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 website) 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.

Was there an Adam? Part 2 … Ancient Chinese & modern-day Google

In my last post I introduced Chinese ideograms as a possible way to delve into the historicity of Genesis to see if there really was an Adam. When I first saw those ideograms many years ago I thought it was rather amazing. As you look at the ideograms and de-construct them you may notice what I did – seeming overtures to the early Genesis account.

But since we can only rely on the authors whose calligraphy images I reproduced some further questions need to be addressed.

  1. Are the characters really shaped that way or is this a case of creative calligraphy that is not really true to the script by over-imaginative people trying to make an ‘Adam’ connection?
  2. Perhaps there is a relationship between the elemental characters and the compound ones, but perhaps this is due to a phonetic relationship. The complex ones would then be built around the simpler ones because they take sounds from them – not because they are building concepts from them.
  3. Alternatively, could the relationships between the elemental and the compound characters simply be due to chance? After all, there could be many elemental combinations made into compound ones, some of which could hearken to Adam simply by chance.

Fortunately for us, modern-day Google can allow us to explore each of these questions in a way that would have required advanced Chinese dictionaries just a few years ago. Within the ubiquitous tentacles of Google technology are language translation engines. I use it quite regularly with European language translation and even with Arabic. But it also supports Traditional and Simplified Chinese translation. The website is at http://translate.google.com. I ran some tests to explore each of these questions. Let us look at each question in turn.

Is the ‘Adam’ calligraphy script accurate?

In the figure below you will see some of my tests. Google translate allows you to type your words in the textbox on the left and Google produces a translation in the right textbox.  I typed in single words in the English box on the left to see what Google would produce as the Chinese translation (in the traditional script). Following the lead from the words of my previous post I typed in ‘soil’ and on the next line ‘man’, and then ‘first’. The Google translations appear in the box to the right. I connected the word-to-word translation by dashed arrows so you can see the translation of each word. So did Google reproduce similar calligraphy as I had in my previous post? Would we ‘see’ the elemental characters in the compound ones as per the Adam hypothesis? I also have the same images from the previous post that were put forward by the Adam hypothesis authors. Slide1You can do this same test yourself since it takes only a few seconds to type in the English words and see the translation. You will notice that the Google script is amazingly similar to the Adam hypothesis script and that, like in the Adam hypothesis calligraphy you can see ‘soil’+’man’=’first’. There is no ‘alive’ or ‘motion’ like with the Adam hypothesis script but this is because that stroke is a radical, not a stand-alone character. You will also see that Google reproduces ‘eight’+’mouths’ in ‘boat’.

We continue on with some of the other calligraphy. Google reproduces ‘privately’+’garden’ (though Google ‘garden’ is slightly different than the Adam hypothesis one) as being part of ‘devil’. You can see that the Google ‘devil’ is equivalent to the Adam hypothesis ‘devil’ and ‘tempter’. When it comes to ‘righteousness’ Google and the Adam hypothesis  calligraphy is exactly the same.Slide2

In the next figure you will see that Google renders ‘talk’ like the Adam hypothesis script and has ‘talk’ as a component of ‘create’. ‘Covet’ is also reproduced by Google, though the ‘trees’ in ‘covet’ look slightly different, more like adjacent squares.Slide3

Having tested these words with Google I was satisfied that the script used for the Adam hypothesis was accurate and that indeed the complex characters contained the elemental characters as put forward by the Adam hypothesis.

Is the relationship due to phonetics?

We have established that there is indeed a relationship as put forward by the Adam-hypothesis. Now we need to ask why there is such a relationship. Could it be phonetic? We can also test this hypothesis since Google can ‘speak’ each word. Since I cannot record the sound I transcribed the phonetic reading.  The tables below give the phonetic reading for the words we are analyzing.

First=soil+man ?phonetics
Soil
ManRén
FirstXiān

 

Boat=mouth+eight ?phonetics
Eight
MouthKǒu
boatChuán

 

 Devil=garden+Privatephonetics
Garden/orchard
privatelySīzì
devilMóguǐ

 

 Righteousness= ?phonetics
SheepYáng
Me
dagger
righteous

 

 Create =?phonetics
To talkTánhuà
To createChuàngzào

 

 Desire =?phonetics
Woman
Wood
ForestLín
Want/desireYào

It does not look like the compound words are built around the sound of the elemental words. You can easily listen to the words and determine for yourself if you detect the elemental sounds. But I had to conclude that the relationships were not primarily phonetic.  This explanation is not supported.

