Friday, December 3, 2021

Onanism: Spilling Seed

Ultraviolet florescence photography reveals how flowers look to pollinators. Photo: Craig Burrows

Alice C. Linsley

Judah said to Onan, "Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother." And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also. (Genesis 38:8-10)

The spilling of human semen (onanism) is regarded as an unrighteous act in the biblical worldview because this violates the divinely established order in Creation. The seed that should fall to the earth is the seed of the plants with roots in the earth. The seed of man should fall on his own type (the womb), from which man comes forth. This reflects the ancient wisdom that was informed by observation of immutable (fixed) patterns in nature. It is based on reality, not imagined entities or moral relativism. 

In 191 AD, Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted.” (The Instructor of Children)

Onan and his brother Er are said to have died after they spilled their semen rather than fulfill the levirate marriage law which required that one of them produce a male heir for their deceased brother. They would have been wiser to have declined to act as the levir, as did the man to whom Boaz spoke in the book of Ruth (Ruth 4).

Levirate marriage

Though Judah's sons Er and Onan assumed the role of levir, both spilled their semen rather than produce an heir by Tamar. Their refusal may be due to rivalry between the brothers, and/or complications involving their own estates. Er and Onan were the sons of Judah by a daughter of the "Canaanite" ruler Shua (Gen. 38:1-11).

A brother could decline being the levir. This sometimes happened if marriage to the brother's widow endangered the inheritance or status of the levir's own heir. This appears to be the case with the man who was first in line to redeem Ruth. 

Judah refused to fulfill the levirate law when he denied Tamar a third son in marriage. She then took matters into her own hands. Later Judah recognized that, "She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah." (Gen. 38:26)

Passing of the shoe

Levirate marriage is an extremely ancient practice in which the widow of the deceased brother marries one of his brothers. Levirate marriage is practiced by societies with a strong clan and caste structures in which exogamous marriage is forbidden. The practice is found among the cattle-herding Nuer and Dinka of the Nile. It also is found among the Igbo of southeastern Nigeria, and in the Punjab-Haryana region of Pakistan, and among early peoples of Central Asia such as the Saka and Kushan

In the Punjab-Haryana region, if the levir ("dewar") refused to redeem his brother's widow, she spits in his presence and removes one of his sandals. Subsequently, the people of the town refer to him as "the one without a shoe." This sheds light on the redemption of Ruth and the transfer of her husband's inheritance at the city gate of Bethlehem.

Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel. (Ruth 4:7)

Monday, November 8, 2021

Royal Sons and Their Maternal Uncles


Nilotic populations with similar kingship stories and patterns.

Alice C. Linsley

In Genesis, Rebekah's favorite son is Jacob, and she pushes him to steal the right to rule from his (half-brother?) Esau. She arranges for Jacob to receive from Isaac the blessing due to Isaac's proper heir. This attempt fails, and Jacob is sent away to live with his maternal uncle Laban (avunculocal residence). 

Jacob's time with Laban is a mixed tale of hardship, efforts at advancement, and affirmation of kinship. He becomes an indentured servant until he is able to achieve sufficient wealth in livestock to become established in another location. This stirs the jealousy of Laban's sons who say, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what was our father’s he has acquired all this wealth.” (Gen. 31)

Jacob sees that Laban's attitude toward him is no longer favorable, and secretly he flees with his two wives and their households. When Laban discovers that Jacob has left with his daughters and his ancestor figurines (teraphim), he goes after him.

When Laban catches up to Jacob, he asserts his avuncular authority, saying: "It is in my power to do some evil to you, but last night the God of your father told me, 'Be careful what you say to Jacob whether good or evil." (Gen. 31:29)

Then Laban asks Jacob, "What did you do? You deceived me, carried off my daughters like you would war captives, ran away from me secretly, and stole from me by not keeping me informed. Otherwise, I could have sent you off with a party and singing, accompanied by a band playing tambourines and harps. As it is, you didn’t even allow me to kiss my grandchildren and daughters goodbye! You’ve acted foolishly." (Gen. 31:26-29)

Clearly, Jacob and his maternal uncle Laban have a paradoxical relationship characterized by hostility and hospitality, or competition and communion. This has parallels in the narratives of the Shilluk, the Anyuak, the Alur, and the Rwanda. In the social structure of these Nilotic peoples there is a centrally important royal clan, and each population has kingship narratives similar to the story of Jacob and Laban. 

