Monday, October 7, 2013

Noah, Yahweh and company

Two earlier posts of mine (The Children of Israel, January 2012, and The Hebrews, February 2013) offered a revisionist history of the Israelites and their beginnings, working backwards in time from the exile in “Egypt” to the Ebuwa-im whose name was the fictional Abraham. The posts reflected my personal speculations, as does this one. I realise how cheeky it is to offer them as competition for the official history, backed by 3500 years of peer-reviews. Nevertheless...! The current job is to trace the Hebrew gods back to the new world that began with the arrival of Noah and his boat in the mountains of Ur/Ararat.

We are faced with the usual difficulty of working with English transliterations of words recorded in the ancient Hebrew of more than a hundred generations ago. Those records were transcribed at irregular intervals by different writers, were based on oral legends kept alive by tribal bards during the preceding fifty-odd generations, and bent into shape by the propaganda needed to facilitate Moses’s creation of The Children of Israel – the fanatical religious military force that was the Taliban of its day.

With that small problem in mind, one can perceive the similarity of the gods’ names that crop up in the story. Noah (No-wah) was a variant of (Ya)h'weh, (Je)hovah and Yakov/Jacob - all of them possible variants of Heber/Hepat, a god widely worshipped in the Hittite and Assyrian empires of the age.

Abraham’s god was Yahweh, written YHWH without vowel-indicators, in order to avoid squabbles among the diverse tribes that comprised the later Israelites. Different tribes, different dialects, different accents...

[B is a common vocalisation of P in different dialects, and N is a vocalisation of H, though not a common one. H is notoriously easily dropped, in speech. Ebuwa/Ebla (w=l) was a city and region named for Eber/Heber, and “Abraham” was Ebuwa-im, the people of the place. W and V are common variants of each other, as are V and B. This is not the place to expound on other variants. Some other time, perhaps.]

The similarities would have been chosen in order to credit the Hebrews with remarkable consistency in their loyalty to the god of their ancestral homeland, for the entire period from their departure from Ur of the Chaldeans to their arrival in Haran [Genesis 11.31] in the border state of Ebuwa. Haran was a thriving commercial centre on one of the main trading routes from west to east. Merchants would have gotten rich from doing business in such a place, and Genesis describes Abram/Abraham as “very rich in cattle, silver and gold” when he left the town.

Those were disturbed times for the border regions of the rival empires of Hattia (Hittites), Assyria and Egypt. Many of the peoples – Abraham/Ebuwa-im, Mitanni/Midians, Hurrians/Aryans, Amurru/Amorites – would have experienced turmoil from changes of the boundaries. Tribal communities would have been pushed hither and yon.

By their association with the Hebrews (Ebuwa-im), the Children of Israel claimed the same ancestral god, with new legends to back up the claim. Once the Children’s priests and military leaders had expelled or killed those of the refugees who declined to buy into the legends, the new tribe and its god conquered the independent cities of the south. The “wilderness” in which the slaughters occurred is far more likely to have been the Lebanese hinterland than the Sinai Desert, by the way.

It remains only to wonder how “semitic” the Hebrews and Israelites were. Peering through the mists of time, historians have determined (provisionally) that the ruling classes of the Hurrians in the mountains and foothills of Ur spoke an Aryan language. What the lower classes spoke, is not yet decided. The best guess is “some unidentified native-Anatolian language”; all such languages were of the Aryan family.

Language is not the same thing as race, but it is to some extent indicative. It’s not at all out of the question that some of the Hebrews and Israelites had Aryan ancestry. However, whatever the cultures of the component tribes were or weren’t before their sojourns in Haran and “the land of Egypt”, they would have been thoroughly semiticised during those sojourns.