Was there a Noah? Testimony from ancient Hindus & modern calendars … (Part 1)

The Epic of Gilgamesh, discovered in 1853, has been the subject of a lot of comparison and speculation over the decades since its discovery.  This epic is an ancient Babylonian poem-story of a righteous man who was saved from a flood by building a huge boat.  Because it is very ancient, and because the story is remarkably similar to the Biblical flood story of Noah, many had surmised and speculated that the Biblical account was borrowed or derived from this Mesopotamian account.  After all, Babylon was a center of civilization  at 2000 BC, and the patriarch Abraham came from there when he went on his journey that birthed the Hebrew nation and their book.  Would it not therefore be plausible that the Hebrews got the Biblical deluge story from the Epic of Gilgamesh?  This reasoning has become quite common, and thus the account of Noah has been dismissed as simply a re-hashed mythical story.

But to keep the issue framed in this way is far too simplistic because the trail of flood stories does not start or end with the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Since I have an interest in the ancient Sanskrit Rg Vedas of India (which I explore more systematically in Vedic Considerthegospel) I thought it would be apropos to consider their flood account. It is found in the ancient sanskrit Shatapatha Brahmana which describes how all mankind today comes from Manu who survived a great judgment of a flood that came because of human corruption, and he did so by seeking refuge in a huge boat.  From this story, we get the English word ‘man’.

Ancient Manu – from whom we get the English word ‘man’

If we look into the derivation of the English word ‘man’, it comes from proto-Germanic. The Roman historian Tacitus, living just after the time of Jesus Christ, among his many compilations, wrote a book of the history of the German people. In it he writes

In their old ballads (which amongst them are the only sort of registers and history) they celebrate Tuisto, a God sprung from the earth, and Mannus his son, as the fathers and founders of the nation. To Mannus they assign three sons, after whose names so many people are called (Tacitus. Germania Ch 2, written ca 100 AD)

Etymologists tell us that this ancient Germanic word ‘Mannus’ is a derivation of the Proto-Indo-European “manuh” (cf. Sanskrit manuh, Avestan manu-,). In other words, the English word ‘Man’ probably derives from Manu whom the Vedic Shatapatha Brahmana says we all come from!  Whether you know it or not, the account of Manu in the Vedas has affected your vocabulary.  So let us look at this person and see what we can learn. We start by summarizing the account in the Shatapatha Brahmana. There are a few renditions that have slightly different aspects to the account, so I will stick to the main themes.

The account of Manu in the Sanskrit vedas

In the Vedic accounts Manu was a righteous man, who sought truth. Because Manu was absolutely honest, he was initially known as Satyavrata (“One with the oath of truth”).

According to the Shatapatha Brahmana (click here to read the account in Shatapatha Brahmana), an avatar warned Manu of a coming flood. The avatar appeared initially as a Shaphari (a small carp) to Manu while he washed his hands in a river. The little Fish asked Manu to save Him, and out of compassion, he put it in a water jar. It kept growing bigger and bigger, until Manu put Him in a bigger pitcher, and then deposited Him in a well. When the well also proved insufficient for the ever-growing Fish, Manu placed Him in a huge tank.  As the Fish grew further Manu had to put it in a river, and when even the river proved insufficient he placed it in the ocean, after which it nearly filled the vast expanse of the great ocean.

It was then that the avatar informed Manu of an all-destructive deluge which would be coming very soon. So Manu built a huge boat which housed his family, 9 types of seeds, and animals to repopulate the earth, for after the deluge abated the oceans and seas would recede and the world would need to be repopulated with people and animals. At the time of the deluge, Manu fastened the boat to the horn of a fish which was also an avatar. His boat ended up, after the flood, perched on the top of a mountain. He then descended from the mountain and offered sacrifices for his deliverance. All peoples on earth today descend from him through his three sons.

The Biblical flood compared with the Vedic flood.

The biblical account of Noah and the flood is here.  As we compare the biblical account with that of the ancient Vedic account we can note the following features of the flood stories in common between the two accounts.

