Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Terah Means "Priest"

Alice C. Linsley

Terah or Térach (Hebrew: תֶּרַח / תָּרַח, Modern Téraḥ / Táraḥ) is an important figure in Biblical history. He was a son of Nahor, the grandson of Serug, and father of Abraham and Sarah, Abraham's half-sister wife.  All are descendants of Arpachshad, the son of Nimrod, the Kushite kingdom builder.

Terah was a descendant of both Ham and Shem, as their ruling lines intermarried, as shown in the diagram below.
These are the ruler-priests who spread far and wide before the earliest dynasties of Egypt. They are also known in Genesis as "the mighty men of old" and regarded as deified "sons" of God. They are often called "gods" (elohiym) as in Exodus 22:28: "Thou shalt not revile the gods (elohiym), nor curse the ruler of thy people."

These rulers were a caste. One of the characteristics of castes is endogamy, that is, the practice of marrying only within one's caste. Joseph (Yosef), the son of Jacob (Yacob), married the daughter of a ruler-priest of Heliopolis (Biblical On). The intermarriage of the ruler-priest lines has been verified through kinship analysis of the royal families named in Genesis. Analysis of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of these ancient rulers reveals that the lines of Kain and Seth intermarried also, as did the lines of Abraham and Nahor.

Terah is another of the royal names in Genesis. Terah or Tera is an ancient word for priest that retains the original Nilotic root. For example, ter in Luo means ritual, especially in reference to cleansing. The Nilotic Luo are among the peoples of Aruwa. The Tomb of Arawelo is in Somalia, and is said to be the final resting place of Queen Arawelo.

It is reasonable to speculate that the Ar clans traveled across the seas. Genesis 10 speaks of the clans of Ar who controlled the Red Sea and the Mediterranean island kingdoms of Tyre and Arvad. These were seafaring tradesmen. There appears to be a 3-clan confederation in Genesis consisting of Ar, Arvd and Arkt. The last two clans are called “Arvadites” and “Arkites” in Genesis 10:15-18. They are the peoples of Sidon and Tyre. With other clans living in Canaan they are classified as “Canaanites” and their Mesopotamian kin are called "Arameans" in the Bible.

Among the Ainu/Annu, whose point of origin was the Nile valley, tera refers to temple or shrine priests. The word tera is found among the royal Ainu of the Upper Nile. Tera-neter means one devoted to God. Tera indicates a priest and ntr refers to God or the Creator.

Was Terah an idol worshipper?

In Joshua 24:2 we read: "In olden times, your forefathers – Terah, father of Abraham and father of Nahor – lived beyond the Euphrates and worshiped other gods..." and because of this many assume that Abraham was the first of his family to turn from idol worship to iconoclastic monotheism. Of course, this is far from accurate. The Aramean rulers kept ancestor figurines called teraphim. Teraphim belong to the priest caste.

This verse in Joshua must be understood in the context of the iconoclastic Deuteronomist Historian whose account clearly comes long after the time of Terah and Abraham. The Deuteronomist Historian reinterprets the history of Abraham's Horim in an attempt to strengthen the power of the Jerusalem Temple authorities. As Bernard M. Levinson points out the legal corpus of Deuteronomy conceptualizes the king in a way that rejects all prevailing models of monarchic power held among the ancient Hebrew/Habiru/'Apiru. This shift causes readers of the Old Testament to lose the continuity between the Messianic expectation of Abraham's cattle-herding Nilotic ancestors and the New Testament's understanding of Christ as King incarnate who is the temple that is raised on the third day.

Related reading: Who Were the Kushites?; The Nile-Japan Ainu Connection; Royal Names in Genesis; The Genesis King Lists; Why Rachel Didn't Trust Laban


DManA said...

Do you believe Joshua is the inspired Word of God?

"The Deuteronomist Historian reinterprets the history of Abraham's Horim in an attempt to strengthen the power of the Jerusalem Temple authorities."

Alice Linsley said...

The whole canon is inspired and has been superintended by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is self-interpreting. We must use our God-given intelligence to sort through the material, context by context.

DManA said...

It is no doubt futile and maybe even sacrilegious to try to see things from God's point of view, but I find it difficult to see God's purpose in inspiring the Deuteronomist Historians to mischaracterize Abram's father's religious practices.

Jonathan said...

The thinking and culture was such in Medieval England, that in 1179 at Canterbury Cathedral, Terah (spelled T'Hare) was depicted in stained glass in a distinctly impious style in clothing and posture, unfavorably compared with the other patriarchs and "Ancestors of the Lord Jesus Christ" (series of stained glass windows). Notice, also, the obsolete spelling of the name T'Hare (or T'Hara), at a time when the Bible was typically read in Latin, and the English language was in a rapid state of development. Does this suggest more to you in terms of an understanding of the root word of Terah's name, T'Hera being related to Hor/Horim?

Jonathan said...*&fe=1

Alice Linsley said...

Jonathan, That is very interesting!

In the Middle Ages we find a hardening of the Biblical stereotypes of the righteous and the unrighteous, and Terah was classified with the latter because of Joshua 24:2. The moralistic tendency in the Roman Catholic Church during that time produced much "black and white" thinking. There was, however, some appreciation of the more subtle aspects of the Biblical narratives among scholars.