Sunday, April 21, 2019


Glossary of Anthropological Terms

This is a limited list. Additional terms used by anthropologists can be found here.

Affinity (Marriage) Bond: The type of kinship bond that links husband or wife, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law.

Ambilineal Descent: A form of cognatic descent in which individuals can select to trace descent either matrilineally or patrilineally. The decision may be made each generation based on the relative wealth and/or importance of the father's and the mother's family lines. Illustrated in this diagram:

Anthroponyms: personal names, some of which are actually titles, such as Lamech, Terah, and Enoch.

Apical Maternal Ancestors: Women founders of clans or tribes though they may not be biological ancestors to all the people in the clan/tribe. Sarah and Oholibamah are examples. See A Coptic Monk Reflects on Genesis.

Autochthonous: Referring to the earth origin of humans, as found in the myths of many cultures. The autochthonous origin of humans speaks of humans coming from or being made of the soil (humus), as in Genesis 2.

Avuncular: The term comes from the Latin avunculus, meaning "maternal uncle." The term describes the relationship between an uncle and his sister's son. Among the biblical Hebrew the maternal uncle sometimes exercised authority of his nephew. Jacob was sent to his mother's brother Laban when it looked as if his life might be in danger. In some case, the maternal uncle could deny marriage to his sister's daughters if the proposed marriage compromised inheritance or provoked violent reactions among the Hebrew clans.

Binary Oppositions: (also called “binary distinctions” or “binary sets") These are perceived in the order of nature and are inseparable and complementary, such as heaven/earth, east/west, life/death, male/female, night/day, hot/cold, etc. In the binary worldview of the Bible one entity in the set is superior to the other - the sun is greater than the moon; life is greater than death, the male is larger and stronger than the female, etc. Not all opposites are binary sets. See The Importance of Binary Distinctions

Binary Worldview: The worldview of the Afro-Arabians and therefore of Abraham's people is binary. They perceive in the order of nature binary oppositions which are inseparable and complementary, such as heaven/earth, life/death, male/female, etc. See Levi-Strauss and Jacques Derrida on Binary Oppositions

Blood anxiety:  Anthropologists have found in every primitive society that has been studied the belief that here is power in blood and this power is potentially dangerous. This anxiety about shed blood is universal (widely diffused), evidence that it is very old and one explanation for the development of the office of priest. See The Origins of the Priesthood.

Brachycephalic: Refers to broad-headed skulls, as contrasted with round "mesocephalic", and elongated "dolichocephalic" skulls.

Caste System:  Strict social stratification made it impossible to change one’s status in the ancient world. We see this in one of the oldest established religions, Hinduism. Castes were viewed as having been established by God in the beginning. In the Bhagavad Gita, a first century A.D. Hindu text, Krishna declares that he has become incarnate yet he was being in the beginning because he also declares “The four castes were created by me.” In the Rig Veda, dating to about 3000 years ago, four castes are mentioned. The most prestigious are the Brahmans (priestly and intellectual class); then the Kshatriyas (ruler and warrior class); then the Vaisyas (farmers and artisans) and the lowest caste are the Sudras (the “untouchables” whose ancestors came from Sudan.) In the Laws of Manu (about 250 B.C.) these castes are elaborated as the primeval divine creation. Many sub-castes exist under these, making it difficult to know who is one’s equal or one superior.

Circumcision: Removal of flesh from the foremost part of the penis or from the clitoris. Female circumcision parallels male circumcision and emphasizes the binary distinction between females and males. The practice reflects the binary worldview of the Afro-Asiatics and originated in west central Africa before the time of Abraham. Circumcision is seen as an enhancement of the woman’s femininity by the removal of what appears to be a male organ. It is also believed to enhance female fertility and purity. Likewise, male circumcision is believed to enhance maleness by removing the soft folding tissues that appear like the female organ. It is also believed to enhance male fertility and purity. The complement to the circumcised male is the circumcised female. See Circumcision and Binary Distinctions. Note: Trees are described as "uncircumcised" until the fourth year of their fruit bearing in Leviticus 19:33.

Concubine: A royal consort whose firstborn son could under limited circumstances ascend to the throne of his ruler father.  Concubinage historically pertains to African, Afro-Arabian, and Asian rulers. It was common in China under the Zhou Dynasty. This practice, and castration of husbands guilty of adultery, may have been introduced there by the Afro-Asiatics who made and used iron tools.

Consanguine Bond: The type of kinship bond that links people through socially recognized biological ties, such as mother, father, grandparents, children, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, and cousins.

Cosmology: The study of the origin and structure of the universe, its parts, elements, and laws. Among biblical populations, the arrangement of a home and/or a village often expressed that community's cosmological understanding. For example, the place of priority often was at the sacred center which is where the ruler would be seated or the ruler's house would be built. Temples were built with entrances facing the East because the Sun was the symbol of the Rising God. Temples were built with many pillars which were perceived to connect Heaven and Earth. See Cosmologies of the ancient Near East.

