Thursday, January 19, 2017

Contextual Incongruities in Genesis

Alice C. Linsley

Genesis is a complex and layered narrative. Understanding the material requires unraveling the interwoven elements and paying attention to the textual incongruities. A critical reading avoids imposing a presumed order or interpretation upon the text. To flesh out the narrative we must notice the incongruities and discrepancies, and what Jacques Derrida calls the trace of the subordinated voices.

For example, at the end of the book, Jacob's clan settles in Egypt. The general thrust of the narrative is set up for the story of Moses and the Exodus. Yet the text makes it clear that Jacob's people maintained contact with relatives and friends in Edom. Judah had sexual relations with Tamar in the region of Timnah (Gen. 38:12-30), an area controlled by the Edomites. Tamar sat at the entrance to a Horite shrine there.

The Horite rulers of Edom are listed in Genesis 36. Analysis of their marriage and ascendancy pattern demonstrates that they are the descendants of the rulers listed in Genesis 4, 5, 10 and 11.

Abraham's territory was entirely in the region of Edom. It extended on a north-south axis between Hebron and Beersheba and on an east-west axis between Engedi and Gerar. This region was called Idumea by the Greeks which means "land of red people." We recall that Esau and David are described as having a red skin tone. It is likely that the name Adam is also a reference to a red skin tone. By considering the incongruity of settlement in Egypt and the presence of Jacob's son and kinsmen in Edom, we gain a fuller and more accurate picture of the events that shaped Israel's early history.

Many of the incongruities of Genesis are contextual; posing a contrast between the earlier context of Abraham and the latter context of the Deuteronomist who narrates Israel's history through Moses. The Deuteronomist stresses rejection of images, exclusive devotion to the God Yahweh, and obedience to his prophet Moses (Deut. 18:18; cf. Mark 6:125; Matt. 16:13-20; John 1:21). The Deuteronomist writes from the context of the Neo-Babylonian Period, about 700-300 BC. This is about 1500 years after the time of Abraham.

The Deuteronomist seeks centralized worship at the Jerusalem temple, and the reshaping of the Passover and Tabernacles into national observances. This perspective does not align with the historical, archaeological, linguistic, and anthropological data concerning Abraham. It ignores his R1b cattle-herding ancestors who lived 4500 years ago in central Africa. The result is a disconnection between the Deuteronomist's portrait of Abraham and the earlier portrait of Abraham as a Horite Habiru ruler in Edom whose ancestors are named in Genesis 4 and 5.

Some interpreters believe that the disparate narratives reflect a conflict between priestly families. However, Moses's family is descended from Abraham's family and their marriage and ascendancy customs are exactly the same. Analysis of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of Moses's family reveals the distinctive pattern of the Horite ruler-priest caste. This should not surprise us since Moses is the half-brother of the ruler-priest Korah, a descendant of the Horite ruler, Seir of Edom. There is greater continuity in Genesis on the level of kinship patterns than is generally recognized.

Digging deeper

The Jewish people view Genesis 15 as the high water mark in the later narrative. Here we read that Abraham received divine protection and promises in a night vision. Abraham's complaint that he had no proper heir is not answered with the promise of Isaac, but instead Abraham is promised offspring as numerous as the stars. God seals this with a covenant on the mountain in which Abraham's sacrifice is consumed as a smoking pot of fire (or a torch?) passes between the severed animals Abraham has set out.

God now tells Abraham, through the agency of Moses, what will happen in the opening chapters of Exodus. Abraham's descendants will be foreigners in Egypt for 400 years, but God will judge Egypt and bring Abraham's offspring out of the land with great wealth. After four generations, Abraham's offspring will return to Canaan.

