Saturday, December 19, 2009

Response to The Continuum, Part 2

(For Part 1, go here.)
Alice C. Linsley

Who was Abraham?

Fr. Robert Hart said “Abram was a pagan, a worshiper of idols, until God revealed Himself to him, and revealed His purpose through him. The text is clear that he had, until then, worshiped his father's gods.”

Abram swore by the “God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth” that he would not take booty after the defeat of Chedor-Laomer and his allies. He said, “…not a thread, not a sandal strap will I take of what is yours, for you to be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich” (Gen. 14:22). To swear using this formula in reference to himself as Abram, indicates that he was a righteous man, not a pagan.

Further, Abram’s first action after arriving in Canaan (his mother’s homeland) was to seek guidance from the Moreh[1] (teacher, seer, prophet) at the Oak at the “holy place at Shechem” (Gen.12:6). The next verse states: “The Canaanites were in the country at the time” so it is evident that this account is written well after Abraham lived there.

We also have these words: “Abram put his faith in Yahweh and this was reckoned to him as righteous” (Gen. 15:6). We note that here too he is still called ‘Abram.’ The idea that Abraham was an idoler worshiper comes from a midrash of the Common Era, centuries after the Pentateuch was written. It indicates that Abraham realised that his father's idols (Teraphim)[2] had no power and perceived that there is but one God.

Genesis is like the law tablets that were broken in two. To gain the big picture, one must put the two parts together. Seemingly contradictory things are said about Abraham, yet together these statements help us to understand who he was. For example, Abraham speaks of himself in Canaan as an alien living among the Hittites (Gen. 23:3), yet when addressing him, the Hittites speak of him as a “prince of God” among them. Of course, both are true of Abraham since he had not lived in that region from his childhood, but his mother’s Horite people were regarded as elect or chosen to serve God. They are the likely origin of the concept of a 'nation of priests.'

God also is spoken of in contradictory ways. In Psalm 104:2, we are told that Yahweh is robed in light, but in Psalm 18:11 we are told that He made darkness his covering. If we ignore one of these statements we gain a partial picture. We must look at details, some of which seem to contradict the dominate view. We must also discern patterns, such as these binary opposites, as they present to us how the ancient Semites thought.

Abraham was a Horite. The Horites were devotees of Horus, called “Son of God,” and they anticipated His coming from their bloodline. As bloodline was traced through the mother, the expectation was fulfilled in the Virgin Mary, daughter of a priestly line.[3]

It has been difficult to piece together the origins of our Messianic Faith because critical information is missing about the chiefs who were the contemporaries of Reu, Serug and Nahor (see here.) The information that is missing pertains to Abraham's mother's people who controlled a region between Mt. Hor (northeast of Kadesh-barnea) and Mt. Harun (near Petra). Genesis 10:30 tells us that these were the clans whose dwelling place extended from Mesha "all the way to Sephar, the eastern mountain range." They are called Horites (Egyptian Khar) in Genesis 14:6, and 36:20, and in Deuteronomy 2:12. Numbers 33:27-28 mentions 'Terah' as a place near Mount Harun (Mount of Aaron in Jordan).

Besides being the name of Abraham's father, Terah is also the name of an Arabian tribe (Terabin) that dwells chiefly between Gaza and Beersheba (Keturah's home). This information links Terah to Joktan and Sheba, from which Terah took his wife, Abraham's mother. It also suggests that Terah's mother was a daughter of a Horite chief named Terah and Terah's patrilineal cousin, since she named her first-born son Terah after her father according to the cousin bride's naming prerogative.

Poetreader made the comment: “Scripture is strikingly clear that Abraham was brought up to serve his father's polytheistic gods, and did indeed receive what he had from the true God by special revelation. That is the very heart of his story.”

Only one place in Scripture refers to Terah as an idol worshiper. Abraham is never referred to as an idol worshiper, so we should exercise suspicion here, since the weight of Scripture and extra-biblical evidence is against such a claim. Abraham left his father’s house as a response to God’s call, and THAT is the heart of the story. We are not told what he expected, but since Abraham and his ancestors were rulers, and since Nahor received Terah’s territory, it is likely that Abraham sought a kingdom of his own.  To gain that kingdom, he needed a son. So, here we have the Gospel: By faith and obedience in this life we receive a Kingdom and it is the Kingdom of the Son of God. Isn’t this the heart of the Story?

