Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Afro-Asiatic Religious Life

Alice C. Linsley

I've done a good deal of original research on the Afro-Asiatic Dominion, tracing the linguistic evidence for such. I have also written about the decline of the Afro-Asiatic Dominion, but I have yet to present the key features of ancient Afro-Asiatic religious life, of which I have identified eight. The features are: Triune God; the Sun as emblem of the Deity; concept of the Son of God; fixed order of creation; hereditary priesthood; blood sacrifice at altars, a common number symbolism, and prophets.

Let us consider each of these features separately.

1. Triune God
The Hindu Trinity (trimurti) consists of the TriGods - Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver and Shiva, the judge and destroyer.

The concept of a Triune God is found in the Hebrew Scriptures. We see the author of Genesis struggle to describe the appearance of the Lord (as 3 persons) to Abraham in Genesis 18. There is also an ancient Semitic name for the Triune God - Baal Shalisha – usually rendered ‘God of 3 powers’ or ‘the third idol’ which suggests a shrine dedicated to this God. ‘Baal’ means Lord and ‘shalisha’ is the number three, so it is possible that this could simply mean Triune God. If this is the case, the accusation that the Church invented the Trinity hardly seems justified by the evidence.

2. Sun as Deity’s Emblem or Chariot
In Hinduism, the sun is called 'Surya' and is regarded as the visible form of God that one can see every day. Devout Hindus offer prayers and morning sacrifice to the rising sun in the traditional Sūrya namaskāra or Sun Salutation.

The Hebrew Birkat Hachama ("Blessing of the Sun") is recited once every twenty-eight years, when the vernal equinox as calculated by tradition falls on a Tuesday at sundown (the sacred midpoint of the 7 day cycle). Jews recite a blessing to the Creator on the exact day, every 28 years. This year the blessing was recited on April 8, 2009. It was recited also on April 8, 1953 and on April 8, 1981. The next date of the blessing of the sun will be April 8, 2037.

We find the idea of the Sun as deity in Luke (New Testament). Here the priest Zechariah prophesies concerning the Forerunner of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist. He declares: “And you, little child, you shall be called Prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare a way for Him, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins, because of the faithful love of our God in which the rising Sun has come from on high to visit us…” (Luke 1:76-78)

3. Concept of the Incarnate Son of God

In Hinduism Shani or Shanichar (Saturn) is believed to be the son of Surya the Sun-god. And Lord Rama, the most perfect avatar of God is at once the ideal son. Further, Hindus believe that Krishna was flesh and blood on earth as deity incarnate. Many Hindus accept Jesus as “a son of God’ since it is possible through ascetical practice to be divinized. This is similar to the kenotic or noetic tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy which holds that humans were created to enjoy God-ness and are restored to that original state through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

4. Fixed Order of Creation

According to the Hebrew Scriptures God alone created the world and established a predictable fixed order to His creation (Genesis 1; Psalms 104:19-20, Jeremiah 33:19-36). This predictable order is referred to as ‘RTA’ in Hinduism. It is an order which we perceive foremost as having binary opposites: God-Man; Heaven-Earth; Male-Female; Sun-Moon; Night-Day, etc.

Because the order is fixed, there is no possibility of essential change. Entities can only be what they were created (as Aristotle recognized in his teleological conversations). What we often call 'change' is fluctuation in outward form but not change in essence. So water is always water (H2O) though its form fluctuates between liquid, vapor, and ice. (This is where the biblical worldview and convergence evolution knock heads. To read more on this go here.)

Likewise the social order is perceived as fixed. This is seen in Laws of Manu which speaks of four castes: Brahmanas, the priestly class; Ksatriyas, warrior class; Vaisyas, agriculturists; and Sudras, those who serve the other three classes. The Apostle Paul regarded the Church as having a fixed order established by God when he writes: “And those whom God has appointed in the Church are, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers…” He lists other orders after them, including miracle workers and healers. (I Corinthians 12:28-30)

5. Hereditary Priesthood

In Jewish tradition all Kohanim (priests) are descendants of Aaron, who Jews consider to be the original Kohen. However, as my kinship research has demonstrated, the line of Kohanim was passed from father to first-born son without interruption from before the time of Aaron. This is evident in the intermarriage of the priestly lines descending from Kain and Seth, and from Ham and Shem, and from Aaron and his half-brother Korah, who was also a priest (‘harwa’). The descendants of these priestly lines intermarried, preserving the priests' bloodline to the time of the birth of Jesus Christ who is said to be the Priest Messiah of the ‘order of Melchizedek.’ Psalm 110:4 declares that “Yahweh has sworn an oath he will never retract, you are a priest forever of the order of Melchizedek.”

