Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Themes of Genesis 1-3

Alice C. Linsley

There are thousands of narratives concerning the origin of life on Earth and the beginning of human populations. Many of the Old World narratives share a pattern in which the Creator brings to life the founders of a people in a certain location, and establishes terms and conditions with those first parents that will preserve their life and identity. In biblical language this is called a "covenant" and the covenant's terms regulate daily life and shape the people's identity.

Covenant language appears in Genesis 13:14-18. After Abram and Lot separated, the LORD told Abram who had settled in the high country: "Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see I will give to you and to your descendants for ever." Indeed, Abraham had many descendants by his 9 sons and unknown number of daughters.

Consider the Gikuyu narrative which emphasizes the Gikuyu sacred land claim:

Now you know that at the beginning of things there was only one man (Gikuyu) and one woman (Mumbi). It was under this Mukuyu that He first put them. And immediately the sun rose and the dark night melted away. The sun shone with a warmth that gave life and activity to all things. The wind and the lightening and thunder stopped. The animals stopped moaning and moved, giving homage to the Creator and to Gikuyu and Mumbi. And the Creator, who is also called Murungu, took Gikuyu and Mumbi from his holy mountain to the country of the ridges near Siriana and there stood them on a big ridge.

Trees and sacred mountains are a common theme in these origin narratives. For the Gikuyu, Mount Kenya is the Kere-Nyaga which means Mountain of Brightness. For the Masai, the sacred mountain is the active volcano Oldoinyo LeNgai in Tanzania. Ngai is the name for the Creator/Maker among the Gikuyu and the Masai. The Gikuyu place their first parents on a ridge north of Muranga, a town south of Nyeri. One can visit the site Mukurwe Wa Nyagathanga and see the Tree of Gathanga.

In ancient Egyptian mythology two sacred mountains flanked the Nile. Bahku was the mountain from which the sun rose on the eastern horizon. The other mountain was Manu on the western horizon. In Abraham's time, Bakhu and Manu were the most frequent expressions for the extreme east and west. The horizons were a deified presence (Aker) between the lion twins (ruti). (The two lions are called ruti/rute/rude in modern Luo, which means twins or things coming in twos.) The Creator is symbolized by the Sun resting at the sacred center. Ra came at high noon like a lover between the breasts of his beloved.

The waters of creation

Water is another common motif. Among the Nilotic Luo Dog Nam refers to the great water or the waters of creation. The Luos consider any large body of water as a place where God is, especially Lake Chad, the Nile, and Lake Victoria.

The victory of Tehut (divine order) over Tehom (watery chaos) originally related to the annual inundation of the Nile. Among the Nilotic peoples, the Nile was where the work of creation began when the Creator caused a mound to emerge from a primal waters. The first life form was a lily, growing on the peak of the emerging dry land called Tatjenen.

The Oromo of the Horn of Africa call the waters of creation Hora Wolabu, a reference to Horus, the "son" of the Creator. The Oromo are the Horomo, people of Horus or Horo. The H is silent and therefore was dropped in English spelling. Horo is said to be the founding father of the Oromo. Horo had two sons. His first born son was named Borana and his younger son was named Barentu. Borana means "those who face east" and Barentu means "those who face west."

The ancestors of the Oromo were cattle-herding Saharo-Nubians. They called the Creator Eebe and he was Waaq, meaning "God of the Heavens." The universe was held in balance by the love of a bull for a cow. The balance was maintained in the cradle of the bull's horns, and the bull stared forever at the cow tied to a pole in front of him. When the cow turned her eyes away from the bull, a physical shift resulted that caused natural disasters.

According to the Oromo, Waaq separated the impregnated body of water into two parts: the water above called Bishaan Gubbaathe and the water below called Bishaan Goodaa.

In the beginning, God...

While Genesis 1 exhibits some Babylonian influence, there is an older African layer. This should be evident in the fact that the phrase "In the beginning was God" is not found in the Babylonian creation texts. However, it is common in African origin narratives.

"In the beginning there was only darkness, water, and the great god Bumba." (Bantu/Central Africa)

"There was no sunlight... the whole land was in darkness." (Gikuyu/Kenya)

"In the beginning there was only the swirling watery chaos." (Egyptian)

"At the beginning of things, when there was nothing, neither man, nor animals, nor plants, nor heaven, nor earth, nothing, nothing, God was and He was called Nzame. (Fan/Congo)

Consider also this song of the BaMbuti Pygmies:

In the beginning was God
Today is God,
Tomorrow will be God.
Who can make an image of God?
He has no body.
He is as a word which comes out from your mouth,
That word! It is no more,
It is past and still it lives!
So is God.