The Joktanite clans

In reality, many of Abraham's offspring never lived in Canaan. His firstborn son, Joktan, served as a high ranking official in the territory of his maternal grandfather in the region of Beersheba in Edom. The clans of Yisbak and Shuah, other sons of Keturah, are associated with the Euphrates valley. Zimran and Medan are clans in Arabia. Midian is associated with northwestern Arabia. Frank Moore Cross believes the origins of Israel's conception of God is to be found in the region of Midian. Cross argues that archaic biblical poetry locates Yahweh's movements in Edom/Seir/Teman/Midian and that these "are our most reliable evidence for locating Sinai/Horeb, the mountain of God."

As Abraham was a Habiru ruler-priest, his proper heir was the firstborn son of his first wife and half-sister, Sarah. As Sarah was barren, the next in line was the firstborn son of a related concubine. In this case, that was Eliezar, son of Mesek. "Dam-Mesek" means the one born of Mesek or the blood of Mezek. This has been improperly rendered as Damascus.

Isaac assumed governance over Abraham's territory in Edom, which at that time extended from Hebron to Beersheba. As far as the text goes, Isaac never lived in Canaan.


Manna said...

"Some interpreters believe that the disparate narratives reflect a conflict between priestly families."

Alice, help me understand. Does this mean that the writer's narratives may be biased based on priestly lines? If so, where does Genesis 1-11 fit into these narratives.

Is Genesis 1-11 just a narrative within itself and how and in what ways does it escape the bias of the priestly lines?

Your work is very interesting?

Alice Linsley said...

The view that alternative narratives represent different claims of the priestly clans has some merit, especially after about 200 BC. By then the Hebrew (Habiru) priest clans living along the Nile, in Arabia, and in Canaan had a different socio-religious contexts, and these differed from the priest clans residing in Babylon (modern Iraq). The Deuteronomist tells the narrative mainly from the perspective of the Babylonian clans.

Manna said...

Now that is really interesting and gives me more insight and yes, even more questions. When you conduct your work and research, how do you sort through the different narratives? While this is a lot to sort through for me, I appreciate you breaking down at this level.


Alice Linsley said...

Thanks for asking such great questions, Manna!

My research takes an anthropological approach. I use tools of cultural anthropology to reconstruct the earlier narratives by drawing on data from the Bible. For example, using E.L. Schusky's Manual for Kinship Analysis, I diagrammed the king lists (they are NOT genealogies) in Genesis 4 and 5 and I used the diagrams to find the pattern of marriage and ascendancy among Abraham's Nilo-Saharan or Proto-Saharan ancestors: Kain, Seth and Noah. I did the same for the king lists in Genesis 11:10-32, Genesis 25 and Genesis 36. The men named in these lists are in related clans and the marriage and ascendancy pattern for all of them is identical. I then used the data of Genesis 10, the so-called Table of Nations, to flesh out the picture. I concluded that Genesis is a record of Horite Hebrew rule. See these articles:

Then I researched the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Horite Hebrew (Habiru) and I found many common features, regardless of where the clans were living: the Nile, Arabia, Canaan, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, etc. The ruler-priests dispersed widely in service of the rulers of the archaic world. They were responsible for building the temples and shrines at the "high places" and for construction of royal tombs. The oldest Horite shrine city that I've been able to identify is Nekhen in modern Sudan. This is exactly the region we would expect to find Horite shrines among Abraham's Nilo-Saharan ancestors. The shrine at Nekhen dates to about 3000 BC. See these articles:

I apply many other tools in this research, including discoveries in genetics and linguistics.

This scientific approach helps to clear away some of the inaccurate conclusions reached by scholars, such as the documentary hypothesis. From anthropological study, we know that the Hebrew clans had many names for the Creator: El, El Elyon, El Shaddai, Adonai, El Olam, Yah, Yahweh. They also knew the names Ra and Hr/Horus. In fact, the earliest Horite priests were devotees of Ra and Ra's son, Hr/Horus, and this was before the emergence of Egyptian religion. The Hebrew clans used many names for God, so it is misleading to associate a given divine name with a single group, clan or line of priests. See these articles:

I hope that this will help you to get a handle of this research.