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As of the Bible: Customs in the Levant, part 1.  (March 14, 2009)

Note: I translated from the Arabic versions of the Bible because they convey more accurately the meaning of the life style and aphorisms in the Land of the Near East.  I intend to post a series of articles on the theme: “Customs and traditions in the Near East”    

All these customs and traditions of the Land in the Levant were practiced thousands of years before Judaism came to be.  The Jewish religion adopted the customs of the land and wrote in the same style of imagery, maxims, and aphorism. The original manuscripts describe accurately the culture of the land and in the same style.

Abraham had no piece of land in Canaan; his clan let their goats and sheep graze in unclaimed lands. As there was a death in the family Abraham resolved to prepare for his burial; he sent a third party to ask Afroun son of Sohar of the tribe of Hath for a small piece of land to bury the dead. Abraham said: “I am a guest in your land. Could you give me a swath so that I may bury what is in front of me?”  Every village had a burying ground facing east and guests, by the custom of hospitality, could be enjoying the same facilities. Afroun replied: “Abraham you are a reverend and I shall bury the deceased in the best of our graves” Abraham had set his mind to settle in Canaan and wanted his own burial ground, thus he asked to buy a piece of land.  Afroun replied: “A land of no more than 400 silver shekels should not be an obstacle” Abraham got the hint and sent the amount.  This polite and diplomatic negotiation is part of the Levant customs thousand of years before Abraham came to Canaan.

            Abraham told his head slave “Lay your hand under my thigh. Pray never let my son marry a Canaan girl amidst whom I am living but one from my tribe” This custom of placing hand under thighs is the custom of the land representing an oath; nowadays we insert the hand under the belt.  The custom also requires that the most respected in the family or clan is to propose on behalf of the father for the hand of a wife to his son.

            In the Levant, women leaven their dough overnight in clay pottery for the next day baking; the baking lasted a whole day for a week ration. The neighboring families would select a day to using the special oven dug in the ground.  The Jews were ordered to leave Egypt immediately.  They carried their unleavened dough in wooden boxes, as done in Egypt, and had to eat their bread barely leavened.  The shepherds in the fields in the Levant cook their own unleavened bread while at work.

            Gideon wanted to avoid paying tax on his wheat harvest.  The grape was not ripe yet and thus, Gideon used the top of his house to beat the wheat where grapes were pressed by feet.  He was hoping that the Midyanites would not discover his subterfuge.

            When Gideon gathered his “large army” to fight the Midyanites, God ordered Gideon to select the soldiers that stooped in front of the stream and drank off the palm of their hands.  That was the custom of the noble citizens in the land; the common people knelt and drank directly off the stream.  Thus, Gideon ended up with 300 soldiers who were deemed courageous, sober, and worthy to fight.

            Handicapped persons have a hard life in the Levant; they are nicknamed according to their handicaps and up very recently they were hidden from the public.  A handicapped woman got her courage and dared to touch the robe of Jesus and was cured.  Jesus told her: “Woman, it is your faith and not my cloth that cured you. Go in peace” Jesus was alluding to the custom that touching anything holy would cure or satisfy a want.

            “Thus spoken God; they will come carrying the little girls over the shoulders.  Kings will be your vassals and queens will nurse you” The custom of carrying kid girls over shoulders is not practiced in the west but in the Levant mother resume her daily tasks while the kid girls sit their shoulders and getting a hold on the head. The prophet Ashaya speaks in imageries that the “noble” class in the Levant expect the common people to practice in their presence.

            The same is true when John the Baptist said about the coming Messiah “I will be most honored if he permit me to untie his shoe lace” because feet were considered dirty parts of the body and stooping near feet is not acceptable and thus, the custom of sitting by the feet of a nobility is a mark of homage bestowed on him.

            Carrying the cross Jesus said “Sisters of Jerusalem, don’t cry over me.  Those who manhandled moist branches what they wouldn’t do with the dry ones?”  If the sacerdotal caste could sentence to death an innocent man then what you, sisters of Jerusalem, expect them to do with you and your children?  You should be starting to cry over your coming miseries and injustices.  Aphorisms on moist things versus dry ones, or bitter versus sweet tasty foods are many in the Levant

Note 2: The people in the Levant are people of faith; they refrain from rationally structuring their religion into dogma.  The early Christian communities relied on the custom of brotherhood and faith in the community. It is only when Christian communities were established in Greece and Rome that structuring got underway.  Hundreds of Christian sects mushroomed in the Levant according to a few alterations in the re-structuring of the dogma that spanned into political and self autonomous sects.  After the conclave of Nicee (Turkey) in 425, during the pagan Emperor Constantine, the Church got highly structured and hierarchical; the pagan ceremonies, symbols, and pageantry were introduced to win over the pagans who were in the majority.  Since then, persecution of the “heretic” Christian sects started and is still alive into modern time.


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