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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Abraham's Authority and Ancient Law Codes

Tera-neter, priest of the Annu, pre-dynastic inhabitants of the Upper Nile. 
Abraham’s father, Terah, bears this title, which means priest. 

Alice C. Linsley

Understanding Abraham's power as a ruler requires determining the social controls that he exercised. In Abraham's case we must not imagine an extensive realm, such as that ruled by Nimrod, one of Abraham's ancestors. Abraham's realm extended on a north-south axis between Hebron and Beersheba and on an east-west axis between Engedi and Gerar (see map below). Abraham's exercise of power reflects clan loyalty and the mutual support of the separate households of his wives, Sarah and Keturah. Each household had its warriors, servants, craftsmen, and herdsmen.

His territory was entirely in the land of Edom or Idumea. Jacob separated the households of his wives when we approached Edom, fearing that his brother Esau might attack.

In Abraham's time, Edom was under the high king of Egypt. Abraham was of sufficiently high rank that he was recognized by the Egyptian king. Abraham's personal audience with him testifies to Abraham's adherence to a purity code that was consistent with that of the Egyptian high king, who was regarded as a "son" of God on earth.

It is evident from the biblical data that Abraham's clan observed an ancient moral code that pertained to ritual purity, water rights, rights of inheritance, and animal sacrifice. His authority was attached to the the ruler-priest caste into which he was born and was reinforced by his observation of the moral code of his Horite Hebrew people.

By Abraham's time the Hebrew (Ha'biru or 'Apiru) priests were already widely dispersed in the service of rulers. This is why we find common religious practices among the related R1b peoples. An example is the belief that God can release a people from their debt. In the Hurrian Song of Debt Release, the god's followers are told to release the people of Ebla from their debt. 

"If you take a debt release in Ebla, I will exalt your weapons. Your weapons will begin to conquer your enemies. Your plowed land will prosper in glory. But if you do not make a debt release for Ebla, the city of the throne, in the space of seven days, I will come upon you. I will destroy Ebla, the city of the throne. I will make it like a city that never existed. I will break the surrounding wall of Ebla's city like a cup. I will knock flat the surrounding wall of the upper city like a garbage dump..."

Social controls function at many levels. Written law codes governed the great kingdoms that arose before and after the time of Abraham. These codes reflect the layered fabric of ancient societies. They incorporate folkways, regional practices, and controls based on kinship, and the notion of the deification of the ruler.

Among the Horite Hebrew, the tradition received from their ancestors was not to be changed. It was regarded as immutable, and was to be passed unchanged from generation to generation. The moral codes that would have been familiar to Abraham included the Law of Tehut and the negatively worded Code of Ani (BC 2500). Both codes reflect the religious context of Abraham's Proto-Saharan and Nilotic ancestors. He also would have been familiar with the Mesopotamian codes which differ little from those of the Nilotic rulers.

Written Codes

Moral codes were written on stone and oven-baked clay tablets. They were also inscribed on papyrus. These ancient codes appealed to the highest authority for their validity. They were to be considered the "law" of the Supreme God who appointed rulers on earth by divine overshadowing.

The Code of Hammurapi was engraved on a stele more than 7 feet high. An image of King Hammurapi appears at the top of the stone, standing reverently before the seated Shamash, the god of justice. Shamash is shown dictating the law to his earthly representative.

These royal documents typically had colophons. Colophons are statements at the end of the document that identify the source and purpose of the document. Thus, the Code of Hammurapi closes with the statement, "The righteous laws which Hammurapi, the wise king, has established . . . ." Similarly, Leviticus closes with this statement: “These are the commandments which YHWH commanded Moses for the children of Israel . . ." and the colophon of Numbers states: “These are the commandments and the ordinances which YHWH commanded by the hand of Moses unto the children of Israel . . ." (36:13)

Percy J. Wiseman (1888-1948) observed that the colophon coming at the end serves two purposes: it is a title page and a marker to connect one tablet to the next narrative in a sequence. Wiseman’s theory of the composition of Genesis is presented in his book, New Discoveries in Babylonia about Genesis (1936). The book has undergone several editions, and the most recent appeared with the title Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis (Thomas Nelson, 1985), and was edited by Wiseman’s son, Donald J. Wiseman (University of London). There is merit to Wiseman's theory and I recommend the book. He concludes that Moses is the central figure around whom the Genesis material came together. I agree, in as much as that is what the Deuteronomist Historian (700-300 BC) intended in the final redaction of Genesis.

Following Wiseman’s method of comparing ancient Near Eastern texts, I would expand our sights to include the ancient Hindu or Vedic literature, which also employed colophons and told of the founders of the world in a similar manner. I suggest that these texts and the ancient Near Eastern texts share a common Afro-Asiatic cultural milieu. The interaction of Afro-Asiatic peoples through written communication is well established. Mesopotamian cuneiform was understood in Egypt, as testified by the Akkadian Tell el-Amarna letters (c. 1400-1353 B.C.) and in Canaan.

One of Wiseman’s most interesting observations is the stylistic change in the sequence after the colophon of Tablet VI which is "the history of Terah" (11:27a). The colophon appears to end the previous section, but does not connect to what follows. At this point the Deuternomist Historian wants to take the narrative in a direction that causes us to lose sight of Terah as the great patriarch of the Horite Ha'biru clans of Abraham, Nahor, Lot and their descendants, including Moses and his Horite Hebrew family.

Related reading:  The Law of Tehut, Ancient Moral Codes, Afro-Asiatic Influences on the Deuteronomist Historian; Fundamentalism and Syncretism in Hebrew History; Who Was Abraham?


Anonymous said...

Hi Alice, there are some papers from Nissim Amzallag about monotheism and copper makers.
I've alrady seen you talk about this in some articles here, like , you said cain comes from kha which mean spear.
If you haven't read his article yet, I think, it will help you a lot.

Check this abstract

In antiquity, south-eastern Canaan was a very important centre for copper smelting. While it is likely that there existed a patron deity of metallurgy, the identity of the Canaanite god of smelting remains unknown. Although some biblical writings suggest a south Canaanite origin of Yahweh, no details are provided concerning his worship prior to him becoming the god of Israel. This study explores whether Yahweh was formerly the Canaanite god of metallurgy. The following observations corroborate this hypothesis: (1) Yahweh was worshiped by the Edomites, and especially by the Kenites, a small tribe regarded as the Canaanite smelters; (2) the Israelite cult of Yahweh was associated with copper and with a bronze serpent, a typical symbol of metallurgy; (3) the melting of copper is considered in Exodus 4 as the specific sign of Yahweh; (4) a parallel exists between Yahweh and the god of metallurgy worshiped in Egypt (Ptah), Mesopotamia (Ea/Enki) and Elam (Napir), all of them being a mysterious lonely deity; (5) fighting the (other) gods is common to Yahwism and to ancient metallurgical traditions. These data suggest that, before becoming publicly worshipped in Israel, Yahweh was formerly the god of the Canaanite guild of metallurgists.

Anonymous said...

You can check all here,

Anonymous said...

Alice Linsley said...

Smith were a caste, not a guild.The metal workers were widely dispersed: Nile, Anatolia, Indus valley, Canaan. The are known by different names: Kenites, Timnah, Nes,etc.

Alice Linsley said...

Interesting. Tera is a title. It means priest. This paper eod be better if it included ancient Egyptian and Nilotic references and paid attention to the ancient lexicon.