Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blood and Binary Distinctions

Alice C. Linsley

The Afro-Asiatic worldview of the Nilotic, Arabian and Mesopotamian peoples, as it is presented in Genesis, is framed by the binary distinctions or supplementary sets. These are universally observed in Nature and experienced on a most fundamental level of existence. These distinctions are evident in daily life, as in the observation that the Sun appears to rise in the East and to set in the West. They are observed in the distinction between male-female, hot-cold, night-day, and between Heaven-Earth. In fact, the ancient Afro-Asiatics associated maleness or the masculine principle with the Sun and femaleness or the feminine principle with the Moon.

This intuitive association extends to semen and milk. The Sun inseminates the Earth and the Moon stimulates female reproduction and lactation. Because the moon affects water, tides, and body fluids in a repeating cycle there is a natural association of the Moon with the periodicity of the menstrual cycle. Many ancient peoples associated pregnancy with the moon and in France menstruation is called “le moment de la lune”.

Primitive societies are much better at recognizing and respecting binary distinctions than moderns. They were more attuned to the patterns observed in nature and aligned their thinking with those patterns. Blood was a matter of anxiety for ancient Man. This is evident in the mythological material that comes to us from the ancient Afro-Arabians and Afro-Asiatics.  For example, the Hebrew words adam and adom relate to red clay from which the first man is said to have been made.  These words are related to the Hamitic/Hausa word odum, meaning red-brown, like to clay along the Nile when the rains wash red silt down from the Ethiopian highlands. This is the region of the world where Abraham's Kushite ancestors lived and the story of the creation of Adam comes to us from the Nilotic peoples.

These peoples made a distinction also between the blood work of men in killing and the blood work of women in birthing. The two bloods represent the binary opposites of life and death. The blood shed in war, hunting and animal sacrifice fell to warriors, hunters and priests. The blood shed in first intercourse, the monthly cycle and in childbirth fell to wives and midwives. The two bloods were never to mix or even to be present in the same space. Women didn’t participate in war, the hunt, and in ritual sacrifices, and they were isolated during menses. Likewise, men were not present at the circumcision of females or in the birthing hut.

The mixing of life-giving substances with the blood shed in killing was absolutely forbidden among the Afro-Asiatics. This is why the Israelites were commanded never to boil a young goat it its mother’s milk. It also places into context the Judeo-Christian teaching against abortion, which mixes birth blood with killing blood, thus perverting the binary distinction between male and female to a point of desecration.

It is also significant that among tribal peoples, brotherhood pacts are formed by the intentional mixing of bloods between two men, but never between male and female. The binary distinctions of male and female are maintained as part of the sacred tradition.

Early man had an intuitive anxiety about blood. We see this in the belief that the blood of Abel cries to God from the ground (Gen. 4:10). Anxiety about the shedding of blood is universal and very old. The Priesthood, verifiably one of the oldest known religious institutions, likely came into existence the first day that blood was shed and the individual and the community sought relief of blood anxiety and guilt.

As a point of fact, the first blood shed in the Bible was not the blood shed by Cain when he killed his brother Abel. It was not the blood shed by God in taking the rib from Adam. It was the blood shed by the woman when she gave birth. This is significant because it places life-giving blood ahead of the blood shed in killing. The birth blood to which I refer here is not the birth of Cain, but the birth of Messiah promised to the woman immediately after the Fall. This is the first blood of Scripture, though not explicitly stated, and this Blood is always prevenient.

The second shedding of blood was when God made clothes of animal skins for Adam and Eve. Here we see the first sacrifice of animals for the benefit of humans. This places God at the center between the life-giving (promised) blood and the blood shed in Cain's killing of his brother.

The third shedding of blood was when Cain killed Abel. We note that between the two bloods (birthing and murder) God sacrifices an animal to provide for the needs of humanity. In this sense, God is the first Priest and that first animal is a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world.

Related reading:  Binary Distinctions of the Horites; God as Male PriestWhy Women Were Never Priests; Circumcision and Binary Distinctions; The Importance of Binary Distinctions; The Christ in Nilotic Mythology


Anonymous said...

What about when God performed surgery on Adam? Although not explicitly stated, removing a rib is a potentially bloody task. In fact if we see Adam as a type of Christ, then there is a parallel between Christ's side being pierced and His blood flowing out which gave birth to the church (the bride of Christ). I would suggest that this was the first blood that was shed as an image of Jesus' blood shed on the cross.

Alice C. Linsley said...

An excellent observation!

Dean Young said...

Except that Adam's removed rib is not a binary to Eve who is a complete human being. Neither is the idea that God's thoughts are above our thoughts a completely binary idea. It's not God's thoughts versus our thoughts - as we are made in the image of God. Rather, it is God calling us by grace to faith in Him that creates the ground where we stumble desperately overland and ultimately find Him.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Dean, are you saying that a binary framework is not found in Genesis? How about darkness-light; chaos-order; the firmament above-firmament below? Dry land-seas? Male-female?

Our conversation involves trying to understand the binary thought found in the Bible so that we can better understand the binary feature of ancient (pre-Abrahamic) thought. All complexity emerges from binary thought. It is rather inescapable, as many philosophers and anthropologists have noted. You might find these essays helpful:

Best wishes,
Alice C. Linsley