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Semiramis and Tammuz

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One of the major themes of Chick tracts is the attempt to portray Catholicism as a form of paganism. According to Chick’s mythology, ancient Babylonian paganism spread all over the world, with deities taking new names in different cultures but remaining fundamentally the same. He holds Catholicism to be one of its expressions and devotes many pages to showing that the Catholic Mary is actually the ancient Babylonian queen Semiramis and that the Eucharist is based on the worship of ancient sun gods.

Unfortunately, Chick gets his mythology all wrong. For example, he claims that “in ancient Babylon, they worshiped the sun god, ‘˜Baal.’ Then this religion moved into Egypt using different names.”[72] In reality, ancient Babylonians worshiped the sun god Shamash. Baal was neither a Babylonian deity nor the sun god. In fact, he was the Canaanite storm god. Chick could not have had his ideas more muddled.

The source Chick depends on for his mythological ideas is The Two Babylons by Alexander Hislop, an eccentric nineteenth-century Anglican clergyman. Chick essentially recycles Hislop’s central thesis of Catholicism being a revival of Babylonian paganism. This allows him to identify the Catholic Church with the Whore of Babylon.

Yet the book lacks credibility. Hislop was writing when anthropology and archaeology were in their infancy, and the idea that all world religions spring from a common source (especially one in Babylon) has been completely disproven. We have knowledge of multiple mythologies from all over the world that are unrelated to Babylonian paganism. Fundamental differences between them are easy to illustrate. For example, Indo-European paganism (to which Babylonian mythology is related) typically has the sky deity being male and the earth deity as female. But in Egyptian mythology this is reversed: The sky deity is female and the earth deity is male.

The most thorough refutation of The Two Babylons was written by one of its chief twentieth-century popularizers. As a young man, Ralph Woodrow wrote a book called Babylon Mystery Religion, which introduced many to Hislop’s ideas. It was very popular in Fundamentalist circles. Yet with time Woodrow realized that Hislop’s claims and logic were deeply flawed, and he wrote a new book—The Babylon Connection?—to refute them.


Chick makes a lot of the conventional anti-Marian arguments that are common in Fundamentalism: that Mary is not the Mother of God, that we are not to ask for her intercession, that statues of her should not be venerated, that she was not preserved by God’s grace from sin, etc.[67]

What is distinctive about Chick’s approach is his is claim that “the ‘˜Mother of God’ that Catholics worship is not the Mary of the Bible. Satan has tricked them into worshiping a counterfeit goddess.”[68] The basis for this claim is a story he borrowed from Alexander Hislop, according to which there was a queen in ancient Babylon named Semiramis. She married her son, Nimrod. After his death, she claimed to have had a virgin birth of another son, Tammuz, who was Nimrod reincarnated. This pair of Semiramis and Tammuz was often depicted in artwork as a mother and child. They form the basis of all of the mother-child statues in the different religions of the world, and when Catholics worship Mary and the Baby Jesus, they are actually worshiping Semiramis and Tammuz.

What is one to make of this? Setting aside the fact that Catholics do not worship Mary, it is still complete nonsense. Hislop’s wild ideas cannot be substantiated historically.[69] We have mother and child images from cultures that predate Babylon. Further, if you want to depict a famous mother, a good way of doing it is by picturing her holding her child. Thus before literacy became widespread Christians often would picture Mary holding the Baby Jesus, and it became an established image in Christian art.



In a series of EMBRASSING RETRACTIONS, Woodrow abandoned his original views.
He CONFESSED that his previous studies had been SHALLOW and UNPROFESSIONAL:


As time went on, however, I began to hear rumblings that Hislop was NOT A RELIABLE HISTORIAN, I heard this from a history teacher and in letters from people who heard this perspective expressed on the Bible Answer Man radio program.  Even the Worldwide Church of God began to take a second look at the subject.  As a result, I realized I needed to go back through Hislop’s work, my basic source, and prayerfully check it out.

As I did this, it became clear: Hislop’s “history” was often only an arbitrary PIECING TOGETHER OF ANCIENT MYTHS.  He claimed Nimrod was a big, ugly, deformed black man.  His wife, Semiramis, was a beautiful white woman with blond hair and blue eyes.  But she was a backslider known for her immoral lifestyle, the inventor of soprano singing and the originator of priestly celibacy.

He said that the Babylonians baptized in water, believing it had virtue because Nimrod and Semiramis suffered for them in water; that Noah’s son Shem killed Nimrod; that Semiramis was killed when one of her sons cut off her head, and so on. I CANNOT FIND A RECOGNIZED HISTORY BOOK THAT CAN SUBSTANTIATE THESE AND MANY OTHER CLAIMS.

