Monday, December 6, 2010

Challenge to Shaye Cohen's Portrayal of Abraham

Professor Shaye Cohen of Harvard admits that the conception of Abraham as the first Jew does not represent historical reality, yet he seeks to perpetuate this "myth" instead of admit that the Horim were Horites.

Alice C. Linsley

Shaye Cohen is the Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Harvard. He is the author of The Beginnings of Jewishness.  In this essay, I will challenge Dr. Cohen's portrayal of Abraham as the archetypical Jew and perpetuates a common myth about Abraham.

When asked in this NOVA interview if Abraham was the first Jew, Dr. Cohen responded, "The biblical narrative gets going with Abraham in Genesis chapter 12. Abraham in turn Isaac, in turn Jacob, in turn Joseph and the twelve tribes, this brings us directly to the people of Israel and the covenant at Sinai. So Abraham is thought of as the first Jew, the archetype."

Region of Eden
Actually the biblical narrative begins with Genesis 1 where we are told that God creates by His generative Word, which John's Prologue identifies as the pre-incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  It moves very quickly to the first biblical promise in Genesis 3:15, the Edenic Promise received by Abraham's ancestors who were rulers in the well-watered region of Eden. This promise is the origin of the Messanic expectation among Abraham's people, who were not Jews, but Horites.

The Horites were a caste of ruler-priests whose origin was the Nile region of Sudan. They were devotees of Horus, who was called "son of Ra" as Horus' mother Hathor-Meri was said to be impregnated by the overshadowing of the Sun.

Horus is the celestial archetype whereby some of Abraham's Jewish descendants came to recognize Jesus as Messiah. Horus' death was mourned and his resurrection celebrated in a five-day festival observed by the Kushites and Egyptians. The first three days were marked by solemnity (as Plutarch noted in Isis and Osiris, 69). The last two days were a time of feasting and rejoicing. Horus is said to have died on the 17th of Athyr. His death was commemorated by the planting of wheat. On the third day, the 19th of Athyr, there was a celebration of Horus’ rising to life. Speaking of his passion, Jesus refers to this when he described his death and resurrection as a grain of wheat falling into the earth and rising to life again (John 12:24).

The double crown of the Israelite high priest was essentially the double crown of Horus worn by the rulers of the Nile Valley. The mitznefet was the white turban of the Upper Nile and the tzitz was the circlet worn around the turban, like the red circlet of the Lower Nile. Narmer (Menes) was the first recorded to wear the double crown. He was the founder of the First Dynasty around 3100 B.C.  Abraham was closely related to the rulers of Egypt. The Babylonian Talmud indicates that his maternal grandfather was a priest of Karnak in Egypt.

Abraham's mother is not mentioned in the Bible, but when we explore her identity we find that she was a high-ranking woman whose father, Karnevo, was associated with the Horus temple at Karnak. In the Karnak birth chapel we find a rendering of the miraculous birth of pharaoh Amenhotep III as the embodiment of Horus. This has led some to believe that Christianity is a conspiracy based on the Horus myth.  However, Amenhotep III died and did not rise from the grave.

While Genesis does indeed trace a direct line from Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob, it also traces the Horite lines of Esau and the Joktanite lines descending from Abraham and his patrilineal cousin-wife Keturah. It is evident also from analysis of the kinship pattern of Abraham's people that Isaac had two wives, one being his half-sister. So the direct line of which Cohen speaks always breaks into two lines with two first-born sons, a pattern which Jews choose to overlook. Given that these ruler-priests intermarried, the Israelites were a mixed people, like their Arab (Ar-ab) brethren. The lines of Kain and Seth intermarried, as did the lines of Ham and Shem, and the lines of Abraham and Nahor.

It is impossible to speak of only one direct line from Abraham to the Israelites because Abraham had nine sons and their descendants intermarried. The genealogical data strongly suggests that Abraham's first-born son was Joktan, the forefather of the Joktanite tribes of Arabia. By Cohen's reasoning, Abraham could as easily be described the first Arab, since most Arabs are descended from him through Joktan.

