The Pre-Islamic origins of Aniconism in Arabia

Well known is the fact that Islam is strongly opposed to depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, a doctrine which has led to much bloodshed in recent years with the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Less well known is the prohibition on any form of artwork depicting any creation of God in Islam. Hence Sunni Islamic art tends to focus on calligraphy and geometric patterns. This Hadith is one of the origins of such a view:

(the wife of the Prophet) I bought a cushion having on it pictures (of animals). When Allah’s Apostle saw it, he stood at the door and did not enter. I noticed the sign of disapproval on his face and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! I repent to Allah and His Apostle. What sin have I committed?’ Allah’s Apostle said. “What is this cushion?” I said, “I have bought it for you so that you may sit on it and recline on it.” Allah’s Apostle said, “The makers of these pictures will be punished on the Day of Resurrection, and it will be said to them, ‘Give life to what you have created (i.e., these pictures).’ ” The Prophet added, “The Angels of (Mercy) do not enter a house in which there are pictures (of animals).”

Sahih Al Bukhari 3:34:318

Many will assume that this Islamic prohibition is extrapolated from Old Testament prohibitions on Idolatry, such as those found in Exodus 20:4. But in my studies I have come to the conclusion that it more likely that the prohibition has an origin with the tribes of Northern Arabia, including our old friends the Qenites, as well as the Nabataeans, who are perhaps best known for the construction of Petra. Perhaps such a view is the common origin of both the Islamic ‘and’ Biblical prohibitions, since we have already established that there was much early Arabic influence on Ancient Judaism. As Professor Israel Knohl at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem points out:

In Judges 1:16, we are told that the Kenites settled in the Arad Valley, and scholars have long suggested that the city of Horvat Uza is biblical Kina, since the stream in its vicinity is called Wadi-el-Keni, i.e., the Kenite Stream. Excavations of the Iron II (monarchic period) city there show that whereas the neighboring (Israelite!) towns had small carvings of people, Horvat Uza had none. Nadav Na’aman, a historian of the biblical period from Tel Aviv University, suggested that this was because the Kenites were especially connected to their ancient, aniconic tradition.

Similarly, one Kenite figure from a later period, Jehonadab ben Rechab (1 Chron 2:55), is described as having joined Jehu’s anti-Baal movement (2 Kgs 10:15-16). In Jeremiah we hear that this group—the Rechabites, a Kenite subclan—lived a nomadic tent-dwelling life, without building houses or planting fields, and eschewed wine consumption. This lifestyle is reminiscent of what we see in later times with yet another Arabic tribe, the Nabateans, who were also aniconic.

So it seems as though Pre-Islamic Arabia had a tradition of strict aniconism, which extended to all areas of life, not just religion. I argue that it is no coincidence that the Prophet Muhammad, an Arab himself picked up on this idea.

I also argue that Qenite theology should take up this idea, and that this idea is only restricted to images for worship, since Knohl tells us elsewhere that the Qenites (Midianites) made decorative images of Ostriches and other animals.

rkb ‘rpt, out!

Why Pterosaurs are not in the Bible

A common YEC claim is that the fiery flying serpents (Saraphim) mentioned in the Bible, (also in Herodotus and Assyrian texts) refers to a Pterosaur, like Pteranodon or Quetzalcoatlus.

An oracle on the beasts of the Negev. Through a land of trouble and anguish, from where come the lioness and the lion, the adder and the flying fiery serpent, they carry their riches on the backs of donkeys, and their treasures on the humps of camels, to a people that cannot profit them. (Isaiah 30:6)

In response to these claims, Ben Stanhope points out the links to the Uraeus of Egyptian Iconography, and argues that the ‘fiery flying serpent’ imagery can ultimately be traced back to the spitting cobra, and argues that this imagery was the result of Judahite trade with Egypt around the time the Prophet Isaiah was writing. Whilst I certainly appreciate Stanhope’s contribution, I feel as though even Stanhope is missing the mark here. Indeed, Nissim Amzallag points out that according to Herodotus, the flying serpent was foreign to Egypt, and may have even entered into Egyptian iconography from Canaanite influence.