  • Mankind in a corrupt state
  • Divine judgment decreed
  • Judgment was by a flood
  • A Righteous man is given Divine warning
  • This man builds a large vessel and survives the flood
  • Animals were brought on board the vessel to repopulate the world after the flood
  • The Vessel lands on a high mountain after the flood
  • Sacrifices given after safely surviving the ordeal
  • Mankind today descends from the three sons of this man

It would seem that the convergence between these two ancient accounts is too strong to be due simply to chance.  Perhaps one account borrowed from the other?  But the account of Manu comes from South Asia, much further removed from Mesopotamia than the ancient Hebrews were, and being in Sanskrit, is in an unrelated language.  The “Bible got its flood story from the Epic of Gilgamesh” theory is much less straight-forward when you realize that there is also this ancient flood story from India to explain.

It turns out that it is not only these three flood accounts that exist.  As anthropologists have studied histories of cultures and language groups around the world, a rather remarkable common feature among many of them are their flood accounts.  The table below lists some of the flood accounts from different people groups around the world.

The Testimony of diverse Flood accounts – from around the world

Flood accounts from cultures around the world compared to the flood account in the Bible (From Nelson, The Deluge Story in Stone)

Flood accounts from cultures around the world compared to the flood account in the Bible (From Nelson, The Deluge Story in Stone)

Across the top shows various language groups living around the world – on every continent.   The cells in the chart denote whether the particular detail of the Biblical flood account (listed down the left of the chart) is also contained in their own flood account.  Black cells indicate that this detail is in their flood account, while blank cells indicate that this detail is not in their local flood account.  The left-most flood account (Assyrio-Babylonia1), which has all its cells black to indicate convergence with the Biblical account is the Epic of Gilgamesh.  The ‘India2’ is the account of Manu.

As you can see, the issue is not to explain simply these three accounts, for they are but the tip of the iceberg.  There are flood accounts from all continents, from peoples who would never have had contact with each other, who could not have ‘gotten’ their story from the Epic of Gilgamesh.  Almost all these groups had in common the ‘memory’ that the flood was a Judgment by the Creator but that some humans were saved in a huge boat.  In other words, the memory of a universal flood is not only found in the Sanskrit Vedas, Epic of Gilgamesh and the book of Genesis in the Bible, but in other cultural histories around the world and continents apart. It is absurd to postulate that all these borrowed their story from Mesopotomia.  The accounts are too spread out around the globe for that.

The simplest and most straight-forward way to explain the complete flood account data is to suggest that this event really did happen and these accounts are memories of that ancient event.  Perhaps indeed, there really was a Noah!  Perhaps that flood did happen as well!  This would also explain why the Chinese remember the events of Genesis in their calligraphy.  But these are radical suggestions to put forward in our day.  Is there any further data that can shed some light on this question?  You don’t have to look far back to find it.  You simply need to look at some other calendars that are in use around the world today and notice something peculiar about them.  We pick that up in our next post.

Does Evolution make sense in light of biology?

A few years ago I had the privilege to have a public discussion about evolution at McMaster University with Dr. Jonathan Stone who is a computational biologist, the professor at Mac who teaches biological evolution, and who is also the associate director of the Origins Institute at McMaster. We had the discussion recorded and I just got around to uploading it.

We had chosen beforehand to frame our discussion from a well-known quote coined by one of the leading evolutionary biologists of the 20th century – Dr. Theodosius Dobzhanksy. His pithy statement was:

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”

This declaration has made its way into almost every university textbook on evolution. So Jonathan and I thought that this statement would be an ideal one to frame our discussion around. He defended the proposition while I refuted it. We had 30 minutes each for our opening arguments and then shorter intervals where we could rebut the others’ points.

It was a pleasure to share the platform that night with Dr. Stone in a public venue on campus. Though we had opposite convictions on this issue I found him to be a gracious speaker who stuck to the issues.

For some time I have been wanting to put this up so that others interested in this topic can view our discussion. You can view the entire 97 minute event as one video here, or you can view it in chunks below since I broke the evening down into three main sections: Jonathan’s opening argument, my opening argument, and then our rebuttals. Unfortunately the last minute or so was cut off in the last video. I hope you find it that it stimulates your thinking on this topic.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

How were details of Christ’s death prophesied?

Christ’s “cut off” Predicted in detail by the Old Testament Prophets

In our last post we saw that Daniel had predicted that the ‘Christ’ would be ‘cut off’ after a specified cycle of years. This prediction of Daniel’s was fulfilled in the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem – there presented as Israel’s Christ – exactly 173 880 days after the Persian Decree to restore Jerusalem was issued. The phrase ‘cut off’ alluded to Isaiah’s imagery of the Branch shooting up from the seemingly dead stump. But what did he mean by it?

