Monday, February 1, 2010

Dark Sky, Howling Wind

The Peshitta is a version of the entire Bible read by Syrian Christians.  (This is the Bible that St. Ephrem the Syrian knew.)  In the Peshitta, Genesis 8:4 says that Noah's Ark landed in the “mountains of Quardu.”  This probably refers to Cudi Dagh, a mountain range in southern Turkey near the borders of Syria and Iraq.  Doubtless this represents the eastern tradition of the older African story.

Likely the identification of Noak's Ark with Ararat is a misunderstanding of the Arabic herarat - حرار  - which means vehemence.  Har-arat, better translated, would mean Mountain of Vehemence. 

Noah's ark is also identified with Armenia, but this too is misleading. Older sources indicate that Noah's ark came to rest on Mount Meni, near Lake Chad. Armenia is likely a corruption of Har Meni, Mount Meni. This coupled with the Genesis geneaologial data showing that Noah's ancestors lived in west central Africa seems conclusive.

Mount Meni is almost exactly in the center of Africa. Today it stands at about 4000 feet. According to David M. Westley, PhD, Director of the African Studies Library at Boston University, "From the center of the Chad Basin to Mount Meni is about 230 miles."  In the time of Noah (12,000 -14,000 years ago), Lake Chad was a sea (Mega Chad) and would easily have extended that far.

There is the parallel between har-meni and har-arat. The conjunction "meni" in the Afro-Asiatic languages means "then, after that" and may refer to a time after the flood's devastation or to continuing turbulence in nature. Har-meni (mountain of "then, after that") and Har-arat (mountain of vehemence) convey the concept of a prolonged and intense encounter with God's visible power.

The word "meni" appears only once in the Bible, in Isaiah 65:11, where it is paralleled with the word gad, meaning good fortune. This suggests a connection between meni and encounters with God on mountain tops because where the word gad appears there is often a contextual reference to sacrifice offered on mountains. We recall that Noah offered burnt sacrifice on the mountain in thanksgiving for his deliverance (Gen. 8:20) and that God established a covenant with Noah and his descendents.

I'm reminded of the Gikuyu story of the experience of first Man and Woman:
There was wind and rain. And there was also thunder and terrible lightening. The earth and the forest around Mount Kerinyaga shook. The animals in the forest whom the Creator had recently put there were afraid. There was no sunlight. This went on for many days so that the whole land was in darkness. Because the animals could not move, they sat and moaned with the wind. The plants and trees remained dumb.

It was, our elders tell us, all dead except for the thunder, a violence that seemed to strangle life. It was this dark night whose depth you could not measure, not you nor I can conceive of its solid blackness, which would not let the sun pierce through it.

But in the darkness, at the foot of Mount Kerinyaga, a tree rose. At first it was a small tree and it grew up, finding a way even through the darkness. It wanted to reach the light and the sun. This tree had Life. It went up, sending forth the rich warmth of a blossoming tree - you know, a holy tree in the dark night of thunder and moaning. This was Mukuyu, God's tree.

Now you know that at the beginning of things there was only one man (Gikuyu) and one woman (Mumbi). It was under this Mukuyu that He first put them. And immediately the sun rose and the dark night melted away. The sun shone with a warmth that gave life and activity to all things. The wind and the lightening and thunder stopped. The animals stopped moaning and moved, giving homage to the Creator and to Gikuyu and Mumbi. And the Creator, who is also called Murungu, took Gikuyu and Mumbi from his holy mountain to the country of the ridges near Siriana and there stood them on a big ridge.

I'm reminded of Abraham's encounter on a wild and windy mountain where he intended to sacrifice his son.  To quote William H. Willimon: "The sky darkens, the wind howls and a young man walks up another Moriah, driven by a God who demands everything and who stops at nothing. He carries a cross on his back rather than sticks for a fire, but like Abraham, he is obedient to a wild and restless God who is determined to have his way with us, no matter what the cost."

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