Genesis, a Political Agenda for an Empire
H. Abdul Al-Dahir
According to Wikipedia:
“The Genesis creation narrative is the creation myth of both Judaism and Christianity. It is made up of two parts, roughly equivalent to the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis.
In the first part (Genesis 1:1-2:3) Elohim the Hebrew generic word for God creates the heaven and the earth in six days, starting with darkness and light on the first day, and ending with the creation of mankind on the sixth day. God then rests on, blesses and sanctifies the seventh day. In the second part (Genesis 2:4-2:24) God, now referred to by the personal name Yahweh, creates the first man from dust and breathes life into him. God then places him in the Garden of Eden and creates the first woman from his side as a companion.
The second part of the Genesis creation narrative, Genesis 2:4-3:24 opens with… (the LORD God, lit. YHWH Elohim) creating the first man (Adam), whom he placed in a garden that he planted “eastward in Eden”.
The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. —Genesis 2:9
The man was free to eat from any tree in the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Last of all, the God made a woman (Eve) from a rib of the man to be a companion to the man. In chapter 3, the man and the woman were seduced by the serpent into eating the forbidden fruit, and they were expelled from the garden to prevent them from eating of the tree of life, and thus living forever. Cherubims were placed east of the garden, “and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep him away from the tree of life”. (Gen.3:24)
The biblical Garden of Eden (GOE) story is obviously allegorical. The GOE was located on the Hebrew deity’s mountain; Mount Layl (Night Mountain where El ruled as a moon god.). This was the mountain whose peak the Hebrews viewed as the central pillar that upheld the sky (Job 26:11) and whose base upheld the land (1 Sam 2:8, Job 9:6, Ps 79:3). According to Psalm 104, the Hebrews thought that mountains were the source of all fresh and salt water in the Middle East as well as north and central East Africa. Since, mountains were the source of life generating water in the arid Middle East, mountains, which gushed water, were thought of as an ejaculating penis. For this reason, the resident male deity or El wore the glans penis as a crown and was worshiped as the ‘Rock’ who ‘sired’ the Hebrews (Deut 32:15) and as the ‘father’ (Isa 63:16) of his devotees. This crown adorned the heads of such Ancient Near Eastern fertility gods as Osiris, Baal and El, to name a few.
It was El’s mountain that was the central source of the four rivers which watered the arid regions where the peoples of north and central East Africa and the Middle East dwelt. The Nile (Gihon in Genesis 2) watered Ethiopia, Nubia and Egypt. The Tigris and Euphrates (Hiddekel and Parath) watered Mesopotamia and the great salt river, Pishon (meaning connector), comprised of the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Arabian Gulf, surrounded the Arabian Peninsula.These four rivers were created to demarcate a vast empire which Yhwh promised the Judeans according to Gen. 15:18. The following are two interpretations of the verse.
According to the New Living translation this passage reads: So the LORD made a covenant with Abram that day and said, “I have given this land to your descendants, all the way from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River–And according to the Authorized King James version, this passage reads: In the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:
The confusion arises from the names Gihon and Pishon which are Greek. Gihon means border and Pishon means connector because the Judeans viewed the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Arabian Gulf as connected by one salt river which they named the Pishon. The Gihon and Pishon are a late inclusion to the GoE scenario. These names were added either under the Seleucids or the Ptolemies.
The Judean authors of Genesis were simply claiming that it was Yhwh who created the four great rivers and used them as boundaries to demarcate Judah’s rightful inheritance as per Gen 15:18 i.e, all the land between the Nile and the Euphrates. In other words, all of the trade routes that went by river or sea were the inheritance of the Judeans. Of course, these boundaries would include all of the land trade routes too; the King’s Highway, the Via Maris, the Babylonian trade routes as well as the eastern and western trade routes that connected Mesopotamia, Canaan and Egypt to the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The Judeans were a frustrated folk who saw themselves as worthy of a vast empire. However, they never even came close to fulfilling their imperial dreams.
