Number Symbolism to Track Biblical Sources

Numbers are an interesting and useful device in tracking the tribal and ethnic origins of a document. For example, the Chinese avoid using the number four, which they regard as a bad omen, yet four is a sacred number to the Plains Indians of North America and is used in ceremonies and rites, such as the Vision Quest.

In the Bible we are able to track the origin of some narratives using number symbolism. The Hebrew Bible comes to us from the Afro-Asiatics whose number symbolism can be classified into western and eastern traditions. In the Hamitic-Nilotic tradition the number forty appears often, but forty doesn't appear in the Mesopotamia-Babylonian tradition.
For example, the story of Noah's flood speaks of rain for "forty days and forty nights", but in the Book of Daniel, which is rich in number symbolism, the number forty doesn't appear even once. Noah's homeland was near Lake Chad in west central Africa and the Book of Daniel comes from ancient Babylon.

The number forty in the western tradition relates to the periodic forty day flooding of the Nile when people living near the banks had to leave their homes. The second forty - forty days AND FORTY NIGHTS - relates to the additonal forty days they had to wait for the waters to receed before they could return to their homes. So "the forty days and forty nights" of rain during Noah's flood indicates that this story's origins is not Mesopotamia, but Africa. Likewise Israel's forty years of wandering in the wilderness indicates that this story has roots in Egypt.

Can you think of other numbers in the Bible that help us to track the origins of the narratives?

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Comment by Alice C. Linsley on August 25, 2010 at 10:48pm
Three, four and seven are definitely about integration. Three represents a tribal unity in the Bible and also the Oneness of the 3-God (Trinity). Four represents the four directions, the four winds, the four poles: East-West, North-South. Seven is the sum of the factors of 1 and 6 (3+3) or 3 and 4 (2+2). The sequence of 1-2 is probably the most fundamental sequence and is the basis for individual identity and interpersonal relations. This is a base-2 symbolism that is without zero. Positional use of zero dates from later centuries. Likely what is viewed as the integer zero in the older binary system of 1-2 is instead a pictogram of the Sun or a symbol of the natural cycles observed by primitive man, especially the lunar and solar cycles.

This 1(self) - 2 (other) is what Martin Buber identified as the I-thou construct. For Buber, God is the Eternal Thou, since the individual must relate to God as fully Other. I am therefore number 1 and God as Thou is number 2. There can be a reversal, of course, when I surrender my number oneness to God. Then I become number 2 and God takes the rightful place of the Creator as number 1.

The number 1 is the referent from which 2 and all subsequent numbers (added later) derive meaning. It is likely that this binary structure is the framework for the oldest worldview.

One Two
Self Other
Male Female
Sun/Solar Moon/Lunar
Heavens/Above Earth/Below
Creator Creation

Jesus' kenotic act was to join himself fully to the human creature - the other - by surrendering His oneness, the oneness of God. In the biblical worldview, the Creator is always number 1 and the Referent by which all other entities derive meaning. Is it any wonder that those who excise the divine Referent from their lives are nihilists?

I know of no tradition in the Church which speaks of the 4 Gospels and the Trinity in the way you describe, but they total 7 and 7 represents all that is revealed, so I see nothing wrong with this interpretation. (The 7 days of the week are based on the 7 visible planets just as the 12 months are based on the 12 cycles of the moon.)
Comment by MAI Saptenno on August 25, 2010 at 1:59pm
Hello. I remember the Mandala, the desire for spiritual unity and psychic integration. The classic oriental forms of the Mandala features the juxtaposition of the triangle, the square and the circle with their numerical equivalents of three, four, and seven. There seems to be a variety of such symbol in a lot of traditional houses and ornaments used by many indigenous people in Indonesia.

Meanwhile, can seven in the new testament be interpreted as the four books of mathew, mark, luke, john and trinity?
Comment by Alice C. Linsley on August 20, 2009 at 1:01am
Going back to Nikos' question about the "magical number seven"... the seven day/part structure of Genesis 1 reflects the 7-tiers of the Babylonian temple which the eastern Afro-Asiatics regarded as a cosmos. The number of tiers ranged from two to seven, with a shrine or most holy place at the pinnacle. Only the priest, a "son of God", was permitted to enter here.
Comment by Alice C. Linsley on August 19, 2009 at 1:04am
Fascinating, Jude! You are a storehouse of information, my friend.