Cousin Bride’s Naming Prerogative: The ruler-priests of Abraham’s people married two wives. One was a cousin. The cousin bride was usually the second wife and she often named her first-born son after her father. So we find Lamech the Elder (Gen. 4), father of Naamah, and Lamech the Younger (Gen.5), son of Naamah. The cousin bride’s naming prerogative makes it possible to trace descent through the maternal line in the Bible. See Methuselah's Wife.

Diffusion: The process by which a cultural trait, material object, idea, or behavior pattern is spread from one society to another, often traceable to a central point. A principle of anthropology states that the wider the diffusion of a culture trait, the older the trait.

Dolichocephalic: Skulls that have been elongated such as this skull found in Russia. The dolichocephalic skull has an index of between 70-5.

Double descent: Descent traced according to tradition through both the patrilineal and the matrilineal group with attendant rights and obligations. Among the biblical Hebrew descent was double unilineal descent, which recognizes both the patrilineage and the matrilineage, though with each there are different expectations. For example, the inheritance of land and the right to rule may pertain to the patrilineage, while the matrilineage controls the inheritance of movable objects such as tents and livestock.

Egalitarianism: Affirming, promoting, or characterized by belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people. The ancient world of the women we are studying was decidedly NOT egalitarian. It was characterized by a caste system. The highest social caste consisted of rulers and their priests. Most of the women we read about in the Bible are the daughters or wives of rulers or priests and are therefore women of high social standing.

Ethnonyms: names of ethnic groups, clans, biblical populations or tribes.

Endogamous Marriage: Marriage to people within one’s family or clan structure. This practice is characteristic of castes such as the Horite ruler-priest caste. Almost without exception, the women named in the Bible married according to this pattern. See The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of Abraham's People

Exogamous Marriage: Marriage to people outside one’s clan structure. Exogamous marriage is extremely rare among the people mentioned in the Bible.

Feminist Hermeneutic: How Feminists interpret texts, generally through a Marxist lens. Feminist interpretations assume that men are responsible for the abuse and oppression of women worldwide. See The Paradox of Feminism.

Fictive Bond:  The type of bond between persons who are neither related by blood nor marriage, but whose relationship is arranged. Concubines were not regarded as wives.  Their bond to their masters was fictive and therefore more easily broken, as in the case of Hagar.

Haplogroup: A haplogroup is a genetic population of people who share a common paternal or maternal ancestor. Haplogroups are assigned letters of the alphabet, and additional number and letter combinations that represent slight mutations within the larger population group. All the peoples named in Genesis are in Y-chromosome Haplogroup R which includes Proto-Saharans, Nilotes, Middle Eastern, and Southern European populations.

Henotheism: Belief in one supreme creator with lesser assisting authorities or powers (baals). This "divine council" was reflected in the hierarchy of ruler-priests with the king or pharaoh as the supreme representative of God on earth. See Why Does Genesis Speak of Gods?

Holy Tradition: The dogma received from the Elders and faithfully passed from generation to generation concerning Jesus Messiah whose suffering and ultimate victory over sin and death was foretold. This dogma represents Reality centered in the divine person of Jesus Christ. Scripture and Holy Tradition agree that nothing exists outside of Christ. See What is Holy Tradition? 

Horites: Josephus calls the descendants of Abraham by Keturah "Horites" and quoting another ancient historian, speaks of them as "conquerors of Egypt and founders of the Assyrian Empire." Abraham's people were a Horite caste of Hebrew ruler-priests. They originated in the Nile Valley. The Horite Hebrew were devotees of Horus or Enki), called the "son of God" as he was conceived when his mother was divinely overshadowed (See Luke 1). The sun was the symbol of the Creator God among the biblical Horites. Some of their rulers are named in Genesis 36. The Horus name appears on Egyptian hieroglyphs at the beginning of dynastic civilization (c. 3300 BC). The oldest known Horite Hebrew shrine is Nekhen (3800 BC) on the Nile, across from its twin city Nekheb. Jews call their ancestors Horim, which is rendered "Horite" in English.

Isomorphism: An isomorphism is a map that shows a relationship between two properties, objects, operations, structures, or patterns. If isomorphism exists between two structures or entities, we call the two structures or entities isomorphic. Isomorphic entities are identical in the way they preserve properties. The term applies to patterns found in the Bible, especially to doublets with the same moral message: Noah as a drunken father who curses his offspring/descendant has an isomorphic relationship to Lot as a drunken father who becomes a cause of the curse of his descendants the Moabites and the Ammonites.

Levirate marriage:  Levirate marriage is extremely ancient practice in which the widow of the deceased brother marries one of his brothers. Levirate marriage is practiced by societies with a strong clan and caste structures in which exogamous marriage is forbidden. The practice is found among the cattle-herding Nuer and Dinka of the Nile. It also is found among the Igbo of southeastern Nigeria, and in the Punjab-Haryana region of Pakistan, and among peoples of Central Asia such as the Saka and Kushan. Such a marriage arrangement is intended to preserve the deceased husband's lineage and inheritance.

