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Giants, Gods & Dragons (Part 10): The Rider on the Red Horse — Chemosh

When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. —Revelation 6:3–4

Identifying the rider on the red horse is easy. There is nearly universal agreement that the second of the Four Horsemen represents war. But just as we put a name to the entity on the white horse, we’re going to put forward our best guess at the identity of rider number two.

John wrote Revelation in an age that had been dominated by people from the West for four centuries—first Greece, and then Rome. Until recently, Western scholars denied the influence of Mesopotamian thought, specifically that of Semitic people, on Greco-Roman civilization. That attitude has changed over the last half century or so. Influential studies such as The East Face of Helicon by Martin L. West and Hellenosemitica by Michael C. Astour have helped document the Eastern origins of “Western” civilization.

Chemosh, the national god of Moab.

So, it’s likely that the war-god you’re now picturing is probably correct—but not by the name you imagine. A war-god worshiped by the pagan neighbors of ancient Israel has been a key player in a long supernatural drama that’s unfolded over the last five thousand years. He embodies the destructive, uncontrolled martial aspects of Resheph (AKA Apollo), but also Astarte (AKA Ishtar). You won’t find this god referenced as often in Scripture as Baal or Astarte, but his followers were a thorn in the side of Israel for a thousand years.

We’re referring to Chemosh, the national god of Moab.

Old Testament Hebrews fought often with neighbors, but Moab was never an existential threat to Israel in the way Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were. Despite being called “the abomination of Moab,”[1] you get the sense that Chemosh was a second-tier deity, playing on the infernal realm’s junior varsity team. He’s mentioned in only eight verses in the entire Bible.

This little-known god of Moab was worshiped alongside Resheph and Dagan in Ebla, an ancient city that was the first regional power in northern Syria, emerging around or shortly after 3000 BC. There, “Chemosh” was spelled “Kamish,” and he was one of the most important deities in what was the most powerful kingdom in the Levant at the time. Texts from between 2400 BC and 2200 BC show that Kamish/Chemosh was one of six deities for which a month was named:

    1. Feast of DAGAN[2] — First month
    2. Feast of ASHTABI [Hurrian name for war-god Athtar, male aspect of Astarte/Ishtar] — Second month
    3. Feast of HADA [Adad/Baal, storm-god] — Third month
    4. Feast of ADAMMA [goddess, consort of Resheph] — Ninth month
    5. Feast of ISHTAR — Eleventh month
    6. Feast of KAMISH [Chemosh] — Twelfth month[3]

Chemosh was a major deity in Ebla, a political power in ancient Syria between about 3000 BC and 2300 BC (click to enlarge).

We also note that the Ebla texts record dealings with the ancient city of Carchemish, about sixty miles northeast of Aleppo, on the modern border between Syria and Turkey. The name of that city means “port” or “market of Kamish.”[4] It’s mentioned several times in the Bible[5] and was the site of a key battle between Egypt and Babylon in 605 BC. The takeaway is that the war-god Chemosh was worshiped for about a thousand years before Moab was founded by the oldest son of Abraham’s nephew, Lot.[6]

The cult of Chemosh isn’t well known by scholars, because there haven’t been many texts recovered from ancient Moab. Most of what we know about the god comes from two sources—the Bible and the Mesha Stele, also known as the Moabite Stone.

Mesha was the king of Moab in the time of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and of Ahab’s son Joram, king of Israel, around 850 BC. Moab had been conquered by David more than a century earlier, but the Moabites recovered their independence while Israel was preoccupied with the rebellion of the northern tribes following the death of Solomon. Israel’s King Omri reconquered northern Moab, and it had been under Israel’s control for several decades by the time of Mesha’s rebellion.

Second Kings 3 and the Mesha Stele (discovered by our old friend Sir Charles Warren of the Jack the Ripper investigations) record different aspects of this fight, but both shed light on the character of Chemosh. The records agree that while the coalition of Israel, Judah, and Edom routed Mesha and his army, forcing them to take refuge in his capital city of Kir-hareseth, they did not succeed in stripping Moab of its independence.

On his commemorative stone, Mesha described instructions he was given by his patron god.

The Mesha Stele, or Moabite Stone, discovered by Sir Charles Warren, who also found the Watchers Stele on the summit of Mount Hermon.

