Was there an Adam? The Testimony of the Ancient Chinese

A number of the posts I have written have largely rested on the assumption that an ‘Adam’ existed. The posts, ‘The Final Countdown: Embedded in the Beginning’, ‘The Signature of the Virgin Birth’, ‘Corrupted (Part 1) … like Orcs of Middle-Earth’, ‘Corrupted (Part 2) … missing our Target’, ‘Why Would God allow suffering and Death?’ all mention Adam directly as having been a real person, while the Post, ‘In the Image of God’, alludes to him indirectly. Clearly Adam is an important person in the Gospel narrative. But of course this begs the question: Did he really exist? Was he a historical person or not?

HG Wells and CK Chesterton agree: This is an important question

Many leading thinkers and writers opposed to the Gospel have centered their skepticism and criticism of the whole Gospel narrative on precisely this question. You can see a good example of this in the following quote from HG Wells. He was mentored by well-known agnostic TH Huxley and became a famous science fiction writer (War of the Worlds, The Time Machine etc.) who profoundly influenced popular thinking in the 1st half of the 20th century. Here is how he framed this question:

‘If all the animals and man had been evolved in this ascendant manner, then there had been no first parents, no Eden, and no Fall. And if there had been no fall, then the entire historical fabric of Christianity, the story of the first sin and the reason for an atonement, upon which the current teaching based Christian emotion and morality, collapsed like a house of cards.’

Wells, H.G., The outline of history — being a plain history of life and mankind, Cassell & Company Ltd, London, UK, (the fourth revision), Vol. 2, p. 616, 1925.

GK Chesterton was an equally influential writer in the 1st half of the 20th century. Taking the opposite view from Wells you will notice though how he, like HG Wells, makes the Garden and Fall the tipping point upon which his thinking pivots. He writes:

Darwinism can be used to back up two mad moralities, but it cannot be used to back up a single sane one. The kinship and competition of all living creatures can be used as a reason for being insanely cruel or insanely sentimental; but not for a healthy love of animals … That you and a tiger are one may be a reason for being tender to a tiger. Or it may be a reason for being cruel as the tiger. It is one way to train the tiger to imitate you, it is a shorter way to imitate the tiger. But in neither case does evolution tell you how to treat a tiger reasonably, that is, to admire his stripes while avoiding his claws.

‘If you want to treat a tiger reasonably, you must go back to the garden of Eden. For the obstinate reminder continues to recur: only the supernaturalist has taken a sane view of Nature. The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a stepmother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.’

Chesterton, G.K., Orthodoxy, John Lane, London, pp. 204–205, 1927.

Testimony of ancient Chinese calligraphy

The question of Adam can be a Great Divide where subsequent ideas built on this foundational one leads one to widely diverging viewpoints, but most of us think that there is no information or data to go on in deciding whether there was an Adam or not. Many years ago I was introduced to a fascinating series of discoveries showing a link in Chinese calligraphy with the Genesis account. I have been sharing this with Chinese speakers over the years with continued enthusiastic response and interest. So I thought I would explain it in this post and then put it to a Google experiment.  In our spirit of ‘considering’ join with me in taking the time to consider Chinese calligraphy and Adam as well as following my experiment that I put the whole theory to by using the modern Google tools at our disposal. If nothing else, it promises to be interesting.

To understand the significance of these calligraphy discoveries we must first understand some background about Chinese (references used are at end of post). Written Chinese arises from the beginning of Chinese civilization, which dates back about 4200 years. This means that the Chinese script was developed about 700 years before Moses edited the book of Genesis (ca 1500 BC). We can recognize Chinese calligraphy when we see it. What many of us don’t know is that the ideograms or pictures of Chinese ‘words’ are constructed from simpler pictures called radicals. It is very similar to how in English we take simple words (like ‘fire’ and ‘truck’) and combine them into compound words (‘firetruck’). Chinese calligraphy has changed very little in thousands of years. We know this from script that is found on ancient pottery and bone artifacts. Only in the 20th century with the rise of the Chinese communist party has the script been simplified.  Today there is a simplified script and a traditional script, with the traditional script going far back in time.

So, for example, take the Chinese ideogram for the abstract concept ‘first’. It is shown here.

'First' in Chinese is a compound of 'alive' + 'dust' (or soil) + 'man'
‘First’ in Chinese is a compound of ‘alive’ + ‘dust’ (or soil) + ‘man’

This ideogram is really a compound of simpler radicals as illustrated.  You can see how these radicals are all found combined in the ideogram ‘first’.   The meaning of each of the radicals is also shown.  So what this means is that a long time ago (around 4200 years ago) when the first Chinese scribes were forming the Chinese calligraphy they joined radicals with the meaning of ‘alive’+’dust’/’soil’+’man’ => ‘first’.  But why?  What innate connection is there between ‘soil’ and ‘first’ for example?  There seems to be little, if any.  However, reflecting on the connection alongside the creation account is striking.

