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Tanit: Could goddess have inspired cross found on The Curse of Oak Island?

Cross and statue of goddess Tanit
The cross found on The Curse of Oak Island and, inset, a statue of Tanit

The latest episode of The Curse of Oak Island saw New York-based historian Zena Halpern suggest that the medieval cross found on Oak Island might not be a Christian cross as was previously thought — but in fact be a representation of the Punic and Phoenician goddess Tanit.

Tanit was one of the two chief deities — alongside her consort Baal Hammon — worshiped in Carthage, a city which developed in Phoenician times in what is modern day Tunisia.

The goddess first appeared in the 5th century BC and research has shown that she later ended up taking on a bigger role in society than Baal Hammon.

Tanit’s influence stretched from North Africa to Europe, with evidence of her worship in Malta, Sardinia and Spain as well as in Carthage.

Goddesses in both the Roman and Greek pantheons also took on similar roles, and she was the equivalent of the moon-goddess Astarte, who was worshiped in the Middle East.

Depictions of Tanit often have a crescent moon over her head. As well as being Baal Hammon’s likely consort, she was also seen as a goddess of war, motherhood and sometimes also fertility.

Children were often said to have been sacrificed in the pair’s worship, although this has been disputed by some scholars.

Tanit depiction
Tanit’s most common depiction, with a triangular body and outstretched arms

On The Curse of Oak Island, Halpern suggested Middle Eastern representations of Tanit may have been what inspired the medieval cross found on the show.

If that were the case then theoretically the Knights Templar may have encountered depictions of her in the Holy Land, and later taken on use of her symbol as they did with iconography including the Jerusalem Cross and the Kabbalah, also known as the Tree of Life.

Zena suggested that this could mean an engraving of a cross seen in a wall at the Templar prison at Domme, which resembles the cross found on Oak Island, may in fact have been a depiction of Tanit.

This is obviously just a theory, of which there are many. But it is interesting to consider that not all depictions of crosses are of the crucifix, as it was used as a symbol long before the crucifixion.

On The Curse of Oak Island, it was revealed that the team intend to do a lot more rigorous research into the origins of the cross, which was found by metal-detecting expert Gary Drayton.

Lead treasure-hunter Rick Lagina said on this week’s episode in reference to Zena: “I do know this, that she’s excited and Gary is over-the-top happy. Is it an incredibly interesting find on Oak Island? You bet it is. But we need experts to give us an opinion.”

He also told fellow team-members: “We need to do some further research. I’m not saying that I don’t believe her, but there’s always a benefit to corroborative evidence. ”

It was suggested in narration that the team plan to subject the cross to a number of scientific tests. It is hoped that if the cross can be proved to date back to the 14th century or earlier, then it could help support the theory that the Knights Templar came to Nova Scotia, and specifically Oak Island, and possibly buried treasures there.

The Curse of Oak Island airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on History. 

Julian is the editor of Monsters & Critics. He has worked as a journalist for more than ten years, previously as an editor at the... read more
Julian Cheatle

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