Thursday, November 6, 2014

Talmud on Yaqtan and the Hadhramaut

Alice C. Linsley

Joktan or Yaqtan the Elder was the father of Keturah, Abraham's cousin wife. The lines of Yaqtan are traced to the Joktanite clans that still inhabit the region of the Hadhramaut in Southern Arabia.

Dhara means earth in Hindi, but in the Dravidian language the word refers to channels of water, such as flow under Yemen. Maut in ancient Egyptian means mother, so Ha-dhra-maut could be a reference to the Yaqtan's motherland during the Neolithic Subpluvial (Holocene Wet Period) which lasted from 7000 to about 3000 B.C. This would have been a time when there was more surface water in Southern Arabia.

Joktan the Younger was Abraham's firstborn son by his cousin wife Keturah. He was named after his maternal grandfather and lived c. 1987-1912 B.C. Joktan the Elder would have been a contemporary of Abraham's father Terah, but very likely he was not the first named Joktan in that ruling line.

The Joktanite clans spread across Southern Arabia, and according to Rabbinic tradition, Joktan the Elder was a "humble and upstanding citizen."

Sholom Lew wrote, in an article titled "Where Bin Laden Went wrong":

In describing Noah’s offspring born after the flood, the Torah (Genesis 10:26) speaks of an individual named Chatzarmavet—or “Courtyard of Death.”

It would seem to be very poor judgment on the part of parents to name their child “Courtyard of Death.” Imagine the psychological effects on a child in a playground setting saddled with a name like this! What is even more curious about this narrative is that according to our tradition, the father of this child, Joktan, was a fine fellow, not to mention a humble and upstanding citizen!

Our sages address this question by teaching that Chatzarmavet was not the given name of Joktan’s son, but the name of the location where he settled. And it is a testament to the profound effect this person had upon his community that he earned the accolade of having an entire region named for him.

The citizens of Chatzarmavet were known for their inclination to forgo the instant gratification of transitory consumerism that plagued the milieu they lived in—favoring instead a life of enduring value and infinite existence. These were a good, simple folk, unfazed by credit crunches, toxic debt, or loss of equity and monetary value. These people lived a simple and austere lifestyle, eschewing a life of glitz and glamour in favor of a thrifty but happy existence.

It is evident that Chatzarmavet is a corrupt variant of Hadramaut, perhaps resulting from someone's attempt at word play.

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