Abraham's descendants by Ishmael are Egyptians, since Ishmael's mother and wife were Egyptians.

It isn't possible to generalize the kinship pattern of Abraham's people to all Afro-Asiatics or to all the peoples among whom the Horites lived. The Horite ruler-priest marriage and ascendency pattern is distinctive and apparently unique to this caste. We are able to trace Abraham's descendents through the cousin-bride's naming prerogative. These are the ancestors of Joseph and Mary, both of priestly lines. This unique pattern of intermarriage appears to end with Jesus, who was recognized by many Jews of his day as the promised Son who came to save sinners and to restore Paradise. This has been verified by DNA studies which indicate that the unique pattern of intermarriage and ascendency stopped about 2000 years ago.

Cohen Admits to Myth-Building

Cohen admits that his portrayal of Abraham as the father of the Jews lacks historical support. He says, "Historically speaking, of course, this doesn't make much sense. It's hard to talk about Jews living around the year 1800 B.C.E. or anytime near that." This is true. We can speak of Jews only after about 580 B.C.E., when they returned to Judah from Babylonian captivity. However, we can trace expectation of the fulfillment of the Edenic Promise back to about 4000 B.C. which indicates that Christianity is an organic rather than a synthetic religion.  In other words, the Jews didn't invent Messianic expectation and Jesus didn't found Christianity. He fulfilled it.

Cohen's understanding of Abraham as the founder of Judaism is a post-exilic myth and doesn't align with the evidence.  He says, "We don't have any of the institutions, beliefs, social structures in place that will later characterize Jews and Jewishness." This is verifiably false. The hereditary priesthood, blood sacrifice, circumcision, sacred law and the office of the moreh/prophet existed in Abraham's time and before. Abraham consulted a prophet (moreh) at Mamre (Genesis 12: 6-8), between Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. The oak was associated with masculine anatomy and masculine virtues. Likewise, Deborah judged from her palm tree between Bethel to the north and Ramah to the south. Note the association of the female with north-south and the male with east-west, signaling a sacred mystery. The nut of the date palm (tamar) was associated with feminine anatomy and feminine virtues.

Cohen admits that this view of Abraham as the first Jew is of a "mythic kind".  He states, "So in a mythic kind of way we can say that Abraham recognizes God and that Abraham launches the process—biological and social and cultural—that will culminate in the people of Israel, who in turn will become Jews and the purveyors of Judaism." In this statement, Cohen gets one thing right:  Abraham recognized God. The rest is nonsense!  Some of Abraham's descendants by his nine sons became Jews, others became Arabs, and many others are of a mixed racial and religious heritage. Cohen is attempting to sell the myth of Jewish purity.

Cohen notes that "the rabbis of old imagined that Abraham observed the whole Torah, that Abraham observed all the commandments: He observed the Sabbath, he observed the festivals, he observed the laws of culture and food. He observed everything, not just circumcision, which is attributed to him explicitly in Genesis, but everything else as well. Because how can you imagine our forefather Abraham, the founder of Judaism, not observing the Jewish rules, not observing the Jewish laws? This is a wonderful anachronism, a charming conceit. But historically speaking, how could it be?"

The Levitical laws have precedent in older purity laws of the Nile Valley that pertained mainly to ruler-priests and their families for whom purity was especially important. Jews do come from these people which is why Jews call their ancestors and parents "horim." Abraham would have observed these laws. He would have been circumcised, ritually washed, sacrified lambs, shaved his head and performed atonement for blood guilt. On this last point, Genesis tells us that Abraham met with the ruler-priest Melchizedek after the battle of the kings. Doubtless this meeting involved priestly intercession for the relief of blood guilt.

Abraham's faith came not as special revelation, but as a tradition received from his forefathers. The distinctive traits of this tradition align remarkable well with the key features of catholic faith and practice:

  • All-male ruler-priests
  • Blood sacrifice at altars
  • Expectation of the appearing of God
  • "As in heaven, so on earth" - interpreted by prophets according to the celestial pattern
  • Belief in an eternal and undivided Kingdom
When the NOVA interviewer asked if Abraham discovered monotheism, Cohen replied that "The texts in Genesis simply have Abraham talking to God and God talking to Abraham, that's it. Later Jews could not imagine such events without explaining more fully how it was that Abraham came to recognize God and why it was that God chose Abraham."

