It will be necessary to spend a bit of time, in continuing our search to find the Origin of Man, discussing the very nature of language itself. As we previously had to dig into the aspects of carbon and other dating, as we had to get to know the red shifts regarding long distances in space, and as we needed to find out a bit about the fossilization process, because all these were reasoned by us to be essential to any understanding of Science’s explanation for the Origin of Man, so must we deviate from our direct goal regarding Creation.
The reasoning for this is as follows. There are easily hundreds, perhaps if we count all variations as separate tales, thousands of creation stories extant. The number of ancient texts available, and so the extent of our knowledge regarding the languages by which they were composed, while numerous are not, by any means, vast. There are also other problems, obvious but not always treated as obvious, such as those involving decipherment and translation of existing material, and the problem of existing material no one has yet deciphered.
It makes good sense to assume, I think, that “oral tradition,” or more simply, oral communication between people, pre-dates any written artifact. I am hesitant to declare this fully only because it is entirely possible—especially if we hearken back to our pseudo-hypothesis of Devolution “declared” just chapters ago—that as written language is to oral language, a reflection, and as phonetic writing is to hieroglyphics, so perhaps were cuneiform, and hieroglyphics, to a mental language. It is therefore conceivable that oral communication “devolved” from a sort of silent communication.
Think of this beginning of languages in terms of the Tower of Babel (or the Tower of Babylon) story, which, because it will eventually need to be told during this part of our search at some point, I will relay it presently, albeit it with a somewhat modified understanding considering how the story is usually told. This is the story those of us in the West know as explaining the Origin of Languages, or more specifically, that explains the reason why there are more languages in the world than one, and which appears in chapter 11 (1-9) of Genesis:
As we read the story we notice that in the beginning Man spoke only one language. Using this language in a selfish way, and so by it alone attempting to reach the heights of the gods—a metaphorical way of saying trying to be divine—Jehovah (YWH) said let us go down and confuse everybody, so that they can no longer understand each other. Hence, Aramaic, Hebrew, Egyptian, Sumerian, Chinese, Linear B, and so on. Take it a step further, and recall evidence from your own life, and it will be seen that this “failure to communicate” extends even to those who speak the same language.
This is the literal gist of the story, according to Genesis. As an allegory, the story is full of other possibilities as well. This place, named Babel, which we know today as Babylon, is located directly between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where Adam and Eve are said by this same Genesis to have had their beginning. There is also implicit in this story a desire on the part of God or the gods to have Man spread out, perhaps to avoid disease and the like. This dispersal is accomplished, forming “tribes” with unique languages, maybe even writing systems that, depending on where emigres moved, they later acquired new customs, beliefs, and characteristics dictated by the region they settled. There are furthermore things that could be said about those who came down with the Lord Jehovah to help him confuse everybody: are they cherubim and seraphim, angels, other gods…or does God merely speak of himself in the plural? What is so bad about building a big tower, or wanting to stay central?
Indeed, this problem with language regarding language is a meta-difficulty, prospectively wrong translations of the simplest scrolls and shards having profound implications for all later research. Today, there are no less than a dozen “literal” translations of Genesis, and hundreds of translations of the translations, and the story of Babel is not exempt from such often important ambiguities. When we read “Heaven” in the Bible, often that word means “sky”; the gods mentioned in the Genesis stories of Creation, which we will get to properly later, are either elohim, a plural, or yahweh, a singular. Many people are still not aware either that Hebrew had no real vowels, and so where to put the vowels, which vowels, and how many to be placed, are too often arbitrary designations. The Sumerian God written in the Hebrew as “Bl” could be Baal, Bal, Bel, etc.
Our knowledge of ancient languages, like our knowledge of ancient Man, is exaggerated. There are still numerous scripts undeciphered, and the dating of these ancient scripts one to another relies—although to a much less degree because of a greater availability of collaborating evidence, in the forms of artifacts, stele, papyri, and so on—on the same sort of speculative dating principles we discussed concerning Science. Without doubt, Science has much to say, today, about history, and about language, perhaps too much.
Regardless then, for now, about the Origin of Language, and since our search concerns the Origin of Man, I will have to establish some sort of dating history based on the oldest surviving language samples. As we cannot analyze words spoken thousands of years ago, although we can try, and often laughingly do, attempt to pronounce, say, “words” that are merely pictures which cannot be communicated by the spoken word, at least not any more than a painting can be said to actually tell a story, we must necessarily rely on the written record in conjunction with ancient artifacts.