The above explanation clarifies the ousting of Ishmael from the covenant of Abram even though he was one of the first to be circumcised into that covenant as well as the story of Esau/Edom, Jacob’s elder twin who was tricked into selling his birthright. The home of the Ishmaelites was the Arabian Peninsula and the home of the Edomites was the kingdom of Edom, a prosperous kingdom that lay to the south of Judah. However, according to the Genesis tale, both of these firstborn sons, who were entitled to their inheritance according to the laws of primogeniture, lost their to their inheritance to a younger sibling. Ishmael lost his inheritance because Sara was jealous and did not want Ishmael to inherit with her son and Esau lost his inheritance because he traded it for a pot of red gruel. Both stories are highly improbable given the culture of the Semitic people. However, Ishmael’s inheritance went to Isaac and Esau’s inheritance was transferred to Jacob thru trickery. Both of the patriarchs, Abraham and Jacob, in these narratives are forgiven of any wrong-doing because their wives, Sara and Rebecca, tricked them into compliance with their wishes. This is an elaboration on the deceitfulness of women as first portrayed in the GoE narrative. So, Isaac was to inherit all of Ishmael’s territory, if not at the time of the writing, at least some time in the future. The same with Edom. Jacob inherited the kingdom of Edom because Esau’s birthright was now his. The story of Ham and Shem is a variation of these tales. Cham was the 2nd son so their is no argument for primogeniture here. However, Cham was cursed which made Shem the inheritor of Cham’s territory.
As for the tribes that dwelt on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, these tribes were automatically included in the inheritance of Shem as Shem was the first-born of Noah. However, the progeny of Eber was divided into 2. The line that produced Abram and the line that produced Joktan, the ancestor of the tribes on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The authors of Genesis decided to give this territory to the descendants of Isaac too by declaring it was Yhwh who surrounded the area with a river which he either created or caused to issue from his mountain paradise. Since the Joktan Arabs were not included in the covenant of Abram, by extension, they were not entitled to the Pishon, the great salt river that surrounded the Peninsula. Ergo, this sea route and the land it surrounded belonged to the Judeans too. The same logic was used when Egypt and all of Mesopotamia became the inheritance of the Judeans. The Babylonians were not entitled to a territory watered by Yhwh’s great rivers and neither were the Egyptians. This land belonged to the people of the covenant. This explains the violations of the laws of primogeniture as well as the reason why the authors of Genesis gave all of this land and the waterways of Egypt, Canaan, Mesopotamia, and the Arabian Peninsula to the descendants of Isaac.
The Judeans were ambitious to build an empire of their own carved from the territories of foreign empires and kingdoms. Since this was never going to happen, the biblical authors switched focus from an empire which they would carve from their neighbors’ empires and kingdoms to a magical monarch, a king from the clan of David, to accomplish this feat for them. As far as I can tell, many who take these texts verbatim still think this magical king will accomplish the task. This mythical messiah became the source of much expectation which was commented upon by some very respected Jewish scholars as Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet in the following article:
Mashiach Ben Yossef
by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet
Jewish tradition speaks of two redeemers, each one called Mashiach (Messiah). Both are involved in ushering in the Messianic era. They are Mashiach ben David and Mashiach ben Yossef.
The term Mashiach unqualified always refers to Mashiach ben David (Mashiach the descendant of David) of the tribe of Judah. He is the actual (final) redeemer who shall rule in the Messianic age. All that was said in our text relates to him.
Mashiach ben Yossef (Mashiach the descendant of Joseph) of the tribe of Ephraim (son of Joseph), is also referred to as Mashiach ben Ephrayim, Mashiach the descendant of Ephraim. He will come first, before the final redeemer, and later will serve as his viceroy.
The essential task of Mashiach ben Yossef is to act as precursor to Mashiach ben David: he will prepare the world for the coming of the final redeemer. Different sources attribute to him different functions, some even charging him with tasks traditionally associated with Mashiach ben David (such as the ingathering of the exiles, the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash, and so forth).
The principal and final function ascribed to Mashiach ben Yossef is of political and military nature. He shall wage war against the forces of evil that oppress Israel. More specifically, he will do battle against Edom, the descendants of Esau. Edom is the comprehensive designation of the enemies of Israel and it will be crushed through the progeny of Joseph. Thus it was prophesied of old, “The House of Jacob will be a fire and the House of Joseph a flame, and the House of Esau for stubble..” (Obadiah 1:18): “the progeny of Esau shall be delivered only into the hands of the progeny of Joseph.”
This ultimate confrontation between Joseph and Esau is alluded already in the very birth of Joseph when his mother Rachel exclaimed, “G-d has taken away my disgrace” (Genesis 30:23): with prophetic vision she foresaw that an “anointed savior” will descend from Joseph and that he will remove the disgrace of Israel. In this context, she called his name “Yossef, saying ‘Yossef Hashem – may G-d add to me ben acher (lit., another son) – one who will be at the end of the world’s time,’ from which it follows that the ‘meshu’ach milchamah – one anointed for battle’ will descend from Joseph.”
