Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Cross and Reality

"Buddhism is centripetal [center-seeking], but Christianity is centrifugal [tending away from centralization]: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in it nature; but it is fixed forever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers."--G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy, Chapter 2)

Alice C. Linsley

The cross presents a great paradox. It veils and is veiled, yet it is found everywhere in the order of nature. Consider the cross-shaped image of laminin (right). Laminin is a cell adhesion molecule that holds the body together. Referring to Jesus Christ, Paul wrote, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17)  The beta and alpha chains of laminin "influence pre-synaptic and post-synaptic development, thus providing a way to coordinate maturation of the sending and receiving sides of the synapse."

The cross is represented by the intersection of the directional axes of east-west and north-south, and by the solar arc. It is found as a solar symbol in archaic cultures. It is one of the symbols found in the Vinča culture. The cross symbol, called kolasta azdija, is a solar symbol referenced in numerous epic poems of people living in the region of the Vinča culture.

Symbols dating from the oldest period of Vinča culture (6th-5th millennia BC)

Th archaic rulers who dispersed widely in the ancient world  venerated the Sun. The Sun was the emblem of the Creator and the source of life and light on Earth.  The overshadowing of the Sun at high noon marked the temporal center, and noon on the mountain top marked the spatial center. This is the significance of sacred pillars and mountains (bnbn in Ancient Egyptian) that connected heaven and earth.

The cross appears in many monuments along the Nile. The sun and the cross were associated with Horus. Both were found on stone reliefs at the Temple of Horus in Edfu (shown below). The relief also shows the sun resting over the banks of the Nile (directly below the bird). A variation of this image is the Hebrew horned altar, an apophatic solar image. The sun resting over a place or person represents divine appointment and blessing. In this same image we find the sun resting over the cross (center). The Canaanite Y is another example.

Photo: Maureen Palmer

Abraham's Nilotic ancestors believed that Earth emerged as a peak rising out of a universal sea. Life began when the Sun rested exactly at the peak of that mound. This is likely the origin of the belief that a woman of their Horite priestly lines would be overshadowed by the Creator and would conceive the Seed of Genesis 3:15.  In Orthodox iconography sometimes the pregnant Theotokos is drawn as a mountain.  As such, she became the sacred center, the tabernacle of God, the new mount Zion. For Abraham's ancestors the swelling of Sun, river and the female belly spoke of the Creator's power to give life.

The perpendicular axes of north-south and east-west form a cross and this is the oldest known symbolic mark. Its great age is testified by its appearance on prehistoric rocks in Sudan, on Paleolithic ostrich shells in Southern Africa, and in the Proto-Saharan Thamudic scripts.

Nilo-Saharan Cosmology

In ancient times, the Nile was identified with the Milky Way which arches over the Earth from the extreme south to the extreme north. The Nile was viewed as Earth's Milky Way. The north-south axis was represented by the northward flow and the east-west axis was represented by the water's span from horizon to horizon. The center of the river at noon was regarded as the sacred spatial and temporal center. This cosmology is reflected in ancient Nilotic imagery, especially at Elephantine Island (Yebu). Even before Elephantine, the directional poles and the movement of circumpolar stars comprised an element of religion and were a factor in the construction of ancient monuments.

Andrew Collins notes "the earliest Neolithic cult centres, the prototypes of stone circles and chambered barrows everywhere, were directed roughly north-south. Since the north was a direction of death and rebirth at Çatal Hüyük, I quickly realized that the focus of attention at places such as Karahan Tepe and Göbekli Tepe was the movement of circumpolar stars around the northern celestial pole, for there was no Pole Star in c. 9500-9000 BC. I looked closely at the Skyglobe astronomical program for these dates, and realised that only one constellation could have been the object of their gaze, and this was Cygnus, which in European starlore is the celestial swan. However, there is clear evidence that in Ancient Mesopotamia Cygnus was seen as a raptor bird, while in classical myth it was occasionally seen as a vulture, the symbol of the transmigration of the soul in the Neolithic cult of the dead."

