Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Terah's Territory and Legacy

Terah may have looked like this.

Alice C. Linsley

Abraham's father was Terah, a great ruler, a priest, and a descendant of the Kushite kingdom builder Nimrod. Terah's territory extended along the Euphrates between an unidentified fortified settlement called "Ur of Chaldees" and Haran to the north. It is likely that Terah's two wives resided in those settlement. It was the pattern of the Hebrew rulers to maintain two wives in separate households.

Terah's proper heir was Nahor the Younger, named after his maternal grandfather. Terah's grandsons by his heir were Lot, Huz, Buz, Kamuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel (Gen. 22:20-22). Nahor also had four sons by his concubine, Reumah. Their names were Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maacah, a daughter. Maacah is listed as a chief. The listing of Nahor's daughter Maacah as a chief or "son" is consistent with the marriage pattern of the early Hebrew. 

Genesis 36:24 lists Anah as a ‘son’ of Zibeon, and her daughter Oholibamah is listed as an Edomite chief in Genesis 36:41. "These were the names of the chiefs of Esau, in their tribes and places, in their countries and nations: Chief Timnah, Chief Alvah, Chief Jetheth, Chief Oholibamah, Chief Teman, Chief Mibzar, Chief Magdiel, and Chief Zaphoim." Terah's legacy is traced through at least two women chiefs.

Terah's kingdom came to be called Aram-Naharaim. In Old Syrian/Aramaic aram means "high ground" and naharaim means "between the rivers." Genesis 24:10 says that Abraham's servant Eliezar took gifts and set out for  Aram-Naharain to seek a cousin bride for Abraham's proper heir Isaac.

The term aram appears in other biblical references. For example, the ruler of Aram Soba (Zobah) was defeated by Saul, according to 1 Samuel 14:47, and Joshua confiscated the land of Maaka/Maacah, the ruler of Aram, according to Joshua 12:16. 

It was typical for rulers to built their principal settlements on high ground (mounds) near permanent sources of water. The Jebusites were especially famous for this and according to Joshua 15:63, the Israelites were never able to uproot the Jebusites from Jerusalem, a high place watered by the Gihon Spring.

The rulers of Genesis controlled vast territories along the ancient rivers. The extreme boundaries of their territories were marked by the cities or settlements of their two wives.  As the rivers were oriented more or less on a north-south axis, so were their wives. The ruler traveled between his wives on a north-south axis, as the sun travels between the horizons from east to west. Knowing the marriage custom helps us to identify the extent of  Terah's territory. One wife lived in Ur to the south and the other wife lived in Haran to the north.

Abraham also set his wives on a north-south axis, with Sarah in Hebron and Keturah in Beersheba.

There is another explanation in Genesis for why the ruler's two wives were placed on a north-south axis rather than on an east-west axis. The explanation involves Lamech who bragged to his two wives Adah and Zillah (Gen. 4). Theodor Gaster noted that the names Adah and Zillah have a relationship to words for dawn and dusk, suggesting a celestial or sacred marriage motif. It was not unusual for archaic rulers to brag about their greatness by claiming to control all the land from the sunrise to the sunset.

Another theory pertains to the hubris of Lamech the Elder who is portrayed as a braggart in Genesis 4. In placing his wives' settlements on an east-west axis,he patterned himself after the High God whose territory is marked by the east-west solar arc. In other words, he posed himself as God.

Lamech the Younger is the first-born son of Methuselah by his cousin wife Naamah. He is the great great grandfather of Nimrod/Sargon the Great who apparently shared his ancestor's hubris because he claimed to rule from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean or "from sunrise to sunset."

It is likely that the final redactor of Genesis was a priest living during the reign of David. He would have known that the name Naamah was associated with David's dynasty. The mother of Rehoboam, David's grandson, was a princess by that name. If so, he would have mentally connected Lamech and David, both of whom shed innocent blood. David was repentant and almost inconsolable. Lamech, as far as we know, was not repentant. 

Or perhaps he was! St. John Chrysostom believed that by confessing his sins to his wives, Lamech brought to light what Cain tried to hide from God, and “by comparing what he has done to the crimes committed by Cain he limited the punishment coming to Him.” (St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on Genesis, Vol. 74, p.39. The Catholic University Press of America, 1999.)

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