Did Moses write the Torah?

Two events happened this month that show the depth and breadth of a question that has been burning for over one hundred years: Did Moses really write the Torah?

What is the Torah? Who wrote it?

The first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) are collectively referred to as the Torah (by Jews), the Pentateuch (by Christians/Westerners) and the Taurat (by Muslims). The fact that all three monotheistic faiths acknowledge these writings show their cultural, historical and religious significance. Countless Jewish, Christian and Islamic scholars have referenced these writings down to our day. Jesus quoted liberally from the Torah throughout the gospels.  Even as different scholars from various sects battled each other over interpretation, they had all agreed on one thing – that Moses had indeed written the Torah approximately 1500-1400 BC.

Moses and the Documentary Hypothesis

But that changed in the late 19th century when western scholars advanced a bold new idea: Moses did not write the Pentateuch, instead it developed at a much later time from pre-existing writings that were edited together by unknown editors.  Known as the Documentary Hypothesis, it proposed that material from at least 4 authors, termed J (for Jehovah), E (for Elohim), D (for Deuteronomic) and P (for Priestly) had started being compiled during the Davidic monarchy (9th Century BC) and after centuries was finalized upon the Jewish return from exile sometime in the 5th century BC. In this view the Torah was solely a human product from unknown sources, put together by further unknown compilers.

The Documentary Hypothesis was advanced by Wellhausen (1844-1918) using two main arguments. First, he alleged that writing did not exist way back in 1500 BC, mankind was too primitive then and therefore the Torah could not have been written at such an early date. (Writing going back much further than 1500 BC has been discovered since, e.g. the Ebla tablets dating past 2000 BC. So this first argument is clearly not valid anymore)  He also brought to attention the fact that there were two names for God in the Torah. The first, Elohim, is often translated in English Bibles today as ‘God’, and the other – Yahweh – is often translated as ‘LORD God’. You can see that ‘God’ (Elohim) is used in Genesis 1 but at Genesis 2:4 it switches to ‘LORD God’ (Yahweh). As you read through the Torah it switches back and forth. Wellhausen argued that this was internal evidence of two different sources from two different authors (designated J and E) which were later collated into one document. The theory soon demanded more authors and so D and P were added (and in variant theories many more as well).

Modern scholarship and Moses

While the specifics of the documentary hypothesis have been critiqued by those advocating new theories, what is now almost universally agreed is that the Torah is the work of many people, and its development spanned centuries, only reaching the form that it is in today somewhere around 500 BC. “Certainly Moses in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC had nothing to do with it”, say modern scholarship.

William Dever & the Pentateuch

Consider the following quotes from William Dever, a well-known Biblical archaeologist:

“It is universally agreed that the book of Deuteronomy is a later addition to the Pentateuch (probably it was inserted not earlier than the late 7th century B.C.).”  Dever 2003 Who were the Early Israelites and where did they come from? p. 37

Of course, if the first books of the Bible were written much later then this means that all subsequent ones come later as well. In fact the whole timeline of the Old Testament is affected. Consider how Dever evaluates the book of Joshua, the account of Moses’ immediate successor.

We have already discussed the general character of the “Deuteronomic history” (that is , Deuteronomy through II Kings) of which Joshua is a critical component. We noted that mainstream scholars date the composition and first editing of this great national epic toward the end of the Israelite Monarchy, probably during the reign of Josiah (640 – 609 BC). But the compilers must have had many separate ‘sources’ so we need to look now more closely at the special character of the sources that went into the making of the book of Joshua (Obviously Joshua himself did not write it!)  p.38

The tone and the assertion are identical to what I learned when I took a university course on the Bible. All scholars ‘know’ that the traditional author could not have written the book. It ‘obviously’ was written hundreds of years later during the time of the Davidic dynasty. But how do they ‘know’ this?

The Torah, Dead Sea Scrolls, & Top Events in Human History

This brings us to the two events this month which bear on our question. A few weeks ago the Israeli Antiquities Authority put on public display, for the first time ever, the world’s oldest existing copy of the Ten Commandments – arguably the cornerstone of the Torah – as one of a 14-part exhibit “tracing history’s most pivotal moments”. In other words, the museum people concluded that the issuing of the Ten Commandments was in the Top 14 of humanity’s most important events. That’s pretty big.