The creation stories we have to relate here can be placed in a chronological order based on the age of the language in which they have been first relayed. In other words, I will assume that the older the language the myth or tale is written in, the older is the myth or tale. That this might not be the case, I will concede; it is entirely possible that the oral tradition of a language, and so people I will cite as having existed earlier, and so as being older than another, might in fact not be as old as one I will cite as coming later, or as being newer.
Nevertheless, I have spent a good two weeks thinking of a good way to present the various views of Creation, and chronological importance must be maintained. This is because we will have to be guided by the common-sense premise that the older the myth, tale, story, legend, fable, saga, etc. about the Origin of Man, the closer it is to the Truth. Not merely this, but by examining these Creation stories chronologically, based on the best available estimates as to their antiquity, and based on the age of the languages with which they are composed, we may be able to more easily demonstrate our principal working thesis in these regards, namely, that all the Creation stories descend from a common epistemological spring, and moreover, that through the passage of time, namely because of the destruction of records, writings, whole cities, and civilizations, and the dispersals of peoples whether or not under the order of a deity, Man has constantly, after each great catastrophe, had to pick through the rabble, rely on his feeble memory, and then try to interpret the remains to rediscover the ancient thought that is his ancestry. Like the old “telephone game”—where one person speaks a message intended to be relayed accurately down a line of people, a process which almost inevitably leads to the message being distorted by the time it reaches the end of even a short line—with enough time and distance accuracy suffers.
So, essentially, it’s because of the absence of better alternatives that we must attempt to place in a chronological order the languages of Man, in order to know where to begin our study of Creation. This being the immediate goal, before we decide our line of descent clearly we must make mention of those languages that others have determined to be the oldest of all. We should also mention before doing so that philologists, anthropologists, linguists, cryptologists, and the like, are fond of terming some languages “proto-languages”, a system we will disregard for our purposes; simply because we do not understand the language, or because there exists no Rosetta Stone to decipher it, or because we can find no relation, this does not mean it was not a real language, or indicative of one. Similarly, but on the contrary, we should not accept that all ancient symbols, particularly of the cuneiform and hieroglyphic type, the Lydian or Balkan types, or “unknown” types, are writing at all, some very well may be pictures only. And of course there are the outright forgeries that slow everything down.
But without doubt certain language forms stand out from the others, and it is only by their dating that we can place them in relation one to another. The candidates for “oldest language” are few enough for us to discuss, albeit with some alacrity. These are, in no particular order: the Sumerian cuneiform;
the Akkadian or “Eblaite” from just north of Babylon in present-day Iraq, theoretically an assimilation of what appears to be a more advanced Sumerian;
the “Canaanite,” from which comes Hebrew, from the Levant. These languages are the precursors to Hebrew, it is said, and include Phoenician, Moabite, Amorite, etc. In the photo below bottom characters are ancient, top are modern Hebrew;
the Greek or Minoan, from Crete as in Linear B, or from Greece itself, possibly from Thrace;
To be sure, were it not for Egyptian discoveries of late claiming a surpassing of the “circa 3000 BC” date of the former oldest writing found in Sumeria, the remaining evidence would overwhelmingly point to an advancing human race, with its language, actually arising in between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, as the Biblical account conveys. If indeed there was a Garden of Eden, located, we are told between these very same life-sustaining rivers, common sense would tell us that, it being the oldest region, we should find there the Earth’s oldest relics, and, coincidentally, the world’s oldest language. And I believe that this is the case.
|“||And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became four heads. The name of the first is Pishon; that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; there is bdellium and the onyx stone. And the name of the second river is Gihon; the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is Tigris; that is it which goeth toward the east of Asshur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.||”|
Evidence and common sense would indeed lead one to search for a singular language common to all. Many books have been written, much research good and bad done, to establish all language as being of some common origin, for example, having Atlantean, or even extra-terrestrial beginnings. According to “hard science,” as whenever we get Science involved, the result of the story of Babel, namely, babble, is even and ever increasingly more apparent. Rather than presenting confirmed, better theories than those granting Prometheus or Thoth or Enoch credit for written communication, Science stalls and wavers, just as with its handling of “Evolution,” at those crucial points when we need it most.
Here is a cut-and-paste from Wikipedia summarizing some of these anthropomorphic legendary or traditional originators of language:
- Enos – Biblical patriarch, ascribed introduction of consonantal Ge’ez alphabet c. 3350 BC (?) according to tradition.
- Thoth – mythical Egyptian deity, ascribed invention of Egyptian hieroglyphics c. 3000 BC (?) according to tradition.
- Fu Hsi – legendary Chinese king, ascribed invention of Chinese characters c. 2850 BC (?) according to tradition.
- Cangjie – legendary Chinese scribe, also ascribed invention of Chinese characters c. 2650 BC (?) according to tradition.
