Le corps de la mère (Robertson Smith)

Enric Porqueres
séminaire du Jeudi 12 janvier 2017

William Robertson Smith (1846–1894), Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia (Cambridge University 1885); second edition, with additional notes by the Author and by Professor Ignaz Goldziher, Budapest, and edited with an introduction by Stanley A. Cook (London: A. & C. Black, 1903).

William Robertson Smith, Lectures on the Religion of the Semites. First Series. The Fundamental Institutions (London: Adam & Charles Black 1889); second edition [posthumous], edited by J. S. Black (1894).

1 / La matrice au fondement de la parenté

Les groupes totémiques sémitiques étaient fondamentalement matrilinéaires. Dans Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia comme dans Lectures on the Religion of the Semites, la filiation utérine était placée au centre du travail de reconstitution de la société sémite pré-historique. Dans Kinship and Marriage, l'auteur note d'abord que le mot arabe pour matrice désignait la parenté.

Kinship and Marriage, 32: But the personification of the tribal unity as mother of the stock is not an arbitrary fiction of later poets; it is one of the old standing figures of Semitic speech. In Hebrew em is "mother" but also "stock, race, community" […]; in Arabic omm is mother, and the derived senses are expressed by omma ["community"]. So again the bonds of kinship are expressed alike in Arabic and in Hebrew by the words re'hem, rahim, the womb […] /33/ It appears then that mother-kinship is the type of kinship, common motherhood the type of kindred unity, which dominate all Semitic speech.

Il se demande si les liens du sang ne pourraient pas être fondés sur un autre principe que la parenté, et il établit une relation de cause à effet entre sang et parenté en prenant pour fondement le corps de la mère, d'où viennent la nourriture (nourishment), la participation à une même chair et un même sang, et finalement la parenté.

Kinship and Marriage, 175: It is necessary to inquire whether perhaps at one time people could reckon themselves of one blood for some other reason than that of parentage. There are some facts which seem at first sight to make it conceivable that they could.

Unity of blood, as we saw in the symbolic act of drinking blood in order to create brotherhood, is to the thinking of early man no metaphor but a physical fact. The members of one kin regard themselves as parts of a physical unity; the hayy or kin is, so to speak, one living whole. Unity of blood is merely a synecdochic expression for this; strictly speaking, the kindred are not only of one blood but of one flesh. Thus we have seen from Hamdani that in certain parts of Arabia lahm, "flesh," means a clan (batn); and generally in Arabic lohma means kinship or kindred, just as in Hebrew "thou art our bone and our flesh" means "thou art our kinsman," and in Lev. 25.49 "flesh" is explained by the synonym mispahah, or "clan," Now there is at least one way in which community of flesh and blood may /176/ be established after birth in a way not merely symbolical, viz. by fosterage. The suckling draws his nourishment directly from his nurse, and in fact the Arabs sometimes call milk "flesh" […]. In this way there is a real unity of flesh and blood between foster-mother and foster-child, or between foster-brothers; and so we find among the Arabs a feeling about milk-kinship so well established that Mohammed's law of forbidden degrees gives it all the effects of blood-relationship as a bar to marriage. We see, however, that the recognition of milk-kinship rather makes for than against the position that all kinship was originally through women; generally speaking the mother and the nurse are one, and the bond of birth is confirmed by the continued dependence of the suckling on the nourishment that it draws from the mother's body.

Quite apart from this, however, the Arabs attached the greatest importance to the bond created between men by eating together. "There was a casama (sworn alliance) between the Lihyan and the Mostalic, they ate and drank with one another" (Diw. Hodh. 87). "O enemy of God, wilt thou slay this Jew? Much of the fat on thy paunch is of /177/ his substance " (Ibn Hisham, p. 553 sq.). The bond created by eating of a man's food is not simply one of gratitude, for it is reciprocal: Zaid al-Khail refuses to slay the thief who had surreptitiously drunk from his father's milk-bowl the night before (Agk. 16 51). It seems rather to be due to a connection thought to exist between common nourishment and common life.