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6


1. "Torah" means that which is thrown by the hand of the Moreh (oracle or prophet). Abraham received guidance when he pitched his tent at the Oak of Moreh. The word "Torah" is usually rendered guidance or instruction, but the word is also associated with a prophet sitting under a tree. These treses were at the sacred center (See Eliade's research). Abraham pitched his tent at the “Oak of Moreh” between Ai and Bethel (Gen. 13). Likewise, Deborah who deliberated on behalf of Israel, judged from her tamar (date nut palm) between Ramah (meaning high or lifted up) and Bethel (meaning house of God).

2.  Teraphim were ancestor statues, still commonly used among Africans, but the ancestors are not worshiped in the sense that is suggested about Terah and Abraham. The reverance shown to the ancestors of the ruler-priests is not unlike that shown by Christians to saints and martyrs to whom they turn for intercessions.  There is a darker side to this however, observed in Africa today and experienced by St. Paul in Philippi (Acts 16:16-18), where demons are invoked and false prophets declare through demon possession.

3. Fr. Hart mistakenly assumes that Abraham's patriarchal people traced bloodline through the fathers.  This overthrows the significance of the Virgin-birth of Christ. While social status, office and trade were received from the father, bloodline was traced through the mother. So Jesus was a carpenter, following Joseph's trade, yet the Son of God, not the son of Joseph.


Sandra McColl said...

It seems a little harsh to use words denoting paganism and idol-worship (even if, as I fully expect, these words are not meant as expressions of a qualitative judgment) of Abram, when he lived at a time preceding the fulness--or even the first instalment--of revelation. Abram wasn't a Jew because Jews hadn't been invented yet. Without the benefit of much in the revelation, the Horites, whom God chose from the beginning to be the race from whom the Son came, were already on the right track concerning what they were expecting, and further revelation sorted out the details. God chose to be born into a race of priests, not shamans.

One question, Alice, that's been niggling me: is there much evidence for the continuation of the practice of priests having two wives after the establishment of the rule of the kings? Marking the extremities of one's territory with houses each with a wife in it would be appropriate conduct for a king, but once the royal function (and all the wives and, if you believe the schoolboy howler, porcupines) had been laid on the shoulders of one man, ought not the functions and privileges of priests to have changed? Before the Kings it's Hannah's childlessness that's the problem. By the beginning of the NT, the 'you're going to have a son' message is delivered to a shocked but ultimately delighted Zacharias--it's not only Elisabeth's problem that's been fixed, but his as well.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Fr. Hart has noted that in II Samuel 8:18, David’s sons are called “…וּבְנֵי דָוִד, כֹּהֲנִים הָיוּ”, which translates, “…and the sons of David were priests.”

Here anthropology can help biblical scholarship make an important distinction between the office of priest and priestly families; what I call "priestly lines". Most in the priestly lines didn't serve in the office of priest. Joseph, who married the Virgin Mary, was of a priestly line (as was Mary) but didn't serve in the office of priest. Joseph's family lived in Nazareth which was the home of the eighteenth division of priests, that of Happizzez (1 Chronicles 24:15).

Once the Israelites were settled in their territories, with the priestly families dispersed throughout, the practice of having 2 wives probably continued, but we don't have much information as to whether those wives were maintained in separate households on a north-south axis as was done in Abraham's time. This is an area which requires more research. I'm working on it! : )

David Ould said...

Alice, surely the following indicates that Abram was a pagan when God first called him:
Joshua 24:2 Joshua told all the people, "Here is what the LORD God of Israel says: 'In the distant past your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. They worshiped other gods, 3 but I took your father Abraham from beyond the Euphrates and brought him into the entire land of Canaan. I made his descendants numerous; I gave him Isaac,

The family of Terah worshipped other gods. Now it does not state unequivocably that Abram did but it is surely implied. And the contrast appears to come at the point where God brought him from beyond the Euphrates (ie from Haran) and into the Land.

That was the moment of conversion for Abram, surely? God comes to him and reveals Himself and Abram responds. And the wonder is that this was grace to a worshipper of other gods.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Joshua 24:2 reads a bit differently in the Hebrew Study Bible: “In olden times, your forefathers – Terah, father of Abraham and father of Nahor – lived beyond the Euphrates and worshiped other gods.”