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The Ten Commandments in the Dead Sea Scrolls – part of the Torah

As part of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection, the oldest copy of the Ten Commandments is about 2000 years old and so brittle with age that it can only be on display for a few weeks. It is old, but at 2000 years of age it is so young compared to dates of 1500 BC (traditional date of the Torah) and 500 BC (modern scholarship date) that it is not helpful in answering the question of who wrote the Torah. The time horizon is too deep for even the oldest copy to help answer the question of who wrote those Commands that are in the ‘Top 14’.

The Pentateuch in Palmyra

Deuteronomy inscription in Palmyra

Deuteronomy inscription in Palmyra

Also this month, the Islamic State capture of Palmyra in the bloody war in Syria has made headlines around the world. When the Islamic State captures a city there is always concern for atrocities, but Palmyra has an added worry in that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre due to its preserved ruins of bygone civilizations.  Included amongst the Persian, Greek and Roman artefacts, carved on one of the ancient doorways is preserved the opening verses of the Jewish Shema prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4-9. This shows the widespread influence of the Pentateuch, and its great antiquity.  However, these ancient carvings are still not old enough to shed any light on the origins of the Pentateuch.

‘Jerusalem’, ‘Zion’, the Jews & the Torah: Only Moses could pass over that

You might think that with the relevant textual and archaeological data too recent to be of use, and with modern scholars engrossed in competing theories which are united only in their assertions against Moses, that the question is hopeless to answer.  The religious (Jew, Christian or Muslim) can only answer ‘Moses’ on pious grounds, while the secular, looking for a non-religious reasons for the development of the Pentateuch, must fall back on complex speculations.

But actually, there is a very simple and straightforward way to gain some clarity.  And with internet search capabilities you can do it. Do a search through the Torah and see if you can find the word ‘Jerusalem’. This will do it for you. As you can see, the word ‘Jerusalem’ only appears first in Joshua.  Thus, through the whole Pentateuch, from Genesis to Deuteronomy the word ‘Jerusalem’ is never used. Jerusalem is today, and has been for millennia, the center of the Jewish world.  Its significance to the Jewish people is like that of Mecca for Muslims, or like Rome for Catholics. This is why the word ‘Jerusalem’ appears a full 655 times through the Old Testament and 146 times in the New Testament. It appears 229 times in Kings-Chronicles – but never in the Torah.  Its synonym ‘Zion’ also does not appear even once in the Torah, making its first appearance only in 2 Samuel.  Yet by the end of the Old Testament ‘Zion’ is used 161 times. Consider an excerpt from one of the Psalms from the period of the exile (6th century BC) and get a feel for how important Jerusalem/Zion was to the Jewish people then.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy. (Psalm 137: 1-6)

Jerusalem, founded by the Davidic dynasty, quickly became the sacred heartland for the Jews after the first Temple was built (ca 960 BC). It still is today. Yet modern scholars, no matter which Documentary version they push for, would have us believe that editor ‘Priests’ consciously edited, collated and massaged the entire Torah, over the centuries when their attachment to Jerusalem was at its height – and they produced the entire 80000 word Torah without ever using the words ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Zion’ even once! These ‘editors’ were living in Jerusalem while this editing was going on.  And this while they were concurrently compiling the other books (Kings, Chronicles, Samuel etc) that use ‘Jerusalem’ over 600 times and ‘Zion’ over 100 times!

I find my faith to be way too small and way too weak to believe such an utterly fantastic idea.  Revionist scholars, for whatever reason, fail to note these obvious yet simple facts standing right before their eyes. They claim to be able to observe and interpret facts as minute as fernseeds, yet they cannot see the elephant in the room.  The Pentateuch, with its absolute silence on both ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Zion’ must have been finalized before the rise of the monarchy in 1000 BC. A pseudo-Moses editorial team would not have passed over the opportunity to use ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Zion’ in compiling their Torah while Jerusalem was their keystone.