At the same time we can hardly look on this idea as equally primitive with the idea that those who are born of the same womb and have sucked the same breast share the same life derived from the mother; and at any rate the fact that rahim, womb, is the most general Arabic word for kinship shews clearly enough that the argument which has led us to regard kinship through the mother as the earliest and universal type of blood-relation is not false. When, therefore, we find such a maxim as "Thy true son is he who drinks thy morning draught," we must regard this as a secondary principle, not older than the rise of relationship through the father, and really confirming the view that mother-kinship is older than fatherhood. The share of the begetter in his son's blood is so little considered that the mere act of procreation does not make a bond between the father and the child to whom he has never given the /178/ morning draught, but the mother both bears and feeds the child of her own blood. The father's morning draught given to his boy acquires the same significance in constituting kinship as mother's milk had formerly done, after the weight formerly given to the bond of motherhood is transferred to fatherhood. Procreation and nurture together make fatherhood, but the first is too weak without the second.

2 / Religion et parentèle ou groupe de parenté (kindred)

Dans Religion of the Semites, la religion s'adresse à la parentèle et aux amis, c'est affaire de la communauté. Le lien de paternité entre la divinité tribale et la famille ou le clan est à la fois physique et moral et le concept de participation (mot récurrent dans cet ouvrage) enveloppe les deux aspects. La thèse selon laquelle la religion originelle était le groupe de parenté a influencé Durkheim.

Religion of the Semites, 40: The relation of a father to his children has a moral as well as a physical aspect, and each of these must be taken into account in considering what the fatherhood of the tribal deity meant in ancient religion. In the physical aspect the father is the being to whom the child owes his life, and through whom he traces kinship with the other members of his family or clan. The antique conception of kinship is participation in one blood, which passes from parent to child and circulates in the veins of every member of the family. The unity of the family or clan is viewed as a physical unity, for the blood is the life…

Religion of the Semites, 47: There are many evidences that all Arabic deities were originally the gods of particular kins, and that the bond of religion was originally coextensive with the bond of blood.

A main proof of this lies in the fact that the duties of blood were the only duties of absolute and indefeasible sanctity. The Arab warrior in the ages immediately preceding Islam was very deficient in religion in the ordinary sense of the word; he was little occupied with the things of the gods and negligent in matters of ritual worship. But he had a truly religious reverence for his clan, and a kinsman's blood was to him a thing holy and inviolable. This apparent paradox becomes at once intelligible when we view it in the light of the antique conception, that the god and his worshippers make up a society in which the same character of sanctity is impressed on the relations of the worshippers to one another as on their relations to their god. The original religious society was the kindred group, and all the duties of kinship were part of religion. And so even when the clan-god had fallen into the background and was little remembered, the type of a clan-religion was still maintained in the enduring sanctity of the kindred bond.

3 / Nourriture partagée, constitutive de la parenté

Le sacrifice n'est pas un tribut offert aux dieux mais un acte de communion, qui confirme le lien de parenté, c'est-à-dire la participation des membres du groupe de parenté (kindred) à une masse commune de chair, de sang et d'os.

Religion of the Semites, 274: Now, if kinship means participation in a common mass of flesh, blood and bones, it is natural that it should be regarded as dependent, not merely on the fact that a man was born of his mother's body, and so was from his birth a part of her flesh, but also on the not less significant fact that he was nourished by her milk. And so we find that among the Arabs there is a tie of milk, as well as of blood, which unites the foster-child to his foster-mother and her kin. Again, after the child is weaned, his flesh and blood continue to be nourished and renewed by the food which he shares with his commensals, so that commensality can be thought of (1) as conflrming or even (2) as constituting kinship in a very real sense.

Religion of the Semites, 289: Indeed in a religion based on kinship, where the god and his worshippers are of one stock, the principle of sanctity and that of kinship are identical. The sanctity of a kinsman's life and the sanctity of the godhead are not two things, but one; for ultimately the only thing that is sacred is the common tribal life, or the common blood which is identified with the life. Whatever being partakes in this life is holy, and its holiness may be described indifferently, as participation in the divine life and nature, or as participation in the kindred blood.

Religion of the Semites, 344: We may now take it as made out that, throughout the Semitic field, the fundamental idea of sacrifice is not that of a sacred tribute, but of communion between the god and his worshippers by joint participation in the living flesh and blood of a sacred victim.