The Left-Handed Kohane Blues

The cover illustration for Part I of Gennebar Rising actually depicts a scene from Part II, in which the main character, Arol, is standing in front of an enormous meteorite protruding from the bottom of an impact crater.  One may notice that the artist, Victor Mosquera, happens to have placed the sword in Arol’s left hand, making him left-handed.  This was a lucky coincidence of which I heartily approve.  I like this for two reasons.

First, not only am I left-handed, but so was my brother, my father, my father’s brother, my father’s brother’s son, and my father’s father.  All, or nearly all of the males and some of the females, in my family have been left-handed for at least a couple of generations. Thus it is perhaps not surprising that my original family name in Poland was Gelinkter, which literally means “left-handed.” Second, by family tradition, I am a kohane (in the novel, “kohar”), which means that according to family lore, I am a direct male lineal descendant of the keepers of the ancient Hebrew arc of the Covenant.  According to Jewish tradition, the first keeper of the arc was Aaron, Moses’s brother (or “Great Uncle Moishe,” as we call him in the family, ha-ha).  The arc keepers were an hereditary group who had become, before the first century CE, the caste of priests who presided over Herod’s temple in Jerusalem.

In my particular case, there is a bit of science to bolster folklore – but only a bit.  For I share a rare genetic marker on my Y chromosome with about half of all other self-identified kohanes, called the “Cohen Modal Haplotype,” or “CMH.”  The CMH is consistent with a common male ancestor who lived between 2,600 and 3,200 years ago.  About two percent of the modern male Jewish population identifies as kohanes (kohanim), and the CMH marker, while common among kohanes, is rare among non-kohane Jews, and very rare among non-Jews.  So it seems as if Uncle Moishe might just conceivably be a relative – that is, if he was an actual person, and if he wasn’t actually a renegade Egyptian royal, perhaps an early monotheist, who found himself on the losing side of a dynastic struggle and so decided to split along with some of his converts.  But it gets even better than that, because Aaron’s wife, presumably the mother of all his children, reportedly was Elisheba.  Elisheba was the daughter of Aminadab, who according to both Matthew and Luke, was a direct male ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth.  So if folklore were fact, that would make Yours Truly a cousin of Jesus.  Oh, and John the Baptist supposedly was a kohane as well, which would make him a cousin too.

Now, of course, one can’t look too closely at any of this.  For one thing, Luke’s geneology of Jesus claims to go all the back to Adam!  For another thing, Jesus’s poor family, from a rural hinterland of the province, almost certainly was illiterate, so they would have had no actual records of their ancestry.  So when one considers that neither composer of these apocryphal geneologies, whoever they actually were (as the gospels were “pseudepigraphical” works – i.e., forgeries!) ever actually met Jesus, why anyone would take either geneology seriously is a mystery.  It would merely be gilding the lily to observe that the two gospel geneologies also contradict one another in several places.  Finally, if one were to swallow the whole myth at face value (excepting all the contradictions), then one would have to believe that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’s biological father, anyway!  But the real point of both the gospel geneologies of Jesus, on which Matthew and Luke naturally agree, is to stake the completely unjustified claim that Jesus was the heir of David, and therefore, rightfully the “King of the Jews” by birth.  But both Matthew and Luke glossed over the biological contradiction in haste, in order to have their cake and eat it too.

Anyway, back to left-handed kohanes.  The ancient Jewish priesthood was obsessed with ritual purity.  Among other things, no “imperfect” animals were allowed as sacrificial offerings, and no “imperfect” humans were allowed into the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred place within Herod’s temple, where it was claimed that God Himself communicated directly with the High Priest.  Among the imperfections proscribed from entry into the Holy of Holies was left-handedness!  Indeed, the ancient world was full of right-handed (pro-dextral, anti-sinistral) prejudices.  The very word “sinister” literally means “left-handed.”  Thus no left-handed kohane could serve as a priest within the ancient Jewish temple, his heritage notwithstanding.  (I’ve got the left-handed kohane blues!)  So it struck me that there could have been no more perfect and appealing back-story to our main character than that – the rebel left-handed kohane who was denied his birthright on account of a trivial physical characteristic, nevertheless saved his people from cultural oblivion.  If I write a Part IV to Gennebar Rising, I will probably use this theme somehow.

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