In chapter 19 of Genesis, this story no longer had three men, שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים (selosah anasim), who visited Abraham, but two angels, שְׁנֵ֨י הַמַּלְאָכִ֤ים (sene hammalakim), who went to visit Sodom. They almost seemed the same, but they were called angels, not men. Apparently, Yahweh, the third one, did not come with them. Lot, the nephew of Abraham, met them at the entrance gate to Sodom. He promptly asked them to stay the night by washing their feet. However, these two visitors planned on staying in the town square or plaza. However, Lot convinced them to stay with him in his house. They had a great feast with unleavened bread, which these angels ate. However, before they went to lie down for the night, the whole town surrounded Lot’s house. Here these visitors are called men, הָאֲנָשִׁ֛ים (haanasim), not angels. In a surprising tone, the men of Sodom told Lot to bring these two men out so that they might know them, וְנֵדְעָ֖ה (wenedeah). “Know” was a euphemism for sex. However, Lot objected. Instead, he offered his two virgin daughters who had not “known” man, but not the two men. He told these intruders that they could do anything they wanted with his two daughters. He begged them not to hurt “the two men”, since they had the shelter of his roof. These intruders rejected that notion and sought to break down Lot’s door to get to his male guests. Thus, these men confirmed the wickedness of the city. Lot went out to talk to them and told them to not act so wickedly. Then the men of Sodom turned on Lot as an alien. However, the two men or angels pulled Lot inside the house and struck all the men outside the house blind. It is interesting to note that Lot would give up his two daughters to protect the two men or angels, showing that men were more valuable than women. There was a show of force by the two visiting men or angels, making the intruders blind. Then the two men who were angels at the beginning of this story asked Lot who was with him. Yahweh had sent them to destroy this place. Lot went to his future sons-in-law to tell them to come with him because of the destruction of Sodom. They thought that Lot was joking. Then the two angels took Lot and his wife with their two daughters by the hand outside the city, since they were lingering. They were to flee to the hills without looking back. However, Lot resisted and wanted to go to a nearby little city of Zoar, and so he went there. Then Yahweh rained on both Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire, so that all who lived in those two towns and the plain were destroyed. It is not clear why Gomorrah was included, but it is assumed that they were wicked also. Lot’s wife looked back and she became a pillar of salt, a striking biblical image. Remember that this was in the plain by the Dead Sea which was also called the Salt Sea. The next day, Abraham looked down on the destruction with smoke in the air like a furnace, as he stood before Elohim. The cities of the valley plain were destroyed, while Lot was saved. This was the fiery destructive story of Sodom and Gomorrah. God disliked wickedness and so he destroyed it. Have you ever heard of Sodom and Gomorrah?
Month: April 2023
The three visitors and Abraham’s intercession
In chapter 18, Yahweh, not Elohim, appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre, near Hebron, as he was sitting in front of his tent. Suddenly, there were three men standing there in the heat of the day, so he ran and bowed to the ground to welcome them. This ninety-nine-year-old was kind to them, bringing them water to wash their feet, letting them sit under a tree, and bringing them bread to eat. Abraham rushed to Sarah’s tent to ask her to make cakes. Then he ordered a servant-boy to prepare a choice calf. When all this was prepared, he set curds, milk and the calf before them, waiting on them, under a tree, as they ate. Abraham seemed like the perfect host. They asked Abraham where his wife Sarah was. One of the visitors said that he would return next season and Sarah would have a son. Sarah, who was listening in the tent, laughed because she was old. Besides she was not with her husband in a womanly way. Now Yahweh was explicitly named as one of the visitors. He asked why Sarah was laughing. Sarah denied that she was laughing, but he insisted that she was laughing. Yahweh seemed annoyed that Sarah lied about her laughing. This is a strange Yahweh story, as some Christians have seen the three men, one of which is called Yahweh, as a fore taste of the Trinity concept. After eating, Abraham and the three visitors got up. They discussed the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. The three men, and they were called men here, set out for Sodom. However, one of the men morphed into Yahweh and stayed to talk with Abraham. It seems as if the men and Yahweh are not one and the same because Yahweh stayed behind with Abraham as the other men left for Sodom. Abraham must be righteous and just to bring about all that was planned for him. Somehow there was a great outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah because of their very grave sin, without mentioning what that great detestable sin was. However, it moved Yahweh to action. Because Abraham’s nephew was living in Sodom, Yahweh revealed his plans to destroy these cities. Yahweh and the three men were going there to see for themselves. Abraham asked if he would sweep away the righteous with the wicked. If there were 50 righteous people, would he spare the city? Yahweh said yes. Abraham referred to himself as “dust and ashes,” as he asked suppose there are only 45? Once again, the answer was yes. Then Abraham lowered the number to 40, 30, 20, and 10. Each time Yahweh said yes. Abraham was a good negotiator and Yahweh was easy to convince. Finally, Yahweh left Abraham. Are you a good negotiator?
