- St George, Khidr (Khadir, Hızır), Zeus, Elijah, and Baal
By Jørgen Christensen-Ernst
Abstract: The similarities between St George and the Muslim saint Khidr are striking. When looking for the mentifacts at the root of the similarities, we come across the Greek god Zeus, the Hebrew prophet Elijah, and the Phoenician weather-god Baal. This leads us to believe that the St. George we know today has little in common with the Palestinian martyr he is named after. We maintain that the modern St George is a conglomeration of mentifacts that are thousands of years old.
- St. George
St George is a character well known in the West. He is even regarded as the patron saint of England. This is in part what Catholic Encyclopedia can tell us about him:
“There seems, therefore, no ground for doubting the historical existence of St. George, even though he is not commemorated in the Syrian, or in the primitive Hieronymian Martyrologium, but no faith can be placed in the attempts that have been made to fill up any of the details of his history. For example, it is now generally admitted that St. George cannot safely be identified by the nameless martyr spoken of by Eusebius (Church History VIII.5), who tore down Diocletian’s edict of persecution at Nicomedia. The version of the legend in which Diocletian appears as persecutor is not primitive. Diocletian is only a rationalized form of the name Dadianus. Moreover, the connection of the saint’s name with Nicomedia is inconsistent with the early cultus at Diospolis.1
There may have been a martyr named George, but not much is known about him. However, in later myths and legends he was told to have killed a dragon somewhere in Libya. In spite of the uncertainty about him, in 1222 the 23 of April2 was chosen as St George’s day and has been celebrated as such ever since.3
When you see a flag with the cross of St George, a red cross on a white background, the Crusaders, and especially the Templars, come to mind. Evidently the crusaders regarded St George as a military saviour. The reason for this may have been that he, according to the legend, had been a Roman soldier.
1 Catholic Encyclopedia, “St. George,” accessed October 17, 2016, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06453a.htm)
2 May 6 according to the Julian calendar. “St. George’s Day,” Cute Calendar, accessed October 22, 2016, http://www.cute-calendar.com/event/saint-georges-day/20850.html.
One of the first encounters with the “saint” as a rescuing soldier was when the Crusaders in 1098 defended Antioch against the forces of Kerboğa, the “atabey” of Mosul. According to Gesta Francorum, a chronicle of the First Crusade, this was what happened:
Curbara [Kerboğa] began immediately to retreat little by little toward the mountain, and our men followed them little by little. At length the Turks divided; one party went toward the sea and the rest halted there, expecting to enclose our men between them. As our men saw this, they did likewise. There a seventh line was formed from the lines of Duke Godfrey and the Count of Normandy, and its head was Reinald. They sent this (line) to meet the Turks, who were coming from the sea. The Turks, however, engaged them in battle and by shooting killed many of our men. Other squadrons, moreover, were drawn out from the river to the mountain, which was about two miles distant. The squadrons
began to go forth from both sides and to surround our men on all sides, hurling, hooting, and wounding them. There came out from the mountains, also, countless armies with white horses, whose standards were all white. And so, when our leaders saw this army, they were entirely ignorant as to what it was, and who they were, until they recognized the aid of Christ, whose leaders were St. George, Mercurius, and Demetrius. This is to be believed, for many of our men saw it. However, when the Turks who were stationed on the side toward the sea saw that that they could hold out no longer, they set fire to the grass, so that, upon seeing it, those who were in the tents might flee. The latter,
recognizing that signal, seized all the precious spoils and fled.4
In the township of Altınözü, [al-Quṣayr] up behind Mount Silpius about 25 kilometres south east of Antakya [modern Antioch], St George is still said to be celebrated as a victorious soldier under the name Marcircos 5, completely in the spirit of the Crusaders quoted above.
It is interesting that in some cultures St George is associated with the colour green. Discussing the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Jonathan Hughes writes:
Perhaps drawing on Eastern European tradition in which ‘Green George’ was associated with the new life of spring (and influenced by descriptions of the seasons in Secreta Secretorum) and the custom of dressing a man in green like a tree on St. George’s Day on 23 April, he [the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight] attempts to show the kinship between the Christian knight and the beast
who share the same natural impulses.6
4 A. C. Krey, The first crusade: the account of eye-witnesses and participants (Princeton: Princeton University, 1921), 184
5 “Mar” is the Aramaic equivalent of “saint,” and “Circos” is the Turkish way of spelling “Jirjos,” the Arabic form of George.
6 Jonathan Hughes, The Rise of Alchemy in Fourteenth-Century England: Plantagenet Kings and the Search for the Philosopher’s Stone, (London: Continuum, 2012), 84.