Though the absolute absence of ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Zion’ from the Torah does not prove that Moses wrote the Torah per se, it proves that its composition comes before the Jewish establishment of Jerusalem and thus it dismantles, in one stroke, all the modern theories which place its composition in the 5th century BC. The only one left standing when the dust settles from the collision of clever theories with one good fact is Moses.

The Noah Controversy: Could that Flood have happened?

Russel Crowe starring in Noah

Russel Crowe starring in Noah

Today movie theaters worldwide open with one of the most anticipated blockbusters of 2014 – “Noah”.  Not only is there a lot of hype surrounding the movie but a lot of controversy as well.  Critics are questioning how faithfully the plotline follows the biblical account – with Russell Crowe (who stars as Noah) trying – and failing – to get the Pope’s personal stamp of approval for the film.  In the Islamic world several countries are banning the movie since it visually depicts a prophet – which is forbidden in most Islamic interpretations.  But all these hullabaloos are merely minor hiccups compared to a much deeper and longer-running controversy – did such a worldwide flood really happen?  That’s a question worth considering.

I have shown how multiple cultures around the world have a memory of a great flood leaving only a handful of survivors from which they descended.  There is anthropological and historical evidence for a ‘Noah’.  But are there any physical evidences of ‘his’ flood around in the world today?

The Power of Moving Flood Water seen in Tsunamis

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The Tsunami hits the coast of Japan in 2011

Let’s start by surmising what such a flood would have done to the earth.  For sure, a flood of that scope would involve unimaginable quantities of water moving at great speeds and depths over continental distances.  Large quantities of water moving at high speeds have a lot of kinetic energy (KE = ½ * mass * velocity2).   This is why floods are so destructive.  When we saw the pictures of the 2011 Tsunami that devastated Japan, we saw how kinetic water energy can cause extensive damage, easily picking up and moving large objects like cars, homes and boats – and crippling nuclear reactors in its path.

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That tsunami showed how the energy of a few ‘big’ waves could move and destroy almost everything in their path

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Floods and Sedimentary Rock

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A flooding river in Ecuador. The water is brown because the fast moving water is carrying a lot of dirt – sediment.

Thus, when water increases its speed it will start to pick up and transport sediment – particles of dirt, sand, rocks and boulders.

This is why swollen and flooding rivers are brown – they are loaded with sediment (soil and rock) that has been picked up from the surface over which the water is traveling.

Aerial view in New England showing brown flood water entering ocean. It is brown from the sediments

Aerial view in New England showing brown flood water entering ocean. It is brown from the sediments

sediment will sort into layers based on particle size even in a 'dry' flow

sediment will sort into layers based on particle size even in a ‘dry’ flow

When water starts to slow down and loses its kinetic energy it then drops this sediment which is deposited in laminar layers resulting in a particular kind of rock.

Japan tsunami 2011. Sediment laid down during tsunami flooding.2011-tsunami-sediment

Sediments from the 2011 Japan Tsunami showing pancake-like layers – this is the signature for sedimentary rock – rock that was laid down by moving water. Taken from British Geological Survey website

This kind of rock is known as sedimentary rock and is easily recognized by its trademark pancake-like layers that are stacked upon one another.  The figure below shows sedimentary layers about 20 cm thick (from the measuring tape) that were deposited from the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Sedimentary rock from Tsunami that hit Japan in 859 AD

Sedimentary rock from a tsunami that hit Japan in 859 AD. It also produced sedimentary rock about 20-30 cm thick. Taken from British Geological Survey website

 

 

 

 

 

Tsunamis and river floods leave their signatures behind in these sedimentary rocks long after the flood has receded and things have turned back to normal.

Sedimentary Strata around the World

So, do we find sedimentary rocks that are, in a similar way, signature markers for the Noahic deluge that the Bible claims happened?  When you ask that question and you start to look around you will see that our planet is literally covered in sedimentary rock.  You will notice this type of pancake-layer rock on highway cut-a-ways.  What is different about this sedimentary rock, when you compare it with the sedimentary strata that were produced by the devastating tsunami of Japan in 2011 is the sheer size – both laterally across the earth and in vertical thickness of sedimentary layers.  Below are some photos that I have taken of sedimentary rocks as I have traveled.