The history of circumcision
Circumcision is a procedure that removes the foreskin from the human male penis. The English word circumcision is from the Latin circumcidere, meaning “to cut around”. Circumcision is either done as a form of preventive healthcare, or as a religious or cultural obligation practice. Circumcision helps reduce sexually transmitted infections and urinary tract infections. Around half of all circumcisions worldwide are performed for prophylactic healthcare reasons, while the other half is for religious or cultural reasons. Circumcision is the world’s oldest planned surgical procedure, over 15,000 years old, pre-dating recorded history. There is no firm consensus as to how it came to be practiced worldwide. Captured enemies were circumcised as a form of punishment, thus indicating a slave. Another theory saw it as a rite of passage of a boy into adulthood. The earliest traces can be found in the lands south and east of the Mediterranean Sea, starting with Sudan, Ethiopia, the ancient Egyptians, and the Semites. Certainly, Jews and Muslims have universally adopted this practice. However, there are indications that circumcision was practiced by indigenous people among the Australian Aboriginals and Polynesians, as well as the Aztec and Mayan civilizations in the Americas. Circumcision has been dated to at least as early as 6000 BCE in ancient Egypt. Some ancient Egyptian mummies, dated as early as 4000 BCE, show evidence of having undergone circumcision. Circumcision was done by the Egyptians possibly for hygienic reasons. The Egyptian Book of the Dead described the sun god Ra as having circumcised himself. Circumcision features prominently in the Hebrew Bible. Scholars have suggested that Judaism’s patriarchs and their followers adopted circumcision to make penile hygiene easier in hot, sandy climates, as a rite of passage into adulthood, or as a form of blood sacrifice. Prophylactic circumcision originated in England during the 1850s, becoming established as a way to preventing sexually transmitted infections. Today, circumcision is widespread in England, Australia, Canada, Africa, parts of Asia, the United States, South Korea, and New Zealand. It is relatively rare for non-religious reasons in parts of Southern Africa, Latin America, Europe, and parts of Asia. However, there is a consensus among the world’s major medical organizations that circumcision is an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention in high-risk populations. Worldwide, around half of all circumcisions are performed for religious or cultural reasons. When performed for religious reasons, it is most common, nearly universal, among Muslims and Jews. In some African and Eastern Christian denominations male circumcision is an established practice. It is commonly performed among members of the Coptic, Ethiopian, and Eritrean Christian Orthodox Churches. In some cultures, males are generally required to be circumcised shortly after birth, during childhood or around puberty as part of a rite of passage. However, some religions, such as Hinduism and Sikhism, strongly prohibit the practice of routine circumcision. Approximately 38% of males worldwide were circumcised as of 2016, often practiced between infancy and the early twenties. As of 2021, the present circumcision incidence in the United States is 80%. What do you know about circumcision?