On the internet page http://www.folklore.ee we find the following observations:
Perhaps the richness of the tradition accumulated on St. George’s Day should rather be viewed in the light of the fact that the Greek form Georgius means a ploughman, a cultivator of land. And when trying to divine the ancient predecessor of the holiday, one should better consider such tradition that is connected with spring-time vegetation as well as the concentration of special customs on certain preChristian dates to mark the awakening of nature and the arrival of spring..The St. George’s Day traditions connected with the awakening of nature and the arrival of spring make one think of the actual emergence of green planta. The idea of a dying and newly rising deity, in association with the autumnal fading and springtime bursting of vegetation, seems to fit ever so logically into the world view of peoples living in a natural state.7
Furthermore, this comment is from the book The Golden Bough:
The festival of St. George on the twenty-third of April has a national as well as an ecclesiastical character in Russia, and the mythical features of the songs which are devoted to the day prove that the saint has supplanted some old Slavonic deity who used to be honoured at this season in heathen times. It is not as a slayer of dragons and a champion of forlorn damsels that St. George figures in these songs, but as a patron of farmers and herdsmen who preserves cattle from harm.8
It is a question, though, whether St George ever existed. Catholic Encyclopedia endeavours to prove his historicity in this way:
An ancient cultus, going back to a very early epoch and connected with a definite locality, in itself constitutes a strong historical argument. Such we have in the case of St. George. The narratives of the early pilgrims, Theodosius, Antoninus, and Arculphus, from the sixth to the eighth century, all speak of Lydda or Diospolis as the seat of the veneration of St. George, and as the resting-place of his remains (Geyer, “Itinera Hierosol.”, 139, 176, 288). The early date of the dedications to the saint is
attested by existing inscriptions of ruined churches in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, and the church of St. George at Thessalonica is also considered by some authorities to belong to the fourth century.
Further the famous decree “De Libris recipiendis”, attributed to Pope Gelasius in 495, attests that certain apocryphal Acts of St. George were already in existence, but includes him among those saints “whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose actions are only known to God”.
For some, this reasoning will not be sufficient, all the more so as the fourth century marks the beginning of the Church’s newfound interest in relics and saints.
But what about St George’s alter ego Khidr (Turkish: Hızır; Arabic: خضر or خاضر?
7 Mall Hiiemäe, “Some Possible Origins of St. George’s Day Customs and Beliefs,” Folklore: An electronic Journal of
Folklore, accessed October 20, 2016, https://www.folklore.ee/folklore/nr1/georg.htm.
8 J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough,3rd edition, Vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 332.
- Khidr (or Khadir)
The name Khidr or Khadir (or Ηιzır) is said to have been derived from the root of the Arabic word aḍḫar, “green,” which is ḍḫr [خضر .[The person carrying this name, however, is a very elusive character:
Khidr is one of the four prophets whom the Islamic tradition recognizes as being ‘alive’ or ‘immortal’. The other three being Idris (Enoch), Ilyas (Elias), and ‘Isa (Jesus).( Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1975), 202) Khidr is immortal because he drank from the water of life. There are some who have asserted, however, that this Khidr is the same person as Elijah. (“Muslim version of Elijah” George K. Anderson. The Legend of the Wandering Jew (Providence: Brown University Press. 1965), 409; Exhaustive material on Khidr’s
resemblance with Elijah is presented in Friedlaenders “Khidr” in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1915), 693-95.) He is also identified with St. George. (Peter L. Wilson, “The Green Man: The Trickster Figure in Sufism”, in Gnosis Magazine 1991, 23.) In Islamic folk literature, one finds a variety of names and titles associated with Khidr. Some say Khidr is a title; others have called it an epithet. (Alexander H. Krappe. The Science of Folklore (New York: Barnes and Noble Inc., 1930), 103.) He has been equated with St. George, identified as the Muslim
“version of Elijah” and also referred to as the eternal wanderer. (However, he refers to the Wandering Jew as Ahasver. See Haim Schwarzbaum. Biblical and Extra-Biblical Legends, 17.) Scholars have also called and characterized him as a ‘saint’, prophet-saint, mysterious prophet-guide and so on. 9
9 Irfan Omar, “Khidr in the Islamic Tradition,” The Muslim World, Vol. LXXXIII, No. 3-4, July – October, 1993. (Duncan Black MacDonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations. Hartford Seminary), accessed October 18, 2016, http://www.sunnah.org/history/prophets/Khidr.htm. (I have chosen to bring Irfan
Omar’s footnotes in parentheses in the quotation.)
10 al-Bukhari, al-Ṣaḥīḥ, “The Prophets,” Volume 4, Book 55, Number 613, accessed December 17, 2016, https://www.sahih-bukhari.com/Pages/Bukhari_4_55.php.
The Qur’ān does not mention Khidr by name, but leaning on tradition (Ḥadīth)
10. Muslims generally believe that Sūrat al-Kahf (the 18th Surah verses 65-82) is referring to him:
65. Then they found one of Our slaves, unto whom We had bestowed mercy from Us, and whom We had taught knowledge from Us.
66. Musa (Moses) said to him (Khidr) “May I follow you so that you teach me something of that knowledge (guidance and true path) which you have been taught (by Allah)?”
67. He (Khidr) said: “Verily! You will not be able to have patience with me!
68. “And how can you have patience about a thing which you know not?”
69. Musa (Moses) said: “If Allah will, you will find me patient, and I will not disobey you in
70. He (Khidr) said: “Then, if you follow me, ask me not about anything till I myself mention it to you.”
71. So they both proceeded, till, when they embarked the ship, he (Khidr) scuttled it. Musa (Moses) said: “Have you scuttled it in order to drown its people? Verily, you have committed a thing “Imra” (a Munkar – evil, bad, dreadful thing).”
