It is widely acknowledged that the name of the Old Testament Hebrew God, YHWH, was not derived from the Hebrew language, though the word appears to share the common Afro-Asiatic etymological roots of the Hebrew words “hay” (“living/ being”) and “hawwah” ( derived from the Hebrew root of the verb “to be”).
The common Afro-Asiatic root of the Hebrew word “hay” is ubiquitous in the sub-Saharan Niger-Congo group of African languages. In the Yoruba language of West Africa, for instance, the root occurs in words meaning “life,” “mother,” and earth. Similarly, the Afro-Asiatic root, “h-w-h,” of the Hebrew word “hawwah” (Eve) is found in words meaning “life, ” “being” and woman in the language of the Yoruba.
The divine name, YHWH, might have been derived from a form which combined the common Afro-Asiatic roots of the Hebrew words “hay” and “hawwah;” a form commonly found in the Niger-Congo languages of Africa as a generic term for divine spirits. Thus, in the Fon language of the vodu (voodoo) culture of Dahomey, West Africa, “Yehweh” is a synonym for vodu and it means “divine spirit.” In the Ewe language of southern Togo, also of West Africa, ” Yehweh” means “spirit.”
Among the West African Yoruba, Yewa is the chthonic goddess of death and the underworld. She is the Virgin Mary of the Yoruba pantheon in heterosexual relationship with the sky god Sango in the circumstances of his death and spiritual resurrection. The name YHWH might, therefore, be of Hamitic derivation, and might have found its way into the languages of the Guinea Coast Africans, whose languages belong to a different class, by cultural diffusion over centuries of close contact with the ancient Hamitic languages of East Africa(the family of languages classed “Hamitic” are a subgroup of the “Afro-Asiatic” family of languages).
The Genesis account of the “generations” of the “male heavens” and “female earth” carries strong Hamitic conceptual undertones which Moses (the ancient Egyptian name “Masi” is in widespread use as a personal name among African peoples) might have become acquainted with while growing up in the Upper Egyptian dominated culture of the New Kingdom which had intimate cultural and historical links with the African Kingdom of Kush which lay to its south. We are told, in the Old Testament scripture, for instance, that Moses had a Kushitic wife whom Mariam and Aaron(Moses’ siblings) disapproved of.
The Genesis act of unification of the gods into the singular personage YHWH reflects an age-old practice of Ancient Egyptian theologians. Ancient Egypt had a constantly splintering myriad of synthetic gods derived from the unification of a plurality of divinities: Amun-Re, Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, Hamarkis-Kheper-Re-Amun. Thus, in the act of unification of the myriad of gods in YHWH, we see the imprint of Ancient Egyptian enculturation on Moses. Moses, however, achieved a grand unification of the Godhead rather than the partial unifications that Ancient Egyptian theology remained limited to.
The book of Genesis identifies the name YHWH with the antique Kushitic civilization. We read the following words in the Book of Genesis: “And Kush was the father of Nimrod who became the first great conqueror in history. He (Nimrod) was a mighty roving conqueror before YHWH; for which reason the saying goes: Like Nimrod a mighty roving conqueror (gibbor sayid) before YHWH.”
The significance of association of the name YHWH with the legendary hero of an antique Kushitic civilization is generally missed in the context of the anti-Hamitism of ancient Semitic culture, even as the significance of the identification of the Hamitic-Jebusite King Melchizedek with the Hebrew “Most High God” (el elyon) is usually ignored.The evidence is that Semitic culture and civilization matured on the pre-existent matrix of the Hamitic culture of the ancient Egyptians, even as the culture of barbarian Germanics was nurtured on the pre-existent matrix of Latin civilization. And just as the Reformations signaled the coming of age of Germanic civilization, so also did the emergence of Semitic culture witness a revolution involving an assertion of the Semitic identity by rising anti-Hamitic sentiments (thus the genocidal policy of the Hebrews in Canaan would be explained away as divinely approved).
