When we meet Shammah at the beginning of “The Gate of Aleph,” he’s an intellectual, an accomplished man who is literate in many things. He’s observing the palace slaves as they murmur prayers to the moon goddess in the Gardens of Destiny, and he’s mentally venting his frustration about the polytheistic religion that imprisons his people.
Like many ancient societies, including Mesopotamia, the culture that inspires “The Gate of Aleph,” people worshipped many gods and goddesses. We can get a glimpse of this through Hollywood’s depiction of the Greek pantheon in movies like “The Lightning Thief” or “Clash of the Titans.”
The excessive, slavish nature of religion vexes Shammah. Think of the great thinkers of our day who study the cosmos or global warming or artificial intelligence. They pore through calculations and data, but they can’t wrap their minds around an all-powerful, sovereign Yahweh. This is a picture of Shammah’s mindset.
Shammah is more comfortable meditating on the wonder of the stars, as we see him in the opening chapter of “The Gate of Aleph.” He’s studying the kimah, which is the Hebrew word for the Pleiades. Ancient peoples were familiar with Pleiades. The Mesopotamians thought of them as the “seven gods” and in Greek mythology, they were seven sisters. In North America, the Kiowa tribe knew them as maidens taken to the sky by the “Great Spirit.”
Photo by Bryan Goff on Unsplash
I’ve used the Pleiades as a way to feature God’s handiwork and omnipresence in our lives. The Pleiades is mentioned in the Book of Job, the oldest book in the Bible and the period in which I loosely depict Shammah and the kingdom of Seth. (The Pleiades are also mentioned in Amos, but that’s another blog post!)
This is how Job brought up the stars as he poses his “God questions” in Job 9:9-11:
who made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the chambers of the south;
who does great things beyond searching out,
and marvelous things beyond number.
Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not;
he moves on, but I do not perceive him.
This is a description of Shammah’s heart in “The Gate of Aleph.” He suspects there is something more, but at this point, he cannot perceive the Most High God – especially amid the clamor of all the self-absorbed gods and goddess who flood his pagan world. Shammah clamps down on his inner search by settling for only what his intellect can understand.
Back to Job for one more thought about Shammah. In chapter 38:31-33, God answers Job and dares Job to match his ability with the One who rules the Pleiades and threads them together:
Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Mazzarothin their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?
God is giving Job a glimpse of His power to even bind the stars. It’s a statement of sovereign creation.
The passages from Job illuminate what is happening in the first chapter of “The Gate of Aleph.” Shammah hasn’t met Aleph yet, the God figure of the novel, but Aleph’s creation mesmerizes Shammah. In other words, Aleph already is at work in Shammah’s life, but this adopted son of a moon-worshipping king doesn’t know it.
Shammah thinks he’s only preparing for a military campaign when takes one long look at the Pleiades from his favorite spot in the Gardens of Destiny. He’s unaware that Aleph is pointing him to the truth before his adventure even begins.