This is true and the speculations of the rabbis now carries more weight among Jews than the canonical texts. It is from the Talmudic writings that Cohen draws this story: "

"And one of the most famous of these stories recounts how Abraham, the philosopher, sits and contemplates the natural order and realizes that there must be a first cause, that everything has a purpose. And behind the world that we can perceive, there must be some force that we cannot perceive but whose existence we can infer. That's how Abraham came to believe in God. And he went home to his father, Terah, who in the story is an idol maker, and Abraham then smashed all of his father's idols. And numerous Jewish children are convinced to this day that the story is found in the book of Genesis and are always shocked and amazed to discover that it isn't."

Their dismay is understandable. They thought that the rabbis were teaching them from the Hebrew Bible when in fact they were giving instruction from the Talmud. The Talmud itself encourages readers to place it above the authority of the Old Testament. We read this explicit instruction: “My son, be more careful in the observance of the words of the Scribes than in the words of the Torah." (Talmud Erubin 21b)

The NOVA interviewer raised this question: "So is Abraham the founder of monotheism?" Here is Cohen's response: "Ancient Jewish storytellers thought the answer was yes, and following them Christian storytellers thought the same. However, reading historically, we realize monotheism is a very difficult and elusive concept to define. Again, it's far too simple to say that Abraham discovers monotheism."

Indeed "too simple" and entirely misleading.  The truth is that the Horites were henotheists. They believed in a single supreme deity who was the creator and king of the universe. This deity was served by lesser assisting powers (spirits, angels, baals) who are in no way equal to their creator.

The NOVA interviewer ends by asking this:  "Does the Abraham account in Genesis have a central message, a central purpose?"

According to Cohen, "It teaches sacred values, sacred ideas—how to relate to God, to have faith in God. It's also simply a story about our founders. We humans are always curious to know about where we come from. All cultures have stories about their founders or great figures of the past. So here, too, we have stories about our great founder figure, Abraham, who sets the process going that makes us who we are, we meaning the people of Israel, the covenantal people."

Abraham stands as the archetypical Horite ruler-priest who lived in expectation of the birth of a son who would pass through death to life, from weakness to triumph. His faith is the central message.  St. Paul says, "For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that He would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith." (Rom. 4:13)

Abraham's faith is exemplified in the binding of Isaac.  As they ascended Mount Moriah, Isaac asked Abraham "where is the lamb" for the sacrifice. Abraham replied that God would provide the lamb, but God instead provided a ram. The ram signaled to Abraham that his offering had been accepted, because the lamb had become the ram. Abraham appears to have believed Isaac to be the Seed of the Woman (Gen. 3:15), but Isaac was spared because God would supply his own Lamb, Jesus Christ, who passed from weakness (kenosis) to fullness of power (resurrection). He is the Ruler-Designate to whom the Father will deliver the eternal kingdom. He is the fulfillment of the Eden Promise.

Abraham likely believed that Isaac was the foretold promised son since many of the circumstances surrounding Isaac align with the ancient Horus myth. Consider the following correspondences:

Isaac was born miraculously (Gen. 21:5) as was Horus, who was said to have been born of a virgin. Issac was not born of a virgin, but Jesus was.

God named Isaac as the son by whom Abraham's Seed would be called (Gen. 21:12). His brother Ishmael was banished. Horus was exalted after being abused by his brother who was banished.

Isaac was sacrificed by the father (by faith) and restored to life (Gen. 22:2-9), since to Abraham he was already given up (holocaust). Horus was restored to life on the third day. This is why many ancient Egyptian funerary amulets were made in the shape of the Eye of Horus.

Isaac received the kingdom from his father (Gen. 25:25) just as Horus/Osirus received a kingdom from his father Ra. Jesus receives the kingdom from the Father. In the Horite myth, Horus/Osiris and Ra are frequently interchangeable - "I and my Father are one", as Jesus explained (John 10:30). They are also all-seeing, even when their eyes are dimmed by blood.

