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Monday, May 20, 2019

Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in the Bible


Alice C. Linsley

The discipline of Biblical Anthropology can be daunting. It involves gathering data about many biblical populations, not simply the Hebrews, the Israelites, and the Jews. Even these populations are not the same.

The divisions, clan identities, and aggregations such as 3-clan confederations among biblical populations are based on two principles: recognition of blood bonds, and the necessity of unity for defense and offence. Small populations are easily absorbed or wiped out. Some biblical populations cannot be identified.

Understanding the Bible requires more than an understanding of biblical theology. It also requires understanding the cultural contexts of these biblical populations:

Abiezrites
Amalekites
Ammonites
Amorites
Anakim
Black and red Nubians
Arabians
Arkites
Arvadites
Arameans
Assyrians
Babylonians
Bithynians
Cappadocians
Carthaginians
Chaldeans
Cretans
Cypriots
Dedanites
Edomites (Idumeans)
Egyptians
Elamites
Emim (Moabite name for the Raphaim, Deut.2:11)
Ethiopians
Galatians
Geshurites
Girgashites
Greek
Hagrites
Hebrews
Hittites
Horites
Hurrians
Hyksos
Iberians
Ishmaelites
Israelites
Jebusites
Jews
Kenites
Kushites
Luddites
Macedonians
Madai
Medes
Midianites
Moabites
Nabataeans
Nubians
Parthians
Perizzites
Persians
Phoenicians
Philistines
Phrygians
Raphaim
Romans
Samaritans
Scythians
Syrians
Zumim

The list is long, but not comprehensive. There are some populations about which we find so little data in the Bible that they will probably remain obscure. Among them are the Kassites, Gerasenes, Gittites, Gizonites, Shunammites, Tizites, and Zuzim.

The Bible also speaks of general classifications, that is, populations that live in the same region, or share a common ancestry and culture. This is the case with the Canaanites. Among them the Bible lists Arkites, Arvadites, Girgashites, Hivites, Jebusites, Kenizzites, and Zemites. The terms "Kushite" and "Greek" refer to many ethnic groups, as does the term "Barbarian."

Some populations are known by different names at different periods of history. The Edomites are also called Seirites, and later called Idumeans. The Madai are also called Medes. The same is true for the Hebrew who are sometimes designated "Horites" (Gen. 36) and are called "Abru" in ancient Akkadian texts.

To further complicate the picture we have sects within these groups. The writer of Acts identifies a group among the Greek speakers as "Hellenists" (Acts 6, 8, and 9). Among the Jews we find Essenes, Herodians, Karaites, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots.

The complexity of ethnic and cultural identity is evident in the way the Turkish-born Apostle Paul describes himself: "Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee..." (Philippians 3:5-6), and he was a Roman citizen.

Some group names do not refer to an ethnicity, but rather to a social status. That is true for the term "Nephilim" which refers to archaic rulers, or the "mighty men of old" (Gen. 10). Unfortunately, many Bibles render nephilim as “giants” when it should read “great ones.” Nephilim comes from the same root as the Aramaic npyl (nephil) which means great in rank or stature. This is equivalent to the Arabic nfy, meaning hunter. It is said concerning Nimrod that he was a “mighty hunter” or a “mighty man” before the Lord. Genesis 6 describes the Nephilim as gibboriym, meaning “powerful ones.”

Other names refer to clans. The Anakim are a people descended from Anak. The Anakim were organized into a three-clan confederation. The three clans were named for the highest ranked sons of Anak - Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai (Josh.15:14). Anak and his Anakim people dwelt in the region of Hebron. Anak's father was Arba. Hebron was called Kiriath-Arba. The Anakim are associated with the Nephilim (Num. 13:33), with the Raphaim (Deut. 2:10), and with the clan of Caleb (Josh.15:13). Therefore, Caleb’s offensive against the Anakim was a war against some of his kinsmen.

The "people of Israel" are comprised of multiple clans descended from Jacob. Like the descendants of Anak, the descendants of Jacob fought among themselves. The clan of Benjamin was nearly wiped out by its fellow Israelites.

We note a familial relationship between clans that share certain radicals. Note the “le” prefix in these clan names: Le’hab, Le’sha, Le’tushim and Le’ummim (Gen. 25:3). The Semitic languages typically have particles that begin with L (le, lu or la). Le is a Hebrew prefix, but it appears in older languages such as Akkadian. "La’baru" pertains to granting long life and is related to the Akkadian word la’biru, meaning old. There is also linguistic evidence of three-clan confederations, such as Jubal, Jabal and Tubal; Uz, Huz and Buz, and Og, Gog and Magog.

Some clan names indicate a caste. The Tahash clan were related to Abraham the Hebrew. One of Abraham's nephews was Tahash (Gen. 22:24). Tahash refers to a tanner of animal skins. Exodus 25:5 links "five ram skins dyed red" with "tahash skins." The Tahash caste of Hebrew ritually prepared the skins of sacrificed animals for use in solemn oaths, such as the passing of leather sandals (Ruth 4:7).

Another caste were the Horite Hebrew. These were priests who served the High God and his son. The Horite Hebrew priests were unique among the priest castes of the ancient world and greatly respected for their purity and sobriety. Some prominent members of this caste include Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David.

The complexity and diversity of biblical populations is the focus of Biblical Anthropology. This is why Biblical Anthropology is a great aid in understanding the Bible on a deeper level.

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