Are the relationships due to chance?

Could it be simply due to the fact that there are so many elemental characters combining into compound characters that some will have an ‘Adam’ link simply by chance. If it is by chance then we would expect to see similar connections with other Biblical words. If it is a random association this randomness should carry on with words. In the figure below I produced Chinese calligraphy of other biblical words and names. I cannot see any of the elemental characters in these words. Slide4What is more revealing is the phonetics. These words sound like they are Bible words that have been transliterated with a Chinese ‘y’ sound preceding them. They are Sino-translitered, probably being grafted into Chinese when the Bible was introduced to China only within the last two hundred years.

Biblical nameTransliteration
AbrahamYàbólāhǎn
CanaanJiā nán
IsraelYǐsèliè
JacobYǎ gè
MosesMóxi
AdamYàdāng
Evexiàwá
NoahNuò yǎ
JesusYēsū

Or is there a logical/historical connection?

It is not very difficult to see a relationship between words where you expect a logical connection. In the image below you will see how ‘God’ is an element of ‘sacred’. An element of ‘sacred’ can be seen to be in the word for ‘Bible’. But ‘Bible’ also has an element of ‘news’ or ‘message’ in it. So it is like the word ‘Bible’ is comprised of elements of ‘God’ + ‘sacred’ + ‘news/message’. This makes perfect logical sense.  Similarly we see the element ‘water’ in both ‘ice’ and ‘steam’.  Knowing there was a logical connection between these words I typed them into Google translate to see if I could find a calligraphy connection. And we are not surprised when we see such a connection.Slide6

The words for ‘boat’ and ‘devil’ that we looked at in the previous post look like they have the same kind of connection between the elemental and the compound as exhibited here with Bible=sacred+news+God and water being in ice and steam. But what logical connection is there between ‘eight’ and ‘boat’, between ‘gardens’ and ‘devils’? There is none. Yet it seems like the ancient Chinese, when they developed their calligraphy had these connections in their minds. One might even think the Chinese read Genesis and borrowed from it, but the origin of their language predates Moses by 700 years. Since China and the Middle East are so distant from each other it is difficult to imagine there was much exchange of ideas.

The idea of a logical connection between ‘eight’ and ‘boat’ to the ancient Chinese makes sense if these events in Genesis were remembered by them as their recent history. Temptations in the Garden and eight people in a boat would make perfect sense to them. Shem, son of Noah, would be telling them these stories himself.

The Tower of Babel explains Chinese calligraphy

If this scenario is true we would expect this historical parallel to end with the Genesis account of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) because it is at that point that the different linguistic and racial groups were separated. From that point on the Chinese had their own history. Before that point history was a common, universal experience – with one language. From this perspective the Chinese word for ‘Tower’ is intriguing. The figure below shows that ‘Tower’ is a compound of ‘one’+’mouth’+ ‘mankind’ (mankind in one language) +’grass’ (or ‘weeds’  – symbolizing frustration) + ‘clay’.

Chinese: mankind + one + speech = united; +grass/weeds
Chinese: mankind + one + speech = united; +grass/weeds

The image from Google translated below confirms this calligraphy. It is reminiscent of the opening account of Genesis 11 which says

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech… They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.  Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, (Genesis 11:1-4)

Slide5It would seem that there is evidence that the ancient Chinese remembered these events as part of their history. From this point on their history diverged from that of the Hebrews and thus there are no logical or historical connections after this point. The accounts of Abraham and Moses are not embedded in their language since by that time they were separate nations.

At the very least I found these Google tests  to be intriguing and the Adam-hypothesis emerged even stronger than when I had started. The other possible explanations were not supported and so had to be rejected.  There is more that could be written about this, especially delving into the Chinese calligraphy that has been preserved on ancient bones. But that is a subject for another day. Before we leave this thread to consider the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (we are in Lent after all) there are two final comments to add.

We were reading Genesis 6 with Chinese scholars last week. We were studying the story of the flood and they were reading it for the first time. We came to the account of Shem, son of Noah, when one of the Chinese scholars told me that ‘Shem’ was the name of the ancestor of the Chinese.  He had read it in an ancient Chinese book and it sounded just the same. I am hoping he can bring me some information about this book. Perhaps it will be worth a post one day.

Japanese Calligraphy too

And finally, it is not just the Chinese who have this Adam-echo in their calligraphy. The Japanese have it as well as you can see from my Google figure below.

Slide7