Sunday, April 21, 2019


Glossary of Anthropological Terms

This is a limited list. Additional terms used by anthropologists can be found here.

Affinal Bond: The kinship bond that links persons by marriage: husband, wife, mother-in-law, father-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law.

Ambilineal Descent: A form of cognatic descent in which individuals can select to trace descent either matrilineally or patrilineally. The decision may be made each generation based on the relative wealth and/or importance of the father's and the mother's family lines. Illustrated in this diagram:

Amphictyony: an association of neighboring states or clans in ancient Greece to defend a common religious center or ancestral shrine. Each state or clan took turns in the provision and maintenance of the shrine. The amphictyonic members made pilgrimages to the shrine to serve as assigned during religious festivals. The Greek practice appears to be similar to the duodecimal or 12-clan pattern of the biblical Hebrew and that of the later Israelites.

Anthroponyms: Personal names, some of which are titles for rulers, priests and chiefs, such as Terah, Enoch, and Lamech. Lamech is related to the word Melech, meaning “king” and to an ancient Akkadian word meaning priests. Terah designates a priest, and Enoch designate a proper heir, or one who ascends to his father’s throne.

Apical Maternal Ancestors: Women regarded as founders of clans or tribes though not all the people in the clan/tribe are their biological descendants. Rachel and Leah are posed in Genesis as apical maternal ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Apostolic Succession: The transmission of spiritual authority and Holy Tradition from the Apostles through successive bishops of the Church. The concept originated before Christianity and is found in the rules of succession of the Great Sanhedrin with which the Apostle Paul was familiar.

Apotropaic: Referring to rituals intended to turn away harm or to avert misfortune or divine punishment. The sending away of the scapegoat is an example.

Autochthonous: Referring to the earth origin of humans, as found in the myths of many cultures. The autochthonous origin of humans speaks of humans coming from or being made of the soil (humus), as in Genesis 2.

Avuncular: The term comes from the Latin avunculus, meaning "maternal uncle." The term describes the relationship between an uncle and his sister's son. Among the biblical Hebrew the maternal uncle sometimes exercised authority over his nephew. Jacob was sent to his mother's brother Laban when it looked as if his life might be in danger. In some cases, the maternal uncle could deny marriage to his sister's daughters if the proposed marriage compromised inheritance or provoked violent reactions among the Hebrew clans.

Binary balance: Binary balance is a feature of the Hebrew social structure which is reflected in the Hebrew Scriptures. Examples include the distinct duties/responsibilities of the mother's house versus the father's house; male prophets-female prophets; male rulers-female rulers; inheritance by male heirs-inheritance by female heirs, patrilocal residence among the Hebrew-matrilocal residence among the Hebrew; and in the Hebrew double unilineal descent pattern, both the patrilineage and the matrilineage are recognized and honored, but in different ways. The blood symbolism of the Passover associated with Moses has a parallel in the blood symbolism of the scarlet cord associated with Rahab. The abusive behavior of drunken Noah toward his sons has a parallel in the abusive behavior of drunken Lot toward his daughters.

Binary Oppositions: (also called “binary distinctions” or “binary sets") These are perceived in the order of nature and are inseparable and complementary, such as heaven/earth, east/west, life/death, male/female, night/day, hot/cold, etc. In the binary worldview of the Bible one entity in the set is superior to the other - the sun is greater than the moon; life is greater than death, the male is larger and stronger than the female, etc. Not all opposites are binary sets. (See 

Binary Reasoning: The reasoning of biblical writers which informs their morality, ethics and worldview. They perceive binary oppositions or "binary sets" in Creation. The primary sets are Creator-Creature, Life-Death, Male-Female, and Sun-Moon. It is evident from observation and experience that one entity of the binary set is superior or greater in visible/vital ways than its opposite. (See Binary Reasoning Informs Christian Morality and EthicsLevi-Strauss and Jacques Derrida on Binary Oppositions)

Blood anxiety:  Anthropologists have found in every primitive society that has been studied the belief that here is power in blood and this power is potentially dangerous. This anxiety about shed blood is universal (widely diffused), evidence that it is very old and one explanation for the development of the office of priest. See The Origins of the Priesthood.

Brachycephalic: Refers to broad-headed skulls, as contrasted with round "mesocephalic", and elongated "dolichocephalic" skulls.