Mountains of Sedimentary rock in hinterlands of Morocco

Sedimentary formations in the hinterlands of Morocco that extend for many kilometers and are hundreds of meters thick vertically

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Sedimentary rock in Joggins, Nova Scotia. The layers are tilted about 30 degrees and are stacked vertically more than a kilometer deep.

 

The escarpment in Hamilton Ontario shows vertical sedimentary rock many meters thick

The escarpment in Hamilton Ontario shows vertical sedimentary rock many meters thick. This is part of the Niagara escarpment which extends for hundreds of miles.

 

This escarpment extends for hundreds of miles. This sedimentary formation covers a good part of North America

This sedimentary formation covers a good part of North America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sedimentary formations on a drive through US MidWest

Sedimentary formations on a drive through the US Midwest

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Note the cars (barely visible) for scale to compare with these sedimentary rocks.

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The sedimentary formations go on and on…

Bryce Canyon Sedimentary Formations

Bryce Canyon Sedimentary Formations in US Midwest

 

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Towering Sedimentary formations on drive through US Midwest

 

Continental extent of the sedimentary strata in US Midwest. Miles thick and hundreds of miles wide

Continental extent of the Sedimentary strata in US Midwest. Miles thick and extending laterally for hundreds of miles. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

So if one tsunami which caused such devastation in Japan left sedimentary layers measured in centimeters and that extend inland a few kilometers, what mechanism explains the gigantic and continental-in-scope sedimentary formations found almost over the entire globe (including on the ocean bottom) that are measured vertically in hundreds of meters and are measured laterally in thousands of kilometers?  Could these sedimentary rocks be the signature of Noah’s flood?

Rapid Deposition of Sedimentary Formations

No one argues that the planet is not covered in sedimentary rock of unbelievably massive scope.  The question is whether these sedimentary rocks were laid down by one event (i.e. Noah’s flood), or whether these massive formations were built up over time through a series of smaller events (of the scope of the tsunami in Japan of 2011) that were separated by significant intervals of time. The figure below illustrates this other concept.

Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed

Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed apart from Noah’s flood

As you can see, in this model of sedimentary formation (technically known as neo-catastrophism) a series of high impact sedimentary events are separated by large intervals of time.  These events add sedimentary layers onto the previous layers and so, over time, the huge formations that we see around the world today are built up sequentially.

Soil Formation and Sedimentary Strata

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Sedimentary rock in Prince Edward Island. We can see that a soil layer has formed on top of it so we know that some period of time has elapsed since these strata were laid down by flood water

Do we have any real-world data that can help us evaluate between these two models?  Actually, it is not that hard to spot.  On top of many of these sedimentary formations we see that soil layers have formed.  Thus a physical and observable indicator of time passage after a sedimentary event is soil formed on top of it.  Soil is characterized by horizons (called A horizon – often dark with organic material, the B horizon – with more minerals, etc.).

Thin layer of soil (and trees) has formed over sedimentary rock that has been exposed for a time

Thin layer of soil (and trees) has formed over sedimentary rock in US Midwest showing that these sedimentary rocks were laid down some time ago.

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Soil layer clearly visible on top of sedimentary rock in US Midwest. These rocks were thus laid down sometime ago.

Sedimentary strata laid down to form a new ocean bottom will also soon be marked with life signs.  Wormholes, clam tunnels and other signs of life (known as bioturbation) provide tell-tale signs of life and of the passage of time since the strata were deposited on the sea floor.

bioturbation

Life on the bottom of shallow seas will, over a rather short interval of time, reveal its telltale markers. This is called bioturbation

 

Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed

Testing the model of catastrophe sequences by looking for evidence of soil formation or bioturbation at the ‘Time passes’ planes

Armed with this insight we can see if we find evidence of soil formation or bioturbation at these ‘Time passes’ borders in the strata formation.  After all, this model is saying that at some point these ‘Time passes’ boundaries were exposed surfaces for significant periods of time either on land or under water.  In that case we should expect some of these surfaces to have developed soil or bioturbation indicators.  When these time boundary surfaces were buried by subsequent sedimentary events the soil or bioturbation would have likewise been buried.  Take a look again at the photos above and below.  Do we see any evidence of either soil formation or bioturbation?

