Thursday, September 20, 2007


"Arab" is a vague term, related to or derived from the Hebrew for "mixed multitude" -- that rabble that fled the ruins of Egypt in the wake of Moses and his tribes. But there were tribes in the land we now call Arabia, and it is their culture, more than any particular genetic identity, that defines who is an "Arab." Descended then, they are, from the clans of Joktan, Sheba, Havilah, from the Amalekites and the Midianites, from Ammon and Moab. Ancient peoples lose their names, but some warrior makes himself a prince and gives his own name to a mixing of his genes with the those of the people of the near country. The clan's name may be masculine, but old cultures are preserved and taught to the children by mothers taken from other tribes. We see then that "race" and "tribe" and "clan" are useful terms, but more malleable than one might suppose.

So when we read in Judges of the various oppressors who sprang from the south to fall upon Israel -- stealing their livestock, burning their fields, killing their men -- these nomads have no clear connection to any group today, right? Their blood is too diluted, their effect much too distant to this late date, three and a half thousand years later. That Ammon still lives, in the name of the capital city of Jordan, Amon -- is just an artifact of the conservative nature of place-names. And the Midianites, who were Ishmaelites, cannot survive in any meaningful way today. Right?

But we do find, in Arabia, the holy and ancient city of Medina. Called in olden times Yathrib, but called Medina too -- the City, which invited Mohammad to be its prophet. Ptolemy wrote of Madiane, a city in the same region -- as did Eusebius, who called it Madian. And it is from this region that the Midianites ranged in their tradings, and shepherding, and depredations. Was it then the same place that the Midianites called home? If not the same city, certainly the same region. And always the same culture.

From Egypt to the Euphrates, and northward too, the Midianites roamed. A nomadic people, of sorts, but with a homeland, and a commercial and cultic center. That city would have been blessed with the wealth of spice trading, as well as the plunder of its warlike raiders, who rode out boldly upon their high camels, to the terror of Israel. But Gideon, that, uh, mighty man of, um, valor, broke their power and slew their kings. And he made an ephod for gold, which for some reason became a stumbling block to Israel. Gold, melted down from the earrings of the countless slain invaders. Whose camels were adorned with golden decorations. In the shape of crescents (Jgs 8:21,26). Crescents. Sacred to Islam. Sacred in Medina.

Well, that explains a lot. Islam is after all a lunar cult, derived from the worship of the moon god Sin, by whatever name. Mohammad did exactly what the early Christian church did -- as the church turned the Roman Saturnalia into Christmas, Mohammad took the crescent of the moon god, and the pagan shrine of the Ka'aba -- a meteorite -- and redefined them as holy to Allah. Simple. Hardly a religious revolution at all. Almost, um, tolerant, wouldn't you say? Almost moderate.

Chemosh and Molech were the gods of Moab and Ammon respectively. Chemosh, who demanded firstborn sons not to show his clemency, but to satisfy his thirst for the steaming blood of children, shed by fathers. Molech, user of children for sexual purposes. Molech, eater of children by fire. His shrines are scattered with the bones of infants. An unfortunate choice of gods, no? Why would Ammon and Moab make such a selection? Well, they got it from their parents. Mothers, in fact.

Ammon and Moab were the tribes founded by Lot, from his incestuous albeit unconscious union with his daughters -- his Sodomite daughters -- after the destruction of their home town. Whatever spirit it was that ruled in Sodom, whatever priesthood conducted his rites, whatever oblations were offered by its citizens, were honored and preserved to some degree in Moab, in Ammon, borne from one place to the next by the daughters of Sodom.

Odd, isn't it, how ancient races are buried in the sand yet rise again in some distant season, different yet the same, offspring of new fathers and old mothers. Odd, too, how ancient cities change their names, and perhaps change them back, remembered in the consonants if not the vowels. Odd, how gods refuse to be forgotten -- they do change their names though, at will. There should be a lesson in all of this. Maybe it's that patriarchal curses are never forgiven. Maybe it's that however deep our roots are, we must, each of us, reach for sunlight.


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