The Akan of Ghana tell this story:

In the beginning the heavens were closer to the earth. First man and first woman had to be careful while cultivating and grinding grain so that their hoes and pestles would not strike God, who lived in the sky. Death had not yet entered the world and God provided enough for them. But first woman became greedy and tried to pound more grain than she was allotted. To do this, she had to use a longer pestle. When she raised it up, it hit the sky and God became angry and retreated far into the heavens. Since then there has been disease and death and it is not easy to reach God.

In South African narratives, the point where heaven touches the earth is called bugimamusi, the place where the women can lean their pestles against the vault of heaven. In Genesis 1 we read that God separated the waters above from the waters below.

In the ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts, the "Lord of All" declares, "I will sail aright in my barque; I am the Lord of the waters, crossing heaven." (Spell 1,130)

The divine Word (Logos) has power

Another common theme is the power of the divine word to generate life. The Luo have a saying: Wach en gi teko which means "a word has power."

The Bambara bards of Uganda recite this praise of the power of the divine Word:

The Word is total:
it cuts, excoriates
forms, modulates
perturbs, maddens
cures or directly kills
amplifies or reduces
According to intention
It excites or calms souls.

God created the heavens and the earth

Another theme is expressed in the merism "the heavens and the earth..." In the Bible and in African theology, the heavens and the earth are a binary set that refers to the whole creation. They are created entities that owe their existence directly to the Creator.

"I cast a spell with my own heart to lay a foundation in Maat. I made everything . I was alone. I had not yet breathed the divine one Shu, and I had not yet spit up the divine one Tefnut. I worked alone." (Ancient Egyptian)

Maat includes equilibrium and harmony between constituent parts, the cycle of the seasons, celestial and planetary movements, honesty in social and business interactions and justice.

Compare this theology to the Babylonian "Epic of Creation" in which Marduk is created to defend the divine ones from attack by the sea goddess Tiamat. Marduk offers to save them on the condition that he be appointed their permanent ruler. The gods agree to Marduk's terms. Marduk kills Tiamat and from her corpse, which he cuts into two parts, he fashions the earth and the skies.

Among the Nilotic Luo, Jachwech piny gi polo means the "Creator of earth and heaven."

Forming Man from the substance of Earth

In Genesis 2:7 we read that God created the first man from the dust of the Earth. This is another common theme found in African origin narratives.

According to the Shilluk of Sudan Juok/Jwok, the High God, made white people out of white sand and the Shilluk of out black dirt. When the Creator came to Egypt, he made the people there out of the Nile mud which is rich in red silt. That is why the Egyptians have a red-brown skin tone.

The Upper Nile soils have a cambic B horizon. Chromic cambisols have a strong red brown color. The Biblical writers recognized that the people with red skin were of an ancestral line of extreme antiquity. Some of these people were rulers in Edom and are listed in Genesis 36. Esau the Elder and Esau the Younger were among them. Esau is described as red in Genesis 26.

The Hebrew word for red is edom and it is a cognate to the Hausa word odum, meaning red-brown. Both are related to the word dam, meaning blood, and to the name Adam, the eponymous founder of Abraham's people, some of whom lived in Edom/Idumea, the land of the red people. Adam was formed from the red clay that washed down to the Upper Nile Valley from the Ethiopian highlands.

One Creator (High God) known by many names

Among Abraham's Horite ancestors, the Creator was called Ra and Ani. The name Ra is attached to divinely appointed rulers, as in Rafu in the Abydos King List, and Raphu, the father of Palti (Palti-el). (Saul gave Michal, his princess daughter, to a chief named Palti, likely one of Saul's kinsmen (I Sam. 25:44).

Anu/Anum is the Akkadian word for the High God. Both Ra and Anu were said to have a divine "son" who is called Horus and Enki. En-ki means "Lord of the Earth."

The word "Horite" is derived from the name Horus and takes many forms: Hur, Horo, Horonaim, Horoni, Horowitz, Horim, and Hori. Hori was the son of Lotan son of Seir whose descendants were the "lords of the Horites in the land of Seir" according to Genesis 36:20-29 and 1 Chronicles 1:38-42.  Referring to the Horite Hebrew Patriarchs (the Horim), Paul states in Hebrews 4:2: "For unto us was the Gospel preached, as well as unto them..."

The ancestors of the Somali called the Creator Eebe, and Eebe's divine messenger was Huur, another name for Horo or Horus. In Luo, Horu' mo (horumo/orumo) means perfected, realized, finished, or completed.

