Friday, June 4, 2010

Abraham's Saharan Ancestors

Alice C. Linsley

Twentieth century scholarship has failed to account for the purpose of the Bible. We might say that it serves as a sacred text and leave it at that. But why should this text be so influential for both good and bad? Why have few cultural anthropologists taken the text as seriously as biblical archaeologists? What do many dismiss the biblical record as baseless when there is so much material evidence to support what Genesis tells us about Abraham's people?

Part of the answer is that European scholars have turned a blind eye to the African origins of Abraham's ancestors. A few have explored the connections between Abraham’s people and Egypt, but none have traced Abraham’s ancestors back to pre-dynastic times to the Upper Nile, to the Sudan and to the Neolithic river systems of Nigeria. None have connected the Afro-Asiatic kingdom-builders as the descendents of the prehistoric Africans who were world explorers. Archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College (Rhode Island) reports that humans left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago and traveled north and east by boat. Stone hand axes unearthed on Crete indicate that ancient Africans used rafts or other seagoing vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe and the Near East via larger islands in the Mediterranean.

Ignoring the African antecendents of Abraham's people has enabled white supremacists to claim that the curse of Ham is a curse on all black people. It has led young Earth creationists to conclude that the various people groups (with their various languages, cultures, and distinctive physical characteristics, including skin color) arose as a result of God's supernatural judgment at the Tower of Babel..."

It isn’t difficult for someone with some anthropological training to expose the fallacy of these views using the biblical text. For example, white supremacists should be told that analysis of the kinship pattern of Abraham's ancestors reveals that the lines of Ham and Shem intermarried. That being the case, which descendents would be cursed?

Young-Earth Creationists should be told that there are 17 language families in the world. Each breaks down into hundreds of languages, dialects and sub-dialects. All the peoples mentioned in Genesis 10 belong to only one language family: the Afro-Asiatic. The Bible is their story because the promise of the Son was made to their ancestors in Eden (Gen. 3:15). Most of these people are of African origin and dark skin color so it is ignorant to say that skin color variation is the result of God's judgment.

Today it is virtually impossible to ignore the African origins of Abraham’s people since every field employed in the study of Genesis points us that direction. Long before the emergence of a people called Israel, ruler-priests controlled vast areas of the ancient world. They built kingdoms with cities, temples and water shrines. They practiced animal sacrifice at fire altars and offered prayers with incense. They regarded water as the element of purification and a symbol of life. They observed sacred laws and spread across the earth. Afro-Asiatic rulers apparently felt enjoined by divine authority “to multiply and spread” across the Earth.

These ruler-priests married the daughters of other ruler-priests and thereby preserved their priestly bloodlines through endogamy. The endogamous marriage pattern of two priestly lines intermarrying can be traced from Genesis 4 to Jesus, son of Mary, daughter of the shepherd-priest Joachim.

Some argue that this is the purpose of the Bible. Whether one agrees or not, this view of the Bible raises interesting etiological questions. Why did the rulers of Genesis marry as they did? Why did they maintain two wives in separate households on a north-south axis? Why were the wives a half-sister and a patrilineal parallel cousin? What is the origin of this marriage pattern?

Genesis is the account of ancient Afro-Asiatic rulers, the first known kingdom builders whose dominion extended from Africa to India. There is scholarly debate over whether the Semites originated in Asia or in Africa. Noting the linguistic similarities between Semitic and Sanskrit words, many scholars have insisted that they moved westward from Asia into Africa. As evidence they offer the correspondence between the Hindu heroes Adimo, Heva, Sherma, Hama and Jiapheta and their Genesis counterparts Adam, Eve, Shem Ham, and Japheth. For these scholars, the Genesis prehistory reflects pre-Vedic legends of early humanity. But what if the reverse is true? What if the correspondence is due to the eastward movement of Abraham’s ancestors from Africa? This is the more likely scenario given the overwhelming evidence for the northeast migrations of peoples from Africa. Add to this the fact that the oldest artifacts to support the biblical worldview are found in Africa. Then there is the drive of kingdom-builders to search for and conquer new territories.

If the migration of Abraham’s ancestors was eastward and the stories reach as far as the Indus River Valley, these stories must be viewed as a seedbed of a widespread worldview. In fact, they must be the stories told from Africa to India. At the oldest level these stories share common motifs of Trees, Serpents, Water, and the Sun. All of these are found ar the Nile temples and shrines of Memphis, Heliopolis and Hierakonpolis, but they did not originate there. They came from deeper within Africa.

It seems to me that the purpose of the Bible must have something to do with what came from that deeper African religion and in my thinking this is the most important area yet to be explored by Biblical Anthropologists.

Related reading:  Saharan Antecedents of Pharaonic Egypt; The Christ in Nilotic Mythology; Biblical Anthropology and Antecedents

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