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

Isaiah had also written other prophecies in his book, using other themes apart from that of the Branch. One such theme was that of the coming Servant. Who was this ‘Servant’? What was he going to do? We look at one long passage in detail. I reproduce it exactly and in full here below, only inserting some comments of my own.

The Coming Servant. The complete passage from Isaiah 52:13-53:12

See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

We know that this Servant will be a human man because Isaiah refers to the Servant as a ‘he’, ‘him’, ‘his’, and that this is specifically looking forward in time, (from the phrases ‘will act..’, ‘will be raised up…’ and so on) so that this is an explicit prophecy. But what was it a prophecy about?

When the Jewish priests offered sacrifices for the Israelites they would sprinkle them with blood from the sacrifice – symbolizing that their sins were covered and would not be held against them. But here it says that the Servant will sprinkle ‘many nations’, so Isaiah is saying that in a similar way this Servant will also provide non-Jews for their sins like the Old Testament priests did for the Jewish worshipers. This parallels the prediction of Zechariah that the Branch would be a priest, uniting the roles of King and Priest, since only the priests could sprinkle blood. This global scope of ‘many nations’ follows those historical and verifiable promises made centuries beforehand to Abraham of ‘all nations’ being blessed through his offspring.

But in sprinkling the many nations the very ‘appearance’ and ‘form’ of the Servant is predicted to be ‘disfigured’ and ‘marred’. And though it is not readily clear what the Servant will do, one day the nations ‘will understand’.

53 Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He [The Servant] grew up before him [The LORD] like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Though the Servant would sprinkle many nations, he would also be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected’, full of ‘suffering’ and ‘familiar with pain’.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

The Servant will take ‘our’ pain. This Servant will also be ‘pierced’ and ‘crushed’ in ‘punishment’. This punishment will bring us (those in the many nations) ‘peace’ and heal us.

I write this on Good Friday. Secular as well as biblical sources tell us that on this day about 2000 years ago (but still 700+ years after Isaiah wrote this prediction) that Jesus was crucified. In doing that he was literally pierced, as Isaiah predicted the Servant would be pierced, with the nails of the crucifixion.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

We saw in Corrupted … missing the target, that a biblical definition of sin is missing the intended target. Like a bent arrow we go our ‘own way’.  This Servant will carry that same sin (iniquity) that we have brought forth.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth

The Servant will be like a lamb going to the ‘slaughter’. But he will not protest or even ‘open his mouth’. We saw in the Sign of Abraham that a ram that substituted for Abraham’s son. That ram – a sheep – was slaughtered. And Jesus was slaughtered on the same spot (Mount Moriah = Jerusalem). We saw in the Passover that a lamb was slaughtered on Passover – as Jesus was also slaughtered on Passover.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.

This Servant is ‘cut off’ from the ‘land of the living’. This is exactly the term Daniel used when he predicted what would happen to the Christ after he was presented to Israel as their Messiah. Isaiah predicts in more detail that ‘cut off’ means ‘cut off from the land of the living’ – i.e. death!  So, on that fateful Good Friday Jesus died, being literally ‘cut off from the land of the living’, just a few days after being presented as the Messiah in his Triumphant entry.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Though Jesus was executed and died as a criminal (‘assigned a grave with the wicked’), the gospel writers tell us that a rich man of the ruling Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea, took the body of Jesus and buried him in his own tomb (Matthew 19:60). Jesus literally fulfilled both sides of the paradoxical prediction that though he would be ‘assigned a grace with the wicked’, he would also be ‘with the rich in his death’.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand

This whole cruel death was not some terrible accident or misfortune. It was explicitly “the LORD’s will” to crush him. But why? Just as lambs in the Mosaic sacrificial system were offerings for sin so that the person giving the sacrifice could be held blameless, here the ‘life’ of this Servant is also an ‘offering for sin’. For whose sin? Well considering that ‘many nations’ would be ‘sprinkled’ (above) it is the sin of the peoples in the ‘many nations’. Those ‘all’ who have ‘turned away’ and ‘gone astray’. Isaiah is talking about you and me.

11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Though the passage of the Servant is gruesome here it changes tone and becomes very optimistic and even triumphant. After this terrible suffering (of being ‘cut off from the land of the living’ and assigned ‘a grave’), this Servant will see ‘the light of life’. He will come back to life?! I have looked at the issue of the resurrection. But here it is predicted. It is a vanishingly diminishing probability that the same man whose resurrection one can make a case for is the same person for whom it is predicted – along with these other predictions we have reviewed.