The subtitle for Hislop’s book is “The Papal Worship Proved to Be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife.”  Yet when I went to reference works such as the Encyclopædia Britannica, The Americana, The Jewish Encyclopædia, The Catholic Encyclopædia, The Worldbook Encyclopædia – carefully reading their articles on “Nimrod” and “Semiramis” – NOT ONE SAID ANYTHING ABOUT NIMROD AND SEMIRAMIS BEING HUSBAND AND WIFE. THEY DID NOT EVEN LIVE THE SAME CENTURY. Nor is there any basis for Semiramis being the mother of Tammuz.


After considerable work in finding old reference books to which Hislop referred, it was not uncommon to find things taken out of context.  He sought to link the round communion wafers of the Roman Catholic Church with paganism, for example, by citing Wilkinson’s ANCIENT EGYPTIANS.

But Wilkinson also said the Egyptians used oval and triangular cakes, folded cakes, cakes shaped like leaves, animals, a crocodile’s head, etc.  But

Because many of these teachings were interwoven in my book, it could not simply be a case of producing a revised edition.  Honesty, despite the financial loss to our ministry, demanded a correction of this teaching. For this reason, we now publish a 128-page book “THE BABYLON CONNECTION?” which explains all that is involved in this, and includes 60 illustrations and 400 footnote references.

We believe the best way to combat errors in the Roman Catholic Church (or any other group) is by the Scriptures themselves – not by trying to find pagan parallels in ancient mythology.  Things that are indeed pagan should be rejected, of course; but we should not brand things as being pagan when this is really not the case.


On September 17, 1859, The Saturday Review openly castigated Hislop in a stinging rebuttal of his arbitrary hypothesis:

In the first place, his whole superstructure is raised upon nothing.

Our earliest authority for the history of Semiramis wrote about the commencement of the Christian era, and the historian from whom he drew his information lived from fifteen hundred to two thousand years after the date which Mr. Hislop assigns to the great Assyrian Queen.

The most lying legend which the Vatican has ever endorsed stands on better authority than the history which is now made the ground of a charge against it.

Secondly, the whole argument proceeds upon the assumption that all heathenism has a common origin.  Accidental resemblance in mythological details are taken as evidence of this, and nothing is allowed for the natural working of the human mind.

Thirdly, Mr. Hislop’s reasoning would make anything of anything. By the aid of obscure passages in third-rate historians, groundless assumptions of identity, and etymological torturing of roots, all that we know, and all that we believe, may be converted … into something totally different.

Fourthly, Mr. Hislop’s argument proves too much. He finds not only the corruptions of Popery, but the fundamental articles of the Christian Faith, in his hypothetical Babylonian system…

We take leave of Mr. Hislop and his work with the remark that we never before quite knew the folly of which ignorant or half-learned bigotry is capable.

If more Christadelphians had been aware of this review, Hislop’s book might not have succeeded in gaining the (entirely undeserved) support that it now enjoys within our community.

Hislop’s FAILED to meet these conditions.
– the similarities between the Catholic distinctive and the alleged pagan source must be material, significant, and pervasive enough to suspect derivation;
– the similarities must be of such a nature as to either require borrowing, or be best explained by borrowing;
– there must be a historically plausible explanation of how the borrowing occurred;
– the borrowing hypothesis must more persuasive than the alternative Catholic explanation;
– there must be a historically plausible explanation for the origin of any significant differences between the Catholic distinctive and the alleged pagan source;
– there must be demonstrable means, motive and opportunity for the Catholic Church to foist the pagan baggage upon an unsuspecting public.

Besides, what a lot of people don’t realise is that Christians believed December 25th was the date of the birth of Christ before the Roman emperor Aurelian instituted the pagan feast of Sol Invictus (see William H. Tighe, Calculating Christmas: The Story Behind December 25).

Replacing a pagan feast with a Christian one that supersedes would be is a way to defeat paganism, not surreptitiously embrace it.  And it seems to have worked, as overtly sun-worshipping pagans seem rather scarce these days.

Hislop criticises the “skilful adjustment of the calendar” that allowed Easter to take the place of solemnities.  However in fact, the date of Easter has nothing to do with paganism, but instead is based on Christ’s resurrection in its Jewish-Passover context. Since Passover was always on or after the first full moon after the Spring equinox, and since the Resurrection was the first Sunday after Passover, Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21 (historically, the Spring equinox).



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