The Pole Star was only one way by which the ancients could determine true north. Their cosmology was binary, which means that no pole can isolated from its opposite. The poles are binary opposites and in the binary worldview on of the opposites is regarded as superior in some way to its opposite. Among the Horites, north and east were the superior directions but they were never considered in isolation from south and west. The Nilotic worldview was characterized by binary sets such as male-female and sun-moon.

The intersection of the axes was represented by X or T in ancient glyphs. This cross-shaped cosmology is fundamental to the binary distinctions and metaphysical tensions that characterized the ancient Nilotic worldview. The great contribution of Jacques Derrida, an Arabic-speaking North African Jew, was to re-introduce to Western Philosophy this binary approach to meaning.

As Derrida suggested: "Deconstruction cannot limit itself or proceed immediately to neutralization: it must, by means of a double gesture, a double science, a double writing, practice an overturning of the classical opposition, and a general displacement of the system. It is on that condition alone that deconstruction will provide the means of intervening in the field of oppositions it criticizes" (Metaphysics).

This reversal of the subordinated term of an opposition is no small aspect of deconstruction's strategy. Derrida's argument is that in examining a binary opposition and reversals, deconstruction brings to light traces of meaning that cannot be said to be present, but which must have metaphysical existence. This is not a new idea or even a new approach to meaning. It is consistent with the most ancient Biblical approach to meaning, that of the Semites and their Kushite ancestors.

Among the Horites, North and East Were the Superior Poles

Among Abraham's Horite people the Pole Star was an important celestial marker.  Beside this, they were metal workers who had discovered that magnetized iron particles pointed to magnetic north. In fact, the word compass (kom-pas) is originally an Egyptian word. Horite rulers were buried with their heads to the north and their faces toward the east.

All the rulers among Abraham's ancestors had two wives. The wife of the man's youth was a half-sister and the wife on his later years was a patrilineal cousin or niece. The wives lived in separate households on a north-south axis. In Abraham's case, Sarah lived in Hebron and Keturah lived in Beersheba. Sarah, as the first wife, ranked above Keturah. Only the firstborn son of the half-sister wife ascended to the throne of his father. So Issac became Abraham's heir, though he was not Abraham's firstborn son.

The placement of the wives' settlements reflects the Horite belief that the Sun was the Creator's solar boat or chariot which He rides daily to survey his territory from east to west. This idea was apparent even before Noah. Lamech the Elder (Gen. 4) is portrayed as a braggart not only because he boasted of killing a man, but also because he set his wives on an east-west axis, thereby setting himself up as God.

The Sun's east-west path was thought to be the Creator's circuit, stretched "as far as the east is from the west." The Almighty comes as a bridegroom from the tent of the Sun and makes his circuit from east to west (Ps. 19).

While north was associated with death and judgment, its opposite was associated with birth and renewal of life. South symbolized earth, fertility and birth. It was to the south that Abraham went seeking a second wife. Abraham, still without a heir, consulted the Moreh at the Oak between Bethel and Ai. His next move, chronicled in Genesis, was a journey to Beersheba in the Negev. There he married his patrilineal cousin Keturah, by whom he had five sons.

Marriage to a second wife was required before a Horite chief could ascend to the throne. Abraham's marriage to Keturah enabled him to become the ruler over a territory hat extended between Hebron and Beersheba. It did not provide him with an heir since the firstborn son of the cousin wife ascended to the throne of his maternal grandfather, after whom he was named. The sons of concubines and the younger sons of wives were given gifts and sent away to establish territories of their own. They are the sent-away sons who expanded the Kushite dominion far beyond in the Nile. The marriage and ascendancy pattern of Abraham's Horite caste drove Kushite expansion into Europe, Mesopotamia, Southern India, Cambodia and even Japan. The Kushite migration out of Africa has been verified by DNA studies.