Marginalization:  The social process of becoming marginal to a group or being relegated to an unimportant or powerless position within a society. In the ancient world the caste system meant that most people had a sense of belonging and empowerment, at least within their caste. Among biblical populations marginalized people were mainly diseased (lepers), poor foreigners, or the mentally ill.

Matriarchy:  A social organization in which a female is the family or clan head with final say about family matters. In a true matriarchy, line of descent and rights of inheritance also must be traced through the female line. No true matriarchies are known to exist.

Matrilineal Descent:  Line of descent traced through mothers.

Matrimonial Moeity:  Exclusive marriage between two lines of descent, such as between the royal lines of Ham and Shem. Also probably between the royal red and black Nubians.

Matronym: A matronym is a component of a personal name that indicates maternal lineage.  An exaxmple is Jesus son of Mary. In Hebrew this is Y'shua ben Miriam, and in Arabic it is `Isa ibn Maryam. Another example is the matronymic name Hor, son of the virgin Hat-hor in Horite mythology.

Moiety: Referring to each of two social or ritual groups into which a people is divided, especially among Australian Aborigines, some American Indians, and the ancient red and black Nubians.

Moral Absolutism: The view that some actions are always morally wrong when judged against moral standards that are universally accepted. Universally, murder is regarded as morally wrong.

Moral Relativism: The claim that there are not universal standards whereby one can judge right and wrong, but instead one's judgment of right and wrong is relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances.

Mudras: Gestures that convey specific meanings within Buddhist and Hindu culture. They are used in daily life and, in a very stylized form, in temple dancing. This is a photo of a Hindu temple dancer taken around 1956. Her hands say, "My heart is aflame."

Necromancy: The occult practice of consulting the spirits of the dead through a medium.  King Saul tragically consulted the medium at Endor to communicate with the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel.  See Anglicanism and Spiritualism.

Onomastics: The study of names. Onomatology includes investigation of toponyms or place names; anthroponyms or personal names and titles, and ethnonyms, names of ethnic groups, castes, clans and tribes.

Panmictic: Refers to unstructured (random-mating) populations.

Paternal Ancestors: Men regarded as the founders of clans or tribes even though they may not be biological ancestors to all the people in the clan/ tribe. Noah and Abraham are examples.

Patronym: A patronym is a component of a personal name based on the name of one's father, grandfather or a male ancestor. An example, found in Genesis 22:24, is the name of Nahor's son G-Ham (Gaham).  The G prefix indicates that this name is patronymic, meaning "a descendant of Ham."

Patriarchy: A social organization in which a ruling male is the family or clan head with final say about family matters. In a true patriarchy, line of descent and inheritance also must also be traced through the male line. Few true patriarchies are known to exist. Most are modified patriarchies. See The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew.

Patrilineal Descent: Line of descent traced through fathers. (Y-DNA)

Patrilineal Parallel Cousin:  First cousins who have related parents of the same sex; in other words, their mothers are sisters or their fathers are brothers. The rulers among Abraham’s people had two wives. One was a patrilineal parallel cousin and the other was commonly a half-sister. Keturah was Abraham's patrilineal cousin bride.

Phatic function: A phatic expression in linguistics is one whose only function is to perform a social task, as opposed to conveying information. The term was coined by anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski in 1900s. An example from the Bible is Ruth 2:6 where Boaz greets his workers with this phatic expression: "The Lord be with you."  The expression formalizes priest-initiated prayer in the Latin liturgy with the celebrant saying "The Lord be with you."  The phatic response of the congregants is traditionally "And with your spirit" to which the celebrant responds, "Let us pray."

Platonism: The philosophical view that abstract concepts exist independent of their names. The philosophy attributed to Plato that asserts ideal forms as an absolute and eternal reality of which earthly entities are mere reflections.  Plato may have borrowed this idea from the ancient Egyptians.  See Plato's Debt to Ancient Egypt

Polygyny: The practice of having more than one wife, originally the prerogative of rulers only. Later, men who aspired to high rank took more than one wife to show that they were wealthy, since only the wealthy could afford multiple wives. Many of the ruler-priests in the Bible married only two wives. One was a half-sister and the other was a cousin. Sarah was Abraham's half-sister, and Keturah was his patrilineal cousin wife.

Primogeniture: Among the biblical Hebrew the rights of primogeniture applied only to the first-born son of the first wife, the half-sister bride. This son assumed the rule of his father's territory and control of all property. Because the biblical Hebrew had a pattern of double unilineal descent, this son's wives and their servants were responsible for flocks, herds, tents, and other movable property while the ruler and his men controlled the territorial boundaries, enforced treaty agreements and secured their water rights.

Sororate marriage:  A custom in which a man marries his wife's sister(s).

Toponyms: Place names

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