The popular interpretation of the statement: “Nimrod was a mighty hunter before YHWH,” forces a negative connotation on an otherwise neutral text. The saying: “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before YHWH,” can be interpreted as a compliment. Similarly, the saying may be construed to imply a God-devotee relationship between YHWH and Nimrod (one might say, in this sense, that even as Nebuchadnezzar was a mighty hunter before his god Marduk, so was Nimrod a mighty hunter before (his god) YHWH).
The culture of Israel had been exposed to strong Hamitic influence in the four and a half centuries of sojourn in Egypt(the Hebrew scripture classifies the ancient Egyptians among the “sons of Ham”). The significance of the fact that Moses had a Kushitic wife becomes glaring when we realize that the Jews acquired the tradition of circumcision from Hamitic cultures which had practiced circumcision since prehistoric times. The African scholar Modupe Oduyoye has demonstrated in his work, Afro-Asiatic Interpretation of Genesis, a strong Hamitic undertone of thought in the garbled ideas expressed by the Hebrew writers in the Genesis creation account.
This article explores the tenuous associations of the Hebrew God YHWH with the West African Yoruba goddess Yewa(the Yoruba of West Africa insist that their ancestors had been immigrants from the Nile region via the Lake Chad region). That YHWH might originally have been a Kushitic androgynous cosmic deity may be explored in the peculiar trans-sexual character of the the cross-dressed (transvestite), fire-breathing West African god of thunder, lightning and atmospheric disturbances, the redoubtable Sango (Candomble: Xango), Oba Koso (King of Kush). The Yoruba goddess Yewa (“Our Lady,” “Our Mother”) is the female earth deity (“IYAWO”) associated in Yoruba mythology with Sango, King of Kush, at his death. Sango, according to the Candomble system, triumphs over death by seducing Yewa (YHWH), the virgin goddess of the underworld, and by this feat he reclaims his life. The goddess Yewa(YHWH) thus, becomes a model of the spirit possession medium in the spirit possession cult of Sango. The spirit of Sango, in turn, becomes the mythical seed of the heavens fallen to the earth: the bini ha-loyim (sons of God) who observing the beauty of the daughters of men (binot ha-‘adam) chose wives from among them and produced as sons, the ha-gibbor-iym (men of fame, heroes of old).
While the male element in the character of Sango is strongly emphasized, the female (Yewa) element to the personality of the double-faced deity was preserved, not only in the female dominated priesthood of the god in pre-colonial Oyo, but also in the association of the god’s Edun ara (double/twin thunder stones/celts) with the earth. The Alaafin (King) of Oyo, the direct descendant of Sango, was held in legal custody by a coterie of titled ladies who, as a group, represented the greatest concentration of power and authority in the entire Kingdom. This clique presided exclusively over the mysteries of the cult of Sango associated with the throne of Oyo. The Iya Mode was the chief medium of Sango. She was the living oracle of the spirit of Sango, and even though she was a woman, she was universally addressed as “Father.” The King of Oyo humbled himself before no mortal besides the Iya Mode and the mediums under her care, for when a medium is possessed by the spirit of Sango, she is considered the “selem” incarnation of the god himself. The Iya Kere was the most powerful single individual in the entire palace, and in the kingdom of Oyo. Nothing happens in the palace without her consent. She could hold up affairs of state by withholding the royal insignia and other symbolic paraphernalia of state function. She was the head of the Ilari (the King’s body guards), and even the King’s “Chief of Staff,” the male Osi’Wefa was subordinated to her.
The double-head of the thunder god’s axe, in Yoruba tradition, is a symbol of the essentially two-faced androgynous (Sango-Yewa) nature of cosmic deity in his-her synthetic sky-earth identity (which explains why Sango is the patron deity of twins in the Yoruba pantheon of gods). In Yoruba tradition, the double axe-head of Sango is usually mounted on a female figurine: a representation of the Sango’s feminine alter ego or doppelganger, that is, the chthonic goddess Yewa, in her model role as spirit possession medium in Sango’s afterlife deification (Sango is supposed, like Jesus, to have died by hanging). The Yoruba believe, like Christians do, that the god Sango lived on, in the skyey realms, after he had apparently died on the stake, watching over mankind and punishing the wicked with lightning bolts from the heavens.