Nothing is said of Abraham worshiping other gods. Further the implication is that Terah, whose ancestors came from Africa and Canaan, fell into worshiping contrary to his fathers’ tradition while living “beyond the Euphrates.” This is historically accurate since Abraham's Horite ancestors never worshiped the moon god, Sin, as was doone in Ur and Haran.

Further, the Joshua passage must be understood in the context of the Deuteronomistic History, which begins in Deuteronomy and ends in II Kings. These books share a common concern with idolatry and place the covenant at Shechem at precisely the location where God appears to Abraham in 3 Persons (Gen. 18).

David Ould said...

Alice, sorry but I fail to understand how what you've written actually answers the point that I made. It strikes me that:
1. The "different" reading of the text is hardly different at all.
2. I had already noted that fact that Abram's own worship was not specifically mentioned but also responded to that issue.
3. To argue that Terah "fell into" worship (as opposed to being a habitual and historical worshipper) is to state more than the text states.
4. I made no mention of a moon God, neither does thetext appear to.
5. Deuteronomistic history or not, it hardly changes the argument. The question is still whether Abram was an idolator prior to his call. The assumed intent of the "deuteronimist" does not change this.

Alice C. Linsley said...

So you will go with your interpretation of one verse of the Bible against the bulk of biblical information, even though that verse says nothing about Abraham was an idol worshiper?

This verse is about Terah and Nahor. It names no others. What do these 2 men have in common? They ruled in an area known for idolatry, the same region where the tower of Babel was built. They did so by choice, as they represent the the kingdom building-expansionists (like Nimrod) who left their traditional homelands and the religion of their fathers.

Further, Abram’s first action after arriving in Canaan (his mother’s homeland) was to seek guidance from the Moreh[1] (teacher, seer, prophet) at the Oak at the “holy place at Shechem” (Gen.12:6). The next verse states: “The Canaanites were in the country at the time” so it is evident that this account is written well after Abraham lived there.

We also have these words: “Abram put his faith in Yahweh and this was reckoned to him as righteous” (Gen. 15:6). We note that here he is still called ‘Abram.’

The idea that Abraham worshiped idols comes from a midrash of the Common Era, centuries after the Pentateuch was written. This midrash claims that Abraham realised that his father's idols (Teraphim) had no power and perceived that there is but one God. It is not so much about Abraham as about asserting monotheism.

Phil said...

David, re: "I had already noted that fact that Abram's own worship was not specifically mentioned but also responded to that issue." Your "response" was, "Now it does not state unequivocably that Abram did but it is surely implied." In other words, no response, just hand-waving: "now it doesn't say what I say it says, but surely I'm right, anyway."

David Ould said...

Thanks Phil and Alice,

Yes - you're right, nothing is said plainly either way.

Which leads to the question, which is more natural to infer?

Perhaps a useful question for me to ask is "what do you feel is at stake if Abram were NOT a YhWh fearer at the time of his call?"

Alice C. Linsley said...

Dear David,

I'm not very interested in hypothetical questions. At this blog I look at Genesis through the lens of cultural anthropology, which is a science. Science works with data. The Bible is full of data about Abraham and his people. In fact, that data is so considerable that it has taken me 32 years to sort through it. When I float the data before anthropologists they generally agree with me. When I float it before Bible believers, they tend to argue with me. This suggests that Bible believers approach the text with a pre-conceived idea.

But to your question: Abraham wouldn't have known God as YHWH. He probably knew God as El, or Pel or Bel (but I'm speculating here.) The point I wish to make is that there was a reason why the rulers of Abraham's people married according to the unique pattern they did - within priestly lines. I can find only one reason for this: They believed the primal promise of Gen. 3:15 that the One born of the Woman (note she is not called Eve here) would destroy the cosmic serpent and that He would be born of a woman of their line. This is an expression of faith, and a great one, as it has to do with the appearing of the Son of God. What must we do to be saved? We must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who has come into the world to save sinners such as me.

Phil said...


That's an interesting question. My initial response is, "not very much." I think the critical thing is that the name of the true and living God was revealed to Abram, and, in a concrete situation in which God made a claim on his life, Abram responded with faith. This is the key action that St. Paul identifies for us.