The circumcision of Abraham
Circumcision was to be the sign of the new covenant in the Elohim alliance story in Genesis, chapter 17, that emphasized male circumcision as the main part of the covenant. Circumcision became a big deal. The cutting of the foreskin of the penis has been practiced among many ancient and contemporary groups for either religious or hygienic reasons. In fact, despite their differences, even today Islamic males practice circumcision like Jewish males. Elohim said that every Jewish male should be circumcised, הִמּ֥וֹל (himmpwlby), by removing the flesh of the foreskin, when he was eight days old. This included even male slaves born or brought into the Jewish household. So be careful if you are going to be a slave. Any uncircumcised Jewish male should be cut off from his people because he has broken the covenant. The Brit milah mitzvah of circumcision by a mohel on the eighth day of life is considered among the most important commandments in Judaism. Elohim God wanted every male circumcised. That very day, Abraham at age 99, his son Ishmael at age 13, and all the male slaves in his house were circumcised. So far, the two covenant requirements for Abraham were to walk blameless with God and be circumcised. Historical campaigns of ethnic, cultural, and religious persecution frequently included bans on this practice of circumcision, as a means of forceful assimilation, conversion, and ethnocide. After the fourth century BCE, the Greeks abhorred circumcision, so that they made life for circumcised Jews living among the Greeks and the Romans very difficult. Historically, restrictions on the Jewish circumcision practice by European governments have occurred several times. In the NT Gospel of Luke, chapter 2:21, there was a mention of the circumcision of Jesus, “At the end of eight days, when he was circumcised (τοῦ περιτεμεῖν αὐτόν), he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Jesus was a good Jewish boy circumcised on the eighth day. Circumcision played an important role in Christian history and theology. Paul the apostle in the Letter to the Romans reinterpreted circumcision as a spiritual concept, arguing that the physical need of circumcision was unnecessary for gentile converts to Christianity. The teaching that physical circumcision was unnecessary for membership in a divine covenant was instrumental in the separation of Christianity from Judaism. However, the circumcision of Jesus is celebrated as a feast day in the liturgical calendar of many Christian groups. Although it is not explicitly mentioned in the Quran, circumcision is considered essential to Islam, and it is nearly universally performed among Muslims. Americans found circumcision appealing, not merely on medical grounds, but also for its connotations of science, health, and cleanliness. However, there was a class distinction in the early twentieth century as the millions of European immigrants were not circumcised. Somehow, Anglophonic people adopted infant hygienic circumcision, but mainland European countries did not, perhaps due to their attitude towards Judaism and Jewish practices. Did you realize how important circumcision is in Judaism?
The new names of Abraham and Sarah
In chapter 17 of Genesis, thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, Yahweh, יְהוָ֜ה (Yahweh), appeared to Abram when he was 99 years old. However, Yahweh introduced himself as El Shaddai, אֵ֣ל שַׁדַּ֔י (El Sadday), the Almighty God, another name for God, not Yahweh. Abram was to walk with Almighty God and be blameless. This covenant or alliance, בְרִיתִ֖י (ḇertiti), with Abram would make his descendants exceedingly numerous, as if he had not been told that before. Abram fell on his face. Elohim, אֱלֹהִ֖ים (Elohim), not Yahweh or El Shaddai, told Abram that he would be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer would his name be Abram, אַבְרָ֖ם (Abram), but Abraham, אַבְרָהָ֔ם (Aḇraham), a name that will appear over 175 times, compared to 61 times as Abram. His new name meant “exalted ancestor” or “father of many.” Throughout generations there would be an everlasting covenant, בְּרִיתִ֜י (beriti). Abraham would get the land of Canaan, the land where he was living as an alien, as a perpetual holding. This designated land was less than the Yahweh covenant, since it only included Canaan, not all the land from Egypt to the Euphrates River. Elohim would be their God, לִהְי֤וֹת לְךָ֙ לֵֽאלֹהִ֔ים (lihyowt leka lElohim). Then Elohim said to Abraham that you shall not call your wife Sarai, שָׂרַ֣י (Saray), but Sarah, שָׂרָ֖ה (Sarah), “the princess”. She was mentioned 17 times as Sarai and 38 times as Sarah. She will be blessed and give you a son. Nations and kings shall come from her. Abraham laughed at this. How could a child be born to a man that was 100 years old with his wife who was 90 years old? Obviously, this was a problem that just occurred, since the older patriarchs were having children in their old age. Perhaps they had younger wives. The name of Sarah’s child would be Isaac, who would have an everlasting covenant. Once again, the son was named before the birth, or even before the pregnancy, indicating somebody important. Abraham reminded Elohim about Ishmael. Elohim responded that Ishmael would be blessed as the father of twelve princes and a great nation, but the covenant was to be with Isaac and his descendants. Elohim left Abraham and told him that Isaac would be born the next year. Have you ever changed your name?