Ethical Implications

The ethical implications of a cross-shaped reality are evident. There is a geometrical quality that suggests lines, angles and boundaries. The boundaries fixed by the Creator can be observed in genetics, climate cycles, and in time and space. Abraham's people wanted to discern and respect the boundaries since they perceived of them as having been established by God. Worship, rituals such as the blessing of the Sun, gender distinctions, laws concerning purity among the ruler-priests, all these reflect concern to distinguish between the binary sets of Heaven-Earth; God-Man, Pure-Defiled, and Life-Death and to serve the greater.

In this cross-shaped Reality, the only safe place, metaphysically speaking, is the sacred center. After all his deconstruction, Jacques Derrida concluded that there is a center and that something is there. He spoke of this something as "presence." He claimed that throughout the history of Philosophy this metaphysical presence is called by different names, “God” being one of them. This is uncomfortable for those who hold to materialist ideologies. They are baffled by the metaphysical. It is terrifying for those who claim there is no Creator. If there is something, a "presence" (Derrida's term) at the metaphysical center, it must surely be of greater power and authority than they. Even the Atheist exhibits existential angst about the possibility that any form of authority depends on God's existence (Rom.13:1).

Abraham's Proto-Saharan ancestors were famous sky watchers. For them a lunar eclipse was less significant than a solar eclipse because they regarded the sun was as superior to the moon. This was not an arbitrary preference nor does it represent mythological ignorance, as Materialist and Atheists often assert. Rather it is a description of reality since the sun gives light whereas the moon merely reflects the sun's light. The sun's superiority is expressed in Genesis 1:16: "God made the two great lights: the greater to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night."  In our time, the idea that one entity is greater than another meets with great resistance. Many are lost in an ethical wilderness without a compass.

Ethics for Abraham's people meant being spiritually present at the center of X; finding the sacred center by reference to earth's spokes: north-south/east-west, and by reference to the binary sets observed in the order of creation. The late Rabbi Kaduri appears to have found that sacred center in contemplation of the tradition he received from his Horim. He was a highly respected rabbi in Israel who was deeply formed by the daily reading and recitation of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri

Before he died at age 108, Yitzhak Kaduri left a signed note indicating Messiah's identity: Yeshua - Jesus. A few months before, Rabbi Kaduri had surprised his followers when he told them that he met the Messiah in dreams and visions. Kaduri gave a message in his synagogue on Yom Kippur, teaching how to recognize the Messiah. His manuscripts, written in his own hand for his students, have cross-symbols painted by Kaduri all over the pages.

Many Jews have attempted to explain away the crosses, arguing that the great Rabbi Kaduri was not a Christian. Only God knows. However, Rabbi Kaduri was wise and prayerful, and he knew the cosmology of his ancestors. Perhaps this lead him to Jesus, the Son of God, at the sacred center of our cross-shaped reality. Perhaps he found the One who his people have been awaiting.

The Sun Among Abraham's Horite People

Aspects of the ancient solar symbolism are found in the Bible and in historical texts. Psalm 92:2 describes the Lord as “a sun and a shield.” The Victory Tablet of Amenhotep III describes Horus as “The Good God, Golden [Horus], Shining in the chariot, like the rising of the sun; great in strength, strong in might…” (Tablet of Victory of Amenhotep III, J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, p. 854).

At Angkor Wat in Cambodia, there is a stone relief of a solar boat with Horus flying as a falcon above the flames of the sun. Most of the religious depictions found in Southern India are also found among the Proto-Saharan peoples. There is strong evidence that messianic expectation began, not with the Jews, but with Abraham's Nilotic ancestors. They were devotees of Horus who they called "Son of God."  In a five day festival the ancient Egyptians commemorated the death and rising of Horus. He was associated with the rising or swelling sun and with the falling of grain into the earth.

