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The people of the Red Hand

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Some refugees seem to have migrated north into Europe via the Black Sea. Others from Troy migrated south to the area of Miletus (see Roberta Harris, The World of the Bible , 1995, map on p. 63). And still other Trojans appear to have traveled west—even all the way to Spain and France, some of them eventually migrating to Britain (see Appendix 5: “Brutus and the Covenant Land” ). And we know that Milesians also migrated to Spain from the Eastern Mediterranean at a later time—ending up in Ireland.

It is amazing that two royal lines from Zerah—the Trojan dynasty and the Athenian-Milesian dynasty—both passed through the Iberian Peninsula. Arriving here, these settlers may have sailed up the Ebro River and, upon its banks, founded the city of Saragossa—which some have identified as Hebrew Zerah-gaza , meaning “stronghold of Zerah.”

Strengthening the identification with Zerah is the fact that the Milesians rulers who assumed the Irish throne were known as the people of the “Red Hand.” In fact, the Red Hand appears even today on the official flag of Northern Ireland and on the coats of arms of many Irish and Scottish clans.

This “ancient regional emblem [is known as] the blood-red right hand of Ulster” (Idrisyn Evans, The Observer’s Book of Flags , 1959, 1975, p. 28)—Ulster being the northern province of Ireland through which the high kingship was later transferred to Scotland.

An old story explains the origin of Ulster’s heraldic symbol this way: “A quarrel arose between Eremon and Eber over the right to rule all Ireland and it continued through their descendants. Eremon and Eber, so legend has it, originally made a wager on which of them would reach Ireland first. Realizing that Eber was about to reach the shore before him, Eremon is said to have cut off his hand and thrown it onto the shore, claiming to have won the bet. Thereafter the O’Neill kings [of Eremon’s line, named after the Milesian ancestor Niul and a later king in this line named Niall] adopted a symbol of a Red Hand. But a hand reaching forth is a symbol of kingship, and the severed hand is a fanciful tale” (Ellis p. 228).

Yes, it makes for interesting storytelling—and would account for the blood-red hand. Yet it should be obvious that this event did not really happen—or at least did not happen this way. No ruling chieftain would have cut off his own hand to win a race unless he were insane—in which case he would likely have been deposed. If there is any truth in the story at all, we should recognize that instead of tossing his own hand ashore, Eremon had the emblem of the blood-red hand that represented him set up on shore before his competitor’s arrival—and possibly before his own arrival. Of course, this requires that Eremon already possessed the symbol of the blood-red hand before any supposed contest.

Thus, the Red Hand must have had an older origin. This becomes even more intriguing when we consider another factor in the history of the Red Hand. It is reported that Ulster’s emblem prior to the division of Ireland in 1920, when most of Ulster became the British state of Northern Ireland, was a blood-red hand circled by a scarlet cord.

Consider: A hand red with blood—perhaps the blood of birth—encircled by a scarlet cord. Surely this is no mere coincidence! According to a Northern Irish newspaper, “one tradition has it … that the Red Hand goes back to biblical time; when the twin sons were being born to Judah” (David Hume, “Did a Lost Tribe of Israel Land at Carrickfergus?,” Larne Times , Dec. 24, 1986). Indeed, the scarlet thread tied around Zerah’s hand would seem rather likely to be the origin of this emblem.

Scholar Peter Ellis, however, sees hints for the origins of the Ulster emblem in various Indo-European words for king. “The terminology is related—the Irish Ri(gh) compared to the Gaelish Celtic Rix , the Latin Rex and the Sanskrit Rajan (Hindi = raj ). Certainly the English king from the Gothic kunnings has no relationship, but a surprising harking back to the concept appears in the English words ‘rich’ and ‘reach.’ The ancient Indo-European concept was that a king reached forth his hand to protect his people. Also in Old Irish, for example, rige was not only the concept for kingship but also the word for the act of reaching … The Ui Neill’s ancient symbol of the Red Hand doubtless stems from this concept” (p. 25). Yet could it not be that the very idea of one reaching forth for kingship came from the story of Zerah reaching forth from the womb—especially considering that Israelites under Zarhite leaders were scattered across, and had a major influence over, the entire Indo-European geographical region?

Regarding the story of Zerah, the Larne Times article continues: “The Red Hand of Ulster is thus claimed in some circles to be symbolic of this event, and also considered symbolic is the fact that the ancient Knights of Ulster were the most distinguished in the history of the island. They were known as the Knights of the Red Branch.” Ellis says: “There are several orders of elite warrior corps mentioned in the sagas and chronicles of ancient Ireland. Perhaps the best known were the Ulster Red Branch Knights, or the Craobh Radh . They emerge in the Ulster Cycle of myths, especially in the famous epic Tain Bo Cualigne (Cattle Raid of Cooley), which has been compared with the Greek Iliad . Its date of origin is uncertain. Scholars have identified it as having been handed down in oral form probably from the La Tene period, from about 500 B.C.” (p. 338). Indeed, when viewed in conjunction with the Red Hand, might not the Red Branch represent the Zerah branch of Judah’s family?

This, then, provides us with even more reason to believe that the Milesian royal line of Ireland originated with Judah’s son Zerah.

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