Hagar, the surrogate mother
According to the Jahwist story in Genesis, chapter 16, after living ten years in Canaan, Abram and Sarai still had no children. Sarai felt that Yahweh had prevented her from being pregnant. Sarai then offered her Egyptian slave, Hagar, הָגָֽר׃ (Hagar), to Abram, with the intention that she would bear him a son. Abram agreed and took Hagar as a wife. He had intercourse with Hagar and she conceived. Having a second wife for a righteous man was not a problem. Who is this Hagar? Hagar was a descriptive label meaning “stranger”. Some commentators assert that Hagar was Pharaoh’s daughter, thus making her a princess rather than a slave girl or a bondswoman. Others have identified Hagar with Keturah, the woman Abram married after the death of Sarai. In the New Testament, Paul the apostle made Hagar’s experience an allegory of the difference between the law and grace in his Epistle to the Galatians. The Christian stereotype of Hagar as evil was first presented by Augustine of Hippo (354-430), and later expounded by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and John Wycliffe (1331-1384). They referred to Hagar as the symbol of the earthly city or the sinful condition of humanity, carnal, and exiled. In this story, Hagar became the mother of Ishmael. Although not mentioned by name in the Quran, she is a revered woman in the Islamic faith. Thus, some modern Muslim scholars hold that Hagar was never a handmaid of Sarai, rather she was a princess of Egypt who willingly followed Abraham and later married him. Sarai and Hagar got along pretty good at first, as Sarai treated her well. However, after Hagar found out that she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress, Sarai, and vice versa. Sarai complained to Abram, but he said that Hagar was her slave girl, so that she could do whatever she pleased. Sarai got upset and responded by badly mistreating the pregnant Hagar. Thus, Hagar fled into the wilderness. An angel or messenger of Yahweh, מַלְאַ֧ךְ יְהוָ֛ה (malak Yahweh), spoke with Hagar at a fountain spring on the way to Egypt. This messenger of Yahweh, not Yahweh himself, asked Hagar where she was coming from and where she was going. She responded correctly that she was fleeing from her mistress Sarai. This messenger angel instructed her to return to her mistress and submit to her, וְהִתְעַנִּ֖י (wehiṯanni), an important word in Islam. Then this messenger angel told her about her son to be born, indicating that he would be an important man with many descendants. His name would be Ishmael, יִשְׁמָעֵ֔אל (Yismael). Yahweh had heard about Hagar’s misery or affliction. This angel said that Hagar’s son would be a wild man with a lot of conflicts around him with nearly everyone, including his own family. Hagar then called God who spoke to her “El-roi”, אֵ֣ל רֳאִ֑י (El Roi), the God who sees me, so that this place got a new name, Beer-lahairoi. She wondered why she was still alive after seeing God, but she did as she was instructed. She returned and bore a child named Ishmael, when Abram was 86 years of age. This vision to a pregnant woman, where she was told the name of the child to be born, who would be something special but troublesome, was just like Mary in chapter one of the NT Gospel of Luke. The first surrogate mother was treated harshly. Thus, the first triangle relationship did not end well. What do you think about this story?