72. He (Khidr) said: “Did I not tell you, that you would not be able to have patience with me?”
73. [Musa (Moses)] said: “Call me not to account for what I forgot, and be not hard upon me for my affair (with you).”
74. Then they both proceeded, till they met a boy, he (Khidr) killed him. Musa (Moses) said: “Have you killed an innocent person who had killed none? Verily, you have committed a thing “Nukra” (a great Munkar – prohibited, evil, dreadful thing)!”
75. (Khidr) said: “Did I not tell you that you can have no patience with me?” 76. [Musa (Moses)] said: “If I ask you anything after this, keep me not in your company, you have received an excuse from me.”
77. Then they both proceeded, till, when they came to the people of a town, they asked them for food, but they refused to entertain them. Then they found therein a wall about to collapse and he (Khidr) set it up straight. [Musa (Moses)] said: If you had wished, surely, you could have taken wages for it!”
78. (Khidr) said: “This is the parting between me and you, I will tell you the interpretation of (those) things over which you were unable to hold patience.
79. “As for the ship, it belonged to Masakin (poor people) working in the sea. So I wished to make a defective damage in it, as there was a king after them who seized every ship by force.
80. “And as for the boy, his parents were believers, and we feared lest he should oppress them by rebellion and disbelief.
81. “So we intended that their Lord should change him for them for one better in righteousness and near to mercy.
82. “And as for the wall, it belonged to two orphan boys in the town; and there was under it a treasure belonging to them; and their father was a righteous man, and your Lord intended that they should attain their age of full strength and take out their treasure as a mercy from your Lord. And I did it not of my own accord. That is the interpretation of those (things) over which you could not hold patience.”11
In parentheses the translator has indicated that the anonymous person speaking to Moses is supposed to be Khidr.
Whatever the interpretation of these verses may be, the Nusayri Alawites12 in and around Antakya [Antioch] believe that a meeting between Moses and Khidr took place in the Samandağı district at the shores of the Mediterranean. They have even built a sanctuary there, a so-called ziyaret, and it is a habit of persons coming there to walk or drive around it thus performing what in Arabic is called ṭawāf. Up in the village of Hıdırbey13 on the slopes of the mountain Musa Dağı [Moses’ Mountain] the visitor is shown a plane tree that is said to have been the staff of Moses, stuck into the ground,
sprouting while he was sleeping and now grown into a tree.14
As the person who according to the Qur’ān was speaking to Moses is believed to be Khidr, this person must also be believed to have been gifted with unusual wisdom and insight, as shown in the account. But Khidr is known for other qualities as well.
As mentioned above, his name or title is related to the Arabic word for green. As stated in the
Encyclopaedia of Islam: “Al-Khaḍir is properly an epithet (“the green man”); this was in time
11 18. Surah Al-Kahf (The Cave), accessed October 19, 2016, http://www.noblequran.com/translation/surah18.html12 Not to be mistaken for the Bektaşi Alevites in central Anatolia.
13 The name Hıdırbey is originally Khidr Bey, Lord Khidr.
14 “Musa Ağacı, Hz. Musa’nın Asası,” AntakyaCity: Tarih, Kültür ve Eğitim Şehri, accessed October 20, 2016,
According to the same article the tree is believed to be about 1000-1200 years old.
forgotten and this explains the secondary form Khiḍr (approximately “the green”), which in many
places has displaced the primary form.”15
It is obscure who hides behind this epithet and how he got it. Nevertheless, there are various
explanations. One of them goes as follows:
In a number of Arabic explanations of the name, al-Khadir is conceived not as belonging to the sea but
to the vegetable kingdom. “He sat on a white skin and it became green” (e.g. al-Nawawī on Muslim’s
Ṣaḥīḥ, v, 135; cf. al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, xv, 168). “The skin”, adds al-Nawawī, “is the earth”. Al-Diyārbakrī
(i. 106) is still more definite. “The skin is the earth when it puts forth shoots and becomes green after
having been bare”. According to cUmāra, al-Khadir is told at the spring of life: “Thou art Chadhir and
where thy feet touch it, the earth will become green” (Friedländer, op. cit., 145). Whereever he stands
or performs the ṣalāt, it will become green (al-Nawawī, op. cit.; al-Rāzī, Mafātiḥ al-ghayb, iv, 336).16
This is confirmed by al-Bukhari: “Narrated by Abu Huraira – The Prophet said, ‘Al-Khadir was
named so because he sat over a barren white land, it turned green with plantation after (his sitting
over it.)’”17 There seems to be a parallel to “Green George” and the role of St George as a patron of
Also similar to St George, Khidr is regarded as a rescuer. Before the word for ambulance
[ambulans] became common in modern Turkish, some called it Hızır, [Khidr] and the two words
are still connected by their connotations. Thus, on Web Rehberi in an advert for an ambulance
service in the city of Antalya, you find a service called Hızır Assistance.