Isaac had two wives who lived in separate settlements with separate flocks. Together these constituted his kingdom. There were practical reasons for this practice. In the event of attack, Isaac's line was more likely to survive if divided into two camps. This fear motivated Jacob to divide his people into two groups when returning to Canaan (Gen. 32). Likewise, Horus is said to have two land holdings as evidenced by one of his titles Har-pa-Neb-Taui, which means "Horus of the two lands."

The association of sheep with the Son of God is found in the Old and New Testaments. Horite priests kept herds from which they took the best to offer as sacrifices. Jesus comes from a long line of shepherds of the priestly lines, on Joseph's side and Mary's side. Keeping sheep was not their only occupation, however. Some were metal workers, others were carpenters, but all were skilled in various enterprises. The rulers of Egypt kept flocks and acknowledged that Jacob's people were especially skilled shepherds. This is why Pharaoh asked Joseph to put the best of shepherd of Jacob's clan in charge of the royal flocks (Gen. 47:6).

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, speaks of having other sheep in another fold (John 10:16). Often the two folds are cast as dispensations: one consisting of those who lived in expectation of the Son of God (Abraham's people) and the other being the witnesses of His resurrection (the Church). Together these comprise the Kingdom of God.

The ruler-priests among Abraham's people were shepherds. The signs of their authority were the shepherd's crook and the flail. These emblems of Pharonic authority have been found in pre-dynastic wall paintings. Hierakonpolis is the site of the most ancient temple and city in Egypt (circa 4000 B.C.). Priests placed invocations to Horus at the fort-summit as the first rays of the sun came over the eastern horizon. Of particular interest is the tomb painting of two men carrying crooks with objects that look like flails, the signs of the rulers of ancient Egypt.

In God's economy, which always gets the order of things right, the shepherds of Bethlehem, a Horite settlement (Hor/Hur) according to I Chronicles 4:4, were the first to receive the news of the birth of the Son of God.

Jesus is spoken of as the Lamb of God. In the story of the binding of Isaac, a ram is sacrificed in place of Isaac. The ram-headed deity, based on the earliest species - Ovis longipes palaeoagytiaca - was known throughout ancient Egypt, especially at Elephantine. So the ram in the story speaks of God's self-sacrifice and would have been confirmation for Abraham that his offering (though not realized) was accepted.

It appears that Abraham believed that Isaac would be raised to life after the sacrifice. The ram  was an ancient Horite symbol of God's rising (from east to west).  Abraham received confirmation that his son was indeed an acceptable offering to God, though Isaac was not the "Son of God" who would fulfill the promise made to Abraham's ancestors in Eden (Gen. 3:15).

Dr. Cohen speaks a good deal of "myth" yet he misses the fact that the core myth of Abraham's Horite people is essentially the core myth of Christianity.  Christianity emerges naturally out of the faith of Abraham's Horite people. This is why Jesus and His Apostles called the religious leaders in Jerusalem hypocrites. They claimed a special status as sons of Abraham but they rejected the faith of Abraham.

Fyodor Dostoevsky was right in declaring: “The most pressing question on the problem of faith is whether a man as a civilized being can believe in the divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, for therein rests the whole of our faith.”

Related reading:  Messianic Jews and the Antecedents of Judaism; Jacob Leaves Beersheba; Mary's Ruler-Priest Lineage; Samuel's Horite Family; Moses' Horite Family; The Horite Ancestry of Jesus ChristThe Afro-Asiatic DominionWhat Language Did Abraham Speak?; Abraham's Faith Central to Genesis; Busting Myths About Abraham



Anonymous said...

This article is a succinct and well-organized summary of your work. I'm glad the Shaye Cohen interview gave you the impetus to post this.

Several questions:

Are you saying the Horite religion is only a 'foreshadowing' or do you see it as a precursor to Christianity?