In relation to the sun, Horus was said to rise in the morning as a calf or a lamb and to set in the evening as a bull or a ram. The east represented the present, and the west represented the future. On Mount Moriah Isaac was replaced with a ram.  To Abraham the Horite this would have meant that his offering was set aside by the provision of a greater sacrifice that was to come in the future. It would also have meant that Isaac was not the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham's ancestors in Genesis 3:15. Isaac was not the "Seed" of the Woman who would make the curse of death void, crush the serpent's head, and restore Paradise. Jesus was the fulfillment of this first promise and prophecy of the Bible.  In speaking of his impending death, He told his disciples that only the "seed" that falls into the ground and dies can give life. (John 12:24)

As St. Augustine noted, the Egyptians took great care in the burial of their dead and never practiced cremation, as in the religions that seek to escape physical existence. Abraham's ancestors believed in the resurrection of the body and awaited a deified king who would rise from the grave and deliver his people from death.

On ancient Jewish ossuaries the sun was shown as a 6-pointed star inside a circle.  This was the solar boat of the Creator, the vehicle of Light that would carry the dead to the place of rest. From that place they hoped to rise on the Last Day. In the Iron Age this mer-ka-ba was shown as a chariot. The spokes within a circle are both the rays of the sun and the spokes of the chariot wheel. This symbol likely appeared on the Ark of the Covenant. In the Ethiopian Church a replica of the Ark, called ta-bot, is displayed in the churches. It is decorated with the 6-pointed star inside a circle at the center of the ark.

The spokes inside an orb also represent the precession of the equinoxes at various angles. The precession was symbolized by X inside a circle. This morphed into the Tau, which is used by Christians to represent the upright cross.

The precession cross and the merkaba are very ancient cosmological images. They have been traced to the Horite temple at Heliopolis on the Nile. Heliopolis is called ONN in Genesis and was shown in Old Egyptian as NXN, with the X representing the Creator's presence at the sacred center. Again, the cross is central and associated with the sun. Just as the sun is a universal symbol of light, so the sign of the cross is universally found in creation. The mark of Jesus Christ is ubiquitous. Reality is cross shaped and it stretches out in all direction to embrace in love.

Related reading: A Cross-Shaped Universe: Reflections of a Christian Physicist; The Sacred Center in Biblical Theology; Afro-Asiatic Rulers and Celestial Archetypes; Binary Distinctions and KenosisChrist's Sign in Creation; Tehut's Victory Over Tehom; The Ostrich in Biblical Symbolism; Cosmology and Ethics; The Rabbi Who Found Messiah


Margaret said...

This brings to mind two things: the ossuary of Miriam, daughter of Yeshua, son of the High-Priest Caiaphus which has a symbol of a spoked wheel carved in it, and the annointing of the High Priests, and Orthodox Christians, with 'tau' or the Cross. Is the ossuary so etched to indicate her status as a daughter of the High-Priest? The tau of annointing brings the sacred center of God into the right of annointing, does it not?

Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley, what is the Orthodox position on cremation? Best, Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...

Margaret, the spoked wheel or 6-pointed star on the ossuary is a solar symbol, such as appears on the tabot or ritual tabernacle that is carried in ptocession in the Ethiopian churches. The sun's perceived movement from east to west and the no-shadow position of high noon apeak of God's rule over earth and the sacred center. James 1:17 describes God in these terms: "Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."

The bones of many high ranked Jews were placed in ossuaries with the same symbol.

"The tau of annointing brings the sacred center of God into the right of annointing, does it not?"

I'm not sure what you are asking.

Alice C. Linsley said...


The Orthodox do not cremate their dead. Since this was done by the pagans, they regard this as a non-Christian practice. Orthodox burial and 40 day memorial practices resemble that of traditional Jews. The deceased is usually buried without delay, as in Judaism.

Chris Masterjohn said...

Hi Alice,

A friend recently pointed me to your blog. It will take me a while to get through your posts but they are very interesting. I have a blog at It's mostly about nutrition but my most recent post is anthropological and you might enjoy it and the rest in that series.

In any case, I was wondering if someday you could provide a post about the evolution of prayer beads and/or unceasing prayer. There are obvious similarities between a Catholic rosary, an Orthodox prayer rope, and Hindu or Buddhist japa beads. There seem to be similarities in the views of prayer behind them. Have these sprung up independently, has there been a lot of cross-talk between these religions, or have these practices evolved from a common ancestor?

