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Seven: Number of the goddess

In tracing the original matriarchal and significance of the Sabbath, PHILIP OCHIENG delves into the cultures and traditions of the people that dwelt in the ancient world - the Middle East, Mediterranean and the Mexico of the Aztecs

NGUGI WA THIONG’O’S Wizard of the Crow is a cauldron of pure magic. One item of thaumaturgy in the book is the pervasive reference to seven — a figure whose mystical power held captive the minds of ancient gentile communities for thousands of years.

Unfortunately, a novelist is not called upon to explain literary symbols that he uses. The reader must come to grips with it from the setting and the plot. It is thus a cinch that Ngugi’s allusions have gone over the heads of most readers in the world of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Such readers have met with the figure seven on one dramatic occasion. It is in the creation scene, set in Sumeria, in which, after six whole days of what is apparently exhausting “creative labour”, God rests on the seventh day and thereafter imposes it on mankind as a holy day. 

But the Bible alludes to seven a thousand other times. Yahweh’s abode, a place called Olam, was separated from earth by seven heavens. Jericho was to be circled seven times a day for seven days for its walls to collapse. Laban held Jacob in servitude for two seven-year periods to merit Rachel.

Pharaoh dreamt of a two seven-year alternations of plenty and famine (the fat kine and the lean kine). The totally allegorical book of Revelation alludes to seven angels, seven seals and the figure 144,000, a multiple of seven. But these references are fleeting and do not remain indelible in the reader’s mind.

In Genesis, however, at least one other allusion to seven is memorable. It occurs in the scene in which the Lord God expels Cain from Paradise after Cain has killed his younger brother Abel.

In Occidental Mythology, Joseph Campbell explains that the Abel-Cain story is a mythographical representation of a clash between two cultures — between Hamitic crop agriculture of the native Canaanites (Cain’s offering) and the more backward Semitic pastoralism of the invading Israelites (Abel’s offering).

But the story is being told from the pastoralists’ viewpoint, all complete with their religious prejudices, in the same way that our Maasai — if they had had scribes who were writing long after the events they purported to have witnessed — would have condemned as “sinful” any Kikuyu offering of mbembe (maize) to the god Enkai.

Cain’s curse is to last for seven times seven generations. On being banished from Eden, we read, Cain lamented to God: “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and ... I shall be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth and anyone who meets me shall kill me.” 

What follows is a complete puzzle: “... the Lord said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance’. And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one ... would kill him.”

Why should God protect somebody he has just condemned for slaying the deity’s favourite boy? But who can kill Cain when, so far — with Abel gone — there are only three individuals in the whole world, namely, Cain himself and his parents Adam and Eve?

Why should any attacker of Cain suffer sevenfold punishment from the same deity who has just declared Cain a criminal? But why this preoccupation with seven and its multiples?

Students of mythology learn that the authors of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) borrowed it (along with their entire religious paraphernalia) from Hamitic Canaan, Egypt and Sumeria (Babylon), in which last two the Israelites served for years as slaves.

For, among all peoples who originated in the Nile valley — including the Egyptians, Canaanites, Sumerians and Armenians — something about the number seven was critical.

In Lost Realms, the assertion in Genesis recalls that the Sumerian patriarch Lameck was “...the seventh descendant [of Adam] through the line of Cain ...” and that Lameck “... enigmatically proclaimed that ‘Seven-fold shall Cain be avenged, and Lamech seventy and seven’...” 

For, Sitchin goes on, “In Mesopotamia [the term seven] was applied to the Seven Who Judge, the Seven Sages, the seven gates of the Lower World, the seven tablets of Enuma Elish....” He writes that the supreme god Enlil was, indeed, the origin of the tradition. The Sumerians affirmed again and again that “Enlil is Seven.”

But why? Because the planet Earth was taken as Enlil’s cosmic identity and, if you counted from the outer edges of the solar system, you would find that our planet was the seventh from Pluto — a fact which confirms Sumeria’s astounding knowledge of astronomy. 

But why should that cosmic position be so profoundly important? Because Enlil-Earth was “the all beneficent.” In Sitchin’s words, “...In Sumerian hymns, he was credited with seeing to it that there was food and well-being in the land; he was also invoked as the guarantor of treaties and oaths...” 

This, of course, is a reference to later patriarchal times. Before the fall of matriarchy in the second millennium BC, our planet was not a god but a goddess. She was known as Mother Earth, Isis to the Egyptians, Eurynome to the Pelasgians, Tiamat to the Babylonians, Tehom to the Israelites, Ngame to the Akan (of Ghana), Gaia to the Hellenes, and so on.