And in so ‘seeing the light of life’ this Servant will ‘justify’ many. To ‘justify’ is the same as giving ‘righteousness’. Remember that Abraham was ‘credited’ or given ‘righteousness’. In a similar way this Servant will justify, or credit, righteousness to ‘many’.

12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.

The passage of the Servant points so uncannily to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that some critics argue that the gospel narratives were essentially made up to ‘fit’ this Servant passage. But in his conclusion Isaiah defies these critics. The conclusion is not a prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection per se, but of the impact of this death many years after it. And what does Isaiah predict? This Servant, though he will die as a criminal, will one day be among the ‘great’. The gospel writers could not make this part ‘fit’ the gospel narratives since the gospels were only written a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion – when the impact of Jesus’ death was still in doubt.  Jesus was still the executed leader of a ‘pernicious superstition’ in the esteem of the world when the gospels were penned.  We sit now 2000 years later and see the impact of his death and realize how through the course of history this has made him ‘great’. The gospel writers could not have foreseen that. But Isaiah did. The Servant, also known as the Branch, through his voluntary sacrifice would begin to draw people to him – to worship him even – just as Jesus decreed would happen when he called unabashedly himself the ‘Son of Man’ at his trial before the Sanhedrin, and in so doing they would also find salvation.

How was Jesus’ name prophesied long before his birth?

Sign of the Branch Part 2: The Branch named ‘Jesus’ hundreds of years beforehand

In Part 1 we saw how Isaiah started a theme using the image of The Branch. Someone coming from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was predicted by Isaiah to come. Jeremiah followed on this theme by stating that this Branch would be known as the LORD (ie as in the Old Testament personal name for God) himself.

Zechariah continues The Branch

zechariah in historical old testament timelineZechariah lived 520 BC, just after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their first expulsion into Babylon, but while they were being ruled by the Persians. At that time the Jewish people were working to rebuild their destroyed temple and re-institute the Mosaic religious system. Zechariah’s contemporary was a man named Joshua, who was High Priest at that time, and was working to re-start the whole priestly system. Zechariah the prophet was working in tandem with his colleague Joshua the High Priest to provide leadership for the Jewish people. Here is what the LORD – through Zechariah- in a prophetic riddle, said of this Joshua:

‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch. See the stone I have set in front of Joshua!” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’ (Zechariah 3:8-9)

The Branch! Again! Building on the image started by Isaiah about 200 years before, and continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah picks up this theme of ‘The Branch’. But this time the Branch is also called ‘my servant’.  In some way the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BC, colleague of Zechariah, was symbolic of this coming Branch, but in what way? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD (“I will remove…”). This connects with obtaining ‘righteousness’ noted in the previous post. We will gain ‘righteousness’ by having the LORD remove our sins ‘in a single day’. How will that happen?

The Branch: Uniting Priest with King

We continue on three chapters in Zechariah and learn something astounding. To understand the following prophetic riddle, we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the Old Testament. None of the Davidic Kings could be priests (some of them got into trouble by trying), and conversely, some of the priests got in trouble by dabbling in kingly intrigue. The job of the priest was to mediate between God and man by offering animal sacrifices to God for forgiveness of sins, and the job of the King was to rule with justice from the throne. Both were crucial; both were distinct. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:

‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’ (Zechariah 6:9-13)

Once again our Branch is here. But now, against all previous precedence, the high priest in Zechariah’s day (Joshua) is to (symbolically) put on the kingly crown. Remember that in Zechariah 3 (above) Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’. Could it be that Joshua, the High Priest, in putting on the crown was ‘symbolic’ of a coming merger of the Kingly and Priestly roles? Into one person? And notice that Joshua, his very name, is the name of the Branch. What did that mean?

The name ‘Joshua’ IS the name ‘Jesus’

To understand this we need to review how the Old Testament was translated through history. I have written how around 250 BC the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek. This translation is today still in use and is called the Septuagint (or LXX). We saw that the title ‘Christ’ was first used in this Greek translation, and that ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’. (If you do not follow this please review here since this is crucial to what will follow).