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No evidence of soil layers or bioturbation in this sedimentary formation in US Midwest.

There is no evidence of soil layers or bioturbation in the above photo or the one below.  Look again at the Hamilton escarpment photo and you will see no evidence of any bioturbation or soil formation.  From that data the bottom of these formations were laid down almost equivalent in time from the top.  Yet these formations all extend vertically about 50-100 meters.

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Folding of Sedimentary Rocks

 

Sedimentary strata formed in 1980 from Mount St Helens had already become brittle by 1983

Sedimentary strata formed in 1980 from Mount Saint Helens had already become brittle by 1983. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

Sedimentary strata, when they are laid down in moving water are initially permeated with water and thus they bend very easily.  They are pliable.  But it only takes a few years for these sedimentary strata to dry out and harden and when that happens they become brittle as was learned from the events of Mount St Helens eruption in 1980 followed by a 1983 lake breach.

When brittle rock is bent it snaps. This principle is shown

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Sedimentary rock gets brittle very quickly. When brittle it snaps when bent.

 

in the figure on the side.  We can see this sort of rock failure in the Niagara escarpment.  After these sediments were laid down they became brittle and when an upthrust then pushed up some of these sedimentary layers they snapped under the shear stress, forming the Niagara escarpment which runs for hundreds of miles.  From this evidence

Niagara escarpment

Niagara escarpment is Sedimentary Rock that broke under shear stress and was thrust up in a fault.

Niagara escarpment is an upthrust extending hundreds of miles

Niagara escarpment is an upthrust extending hundreds of miles

We know that the upthrust that produced the Niagara escarpment happened after these sedimentary strata became brittle so there was some time lapse between the deposition of these sedimentary strata and the upthrust which produced the escarpment.  There was at least enough time between these events for the strata to harden and become brittle – which does not take eons of time, but does take a couple of years at least.

The photo below shows large sedimentary formations that I photographed in Morocco.  You can see how the strata formation bends as a unit.  There is no evidence of the strata snapping either in tension (pulled apart) or in shear (sidewise stress).  This whole formation must have still been pliable when it was bent.  But if it takes only a couple of years for sedimentary rock to become brittle. This means that there can be no significant passage of time between the lower layers and the upper layers in this formation.  If there had been ‘time passage’ in these layers then the earlier layers would have become brittle and would have snapped rather than bent when the formation was contorted.

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Sedimentary formations in Morocco. The whole formation bends as a unit showing that it had still been supple (rather than dry and brittle) when it was bent. This indicates that there is no time passage from the bottom to the top of this formation.

Schematic of upthrust at Grand Canyon showing it was raised vertically about 5000 feet - one mile

Schematic of monocline (bending upthrust) at Grand Canyon showing it was raised vertically about 5000 feet – one mile. Adapted from “The Young Earth” by Dr. John Morris

We can see the same type of bending in the Grand Canyon.  At some point in the past there was a bending upthrust (technically known as a monocline), similar to the Niagara escarpment, that raised one side of the strata one mile vertically up (this you see from the elevation difference of 7000 ft compared to 2000 ft on the opposing sides of the upthrust).  But here the strata did not snap (like the Niagara escarpment did).  Instead it bent at both the bottom and the top of the formation, indicating that it was still pliable throughout rather than brittle through the formation.

Bending that occurred at Tapeats, in the low layer of Grand Canyon sedimentary formations

Bending that occurred at Tapeats, in the low layer of the Grand Canyon sedimentary formations. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

This indicates that the time interval from the bottom to the top of these strata has an upper limit of a couple of years (the time it takes for sedimentary strata to become hard and brittle).

Noah’s Flood vs. Flood on Mars

The idea of Noah’s flood having actually happened is, of course, quite controversial and in this one article I cannot cover all the issues that it raises which I hope to do later.

Sedimentation and flooding on Mars?

Sedimentation and flooding on Mars?

