Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Swelling of Sun and River Speak of God

Alice C. Linsley

In Genesis 1 the creation begins when God’s speaks order (tehut) into the chaos (tehom) and says, “Let there be light.” This is not the light of the Sun, but the uncreated light of God’s presence which counters the chaotic deep. Psalm 29:10 describes “Yahweh who sat as king upon the flood; He is king forever.”

God spoke, saying "Let there be light," and light flooded the vast darkness. There is a parallel between flooding by light and flooding by water. Both the sun and the river swell and in the ancient Nilotic cosmology both speak of God.

A central experience of Abraham’s Kushite ancestors was the annual flooding of the Nile. As spring rains fell in the Ethiopian headlands the river rose above its banks, flooding the Nile Valley between June and October. The flooding lasted for forty days and turned the valley into shallow lakes and deposited fertile silt which renewed the earth. As the waters receded, only the highest mounds of earth would been seen at first. These mounds seems to swell up from the water. When the waters began to recede, families waited another forty days before returning to their homes. This is the origin of the biblical phrase “forty days and forty nights.” It is distinctly Nilotic (which explains why the number forty doesn't appear in Daniel, a book rich in number symbolism).

The Nile flooding brought disorder and was likened to the primordial waters of tehom, the watery and disordered deep which God put in order by His Word, tehut. The victory of tehut over tehom helps us to understand one of the oldest creation myths in which the ancient Egyptians envisioned the world as a mound emerging from the waters of a universal ocean. Here the first life form was a lily growing on the peak of the primeval mound. The mound itself was named Tatjenen, meaning "the emerging land."

The Kushites carried this notion to Asia where it is found today in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The emerging mound is called Mount Meru. It emerges from the center of the cosmic ocean, and is encircled by the Sun and the seven visible planets. Mount Meru in Hinduism is a mythological mountain. However, it relates to a real Mount Meru in East Africa known to Abraham’s Kushite ancestors. The names meru, meri (Egyptian) and Mary are cognates. The Virgin Mary, whose womb swelled with the Son of God, is sometimes portrayed in icons as a mountain. The Prophet Daniel saw a mountain, from which a stone was cut by the hand of God (Dan. 2:34, 45).

At the Annunciation, the Angel's greeting to Mary was ave, perhaps related to the Hebrew vav צבה meaning "to swell.” Ave also means bird. In many icons and paintings of the Annunciation a dove appears in the background or hovers over the Virgin. There is a relationship between ave and vav if you consider that the dove eats seeds (never worms) and their stomachs swell as the seed expands. Jesus is called the "Seed" of the Woman in Gen. 3:15. He identified himself as the fulfillment of this first biblical promise in John 12:23: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernal of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

The grain rising from the earth, the heads of wheat swelling parallel the stone pillars by which the ancients established boundaries and covenants. In the Lower Nile small pyramids were carved from single blocks of stone. These were known as bnbn (benben), from the root, bn, meaning to "swell forth." This relates to the sun's rising or swelling. The Egyptian word for the rising sun is wbn. Tombs of officials from the 4th Dynasty (2613 to 2494 BC) were surmounted by conical mounds or benben. These tombs, along with the east-facing royal tombs at Giza, indicate that the ancient Kushite and Egyptian rulers hoped to rise from death, even as the Sun rises. Doubtless this is what the Prophet alluded to when he wrote, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise [swell/be magnified] with healing in its wings.” (Mal. 4:2).

Many of the practices of the ancient Israelites originate in the Nile Valley.  It is not far fetched then to suspect an ancient Nilotic background for the Tetragrammaton: Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh. In Aramaic and Hebrew the hey הא means "behold."  The vav pertains to the tribal ruler and deity. So the meaning is something like “Behold our God. Behold he is magnified.”

Related reading: Etymology of the Vav; Mount Mary and the Origins of Life; Cosmology and Ethics; Tehut's Victory over Tehom


Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley, one challenge today is how hard it is to understand basic biblical images since we most are no longer rooted to land and agrarian-based. How many city-dwellers do I know that could tell the difference between a Condor and Bald Eagle? Not many. As inhabitants of concrete, steel, skyscrapers, etc., just understanding the mere presence of doves in icons and, especially the artists' representation of the historical significance, is a stretch for our imaginations. Thanks for all your good work. Your blog is endlessly fascinating. Best, Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...

This is very true. My students can tell you about video games in depth, but don't know that there are 7 visible planets. They don't understand what St. Paul means in Romans when he speaks of God's divine power and eternal nature being evident in the patterns of creation.

Phil Latimer said...

You stated that "ave" also meant "bird". Are you confusing "ave" with "avi"? "Ave" comes from "aveo" meaning "to be well" with "ave" meaning "hail" or "fare thee well".

"Avi" means "bird".

I am still meditating on your interpretation of the light of God, not the sun, filling the void. Do you think the void was the first act of creation?

Phil Latimer said...

PS...I clicked on the link for the word "tehut" but only got a 404 error. The link appears to be broken.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Hi, Phil. Good to hear from you.

"Avi" is the Latin and "Ave" is the Spanish word for bird. You are correct that the Angel's greeting was "Hail" or "Be well." I'm exploring the relationship of the av root to the Semitic vav. The image of the dove hovering over Mary reminds me of the Spirit hovering over the waters at the beginning.

I'll fix the link. Thanks for letting me know. Just Genesis was hacked by someone living in the Russian Urals last week and lots of weird things have come up. It has put the fire under me to make backup copies of everything in the INDEX.

Since the sun, moon and stars were not created until the fourth day, the light of Genesis 1:3 can't be natural light. The early Fathers understood this light to be the "uncreated light" of God's presence. This fits the binary worldview of Abraham's ancestors. The primordial lifeless darkness is shown here to be the inferior counterpart of the uncreated and life-generating Light of Genesis 1:3. I don't think we should go so far as to say that God created the darkness. The darkness is merely the absence of light. C.S. Lewis was playing with the idea of pre-existent dark worlds in his Narnia Chronicles. Remember how he describes the creation of Narnia in The Magician's Nephew?

I hope you are well. I know that you are working hard and I pray that God continues to bless your ministry. It is wonderful to see the emergence of a vibrant Anglicanism in America after so many years of spiritual bondange in TEC.

I'm going to retire soon and would like to teach Genesis as Christian Apologetics to show that the book is trustworthy and aligns with findings in anthropology, archaeology and linguistics. Might Presbyterian Seminary be interested in such a course?

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