And the men of Gad lived in the land of Ataroth from ancient times, and the king of Israel built Ataroth for himself, and I fought against the city, and I captured, and I killed all the people from the city as a sacrifice for Kemosh and for Moab.…

And Kemosh said to me: “Go, take Nebo from Israel!” And I went in the night, and I fought against it from the break of dawn until noon, and I took it, and I killed its whole population, seven thousand male citizens and aliens, female citizens and aliens, and servant girls; for I had put it to the ban of Ashtar Kemosh. And from there, I took the vessels of YHWH, and I hauled them before the face of Kemosh.[7] (Emphasis added)

This account of the slaughter of Nebo, which was probably at or near the place where Moses got his only look at the Promised Land, is similar to the treatment given by Joshua and the Israelites to the Amorite cities declared khērem (meaning “under the ban”), a phrase usually translated into English as “devoted to destruction” or “annihilated.”

The Mesha Stele confirms that Chemosh and his followers understood the concept of khērem. And that’s not all. Before the slaughter of the Israelites of Nebo, this happened:

When the king of Moab saw that the battle was going against him, he took with him 700 swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom, but they could not. Then he took his oldest son who was to reign in his place and offered him for a burnt offering on the wall. (2 Kings 3:26–27a, emphasis added)

This makes it pretty clear: Chemosh accepted child sacrifice. This horrific practice was well known in the ancient Near East. Inscriptions from Egyptian temples commemorating military victories confirm that rituals of child sacrifice like this were not uncommon in exactly the situation described in the Bible.[8]

Egyptian inscription shows Canaanite defenders of an unnamed city sacrificing children on the walls during an attack led by Pharaoh Merneptah click to enlarge).

The other point we need to emphasize from the Mesha Stele is the link between Chemosh and Ashtar, an alternate spelling of Athtar, the war-god. It appears that to Mesha and the Moabites, Athtar and Chemosh were the same entity.

How can that be? Both Athtar and Chemosh were worshiped in Ebla about fifteen hundred years earlier. To be honest, trying to pin down precise correlations between the gods and goddesses of the ancient world is a great way to drive yourself mad. They change names and genders over the centuries—and besides, they lie.

It’s possible that the names of these deities are, at least in some cases, more like job titles than proper names. For example, in the Hebrew Old Testament, Satan is actually “the satan” (for example, in chapters 1 and 2 of the book of Job). And since ha’šāṭān means “the accuser” or “the adversary,” it would be the equivalent of what we humans would put on the second line of our business cards—an occupation rather than a name. In fact, during the Second Temple period, Jews believed in multiple satans,[9] and even named some of them: Gadreel,[10] Mastema,[11] Belial, and Samael.[12]

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So, we wonder: Did Chemosh take on the job or mantle of “the athtar,” the war-god, after Israel established itself in Canaan? At about the same time as the conquest of Canaan, the violent, male side of Astarte, the war-god Athtar/Ashtar, was either deemphasized or entirely split away from her character. By the time she became Aphrodite of the Greeks, Venus of the Romans, and Attarshamain (“Astarte of Heaven”) of Arabia, the warlike aspect of Astarte’s personality was nearly gone, set aside in favor of emphasizing her identity in the Western world as the Queen of Heaven.[13]

Athtar, however, continued his bloody career long after Moab faded from history.

By the time of Muhammad in the early seventh century AD, the worship of Athtar had spread throughout Arabia. The southern part of the peninsula, modern-day Yeman and Oman, had the most developed pantheons in all of Arabia. Scholars have identified more than one hundred gods from pre-Islamic southern Arabia, and Athtar was clearly the most important:

Funerary stela at the British Museum from south Arabia (Yemen) around the time of Jesus. It depicts a woman and two children under a two-headed dragon possibly representing the gods Athtar and Sahar, aspects of Athtar as Venus the evening star and morning star, respectively (click to enlarge).

The difference between the numerous deities of south Arabia seems not to lie in their function, but in their sphere of operation. Thus there was not one dedicated rain-god, but rather there were tutelary deities responsible for the irrigation of the village, patron deities for that of the tribal lands, and Athtar for the whole world.[14]

The popularity of a war-god whose unquenchable thirst for blood is attested as far back as the third millennium BC explains much about the nature of Islam.

Chemosh began to fade from history after Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Levant in the early part of the sixth century BC. The last known inscription attesting to the name Chemosh is dated to the fourth century BC.[15] What happened to him? We get a clue from coins issued during the reign of Roman emperor Septimius Severus (AD 193–211) found at Moab’s capital city, featuring the emperor on one side and a war-god on the reverse. By that time, Moab’s ancient capital, Diban, had been renamed Areopolis in honor of the region’s patron god, who had been equated with the Greek war-god, Ares.[16]

Like Chemosh, Ares (Mars to the Romans) wasn’t a pleasant god to have around. In his Greco-Roman form, he embodied the unrestrained, destructive aspect of war—the mindless shedding of blood for its own sake. In other words, the character of Ares/Mars was very much like the bloodthirsty war-goddess Anat of the Canaanites and Ishtar/Inanna of Babylon and Sumer. This is consistent with the image of Moab’s King Mesha slaughtering his own son the midst of a battle, in full view of all, to appease his bloodthirsty god.