In his paper "Nilotic Kings and Their Mothers’ Kin", Godfrey Lienhardt explains that "the approved pattern for the relations between a man and his maternal kin, especially his mother's brother, is based upon a theory that greater kindness and indulgence prevail between kin of these categories than between paternal kin." How then are we to explain royal narratives about hostility between the early kings and their maternal kin? 

The story of Jacob and Laban is instructive. As a sent-away son, Jacob poses a threat because sent-away sons seek territories of their own. Laban finally accepts Jacob's departure, assuming that Jacob is returning to his "father's house" (Gen. 31:30). However, Jacob does not remain for long in Esau's territory in ancient Edom. He eventually settles in Shechem where he buys land (Gen. 33:19).

Among Jacob's Hebrew people, royal wives resided in separate settlements. This is evident with Abraham's two wives. Sarah, the half-sister bride, resided in Hebron, and Keturah, the cousin bride, resided in Beersheba. When they came of age, the first-born sons of the cousin brides were sent-away to live among their maternal relatives. The pattern is evident with Rebekah, Isaac's cousin bride, and Jacob, who was sent-away to his maternal uncle.

Godfrey Lienhardt notes the pattern of sent-away sons in the paper cited above. These royal sons are described as "planted out" and "When they are grown, the princes are rivals for the kingship." (p. 30)

Among the Shilluk, the founder of the royal lineage is Dak. Like Esau, he is presented as strong and aggressive, and a mighty hunter of crocodiles. Like Jacob, Dak's half-brother Cal prefers the company of women in the settlement and is less interested in the kingship (op. cit, p. 32).

It appears that the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the biblical Hebrew resembles patterns found among Nilotic royal lineages, and yet it is also distinctive and unique.

Related reading: Sent-Away SonsNilotic Kings and Their Mothers' Kin on JSTOR; Jacob's Journeys; Sons Who Stayed Home; The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew; The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of Abraham's People

Monday, October 4, 2021

Rulers and Royal Menageries


These petroglyphs found in the Eastern Desert of Egypt show the transport of cattle. 
Boat types include sickle, incurved sickle, square, incurved square, and flared.

The early Nilotic rulers kept personal menageries. Syrian bears were brought to Egypt during the 5th Dynasty. These bears were generally docile and kept on leashes. Athenaios of Naucratis reports that a white bear was housed by Ptolemy II in his private zoo at Alexandria.

At his royal estate in Nubia, Akhenaten kept lions in domed buildings, antelopes in pens, and cattle in an enclosure made of sticks and branches. It is believed that the rulers kept exotic animals as symbols of their power and wealth.

Ménagerie animals were kept in male-female pairs so that they would reproduce. According to Genesis 6:19, Noah brought only a male and female of the species onto the ark. However, Genesis 7:2 says that he saved seven pairs of only "clean" animals. This account comes from a different source that stressed ritual purity.

The animals that Noah saved were likely those of his personal ménagerie. Royal zoos were common among rulers during that period.

The oldest known zoo was at Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) on the Nile. The temple there was dedicated to the son of the High God, Horus and the preists who served there were called Horites. The Nekhen ménagerie existed in the middle of the second millennium BC. The rulers of the city of Nekhen kept menageries and provided royal burials for the animals that died. The animals exhumed in the city’s elite cemetery had received similar mortuary treatment as humans. There was some evidence that these animals had been well tended, including a few bone fractures that would have required medical care to heal properly. Nekhen has more animal burials than any early Nile Valley urban center.