The truth is that the ‘Fiery Flying Serpent’ is very easily identifiable as the ‘Saw-Scaled Viper’ (Echis Coloratus), which the ancients wrongly believed had the ability to fly, due the fact that it eats birds. Herodotus (II, 75) tells us:

In the spring the winged snakes come flying from Arabia towards Egypt but are met in the gorge (near Buto) by the birds called Ibis who foil their entrance and destroy them all
Alongside the fact that this clearly states that the snakes literally flew (so a mention of them in the Bible causes cognitive dissonance among YECs), Herodotus identifies their homeland with Arabia, exactly the bounds in which Echis Coloratus dwells in real life.
In addition to this, Herodotus and naturalist Theophrastus identify the flying serpent as dwelling on trees in desert ravines, and the Bible for it’s part places the serpents in the Negev region, a harsh, rocky desert. The Saw-scaled viper dwells in bushes at ravines and mountains.
But what, I hear you ask, about it being ‘fiery’. Well, this could easily be a reference to the viper’s venomous bite, as Nissim Amzallag points out:
From the etymology of saraph = to burn), many scholars have deduced that the appellation “burning serpent” evokes the burning / fiery sensation provoked by the venom.The venom of  Echis coloratus also falls into the hemotoxic category; it stimulates an intense sensation of burning that rapidly diffuses from the bite wound
So there we have it, the ‘Fiery Flying Serpent’, is neither a Pterodactyl, nor even a spitting Cobra, but rather a venomous viper dwelling in rocky areas, believed to have the power of flight due to the fact that it preyed on birds. Of course, this snake does not fly in real life, so YECs will be forced to disregard my findings due to cognitive dissonance.
rkb ‘rpt, out!

Towards a Qenite theology

For quite some time, scholars have been aware that the Hebrew god YHWH likely had his origins in the religion of the Qenite people, who dwelled in the deserts to the south of Israel. The evidence for this is simply overwhelming, The most common piece of evidence for this is is the association of YHWH with the south in many parts of the Bible:

Deuteronomy 33:2:

He said, “The LORD came from Sinai and dawned from Seir upon us; he shone forth from Mount Paran; he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand.

Judges 5:4

“ LORD, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled and the heavens dropped, yes, the clouds dropped water.

Habakkuk 3:3

God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah His splendour covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.

In addition to this, we have an inscription mentioning YHWH of Teman at Kuntilet Ajrud.

Another piece of evidence is the fact that the name YHWH very likely has an Arabic etymology, Hawaya, meaning ‘impassioned’, linking to the idea of YHWH being a jealous god in Exodus 34;14.

The mountain of YHWH, according to Exodus 3:1 is also associated with the land of Midian, in North Arabia.

We should note the link between the Qenite people, of North Arabia, and the Cainite people of Genesis 4. Both names are cognate, and have metallurgical links. Just as the area of North Arabia was associated with metallurgy from an early period., and Cain’s descendent Tubal-Cain was associated with metallurgy, and the other sons of Lamech also likely had metallurgical links.

Finally, YHWH very likely had metallurgical links himself, as Amzallag explains, indicating a link to North Arabia.

This is important because Cain and Abel are portrayed in Genesis as being the first worshippers of YHWH.

So in summary:
1- YHWH is said to have come from North Arabia.

2- YHWH was associated with North Arabia in early Hebrew inscriptions.

3- YHWH’s original holy mountain was in North Arabia (near or in Midian)

4- YHWH likely has an Arabic etymology.

5- YHWH’s original worshippers were associated with the Qenite people of North Arabia.

6- YHWH’s metallurgical/volcanic theophanies suggest a link to North Arabia, one of the first regions associated with metallurgy.

It would seem then, as if YHWH definitely had origins with a North Arabian people, likely the Qenites, whom the Bible tells us settled in Israel (Judges 1:16), and whom are portrayed in the Bible as YHWH’s original worshippers.

The point being is that the foundation stone of Judaism, that God made a unique covenant with the Israelites, has been undermined by recent scholarship, so continued adherence to Judaism (and by extension Christianity and Islam) is problematic.

But I see religion and spirituality as highly important (that’s a topic for another day), so I suggest that a new theology should be developed. One that reconstructs the original religion of the Qenites of North Arabia.

If you read the article on YHWH’s name, you would know that YHWH’s etymology suggests that the god was worshipped alone (yet more evidence for a Qenite origin for biblical monotheism), though Deuteronomy 33:2 would suggest that many other gods came with YHWH to Israel, only he was worshipped. Likewise, archaeology would suggest that the Qenites and Midianites were aniconists, and did not make graven images of their god. So the traditional Abrahamic beliefs of Monotheism, and opposition to Idolatry should remain.

As for the scriptures, Nissim Amzallag suggests that Genesis 2-4 originated with the Qenites, since they seem to reflect real historical memory, and are inextricably linked to each other. I suggest we reclaim them as scriptures.

Alongside the prohibition of polytheism and idolatry, we also see that murder is wrong, from the sin of Cain. Perhaps through our intuition we can discover more moral facts, as GE Moore and WD Ross suggested.

It’s a work in progress, but this is my suggestion that we revive the Ancient North Arabian religion as a new faith for a new age. One which is compatible with modern religious scholarship. This is my resignation from traditional Abrahamism.

rkb ‘rpt, out!