'Joshua' = 'Jesus'. Both come from the Hebrew name 'Yhowshuwa'

‘Joshua’ = ‘Jesus’. Both come from the Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’

In exactly the same way we can follow the derivations of the name ‘Joshua’. As you can see in the figure above Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’ which was a common Hebrew name that meant ‘Jehovah saves’.  This (shown in Quadrant #1) is how Zechariah wrote his name in 520 BC.  This word was transliterated to ‘Joshua’ when the Old Testament was rendered into English (bottom half labelled #3). The translators of the LXX in 250 BC also transliterated that name when they translated the Old Testament into Greek. Their Greek transliteration was Iesous (Quadrant #2). Thus ‘Yhowshuwa’ of the Old Testament was called Iesous in the LXX. Jesus would have been called Yhowshuwa by his contemporaries but when the New Testament writers wrote his name in the Greek New Testament, they used the familiar ‘Iesous’ of the LXX. When the New Testament was rendered from the Greek to English ‘Iesous’ was transliterated (again) to our well-known ‘Jesus’ (bottom half labelled #3). Thus the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’. Both Jesus of the New Testament, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BC were called ‘Yhowshuwa’ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both names were ‘Iesous’. A Greek reader of the Old Testament LXX would recognize the name of Iesous (Jesus) as a familiar name in the Old Testament. We lose that ready connection since the name ‘Jesus’ appears out of the blue as it were.  But the name Jesus does have an Old Testament equivalent – Joshua.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Branch of Isaiah, Jeremiah & Zechariah

But now that we know this context, the prophecy of Zechariah should hit us like a bolt of lightning. Here we see a prediction, made in 520 BC, that the name of the coming Branch will be ‘Jesus’! When I saw this, I just had to sit up and take notice. This was just too ‘coincidental’ for me. Here was (and still is) a prophecy which named the coming Branch, and the name points directly to Jesus of Nazareth.

And this coming Jesus, according to Zechariah, would merge the roles of King and Priest. What was it again that the priests did? On behalf of the people they offered animal sacrifices to God for their forgiveness of sins. Just like Abraham did with his sacrifice on Mount Moriah, and Moses with the Passover lamb sacrifice, the priest covered the sins of the people through animal sacrifice. The coming ‘Jesus’ was going to perform a similar role so that the LORD could ‘remove the sin of this land in a single day’ – the day that this coming Priest Jesus would offer himself as a sacrifice, already pictured in the place of Mount Moriah and the time of year at the Passover. Sometime after fulfilling that role as Priest, this Branch Jesus would take up his throne (as per Psalm 2) and would thus be ‘a Priest on his throne’ – as stated exactly, precisely and verifiably by Zechariah about 500 years before Jesus walked this earth.

This interconnected degree of prophetic foretelling is nothing short of fantastic. Can you think of anyone else in all of history whose life was even as remotely foretold as Jesus of Nazareth’s was by the diverse Old Testament prophets? Zechariah’s naming of the Branch to be Jesus evades all the conspiracy theories of critics like Spong and Ehrman (who argue that the gospel writers made things up to fit the Old Testament) since the name of ‘Jesus’ of Nazareth is recorded outside the gospels. The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other writers about Jesus, both friend and foe, have always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’. I think that the only option open to us, if we do not accept this as a bona fida prophetic sign, is to ignore it and hope others do too. I have read plenty of critics like Spong and Ehrman who try to rationalize away the Old Testament prophecies in one way or another. They all just ignore this set of Branch prophecies.

Now I suppose they could rationalize that ‘Jesus’ was a reasonably common Jewish name, there certainly were other Jesus’s in Jewish history, so the name coincidence could possibly be due to chance. But let us think through the career of this Jesus of Nazareth. He certainly, as we saw, claimed to be a king; The King in fact. But everything that he accomplished while on earth was in fact priestly. The job of the priest was to take a lamb on behalf of the worshiping Jewish person, offer it to God, kill it, and the death and blood of that lamb would atone for the sin and guilt of that Jewish person. Even a superficial knowledge of the significance of the death of Jesus was that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. His death atones for the sin and guilt for any willing person. The sins of the land were literally removed ‘in a single day’ – the day Jesus died. In his life he alluded to his coming role as King while fulfilling all the requirements as Priest. He has brought harmony and unity to the two roles. The Branch, the one that David long ago called the ‘Messiah’, is in fact the Priest-King.

So exploring the theme of the Branch through the Old Testament should fill us with wonder. But it does not end there. Another Old Testament writer, sandwiched between Jeremiah and Zechariah in history predicted the time of his coming. We will look at that next time.

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