It seems that if there is any evidence for the latter it may relate to the migrations from Africa to India you've written about.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Chris, I've visited your blog and some other sites where you have published. Very interesting and informative! Thanks for the link.

Many religions have beads for counting prayer repetitions, for chants and for meditation. The oldest antecedents of this, as far as I know, are the meteroretic bead necklaces worn by prehistoric Saharan warriors, hunters and priests. The wearer of these beads was connected to the place of their origin - heaven. It is likely that the beads were perceived to bring divine protection.

Chris Masterjohn said...

Hi Alice,

Thank you for your answer on the beads, very interesting. I'm glad you've found some of my stuff useful.

A friend pointed me to your blog after I had shared this quote from Merker (1910), which I think might interest you: ‎"I regard the Masai as descendants of those nomadic Semite peoples who belonged to the pastoral tribes of the most ancient

I just put up my next installment in the Masai series, where I cover divisions of labor, ownership rights, and authority by age and sex:

In the next one, I'm going to cover their fertility ritual, which has some remarkable parallels to the matins of Holy Saturday.


Alice C. Linsley said...


I'm not sure we can accurately speak of "pastoral Hebrews" in the same sense as pastoral Masai. However, there is a connection because Abraham's ancestors dwelt near the Masai traditional homeland.

Your series sounds fascinating. I'll follow it.

Chris Masterjohn said...

Hi Alice,

My name's Chris. :)

I'll defer to you on the relevant history, but if you haven't seen Merker's work I think it would be valuable to you, as he devotes a large chunk of it to covering linguistic and mythological similarities. He claims that they had very remarkable similarities to early Biblical stories but at a certain point, no record of anything in the later Bible. He argued that this suggested common ancestry during early Biblical times rather than later sharing of stories between groups. I have only made it not much more than 100 pages through, but I'm in the middle of scanning it from microfiche as that was the only way I could find it in English.

Thanks for all your great work! I have a lot to trudge through on your site. :)


Alice C. Linsley said...

Sorry, Chris. I hadn't had my morning tea yet and was still foggy!

I've read some of Merker's work, though it was a good while back, and you've inspired me to revisit it.

There are similarities to the early Bible stories among many Nilotic and Saharan peoples. In fact, this is the single region of the world where close thematic parallels are found to the material in Genesis. I address this here:

Chris Masterjohn said...

Hi Alice,

No problem. :)

Great post, and very fascinating. I just put up the next installment of my Masai series:

Not every aspect of the fertility ritual is ancient, as a woman says that some of it was new. Nevertheless, I find the entire thing to be very reminiscent of our service for matins of Holy Saturday, which is particularly fascinating when one considers that childbirth is a type of Jesus' burial and resurrection (John 16:21pag).


Alice C. Linsley said...


I'll read this post today. Please let me know about future posts of this type. You're doing good work!

Chris Masterjohn said...

Hi Alice,

I was just taking a coffee break from my work and reading some of Paul Spencer's "Time, Space, and the Unknown: Maasai configuratios of power and providence."

On page 132, he attempts to draw graphic depictions of the interpretations of certain numbers used by Masai diviners, who attempt to answer questions by shaking a couple hundred pebbles in an oracle made of horn and then throwing them out and arranging them in certain patterns.

He draws a clock face with the digits zero through nine. He marks the inside of the circle as "propitious" and the outside of the circle unpropitious. He places 1 and 6 outside the circle, but 1 is drawn with an arrow to show it is somewhat removed from the circle and 6 is drawn with three arrows to show it is much more removed from the circle. He marks 1 as "unpropitious for clients" and 6 as "traditionally doom-laden."

4 and 8, by contrast, are each moved in towards the center of the circle with one arrow, while the other numbers are maintained in the circle on the periphery because they are only propitious or unpropitious in certain contexts.

Then he writes, "One may note that the unpropitious '1' and '6' are the midpoints between the generally propitious '4' and '8.' This suggests drawing an 'axis of misfortune' between '1' and '6' about which a certain symmetry may be seen in figure 6.3(a)."

