Alice C. Linsley
East and north are the key reference points in Afro-Asiatic cosmology. East is associated with the rising sun and the arousal of God. East is easily identified by watching for the first sun rays at dawn. It is easy to know west once east has been identified. To Abraham's Horite people east represented new life, youth and vigor. West represented maturity, full strength and the future. Horus, the son of the Creator God Re, was said to rise in the east as a lamb or calf and to set in the west as a ram or bull. This is the key to understanding the story of the binding of Isaac. Isaac asked his father, "Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?" Abraham answered in faith that God would provide the lamb, but instead God provided a ram. By this Abraham would have understood that Isaac was not the promised Son who would rise from the dead. That Son would come in the future.
North is associated with divine judgment. It is identified by observing the polar star, a fixed point in the heavens. The Pole Star was seen near Alpha Draconis 4000 years ago at the time of the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza. This was a reference point in the Pharaoh's hope of resurrection. This is indicated by the fact that the entrance passages of six of the pyramids are inclined downwards at such an angle as to make the Pole Star visible perhaps even in daylight.
East-west and north-south are binary sets. Within these sets one was regarded as greater than the other. So east was greater than west because it represented God rising. Likewise north was regarded as greater than south because of the fixed position of the Pole Star. So east and north are the primary astronomical and religious points of reference and are associated with divine arousal (east) and divine judgment (north). West and south are their binary opposites. West generally represents the future and the Eschaton, and South represents earth, burial, fertility and marriage.
Among Abraham's people the sun was the emblem of the Creator. The glory and sovereignty of the Lord God were exemplified in the Sun's apparent journey from east to west and the shedding of light and heat over all the earth's surface. We see this in Psalm 113:3: "From east to west the name of the Lord is praised." And in Psalm 19:6: "He places in the heavens a tent for the sun, who is like a groom coming forth from the chamber, like a hero, eager to run his course. His rising-place is at one end of the heaven, and his circuit reaches the other; nothing escapes His heat."
Genesis reveals that the sun was the emblem of the Creator among Abraham's people. They would have conceived of God as the Great Chief. Since chiefs among them had 2 wives, and the chief made his circuit between the two wives, so the Afro-Asiatics conceived of God as having two wives: dawn and dust. This is why none of the chiefs placed their wives on an east-west axis except for the braggart Lamech who arrogantly posed himself as God's equal. Bible scholar Theodore Gaster noted this, explaining that the names of Lamech's two wives, 'Ada' and 'Tzilla', suggest dawn and dust (The Schocken Bible, Vol. 1, p. 28).
Imagine if the writers of the Bible had been from the Paleo-Siberian culture, where there are long periods of darkness and long periods of daylight. Were that the case, we would find a theological perspective that reflects that phenomenon. Such a perspective would not be a one with which most cultures could relate. Nevertheless, even the shamans of the Arctic recognize at least the four cardinal points and conceive of them as bisecting lines, presenting us with a cross-shaped Reality.
The cosmology of the Afro-Asiatic peoples provides the framework for the whole Bible and is especially evident in the book of Genesis. It is from them that Jews, Christians and Muslims receive the tradition of facing east in prayer. The temple in Jerusalem was aligned to track the Sun's light and the pyramids in Egypt faced the east.
The cosmology of the Afro-Asiatics is also represented in the cross-shaped Egyptian Ankh. The loop at the top symbolizes the sun. The cross bar represents the Sun's daily journey from east to west. The Ankh is similar to the Agadez cross of Niger (shown below at left) and to the Carthegian Sign of Tanit which often bears the letters TNT (shown at right.)
A similar image with the TNT inscription was found in the temple of Eshmun near Sidon. It dates to about the 5 century B.C. Assignment of the name 'Tanit' is guess work, however, since no one knows how TNT should be transliterated.
All the cross-like images of Africa have the solar symbol over a horizontal bar representing the East-West movement of the Sun. The horizontal bar rests in perfect balance on the top of a triangle. The triangle likely represents a mountain. In the tradition of the Afro-Asiatics, the mountain rising into the heavens was a place of meeting between God and Man. The Sun, a symbol of the Creator, is shown at the the sacred center of the mountain top. Consider the many incidents in the Bible of God self-revealing or making miraculous provision on the tops of mountains:
Mts. Ebal and Gerizim
The Mount of Transfiguration
The Negative Image of the Sun
The horned altar is another image signifying God's sovereignty over the Earth, only the image of the sun has disappeared. The horned altar is an apophatic rendering of the God image. Apophatic means “unspeakable” (since God can not be fully known) and making the Sun invisible means that no one is tempted to worship the creation above the Creator. This dates to a later time than Abraham, when the Israelites rejected the old solar representation of God. That the sun was not to be worshiped is evident in Psalm 148:3, which says "Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all bright stars." In the horned altar, God's presence is evident in the negative space since God cannot be presented as something created. St. Hilary of Poitiers (4th century A.D.) expressed it this way: “The proper service of faith is to grasp and confess the truth that it is incompetent to comprehend its Object.”
That the horned altar and the symbols of Agadez and TNT share a common cosmology is evident when one compares the altar and the so-called sign of Tanit. The upright horns are similar to those on the Tanit symbol shown at right.
Interestingly, the metal working chiefs of the Inadan who live in the Air Desert surrounding Agadez, maintain two wives in separate households on a north-south axis, as did the Horite chiefs of Abraham's people. The Inadan metal working caste speaks a secret language which they call TeNeT and they claim to be related to David of Judah (National Geographic, Aug. 1979, p. 389).
Related reading: The Sun and Moon in Genesis; Solar Imagery of the Proto-Gospel; A Tent for the Sun