Caste System:  Strict social stratification made it impossible to change one’s status in the ancient world. We see this in one of the oldest established religions, Hinduism. Castes were viewed as having been established by God in the beginning. In the Bhagavad Gita, a first century A.D. Hindu text, Krishna declares that he has become incarnate yet he was being in the beginning because he also declares “The four castes were created by me.” In the Rig Veda, dating to about 3000 years ago, four castes are mentioned. The most prestigious are the Brahmans (priestly and intellectual class); then the Kshatriyas (ruler and warrior class); then the Vaisyas (farmers and artisans) and the lowest caste are the Sudras (the “untouchables” whose ancestors came from Sudan.) In the Laws of Manu (about 250 B.C.) these castes are elaborated as the primeval divine creation. Many sub-castes exist under these, making it difficult to know who is one’s equal or one superior.

Circumcision: Removal of flesh from the foremost part of the penis or from the clitoris. Female circumcision parallels male circumcision and emphasizes the binary distinction between females and males. The practice reflects the binary worldview of the Afro-Asiatics and originated in west central Africa before the time of Abraham. Circumcision is seen as an enhancement of the woman’s femininity by the removal of what appears to be a male organ. It is also believed to enhance female fertility and purity. Likewise, male circumcision is believed to enhance maleness by removing the soft folding tissues that appear like the female organ. It is also believed to enhance male fertility and purity. The complement to the circumcised male is the circumcised female. See Circumcision and Binary Distinctions. Note: Trees are described as "uncircumcised" until the fourth year of their fruit bearing in Leviticus 19:33.

Clade: A clade is a group of organisms that are monophyletic, that is, composed of a common ancestor and all its lineal descendants on a phylogenetic tree. Clades are nested as each branch in turn splits into smaller branches, as shown in this image. The vertical stem line indicates common ancestor. The blue and red groups are monophyletic. The green group is paraphyletic because it is missing a monophyletic group (the blue group) that shares a common ancestor—the lowest green vertical stem. A paraphyletic group cannot be a clade.

Cleromancy: The use of various methods of sorting for the purpose of making a decision. It has been 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.

Cognatic Descent: tracing descent through all ancestors, male and female. This is a feature of the kinship pattern of the biblical Hebrew, though many of the female ancestors are not named. 

Common ancestor: In human genetics, a common ancestor may be an individual or a population.

Concubine: A royal consort whose firstborn son could under limited circumstances ascend to the throne of his ruler father.  Concubinage historically pertains to African, Afro-Arabian, and Asian rulers. It was common in China under the Zhou Dynasty. This practice, and castration of husbands guilty of adultery, may have been introduced there by the Afro-Asiatics who made and used iron tools.

Consanguine Bond: The type of kinship bond that links people through socially recognized biological ties, such as mother, father, grandparents, children, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, and cousins.

Cosmology: The study of the origin and structure of the universe, its parts, elements, and laws. Among biblical populations, the arrangement of a home and/or a village often expressed that community's cosmological understanding. For example, the place of priority often was at the sacred center which is where the ruler would be seated or the ruler's house would be built. Temples were built with entrances facing the East because the Sun was the symbol of the Rising God. Temples were built with many pillars which were perceived to connect Heaven and Earth. See Cosmologies of the ancient Near East.

Cousin Bride’s Naming Prerogative: The ruler-priests of Abraham’s people married two wives. One was a cousin. The cousin bride was usually the second wife and she often named her first-born son after her father. So we find Lamech the Elder (Gen. 4), father of Naamah, and Lamech the Younger (Gen.5), son of Naamah. The cousin bride’s naming prerogative makes it possible to trace descent through the maternal line in the Bible. See Methuselah's Wife.

Diffusion: The process by which a cultural trait, material object, idea, or behavior pattern is spread from one society to another, often traceable to a central point. A principle of anthropology states that the wider the diffusion of a culture trait, the older the trait.

Dolichocephalic: Skulls that have been elongated such as this skull found in Russia. The dolichocephalic skull has an index of between 70-5.

