King David was a lad! The famous Jewish king was, in the most Irish sense, a lad. It may come as a surprise to many, perhaps an unwelcome surprise, but, red hair is an ancient Jewish tradition. It began with the grandson of Abraham, Esau, twin brother of Jacob.
At the birth of the two brothers, “the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment.” (Genesis 25:25.) “And they called his name Esau. In Biblical Hebrew, עשו(‘é-sâv) means rough, to the touch, referencing the thick hair. It almost sounds like a case of hypertrichosis, or perhaps hirsutism. Superstition of course associated this malady with lycanthropy, or the werewolf condition. Esau, we must observe, was said to be a great hunter.
To our knowledge, there is no other Mesopotamian tale, myth, or god, which features red hair. The Greek poet Xenophanes (ca. 570-475 BC) described the Thracian people as blue-eyed, with red hair, but that’s half a millennium after the text of Samuel (depicting David as a red head), and depending on when one dates the text Genesis, nearly a millennium later. Of course, to take Genesis to be reality, Esau’s time would have been somewhere in the 19th century BC. Homer’s Iliad describes Menelaus and Achilles as red headed, but this is only 8th century BC.
Laura, with her babies. Ain’t it a beaut!
In modern times, red haired hypertrichosis was featured in portraits of Georg Hoefnegel in the late 16th century AD. He painted the family of Petrus Gonsalvus of the Canary Islands. Gonsalvus had come to Paris, for social refinement. His case was temporarily studied by Dr. Felix Plater in Basel. Gonsalvus had two children, both of whom inherited his condition (and were portrayed by Hoefnegel as well).
Petrus Gonsalvus, a later portrait. First
Hoefnegel sketches date back to 1582.
Red hair results from a recessive gene, certainly, melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R), to be graphic about it, on chromosome 16. The pigment pheomelanin gives red hair its distinctive colour. It comes through an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance.
Esau also came to be called Edom, or ‘rosey,’ ruddy or reddish–because he craved some red pottage (lentils) his brother had cooked. The descendants of Esau are named in Genesis 36. They dwelt to the southeast of Palestine, or Cana’an.
David was born about 1030 BC. He was “ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to” (I Samuel 16:12). Ruddy means more than a rosey-cheeked boy. The Hebrew is ארמים (‘admônîy), meaning red, or reddish, of the hair or complexion. Clearly, David was a spectacular specimen. Something odd, or perhaps even freakish. Certainly, he stood out. (Perhaps this is part of the reason his family had hidden him away out in the sheep fields. When we are introduced to him, he is but eight or nine years old.)
Even today, but 1 to 2% of the human population has red hair. It is an anomaly. It is usually associated with the Celtic peoples, particularly the Irish. Linguistically, least, this includes the Gauls. Now, considering the red heads found among the mummies of the Takla Makan desert of western China, we have to say, this Celtic race got around!
Red headed woman, ca. 1000 BC, Takla Makan tombs,
discovered in the late 1980’s.
The white race is understood to have descended from Noah’s son, Shem (see, Genesis 10:22-32). Of course, the term “Semite” is derived from the name Shem. A “shemite” would be a descendant of Noah’s son Shem, as opposed to the other two sons, Japeth and Ham (traditionally understood to have fathered the Mogoloid and Negroid races respectively).
Now, we can’t say the Irish are Jewish, but, we might say that the ancient Hebrews were the originators of red hair. It happened in them first, as far as any records anywhere show. The argument of red hair is a powerful one, but, as far as I know, has not been used to support the ‘anti-Semitic’ notion that the Celts are the true Hebrew people, and the people Hitler tossed in the ovens were some mistaken pretenders. This business is better known as the Khazar theory, rejected by today’s Jews, of course.
We can’t say for sure that the Irish are the real Jews, but, we can say that the real Jews ‘invented’ red hair. The latter is a lot more likely. Until anthropologists, mythologists, and scholars can find evidence that red hair was distinguished first in some ancient culture other than Hebrew, the Jews have it. Red hair belongs to the grandson of Abraham, Esau.
And to think, Baruch Halpern’s eminent work, David’s Secret Demons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), the most current scholarship on the text of Samuel, doesn’t even mention the red hair! (See, pp. 18, 19.)