The immediate results of this war will be disastrous: Mashiach ben Yossef will be killed. This is described in the prophecy of Zechariah, who says of this tragedy that “they shall mourn him as one mourns for an only child.” (Zechariah 12:10). His death will be followed by a period of great calamities. These new tribulations shall be the final test for Israel, and shortly thereafter Mashiach ben David shall come, avenge his death, resurrect him, and inaugurate the Messianic era of everlasting peace and bliss.
This, in brief, is the general perception of the “first Mashiach,” the descendant of Joseph through the tribe of Ephraim.
Quite significantly, R. Saadiah Gaon (one of the few to elaborate on the role of Mashiach ben Yossef) notes that this sequence is not definite but contingent! Mashiach ben Yossef will not have to appear before Mashiach ben David, nor will the activities attributed to him or his death have to occur. All depends on the spiritual condition of the Jewish people at the time the redemption is to take place:
The essential function of Mashiach ben Yossef is to prepare Israel for the final redemption, to put them into the proper condition in order to clear the way for Mashiach ben David to come. Of that ultimate redemption it is said, that if Israel repent (return to G-d) they shall be redeemed immediately (even before the predetermined date for Mashiach’s coming). If they will not repent and thus become dependent on the final date, “the Holy One, blessed be He, will set up a ruler over them, whose decrees shall be as cruel as Haman’s, thus causing Israel to repent, and thereby bringing them back to the right path.” In other words, if Israel shall return to G-d on their own and make themselves worthy of the redemption, there is no need for the trials and tribulations associated with the above account of events related to Mashiach ben Yossef. Mashiach ben David will come directly and redeem us.
Moreover, even if there be a need for the earlier appearance of Mashiach ben Yossef, the consequences need not be as severe as described. Our present prayers and meritorious actions can mitigate these. R. Isaac Luria (Ari-zal) notes that the descendant of Joseph, by being the precursor of the ultimate Mashiach, is in effect kissey David, the “seat” or “throne” of David, i.e., of Mashiach. Thus when praying in the daily Amidah, “speedily establish the throne of Your servant David,” one should consider that this refers to Mashiach ben Yossef and beseech G-d that he should not die in the Messianic struggle. As all prayers, this one, too, will have its effect.
It follows, then, that all the above is not an essential or unavoidable part of the Messianic redemption that we await. Indeed, it – (and the same may be said of the climactic war of Gog and Magog) – may occur (or may have occurred already!) in modified fashion. This may explain why Rambam does not mention anything about Mashiach ben Yossef. R. Saadiah Gaon and R. Hai Gaon, as well as a good number of commentators, do refer to him briefly or at length. In view of the divergent Midrashim and interpretations on this subject, it is practically impossible to present a more definitive synopsis that would go far beyond the above. Thus it is wisest to cite and follow R. Chasdai Crescas who states that “no certain knowledge can be derived from the interpretations of the prophecies about Mashiach ben Yossef, nor from the statements about him by some of the Geonim;” there is no point, therefore, in elaborating on the subject.
So, the ‘covenant’ between Abram and Yhwh that appears in Gen 15:18 that all of the land between the Nile and the Euphrates, or effectively, anywhere the four rivers flowed, was the empire that Yhwh promised Abram. Since, the Judeans were unable to carve out of this empire from their neighbors’ territory, the task was left to a mythical king from the clan of David. The Roman church, co-opted this story declaring that the mission was now theirs since the Jews failed to acknowledge that Jesus as the divine messiah. The result was a massive European invasion of the Middle East in which crusaders slaughtered its inhabitants, Jews, Christians and Muslims all in the name of Jesus. The Roman Church failed to retain control, so the crusading monarchs of the 20th Century declared themselves as the ones to accomplish this feat. Their attempt resulted in a secularized Middle East which the Europeans attempted to control with the cooperation of locals who were willing to hand over their countrys’ resources in exchange for royal titles, a life of luxury and military protection. The non Semitic European Jews with a Zionist political agenda took advantage of the situation and began a slaughter of the native inhabitants of Palestine. The UN sanctioned the slaughter by granting these Europeans national status and declared that Palestine was now Israel; a kingdom that ceased to exist in 721 BCE. And so the myth continues to strangle the Middle East whose populations have arisen against the blatant injustice which the Europeans and their allies have no intention of correcting, all because Christianity has declared the Bible, a story which describes the imperial visions of an obscure tribe, has become ‘the word of god’.