The original Hittites were an Indo-European people who settled in Anatolia, modern-day Turkey, around 2,000 BCE. They became one of the Near East’s greatest empires, calling themselves Hatti. Their capital was the central Anatolian city of Hattusa. Although they contended with Egypt for control of the Levant, Hittite rule never extended further south than some Syrian vassal states. The Hittite Empire eventually collapsed amid droughts, migrations, and invasions around 1180 BCE. Its successors were several Neo-Hittite kingdoms that emerged in southern Anatolia and northern Syria, as they became vassals of the Assyrian empire and were eventually assimilated completely. The use of the term “Hittite” in Assyrian inscriptions changed over time. During the time of Shalmaneser III in the 9th century BCE, it referred to the neo-Hittite states, Carchemish in particular. After this, the neo-Hittite states lost their independence and ethnic identity. By the time of Sargon, around 720 BCE, Hittite had become a synonym for Amorite and was used to indicate all of Syrian-Palestine. By the neo-Babylonian period, around 626 BCE, Hatti had replaced Amurru as the standard term for Palestine, including the kingdom of Judah. In fact, Judah was explicitly referred to as part of the Hittite region in the Babylonian Chronicles’ account of Nebuchadnezzar. In fact, we have a description of the fall of Jerusalem from this Babylonian king. In the seventh year, 598-597 BCE, the month of Kislev, the king of Akkad mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land, and encamped against the city of Judah, Jerusalem, and on the second day of the month of Adar, Mar 16, 597, he seized the city and captured the king. He appointed there a king of his own choice Zedekiah, received its heavy tribute, and sent them to Babylon. The Pentateuch presented the Hittites as one of the seven stereotyped nations of the Promised Land, to be eradicated by the Israelites. Apart from this list, all references to Hittites in the Pentateuch are found in verses attributed to the Priestly author, who probably revised and augmented earlier versions of the text. This term was basically synonymous with “Canaanite”. In the Table of Nations in chapter 10 of Genesis, Heth, the Hittite “founder” was a prominent son of Canaan. The Hittites appeared in other books of the Hebrew Bible. In summary, while Kings understands the Hittites to be a group of northern kingdoms, the Pentateuch and Joshua use it as a label for all the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Palestine. This closely resembles the term’s use in neo-Babylonian texts from the time of Sargon onward. If the biblical authors are attempting to give the appearance of antiquity by using it this way, they were writing later still. There is no shortage of reasons why Old Testament scholars do not regard the Bible as a wholly accurate account of historical events. Have you ever heard of the Hittites?
The name “Amorite” ultimately comes from Old Akkadian Amurru, meaning “the West”. It was used by the ancient Assyrians as a general term for the cultures of the desert and steppe-land in Syria. For the most part, it designated no specific nation or ethnic group, although a kingdom by that name did exist for a while around the 14th century BCE in central Syria. After the fall of the kingdom of Amurru, the label came to be used by the Assyrians for any lands west of Assyria to the Mediterranean Sea, with no particular southern limit. As Neo-Assyrian involvement in Palestine increased, all the kingdoms of Palestine came to be called “Amurru”, including Israel as well as its neighbors, Phoenicia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, and the Philistine cities. The Amorites were one of the names included in the often-repeated stereotyped list of Israelite enemies. Although many biblical passages seem to imply that the Amorites were a specific ethnic group, the way the term was actually used often reflects a Neo-Assyrian usage from the 8th century BCE onward, a blanket term for the peoples living in Palestine and the Transjordan area. Using archaic terms like “Amorite” was necessary to make the text sound like something that would have come from the time of Moses, therefore more authoritative. Sometimes, the Deuteronomistic history was oddly specific with the location of the Amorites, but there is little agreement as to what that location was. The Amorites were equated with the sons of the Anakim, a primeval race of “giants” who lived in the Israelite hill country. Then they were equated with Ammon and Moab across the Jordan River. Amorite in the Old Testament does not correspond to any political or ethnic entity known from the historical documents of the second millennium BCE. Instead, the biblical writers probably learned about this term from Assyrian and Babylonian sources of the first millennium. They then construed it as an archaic term for the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Palestine, since their use of this term was largely ideological and rhetorical. Amorites represent a primeval wicked nation that God displaced in order to give Israel its land. What do you know about the Amorites?