- Enmerkar – legendary Sumerian king, ascribed invention of cuneiform c. 2300 BC (?) according to Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta epic.
- Fenius Farsa – legendary Scythian king, ascribed invention of Ogham writing c. 2000 BC (?) according to tradition.
- Ogma – legendary Irish deified chieftain, also ascribed invention of Ogham writing c. 1875 BC (?) according to tradition.
- Cadmus – legendary Phoenician prince, ascribed invention of Greek alphabet c. 1350 BC (?) according to tradition.
- Evander – legendary Roman hero, ascribed adoption of Greek alphabet to Latin alphabet c. 1250 BC (?) according to tradition
I wish then to make one more assumption clear before we go any further. This assumption will be that we will accept, for the sake of explanation, the controversial but documented origin of 4004 BC as the year of Creation. For now, it does not matter whether this date and/or scenario of Creation turns out to be true or false. It gives us a ground, a statement of certainty that if for nothing else than giving it a chance to fail on its own merits would seem advantageous to any study such as we are attempting here.
As we will see, the Origin of Language, its antiquity, does nothing to deny this claim of, if not a 4004 BC creation, nevertheless a young Earth. The oldest languages are also not far removed from the best accounts in Talmudic tradition. Moab for example, from which derives Moabite, a very early Hebrew dialect, was a son of the then-drunk Lot and his oldest daughter. This is found in Genesis (19).
Should we imagine an adjustment to the literal calendar, say for global changes, calculations of “days” and “years,” errors of scribes, such as Manetho, and so on, we can see escalating that figure of 4004 BC, even to around 10,000 BC. I defend this working assumption of a definite Creation which occurred, if not in 4004 BC as Bishop Usher maintained, nevertheless not too long ago, less than 10,000 years ago, on the following grounds.
First, while it might not be the oldest language, Hebrew’s origins, of at minimum the Canaanite sort, can be argued, still, as being the oldest existing, even if it started in, perhaps, Sumeria, or the land between the rivers. These ancient writings, long and still known as the Torah or Pentateuch, are frequently confirmed as a storehouse of accurate historical and chronological, if not prophetic, information. Not belonging then or now to Jews, which at that time were but another small tribe of locals, but rather to all people, whatever their nationalities were at that time, these first five books of the Bible, when taken as historical documents, hold their own against most competing claims to antiquity. These first five books of the Old Testament, if we eliminate the talk about “chosen people” as if those statements made by God be descriptive of a “race” or “nationality” (which they are not), and if we compensate for, or at least understand the patriotism of those who were later retelling the story, can be seen as shrouding a legitimate and universal history of ALL men. Before the Tower, all men were, we could say, of the same tribe, all “Jews.” This follows if we understand all human beings living today, according to Genesis, as descendants of Noah and his sons.
There are some gaps in our knowledge, notably regarding the then-cosmopolitan city of Babylon and the inhabitants of it. We know that Sumeria preceded Babylon as a Kingdom, we do not know where the Sumerian people came from, and when we make assumptions and answer Assur or Assyria, or Akkad, or Canaan, or in the area between the Black and Caspian Seas in northern Iran and present-day Georgia, or even from Greece or southeastern Europe, or Egypt, we have further problems locating the origination of those we assume to be the source.
The second reason I am going to begin with the literal Biblical account found in Genesis is because when it comes to writing there simply is no clear evidence for any written tongue arising anywhere near even the 4004 BC date maintained to this day by Biblical scholars. On this same grounds, it is entirely possible that the world is millions or billions of years old, but that the creation of which we speak, the Creation, meaning of Man as we currently understand him, was a very more recent event. Each time the world is destroyed, we can imagine, it returns to its state of lifelessness and void, and the account given in Genesis can then be seen as explicative of the most recent Creation, and in this be consistent with the results of our questionable dating methods.
