Mount Aqraa overlooking the town of Kesab
|Elevation||1,709 m (5,607 ft)|
|Location||Latakia Governorate, Kesab, Syria - Hatay Province, Turkey|
Mount Aqra` (Arabic: جبل الأقرع ǧabal al-Aqra` [ˈd͡ʒæbæl al ˈʔaqraʕ]); also known as Zaphon in the Bible, Kel Dağı in Turkish , Mount Casius to the Greeks, and Mount Hazzi to the Hurrians) is a mountain located near the mouth of the Orontes River on the Syrian-Turkish border around 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) north of Ras al-Bassit (ancient Posideium) and around 30 kilometres (19 mi) north of Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit).
According to Ugaritic texts it was the sacred mountain of the storm god Baal (Baal-Hadad in ancient Canaanite mythology), where his palace was erected of blue lapis and silver and where his lightning overcame the nearby sea (Yam) and Death (Mot) himself. The thunderstorm-gathering mountain was an object of cult itself, and on it dwelt also the goddess Anat. On its bare limestone peak the cult-site is represented by a huge mound of ashes and debris, 180 feet wide and 26 feet deep, of which only the first 6 feet have been excavated, in which the excavators reached only as far as Hellenistic strata before closing down.
The mountain, Robin Lane Fox observes, had an earlier sacred history among the Hurrians, who had known the mountain as Hazzi and placed their own storm god Teshub on its summit. Hittite rulers took up the name of its storm king and his victory over the sea by which he established his "kingship in heaven", according to texts found at the Hittite capital Hattusa.
According to Isaiah 14:13 the mountain Zaphon is the location where the gods assembled. The old Semitic name Ṣapānu was used by the conquering Assyrians in the 8th century BCE and by the Phoenicians. As a prominent peak in the northern part of the Canaanite world, its name was used, for example in Psalm 48, Genesis 13:14 and Deuteronomy 3:27, as a synonym for the direction north. Tzaphon (צפון) is in fact the basic word for "north" in Hebrew, due to the location of the mountain and the relation between the Hebrew and Canaanite languages.
The "Lord of the north", confusingly, could be attested far to the south. Through individuals travelling on errands of diplomacy and trade, the "Lord of Zephon", Ba`al Zephon protected his adherents far and wide: the temple of Baal at Ugarit had a sandstone relief, dedicated by a royal scribe to Ba`al Ṣapān, that had been sent from Egypt. The king of Tyre in 677 called to witness Baal Saphon in his treaty with the king of Assyria Ṣapān is also mentioned as the abode of Ba`al in the Ugaritic Ba`al cycle.
The earliest Hellenic foothold in the Levant, at Al Mina, lies at the beach on its northern flank. Here Euboeans and Cypriotes experienced some of their earliest on-site experience of northwest Semitic cultures, from the early eighth century BCE onwards. "The Hittite name persisted in neo-Hittite culture into the ninth century BC and so when Greeks settled on the north side of Mount Hazzi they continued to call its main peak 'Mount Kasios'", Robin Lane Fox points out, observing that it was the Mount Olympus of the Near East.
The cult of the god of the mountain was transferred, by interpretatio graeca, to Zeus Kasios, the "Zeus of Mount Kasios", similar to Ras Kouroun in the Sinai. Tiles from the Greco-Roman sanctuary at the site, stamped with the god's name, were reused in the Christian monastery that came to occupy the eastern, landward slopes of Kazios.
When kings and emperors climbed Mount Kasios to sacrifice at its peak sanctuary, it was a notable cultural occasion. Seleucus I Nicator sought there the advice of Zeus in locating his foundation, a Seleuceia (one of many) on the coast. Coins struck there as late as the first century BCE still show the city's emblem, the thunderbolt, sometimes placed upon the cushion of a throne. In the winter of 114/15 CE Trajan was spared in a major earthquake that struck Antioch; commemorative coins were struck featuring the shrine of Zeus Kasios, with its pointed roof on pillars, and a representation of its rounded sacred stone, or betyl. Trajan's adoptive son Hadrian accompanied him; he returned in 130 CE to scale the mountain at night, no doubt, Fox remarks, to witness the rising of the sun, visible for several minutes from the peak, while the land below lay still in darkness; it was said later that a thunderbolt at the peak struck the animal he was about to sacrifice. In spring 363 the last pagan emperor, Julian, scaled the mountain, where he had an epiphanic vision of Zeus Kasios, according to his friend and correspondent Libanius.
Christian hermits were drawn to the mountain; Barlaam challenged its demons by founding a monastery near the treeline on its eastern slopes, and Simeon Stylites the Younger stood for forty years on a pillar near its northern flanks until his death in 592.
- Robin Lane Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer (New York:Knopf) 2009, ch. 15:"A Travelling Mountain" pp 243-58, assembles a well-referenced cultural history of the mountain, followed in this article.
- Fox 2009:244.
- The site, Robin Lane Fox observes (2009:245), is closed as a Turkish military zone on its border with Syria.
- Fox 2009:245.
- Fox 2009:245, quoting I. Rutherford, "The song of the sea" Studien zu den Boghaz-Köy-Texten 45 2001:598-609.
- Fox 2009:241f.
- Both noted by Fox 2009:252.
- Fox 2009:246; these cultural connections are the them of Fox's book.
- Fox 2009:246, noting H. Seyrig in W. Djobadze, Archaeological Investigations in the Region West of Antioch and the Orontes, 1986.
- Fox 2009:248f.
- See Cassiodorus, born in Magna Graecia, who bears the name in its Romanized form.
- Fox 2009:248, notes also Kassi-opeia, whose daughter Andromeda was exposed to a sea-monster further along the coast, at Joppa.