Friday, October 14, 2016

Why the sons of Abraham are not religious

In English, the words "father" and "son" primarily denote two people who are biologically related, and when we use these words in a figurative sense we ask our audience to apply the familiar bond between a father and his son to two not related people (or items) of which we would like the audience to understand that these are closely familiar or similar.

In Hebrew this works precisely the other way around.

In Hebrew the idea of "father and child" comes from something even more fundamental

The primary idea behind the words for father ('ab) and son (ben) is: the performing of the commands, skills or defining character of one person (the 'ab, or father) by other persons (the benim, or sons).

Sometimes this 'ab is indeed one living person (Isaiah 22:21, 2 Kings 2:12) but quite often the 'ab is the instigator of a guild (hence the "father of all who play flute"; Genesis 4:21) or even the guild itself (hence "son of the prophets"; 2 Kings 9:1). The word ben, in turn, probably comes from the verb bana, meaning to build (such as a "house").

In other words: when in Hebrew we call a flute-player a "son of Jubal" we're not deploying a metaphor but the primary meaning of the word "son". Specifically talking about physical descent requires additional contexts.

So shall your descendants be (Genesis 15:5)
Both Paul and Jesus paid quite some attention to explaining that being a son of Abraham has nothing to do with physical descent and everything with one particular state of mind. It's said that Jesus fulfilled the covenant which God began in Abraham, and Abraham's defining characteristic is that he believed the Lord and was subsequently reckoned righteous (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6).

The key-verb is 'aman, which does not convey a pliant compliance or a gullible acceptance, but primarily means to confirm or uphold, even to demonstrate and thereby prove (hence the familiar word Amen). Abraham's believing YHWH has nothing to do with Abraham being religious, or nationalistic, or adhering to a particular school of thought, or being somehow in the know, or obedient to some formal code of conduct. It means precisely the opposite; it means that he was free of all that.

On the "mountain" of human mentality Abraham represents that level of complexity at which a person no longer identifies with one particular box but with the whole of creation and everybody in it.

It begins where someone takes leave from any category (Abraham) and results in complete freedom (Jesus Christ). Despite the noisy claims of many, both Abraham and Jesus Christ have per definition nothing to do with any formal religion. Formal religions are political creatures; they serve to identify and separate groups of tax payers and have nothing to do with serving the Creator. The Creator is served by freedom; His only law is natural law, His only temple is creation.

Sons of the free market

Whoever perpetuates the will of the Lord of Life is a son of Abraham. Hence not just Abraham's physical sons were circumcised, but also all the hundreds of men who were part of his operation; men who were either bought or born of bought people (Genesis 17:10-14, compare with 14:14). Abraham basically gave them their freedom.

When folks returned from the Babylonian exile, heavily funded and protected by the Persian king in order to rebuild the temple of YHWH (Ezra 7:11-26), it became for once in history attractive for everybody to claim Jewish descent.

Subsequently it became important for the Jews to exclude people who had no proof that they indeed belonged to Israel and could well be freeloaders looking for a handout (Ezra 2:59-62).

These rejected folks peopled Samaria and the folks who had proof of their Israelite roots peopled Jerusalem.

By the time of Jesus, the phrase "son of Abraham" had acquired a meaning it never had before, namely that of physical descent or religious-political affiliation; a label of segregation rather than a blessing for all the families of the earth. Jesus offered these "believers" the freedom of Abraham, and they responded by stating that they had never been enslaved (John 8:33). This probably caused a roar of laughter from both local bystanders and the Roman legionaries who kept an eye on them.

Jesus said that if they were indeed the sons of Abraham, they would do the deeds of Abraham (John 8:39), and not perpetuate a blatant and ridiculous lie. They subsequently responded by calling Him a Samaritan (8:48).

More significantly, however, is that the "believers" declared Abraham dead and buried (John 8:53-54) while Jesus declared him alive and well (Matthew 22:32, Luke 20:38).

The camel is the 'unit' of international trade,
and in the Bible mostly associated with Abraham
Most commentators will piously explain this by stating that Abraham is alive in heaven (Luke 16:22) but that may only satisfy the most theoretically inclined readers.

Seekers of earthly reality might surmise that the name Abraham didn't stop to cover something real and earthly with the death of the historical figure called Abram, just like the name Israel didn't begin to denote something dead when Jacob died.

On the "mountain" of human cultural evolution, the tower of Babel denotes the complexity level of national hoarding and Abraham denotes the level of international trade -- also read our article on the word gamal, meaning either camel or 'unit of investment'.

Although the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), the free, voluntary and unthwarted exchange of any kind of wealth gives life to human culture, quite like electrons give life to matter. This free currency of ideas again follows the second law of thermodynamics; a divine law that feels like freedom simply because it's a law we're designed to operate on.

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