Mars sediment 2 But at the very least, it is instructive to consider an irony in our modern day.  Because of the channeling and evidence of sedimentation that are visible on Mars, it is actively postulated that Mars was once inundated by a huge flood.  The big problem with this theory is that no water has ever been discovered on the Red Planet.  But for the Earth, though it is 2/3 covered by water – deep enough to cover our whole globe to a depth of one mile if the oceanic trenches were raised and the land mountains smoothed down so the world had less topographic variation – and though it is covered with continental sized sedimentary formations that by physical and observable evidence seem to have been deposited rapidly in a devastating cataclysm, it is almost considered heresy to postulate that any such flood has ever occurred on this planet.  Is that not a double standard?  Though we may look at this Russell Crowe Noah movie as only a reenactment of a myth written as a Hollywood script, perhaps we should look and consider whether the rocks themselves are crying out about this deluge story written on scripts of stone.

Was there a Noah? (Part 2) – Testimony of ‘weeks’ in Calendars

Why are there many languages & where does the ‘week’ come from?

In my last post I looked at the convergence between the myriad of flood accounts that are indigenously preserved around the world with the account of Noah in the book of Genesis of the Bible. The Vedic account even goes so far as to say that Manu (the Vedic ‘Noah’) had three sons from which all humanity has descended. As I argued, the theory of one account borrowing from another is too simplistic to explain this remarkable congruence of the accounts. So why do we see these convergences? Here’s an explanation to consider.

The Tower of Babel – After the Flood

Following the account of Noah, the book of Genesis in the Bible goes on to record the descendants of his three sons and to state that “From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.” (Genesis 10:32). But how did this ‘spreading out’ occur?

The Genesis account lists in detail the descendants of these three sons of Noah as you can read here. The account then goes on to describe how these descendants disobeyed God’s directive, who had commanded them to ‘fill the earth’ (Genesis 9:1), but instead these people remained together in Mesopotomia to build a tower (read the table of nations here). The account states this was a tower ‘that reaches to the heavens’ (Genesis 11:4). This means that these first descendants of Noah were building a tower for the purpose of worshiping bodies in the heavens (sun, moon, planets etc.) instead of worshiping the Creator.

It is well-known that star worship originated in Mesopotamia (where these descendants were living) and that it then spread all over the world. A Religion Dictionary reference states that star worship:

This was certainly so in Mesopotamia in the last two millennia bce [10: i–iii ] and in Central America among the Maya [9: v ]. Star-worship probably underlies the prehistoric megalithic astronomical sites of northern Europe [9: ii–iii ; e.g. Stonehenge] and similar sites in North America [9: iv ; e.g. the Big Horn medicine wheel]. From Mesopotamia star-worship passed into Graeco-Roman culture

So instead of worshiping the Creator, Noah’s descendants worshiped planets and stars. The account then says that to frustrate this, so that the corruption of worship would not become irreversible, God decided to

…confuse their language so they will not understand each other. (Genesis 11:7)

As a result of this, these first descendants of Noah could not talk with and understand each other and thus in this way the Creator

…scattered them from there over all the earth (Genesis 11:8)

In other words, once these people could no longer understand each other, they migrated away from each other, within their newly formed linguistic groups, and thus they ‘scattered’. This explains why the different people groups of the world today speak in very different languages, as each group spread out from their original center in Mesopotamia (over many generations) to the places where they are found today. Thus, their respective histories diverged from this point onwards. But each language group (which formed these first nations) had a common history up to this point. This common history included the  flood event (of Noah), and thus the convergence of the flood accounts is therefore due to the different peoples remembering that event in their respective histories.

The Testimony of the ‘week’ in the Hindi Calendar

It was when I worked and traveled in India that I noticed a testimony to this explanation which I found to be rather remarkable – but is easy to miss. It does not record a dramatic event (like the flood) but it is a rather mundane detail, therefore not readily noticed, but it is peculiar enough to demand an explanation. When working in India I saw the many Hindi calendars. I noticed that they were different than western calendars.

Hindi Calendar - the days of the month go top to bottom, but there is the 7-day week

Hindi Calendar – the days of the month go top to bottom, but there is the 7-day week

The obvious difference to me was that the calendars were constructed so that the days would go down columns (top to bottom) instead of across rows (left to right), which is the universal way of demarking calendars in the West. Some calendars had different numbers than the western ‘1, 2, 3…’ since they used the Hindi script (१, २, ३ …). I could understand, and even expect, such difference since there is no ‘right’ way to structure a calendar. But it was the central convergence – in the midst of these differences – that struck me. The Hindi calendar used the 7-day week – the same as in the Western world. Why? I could understand why the calendar was divided into years and months like the Western one since these are based on the revolutions of the earth around the sun and the moon around the earth – thus giving astronomical foundations universal to all people. But there is no astronomical time basis for the ‘week’. When I asked people they said it was custom and tradition that went far back in their history (how far back no one seemed to know).