The Proto-Saharan ruler Noah would have known of Nekhen. He likely lived in the region of Lake Chad. The region is called Bornu or Benue by the peoples who live there. Both words mean "land of Noah". Noah apparently had his own ménagerie. This would have included prized bulls, hippos, elephants, baboons, and wildcats. The account of Noah saving animals aligns well with the archaeological and anthropological evidence. 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Wives' Settlements Mark the Boundaries


Alice C. Linsley

Abraham is often portrayed as a nomad contrary to the evidence that he was a ruler over a territory in ancient Edom. His territory extended on a north-south axis between the permanent settlements of his two wives: Sarah and Keturah. Sarah resided in Hebron and Keturah in Beersheba. Both settlements are shown on this map.

The Greeks called ancient Edom Idumea, meaning "Land of Red People."
Note the location of Hebron and Beersheba on a north-south axis, 
and the water system of Engedi and the wells in Gerar on an east-west axis.

Abraham divided his time between the settlements of his two wives. Abraham appears to have spent his old age in Beersheba. Genesis 22:19 reports that after offering Isaac on Mount Moriah, Abraham did not return to Hebron. He went to live in Beersheba with his cousin-wife Keturah. There he built an altar and planted a terebinth. In other words, Beersheba was both a shrine and a border settlement. A terebinth marker grew at the north end of Abraham's territory in Mamre (Gen. 12:6) and after Abraham's formed a treaty with Abimelech at Beersheba, he planted a terebint there at the southern end of his territory. Trees are often mentioned as territory markers in Genesis.

Abraham's settlements were guarded by trained warriors born to Abraham's household. Genesis 14:14 mentions an army of 318 warriors. The settlements included servants, herdsmen, hunters, stonemasons, tanners, potters, bakers, metal workers, physicians, and scribes. Abraham was a man of great wealth and prestige. The Hittites of Canaan recognized him as "a great prince among us" (Gen. 23:6).

Settlements required permanent water sources. The major water systems of Abraham's territory included the Well of Sheba (Beersheba), the Spring of Abraham in Hebron, Ein Gedi, and wells in Gerar. Genesis 26:18 reports that Isaac, Abraham's heir, had to reopen the wells in Gerar.

Entrance to the Spring of Abraham in Hebron

Dr. Avi Ofer of Tel Aviv University investigated the site (1984-1986) and reported that a massive thick wall inside the spring may have closed off an underground aqueduct that would have carried water from the pit to the upper level of Tel Hebron.

Abraham's Spring in Hebron

The biblical data suggests that Abraham controlled a sizeable territory that extended between Hebron and Beersheba and Ein Gedi and Gerar. This corresponds to ancient Edom, a territory associated with the Horite Hebrew (Gen. 36).

The Placement of Two Wives

The rulers of Abraham's people marked their northern and southern boundaries by their wives' settlements. Abraham's father Terah maintained two wives in separate households. One resided in Haran (to the north in southern Turkey), and the other resided in Ur of Chaldees (to the south in modern Iraq).

Terah was a powerful ruler-priest (Terah means "priest".) His territory was the fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. His son Nahor ruled after Terah died (Gen. 11:32). Nahor was Abraham's older brother.

In Akkadian, "na" is a modal prefix indicating service to, affirmation, or affiliation.The name Na-Hor indicates a servant of Hor/Horus; further evidence that Terah and his sons were Horite Hebrew rulers.

For the Horite Hebrew the Sun was the symbol of the High God. The east-west solar arc was perceived as the High God's territory. Therefore, the Horite Hebrew did not settle their wives on an east-west axis. To do so would be to pose as equal to God. 

The Bible scholar Theodore H. Gaster noted that the east-west arrangement is suggested by the names of Lamech the Elder's two wives. Gaster noted that the wives' names - Adah and Tzillah - relate to the words for dawn and dusk. Lamech the Elder is posed in Genesis 4 as a braggart.