Chemosh didn’t disappear, he just morphed into the Greco-Roman war-god, Ares/Mars.

So, Chemosh did not disappear; he simply did what other deities of the ancient world have done for thousands of years—changed his identity. And he’s been known to the world for the last two thousand years as the god of the red planet, Mars.

In Bad Moon Rising, Derek argues that the war-god Chemosh/Ares/Mars/Athtar, or the spirit manifesting as the war-god, has played a key role in the history of the world. Archaeologists say the “earliest evidence of large scale organized warfare” is at the ancient city of Hamoukar in far northeastern Syria, dated to about 3500 BC.[17] This was during the time that Mesopotamia was dominated by Uruk, the city at the heart of the kingdom of Nimrod, and the city sacred to the gender-fluid, bloodthirsty god/dess Inanna/Ishtar—whose male war-god aspect, Athtar, was still worshiped by the tribes of Arabia four thousand years later, in the days of Muhammad.

This destructive, martial spirit has influenced humanity for millennia. While religious differences have been used to justify violent conflicts throughout history, only one major religion calls on its followers to spread their faith through violence. And at its current rate of growth, Islam will be the world’s largest religion by 2070.[18]

In scripture, there is no clearly defined role for Islam. We’ll refer you to Derek’s book Bad Moon Rising for details of our proposal for the prophetic timeline, but in brief, we believe things end badly for Muslims. Islam will be sacrificed by the principalities and powers behind it to dupe Israel—and Christians, if we are still here on earth—into accepting the Antichrist as Messiah in the flesh. This is speculative, as is much of end-times prophecy, but the destruction of Islam as a ploy seems the most plausible scenario we can imagine to lure Jews into welcoming and worshiping the Antichrist.

Why would the spirits that created the false religion of Muhammad sacrifice its followers? Chemosh/Ares/Mars/Athtar, the rider on the red horse, is the god of mindless, bloody violence. Look at the death toll racked up by war over the ages. He hates us, even those who do his bidding.

Sadly for those who follow the teachings of Muhammad, they are nothing more to the war-god and his colleagues than useful idiots. The greatest service Muslims can render to this god is to die and draw God’s chosen people into welcoming the False Christ as their Messiah.


[1] 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 23:13.

[2] This is the same deity the Bible calls Dagon, god of the Philistines.

[3]Giovanni Pettinato. The Archives of Ebla: An Empire Inscribed in Clay (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1981), p. 257.

[4] Ibid., 292.

[5] Jeremiah 46:2; 2 Chronicles 35:20; Isaiah 10:9.

[6] Genesis 19:37.

[7] “The Stela of Mesha.” Livius.org (http://www.livius.org/sources/content/anet/320-the-stela-of-mesha/), retrieved 12/27/18.

[8] Anthony J. Spalinger. “A Canaanite Ritual Found in Egyptian Reliefs,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 8 (1978), p. 50.

[9] David Flusser. Judaism of the Second Temple Period: Sages and Literature (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Cambridge; Jerusalem: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2009), p. 41.

[10] 1 Enoch 69:6.

[11] Book of Jubilees 10:8, 17:1516.

[12] “Jewish Concepts: Angels and Angelology,” Jewish Virtual Library (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/angels-and-angelology-2), retrieved 12/28/18.

[13] C. Houtman. “Queen of Heaven,” in K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd extensively rev. ed.) (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), p. 678.

[14] Robert G. Hoyland. Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam (London; New York, Routledge), p. 140.

[15] Collin Cornell. “What Happened to Kemosh?” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 128 (2), 2016, p. 10.

[16] Ibid., p. 12.

[17] University of Chicago. “Earliest Evidence for Large Scale Organized Warfare in The Mesopotamian World,” ScienceDaily, 16 December 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051216092426.htm>, retrieved 5/23/20.

[18] “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010–2050.” Pew Research Center, April 2, 2015 (https://wayback.archive-it.org/all/20150429153811/http://www.pewforum.org/files/2015/03/PF_15.04.02_ProjectionsFullReport.pdf, retrieved 5/22/20), p. 70.

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