The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being  (Genesis 2:7).

The ‘first’ man (Adam) was made alive from dust!  But where did the ancient Chinese get this connection 700 years before Genesis was compiled?  Now consider the following:

Chinese: 'Dust' (or soil) + 'breath' + 'alive' = 'to talk'
Chinese: ‘Dust’ (or soil) + ‘breath’ + ‘alive’ = ‘to talk’

The radicals for ‘dust’ + ‘breath of mouth’ + ‘alive’ are combined to make the ideogram ‘to talk’.  But then ‘to talk’ is itself combined with ‘walking’ to form ‘create’.

Chinese: to talk + walking = to create
Chinese: to talk + walking = to create

But what is the innate connection between ‘dust’, ‘breath of mouth’, ‘alive’, ‘walking’ and ‘create’ that would cause the ancient Chinese to use this construction?  But this also bears a striking parallel with Genesis 2:7 cited above.

This parallel continues.  Notice how the ‘devil’ is formed from “man moving secretly in the garden”.

Chinese: Motion (or alive) + garden + man + private or secret = devil
Chinese: Motion (or alive) + garden + man + private or secret = devil

Garden!? What is the innate relationship between gardens and devils?  They have none at all.


Yet the ancient Chinese then built on this by then combining ‘devil’ with ‘two trees’ for ‘tempter’!

Chinese: 'Devil' + under 'cover' + '2 trees' = 'tempter'
Chinese: ‘Devil’ + under ‘cover’ + ‘2 trees’ = ‘tempter’

So the ‘devil’ under the cover of ‘two trees’ is the ‘tempter’. If I was going to make an innate connection to temptation I might relate it to a tempting woman, or a tempting vice. But why two trees? What does ‘gardens’ and ‘trees’ have to do with ‘devils’ and ‘tempters’? Compare now with the Genesis account:

The LORD God had planted a garden in the east… in the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:8-9)

Now the serpent was more crafty… he said to the woman, “Did God really say …” (Genesis 3:1)

To ‘desire’ or ‘covet’ is again connected with a ‘woman’ and ‘two trees’. Why not relate ‘desire’ in a sexual sense with ‘woman’? That would be a natural relation. But the Chinese did not do so.

Chinese desire=2trees+woman
Chinese: ‘woman’ + ‘2 trees’ = ‘covet’

To ‘desire’ or ‘covet’ is again connected with a ‘woman’ and ‘two trees’.  Why not relate ‘desire’ in a sexual sense with ‘woman’?  That would be a natural relation.  But the Chinese did not do so. The Genesis account though does show a relation between ‘covet’, ‘two trees’ and ‘woman’.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband (Genesis 3:6)

Consider another remarkable parallel. The Chinese ideogram for ‘big boat’ is shown below. The radicals that construct this ideogram are also shown:

Chinese: Big boat = 'eight' + 'persons' + 'vessel'
Chinese: Big boat = ‘eight’ + ‘persons’ + ‘vessel’

They are ‘eight’ ‘people’ in a ‘vessel’. If I was going to depict a big boat why not have 3000 people in a vessel. Why eight? Interesting, in the biblical account of the flood there are eight people in Noah’s Ark (Noah, his three sons and all their wives).

The Ancient Chinese Border Sacrifice to ShangTi – Emperor in Heaven

The Chinese also had perhaps one of the longest running ceremonial traditions that have ever been conducted on earth. From the start of the Chinese civilization (about 2200 BC), the Chinese emperor on the winter solstice always sacrificed a bull to Shang-Ti (‘Emperor in Heaven’, i.e. God). This ceremony was kept up through all the dynasties that the Chinese civilization had. In fact it was only terminated less than a hundred years ago in 1911 when general Sun Yat-sen overthrew the last emperor of the Qing dynasty and China became a republic. This ceremony was conducted annually in the ‘Temple of Heaven’, which is now a high profile tourist attraction in Beijing. So for over 4000 years a bull was sacrificed every year by the Chinese emperor to the Heavenly Emperor. But why? Confucius (551-479 BC) asked this very question. He said:

“He who understands the ceremonies of the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth… would find the government of a kingdom as easy as to look into his palm!”

In other words, what Confucius was saying was that anyone who could unlock that mystery would be wise enough to run the kingdom. So from when the Border Sacrifice (as it was called) began (c.a. 2200) to the time of Confucius (c.a. 500 BC) the significance of the sacrifice had been lost to the Chinese – even though they kept up the tradition another 2400 years to 1911 AD.