If one draws two axes connecting 1 and 6 and connecting 4 and 8, one winds up with a cross with one long bar and one short bar, with the short bar located about 3/4 of the way up the long bar. He drew the circle with 0 at the top, but if he drew it beginning at 1, the cross would be upright.

Interestingly, the 1 is actually propitious for the diviner himself, just not for his clients, because it is associated with his own authority. The 4 and 8 are regarded as propitious because they signify calmness and docility.

He goes on to say that this graphic isn't made explicit, but it is consistent with Masai preference for symmetry, and gives various examples including the ideal of a husband symmetrically placing different wives in huts to either side of him.


Alice C. Linsley said...

Fascinating! Thanks, Chris, for sharing this information.

As far as I can determine, the oldest counting system used base nine. This is the system of the ancient Afro-Asiatics, and the number one represents the mystery of God who is both with us and beyond us (outside the circle).

Please keep sharing this great stuff!

Chris Masterjohn said...

Hi Alice,

Here's my latest Masai post:

The Masai Part II: A Glimpse of the Masai Diet at the Turn of the 20th Century -- A Land of Milk and Honey, Bananas From Afar



Alice C. Linsley said...

Very interesting, Chris. Keep up the good work!

The Afar Triangle is the oldest known region of human habitation. It is the land of milk and honey and included "Havilah" where there is gold. The word Nubia means land of gold.

Chris Masterjohn said...

Hi Alice,

I have two questions for you.

First, do you have a reference you could direct me to about the number one symbolizing God in ancient African nine-base numerology?

Second, do you know anything about Mt. Meru? It is a real mountain in Tanzania, and is considered holy by the Maasai, but this name is also given to a central holy mountain in Buddhist and Hindu mythology. From what I read Buddhism considers it something like the center of the universe. Do you have any idea or speculation about whether this represents some derivation of the latter religions from African religion, and whether there is any connection between the real Mt. Meru and Tanzania and the mythical one in these other systems?


Alice C. Linsley said...

Hi, Chris. I hope that you are well. It sounds as if you are continuing your fascinating research!

Not all African number systems are base-nine. That of Abraham's Nilotic ancestors was and they associated singularity with the One God. God is always first, the first, who bows to the other (kenosis). This might be helpful:

Mount Meru is both a celestial archetype and a real mountain. The question is which mountain? The Buddhism and Hindu celestial archetype comes from the older Nilotic religion of Abraham's ancestors who spread across the ancient Afro-Asiatic Dominion and took their religious beliefs, symbols and practices with them. I've identified these here:

Since Abraham's ancestors came out of the Nile region I'd say that Mt. Meru is in that region. I suspect it is Mt. Kenya. The name Meru is Mary, by the way.

Godfrey Higgins, in his 1874 monograph "Anacalypsis: An Inquiry into the Origins of Languages, Nations and Religions" noted that "Armenia" could mean "mount of Meru… that is, Ar or Er-Meni-ia, the country of mount Meru or Meni." Higgins noted the conflation of the names Meni and Meru. This leaves open the possibility that Noah's ark landed on Mount Meni in Africa which I'm told is about 230 miles from the present limits of Lake Chad, the most likely site of Noah's flood. Meni or Menes is also the name of the Kushite king credited with uniting the upper and lower Nile kingdoms.

Mountain tops were regarded as the spatial sacred center - between heaven above and earth below. In this sesne the sacred mountain is the center of the cosmos, the ombligo or belly button.

I hope that this is helpful.

Best wishes,

Chris Masterjohn said...

Hi Alice,

It's been a while! I hope you are doing well. Thank you for your answer. This might prove helpful for my next post and I might have to ask you a few questions. In the mean time, here is my latest post in my Maasai series:


Alice C. Linsley said...

Chris, I don't moderate comments here any longer. I am too busy. Please join the Facebook group The Bible and Anthropology where we discuss topic of interest to you in greater depth.