Related reading: The Antiquity of the Edomite Rulers; The Chiefs of Edom; Aaron Was Buried in Edom; The Edomites and the Color Red; The Pattern of Two Wives; Hebrew Rulers With Two Wives; The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of Abraham's People; Concubinage Among the Biblical Hebrew

Friday, July 23, 2021

The Good Guy-Bad Guy Motif Fails


And Adam again had relations with his wife, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another seed in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh. At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD
[YHWH]. (Genesis 4:25-26)

Alice C. Linsley

In the Old Testament we find examples of the denigration of certain groups. The Moabites and Ammonites are slandered as the offspring of incest (Gen. 19:30-38). Ham's "son" Canaan (Gen. 10:6) is cursed for something his father/ancestor is said to have done (Gen. 9). Cain is cast as an unrepentant murder while his brother Seth is portrayed as righteous.

This good guy-bad guy motif is superficial. It does not stand up under closer investigation. If Ham's line is cursed, so is the line of his brother Shem because the descendants of Ham and Shem intermarried. Moses and David also murdered, and there is no textual evidence that Moses repented. David married the widowed Bathsheba, but their first son died as divine punishment for David’s adultery and murder of Uriah. David repented, and Bathsheba later gave birth to Solomon. However, God did not permit David to build the Temple because of his guilt and "bloody hands" (1 Chronicles 22:6-8).

The rulers listed in Genesis 4 (Cain's descendants) and Genesis 5 (Seth's descendants) intermarried. This is the earliest kinship data in the Bible about the Horite and Sethite Hebrew. Both groups called upon the name of the LORD. Genesis 4:26 indicates that name is YHWH, which reminds the reader that we are hearing from a source that lived long after the time of Cain and Seth.

In the diagram below, the left side lists Cain's descendants (Gen. 4) and the right side lists Seth's descendants (Gen. 5). Analysis of the kinship reveals the early Hebrew feature of the cousin bride's naming prerogative. These rulers had two wives. The second wife was usually a cousin. Her paternal ancestry is traced through the naming of her first-born son. The cousin bride named her first-born son after her father.

Looking at the diagram, we see that Kain's unnamed daughter married her cousin Enosh and named their first-born son Kenan/Kain after her father. Irad's unnamed daughter married her cousin Mahalalel and named their first-born sons Jared/Yared/Irad after her father. Lamech the Elder's daughter Naamah married her cousin Methuselah and named their first-born son Lamech.

Note that the triangle at the head of the diagram is the father of the wives of Cain and Seth and his name was a royal title, Enoch (Enosh or Enos).

The LXX uses epikaleisthai from "kalew" which means call, that is, to invoke the Name of the Lord/YHWH. This indicates a later source since there is no evidence that the name YHWH was known in the time of Cain and Seth. The Sethite and Horite Hebrew knew the High God by the names Ra or Anu. The High God's son was called Hor/Horus or Enki. In an attempt to portray these pre-Abrahamic rulers as bad guys, some Jewish writings (i.e., the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan) say that it was then that men began to "profane" the Name of the Lord.

St. John Chrysostom preached that Lamech the Elder repented and received mercy. Here is what he said concerning Lamech, the Elder: By confessing his sins to his wives, Lamech brings to light what Cain tried to hide from God and “by comparing what he has done to the crimes committed by Cain he limited the punishment coming to Him.” (St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on Genesis, Vol. 74, p.39. The Catholic University Press of America, 1999.)

St. John's interpretation is consistent with the Bible's message about God’s love, grace, and mercy, and departs from the interpretation which stresses that God destroyed Cain’s line in the flood. In fact, the text supports John Chrysostom’s view, as we will see through tracing the number 7 from Cain to Lamech, the Younger. Let us look at the number symbolism to see that Chrysostom’s interpretation is indeed upheld.

The number 7 represents new life, grace, and renewal. Cain murdered and tried to hide his crime from God. Cain’s just punishment was death, yet God showed him grace by sparing his life. Instead Cain was to be exiled from his people. Even then God shows Cain grace by placing a mark on him, not a brand of shame, but a protecting sign. Reflecting on this great grace shown to his ancestor, Lamech challenges God to show him greater grace. If grace was shown to Cain (7), then Lamech, the Elder, by confessing his sin, claims a greater measure of grace (77). Lamech, the Younger is assigned even greater grace because he is said to have lived 777 years. This younger Lamech is the son of Methuselah and Naamah, and the father of Noah.