Do any other religions or traditions/philosophies besides the Horites contain elements and symbols of Judeo-Christian precepts or spiritual laws? For example, the Greek Ikon as a heavenly model and ideal? (i.e., Mary as the Ikon of Woman and the Church, Jesus as the Ikon of man)

Were any pharoahs or Egyptian rulers listed in Scripture as being in the bloodline of Jesus?

Is Mohammedism an Abrahamic religion, descended from the Horites?Do you have an article that lists the miraculous births in Scripture?

Do you have an article about the women in the bloodline of Jesus?

How do you define 'myth' - foretelling, foreshadowing, legend, allegory, symbol, metaphor?

Alice C. Linsley said...

The religious practices of Abraham's people reflect their belief in the first promise of Scripture. The Edenic Promise is at the core of Christian belief, so what we have is an organic development from very ancient Nilotic beliefs to today. That said, we are able to see that Horus is the mythic precursor or foreshadowing of Jesus Christ only as this is revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ.

The oldest layers of Hinduism most closely correspond to Horite beliefs. Ancient Nilotic/Kushitic religious practices are older than Hinduism and were taken to southern India by the Sudra (Sudanese). These were great kingdom builders who spread their religion across the ancient Afro-Asiatic dominion, as evidenced by the presence of falcon-shaped fire altars from Afric to India. The totem of Horus was the falcom. Genesis tells us that Nimrod was a kingdom builder and he was the son of Kush. He and many others with connections to Kush are listed in the bloodline of Jesus.

The Jews who Mohammed consulted in Arabia about common ancestry of Jews and Arabs didn't know the genealogical information in Genesis. They only knew the Talmud and so they couldn't answer Mohammed's questions. However, the Quran upholds the miraculous birth of Jesus by the virgin Mary.

Other miraculous births that forshadow Jesus' birth all take place among the Horite priests. Other examples are Sarah (Gen. 18:9-15); Oholibamah (Gen. 36) and Hannah (I Samuel 1-2:11).

I define "myth" as truth told in symbolic narrative.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley, are you engaging in any dialogue with Dr. Cohen? If so--assuming both of your willingness to publish it on your blog--I would love to read it. Respectfully, Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...

Brent, I'll try to engage Dr. Cohen, as I've tried to engage Jews in biblical archaeology and Hebrew studies before, but with no response. The acquisitions editor of BAR no longer responds to my emails. One Hebrew scholar from Jerusalem commented on a piece I wrote for David Virtue - "Christianity Lacks Originality". After I responded to him, he came back and deleted his comment, leaving no record of the engagement.

Anonymous said...

In Genesis 36, I can't find anything about a miraculous birth in connection with Oholibamah.

And as far as Abraham's peope, Joshua 24:2 declares that Abraham's father worshipped idols and that he came from 'beyond the Euphrates.' The study note (NIV) says Abraham's father worshipped a moon god. Would that be Ishtar from which the word Easter is derived?

Ur is called 'of the Chaldees' in Genesis 11. Could the Haran in verse 31 mean Iran?

Perhaps Noah's people lived in central Africa, but Scripture does not say Abraham's father did so.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Oholibamah is discussed here:

The accusation that Terah worshipped idols is based on teh fact that the people he lived among regarded the Moon goddess Sin as an equal to El, whose emblem was the Sun. In other words, this dualism was regarded as idolatry and contrary to the binary distinctions visible in creation, whereby one of the opposites is always recognized as superior in some way. It was evident to Abraham's people that the Sun is the greater light and that the Moon's light is merely refulgent.

Terah's terriotry, as with the territories of all the Horite ruler-priests, extended along a north-south axis. In Terah's case, it extended between Haran and Ur. Abraham's territory extended between Hebron (where Sarah resided) and Beersheva (where Keturah) resided.

Abraham's father lived where his ancestor Nimrod established a territory. Nimrod came there from Kush or the Upper Nile according to Genesis 10:5-12.

Gyan said...

I wish you would clarify and make more precise the concept of "ruler-priest".

Also being a caste implies intermarriage so there is no need to stress the intermarrying (but perhaps the modern Western people do not get the Caste easily).

