Thursday, November 19, 2015

Circumcision and Standing Stones in the Judean Hills

Ritual purification and circumcision are depicted in the tomb of Ankhmahor in Saqqara,
Sixth Dynasty. Believed to be practices of a royal priest caste.

The Egyptian word for phallus was khenen related to khenty, meaning "before" or "in front of "

Tel Gezer is an old high place (kar, ophel, tamana) in the western Shephelah in Israel. It was comprised of two hills with a narrow valley between them. This represents typical typography of ancient shrine settlements with a bamah or high altar. It was a place of ritual. Likely circumcision was one of the rituals. Flint or obsidian knives were used to perform circumcisions. These often had edges sharper than modern surgical steel. Flint workshops have been found throughout the Judean hills and in Galilee. It appears that these knives were used even after the production of iron tools. Infection was less of a risk given the high saline composition of the flint.

The Egyptians had a settlement at Gezer in the 11th century BC.  In the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2200–1500 BC) the city was fortified. There was a gate, a tower, and a protected water system. These would have been built under the direction of the ruler of the area, probably a vassal of the Pharaoh. The Judean high places were under the control of Egypt from about 2000 to 1178 BC. The tenth century BC Gezer Calendar appears to reflect Nilotic farming practices.

The Gezer water system was first excavated from 1902–1905 and 1907–1909 by Irish archaeologist R.A.S. Macalister. According to Dan Warner, Co-director of the Tel Gezer Water System Project, “The system fits well with other features in close proximity: to the south the massive gate and stone tower and to the northeast the large standing stones.”

The keyhole-shaped entrance of the water system. Photo: Dan Warner

The water system provided a means of getting water to inhabitants within the city walls. It had a “keyhole-shaped entrance,” measuring 12 feet across and 24 feet high, a sloping shaft running 138 feet downward at a 38° angle to the collection basin, and a collection basin, which extended on to a nearby cavern. Usually the excavators of water shafts and tunnels of this type took advantage of natural karstic fissures in the rock when cutting passages.

Archaic high places were on hills near water systems. They were often marked by standing stones (menhirs) such as these found at Tel Gezer. These date to the period of the standing stones erected on Salisbury Plain in England around 2500 B.C.

Standing stones at the Gezer “high place” Photo: Dennis Cole.

Circles of standing stones can be found in the Sinai, the Negev and in the Judean hills. In Hebrew they are called  masseboth (singular, massebah) which is usually translated as “pillars” or “standing stones.” They are arranged to create a religious site.

The appearance of standing stones aligns with the movements of the peoples in the R1b haplogroup.

The oldest known stone circles date to 175,000 years ago and were formed inside the Bruniquel cave in southwestern France. These appear to have been ceremonial sites where Neanderthal humans controlled fire and consumed animals.

Some of the stone circles and megaliths found in Senegal and Gambia date to the 3rd century BC. The late Catherine Acholonu called attention to megaliths in the Cross River region of Nigeria and Cameroon. She estimated a total up to 32 such sites, but did not indicate that these all were circles. Sometimes a single standing stone marked a sacred shrine. Apparently, at least one circle has been found at Emangabe.

In Sardinia, 200 menhirs in the locality Biru‘e Concas have been dated between the late Neolithic (3200-2800 BC) and the Eneolithic (2800-1800 BC). These are located at the geographic center of Sardinia.

There are about 40 Paleolithic sites in the Judean hills, many of them near Bethlehem. Human habitation in the area of Bethlehem between (100,000-10,000 BC) is well-attested along the north side of Wadi Khareitun where there are three caves: Iraq al-Ahmar, Umm Qal’a, and Umm Qatafa. These caves were homes in a wooded landscape overlooking a river. At Umm Qatafa archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of the domestic use of fire in Palestine.

Chalcolithic finds in the Judean caves include clay vessels decorated with red paint, ropes, reed mats, shell and bone necklaces, leather, wood artifacts, flint implements, and globular stone grinding and pounding vessels.

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