St. John’s understanding of Lamech’s speech to his two wives (Gen. 4) is brilliant. What he says about Lamech the Elder and his daughter Naamah sheds light on the text and clarifies the confusion surrounding the persons of Lamech the Elder (Gen. 4:23) and his gransdon, Lamech the Younger (Gen. 5:26). Naamah is the clue to understanding the cousin bride's naming prerogative, an important feature of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the early Hebrew. He called her Naamah "Noeman" and said about her, "Well, now for the first time it refers to females, making mention of one by name. This was not done idly, or to no purpose; instead the blessed author has done this to draw our attention to something lying hidden." (St. John Chrysostom's Homilies on Genesis, CUA Press, Vol. 74, p. 38)

St. John Chrysostom recognized the story of Lamech to be about God’s mercy shown to sinners. He placed the emphasis exactly where it should be. Other interpretations reflect spiritual pride. Consider how The Jewish Study Bible claims that the “poem of Lamech” attests to the violence associated with Lamech’s ancestor, Cain, and “to the increasing evil of the human race.” But apparently the interpreters exclude themselves from the human race because they go on to state:

  “The people of Israel will emerge from the lineage of the younger son’s replacement [that is from Seth], not from that of the murderous first born [that is Cain].” (The Jewish Study Bible, p. 20.) 

This is contrary to the scriptural evidence that the lines of Cain and Seth intermarried and that both are early Hebrew rulers. In the diagram below we see that Lamech the Elder's daughter Naamah married her patrilineal cousin Methuselah and named their first-born son Lamech, after her father. 

How easy it is to take the attitude that Cain and his descendants were sinners, but Seth’s descendants were righteous. Yet the lines intermarried and God showed grace to both, even allowing Lamech’s daughter, Naamah, to bear the righteous Lamech, father of Noah, ancestor of Abraham, David, and Jesus Messiah.

Related reading: The Mark of Cain; Hapiru, Habiru, 'Apiru, Hebrew; Horite Mounds; The Curse of Ham Falls Also on Shem; Royal Titles in Genesis; The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of Abraham's People; Hebrew Rulers With Two Wives

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Joseph and Asenath


Hypostyle Hall of Karnak aligned to the Milky Way

Alice C. Linsley

Joseph married Asenath, the daughter of a priest of On (Gen. 41) On is known in ancient records as iunu, meaning "place of pillars". This refers to a royal temple complex, such as Karnak (shown above).

On was known to the Greeks as Heliopolis, that is, "Sun City." Plutarch noted that the “priests of the Sun at Heliopolis never carry wine into their temples, for they regard it as indecent for those who are devoted to the service of any god to indulge in the drinking of wine whilst they are under the immediate inspection of their Lord and King. The priests of the other deities are not so scrupulous in this respect, for they use it, though sparingly.”

The Harris papyrus speaks of 'Apriu of Re at Heliopolis. The terms 'Apiru, Hapiru, Habiru, Abrutu refers to a ruler-priest caste that was widely dispersed in the service of kings and kingdom builders like Nimrod, the Kushite (Gen. 10). Joseph married into this royal priest line when he married Asenath, and she was probably a relative.

Asenath's father was Putiphar or Potiphera. This title is composed of the words pu and tifra. Putifra in ancient Egyptian means "this order" and likely pertains to the order of Horite Hebrew priests, devotees of Horus and his father Re. Horus was the patron of kings. The stela of Putiphar speaks of Putiphar as the "son of Horus, may He live forever."