The ethnic label “Canaanite” first appeared in a third-millennium BCE text from Ebla, an island off of present-day Tuscany. Various early references equate Canaan with the Phoenician coast and its hinterlands. Around the year 1552 BCE, Egypt established military and political control of the Levant, the area from the Mediterranean Sea to southwest Asia, that lasted for about five centuries. Under Egyptian administration, this region was divided into three provinces: Amurru, to the far north that became the Amorite Kingdom, Upi, the region around Damascus, and Canaan. Later, in the first millennium, Egyptian sources referred to southern Palestine and Philistia as Canaan. In Hittite sources, Canaan refers to the northern Phoenician coast as distinct from southern Phoenicia, which included Sidon and Tyre. In Greek sources, Canaan was sometimes an equivalent term for Phoenicia. In short, “Canaan” in ancient texts was mainly a geographical and political term that referred to land, and not to any specific ethnic group or culture. The Canaanites of the ancient Near East did not know that they were themselves Canaanites. Only when they left their original home, only when they lived in some other part of the Mediterranean area, did they acknowledge that they had been Canaanites. The Canaanites were one of the seven nations in a formulaic list that is repeated numerous times by biblical writers. Yahweh was going to clear away many nations before them, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Ancient Israel cannot be distinguished from the other tribes of Canaan. Israel emerged in the hill country of Palestine in complete cultural, material, and linguistic continuity with the Canaanite societies that preceded it. The Israelites were indigenous Canaanites, not external conquerors. The name “Israel” itself contains the name “El”, the high god of the Canaanite pantheon. The Priestly writer of the Pentateuch understood Canaan to be essentially the same as the Promised Land, the land promised to Israel’s ancestors. The authors of the Pentateuch saw the Israelites as rightful inhabitants of the whole land of Canaan. The term Canaanite was usually reserved for those people of the land who did not fit into the approved tribal and religious framework of the Israelites. Canaanites were the “other”, a faceless enemy to be dispatched without mercy at every opportunity. They were the ideological enemy of the later exilic or post-exilic elite that wrote and canonized these texts. In fact, the “language of Canaan” appears to be Hebrew. Canaan was simply the land of Palestine from an Egyptian perspective. The prophet Ezekiel, 16:3, said, “To Jerusalem. Your origin and your birth were in the land of the Canaanites. Your father was an Amorite. Your mother was a Hittite.” Perhaps, he was more correct than he thought. What do you know about the Canaanites?
The promised of land for Abram
The calling of Abram in the Yahweh tradition in Genesis, chapter 15, took place in a vision to Abram. Yahweh told him not to be afraid, because Yahweh would be his shield. Abram said that he was sterile and the inheritor of his estate was to be his household slave, Eliezer of Damascus. However, Yahweh said that Abram would have his own personal heirs. His descendants would be like the stars in the heaven. Abram believed this. Thus, Yahweh reckoned him as righteous because of his belief. Yahweh told Abram that he had brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans to have this new land. Yahweh then asked for a sacrifice that included a heifer, a female goat, and a ram, all each three years old, along with a turtledove and a young pigeon. This was like the Mosaic Law which came later. Abram cut the big animals in two but left the birds alone, like in the later Levitical law. He then chased off the birds of prey when they came for the animal carcasses. Abram fell asleep as darkness descended upon him. Yahweh said to Abram that your offspring will be aliens and slaves in a land that is not theirs for 400 years, a prediction after the fact. However, they would come out of there and return here with great possessions. Abram, like many others, was to die in a good old age. There was a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch that passed by. Then Yahweh made a covenant with Abram. Yahweh gave him the land from the Nile River to the Euphrates River for him and his descendants. Then Yahweh listed his many land-owning enemies: the Kenites, a nomad tribe; the Kenizzites, a group that integrated with the Canaanites; the Kadmonites, a group only mentioned here; the Hittites, the descendents of Heth; the Perizzites, like the Canaanites; the Rephaim, the tall ones; the Amorites; the Canaanites; the Girgashites; and the Jebusites. There were various names used to describe these diverse ethnic groups of the Promised Land, the lands that they would occupy. Some of these names are well-attested from other archaeological and historical sources, while others are obscure and remain a mystery to this day. There is no historical evidence for many of these odd tribes or groups. The most common names are the non-Israelite inhabitants or Canaanites, sometimes called Amorites or Hittites. What do you know about the enemies of Abram?