Gyan said...

I thought you held that Adam and Eve were not historical persons. Then what about Edenic Promise? I am not clear about how you interpret it.

You say Edenic Promise was made to Abraham's ancestors. Now do you regard Adam and Eve being ancestors of all humans or only of Horites?

If the promise was only made to Horites, then what happens to non-Horites. Are we deluded or mistaken that the Promise has any relevance to us?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Gyan, you are right that modern western people do not understand the caste social structure and that is why I stress the intermarriage of the ruler-priest lines. The ancient Afro-Asiatic world was structured along caste lines. Certain occupations were done only by people in certain castes. The ruler-priests caste had fewer restrictions than the lower castes. Some were warriors, all kept sheep, some were carpenters and boat builders, and others were metal workers.

The Messiah promised in Eden is the Savior of the world. He came into the world to call sinners to repentance, to save us, and to restore Paradise. Jesus was a Jew and while He seeks the salvation of Jews, He is the Savior of all who believe that He is the Son of God, the fulfillment of the Edenic Promise.

Gyan said...

"Some were warriors, all kept sheep, some were carpenters and boat builders, and others were metal workers."

If they were all these, then frankly you need to find a better description then "ruler-priest".

Priests in particular tend to be forbidden to be engaged in other than priestly activities e.g. Brahmins.

Alice C. Linsley said...

That is true. However, even the Brahamas instruct that various needs of the priest are to be met.

Besides the ruler-priests of which I'm speaking lived before Hinduism and were essentially African.

Gyan said...

Brahmins were just for example's sake.

I still think that priests are supposed to be Holy i.e. separate from commons. Thus the priesthood always appears with a lots of do's and don'ts.

That Edenic Promise was made to Abraham's ancestors is either trivially true (if Adam and Eve to whom this promise was made are ancestors of all humans) or if non-trivial, it would disturb a lot of Christian dogma, such as the universality of Salvation.

You need to be a little more precise on the Edenic Promise in your picture.

Alice C. Linsley said...

For salvation to be universal, there must be a particular saving event. The particular is historical and therefore real.

I've delinated the region of Eden based on the Genesis information that the region encompassed 4 rivers: 2 in Mesopotamia and 2 in the Nile Valley.

I've also considered the habitat of the pink-bellied dove and the African raven, the 2 birds that Noah released from the ark.

The rulers of Gen. 4 and 5 lived when this region was much wetter and they controlled the major water ways. The red area shows this wet area. In those days Lake Chad was a sea.

Gyan said...

The promise was made to the seed of Adam. If, as you seem to say, that includes only Abraham and his seed, then how come others have a share in the promise.

Also, if Adam and Eve are not historical, then is Edenic Promise historical at all?

Perhaps you need to rethink the statement about Edenic Promise made to Abraham's ancestors since Genesis does not single out Abraham in such a way. There the Promise is made to ancestors of all men.
Why you want to qualify the Promise as to Abraham's ancestors only, is something I dont get.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The Promise of Gen. 3:15 was made to "the Woman", not to Adam or Eve as Eve isn't named until Gen. 3:20. This is both a promise and prophecy. The promise and prophecy were fulfilled in the Virgin Mary who brought forth the Son of God.

Genesis is a record of Abraham and his ancestors and his descendents. It comes to us from them. They are the ones who tell us about the Edenic Promise. We can either believe them or not. That is a personal choice. There are some who call themselves "Christians" who don't believe the promise's fulfillment. There are some in other religions who readily accept the miraculous birth of Jesus according to the Promise, though they may not recognize Him as the Son of God and respond to this expression of divine love.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley, yes. That religion is Islam. I'm completing a course taught by Drs. Ali Asani and Diane Moore. Islam is utterly fascinating on many levels and, in fact, the Qur'an refers to Jesus as Messiah. Go figure. Respectfully, Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, the Quran contains reference to the miraculous conception of Jesus by the Virgin. Muslims don't have a problem with this doctrine of Christianity. On the other hand, this is a problem for apostate Episcopalians like bishops Pike and Spong.