18 In İslam Ansiklopedisi
the explanation is: “He [Khidr] is coming to the aid of people in distress and saves them from
danger. Sayings like ‘Coming to the aid like Hızır’ and ‘As long as a servant of God is in no danger,
Hızır does not come to the aid’ have their root in this belief.”19
But Khidr is not regarded as a peaceful guardian angel only. This is a story a man from Arsuz
[ancient Rhosus] at the Mediterranean coast close to Antakya once told some researchers:
When I was serving in the Turkish Brigade in Korea [our informant recalled], a Turkish soldier from
my village was confronted by four Chinese soldiers who ordered him to lay down his arms or they
would kill him. The young man shouted, ‘Ya Hizir!” and Hizir appeared as 100 soldiers to the eyes of
the four Chinese. They were so frightened that the Turk was able to take all four of them prisoner. The
15 A. J. Wensinck, “Al-Khaḍir (Al-Khiḍr),” The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. IV (Leiden: Brill, 1997) , 902.
16 Ibid. 905.
17 al-Bukhari, al-Ṣaḥīḥ, “The Prophets,” Volume 4, Book 55, Number 614, accessed December 17, 2016,
18 Accessed December 12, 2016, http://webrehberi.net/firmalar/17188-hizir-ambulance.html and
19 Süleyman Uludağ, “HIZIR – Tasavvuf ve Halk İnancı,” İslam Ansiklopedisi, Vol. 17 (Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı, 1998),
409-411. Accessed October 22, 2016, http://www.islamansiklopedisi.info/dia/pdf/c17/c170197.pdf.
Americans rewarded him for his bravery that day, and he sent home 40,000 liras to Isis village on
behalf of Hizir. A large bridge was built there with this money.20
It will be noticed that this account is very similar to the one from the First Crusade related in Gesta
Francorum where it is St George who is the protagonist.21
There is no universal account of Khidr’s killing a dragon, and there are other differences between
him and St George, likely because they lean on different traditions. Still, Dr Hüseyin Türk has made
the following observation: “In Hatay [the province where Antakya/Antioch is the provincial
capital], the legend about the ‘Killing of the Dragon’ is told as being ascribed to Hıdır Bey (Hızır,
peace be with him), and as it is believed that he and St. George are identical, it is ascribed to him
with a change of setting.”22
A little further on, he provides us with the following story:
On certain days in the week of Moses and Khidr used to meet at the place in Samandağ belonging to
His Excellency Khidr – peace be upon him –and discuss social and religious problems. On one of the
days when they met, a convoy passed in front of them. In this convoy there were people who wept. In
front of the convoy there was a virgin, a beautiful girl, and after her, people from the village. Khidr and
Moses approached and asked: “Why are you crying?” The villagers answered: “By all means, do not
mix in our business. Once every year we sacrifice the most beautiful girl in our village to a dragon
coming out of the sea. In return for this sacrifice, the dragon leaves us alone for one year. In this way
we have peace.” To this Khidr said: “This is not how to do it! Beware, don’t do a thing like this. I shall
come with you.” Now, together they went to the seashore. The sea rose and after some time the dragon
they expected appeared. As the dragon was about to take the girl, Khidr cut one of its arms off its
body. With a high speed this arm flew as far as Baalbek in the mountains of Lebanon. As it hit the
mountains, water gushed forth from the mountains. This water is what became the river called Orontes.
Now the monster begged Khidr – peace be upon him: “Hit me again that I may die!” However, if
Khidr would hit the monster once more, the monster’s arm would come back on, and it would be even
stronger and more aggressive. As Khidr knew this, he did not strike a second time. Therefore the
monster fell to the ground and died. At that time this water (the water of the Orontes) was the Water of
Life. Khidr drank from it and became immortal. From that day, he has been appointed by Allah to help
those in dire straits and difficult situations…” (Zübeyir Amberli, 52 years old, University, Antakya).23
It is difficult to say how old this story is. Whatever the case, it is very similar to the European St
George myth. Catholic Encyclopedia explains:
20 Warren S. Walker and Ahmet E. Uysal, “An Ancient God in Modern Turkey: Some Aspects of the Cult of Hizir,”
Journal of American Folklore 86 (Lubbeck, Texas: Texas Tech University 1973). Quoted at
http://khidr.org/hizir.htm#_ednref1, accessed on January 22, 2017.
21 Quoted from Jørgen Christensen-Ernst, Antioch on the Orontes – A History and a Guide (Lanham, Maryland:
Hamilton Books, 2012), 154.
