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The technical definition of "Semitic"
The term "semitic" misused
The term "semitic" is misused in terms like "antisemitism" that are supposed to refer to a hostile attitude towards Jews.
Spreading of semitic tribes
To define semitic technically sense, language similarities have been used. The spread of Semitic language (that includes Arab, Hebrew and many more) is a good indication of the spreading through history of Semitic tribes, although the language is adopted by many a tribe subdued during semitic conquest, especially the Muslim conquests 7th and 8th centuries AD (reaching from present day Pakistan to present day Spain and Portugal Map). To the Semitic language group belong northern African and Middle East languages, including Egyptian, Berber and Cushitic. The Semitic languages are divided into four groups: (1) Northern Peripheral, or Northeastern, with only one language, ancient Akkadian; (2) Northern Central, or Northwestern, including the ancient Canaanite, Amorite, Ugaritic, Phoenician and Punic, and Aramaic languages and ancient and modern Syriac and Hebrew; (3) Southern Central, including Arabic and Maltese; and (4) Southern Peripheral, including South Arabic and the languages of northern Ethiopia.
Cushites penetrated as deep down as Uganda.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob feature as ancestors in the historical consciousness of most of these tribes, notably in the Arab and Jewish tribes. The myths around these ancestral figures indicate an awareness, at least a conscious claim to common Semitic descendency. Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths are variants of Semitic religious tradition. This makes these faiths known as Abrahamic religions. But not all descendents of Abraham always belonged to an Abrahamic religion: most of the semitic tribes that Mohammed converted to Islam did not.
The Northern Peripheral Semitic group, from the Ancient to Middle Stage, includes Akkadian with its dialects of Babylonian and Assyrian, spoken in Mesopotamia from about 3200 BC until the semites were chased out of Mesopotamia by a group of peoples merging under Hammurabi and ultimately forming part of the great Persian empire, the greatest world power and world civilisation in the last millenium B.C..
Hammurabi, his followers and successors had driven the Semites out of Mesopotamia, sentenced to wandering in search for shelter, prey to the deserts. This episode could well be the historical substance and clearly is an echo of what Jews, christians and muslems call the expulsion from paradise. And this forced journey by Abraham's tribe into the desert is what definitively marked Semitic religious consciousness. The Semites lost the Mesopotamian territory and made into their God the One whom they believed was responsible for their weakness. Expulsion from Mesopotamia made the Semitic religion a religion of the loosers of an important war, fearing their mighty God and deeply inclined to relive His act of expulsion as "punishment for their sins" by rituals of abstinence of the pleasures of life, such as sex, alcohol, food and interest on capital, though different tribes make take different selections of these pleasures as target for abstinence, or limit the abstinence rituals to specific periods of the year. Semitic religions are essentially traumatic, encouraging the believer to engage in (self-)traumatising.
The making of sacrifices is not specific for semitic religions. The aspect that is specifically semitic is to sacrifice yourself on the basis of a feeling of being sinful and guilty. This is the root of systematic attempts to approach God by showing Him one can hurt oneself and others. It is shown to God by abstaining from different types of pleasures and, in "fighting for God", suppress your natural urge to have mercy with those whom you are told do not to deserve it.
This specifically semitic type of sacrifice enhances the exertion of leader authority and makes brave soldiers.
All Semitic religious traditions are literary: they have sacred books containing the word of God. This deprives them from the prudent degree of sloppiness that oral traditions employ to adapt to changed circumstances (vid. the drawbacks of writing and calculating in African culture, general overview of reservations about literacy in different cultures).
This has posed huge problems to the clergy and theologicians of the semitic religions through history. How does the original and irrevocably fixed text relate to the changing historical circumstances?
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The literal texts of Torah, Bible and Koran are clearly and undoubtedly
inconsistent with what in the context of the United Nations has been called
"human rights". Nevertheless, the "declaration of human rights" is called
"universal". The whole procedure of devising such a declaration has a decisively
semitic flavour and has its roots in ethical convictions that arose in semitic
and post-semitic cultures.
A large part of the activities through history of religious leadership and scholarship in religions based on Torah, Bible and Koran consisted of relating prudent new practise in new circumstances positively to the written revelation (sometimes even going as far as disqualifying parts of the text handed down, as happened in the European Reformation, as apocryphal). This necessary bending and breaking of text naturally leads away from the reading of the prophetic books in their original historical status. Humankind must deem itself deeply happy for these efforts to read the revelations in a way that harmonizes with modern ethics and civilization, but at the same time they create profound misunderstandings among outsiders, the main of them being that the ethics and social structure of modern Semitic religious communities (and those of non Semites who derive their belief from these books) is "founded" upon their textual revelations.
This web endeavours to give a first idea of Torah, Bible and Koran as magnificant and truely invaluable sources for the understanding of Semitic culture from the times of Abraham, around 2000 BC, until the time muslims acquired real civilization, not much after 700 AD.