Monday, November 8, 2010

Abraham and Moses: Different Origins of Israel?

Alice C. Linsley

In Genesis and the Moses Story: Israel’s Dual Origins in the Hebrew Bible, the Swiss bible scholar, Konrad Schmid, argues that the Genesis ancestor narratives and the Moses story are competing myths of Israel's origin. This is a common myth which is not supported by analysis of the kinship patterns of both men. In fact, analysis of their kinship patterns reveals that they are identical in every detail.

The myth appears to be true until one investigates the genealogical information and finds that the kinship pattern of Abraham and Moses is the pattern identified with and unique to the Horites. This should not surprise us since the Bible claims that Moses is a descendant of Abraham and Abraham's people were Horites whose cultural context was that of Egypt and Kush

Schmid notes that "Explicit literary connections between Genesis and Exodus appear only in Priestly texts or in texts that presuppose P." (From here.) This is an important observation because Abraham and Moses are both of the ruler-priest lines. These lines exclusively intermarried, so we should not be surprised that a comparison of their kinship patterns reveals that Abraham and Moses were both Horites.

Moses’ father was a Horite ruler-priest Amram. Am means of the people and Ram designates a ruler. Amram had two wives. Abraham’s father was Terah and he had two wives. By his cousin-wife Amram had a son and doubtless a daughter, probably Miriam. By his cousin-wife Terah had a son and a daughter. By his half-sister Amram had two sons: Aaron (which is Harun in Arabic, a Horite name) and Moses. By his half-sister wife, Abraham had a son Isaac and through Sarah’s surrogate Hagar, Abraham had another son, Ishmael. Amram’s youngest son was Moses and he was sent away or banished. Terah’s youngest son was Abraham and he too was sent away.

Moses had two older brothers: Aaron and Korah the Younger (Numbers 26:59). Korah opposed Moses' authority in the wilderness because he was the older brother and possibly Amram’s firstborn son. According to Numbers 26, Korah's claim to be the ruler-priest was supported by the Hanochites (descendants of Hanock, the first-born son of Jacob's first-born son, Reuben). As the first-born son of the cousin-bride Korah was to rule the territory of his maternal grandfather, Korah the Elder. He would not assume rule over Amram's territory. That would fall to Aaron, Moses' older brother. This is what Claude Lévi-Strauss discovered in his studies of tribal peoples. He noted that in a patrilineal system, mother and son do not belong to the same clan.

The ruler's first wife was the half-sister, as was Sarah to Abraham. The second wife, married before the ruler came to power, was a patrilineal cousin (as was Keturah to Abraham) or a patrilineal niece (as was Isaac's first wife, the daughter of Yisbak). This means that Moses married his first wife while he was still in Egypt, and this was probably a marriage contracted by Amram. She was a Kushite, a woman of the ruling class. Zipporah was Moses' second wife and his marriage to her strengthened his position as ruler by forming an alliance between the Kushites and their Midianite kinsmen.

With this information, we see that there is one continuous thread from Genesis 4 to Numbers, not competing accounts of Israel's origins. The continuity of the kinship pattern indicates that Moses and Abraham were of the same people. More exactly, they belonged to the same caste of ruler-priests whose unique kinship pattern I have identified as Horite. 

Related reading:  Abraham and Moses; Abraham's Two Concubines; The Cousin Bride's Naming Prerogative; Moses' Horite Family


Anonymous said...

Why is the marriage custom broken with Isaac? Isaac marries his cousin (instead of his half-sister)as his first wife. No second wife is mentioned at all for Isaac, is there? Quoting from your linked post Abraham's Two Concubines:

This means that Abraham had 9 sons: Ishmael, Eliezer, Isaac, Joktan, Zimram, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. There were also daughters. Clearly, God fulfilled His sovereign will concerning Abraham that he should be the "Father of a multitude"

Why would Isaac not have married one of these half-sisters as his first wife, and his patrilineal cousin as his second wife?

Any thoughts on this? Thank you,


Alice C. Linsley said...

That's an excellent question, Lydia. There is evidence in Genesis that Rebecca was Isaac's second wife. The evidence rests on 3 important observations.

First, we notice that Abraham's servant brings Rebecca is to Beersheba (in the Negev) to marry Isaac. (Gen. 24:61-67). Beersheba is where Keturah lived and where Isaac probably had his first wife, a daughter of his half-brother Yisbak.

Second, the marriage to a patrilineal cousin-niece of Nahor's line was contracted with urgency before Abraham's death so that Isaac would have the 2 wives necessary to assume rule over Abraham's territory which extended from the region of Beersheba (south) to Hebron (north), where Sarah lived.

Third, Isaac was chosen to rule over Abraham's territory and the proper marriage arrangements were especially important in the case of the son who rules. Proper marriage for these people meant following the tradition of the ruler-priests, a tradition that even Moses observed.

Here is a diagram that might interest you:

Georgia said...


This morning, in a Bible search, I happened upon the sisters, Oholah (Syria) and Oholibah (Jerusalem) in Ezekiel 23.

Do you see a genealogical and/or a spiritual, symbolic/metaphorical connection to the Oholibamah in Genesis?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ezekiel is using the word "ohol" - which here means shrine tent or place of worship - to say that the worship in Jerusalem had become more corrupt than that of Damascus(Syria).

This is not genealogical in nature, but rather metaphorical.