Horus (from the Greek) is HR in ancient Egyptian. HR means "Most High One" and can refer to God Father (Re = father in ancient Egyptian) and God Son. The image of Horus in the "holy of holies" is the Nilotic equivalent of the Mesopotamian image of Enki in the Abzu . Enki means "Lord Over All." Enki's father is Anu. That Enki is the son of God (and patron of kings) is evident from Sumero-Akkadian texts such as this: "Enki, the king of the Abzu, justly praises himself in his majesty: 'My father, the king of heaven and earth, made me famous in heaven and earth." (See "Enki and the world order: Translation", lines 61-80.)

Iunu is related to the ancient Egyptian word Anu, a name for father of Enki. Anu  means HE in ancient Egyptian and is a reference to the High God. This tile found by Flinders Petrie shows a Sethite priest of Anu. Tera-neter refers to a priest. 

In regard to his sons, Joseph followed the marriage and ascendancy pattern of his Horite Hebrew ancestors. His wife Asenath was probably one of Joseph's cousins. Her first born son was likely Manasseh. He belonged to the Heliopolis shrine, whereas Joseph's son Ephraim belonged to the House of Jacob. This explains why Jacob gave Ephraim the primogeniture blessing (Gen. 48:14) that normally fell to the ruler's heir and first born of his half-sister wife.

Since the same marriage and ascendancy pattern of Joseph and Asenath can be traced using the biblical data back to Cain and Seth, I believe the Pharoah who Joseph served would have been a king during the Middle Kingdom (2040 to 1782 BC).

Thursday, May 13, 2021


Alice C. Linsley

Cleromancy refers to various methods of sorting for the purpose of making a decision. It has been used (and is still used) to eliminate potential marriage partners, to decide about business deals, and to establish the most propitious day for weddings and festivals that are not fixed.

The idea that a message might be received from God on a matter of human concern is very ancient. In early Egypt a person might sleep in the temple in the hope of receiving a message from the resident god. This is called incubation.

The casting of lots, the reading of the entrails of animals, cleromancy using astragali, and the use of occult objects were common practices in the ancient world. Casting lots was used by the sailors to determine that Jonah’s disobedience was somehow responsible for the perilous storm. The disciples determined who was to replace Judas by casting lots (Acts 1:21-26). In Luke 1:9, the priest Zacharias is selected by lot to burn incense at the veil of the temple. The high priest was selected by lots at the time of David (1 Chron. 24:31). Lots were cast to determine assignments of the Hebrew clans. We don’t understand how this worked, but it was a widespread decision-making method in the ancient Near East.

Genesis 12:6 suggests that Abraham consulted a seer when he came to Shechem. The seer is called a "moreh" and, as was often the case with those who gave advise, he sat under tree (Deborah sat under a tamar between Ramah and Bethel, Judges 4:5). The moreh's tree was an oak between Ai and Bethel. The term "moreh" refers to one who throws from the hand. Did the moreh cast lots or employ a method similar to the Urim and Thummin?

The High Priest’s use of the Urim and the Thummin is not a good example of cleromancy. The practice was directed by God in Exodus 28:30: “Also put the Urim and the Thummin in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord.”

It appears that the Urim and Thummin were used to determine a yes-no answer to specific inquiries made by the High Priest. They represented a binary set, and each entity of the set had layers of associations. The priest was trained to recognize the greater over the lesser. We note many examples of binary thinking in the Old Testament: The Creator is greater than the creature; the Sun is greater than the Moon; males are larger and stronger than females, life is better than death, etc. Guidance involved pursuing the greater as it is reflected in the order of creation. (Romans 1:20 - "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.")

In dualism, the entities of the binary set are regarded as equal (Yin Yang). Yin Yang seeks to find balance and avoid extremes in decisions and implementation. However, in the ancient Hebrew way of thinking, one entity of the binary set is recognized as superior in some evident way to the other entity, and this guided decision making.

Jacques Derrida, the French-speaking Jew from North Africa, speaks of dominant and subordinate voices in literary texts. He explores the interplay of these voices. The Structuralist anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss observed the binary logic of primitive tribes that he studied (The Raw and The Cooked). The Deconstructionist philosopher Derrida could not escape the binary reality either. Levi-Strauss based his conclusions on empirical observation of humans; Derrida on analysis of human language.