Saturday, November 25, 2023

Cutting Through the Textual Layers


Dr. Alice C. Linsley

A reader has asked: If there are several "layers" of "Adam", would there also be several layers of Eve, Eden, Tree, and Serpent?

The term "layers" is helpful if we imagine the growth rings of a tree. The oldest rings are near the center of the tree. The layers are visible when we cut through the tree. That is what the discipline of Biblical Anthropology does using the canonical Scriptures. It seeks to identify the oldest layers and to use that data to gain a clearer picture of the social structure of the early Hebrew.

Biblical anthropology asks about antecedents. It explores what comes before what is described in the text. What events preceded the events recounted? It seeks to understand the cultural context of the earliest persons named in Genesis: Adam, Eve, Cain and Seth, etc. It is concerned with ancestors and received traditions. From what earlier context did certain practices develop? What traces of ancient memory can be uncovered?

The biblical text always speaks of something older, some prior action that solicits a response from later generations. The later generations are enjoined to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There is a thick cultural web surrounding the God of the early biblical Hebrew. 

That context is not apparent to the casual reader because it is hidden behind layers of Jewish midrash, denominational interpretations, and theological typologies. The tree in the midst of the garden is taken as a type of the Cross or as the Tree of Life. The serpent is taken as the usurper of God's authority, the Devil, or God's adversary, Satan. 

The tree of life and the serpent are ancient mythological motifs and are found in many of the world's religions. They are clues as to the riverine contexts of the early Hebrew, devotees of God Father and God's son. The early Hebrew believed that a woman of their ruler-priest caste would bring forth the Son/Seed of God who would crush the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15). The enemy of God bruises the foot of the Woman’s Son, but the Son crushes his head. That expectation that was expressed around 4000 years ago: "Horus has shattered (crushed) the mouth of the serpent with the sole of his foot" (The Pyramid Texts, Utterance 388). Horus is the Greek for the ancient Egyptian HR, meaning "Most High One".

Biblical anthropology insists that the texts be read empirically. The reader identifies data that makes the earlier contexts clearer. The mythological Adam and Eve are posed as the first parents (apical ancestors). This is consistent with many African origin stories. Among the Gikuyu, the first man and women were called Gikuyu and Mumbi. However, these are not the first humans on earth, but the founders of the Gikuyu people. Likewise, Adam and Eve are the founders of the clans that come to be identified as Horite and Sethite Hebrew. These are Abraham's ancestors. 

Abraham is the father of many peoples, an icon of faith, and a sent away son to whom God delivered a territory in ancient Edom. The sending away of non-ascendant sons is a feature of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of the biblical Hebrew. That feature drove their dispersion out of Africa. 

The Bible designates Abraham a Hebrew, but he was not the first Hebrew. The Hebrew ruler-priest caste existed before Abraham's time (c.2100 B.C.). The term "Hebrew" comes from the ancient Akkadian word for priest, Abru. Akkadian is the oldest known Semitic language and the language of Nimrod's territory. Genesis 10 designates Nimrod as a Kushite kingdom builder. Here we have evidence for the movement of the early Hebrew out of Africa into Mesopotamia. 

The early Hebrew named in the Genesis 4, 5, 10 and 11 lists were rulers over territories in Eden. The term Eden derives from the Akkadian term edinu, which refers to a fertile plain or a flood plain. In Genesis 2:11-14, Eden is described as a vast well-watered region that extended from the sources of the Nile River in Ethiopia and Uganda to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Some of the world's oldest cultures are found in this Fertile Crescent. However, the biblical description of Eden comes long after the time of Adam and Eve. It is a kindling of ancient memory.

In Genesis, Adam's wife is called Hava (חוה) which is descriptive of her role as the birther (Gen. 3:20). Adam describes Eve as bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, suggesting that she and he have the same father, as did Sarah and Abraham.

As Adam's half-sister, Eve would have produced Adam's heir, which is Cain, the firstborn son. This may explain the royal affix -itti- in Genesis 4:1, where Eve claims to have acquired a man or a ruler with God's help.

E. A. Speiser (Anchor Bible Commentary on Genesis, p. 30) believes that the word qaniti (Gen. 4:1) is in assonance with "Cain" (Qayin). However, the word that appears in Genesis 4:1 is Akkadian, not Hebrew. Iti or itti is an Akkadian affix that appears with rulers’ names, and in reference to deities. For example, itti šarrim means "with the king." Another example: itti-Bel-balatu means "with Bel there is life."

Itti appears in royal names such as Nefertitti. Even today among the Oromo of the Horn of Africa the affix designates persons of high social standing: Kaartuumitti, Finfinneetti, and Dimashqitti.

Eve apparently recognized her firstborn son as a ruler. Yet Cain was banished or sent away from his parents' homeland. Genesis 4:15 states that he moved "east of Eden". If his homeland was in the Nile Valley, that means Cain moved into Arabia. His descendants are found in the land of Kenan/Kenites, which is the land of Canaan, or כנען, pronounced kena'an.

His brother Seth ruled over a territory in the Nile Valley which was called the Land of Seti. Cain and Seth built cities, had musical instruments, worked stone and metal, and worshiped the High God. Their descendants intermarried (as shown in the diagram) and dispersed widely as early kingdom builders.

Lamech the Elder with his two wives (Gen. 4) and Lamech the Younger, his grandson (Gen. 5).

The biblical data identifies the historical Adam and Eve as founding parents of the early Hebrew lines descending from Cain and Seth. Because the descendants of Cain and Seth intermarried (caste endogamy), all their Hebrew descendants could claim them and their unnamed wives as their common ancestors (cognatic descent). 

The ascendant rulers took half-sisters as their first wives and later in life took patrilineal cousins as their second wives. Sarah was Abraham's half-sister wife (Gen.  Sarah enjoyed the life of a wealthy, highborn woman. Her name is derived from the Akkadian word for queen: šarratum. In Genesis 20:12, Abraha explains that he and Sarah had the same father but different mothers. Their father Terah had two wives, as did many Hebrew rulers.

Keturah was Abraham's cousin bride. She bore him six sons and an unknown number of daughters. The two wives lived in separate settlements and those settlements were instrumental in maintaining territorial boundaries. However, the birth of two firstborn sons raises the question: “Which is the ruler’s proper heir?” Among the early Hebrew the proper heir was the firstborn son of the first wife, usually a half-sister. That is why Isaac was Abraham's proper heir, and like his father, Isaac was a man of great wealth. He ruled over his father's territory in Edom (Idumea), the land of red people.

Analysis of the early Hebrew kinship pattern provides verification that these were historical persons. Their kinship pattern is authentic. If it were not so, it could not be diagrammed, and that kinship pattern would not be consistent through the biblical texts. Some have offered the proofless argument that the structure of the king lists of Genesis 4 and 5 reflects a literary device. Biblical anthropology has demonstrated that the kinship of Genesis 4 and 5 "begets" is the same pattern found with Ham and Shem, Abraham and Nahor, and many other Hebrew rulers named in the Bible.

Kinship patterns are highly resistant to change, especially among castes. The early Hebrew were a ruler-priest caste with a distinctive marriage and ascendancy pattern. That pattern can be discerned by cutting through the layers, using an empirical method.

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