What do you think about the 2-3 interplay? For example: traditionally the chief must have at least 2 wives to rule. So 2 is associated with a kingdom or a territory. And a tribe or tribal federation must have at least 3 clans (which sound like a Yoruba principle).

Then there is the tri-consonantal Semitic languages playing against the bi-consonantal Chadic languages, so that many of the old African words appear with an additional syllable in Hebrew. This is one reason many Bible scholars haven't recognized the African roots of some of Abraham's ancestors.
Comment by Jude Ogunade on August 18, 2009 at 5:46pm
Also, merindinlogun (16) is very sacred to the Agemo, and also the oracle IFA. Merindinlogun is 16. I6 is 4 in 4 places meanwhile divination of ifa is not complete without adequate recourse to the dictates of 16!
Comment by Jude Ogunade on August 18, 2009 at 5:43pm
I quite agree with you concerning the number 4. Four is very special to an Ijebu man and perhaps the whole of the Yoruba people. Actually, I used to think the Ijebus were Yoruba, until I read when I was in the secondary school at Ijebu - Ode when the Awujale of Ijebu reiterated that the Ijebu migrated from Waddai in Sudan! Well, perhaps because of their trading they were left behind by the larger group who founded the Yoruba Kingdom. Perhaps they are of other stock. Nevertheless, most Yorubas would think that it is number 3 that has significance, However, when performing a task, they arrange the tools in three with the fourth one being the the 'goal marker'. For example, to cook food you need the 'tripod' (three stones) 'aro meta kin da obe nu' (tripod is enough to ensure stability), which literally means, three sets of stones ensures the soup would not spill from the pot. Therefore, the next completion of the task then is the pot. Most of these ancient people actually gives the 90% in their words and allows you to use your 'ori inu' to figure out the remaining 10% so that your 'omoluabi' and 'ogbon ori' can be tasked and completed. Thanks Alice, I am really enjoying you. I am sure you are capable enough to ward of distractions!
Comment by Alice C. Linsley on August 18, 2009 at 12:38pm
The number seven is indeed a mystery, but it has special significance among both eastern and western Afro-Asiatics. It completes the cosmic or mystical cycle of from heaven to earth to heaven again. That's why in Genesis seven symbolizes God at rest - Sabbath.

The only place on the surface of the earth that claims to be Noah's homeland is Bor'nu in northern Nigeria near Lak Chad. You might be interested in this on Lake Chad as Noah's homeland:

Noah's ark has never been found, and likely hasn't survived through the millenium as it was probably constructed of reeds. However, were one serious about finding it, the search should begin in the region of Mount Meni in Central Africa (Latitude: 14 03' 00'' Longitude: 22 24' 00''). The rendering of the word Armenia is a corruption of Har-meni, meaning Mount Meni. Mount Meni is almost exactly in the center of Africa. Today it stands at about 4000 feet. According to David M. Westley, PhD, Director of the African Studies Library at Boston University, "From the center of the Chad Basin to Mount Meni is about 230 miles."

In the time of the Guirian Wet Period when Mega Chad extended many hundreds of miles beyond its present basin, there may have been water up to Mt. Meni in what is today Niger. I believe that is where Noah's ark landed.

"Ar" and "har" sound the same in Hebrew. "Ar" means city and "har" means mountain. Ar-arat could mean Mount "arat", but what does "arat" mean? The word isn't found in the Indo-European languages, so Ar-arat is not an Indo-European name. The word "arat" is found in the Southern Ethiopic languages and means "and" in Amharic. Ar-menia could mean "city of Meni" or "mountain of Meni". In 1874, Godfrey Higgins, in his monograph Anacalypsis: An Inquiry into the Origins of Languages, Nations and Religions, noted that "Armenia" could mean "mount of Meru… that is, Ar or Er-Meni-ia, the country of mount Meru or Meni."

So, you see there is a connection to Ethiopian collective memory!
Comment by NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS on August 18, 2009 at 11:28am
I was wandering about the so said magical number seven, is it also African or Mesopotamian ? Yet i cannot understand why the homeland of Noah had to be Chad lake and not to say in Tana lake of Ethiopia ( many relations of Ethiopia and Israel in the book of Solomon ).


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