22 Hüseyin Türk, “Hatay’da Müslüman-Hıristiyan Etkileşimi: St. Georges ya da Hızır Kültü,” Millî Folklor, Nr. 85
(Hatay: 2010) 140, 141. Accessed December 6, 2016,
The best known form of the legend of St. George and the Dragon is that made popular by the “Legenda
Aurea”, and translated into English by Caxton. According to this, a terrible dragon had ravaged all the
country round a city of Libya, called Selena, making its lair in a marshy swamp. Its breath caused
pestilence whenever it approached the town, so the people gave the monster two sheep every day to
satisfy its hunger, but, when the sheep failed, a human victim was necessary and lots were drawn to
determine the victim. On one occasion the lot fell to the king’s little daughter. The king offered all his
wealth to purchase a substitute, but the people had pledged themselves that no substitutes should be
allowed, and so the maiden, dressed as a bride, was led to the marsh. There St. George chanced to ride
by, and asked the maiden what she did, but she bade him leave her lest he also might perish. The good
knight stayed, however, and, when the dragon appeared, St. George, making the sign of the cross,
bravely attacked it and transfixed it with his lance. Then asking the maiden for her girdle (an incident
in the story which may possibly have something to do with St. George’s selection as patron of the
Order of the Garter), he bound it round the neck of the monster, and thereupon the princess was able to
lead it like a lamb. They then returned to the city, where St. George bade the people have no fear but
only be baptized, after which he cut off the dragon’s head and the townsfolk were all converted. The
king would have given George half his kingdom, but the saint replied that he must ride on, bidding the
king meanwhile take good care of God’s churches, honour the clergy, and have pity on the poor. The
earliest reference to any such episode in art is probably to be found in an old Roman tombstone at
Conisborough in Yorkshire, considered to belong to the first half of the twelfth century. Here the
princess is depicted as already in the dragon’s clutches, while an abbot stands by and blesses the
Here Lebanon has become Libya, and Khidr is St George. The similarity is evident. It is more than
likely that the two stories have their roots at the same source.
Apart from this, there are several other points of similarity between them:
Both St George and Khidr are associated with the colour green, both of them are venerated on the
same day, and both of them are regarded as a helper in times of urgent need. In the words of
Hüseyin Türk: “The faith in Hızır can be found among all the ethnic groups in Antakya [Antioch].
Among the Christians it is believed that everyone who asks for help saying ‘Ya Allah, Ya Mar
Corcus’ will be helped by St. George. The Nusayri Aliwites have a strong belief that anyone who
asks for help saying ‘Ya Ali, Ya Hıdır’ will be helped by Khidr.”25
One major difference is that Khidr is believed to be – or least in some respect related to – the
The identification of Khidr with the prophet Elijah is old, but it is unknown how old. At least we
know that the Byzantine historian and statesman Kantakouzenos (d. 1383) knew about it.
24 “St. George,” Catholic Encyclopedia, accessed December 6, 2016, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06453a.htm)
25 “Oh God, Oh St George!” and “Oh Ali, Oh Khidr!” It should be noted that Arabic speaking Christians use the word
Allah for God and that the Nusayri Alawites believe that Ali, the fourth caliph, is God himself.
Explaining that the Muslims venerated him as Khidrelles (χετηρ ήλιάς: Khidr-Elijah), he wrote:
“παρ’ αύτών τών Μουσουλμανών τιμα δέ παρ’ αύτών χετηρ ήλιάς.”
26 A festival called Khidrelles
(Turkish: Hıdrellez. İlyas is the name Muslims use for the prophet Elijah) is celebrated on May 6 in
rural Turkey.27 St George is celebrated on the same day.
The account given in the Qur’an about Moses meeting “one of Our slaves” is mirrored in the
account of the rabbi named Joshua ben Levi’s meeting with the prophet Elijah. Joshua ben Levi was
from Lydda in Palestine (which, by the way, is also said to have been the hometown of St George)
and lived in the early third century, about three hundred years before the Prophet Muhammad. “In
legend, Joshua b. Levi is a favorite hero. He is often made to be the companion of Elijah the prophet
in the latter’s wanderings on earth.”
In a story about the encounter between Joshua and Elijah, Joshua asks the prophet’s permission to
follow him and watch what he would do. Elijah permits this, but he “made a condition with him that
if Rabbi Joshua should ask him to explain the reason for his deeds and signs and wonders, he would
tell him; but also if he did so ask, Elijah would leave him at once.” Thereafter follow some
incidences where Elijah does and says things that puzzle Joshua ben Levi. Finally he asks the
prophet about the reason for what he does, gets the explanation, and the two depart. 29
In the Qur’an, the person playing the role of Joshua ben Levi is Moses while the name of the one
playing the role of Elijah is not named. He is, however, by Muslims believed to be Khidr. Whether
this Jewish story has been copied from the Qur’an or vice versa or they both have a common source
is not to be discussed here. We just want to draw the attention to the fact that Elijah in the one
account is playing the role of the nameless protagonist who in the other is claimed to be Khidr.
There are reasons behind this identification. Khidr is said to be immortal, having found the Source
of the Water of Life and drank from it.30 This, in turn, has a reminiscent of the story in the Sumerian
Epic of Gilgamesh.31 By some, immortality is ascribed to the prophet Elijah as they believe that he
never died but were taken directly to heaven. In the Bible, the Second Book of Kings chapter 2 verse
11 (King James’ Version) says: “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold,
there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up
26 Quoted from F. W. Hasluck, “El Khiḍr in Popular the Religion of Turkey,” Christianity and Islam under the Sultans
(Oxford: Oxford University press, 1929), 319-336. Quoted from and accessed December 7, 2016,
27 “Hızır Günleri,” Islam Ansiklopedisi, Vol. 17 (TDV, İslâm Araştırma Merkezi, 1998) 415, accessed December 20,
28 Solomon Schechter and Herman Abramowitz, “Joshua b. Levi,” Jewish Encyclopedia, accessed November 17, 2016,
29 “Rabbi Joshua ben Levi and Elijah the Prophet,” Mimekor Yisrael: Selected Classic Jewish Folk Tales,109-111.
