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Fire-Worship

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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For an account of the fire-worshippers of modern times, the reader is referred to the article PARSEES. We attempt here only a brief sketch of the origin and extent of pyrolatry among ancient nations. Under varying conceptions, was the symbol of purity, or of the divine presence and power, or as one of the constituent elements, or as typifying the destructive principle in nature, fire was early and among many nations an object of religious worship. If we attach any credit to the statements of the reputed Sanchoniathon, Usous, whose name reminds us of the Biblical Uz, the son of Aram, was the first to introduce the worship of fire. The violence of the winds at Tyre, by rubbing the branches of trees together, caused this element to manifest its presence, and Usous thereupon erected rude altars to fire and wind, and made libations thereon of the blood of animals captured in the chase.

The prevalence of pyrolatry among the Canaanites is frequently referred to in the Scriptures, and the people of God are solemnly and repeatedly warned against forsaking his worship to join in the abominations which belonged to the worship of Molech, the fire-god of these people (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; 1 Kings 11:7; 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 23:10; 2 Kings 23:13; 2 Chronicles 28:3 : Psalms 106:37-38; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5-6; Jer 30:35; Ezekiel 16:20-21; Ezekiel 23:37); yet, despite the' denunciations of divine wrath and punishment, the Israelites sometimes apostatized to this worship, and caused their seed to pass through or be burnt in the fire to Molech. Solomon and Aliaz were notable instances of such apostasy, and from the terms employed to describe the conduct of the latter, ",and burnt his children in the fire after the abominations of the heathen whom the Lord had cast out before-the children of Israel" (2 Chronicles 28:3), we learn that the worship of Molech in the time of Ahaz was the same as in that of the old Canaanites. For the ceremonies of this worship, (See MOLECH).

"Adrammelech, the fire-god of Scpharvaim; Chemosh, the fire-god of Moab; Urotal, Dusares, Sair, and Thyandrites, of the Edomites and neighboring Arab tribes, and the Greek Dionysus, were worshipped under the symbol of a rising flame of fire, which was imitated in the stone pillars erected in their honor" (Movers, Phonizier, i, c. 9). Among the ancient Persians and Medes fire-worship was practised in very early times by their religious teachers, the Magi, though pyrea or fire-temples probably date no further back than Zoroaster. Herodotus states (iii, 16) that the Persians regarded fire as a god, and sacrificed to it, as also to the heavenly bodies, and the other terrestrial elements (i, 131), using the tops of mountains or hills, for they had no temples or altars for the worship of their deities. Strabo, in agreement with Herodotus, states (§ 732) that they worshipped on high places, had no images or altars, and called the heavens Zeus; that they made sacrifices, especially (διαφερόντως ) to fire and water, placing dry wood without the bark, and putting fat upon it, then kindling the fire from beneath, not blowing it with the breath, but fanning it, for they esteemed it worthy of death to defile this sacred element by blowing the breath or placing a corpse or excrement upon it. In speaking of Cappadocia (§ 733), he, moreover, tells us that there were many magi there, called fire- worshippers (πύραιθοι ), and also pyroethea or fire-temples, in which the sacred fire was kept perpetually burning by the Magi. Fire-temples also were found in Persia and other places. The chief men of Persi were wont to feed the sacred fires with precious oils and rich aromatics, styled by them fire banquets (epulte Ignis)1. For the ceremonies of worship ins connection with these fire-temples, (See MAGI AND PARSEES).

Fire-worship was practised also amsong the Carthaginianes, Scythiaums, the ancient Germans, and the ancient inhabitants of the British Isles, and we find traces of it also in the Mexican and Peruvian -worship (Prescott Mae/ico, i, 60, 64; Peru, i, 101). Diodorus Siculus states (xx, 14) that the Camtluginians, when hard pressed by Agathocles, attributing their reverses to the anger of their ancestral divinities, whose worship they had neglected, sacrificed 200 of the noblest children (to which number 300 were added by voluntary offerings.) to Chronos or Saturn, whose brazen stata was so constructed that a child pierced in its arms loaded into a pit of fire. This deity was therefore evidently the sauna as the Mahech of their Ty-rianu ancestors. The Himedoos worshipped Agni, the god of fire, and in their mythology fire was the symbol of Siva, the destroyer, a conception of this element seemingly in accord with that of the ancient Egyptians (Herod. iii 16).

The sacred fire was carefully watched in the temple of Vesta, at Rome, by virgins consecrated to this special service (Virginesque Vestales in urbe- custodiunto ignem focipublici sempitersnum, Cic. De Leg. ii, 8), and the extinction of this fire s - as regarded as a fearful omen, portending great. disaster to the state, so that the unhappy Vestal whose carelessness or ill luck was the occasion of such a misfortune atoned therefor by a severe and degrading punishment (Liv. 28:11). The ancient Greeks paid worship to the same divinity in Hestia, reckoned one of the twelve great gods, and symbolized by the fire which burns upon the hearth a deity admitted to the penetralia of domestic life.

'We find the worship of the heavenly bodies frequently mentioned in connection with that of the gods of fire, and the former was doubtless older, As it was the higher form of worship (Deuteronomy 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16-17; 2 Kings 21:3; 2 Kings 23:5; 2 Kings 23:11; Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 8:2; Ezekiel 8:16; Zephaniah 1:5; Herodotus, 1. c.; Strabo, 1. c.). There appears, therefore, to have been some connection between them. According to the Greek legends, it was Prometheus, the fire-bearer who, purloining the ethereal and beneficent element from the sun, the high divinity of the Sabaean worship, conveyed it by stealth to earth as a gift to men, braving therefor and incurring thereby the anger of Zeus, the Greek form of the name by which, according to Herodotus and Strabo, the circuit of the heavens was called by the Magi, and probably the same as Mithra. May we not find symbolized is this Promethean legend the connection and the conflict between sun-worship and fire-worship, Sabmeanism and Magism ? For an abstract of the relation of the Mithraic worship ands the original doctrines of the Zend-Avesta, with references to works of modern writers on this subject, see De Guignaut's. translation of Creuzer's Rel. de l'Antiquite, notes 8, 9, to bk. ii, vol. i, pt. ii, p. 728.-Smith, Dict. of the Bible, s.v. Molech and Fire; Auct. Univ. Hist. (Lond. 1747, 21 vols. 8So; see index in vol. 20); Gibbon, Decline and Fall of Rom. Empire (N. Y. 1852, 6 vyas. 12mo), i, 226-238; Smith, Genti/le Nationms (N. Y.); Stoddart, Introd. Univ. Hist. p. 228-9, 301; Hyde, De Ielig. vet. Persarum (Oxon. 1700, 4to); Creuzer, Religion de l'Antiquitl; Anquetil du Perron, Zend-Avesta, etc. (improved in German translation by discussions of Kleuker); Richter, Aelteste Religionen des Orients. (J. W. M.)

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Fire-Worship'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​f/fire-worship.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
 
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