But the seventh planet acquired vital importance because it turned out to be the only habitable one that these Sumerian astronomers (or “gods”) knew. The myth credited Enlil — the divine leader on Earth — with full exploitation of the planet to see to it “...that there was food and well-being in the land ...”

And, since Enlil was “...invoked as the guarantor of treaties and oaths...,” it is no wonder that he was also known by the epithet “God of Seven,” the figure seven being identified with food guarantee and other forms of security, and the word “seven” acquiring such other meanings as “to satiate” and “to take an oath.” In short, in Sitchin’s phrase, seven became “a caption” for the terrestrial globe, the biosphere. 

Sitchin, himself a Jew, describes the circumstances in which these attributes and epithets of Enlil — himself only an alter ego of the Egyptian Osiris — were borrowed by the Soferim (the Jewish scribes) and transferred to Yahweh during Judah’s exile in the Sumerian city of Babylon. 

“No wonder, then,” Sitchin comes to the nitty gritty, “that in Hebrew the root from which seven stems — Sh-V-A — is the same root from which the meanings ‘to be satiated,’ and ‘to swear, to take an oath,’ derive...” In these two passages, we learn several extremely important things.

First Sh-V-A, the Hebrew word transliterated as sheba (in the legendary “Queen of Sheba”), means “seven.” Sheba — Sabaea to the Roman imperialists — referred to Yemen, the Hejaz, parts of the Horn of Africa and southern Canaan, the last one, including King Abimelech’s Gerer realm, where Beersheba lay.

For Beersheba simply means “well of seven;” Bathsheba is “daughter of seven” or “house of seven” and Elisheba — from which Elisabeth was derived — means “my El is seven” — El being Canaan’s supreme God, whose son, Baal, gave Yahweh such a run for his money during Israel’s post-Exodus “idolatry” in Canaan.

But if seven is a Sumerian (Hamitic) tradition far more archaic than Israel and Judah — two relatively recent peoples — how did these Semites acquire both the tradition and its name? Why did Abraham give his temporary abode in Gerer the name Beersheba? 

For the obvious reason — Sitchin reminds us — that he came from “Ur of the Chaldeans,” Chaldea (Kalda) being just another name for the trans-Euphratean country of Sumeria. What, then, was the Sumerian prototype of the word? 

In The Cosmic Code, Sitchin writes that “...among those who were in the ark and survived the Deluge [in the Sumerian archetype of the Noah story] was Sambethe, the wife of [Ham], one of the sons of Ziusudra [the Sumerian Noah] — her name probably a corruption of the Sumerian ... Sabitu (‘The Seventh’)...”

ACCORDING TO THE GREEK writer Berossus, Sambethe “...was the first of the Sybils, and she had prophesied concerning the building of the Tower of Babylon and all that happened to the enterprises of its planners...” Sambethe, then, was probably the earliest (Sumerian) form of the word “seven.” 

It is interesting that we, the Swahili, received the word saba directly from Semitic Arabic 10 centuries ago but sabato (its religious significance) only when the British colonised us a century ago. Most of us do not have any idea that saba has etymological siblings throughout the Indo-European world.

For, if sambethe and sabitu went into Sanskrit and other Vedic languages as sapta, this is cognate with the Latin septus and septem, which later spawned sept (French), siete (Spanish), sieben (German) and seven (English). 

But the question is: Where did Sumeria itself get sambethe and sabitu from? Another way of putting that question is: Where did the Sumerians come from? In their own records, they insist that they came from “Magan” or “Meluhhe.” 

And most scholars — including Robert Temple (in The Sirius Mystery) — identify Magan with Egypt and Meluhhe with Nubian Sudan. We learn from the German playwright Bertolt Brecht that Thebes — Upper Egypt’s holiest city — was “seven-gated” (sieben-toerigen) — just as was the Underworld, the abode of Osiris. 

For we learn from other sources that the institution of seven had been sacred in Egypt even before the pharaohs. It is clear that sambethe and sabitu are corruptions of the Egyptian S-b-a and that S-b-a was what the Israelite slaves in Egypt took into Hebrew as Sh-v-a and its feminine form S-b-at as Sabbath.

The feminine form S-b-at reflects goddess worship. But by the time the Jews were reborrowing the institution of Seven in the Babylonian exile, the Jewish scribes lived in stinking male chauvinist pigsties. So they simply rededicated Seven to their male god as they set out to bring down Hamitic matriachy and “paganism” and rewrote the creation story accordingly. 