Perhaps, if the significance behind the construction of their calligraphy had not also been lost Confucius could have found an answer to his question. Consider the radicals used to construct the word for ‘righteous’.

Chinese: 'dagger' + 'hand' + 'sheep' = 'righteousness'
Chinese: ‘dagger’ + ‘hand’ + ‘sheep’ = ‘righteousness’

Righteousness is a compound of ‘sheep’ on top of ‘me’. And ‘me’ is a compound of ‘hand’ and ‘lance’ or ‘dagger’. It conveys the idea that my hand will kill the lamb and result in my righteousness. The sacrifice or death of the lamb in my place gives me righteousness.

When one reads Genesis one is struck by the animal sacrifices that occur long before the Jewish sacrificial system is started. For example, Abel (Adam’s son) and Noah are offering sacrifices (Genesis 4:4 & 8:20). It seems that early humankind had an understanding that animal sacrifices were pictures to help them understand that a death to substitute for theirs was necessary for righteousness.  But though the ancient Chinese seemed to have started with this understanding, they had lost it by Confucius’ day.  This use of animal sacrifice as a picture to understand the eventual sacrifice of Jesus was forgotten except in the uniquely Mosaic patriarchal accounts of Abraham and Passover.

The parallels between the early Genesis chapters and Chinese calligraphy are remarkable. In my next post I look at some possible explanations and the results of my little Google experiment.

The calligraphy in this post is taken from:

The Discovery of Genesis.  C.H. Kang & Ethel Nelson.  1979

Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldn’t Solve.  Ethel Nelson & Richard Broadberry. 1994

9 thoughts on “Was there an Adam? The Testimony of the Ancient Chinese”

  1. It is breathtaking. The world is thinking together in harmorny , to unravel the mysteries of the past to fathom the workings of God in the past – to feel his presence now. Maranatha, I am a Catholic Christian. Alleluia Tiny A D

  2. This is incredible stuff. Have you had any Chinese experts give some more recent corroboration to this analysis? I’ve found the same material on a couple of other sites but they all seem to go back to these two books you cite. I don’t want to doubt they’re good quality scholarship. And I completely believe in a historical Adam and the memory of him throughout all cultures so I’m very inclined to agree… but it’d be great to see something form a non-Christian Mandarin linguist on this. Warm regards in Adam#2

    1. HI Andy
      (Sorry for late reply). These authors have other books but they have taken the lead. I do not know of other authors. I have shown this to many Chinese people and they see the connection. I think the question is really if my hypothesis (that this is a memory back to Adam) the only or best explanation. Some counter it is just coincidence or something like that. But there are also other cultures that have other memories that go back in other ways. Multiple cultures around the world have distant memories or legends of a flood that once deluged the world. I have not written about that yet but there are thee other independent ‘memories’ that are best explained (I think) by positing the historicity of early Genesis.

      Thanks for your comment

  3. Very interesting! I need to add one point though, it is commonly agreed that Eve was the one who began the process of eating the forbidden fruit, and that Adam followed her. Because I am a woman ( and biased to my gender for sure, LOL) I did not feel comfortable with the idea. I felt it was a kind of dumping guilt on the weaker gender. In the Holy Qur’an, it addresses Adam as the responsible partner for eating the fruit, even though Eve was also blamed. I mean that there is no proof she was the leader to the sin, only a partner who willingly agreed to go into this experience.

    1. Hi, thanks for your comment. The thrust of the article is to explore whether there is historical evidence for Adam & Eve (and I argue that there is). The Bible does recount that Eve first ate the fruit but in terms of blame, it actually goes to the man. Consider Romans 5:12

      Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned

      The ‘one man’ here is Adam. Similarly in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 it says

      For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

      Again Adam (not Eve) is held responsible.

    2. The way I see it, they were both to be tested! It had to be Eve first since she represented the flesh, the physical creation, while Adam represented the spiritual creation. Eve was subject to the five physical senses,therefore naked in the spiritual senses, Adam was the opposite subject to the spiritual senses, and naked in the physical senses.

      1Now the serpent was more subtle than any of the beasts of the earth…..

      Satan is related to the physical senses, and he had to tempt Eve.

      Eve made use of the five senses and ate of the fruit.

      Also Eve, the flesh, was subject to Adam, the soul, while Adam was subject to the spirit, God, but as soon as he became subject to Eve, he lost God’s image and likeness and spiritually died, and became totally subject to Eve’s then sinful mortal flesh and blood body,

  4. perfect material for defense against modern controversy to the historic truth of God’s creation; this is a masterpiece and i enjoyed its content which has stepped up my believe in the creation rather than evolution.

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