whom has twelve fingers and twelve toes, suggests mutations caused by radiation, and forms a coherent picture with our other information about the ark, and the special clothing and precautions taken by those who handled it. It may be relevant that at the start of this chapter we learn of a three year famine.
II Samuel XXIV: 16 ff. contains further references to a threshing floor as a place with divine connections. In verse 15 we hear of a pestilence. Verse 16: "And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thy hand. And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing place of Araunah the Jebusite."
Verse 24 ff.: "So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel."
I Kings VI contains descriptions of the temple built for Solomon by Hiram. For the entrance of the oracle he made doors of olive tree (verse 31).
VIII: 6: "And the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the Lord unto his place, into the oracle of the house, to the most holy place, even under the wings of the cherubims."
Notes (Chapter Four: Amber, Ark, and El)
1. Homer: 'Iliad' XIX: 398
2. Homer: 'Odyssey' XV: 460
3. Homer: 'Odyssey' XVIII: 296
4. Old Testament: I Kings: XVIII: 31
5. Ibid. Verse 38
6. Psalm XXVIII: 2
7. Homer: 'Odyssey' XII: 158
8. Homer: 'Iliad' II: 600
9. Herodotus: I: 100; Aeschylus: 'Agamemnon' 1154; Plato: 'Republic' 365
10. Herodotus: II 57
11. Pliny: 'Natural History' XXXVII: 2: 33