Yet the Talmudists (European Jewry) have the tradition, as Laurence Gardner puts it, that, “...only when reunited with ... the Shekhina-Matronit-Shabbat can God become complete ... again.” That this name is feminine is clear from both the epithet Matronit and the suffix “at” in the word Shabbat.

 In Hamito-Semitic languages, you feminised a noun by adding a “t”’ to it — as in Arabic (and Kiswahili) bin (son of) and bint or binti (daughter of). The Egyptian S-b-at and Sumerian Shabattu, a festival of the Triple Goddess at full moon, was what the Jews renamed Sabbath and gave a masculine significance. 

Gardner writes: “The Sabbath was not just a day of rest, it represented the day of Shabbat (from Shabattu), the innermost psyche of the [Goddess] — the Shekhina-Matronit. In exile since 586 BC, Shekhina-Matronit-Shabbat was said to roam the Earth awaiting her ... reunion with Jehovah. 

“Nevertheless, she continued to be the mother of her Israelite flock, and joined them every Friday evening at dusk to herald the Sabbath. 

“Hence, in Genesis, the Seventh Day as the day on which Jehovah rested after he had completed his creative activities.” 

Sitchin affirms that the Israelites adopted Egypt’s S-b-at system — the seven-day week — only during the Exodus, when it and circumcision were imposed on them by a group of Egyptian Atenist priests called Levites — including Aaron, Miriam and Moses — who had negotiated their release from bonded labour. 

Because they were the ones who conveyed the Copto-Cushitic culture to Crete, Greece, Thrace, Phrygia and the Aegeans, the Libyo-Ethiopian autochthons of southeastern Europe also, quite naturally, attached great significance to seven. 

In The Greek Myths, Robert Graves reports that seven Athenian youths were surrogates sacrificed annually in the Cretan capital of Knossos and that this substitution of locals with foreigners had been adopted from Canaan — where it would later lead to the Christian story that Simon of Cyrene stood for Jesus at Golgotha.

The seer Tiresias had to wait for seven years to avenge himself on the serpents who had changed her sex from male to female. 

In India, to achieve enlightenment, Sidhartha Gautama had to remain absorbed in rapture for seven times seven days, during which a tremendous tempest raged. Then Muchalinda, a mighty serpent, emerged from the earth’s bowel to envelop Gautama’s body seven times with its folds. 

It was only after another seven days had elapsed that the storm broke up and Muchalinda unwound his coils. By it, Gautama had gained full knowledge and wisdom to become the Buddha and find Nirvana. 

In Gateway to Atlantis, Andrew Collins relates that, across the Atlantic, to which all these Nilo-Hamitic customs were taken by the Canaanite mariners better known as Phoenicians, the creator god was the seventh son of his father Itzac-Mixcohuatl, whose name meant White Grass Snake Nebula.

This is the equivalent of the universally worshipped serpentine demiurge of the Goddess whom the Pelasgic Greeks called Ophion. The serpent was an extremely important figure in the creation scene. As far as I know, he is slighted only in Genesis, an excessively androcentric scripture.

MESOAMERICAN TRADItion, including that of the celebrated Aztecs, was that the ancestors had come from Aztlan, a land across the sea — a clear reference to the Mediterranean Eurafrasia (probably Cush, Egypt and Canaan). Aztlan had seven caves and seven temples. 

Among the Nahuatl, after protracted wandering (which reads like a facsimile of the biblical tales of Enoch and Elijah), a hero arrives at a destination and builds a city in seven days. Chicomecoatl, a member of the Nahuatl pantheon, was the Snake of Seven. And, like the Vedic Brahma, the Peruvian god Viracocha had seven eyes.

Muchalinda’s protection of Gautama, being a much older story than Genesis, is clearly the inspiration of Yahweh’s protection of Cain. The Nahuatl hero arriving to build a city after a long period of wandering clearly reflects Cain, Tubal-Cain, Nimrod and the Bible’s other city builders from Ham’s line.

In these earlier versions, divine protection of a killer makes perfect sense because the beneficiary — like the Sumerian Ka’in — has performed a heroic deed, a mission ordered by God himself. Cain has shed blood so as to refertilise the land. 

This is the original Hamitic point of the story. The Soferim have deliberately distorted it by introducing the impossible contradiction of Yahweh giving protection to Cain right after he has expelled him from the protective walls of Eden.

That is the point that the Soferim seek to obscure by distorting the original Ka’in story of the Sumerians. It is that the ritual spilling of blood stands both for renewal of Mother Earth’s fecundity and for dedication of the seventh day — the S-b-at — to thanksgiving to the Goddess.

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