Double descent: Descent traced according to tradition through both the patrilineal and the matrilineal group with attendant rights and obligations. Among the biblical Hebrew descent was double unilineal descent, which recognizes both the patrilineage and the matrilineage, though with each there are different expectations. For example, the inheritance of land and the right to rule may pertain to the patrilineage, while the matrilineage controls the inheritance of movable objects such as tents and livestock.

Egalitarianism: Affirming, promoting, or characterized by belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people. The ancient world of the women we are studying was decidedly NOT egalitarian. It was characterized by a caste system. The highest social caste consisted of rulers and their priests. Most of the women we read about in the Bible are the daughters or wives of rulers or priests and are therefore women of high social standing.

Ethnonyms: names of ethnic groups, clans, biblical populations or tribes.

Endogamous Marriage: Marriage to people within one’s family or clan structure. This practice is characteristic of castes such as the Horite ruler-priest caste. Almost without exception, the women named in the Bible married according to this pattern. See The Marriage and Ascendancy Pattern of Abraham's People

Exogamous Marriage: Marriage to people outside one’s clan structure. Exogamous marriage is extremely rare among the people mentioned in the Bible.

Feminist Hermeneutic: How Feminists interpret texts, generally through a Marxist lens. Feminist interpretations assume that men are responsible for the abuse and oppression of women worldwide. See The Paradox of Feminism.

Fictive Bond:  The type of bond between persons who are neither related by blood nor marriage, but whose relationship is arranged. Concubines were not regarded as wives.  Their bond to their masters was fictive and therefore more easily broken, as in the case of Hagar.

Haplogroup: A haplogroup is a genetic population who share a common paternal or maternal ancestor. Haplogroup populations have similar haplotypes that share a common ancestor with a single-nucleotide polymorphism mutation. Haplogroups are assigned letters of the alphabet, and additional number and letter combinations that represent slight mutations within the larger population group. Most populations named in Genesis are in Y-chromosome Haplogroup R and Haplogroup G which includes Proto-Saharans, North Africans, Nilotes, Middle Eastern, Southern Europeans, and 70% of men native to the British Isles. (Haplogroups of Famous Historical Persons)

Haplotype: A haplotype is a group of alleles in an organism that are inherited together from a single parent.

Henotheism: Belief in one supreme creator with lesser assisting authorities or powers (baals). This "divine council" was reflected in the hierarchy of ruler-priests with the king or pharaoh as the supreme representative of God on earth. See Why Does Genesis Speak of Gods?

Holy Tradition: The dogma received from the Elders and faithfully passed from generation to generation concerning Jesus Messiah whose suffering and ultimate victory over sin and death was foretold. This dogma represents Reality centered in the divine person of Jesus Christ. Scripture and Holy Tradition agree that nothing exists outside of Christ. See What is Holy Tradition? 

Horites: A moiety of the early Hebrew ruler-priest caste. Josephus calls the descendants of Abraham by Keturah "Horites" and quoting another ancient historian, speaks of them as "conquerors of Egypt and founders of the Assyrian Empire." Abraham's people were Horite Hebrew ruler-priests. They originated in the Nile Valley where they maintained the high mounds. The Horite Hebrew were devotees of God Father and God Son. The son was called Horus by the Greeks. In ancient Egyptian, HR means "Most High One." Some Horite Hebrew rulers are named in Genesis 36. The Horus name appears on Egyptian hieroglyphs at the beginning of dynastic civilization (c. 3300 BC). The oldest known Horite Hebrew shrine is Nekhen (4000-3800 BC) across from its twin city Nekheb. Jews call their ancestors Horim, which is rendered "Horite" in English.

Isomorphism: An isomorphism is a map that shows a relationship between two properties, objects, operations, structures, or patterns. If isomorphism exists between two structures or entities, we call the two structures or entities isomorphic. Isomorphic entities are identical in the way they preserve properties. The term applies to patterns found in the Bible, especially to doublets with the same moral message: Noah as a drunken father who curses his offspring/descendant has an isomorphic relationship to Lot as a drunken father who becomes a cause of the curse of his descendants the Moabites and the Ammonites.

Levirate marriage:  Levirate marriage is 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 peoples of Central Asia such as the Saka and Kushan. Such a marriage arrangement is intended to preserve the deceased husband's lineage and inheritance. The opposite of levirate marriage is sororate marriage (see below).