A Luo reference to God is Nya-sa-ye, which is similar to I am Who I am. The Acholi Luos call the Creator Lacwec, and the Luo Luos call the Creator Jachwech.  Jachwech is a cognate of Yahweh.

The oldest references to Yahweh outside the Bible are found on two hieroglyphic references dating to the New Kingdom period and refer to “the land of the Shasu of YHWH.” These are found on inscriptions from the Nubian temples of Soleb and Amara West. The Shasu are definitively connected to the Horites of Seir of Edom. A monument of Ramesses II claims that he “has plundered the Shasu-land, captured the mountain of Seir” in Edom. A 19th Dynasty letter mentions “the Shasu-tribes of Edom” and Ramesses III declares that he has “destroyed the Seirites among the tribes of the Shasu.”

According to the Shilluk the Creator Juok brought forth his only begotten son, Kola, by the Sacred White Cow. Kola was the father of Ukwa who had two wives. One of Ukwa's son's was Nyakang who became the first ruler of the people. The name Ukwa is related to the Igbo word Chukwa, meaning the Great Spirit.

Related reading: Chaos SubduedAdam Was a Red Man; Is Genesis Really about Human Origins?; Rightly Reading Genesis 1-3; Boats and Cows of the Proto-Saharans; Genesis in Anthropological Perspective; Common Questions About Genesis; Trees in Genesis; The Nilotic Context of Genesis 1:1-2; The High God Among Some Nilotes

Thanks to native Hausa, Luo, and Oromo speakers for helping with this project, especially John Oguto, Solomon Demissie, Wandera Salmon Owino, and the late Dr. Catherine Acholonu.


Jay Eppinga said...

There certainly seem to be themes that are common among early cultures, with some variations. I think we infer one of two (three, if we ignore the data) conclusions. The first is based on a secular worldview, and would assert a skepticism about where Genesis 1-3 was derived. The second is the one we share, and would assert that early cultures had an awareness of the Protoevangelium.

Playing devil's advocate for a moment and looking at things from the point of view of a skeptic .. we have a few stories where Horus has a family (or a consort) and his son becomes ruler over a kingdom. To "me" (i.e., the skeptic) this would appear to be a gimmick to these mythologies, wherein a claim to divine lineage would be a convenient tool for propaganda.

And indeed, to the actual 'me' I suspect that sometimes the Protoevangelium was hijacked for these very purposes.

How do we analyze these mythologies in such a way as to prove that the common themes point back to the Protoevangelium, whilst sort of weeding out the chaff?

- Jay Eppinga

Jay Eppinga said...

(not a follow up but another tangent entirely)..

Also curious about references to birds in African creation mythologies.

Alice C. Linsley said...

For a start, we need to recognize that the Egyptian mythology developed out of the earlier Nilo-Saharan stories and try to uncover those antecedents.

Second, much of what is said about Horus comes from the later Egyptian Pyramid Texts which have never been systematically analyzed from the perspective of the Proto-Gospel. I'm still working on this, using R.O. Faulkner's translation. I hope to have a paper ready on this by the end of summer.

The lightning bird, called impundulu (or izulu, inyoni yezulu) is a mythological creature in South Africa folklore. It is regarded as the familiar of a witch and often rides on the back of a hyena.

Horus is associated with the Falcon and falcon-shaped altars were built from Africa to India.

As early as 2600 B.C., the ostrich was associated with Ma’at, who is shown with an ostrich feather on her head. Ma'at weighed the hearts of the dead in her scales to determine who would die the "second death" (Rev. 2:11) and who would enter eternal life.

In Elihu's discourse (Job 32-39), he illustrates God's transcendence by describing the Lion, the Nubian Wild Goat, the Wild Donkey, the Wild Ox or bull, the Ostrich, and the Raven or Griffin Vulture. This appears to reflect ancient astrological symbolism. The ostrich comes between the Bull (Autumnal Equinox) and the Vulture (Spring Equinox). IN this context, it appears that the ostrich represents the Winter Solstice and the hope of new life or resurrection.

DManA said...

Here's my frustration. If God has something to say, why doesn't he just come out and say it? Why do we need scholarship to figure it out?

DManA said...

Um, I see there is a web site called "".

I wasn't endorsing it. I was trying to be smart.

Alice C. Linsley said...

We don't need scholarship. We need wisdom, a gift from God to those who ask for it and seek it.

Wisdom is not self-evident. True wisdom is always veiled. It must be pursued. One must draw close to the mystery before God will reveal.