… and the Buddhist Thai Calendar has a ‘week’

I also had the opportunity to live and work in Thailand. While there I would view their calendars.

Thai Calendar goes left to right, but has a different year than in West - but still that 7-day week

Thai Calendar goes left to right, but has a different year than in West – but still that 7-day week

Being a Buddhist country, Thais mark their years from the life of the Buddha so that their years were always 543 years greater than in the West (ie the year 2013 AD is 2556 in BE –Buddhist Era – in the Thai calendar). But again they also used a 7-day week. Where did they get that from? Why are calendars that diverge in so many ways across different culture and language groups based on the 7-day week when there is no real astronomical basis for this calendar time unit?

Testimony of ancient Greeks on the ‘week’

These observations on Hindi and Thai calendars pushed me to see if the 7-day week was evident in other ancient cultures. And it is.

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, who lived around 400 BC is considered the father of modern medicine and he wrote books, preserved to this day, recording his medical observations. In doing so he used ‘week’ as a time unit. Writing about the growing symptoms of a certain disease he stated:

The fourth day is indicative of the seventh; the eighth is the commencement of the second week; and hence, the eleventh being the fourth of the second week, is also indicative; and again, the seventeenth is indicative, as being the fourth from the fourteenth, and the seventh from the eleventh (Hippocrates, Aphorisms. #24)

Aristotle, writing in the 350’s BC uses the ‘week’ regularly to demark time. To cite one example he writes:

The majority of deaths in infancy occur before the child is a week old, hence it is customary to name the child at that age, from a belief that it has now a better chance of survival. (Aristotle, The History of Animals, Part 12, ca 350 BC)

So where did these ancient Greek writers, far removed from India and Thailand, get the idea of a ‘week’ such that they used it so unassumingly, quietly but obviously expecting their Greek readers to know what a ‘week’ was? Remember, Hippocrates and Aristotle lived long before the Old Testament was translated into the Greek Septuagint (ca 250 BC) so they – and their readers – did not borrow it from Genesis. Perhaps there was an historical event which all these cultures had in their past (though they may have forgotten the event) which established the 7-day week?

The Genesis account does describe just such an event – the initial creation of the world. On that basis the first humans used, and then passed on to succeeding generations this 7-day cycle in the calendar. When mankind was subsequently scattered by the confusion of languages these major events that preceded this ‘scattering’ were remembered in different ways by some of these different language groups, including the Vedic promise of a coming sacrifice, the accounts of the cataclysmic flood, the primeval events of Genesis embedded in the Chinese calligraphy – and now the more innocuous 7-day week. The widespread and ancient 7-day week, at the very least, argues for the fact that this 7-day cycle gained prominence early in human history, long before the Biblical account started exerting its influence outside the Jewish nation.

Even our names for the seven days of the week (Sunday, Monday, etc.) are not Biblically derived. Each name for the days of the week reference the seven heavenly bodies visible to the naked eye (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn) which the different cultures, from the Greeks, to the Romans and the ancient peoples of the East worshiped. The current names of the days of the week are living artefacts of the corruption surrounding the events of the tower of Babel which preceded mankind’s dispersal, when the descendants of Noah wanted to build a tower that ‘reaches to the heavens’.  But the 7-day cycle itself was preserved through this corruption to point even further back – to Noah, and beyond.

This explanation certainly is the cleanest and simplest way to explain these convergences.  The different calendars in use today but having the ‘week’ in common are testaments to Noah and his early descendants.  The Genesis account also provides the cleanest explanation for why the human race is partitioned by many languages.  Most of us today dismiss this part of the Biblical account as mere superstitious mythology but these weekly calendars and diverse tongues in use by billions today are witnesses that should perhaps provide food for thoughtful rethinking.