Mandibular prognathism: an unusually prominent or protruding chin. "The protruding chin is one of the evolutionary features which separate Homo sapiens from our ancestors. A protruding chin was absent in archaic humans and Neanderthals." (Emes, Aybar and Yalcin, 2011 Report of the Evolution of Human Jaws and Teeth, Bulletin of the International Association of Paleodontology, p. 40). However, that hypothesis has been called into question by the discovery of artifacts that suggest that ancient metal workers, who practiced endogamy, had the protruding jaw. This 7th century BC figurine shows a metal worker with mandibular prognathism.

Marginalization:  The social process of becoming marginal to a group or being relegated to an unimportant or powerless position within a society. In the ancient world the caste system meant that most people had a sense of belonging and empowerment, at least within their caste. Among biblical populations marginalized people were mainly diseased (lepers), poor foreigners, or the mentally ill.

Matriarchy:  A social organization in which a female is the family or clan head with final say about family matters. In a true matriarchy, line of descent and rights of inheritance also must be traced through the female line. No true matriarchies are known to exist.

Matrilineal Descent:  Line of descent traced through mothers.

Matrilocal residence: The arrangement in which a married couple resides with or near the bride's family. This residential arrangement often applied to Hebrew widows who were eligible to remarry. "Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, 'Go back, each of you, to your mother's home." (Ruth 1:8)

Matrimonial Moiety:  Exclusive marriage between two lines of descent, such as between the royal lines of Ham and Shem, and Abraham and Nahor.  

Matronym: A matronym is a component of a personal name that indicates maternal lineage.  An example is Jesus son of Mary. In Hebrew this is Y'shua ben Miriam, and in Arabic it is `Isa ibn Maryam. Judges 3:31 is another exmple. It speaks of Shamgar son of Anat. A matronymic is a name derived from the first name of each new mother as compared to an unchanged matriname, which is a name inherited from a mother's side of the family. Most biblical characters are referred to with a patronymic. This is often the case when the two-wife pattern of the Horite Hebrew is intentionally ignored. This appears to be the case with Abishai, Joab, and Asahel, the sons of Jesse's daughter Zeruiah. Zeruiah was King David's half-sister.

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA): The human mitochondrial DNA is female specific. Haplogroups are identified by the mtDNA. Understanding the female lineage has helped population geneticists trace the matrilineal inheritance of modern humans (mtDNA Haplogroup L) back to human origins in Africa and the subsequent spread around the globe.

Moiety: The term “moiety” comes from the French word moitié meaning “half.” Referring to each of two social or ritual groups into which a people is divided, especially among Australian Aborigines, some American Indians, the ancient red and black Nubians, and the Horite and Sethite Hebrew. The Horite and Sethite Hebrew had a moiety system and believed themselves to be descended from common ancestors.

Moral Absolutism: The view that some actions are always morally wrong when judged against moral standards that are universally accepted. Universally, murder is regarded as morally wrong.

Moral Relativism: The claim that there are not universal standards whereby one can judge right and wrong, but instead one's judgment of right and wrong is relative to social, cultural, historical or personal circumstances.

Mudras: Gestures that convey specific meanings within Buddhist and Hindu culture. They are used in daily life and, in a very stylized form, in temple dancing. This is a photo of a Hindu temple dancer taken around 1956. Her hands say, "My heart is aflame."

Necromancy: The occult practice of consulting the spirits of the dead through a medium. King Saul tragically consulted the medium at Endor to communicate with the spirit of the deceased prophet Samuel. See Anglicanism and Spiritualism.

Nilotic/Nilotes: Referring to populations living in the long, narrow Nile Valley. The three main groups mentioned in the Bible are Nubians, Kushites, and Egyptians, However, these general terms that do not adequately convey the diversity of the ancient Nilotic populations which numbered close to 2 million inhabitants c. 3000 BC. Nilotic populations today include Acholi, Beja, Copts, Dinka, Egyptians, Luo, Madi, Nuer, and Shilluk.

Nilo-Saharan: This term denotes a phylum of languages that includes the Nilotic family together with certain languages of Africa spoken from Nigeria to East Africa. 

Onomastics: The study of names. Onomatology includes investigation of toponyms or place names; anthroponyms or personal names and titles, and ethnonyms, names of ethnic groups, castes, clans and tribes.