Over time the word ‘Kohen’ has come to mean "priest" but was probably an earlier designation of social position in the community. This suggests that the word relates more to the fact that the most ancient families (those who preserved their bloodlines) usually give guidance to the rest of the community. Thus ruler-priests, who married only within their priestly lines, influenced the spread of the Afro-Asiatic religion far and wide.

6. Blood Sacrifice at Altars

It appears that priests (called sarki or harwa and later kohen or brahman) played a leading role in the diffusion of the Afro-Asiatic worldview. The work of the priest involved blood sacrifice for atonement. According to priestly law, the blood of a sacrificed animal was to be sprinkled seven places on the altar. Christians note that Jesus Christ bled from seven areas of his body and his blood is said to give “life to the world” (John 6:52-56).

It is interesting to note that the word 'sarki' also refers to red ochre which was ground into power and used as a symbol of blood throughout the Afro-Asiatic world and beyond in the burial of nobles between 20,000 and 80,000 years ago. While mainstream Hinduism rejects animal sacrifice, Tantric practice involves something akin to the sacramental use of Bread (Flesh) and Wine (Blood) among Christians. The meat offered in Tantric ritual is called ‘Siva’ and the wine is called ‘Sakti’. Tantrics believe that sacrificial killing of approved animals pleases the forefathers and gods and is therefore permitted.

7. Common Number Symbolism

The significance of the number seven in reference to union or completion is seen in the first Genesis creation story which says that God's creative work lasted for six days and that God rested from all His work on the seventh day. The number seven in association with God at rest (sabbath) portrays the concept of completion or perfection of a relationship between Master and Servant, or between Creator and Creation, or between Husband and Bride.

In the temple dedicated to the sun in Upper Egypt (ruins of Babian) there were seven urns. 

Hindus also have held the concept of a 7-day week. According to Hindu law the new bride was to take seven steps around the altar during the wedding ceremony.

Likewise the marriage ceremony of the Agharias of Orissa (India), involves the number seven, as described here:

The bridegroom's father sends a present of a bracelet and seven small earthen cups to the bride. She is seated in the open, and seven women hold the cups over her head one above the other. Water is then poured from above from one cup into the other, each being filled in turn and the whole finally falling on the bride's head. This probably symbolizes the fertilizing action of rain. The bride is then bathed and carried in a basket seven times round the marriage-post, after which she is seated in a chair and seven women place their heads together round her while a male relative winds a thread seven times round the heads of the women.

In Jewish weddings the Sheva Brachot (seven marriage blessings) are recited under the huppah and the wedding feast lasts 7 days. Samsom gave the Philistines the full seven days of his wedding to work out his puzzle, which poses Delilah's betrayal of her husband as a very evil act.

The number seven was attached to weddings in ancient Babylon also as attested by Esther 1:5-11: And when these days were expired, the king made a feast unto all the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and small, seven days, in the court of the garden of the king's palace. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he commanded Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, and Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven chamberlains that served in the presence of Ahasuerus the king, to bring Vashti the queen before the king with the crown royal, to shew the people and the princes her beauty..."

8. Prophets
Prophecy and prophets were a common feature of the ancient Afro-Asiatic civilizations. Afro-Asiatic prophets resided near bodies of water or sacred springs, so we are not surprised to find that prophecy is attested at shrines along the Nile, at Hama on the Orontes (8th century B.C.), and at Mari on the Euphrates (18th century B.C.)

There were prophets and seers in the flourishing civilization of Sudan before the time of the Pharaohs. Some of them foretold the invasions of Africa from central Asia. The rulers of Egypt had their personal prophets. Pharoah recognized Abraham as a prophet (Gen. 20:7).  Joseph was elevated in Egypt because of his prophetic interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams. Dream interpretation was one of the prophet’s tasks. In Deuteronomy 13, the prophet is called "a dreamer of dreams" (Dt. 13:2).