Accessed November 17, 2016, downloaded from http://abdullahsameer.com/blog/khidr-and-musa-story-matchestalmud/.
30 Omar, Khiḍr in the Islamic Tradition.
by a whirlwind into heaven.” That Elijah at a later date sent a letter to King Jehoram seems to
indicate that his disappearance in the whirlwind did not end his earthly life but only his ministry.32
However, what is important in this context is that Elijah like Khidr by some is regarded as
F. S. Hasluck writes:
The identification of Khiḍr with Elias is found as early as Cantacuzenus, who died A.D. 1380. St.
George, he says, is worshipped by the Christians and worshipped by the Christians and παρ’ αύτών τών
Μουσουλμανών τιμα δέ παρ’ αύτών χετηρ ήλιάς. George of Hungary, our best early authority on
Turkish popular saints, spent a long captivity in Asia Minor during the early fifteenth century and
makes clear the extraordinary vogue enjoyed by Khiḍr in his day.
‘Chidrelles’, he writes, ‘is before all a helper of travellers in need. Such is his repute in all Turkey that
there is scarce any man to be found that hath not himself experienced his help or heard of others that
have so done. He manifesteth himself in the shape of a traveller riding on a gray horse, and anon
relieveth the distressed wayfarer, whether he hath called on him, or whether, knowing not his name, he
hath but commended himself to God, as I have heard on several hands.33
One of the reasons for this identification may be that both are regarded as protectors of vegetation.
In the words of Hasluck: “His discovery of the Water of Life may also have a reference to his
connection with spring, while the physical conception of his functions has probably aided his
confusion with Elias, the rain-bringer of the Christians.”
But how has Elijah (or Elias) come to be regarded as a “rain-bringer” and protector of vegetation?
We have the explanation in the First Book of Kings in the Bible. As a punishment for Israel’s
worshiping the Phoenician weather-god Baal, the prophet Elijah went to renegade king Ahab and
said: “As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these
years, but according to my word.”34 After a considerable time, Elijah was told to return to the king
and arrange for a confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. The
First Book of Kings relates:
1Ki 18:21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if
the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
1Ki 18:22 Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s
prophets are four hundred and fifty men.
1Ki 18:23 Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves,
and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and
lay it on wood, and put no fire under:
32 2. Chroncles 21:12.
33 F. W. Hasluck, “El Khiḍr in Popular the Religion of Turkey,” Christianity and Islam under the Sultans (Oxford:
Oxford University press, 1929), 319-336. Quoted from and accessed December 7, 2016, http://khidr.org/khidrturkey.htm.
34 1. Kings 17:1.
1Ki 18:24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the
God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken.
1Ki 18:25 And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and
dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.
1Ki 18:26 And they took the bullock which was given them, and they dressed it, and called on the
name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying, O Baal, hear us. But there was no voice, nor any
that answered. And they leaped upon the altar which was made.
1Ki 18:27 And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god;
either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be
1Ki 18:28 And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the
blood gushed out upon them.
1Ki 18:29 And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the
offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
1Ki 18:30 And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto
him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.
1Ki 18:31 And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob,
unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name:
1Ki 18:32 And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about
the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.
1Ki 18:33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and
said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.
1Ki 18:34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the
third time. And they did it the third time.
1Ki 18:35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water.
1Ki 18:36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the
prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that
thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word.
1Ki 18:37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and
that thou hast turned their heart back again.
1Ki 18:38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the
stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
1Ki 18:39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the
God; the LORD, he is the God.
Shortly after, the rain returned. The countryside revived as a result of the defeat of Baal.
But who was Baal? In a comment to 1. Kings 16:31, Keil and Delitzsch explain:
Baal (always לַעַבַה with the article, the Baal, i.e., Lord κατ ̓ ἐξοχήν) was the principal male deity of the
Phoenicians and Canaanites, and generally of the western Asiatics, called by the Babylonians לֵּב = לֵּעְּ ב
35 Quoted from the King James Version where God’s name יהוה) pronounced Jehovah, Yahweh, or Yahūh) has been
replaced by ‘the LORD.’
(Isa_46:1), Βῆλος, and as the sun-god was worshipped as the supporter and first principle of psychical
life and of the generative and reproductive power of nature (see at Jdg_2:13). 36
However, Baal was not just a sun-god. As a “first principle of physical life and of the generative
and reproductive power of nature,” he was also in charge of rain. Commenting on the Ras Shamra
texts where Baal plays an important role W. Heerman writes:
His elevated position shows itself in his power over clouds, storm and lightning, and manifests itself in
his thundering voice… As a God of wind and weather Baal dispenses dew, rain, and snow … and the
attendant fertility of the soil…
Baal is seen at work not just in the cyclic pattern of the seasons. He is also called upon to drive away
the enemy that attacks the city.”37
In this connection it should be mentioned that the word baʻal is a title, not a proper name and thus,
as far as denotation and connotations are concerned, not much different from the word lord.