At the same time, I don't think it is contrary to what we believe to claim that Abram understood the ultimate promise, in embryonic form, of God to mankind, by whatever name he might have called Him. Surely, with those such as Adam and Noah coming before him, Abram et al. could have retained a memory of the Truth regarding the Creator.

What do you think is at stake?

David Ould said...

thanks guys.

Phil, yeah it's a great question - I find it most helpful when I'm having these discussions because normally the other party is trying to defend something that I'm also keen to defend but I don't see the implication like they do.

For me, I think what's at stake is the assertion that God is unknown until He actually reveals Himself and that the Scriptures seem to be clear that He does that in specific ways. Until there is true self-revelation from God there can be no proper knowledge.

So as I read what Alice is arguing I keep hearing that Abram somehow knew God prior to his call in a way that was beneficial to him in salvation.

Whereas as I read the Scriptures it appears that God simply reveals Himself to a complete unbeliever - which is a clear demonstration of the utter graciousness of God's dealings with us.

Does that make sense? I guess I'm trying to defend the concept that there's no beneficial knowledge of God outside of that direct revelation. To me it looks like otherwise we're arguing for some generic beneficial knowledge of God that Abram had. That then strikes me as an argument from silence.

Of course, I concede that Alice is arguing that its not silence and the that Genesis genealogies are not "silent". But it feels to me like a very long bow being drawn.

Alice C. Linsley said...


I'd never deny that God's self-revelation is what makes salvation possible. Often that revelation comes to the lost seemingly "out of the blue" and brings them to the Savior, Jesus Christ. This is indeed one aspect of the gracious nature of our God. This happened to Abraham when the Lord in three Persons visited him in Mamre.

However, if Tradition concerning the Son of God is dependent on this sort of personal experience than we should all become Pentecostal. You know how dangerous it can be to base spiritual assumptions on personal experiences since we can be led astray by the enemy. That's why St. John warns us to "test the spirits".

It is this claim of the authority of "experience" that has caused The Episcopal Church to slip into heresy, even apostasy.

Abraham received a Tradition concerning the expectation of the coming of a "Son of God" through his people. As Phil and Sandra have said, he didn't have the knowledge of Jesus Christ that we have today, but they had more knowledge of God and God's plan of salvation than we give them credit for. This is evident from anthropological study.

For example, they recognized that reality is cross-shaped. Their cosmology took as its most basic framework the directional poles: north-south and east-west. As these poles are aligned, the intersecting lines form a cross.

Before Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri died at age 108, he left a signed note indicating Messiah's identity: Yeshua - Jesus. His manuscripts, written in his own hand, have cross-symbols painted all over the pages. Many Jews have attempted to explain away the crosses, arguing that the great Rabbi Kaduri was not a Christian. Whether he was or nor, this great Rabbi recognized the principal cosmological sign of his ancestors. Rabbi Kaduri knew the Tradition of Abraham's people, as expressed in symbols. Those apparently lead him to Jesus, the Son of God, whose symbol is the Cross. Christ has left His sign everywhere in creation. (For more, go here:

So in addition to personal experiences of God (to be evaluated in the light of Holy Tradition), God's self-revelation is found in the order of creation which Abraham and his people relied on in discerning God's nature and plan. They observed the binary distinctions in creation and perceived the Divine Nature in the Sun's rising and setting, in the distinction between darkness and light, between male and female, between man and beast, between Heaven and Earth, etc. Further, they regarded any act that confused the distinctions as an affront to the Creator. This is why homosexuality is regarded as "abomination", as is sowing 2 kinds of seeds in a field, boiling a kid in its mother's milk, and weaving cloth with different kinds of fibers.

They also observed the heavens and became so accostumed to the clocklike movement of the constellations that they noticed anomalies. They expected God's revelation through these anomalies. So Daniel and his partners from Judah were regarded as wise before the Babylonians. And they continued to believe in the coming of the Promised Son while in captivity. This is why the Messianic verse from Psalm 145:13 punctuates the collapse of each earthly kingdom in the book of Daniel. This is why the wise men from Babylon knew to follow the Star of Bethlehem, an anomaly whose meaning they could never have mis-read. Read more here: