Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb τεμνω (temno) means to cut or cleave. This verb is hugely old and unusually broadly attested. It relates to the Proto-Indo-European root "tem-" of similar meaning, but also to the Hebrew noun תאם (to'am), meaning twin; hence the name Thomas.
From our verb τεμνω (temno) derives the noun τομη (tome), which describes a thing split down to its last remainder. In the classical Greek speaking world, this word became the generic term for tree stump (the part that remains standing in the ground after the tree trunk has been felled), and in the modern world, prefixed with the familiar particle of negation α (a), it became our noun "atom".
The word atom literally means not-further-splittable, which is a quality atoms eventually appeared not to have. Or rather more precise: the structure we now call the atom was named after a hypothetical smallest possible unit of matter, which in itself is a non-sequitur, since at atomic and subatomic scales the words by which we describe our visible world have neither meaning nor application. At those levels, entities have neither form nor size, neither speed nor position but only qualities that resemble those of human minds and things like thoughts and memories. This is very confusing but the famous story of Schrödinger's Cat will help to explain it:
The story goes that Mr. Erwin Schrödinger concocted an ingenious but potentially lethal contraption that linked his cat to a radioactive atom, so that the half-life of the atom became equal to the half-life of the cat. And as long as neither the cat nor the atom were observed (both were in a box), both existed in a state of existential limbo: half alive and half dead, half decayed and half not. But when Mr. Schrödinger opened the box, the cat jumped out and both its dead alter ego and the decayed atom vanished from observable reality and all was as if nothing had ever happened. And this is where the canonized version of the story ends. However, here at Abarim Publications we have it on good authority that just as Mr. Schrödinger was mixing himself a congratulatory cocktail, the door opened — in much the same way as the box had just a minute earlier — and lo and behold, Mrs. Anny Schrödinger barged in, reviewed the state of affairs in increasing agitation and proceeded to prove that the half-dead cat was still very much part of reality, or at least the reality that Anny experienced, and soon Erwin as well.
This means (or at least suggests) that although our organic bodies are so-called "classical objects" that operate on the principles of classical Newtonian mechanics, our human minds are "atomic" and operate and interact on the principles of quantum mechanics. And since our minds tell our bodies where to go, our bodies have the unique distinction of being large-scale objects governed by small-scale rules when following the refined considerations of their governing minds, and large-scale rules when falling down stairs, helplessly surrendered to the impartial demands of gravity. Our societies, on the other hand, are true macro-objects and relate to us individuals the way boulders relate to silicon atoms. And as with any macro-object, the quantum liberties of individual atoms are still there on the outer edges of the object — which gives us freedom of choice when walking in a park, changing channels or voting for some demagogue — but the overwhelming majority of quantum liberties of individual atoms cancel each other out, which is why we obediently stand in line, adhere to the standards of proper grammar, and pay proper amounts in valid currencies for products we consume.
The further significance of our verb τεμνω (temno), to cut or cleave, is that it ties into the same core activity as described by the verb σχιζω (schizo), to split or divide, namely the activity of taking things apart down to their constituting elements, just to see how these elements relate to each other in order to figure out how the original thing works. From the latter verb, or from a shared Indo-European root, comes our word "science", which mean just that.
The compass and intent of these very common Indo-European words are also comparable to the widely attested Semitic verb בין (bin), to discern, and its derived substantive בין (ben), between. These words in turn resemble the equally broadly used word for son, namely בן (ben), hence names like Benjamin, Ben-Hur and Reuben, and the verb בנה (bana), to build. The feminine version of בן (ben), son, is בת (bat), daughter (hence Bathsheba), which in turn resembles the noun בית (beth or bayit), house or temple (hence Bethlehem and Bethel). The noun אבן ('eben) means stone, which is the constituting element of any building. And when Jesus said that "from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham" (Matthew 3:9), he meant exactly that.
These similarities aren't accidental coincidences but reflect the deeply rooted relationships between the constituting concepts of human psychology, which are hardwired into the very fabric of early (pre-script) languages and still show up today, often unconsciously and spontaneously, in all sorts of artistic expressions such as paintings, novels and movies. In 1 Peter 2:5 we read that we are "living stones" being built into a "living temple", which of course speaks of mankind's scientific and artistic record, via which man can know his Creator (Romans 1:20). Up until a few thousand years ago, this magnificent and divine record of mankind's collective knowledge was stored in feeble, fallible and quite mortal human brains. This changed with the invention of the alphabet, which allowed the Great Human Library not only to be written and preserved (Psalm 16:10, Acts 13:35), but purified, formalized and vastly expanded (Luke 2:52, John 21:25, Colossians 2:3). Prior to the completion of the alphabet, only specially trained priests could work on the Great Human Library, but after it, everybody could be a "priest" (Exodus 19:6, Isaiah 61:6, Revelation 1:6) and partake in the greatest adventure that ever was: finding out who we are and how we got here.
The English name for the alphabet comes from its first two letters (alpha and beta), and often we call the alphabet "the ABC", after its first three letters. Our modern Latin alphabet stems from the Greek alphabet, which stems from the Semitic one. The Semitic set of vowels (called abjad, after the Arabic first four consonants ABJD; the Semitic "A" is not a vowel but a consonant) was largely completed by the Phoenicians (who were Hebrews) but perfected by their close cousins and southern neighbors the Israelites, when they invented vowel notation. The symbols they chose for representing vowels — these were the letters that literally breathed life into the Phoenician abjad, that allowed a singular, living and global Human Library and the participation of all common civilians in the great adventure of exploring creation and thus the nature of the Creator — were the already existing letters י (yod), ה (he), and ו (waw).
These three letters י (yod), ו (waw) and ה (he) could now be either consonants or vowels and hence always existed in a kind of existential limbo, magically drifting between states in a place that wasn't exactly real, or real but not exactly there. That is until a reader "opened the box" and observed these symbols in their specific local context and manifested their specific temporal nature within that local context (John 6:26-40). Together these majestic and divinely natural symbols became the name by which the Hebrews began to refer to the alphabet, and thus the means by which they could know the Creator, namely יהוה or YHWH (Yahweh).
Neither our verb τεμνω (temno) nor its noun τομη (tome) are used independently in the New Testament, but they do show up in a few very important compound derivatives:
- Together with the adverb διχα (dicha), meaning in two, or divided in half: the verb διχοτομεω (dichotomeo), meaning to cut in half. This verb is used in Matthew 24:51 and Luke 12:46 only, and in such a way that it obviously reminds of an especially barbaric method of execution. However, both Matthew and Luke add that after the ordeal, the executed person was assigned a place among the hypocrites and unstable, which, equally obvious, indicates that not the man's body but rather his mind was bisected and exposed. The Hebrew association with cutting in half, however, was not as means of execution but rather of making a covenant (Genesis 15:10). The whole point of our adverb is that a living mind is a quantum (an "atom") which cannot be divided. One tiny seed is alive when it contains one complete genetic set, and this single genetic set contains within itself the instructions for mitosis, that splits the cell but duplicates the genetic set, and thus ultimately might generate an entire living forest, supportive of a vast ecosystem. But even the greatest blocks of stone or the mightiest wooden beams will crumble and turn to dust quickly after they show their first crack (Matthew 13:31-32).
- Together with the adjective ορθος (orthos), straight or right: the verb ορθοτομεω (orthotomeo), literally to cut straight but used in the sense of to discern and handle correctly. This verb is used in 2 Timothy 2:15 only, obviously in a scientific context.
- Together with the prefix περι (peri), meaning around or about: the verb περιτεμνω (peritemno), to cut all around. This verb was translated literally into Latin, using the equivalents circum and caedo (the verb from which also come our English words incision and precision), and resulted in our English verb "to circumcise". Circumcision is of course a major component of the entire Abrahamic covenantal legacy (which includes Esau and thus Edom, Ishmael and thus Islam, and Judah and thus Judaism, and quite a few others), which makes it rather curious that we don't really understand what it is and how it was originally done. See below for some extensive remarks, but for now let's state that here at Abarim Publications we are drawn to conclude that the sole purpose of circumcision was to change the modus operandi of the mind of man from natural, emotional and reactionary to synthetic, reasonable and proactionary. And with "synthetic" we mean anything produced by human effort: spoken words, written script, computer code, any kind of art, any kind of domesticated animal, and thus woolen and leather clothing and cheese and soap and such, metal, money, architecture, law, science, even laughter (Isaac), logic, philosophy, poetry, and so on. By the time of the New Testament, these traits had been firmly established and thoroughly lodged into society, which opened the door to the discussion on whether or not mankind still needed the training wheels that had made it all possible. The conservatives obviously thought mankind did, but the progressives thought they didn't. This verb is used 18 times, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without: the adjective απεριτμητος (aperitmetos), meaning not-circumcised. This adjective is used in Acts 7:51 only, where it describes not-circumcised hearts and ears (rather than penises). This word is not the same as ακροβυστια (akrobustia), being foreskinned.
As we explain below, circumcision has to do with developing manners and societal codes of conduct, and "the not-circumcised" are the sort of folk that is still active in society today: people who proclaim that politeness and manners are a thing of the past and we should all just say what we want and call each other by our first names, and so on. What these people don't appreciate is that the real function of manners is to serve as a kind of wordless language, and that by using manners, participants can quietly express kinship, and thus demonstrate their trustworthiness and willingness to cooperate. The ability to pick up and react to inaudible signals of kinship additionally demonstrates a likelihood of being able to understand what's coming next, and suggests benevolence and generosity. Those of the not-circumcision, on the other hand, confuse spontaneity with freedom and find themselves quickly broke and abandoned.
- The noun περιτομη (peritome), meaning circumcision. This noun is used 36 times in the New Testament, see full concordance. We discuss this word at some length below.
- Together with the particle of negation α (a), meaning not or without: the adjective απεριτμητος (aperitmetos), meaning not-circumcised. This adjective is used in Acts 7:51 only, where it describes not-circumcised hearts and ears (rather than penises). This word is not the same as ακροβυστια (akrobustia), being foreskinned.
- Together with the preposition συν (sun), meaning together or with: the verb συντεμνω (suntemno), to jointly make concise (twice in Romans 9:28 only). This important verb describes the effect of the scientific method, which directs people to review everything (and anything at all), and prove wrong where they can, so that the span of things that are not (yet) rejected becomes smaller and smaller, and mankind's collective body of science becomes more and more trustworthy and thus useful. The scientific method allows the eyes of mankind to focus, and the difference between the world of modern man and that of ancient man is not that modern man is somehow smarter, but that modern man has cleared his collective mind from all manners of nonsense and error. From this verb in turn comes:
- The adverb συντομως (suntomos), meaning concisely, cleared of fancy phraseology and narrative barnacles (Acts 24:4 only).
- The adjective τομωτερος (tomoteros), meaning sharper. This word is the comparative of the otherwise unused verbal adjective τομος (tomos), literally a cutting, but in the classics used in the sense of sharp (of knives but also of minds). It occurs in Hebrews 4:12 only.
Let's talk about circumcision:
Once in a lifetime
Our modern world is a marvel, and it's still largely a mystery how we got here. We started in caves and now we all have smart phones, and in between was mostly misery. We were much healthier, in body and mind, as hunter-gatherers than as farmers, and way better off on the farms than in the early cities. So why bother? And why keep it up for so long? Tomatoes and potatoes are members of the nightshade family. Their natural versions are horribly toxic, and separating the edible needles from the poisonous haystack must have taken many generations great pains. And there was plenty else to eat, so why do a thing like that?
When white light hits water droplets, it refracts and disperses and comes out as a spectrum of colors. Likewise, early homo sapiens diversified and specialized into farmers, soldiers and wizards (= wise-ards). All these specialized further, and the wizards became a spectrum of doctors, engineers, scientists and technicians (religious priests emerged on the rift between soldiers and wizards). But most importantly for our present story: somewhere in there, there were individuals — let's call them Iridaceae, after Genesis 9:13 — who were able to regard the white light of any particular data set (natural nightshades, early humans, wild canines) and see the individual constituting colors (including tomatoes, smart phones, and poodles), long before anyone else did. And then they reached for them.
Contrary to popular myth, early homo-sapiens were super-animals. Their world was full of food, and they were master trackers who read their environment like an encyclopedia. They had no speech yet, but still intimately knew every predator and knew where they all were, and like any ape or bird, warned other tribes about them by means of universal vocal signals. They had spears and existed in naturally formed networks, like swarms of bees, and could easily overwhelm any large beast or cross a natural boundary better than an army of ants (Proverbs 6:6).
Yet somehow our paradisiacal ancestors set our race upon a trek fraught with pain and disaster, whose trials last until today and whose destination is therefore still not reached. But the miracle is not so much how the Iridaceae (the wizards who could see the rainbow where others only saw shades of grey), were able to see the destination, because they simply were. Like having perfect pitch or an IQ of 200, perfectly normal when you got it, the Iridaceae were able to calmly regard mankind's destiny like a tiny emerald spark against the howling infinite of space, which was strewn with countless luring lights of all sizes and colors, many far more brilliant than the tiny green blip. They saw it and knew what they were looking at and knew they had to get there. The real miracle is how they managed to get all the others to come along with them.
The sons of Eber
The Iridaceae, the seers of the green light across the bay (or Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road; same image), reviewed the means of actually reaching the dock at the other end (or the end of the Road), and quickly learned that seeing the green light and actually knowing how to get there were two different things entirely. Knowing where to go required inspiration or "color vision", i.e. some inherent, inborn talent, which in Western literature is consistently known as the solar nexus, a.k.a. Thisbe or the Tishbite (an epithet of Elijah), Juliet ("... and Juliet is the sun"), Daisy (which derives from "day"), and so on. But knowing how to get there required technology: ingenuity, resourcefulness, good old elbow grease and a lot of trial and error (the lunar nexus, correspondingly called Pyramus, Romeo, Gatsby, and so on).
The Iridaceae quickly split into two main schools of thought, or "two households both alike in dignity" in the words of Shakespeare, of which one would grow great but ultimately perish whereas the other would be small but ultimately succeed. The first school (the lunar Montagues) decided that More Is Better. The second school (the solar Capulets) held that Better Is More. But that was not the only duality under consideration:
In the field of engineering, the term "backlash", or "play", describes the crucially important space between a machine's components: the space that allows one component to move independently from the next component it's connected to. This spatial tolerance, or play, is important because all work generates heat, but heat is always generated locally, which means that components expand at different rates within the machine. Without backlash, a machine would begin to seize as soon as it started to work. But with too much play, the machine would rattle apart under too much load. This means that the performance of a machine, and specifically its efficiency, is intimately linked to the relative freedom of its components, which can't be too much but also not too little. As we observed above, humans are like atoms but a society is like a machine, and the whole quest for the green lantern on Daisy's dock is about the quest for the perfect backlash between society's elements: the perfect combination of (a) dependency and cooperation, and (b) independence and freedom of its members.
The amount of useful work performed by an engine obviously relates to the amount of fuel burned, which means that (even though this is not a linear relation), the more fuel you burn, the more work you get done. One more key phrase is "Specific Engine Mass", which is a rational number that tells you how many kilograms of fuel you can burn per kilogram of machine — which of course depends on the quality of your engine, and that of the fuel you pump into it. The big screaming difference between the Montagues (More Is Better) and the Capulets (Better Is More) is that in order to have society burn more fuel, the Montagues simply built bigger engines with more and bigger cylinders, whereas the Capulets concentrated on increasing the Specific Engine Mass, by using refined fuel and switching to thermostatically superior materials, by adding a turbo, by installing economizers in the exhaust manifolds, by perfecting alignment and backlash, and cooling and the dispersal of heat, by inventing speed governors, by using computers to optimize fuel injection, and so on. And all this as a metaphor for what the actual historical Iridaceae managed to achieve in society.
In the Bible, from Genesis 10:21 on, the Iridaceae are called the sons of Eber, or עברי, Eberi (in English: the Hebrews). Of the Hebrews, the lunatics (the Montagues, the More Is Better bunch) became known as the sons of Joktan, who baked their lunar bricks (לבנה, lebenah, means both brick and moon) and built their famous Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). The heliocentrics (the Capulets, the Better Is More bunch) became known as the sons of Peleg, whose great-great-great-grandson was Abraham (Genesis 11:26).
A Confederacy of Dunces
Edward O. Wilson once famously remarked that "the ant does not exist", since no individual ant could function or even survive on its own and "the ant" is in literal fact the entire colony. "The ant" is not merely a multi-cellular organism but a multi-individual super-organism, whose individuals operate and interact, and form and define each other in much the same way as the cells of a complex organism do.
Humanity as we know it, likewise, is such a super-organism. An isolated human individual would not have (or need) speech, and would not have conscious thought (thought carried by words) and would be nothing more than a rather mediocre great ape. It's the collective that sports speech and makes consciousness, and one could say that "the individual human consciousness does not exist".
The story of the Eberic Breach — of the split into a broad lunar road that leads to perdition and a narrow solar path that leads to perpetuation — is not merely the favorite staple of our Western literary tradition, but is based on a very common natural process. It describes the relationship between a fruit's seed (the Abrahamic narrow path) and the fruit's fleshy body (the Babylonian broad road). But it also describes the relationship between a society's priestly elite (where all society's history and wisdom is preserved in the guise of traditions that long outlive a single individual) and society's general population of mortal individuals. And it describes the relationship between our conscious mind (where all our words and verbal thoughts exist, as part of the greater human continuum) and our emotional self (which we share with the animals, and which we will ultimately deposit in a grave, to be decomposed and reinserted into the biosphere).
Imagine a rocket taking off from the surface of the earth. Whatever the reason for the trip might be, the rocket's payload is in its tiny capsule, whereas most of the body of the rocket is occupied by its monstrously big boosters. These boosters bring the payload out of the gravitational pull of the planet where the rocket was assembled, and once safely out of reach, the boosters separate from the payload and begin to fall back to the ground, while the payload continues its trek to outer space.
If the rocket is Destiny's Child, then Beyoncé is the payload and those other two ladies (what were their names again?) the boosters. If the rocket is The Police, then Sting is the payload and those other two guys the boosters. Upon separation, Beyoncé and Sting took off to the stars and those other two ladies and those other two dudes returned back to the general population of musicians where their whole rocket had once been assembled. And that's the Eberic Breach: the point at which the whole rocket breaks into (a) the boosters that carried the rocket off the surface where it was assembled, and (b) the perpetual carrier of the rocket's reason of existence (data, purpose, operational functionality plus propulsion and navigational arrays).
The purpose of the boosters is to protect the payload until it's capable of unsupported and autonomous progression. A fruit's fleshy body protects the seed until it sprouts and roots. A society does the same for its wisdom elite. It's how the alphabet-people (seed) emerged from the hieroglyph people (body). And it explains what's happening in the world today, as our world is getting ready for its final Eberic Breach.
The Eberic Breach is initiated when the More Is Better body reaches a saturation level, and adding more of the same no longer results in more useful work. At the same time, the Better Is More seed begins to operate in ways that are contrary to the fleshy body. At the height of mankind's mass-dominated era (when the dogma of More Is Better ruled), mankind was obsessed with the natural cycles of nature: of the days and seasons but also the cycles of life and death. These cycles (days, months, years) depend on the dynamics of celestial bodies (earth, moon, sun and stars), which caused mankind's obsession with astrology, and this is why all great monuments of antiquity (from Göbekli Tepe to Stonehenge to the complexes at Teotihuacan and Giza) are all aligned with celestial phenomena, and particularly with Orion.
Our modern world emerged from the Eberic Breach that separated the alphabet-people from the hieroglyph-people, and the separation sequence started when the alphabet-people began to ignore the rhythms dictated by the natural cycles and instead embraced one that was based on a wholly synthetic cycle: that of the week. Days, months and years come from natural phenomena but nothing in nature does a week. The week is a machine. And we're bringing this up because circumcision was to be done on eighth day, precisely after the child had been breathing for one week (Genesis 17:12).
The alphabet-people were governors, doctors, engineers and merchants, and their weekly day off effected society far beyond their own community. By interrupting all goings on for one day every seven, they forced the whole of society away from the natural cycles and onto a synthetic calendar, which allowed far greater precision in time keeping and thus planning, and thus administration and thus statecraft. The week forced humanity into a rhythm that existed solely in the mind, much like human consciousness, language, music, laughter, technology and science. That made the Sabbath the wedge that opened the crack that eventually would separate the seminal modern humans from their ancient corporeal forebears. And just so that everybody knew what was going on, the alphabet-people began to refer to Orion by the word כסיל (kesil), meaning fool or dunce.
The alphabet-people quickly drained the astrological empires of their human liquidity, and left their abandoned temples like the bones of giants for archeologists to puzzle over. They went on to create our modern world, with its democracies, its unalienable liberties, its justice, its science and its arts; a world that transcended natural bondage and the lust for dogma and tyranny, and embraced dialogue and consensus and attained peace and prosperity. In the words of Moses (one of those early alphabet-people): "Teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
Curb your enthusiasm
The first person to be actually called Eberite, or Hebrew, was Abraham (Genesis 14:13). He was also the person to whom the Word of YHWH first came (Genesis 15:1). And he was the one with whom YHWH made the covenant of which circumcision is the sign. However, and contrary to common perception, the command that YHWH gave Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14) only stipulated what Abraham and his seed needed to achieve and not how to do that. Likewise, when the Word told Abraham to "have no fear" (15:1) he didn't tell him how to do that, but let him figure out himself that fear can't simply be commanded away but is no longer had when people are safe, healthy and well provided for, and that these things come about when people form a living network and develop economic and professional specializations.
Likewise, every one of the Ten Commandments (don't steal, don't murder) speak of the final result of enormous societal changes, changes that require many centuries of popular discourse, and which make not a lick of sense to people who are still in the throes of the natural cycles, and are still one with the animal world.
Commanding uncivilized humans to not kill or steal is like commanding lions and bears to not kill or steal. It's thought-provoking at best, and literally only thought-provoking: it's the provoked thought that ultimately leads to a society in which everybody understands that killing and stealing are signs of too much backlash in the machinery of state, and thus of inefficiency, and thus of a waste of everybody's energy. A society in which everybody voluntarily and wholeheartedly abstains from theft and murder is much more efficient, has a much higher Specific Engine Mass, and gets much further with much less fuel.
If the Creator had wanted men to have no foreskins, he would have created them that way. If he had wanted to say, "amputate the prepuce of the male genitalia", he would have had an abundance of suitable Hebrew words at his disposal, and establish the issue without the need for further inquiry. Instead YHWH used these three words:
- The verb מול (mul), which is commonly translated with "to circumcise" but which literally means "to be ahead of" or perhaps even "to put in shape" or "to trim". It's closely related to (or the same as, just spelled alternatively) the verb מלל (malal), to utter or say (find words for one's concerns), or drag or shuffle one's feet (to find footing). A second by-form of our verb מול (mul) is מהל (mahal), which means to weaken.
- The noun ערל ('orel), which is commonly translated with "foreskin", but which otherwise describes the inedible fruits of very young fruit trees.
- The noun בשר (basar), which is the common word for flesh. However, in Hebrew the body is not the mere vessel of the soul but rather the expression of it. The soul is not like a hand that animates the glove that is the body, but the body is rather the leaves that grow from the branch that is the soul. Our noun בשר (basar) comes from the identical verb בשר (basar), which doesn't mean to have a body, as one might expect, but rather to bring tidings of comfort and joy. All flesh is the expression of the soul.
In other words: YHWH told Abraham to teach his offspring to curb their enthusiasm: to depart from the natural ways of interaction that early humans shared with the animals, and seek to cultivate their minds into manners, politeness and restraint, like they cultivated their lands: to ease out tomatoes from nightshade, and smart phones from monophobia.
King Solomon once observed that a loud greeting in the morning is the same as a curse (Proverbs 27:14), and Paul likewise praised a quiet lifestyle (1 Thessalonians 4:11). God commanded man to master his natural spontaneity and develop conventional manners that would serve like the words of a language: slowly and organically crafted, consensual behavioral codes that helped people understand each other, which reduced their backlash, and thus increased society's Specific Engine Mass. Humanity's manners increases humanity's efficiency, and allows mankind to travel much father which far less fuel.
Body and soul
Most pagan and some early Christian commentators proposed that a human consists of two (bipartite) or three (tripartite) discrete elements, namely body, soul and spirit, which relate like the bubbles in a fermented drink in an earthen cup. The Bible, on the other hand, portraits an organic body like a whirlwind or tornado, whose air-part coincides with the soul and whose dust-part coincides with the body. That makes an organic being a manifestation of the dynamic intersection of two much larger continuums, that forms due to much larger forces and which exists autonomously for a time and absorbs and excretes and leaves a trail of its doings, until its energy wanes and its air returns to the atmosphere (that it never stopped being part of) and its dust falls back to the ground (that it never stopped being part of).
That means that a thing done to the body is also a thing done to the soul, and that no thing done to the soul is without effect in the body. God's command to "curb one's enthusiasm" has always been a command to alter the heart rather than any physical organ (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6, Jeremiah 9:25-26), but when all access to the soul is for some reason obstructed, the only way to affect the soul is through the body. When Shechem fell in love with Dinah and desired to marry her, he lost control over himself and raped her. Still aiming for marriage, Shechem's father Hamor asked Dinah's father Jacob for his daughter's hand, but Dinah's brothers, Levi and Simeon, set out to teach Shechem and company some manners. Three days into that, the men of Shechem were in כאב (ka'ab), which is a word that occurs in several related languages and, as in Hebrew, nearly always denotes mental pain and almost never physical pain, and Levi and Simeon ended up killing them all (compare Genesis 34:25 to Zechariah 12:10, Luke 2:35 and 2 Corinthians 7:10).
Popular folklore dictates that circumcision was always supposed to result in a clear and external mark that immediately distinguished an Abrahamite from a gentile. This is nonsense, because if so, God would have demanded a tattoo on people's foreheads. Both YHWH and Christ (and the whole of scientific knowledge) are all in all over all, and in either is neither structure nor partiality (Romans 2:11, Deuteronomy 6:4, John 17:21-23, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11), nor is the compass of the knowledge of God in any way limited or restricted (Habakkuk 2:14, Colossians 2:3), nor God's effect ever for less than everyone and all people (Genesis 12:3, Isaiah 40:5, Romans 14:11, Ephesians 3:15).
Anyone who requires symbols, regalia and all manners of special outfits to be distinguished as an Abrahamite is not an Abrahamite and his symbols demonstrate that he isn't (Romans 2:29, Leviticus 19:28, Deuteronomy 14:1). Particularly a symbol worn on the male genitalia (that is: a thing done to the genitalia for the specific intent of being a sign for other people) demonstrates that the bearer is not an Abrahamite, simply because an Abrahamite abhors exposure of the genitalia (Exodus 20:26, Leviticus 18:6-18, Revelation 16:15). And we'll get into the reasons why below.
The challenge of alignment
The Israelites did not physically circumcise their sons until it became clear that the mere command wasn't holding and the people failed to curb their enthusiasm and were rapidly reverting to their animal reflexes. If that had happened, Moses would have failed and would have had no reason to exist. And so, 500 years into the covenant, Zipporah of Midian, whose Arabian father Jethro would be more than instrumental in organizing Israel (Exodus 18:24), instituted bloody or physical circumcision (Exodus 4:25).
The brazen serpent that Moses would later fabricate was initially a powerful life saver (Numbers 21:8) but over time became a silly idol named Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4). Similarly, the high priestly ephod that started out as element of the tabernacle service (Exodus 28:4) became an item of idolatry in later times (Judges 8:27). Likewise, the key of David (Isaiah 22:22, Matthew 16:19, Revelation 3:7) became a silly amulet, the Menorah a candelabra and the Word a gypsum crucifix.
The leap from original to symbol is formidable; it's what all language and writing and thus our very human consciousness is based on. But an unwitted audience might overshoot the mark and end up in a post-symbolic regressive savannah (1 Samuel 20:37). When artists draw humanity's evolutionary tree, they commonly draw man like a Benjamin somewhere at the victorious end of it. But that's deceptive. In evolutionary terms, creatures that walk on flat feet (plantigrades) are older than creatures that walk on their toes (digitigrades). Digitigrade is an adaptation of plantigrade, and although the younger toe-walkers are faster than the older sole-walkers, their advantage in speed kept them from developing bipolar locomotion, which in turn kept them from developing conscious minds (which are minds filled with words).
The Hebrew alphabet has 27 characters, 5 letters with 2 symbols (כ, מ, נ, פ, צ) and 3 symbols that represent 2 letters (י, ה, ו). Greek has 25 symbols (not counting capitals and glyphs), with one letter having two symbols (σ). Latin has 26 letters and as many symbols (not counting capitals, glyphs and punctuation marks). But Latin's perfect precision has overshot the function of verbal symbolism, and has never been able to properly convey the mind of man.
Our digital world, with its concrete apartment blocks, its mushroomed legal codes and suffocating categorizations, is based on binary precision, which is based on Latin script. Charlie Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest and came in third. The guy who came in first relates to Charlie Chaplin the way Latin relates to the mind of man. Quantum computing is now still in the Kitty Hawk stage, but when it's up and running, it will bring Hebrew fuzziness back to humanity's symbolism. It will open doors that binary systems can't even begin to identify and it will terminate encryption as we know it (Matthew 10:27, Luke 8:17, Revelation 20:12).
The Hebrew in which the Bible is written contains within the patterns of its natural etymology, patterns and principles that also lay at the base of natural reality. Latin, on the other hand, has no backlash and can only build very large but slow moving mechanisms. It can't account for the unexpected and for the errant or come up with something entirely new, or even remotely funny. Circumcision forced mental plantigrades to stay plantigrades, long before there was the bipedal locomotion of modern science, and this while everybody else was embracing digitigrade for speed and dominance.
The will of a man
Zipporah circumcised her son ostensibly at a public inn (Exodus 4:24), which is an element that the gospel authors used to link humanity's global search for politeness and manners (that's circumcision) to the birth of Christ (Luke 2:7). But Zipporah's giant leap from ancient command to physical amputation speaks of a boggling level of insight. It transcended Moses' procrastinations and excuses and rescued him from the wrath of the very deity he sought to serve.
Zipporah had no foreskin herself and her insight was not empirical and purely theoretical. But her theories drew from the unimaginably hard world she lived in, where people mutilated themselves, for cosmetic and other reasons, where people, children and even animals were routinely stoned to death (Exodus 21:28-32, Leviticus 20:27, 24:14, Deuteronomy 21:18-21), where criminals were publicly punished according to lex talionis: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise (Exodus 21:24), where even children were sacrificed to gods (Leviticus 18:21) and grown men could boast about killing a boy for inconveniencing them (Genesis 4:23). What she did was meant to avoid all that, and have her sons avoid all that (see Deuteronomy 28:56 and its context); not an act of ritualistic mutilation but in effect an act of brain surgery.
We moderns tends to think of our brains as the seat of our minds, with the entire body as a kind of slovenly shadow beneath us (which is a view easily remedied with a swift kick in the pants). The ancients had a more pragmatic idea of the body, and since to them the entire mind was expressed by the entire body, the mind's various mental modes (emotional and intellectual) had their seats at various parts of the body. A man's will was considered seated in his genitalia, and read our sweeping article on the noun ירך (yarek), for an extensive look at this.
Suppose for a playful moment that the ancient family of nightshades had somehow realized that somewhere deep within its genetic recesses there were the juicy tomatoes that would bring glory to their entire kind. Suppose that this glory wasn't actually glory, but rather survival, and the realization that dawned on the nightshades was that they were poisonous and destined for wholesale destruction. To which lengths would the natural nightshades go to bring about their tomatoes? And to extend this: what evolutionary advantage did the Abrahamites gain by physically circumcising their male children?
A great number of scientific investigations have tried to establish the effects and thus possible reasons for the institution of physical circumcision, but no true clarity has ever been achieved. The difficulty is two-fold. Firstly, if science doesn't know what to look for, it's virtually impossible to find it. A needle in a haystack is hard to find even if we know what the needle looks like, but when we don't, that needle will probably stay lost. Secondly, the haystack isn't there anymore. Just like the pre-tomato family of nightshades isn't there anymore, the human population within which Zipporah introduced circumcision isn't there anymore either. That means that science is shooting blanks blanker than Steve Zissou's.
What we do know is that to the Abrahamites, body and mind were as one as space and time are to us. And we also know that a man's foreskin protects the glans from mechanical stimuli, which in turn are the same as mental stimuli, and that retracting the foreskin exposes the glans and thus invites these same stimuli. Ancient families were on the move a lot, which meant that a woman could only support as many toddlers as she could carry. This in turn suggests that women didn't work around the clock to excite their men and thus that sexual arousal was much rarer back then than it is to us moderns. And that, finally, suggests that when ancient men finally did get sexually aroused, they went totally ape and abandoned all manners of decorum and restraint (to illustrate this: our familiar word "orgy" probably stems from the noun οργη, orge, crossing the line, which in turn comes from the verb ορεγω, orego, to desire, to reach for).
The Utterly Other
God's command to Abraham to circumcise all the males in his household (Genesis 17:10) occurs obviously and deliberately within a much broader meditation on Abraham and Sarah's desire to have offspring, their infertility and their attempts to deal with that (chapters 15 through 18). The technical details of why Sarah didn't conceive aren't directly given, but another famous case of infertility, namely that of Michal, daughter of Saul, resulted from her mocking and laughing at her husband David (2 Samuel 6:16-23). And that these two cases indeed have something to do with each other is made conspicuously clear by the author of the latter story, who adds that David paid for Michal a dowry of two hundred Philistine foreskins (1 Samuel 18:27).
What Michal apparently didn't realize is that men, commonly, need to feel respected in order for them to get an erection and keep it long enough to ejaculate. Sarah, on the other hand, did, which is why she called her husband "sir" or "lord" (κυριος, kurios; Genesis 18:12, see 1 Peter 3:6). Michal laughed out of derision but Sarah laughed out of confidence (compare Genesis 18:12 to 17:17 and Hebrews 11:11).
Sarah and Abraham both laughed and Sarah had faith before she conceived, and conceived because she had faith. Sarah's faith obviously had nothing to do with religion as we know it (too early in the game for that) but as we explain in our article on the noun πιστις (pistis): "Faith is a real and measurable mental capacity that, once acquired, changes someone to the core. It can't be undone, revoked or forgotten; it can never go away. Someone who doesn't have it doesn't understand it in precisely the same way in which a brick does not understand a squirrel, or in which a squirrel does not understand Homo sapiens fidens: the human who discerns and trusts."
Popular perceptions of evolution suggests that humanity's rise from the animal world was a smooth affair like a mushroom popping up from the forest floor without a hitch. But no. It was much rather like a girl growing out of childhood into adulthood, without anybody there to explain what was going on. When humans began to express themselves in symbols, they created the very rudiments of the Great Human Library, which in turn gave our species a social and cultural memory: very real human thoughts stored in the very fabric of language, deep below the levels at which recognizable statement and stories exist. Every word a person utters and every thought she entertains, echoes with the memories of our entire race from Adam down, right through that terrifying period when we tried to decide what behavior belongs to animals and should be abandoned and what behavior belongs to humans and should be cherished. We moderns facetiously speak of ourselves as the Naked Ape, without appreciating that we are naked as a result of choices and sacrifices we willingly made (Genesis 3:7). Contrary to popular myth, humans didn't rise above the animals by accident, but because we contemplated every step of the way, and rejected and amputated parts of ourselves as we went along, even without being able to fully comprehend the full effects of what we had chosen to do.
Most mammalian females, including great apes, go through "estrus" (or "heat"), which periodically produces visual and olfactory signals that indicate to the males that the females are ready for business. Most mammalian males, in turn, are conditioned to know that without that signal, any advances are met with hostile rejection. And that explains why mammalian males don't get excited at the mere site of a female, but can't resist to go ape when they smell the go-ahead.
One of the prices paid for becoming human was a substantial reduction in the sense of smell, which may have coincided with human females additionally losing the mechanism of estrus. Somehow, human females had acquired the ability to separate their bodily cycles from their social encounters, and had acquired the freedom to willfully choose when they were in the mood for sexual play: when the tribe was safe, well fed, sheltered and at peace. But this also meant that human females had to ring the bells manually. Long before there was lipstick, perfume, sexy underwear or even speech, human females had to deliberately activate the male's interests, rather literally by pulling the foreskin down and exposing the glans. This, of course, left the males perpetually confused, but it also did wonders for civilization. It conditioned men to pay attention to their females, and focus as much on the approval of their mates as on their own.
The term "Theory of Mind" describes the understanding that someone else's mind contains a different reality than our own. Without it, there's no need for language or symbolism, and it must be established before language can begin to form. In the Bible, Theory of Mind appears in the guise of the "Golden Rule", which dictates to treat others the way you want to be treated. For both Theory of Mind and the Golden Rule to have meaning in practical reality, people must first possess conscious self-awareness and be able to identify one's own desires, which in turn requires a conscious analyses of the present situation and a review of possible futures. Since all this sums up the entire Law and Prophets (Matthew 7:12) it also sums up the Word, who is One with God in the beginning (John 1:1-4). That means that for God to "obey" the most fundamental rule of his own nature (namely to treat others in some particular way), there had to be others first. That means that Theory of Mind explains creation and thus existence (which in turn have always been very challenging problems for philosophers). And it appears that it all began in the sexual arena: all of physical and psychological reality is in fact an act of copulation, and all evolution comes from species giving birth.
A great number of scientific investigations have established that there is a very strong correlation between a woman's ability to conceive and her comfort and joy during copulation. But since the male and female genitalia have different shapes and functionalities, it's impossible for a man to understand his woman by using his own experiences. That means that in a world where physical strength determines superiority, and thus where the male "does" and the female "gets done", a woman's sexual pleasure depends entirely on her partner's Theory of Mind.
In any natural situation, initiation is the prerogative of the doer and not that of the done. This means that if the female wants to nevertheless initiate copulation, she must refrain from her intuition to order the male into action, but rather has to signify: "thy will be done" and then simply hope for the best, using positive and negative reinforcements to artificially select between males who pay attention and those who don't. The evolutionary advantage of this knowledge explains the divergent evolution of the male and female physiques, and also explains why the scientific method eventually won from paganism.
Trampling out the vintage
The Bible very often conveys information by means of broken symmetry — that means that a story is repeated but slightly different, so that the context is in the similarities but the novel insight is in the differences. In physics this is known as a breach in symmetry: Before the unified strongelectroweak force broke, particles were ranked according to their mass, and separate quarks and leptons literally did not exist. Only when the strongelectroweak force broke into the strong force and the electroweak force, the particles became divided into quarks and leptons. In the very same way, all women were once the same and were ranked solely according to their level of intimacy with men. In order for marriage to be invented, first the difference between sisters and wives had to be established. And that took some doing.
Since there are nine long months between conception and childbirth, and not all acts of roughhousing include copulation, and not all acts of copulation result in pregnancy, the link between the two wasn't consciously made until well into the modern era. Brothers and sisters would naturally imitate their parents in all their activities, including copulation, but a man and a woman from different tribes had far less behavioral overlap. Particularly when humans began to behave according to their conscious considerations rather than their animal instincts, the chances are excellent that acts of sweaty copulation were rejected as beastly doings. And if that sounds absurd, the relatively recent Victorian moralists regarded sexuality with such reservations that it's still not without taboo today. Had they not known how women actually get pregnant, they might quite possibly have "bowdlerized" intercourse right out of fashion and suffered a period of inexplicable infertility because of it.
The basic story goes that both Abraham and Isaac lost their women to various local rulers. In Egypt, the Pharaoh took Abram's woman Sarai because the crucial difference between a sister and a wife had not yet been properly established, and the difference was literally not existent and the two were literally the same (Song of Solomon 4:9 - 5:1, also see Genesis 20:12). The initial result of society's failure to differentiate between a sister and a wife was an outbreak of terrible diseases (Genesis 12:17), which we moderns call homozygosity due to inbreeding depression, and this is precisely what plagued the houses of Akhenaten and Tutankhamun.
In the second installment of our basic story, Abram is now Abraham and Sarai is now Sarah. The ruler is now not Egyptian but Philistine, and his name is Abimelech. Unlike the Pharaoh, Abimelech is already conscious enough that he doesn't have to actually observe the physical derailment of incestuous offspring, but senses in his subconscious that there's a crucial difference between wives and sisters, and thus that there must also be such a thing as a marriage (Genesis 20:3).
In the third installment of our story, the ruler is still called Abimelech, but the husband and wife are Isaac and Rebekah. But the bigger difference is in the way in which Abimelech learned that Rebekah was Isaac's wife and not his sister, namely by observing this with his own eyes and consciously drawing the conclusion (Genesis 26:8).
What Abimelech saw was that Isaac was "making laughter" with Rebekah, and the verb used here is צחק (sahaq), which means to laugh and which is also where the name Isaac (= he will cause to laugh) comes from. The crucial difference between the laughter of Isaac and Rebekah and the laughter (same verb) of Abraham (17:17) and Sarah (18:12) was that Isaac and Rebekah were laughing together, whereas Abraham was laughing with God and Sarah to herself. In Isaac the joy of men and women found each other.
The Joy of Coming Home
Today we moderns are so accustomed to science that we forget that things were once not so. In the animal world, the way to do something is either dictated by the alpha, or else so ingrained in one's genetic constitution that abandoning it means violating one's own nature. When ancient humans began to understand that there are often more ways than one, and often even a best way, they began to implore their gods for clarity. That in turn spawned dogma, which suggested that calamities were punishments, and obedience and homage the way to go. The first great hurdle that early scientists had to overcome had nothing to do with the absence of knowledge, but the presence of traditions that opposed rational inquiry. Likewise, circumcision was instituted to wrench men away from their beastly manners.
Back in the caves men impregnated whatever they could outrun, but marriage curbed their natural enthusiasm and forced them to invest only in one mate, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. And it was the "worse" and the "sickness" that forced them to study their mates and find ways to rectify these conditions. Having to learn how to deal with one's own growing and constantly changing family also made it easier to deal more effectively with one's neighbors, and their wives and children, and ultimately with the growing and changing society at large. The patriarchal period is also clearly associated with the transition from a nomadic pastoral lifestyle to a sedentary agricultural (and urban) lifestyle (Genesis 33:17). Marriage made men more sensitive to other people, and that too made the world a better place.
Physical circumcision had the effect that men were no longer tossed between mental states, between wild sexual arousal and business as usual, but were continuously and evenly mindful of their will, irrespective of the nature of any particular occasion. It gave them the opportunity to calmly review matters in theory, and equally calmly apply what they had found out when the situation asked for it. Physical circumcision narrowed the amplitude of the mind's wild swings. It gave the man aim and allowed him to find the roost for which he craved, which was to give joy to his mate.
Richard Feynman famously spoke of "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out", and anyone who has ever found a solution to a nagging problem will surely confess a subsequent swing from the chandelier. First-timers and folks who only very rarely find something out, commonly succumb to ecstasy. But scientists who are accustomed to it, are also accustomed to curbing their enthusiasm, and by so doing find more things out more frequently.