Therefore it is not surprising if, in the primitive mind, Elijah supplants the defeated Baal as a
But what about dragon-slaying?
St George is not the first dragon-slayer in the Middle East. The following account is from the Greek
geographer Strabo (d. ca. 24 AD):
The Orontes River flows near the city. This river has its sources in Coelê-Syria; and then, after flowing
underground, issues forth again; and then, proceeding through the territory of the Apameians into that
of Antiocheia, closely approaches the latter city and flows down to the sea near Seleuceia. Though
formerly called Typhon, its name was changed to that of Orontes, the man who built a bridge across it.
Here, somewhere, is the setting of the mythical story of the Arimi, of whom I have already spoken.
They say that Typhon (who, they add, was a dragon), when struck by the bolts of lightning, fled in
search of a descent underground; that he not only cut the earth with furrows and formed the bed of the
river, but also descended underground and caused the fountain to break forth to the surface; and that
the river got its name from this fact.38
According to this, it was believed by some that the Orontes River was identical with Typhon known
from Greek mythology. Thus, in the Theogony of Hesiod, Typhon was one of the giants and was
killed by Zeus. In the account of Strabo, the name of the god who subjugated Typhon is not
36 Keil & Deltizsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Rick Meyers: e-Sword, 2000-2014).
37 W. Heerman, “Baal,” 134. Accessed December 7, 2016, http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/baal.pdf.
38 Strabo, The Geography, Book XVI, chapter 2, paragraph 7. Accessed December 12, 2016,
mentioned. He is said to have been “struck by the bolts of lightning,” and this indicates that the
victor was Zeus. The ancient name of the river Orontes was Drakon, the Dragon.39
This is in harmony with what (pseudo) Apollodorus writes: “However Zeus pelted Typhon at a
distance with thunderbolts, and at close quarters struck him down with an adamantine sickle, and as
he fled pursued him closely as far as Mount Casius, which overhangs Syria.” 40 Although the setting
and the hiding place of the defeated Typhon varies in the accounts, we may find it interesting that
the setting with Apollodorus is close to Mount Casius at the Orontes.
However, Mount Casius on the Turko-Syrian border (called Kel Dağı by the Turks and Jebel Aqra
by the Syrıans) is associated with another god, Baal of the Phoenicians.
In her paper Zeus Kasios Or The Interpretatio Graeca Of Baal Saphon In Ptolemaic Egypt,
Alexandra Diez De Oliveira writes:
In this context Zeus Kasios emerges as an oriental manifestation of Zeus, merged with the local cult of
Baal Saphon. Both gods shared several specificities, mainly due to the fact they are both divinities
related to mythical mountains and both had power over atmospheric phenomena.
According to textual sources, the epithet Kasios seems to be related to the primordial place of worship
of this avatar of Zeus in Ugarit, Syria.41
So if Zeus in the Middle East was regarded as a sort of avatar of Baal, it is only natural to ask if
Baal had been involved in any sort of dragon-fighting as well. And in fact, he had!
In a text found in Ugarit in what was northern Phoenicia just south of Mount Casius a story was
found describing the fight Baal had with a monster called Yam. The fight ended like this:
The club danced from the hand of Baal,
like an eagle from his fingers.
It struck the shoulders of prince Yam,
between the arms of judge Nahar.
(But) Yam was strong, he did not sink down,
his joints did not quiver,
his form did not crumple.
39 Joseph Eddy Fontenrose, Python: A Study of Delphic Myth and its Origins (Los Angeles: University of California
Press, 1980), 277.
40 Apollodorus, The Library, Vol. I (Loeb Classical Library), Book I, chapter 6, paragraph 3. Accessed December 12,
41 Alexandra Diez De Oliveira, “Zeus Kasios Or The Interpretatio Graeca Of Baal Saphon In Ptolemaic Egypt,” The
Legacy of Multiculturalism in Antiquity, pp._222-229. Accessed December 17, 2016,
Kothar fetched down two clubs
and proclaimed their names, (saying):
‘Your name, yours, is Ayyamur.
‘Ayyamur, expel Yam,
‘expel Yam from his throne,
‘Nahar from the seat of his dominion.
‘Do you dance from Baal’s hand,
‘like an eagle from his fingers.
‘Strike the crown of prince Yam,
‘between the eyes of judge Nahar.
‘Let Yam collapse and fall to the earth!1
And the club danced from the hand of Baal,
[like] an eagle from his fingers.
It struck the crown of prince [Yam],
between the eyes of judge Nahar.
Yam collapsed (and) fell to the earth;
his joints quivered
and his form crumpled.