Panmictic: Refers to unstructured (random-mating) populations.

Paronomasia: Word play based on like-sounding words. An ancient Akkadian saying is an example: "If a man dreams he is eating a raven [arbu]; he will have income [irbu].

Paternal Ancestors: Men regarded as the founders of clans or tribes even though they may not be biological ancestors to all the people in the clan/ tribe. Noah and Abraham are examples.

Patronym: A patronym is a component of a personal name based on the name of one's father, grandfather or a male ancestor. These names are identified by the word bar, meaning son or male descendant. In Numbers 13, Caleb is designated Kalev ben Jephunneh. 1 Chronicles 2:19 refers to Hur ben Kalev. Patronymics are common in the Hebrew Bible. Another example is the name Bartholomew, the Aramaic patronymic Bar-Talmai.

Patriarchy: A social organization in which a ruling male is the family or clan head with final say about family matters. In a true patriarchy, line of descent and inheritance also must also be traced through the male line. Few true patriarchies are known to exist. Most are modified patriarchies. See The Social Structure of the Biblical Hebrew.

Patrilineal Descent: Line of descent traced through fathers. (Y-DNA)

Patrilineal Parallel Cousin: First cousins who have related parents of the same sex; in other words, their mothers are sisters or their fathers are brothers. Among the early Hebrew rulers, marriage to a patrilineal parallel cousin was less common than marriage to a cross cousin, that is, the daughter of a mother’s brother (avuncular).

Phatic function: A phatic expression in linguistics is one whose only function is to perform a social task, as opposed to conveying information. The term was coined by anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski in 1900s. An example from the Bible is Ruth 2:6 where Boaz greets his workers with this phatic expression: "The Lord be with you."  The expression formalizes priest-initiated prayer in the Latin liturgy with the celebrant saying "The Lord be with you."  The phatic response of the congregants is traditionally "And with your spirit" to which the celebrant responds, "Let us pray."

Platonism: The philosophical view that abstract concepts exist independent of their names. The philosophy attributed to Plato that asserts ideal forms as an absolute and eternal reality of which earthly entities are mere reflections.  Plato may have borrowed this idea from the ancient Egyptians.  See Plato's Debt to Ancient Egypt

Polygyny: The practice of having more than one wife, originally the prerogative of rulers only. Later, men who aspired to high rank took more than one wife to show that they were wealthy, since only the wealthy could afford multiple wives. Many of the ruler-priests in the Bible married only two wives. One was a half-sister and the other was a cousin. Sarah was Abraham's half-sister, and Keturah was his patrilineal cousin wife.

Primogeniture: Among the biblical Hebrew the rights of primogeniture applied only to the first-born son of the first wife, the half-sister bride. This son assumed the rule of his father's territory and control of all property. Because the biblical Hebrew had a pattern of double unilineal descent, this son's wives and their servants were responsible for flocks, herds, tents, and other movable property while the ruler and his men controlled the territorial boundaries, enforced treaty agreements and secured their water rights.

Proto-Gospel: This term applies to the Horite Hebrew ruler-priests' expectation of a Righteous Ruler who would overcome death and lead his people to the Father. They believed in God Father and God Son, and expected the son of the Father to be miraculously conceived by divine overshadowing, such as happened to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:35). 

Proto-Saharan: This term applies to populations and languages of the Sahara before it became an arid region. Proto-Saharan populations include the tall Kiffians (8000-6000 BC), Nubians, and Tenerians, as well as some peoples in the Y-DNA R1 Haplogroup shown in red on this map in the Mega Lake Chad area.

Sororate marriage: An arrangement by which a sister of a woman who dies childless marries the deceased’s widower. This is the opposite arrangement of levirate marriage in which a brother of a man who dies childless marries the widow. Sororate marriage was not common among the biblical Hebrew.

Sororate polygyny
: A marriage arrangement in which a man marries a woman and her sister(s). Jacob married Leah and her sister Rachel. However, this was not the preferred marriage arrangement among the early high status Hebrew rulers.

Subclade:  In genetics, a subclade is a subgroup of a haplogroup.

Toponyms: Place names.

Y-DNA chromosome: In human genetics, a Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup is a haplogroup defined by mutations in the non-recombining portions of DNA from the male-specific Y chromosome (called Y-DNA).

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