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.

Ancient Rg Veda Account … but Parallel Promise

The Rg Vedas are the oldest of the sacred writings in Hinduism.  Being composed around 1700-1100 BC, they are roughly contemporaneous with Moses’ recording of the Pentateuch (Torah) in the Old Testament.

Purusa – The Sacrificial Man in Rg Veda

A prominent character in the Rg Veda is one called Purusa.  He is a Perfect Man.  In a well-known poem known as the Purusasukta (within the Rg Veda) God decided to offer him in sacrifice at the beginning of time.  The concept of sacrifice is very prominent in Hinduism (as we saw regarding the Kumbh Mela Festival).  What is fascinating to me is that this earliest poem, Purusasukta, is not about people making a sacrifice to God, but about God presenting the Perfect Man to be sacrificed so that humans can gain eternal life.

Conspiracy Explanation for Bible parallels

This sounds very similar to the Genesis Promise recorded in the Bible at the dawn of human history.  Why this parallel?  Two possible explanations come to mind.  The first is that there was one ancient myth from which other mythologies borrowed.  In this vein of thinking perhaps the ancient Hebrews heard these mythological promises of a future sacrifice and simply incorporated them into their early scriptures as the Genesis Promise.  This viewpoint continues the argument that the Biblical record ‘borrowed’ other accounts.  Thus, for example, the account of Noah and the Flood in Genesis is simply a re-hashing of the old Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh.

This thinking is then extrapolated to the New Testament Gospel.  The sacrificial death of Jesus on mankind’s behalf is thus seen simply as a borrowing from Greek and Egyptian mythologies of Isis and others.  This kind of explanation of the parallels between ancient accounts is advanced by skeptics of the Biblical accounts, and by those drawn to conspiratorial explanations of the Gospel (e.g. The Da Vinci Code and Zeitgeist etc. draw heavily on the idea that the meaning of the death of Jesus was simply borrowed from pagan mythology).  In fact, many people I talk to believe in some pagan-mythology explanation for the New Testament view of Jesus.  They only go back to New Testament and classical Greek times to look for parallels, many not knowing that these parallels go further back to ancient history into the earliest chapters of Genesis.

Historical Explanation for Bible parallels

Alternatively, parallels between ancient accounts exist because these events really did happen.  The Bible records these events and we can read about them in its pages.  However, other non-Hebrew cultures and civilizations also remembered and recorded aspects of these events and recorded them for us in different ways.  They did so because their origins are from Babel (like the Hebrews) and thus they remember pre-Babel events in perhaps some dim way as part of their history and mythology.  My previous posts (Part 1 & Part 2) about Chinese calligraphy having an ‘echo’ to early Genesis can thus be understood in this way.   Similarly, the most ancient of the Vedic texts show a remarkable parallel to the ancient Genesis Promise because that Promise was really given and kept in the social memory of the pre-Babel society.   The Promise was recorded and transmitted to us in the Bible through Moses.  It was also remembered and recorded in slightly different form in the Purusasukta of the Vedas.

Web of Parallels

So we have two broad explanations for these parallels.  What is intriguing to me are the parallels between the non-biblical ancient traditions.  So take the ancient Chinese association of ‘righteousness’ with sacrifice of substitution.  I have reproduced the ideogram from that post here so you can see it.

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

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

When I compare that with the ancient mythology of Purusa (Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3-4, Conclusion) I see parallels between them in that righteousness is conveyed by sacrificial death for both the ancient Chinese and Vedas and detail them here.  It is not just that there are parallels between the Bible and some other myth – that would be an overly simplistic two-dimensional view.  There is more like a web of inter-parallel themes that can be discerned across many cultures.  To me this argues for the view that these events really did happen.  The Bible recorded these events and Promises in one way, while other cultures retaining some memory of them, recorded them in other ways.

One cannot definitively prove or refute either view.  I believe the second, but I find it interesting to hold both views explicitly in front of me and as I come across new data I see how it fits (or not) in each view.  This can be done with genetic anthropological data such as the BBC genetic results showing that all Europeans trace their origins to a very recent dispersal (from Babel?) as well as historical parallels.  I hope to look at a few more in the future.