Baal dragged out Yam and laid him down,
he made an end of judge Nahar.42
Yam is the West-Semitic word for the sea or for untamed waters. Baal is thus described as the
master and conqueror of the sea. Then, who is Judge Nahar? In his introduction to the epos, Gibson
Kothar-and-Khasis, the craftsman of the gods, precedes to the abode of the supreme god El at the
confluence of the rivers and the two oceans and does obeisance before him. El instructs him to build a
palace for prince Yam (the deified Sea), who is also called judge Nahar (or river), and to do it quickly,
lest it seems (for the text is damaged) he take hostile action.43
It should not surprise us that the terms Yam and Judge Nahar found in the Ugarit poem is used on
the same personalized phenomenon. A similar way of writing poetry is seen in the parallelisms of
ancient Hebrew poetry.
Taken into consideration that Zeus in the Middle-East was regarded as an avatar of Baal and that
both are associated with Mount Casius, it is safe to conclude that both Baal and Zeus were fighting
the same river.
42 J. C. L. Gibson, Cananite Myths and Legends (London: T & T Clark International, 2004), 44.
43 Ibid. 3.
In any case, it is apparent that the local tale of combat between Baal and the serpent Nahar (Yam as
“Judge River,” “Ruler of the Streams”) has been Hellenised both as the Zeus-Typhon myth and as the
tale of Perseus’ combat with a monster of the waters.44
The idea that similarity in the mythopoeic mind equals identity is discussed in The Intellectual
adventure of Ancient Man. “It is one of the tenets of mythopoeic logic that similarity and identity
merge; “to be like” is as good as “to be.”45
We have discussed four mythical characters who have certain traits in common. At least three of
them are associated with vegetation. All four of them have been believed to have fought a monster.
Three of them, namely Baal and Khidr, are associated with the untamed waters: Baal fought yam
(sea) or Judge Nahar, Zeus fought Thyphon identified as the Orontes, and Khidr fought a monster
coming out of the sea.
The question is: are these three in fact the same person whose name has changed and who has taken
on new functions with the changes of time and culture, more or less like the fourth century bishop
Nikolaos of Myra (Demre) at the Mediterranean coast who ended up as Father Christmas? Or is
there another explanation?
In cultural semiotics we find a clue. Every culture understands itself by means of its own codes.
People who do not share these codes are regarded as belonging to another, and mostly an inferior,
culture. An example is found in the relationship between devout Muslim immigrants in Western
Europe and the local population. Their codes are not shared and both regard the culture of the other
party as inferior.
This phenomenon is described by Roland Posner:
Each culture is a comprehensive sign system characterized by certain long-term constellations of
properties, with the result that the sign processes occurring in the system are subject to certain stable
limitations. Each culture has other limitations. One can therefore expect that given messages will be
easily produced and received in certain cultures, whereas in other cultures they appear inexpressible
and fail to be communicated…
Each historical society thus separates the culturally shaped reality from the rest of the known world
and tends to stigmatize the latter as “uncultured”, as “uncivilized”, or as “non-culture”. From the point
of view of a person immersed in that culture, this counter-cultural world appears to be unorganized and
44 Joseph Eddy Fontenrose, Python: A Study of Delphic Myth and its Origins, 278.
45 H. and H. A. Frankfort, John A. Wilson, Thorkild Jacobsen, and William A. Irwing, The Intellectual Adventure of
Ancient Man (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1946), 199.
chaotic, whereas an outsider simply views it as differently organized. This highlights the ideological
character of every semiotization. 46
However, in time, there is a tendency to intracultural code change. In the vortex between two
competing cultures, codes rub off on at least one of them and mostly on both. The original signifiers
may be replaced by new ones while the old signifieds remain the same, or vice versa. Christmas
may be used as an example. An original pagan feast has been “Christianized” and then adopted into
various cultures with a lot of “cultural rubble” added on the way. Finally it has been integrated into
non-Christian cultures, as for example in Muslim Turkey where people celebrate it on New Year’s
Eve on December 31 with all the traditions belonging to a Catholic or Protestant Western
In anthropology, the three interrelated terms of artefact, sociofact, and mentifact are used. Artefacts
are material things as tools, monuments, churches, and mosques. Sociofacts are human institutions,
how people come together and for what purposes. Mentifacts are what people think and believe.
Elements of artefacts, sociofacts, and mentifacts can be incorporated into a new and competing
culture. This seems to be what has happened in the case discussed.
Mentifacts, as old as the history of man, have been inculcated in new generations and have rubbed
off on new cultures. The myth about fights with monsters is no doubt older than that of Baal. For
example, it is found in the Sumero-Akkadian poem Enuma Elish; but when this mentifact was taken
over by the Western Semites, their god Baal became the hero of the story. As the Middle East was
conquered by the Macedonian armies of Alexander the Great and Hellenized, it was only natural
that the Greek over-god Zeus supplanted Baal. Then the evasive figure of Khidr entered the scene.
He was not regarded as a new conquering god, but some of the functions of the now dead gods were
taken over by him. More or less the same functions came to be ascribed to an obscure soldier from
Palestine who later came to be adored as St George – so much so that the Nusayri Alawites in and
around Antakya regard Khidr and St George as being identical.
46 Roland Posner, “Basic Tasks of Cultural Semiotics,” in Gloria Withalm and Joseph Wallmannsberger, Signs of Power
– Power of Signs Essays in Honor of Jeff Bernard (Vienna: INST), 22. Accessed December 28, 2016,