The Far Left’s New Victim Group

Apparently Lisa Simpson has been outed as poly-amorous, which is apparently now something to celebrate amongst the left:

It seems sexual promiscuity is now seen as a sexuality akin to homosexuality, something which must be tolerated, and should be promoted as normal, lest you be a bigot. Hence outing Lisa as poly-amorous has identity politics value.

Not only is this deviant and decadent, it is also borderline homophobic, as it puts homosexuality on the same level as immoral sexual behaviour. It seems the far left cannot be consistent.

For why sexual promiscuity is not something to celebrate, listen to Jordan Peterson:

rkb ‘rpt, out!

The Bible and Bird-lore

The Bible calls humans to enact dominion over the animals, yet at the same time, we are to have respect for their lives. Bird-watching helps us achieve both goals.

Recently I have been getting myself into bird-watching, and have joined the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, always having a passion for nature. I’ve seen many species at my local marshes in England, including species you won’t usually see at your local park, including Lapwings, Shovelers, Shelduck, Wigeon, Pintail, Tealduck, Redshank, Plovers, Egrets, Little Grebe, as well as other animals, including the Common Lizard. It is my passion to show my friends and family wildlife they wouldn’t usually see. But how do I justify my passion using the Bible, that book central to my life?

Why is this a problem you may ask? Well, the Prophet Isaiah said that we were created to show God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7), therefore every action which we perform should glorify God. Am I glorifying God through bird-watching, or am I just enjoying myself?

Well I think the former is true. The Bible says that we are to have dominion over the animals (Genesis 1:26-28), meaning we are to bring them under our control, for our uses. Through studying the birds, and learning their ways, we can more easily understand how to exact dominion over nature, which goes back to the roots of western science in the 17th century. Men of the time, such as Francis Bacon saw the natural sciences as a means to restore mankind’s dominion over nature.

But this is not a license to exploit, for we share dominion over the earth with God. The earth is his and all that is in it (Psalm 24:1). God demands that we hold the lives of animals to high regard, as is written in the Book of Jonah:

And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

It is therefore important not only that we exercise dominion over the animals, but that we prevent ‘unnecessary’ death and suffering. And the setting up of nature reserves (which from a biblical perspective should be temporary, until the animals are tamed, so the land can be cultivated) is a great way to achieve this biblical goal.

Both of this biblical goals (dominion and stewardship) are accomplished by birding websites such as ‘eBird‘ which catalogues the species seen by birders across the world, and uses the data for scientific research.

rkb ‘rpt, out! (and here’s some pictures I have taken)

Let’s be real about the Image of God

Constantly, we are told, (particularly from the Theistic Evolutionist and Responsible Stewardship crowd), that the Image of God in Genesis 1:26 is a responsibility, or a vocation, for man to act as an Image Bearer for God to the other animals, in a role which entails ‘responsible stewardship and care’. See this video for more explanation. I mean to show (from Ancient Near Eastern parallels) that this view is wrong.

Two assumptions are often made about the notion of man being made in the Image of God:

1 – It is something unique to the Bible. Ellen F. Davis makes this claim in her book Scripture Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of The Bible (p56).

2 – It describes man’s function to be a representative of God to the rest of creation, in accordance with the role of kings in the Ancient Near East, who were referred to as the Image of God.

Both assumptions are blown out of the water by an Egyptian parallel to Genesis 1 in the Instruction of Merikare:

Well directed are men, the cattle of the god. He made heaven and earth according to their desire, and he repelled the water-monster. He made the breath of life [for] their nostrils. They who have issued from his body are his images. He arises in heaven according to their desire. He made for them plants, animals, fowl and fish to feed them. (Creation and the Persistence of Evil, p114)

Two things are clear here:

1 – The idea of man being made in the Image of God is not unique to the Hebrew scriptures.

2 – It clearly does not imply man has responsibilities to the rest of creation, quite the contrary, creation exists for the purpose of man.

I propose that what Genesis 1:26 teaches is essentially the same as the Instruction of Merikare, which is supported by the fact that Genesis 1:26 goes on to give mankind dominion over the animals, just as in the Instruction of Merikare, animals were created to serve as food for man. Man being made in the Image of God is not giving humans the ‘responsibility’ to rule as kings, it is giving humans the ‘right’ to rule as kings. Man has the authority to exact kingly power over the rest of creation, not the vocation to rule responsibly. Does this mean humans have ‘no’ responsibilities over the rest of creation? No, passages such as Jonah 4:11 proclaim the value God has for animal life, but such is not implied by the bestowing of mankind with a Divine Image. It’s time we stop being sentimental with trying to forcibly marry an ancient document to our modern day concerns.

rkb ‘rpt, out!