Prophets were connected to the Temple. Jeremiah tells us that a man of God, Ben-Johanan, resided in a room in the Temple. We remember Anna, who prophesied concerning Jesus at his presentation in the Temple. We are told that she lived in the Temple (Luke 2:36-38).

Before the Temple, it was customary for prophets to dwell at sacred places marked by great trees, springs or wells. Deborah, “the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet” associated with a tamar (date nut palm) midway between two important shrines: “Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment” (Judges 4:4-6). Likewise Abraham consulted a prophet (moreh) when he arrived in Canaan. This prophet was associated with a sacred oak between Ai and Bethel (Gen. 13). It was here that God appeared to Abraham in three Persons (Gen. 18).

We find evidence that there were confraternities such as the one that was in touch with Elijah (2 Kings 2:3-18; 4:38ff; 6:1ff and 9:1) and alluded to in Amos 7:14. These companies of prophets appear to have had a good following. They performed symbolic mimes under the influence of music (1 Sam. 10:5). It is significant that the prophetic messages recorded in the Bible are NOT associated with groups of prophets, but with individual prophets whose lives exemplified holiness. The prophet is someone to whom God’s holiness and desires are an immediate experience through which the present and the future come into clear focus.


Collaborative research in linguistics, climate change, archaeology and cultural anthropology indicates that Afro-Asiatic ruler-priests are largely responsible for the diffusion of the Afro-Asiatic religious life that took root around the large water systems from west central Africa to the Indus River Valley and even beyond. It is a religious life that shares theses distinctive features, all of which are found in the Bible and which indeed frame the biblical worldview. They point to a God who desires Sabbath communion with us through the Blood of His Son and eternal Priest, Jesus Christ. All true prophets point to this Communion.


dGabe Evau said...

I find it odd that you failed to mention the obvious reason the number 7 was so important across the entire world, not just in Western Asia and the NE 1/4 of Africa: the reverence for the 7 "planets" visible to the eye, for which the 7 days of the week are named.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, the 7 planets - 7 days is significant, especially as the priests were the antronomers of their time and it fell to them to observe feasts and fasts at the proper times. I have addressed this in other posts.

Additionally, the 7 Orishas of Yorumba religion appear to correspond to the 7 planets and Kain and his brother Seth probably came from the area of Nigeria where this religion is practiced. I'll address this further in the up-coming essay on the Tribe of Jebu (Jebusites) whose original homeland is also Nigeria.

Mairnéalach said...

Alice- you said "Because the order is fixed, there is no possibility of essential change."

In the Genetics post, you hypothesized that the bible renders speciation impossible. You pinned this argument on the term "kinds" from Genesis.

I contend with you that yours is an extra-scriptural hypothesis, because scripture itself sheds no light on whether "kinds" is meant to refer to Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, or Species.

Therefore, you are demanding that the essence of creatureliness can only be expressed at the species level.

I agree with you that nature is incapable of essential change, but I disagree that the "essence" is subject to man-created taxonomy. I believe "essence" is instead defined by God's direct creative will--which Job teaches us is in many ways inscrutable.

Thank you for your very fruitful and upbuilding observations.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Mairnealach, you've made a tremendously important observation!

To clarify, I do not regard the Genesis 'kinds' as analogous to the modern biological categories Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, or Species. This would be a foreign concept to the Afro-Asiatics and to Job. Genesis 'kinds' is based on the ancients' observation of the binary character of the order of creation. The word simply represents the reality that there are many creatures on Earth and all are distinct from the Creator in Heaven. You will note that In Genesis 1 the term is used only in reference to 3 categories: vegetation (verse 12); Birds and sea creatures (verse 21) and creatures that inhabit the dry ground (verse 25). This is significant becasue the number 3 in Genesis is always used to indicate a unity. We note that humans are not classed with the other creatures because the words kinds is not used in reference to humans. That is because Humans are made in the image of God and therefore their unity is with the Creator who is Triune. This is why Jesus prayed that those who believe in Him as the Son of God would be 'in Him' and He is in the Father (John 17). Jesus was praying before His death and resurrection for a restoration of the original order.