Moreover, there are no really better alternatives, certainly not in volume of information. As for possible alternative jumping-off points for our discussion of Creation, and if we bite our tongues and go by the existing, more or less consensus “expert” evidence as to the Origin of Language, we find the claimants to oldest language appearing, usually, in this order:
1. Sumerian Cuneiform (3400 BC)
2. Elamite Script (3300-3400 BC)
3. Egyptian Hieroglyphics (3200 BC)
4. Indus Script (2600-2700 BC)
5. Akkadian (2500 BC)
6. Proto-Sinaitic/Hebrew (2000 BC)
7. Cretan (Linear B 2000 BC)
8. Hittite (1700 BC)
9. Greek Alphabet (1600-1700 BC)
10. Old Chinese (1500 BC)
This order, however, is speculative at best, and has supplied a lot of fodder for wise-acring theorists. Here to follow are some examples of the extreme claims, which place writing at even later dates, and which involve much debate. Below is a relic of “Greek script” supposedly dated to 6000 BC:We should also mention in these regards again the Glozel stones from France, which though also still embattled in controversy, claim an antiquity of 7000-8000 BC. The language is still undeciphered, and possibly a hoax, but numerous tablets were found of this nature:
There are also the southeastern Europe claims to first language, known primarily as the Vinca script, and which have been found along parts of the Danube and vicinity, often considered Thracian in origin, and dating somewhere between 5000 and 7000 BC. Here below is a picture of one such artifact, and a transcription noting its hieroglyphic even Egyptian style, and then finally a facsimile of Vinca’s alleged primary characters:
Finally, not to be outdone, the Hebrews themselves have laid claim to “oldest writing” by finding what they say is the oldest example of Hebrew script, which looks a lot like the Greek “Alpha” and so Hebrew “Aleph” but which is dated around 1200 BC:
It does not help us that experts here do not agree, and it would not be unreasonable to dismiss all the exceptions straightaway. Immediately it becomes apparent that chauvenism and patriotic pride have distorted history and continue to desecrate facts about ancient writing. Europeans want Europe’s languages to be oldest, Chinese want Chinese, Iraqis want Sumerian, Egyptians, Egyptian, Greek Greek, etc., and this bias has worked its way into our current understanding of history, and continues to stifle advancement. While we will not dismiss any evidence out of hand, and while we will not say these inscriptions are not writing, we will assume that the successions established by the intelligentsia are tentative, we will question their age, and we will take for granted that the ages given for these various languages by their discoverers are, clearly… not written in stone.
Either way, were we to change the date of Creation assumed by the Church fathers, to one more heeding of discrepancies in our historical notation of time, we could account even for these marginal remains. But, for the time being, we will consider these “oldest” inscriptions merely problematic, and stand by the evidence which claims that no language system on the Earth exists earlier than Sumerian cuneiform, which in its earliest (3500 BC) instances, and like many of the oldest inscriptions, have not yet been fully deciphered, and still fall within range of a fairly recent Creation.
Finally, I will justify the Creation stories, as found in Genesis, as our starting point, because even if they are not the first accounts of the Origin of Man, they nevertheless contain in them at least the seeds—or remnants—of most of the alternative views found in other traditions.
We began, for example, by talking a bit about Babylon and its tower, a story which, like the flood, and like the killing of children which were foreseen as a threat to the standing king, has its parallels elsewhere; the ziggurat in Urdu, contained in the Sumerian story of Emmerkar, is considered even today as identical to the tower of Babylon.
Regarding “the Flood” story, perhaps the Babylonian Atrahasis version, or the Sumerian Ziusudra version preceded that of Deucalion of the Greeks, or the Xisuthrus version of late Babylon, and perhaps all are restatements, or maybe precursors, of the tale of Noah in Genesis, arguably all alike the Hindu symbol of Man, Manu, correlate to Noah through Adam. The important thing to notice by the existence of the congruities, the fact of which formed my final decision to use this now laughed-at chronology as found in Genesis as the staring point of our inquiry into Creation, is that while nearly all stories of all sacred books have their correlate, or even copy, in Genesis and the rest of the books of the “Old Testament,” it more and more seems apparent that there is additional information in this Old Testament, more than what the other ancient “books” contain.
Now I can think of some objections to my taking this course, the first being all the usual pattering, mumble-jumble, and pseudo-science that has “proven” the (what I will now somewhat ironically call the Creation stories in Genesis…) Genetic Creation to be “impossible.” The far bulk of this “proof” we touched upon in prior chapters, such as the whole problem with dating, limitations of our technology, the ever-present artist’s conceptions, reconstructions, gap-filling, guesswork, and so on. A repeat of our previous work applied to the whole of historical evidence of language would yield similar scholarly wobbling about every major point of contention. While I am reluctant, even after much reflection, to accept wholly yet myself this idea of a very recent Creation, I think as an exercise in pursuit of Truth, and the Bible’s overall claims to Wisdom as echoed through its own commentators, or, wise-acrers, we could do worse.
Let us then recite the accepted story. Someone, oh about 600 BC or so, copied down the oral, legendary, and popular tales of Creation, originating from somewhere we can only guess, and put them down in writing that became, much later, Genesis. This historical occurrence would presume an already-existing vocabulary, or at least system of symbols adequate to such a task. These stories, for the most part, are confirmed by secondary sources, even exact copies of the same myths, in distant lands. Much of our human history and chronology is reliant upon this history, whether we like it or want it to be so.
Again, as a starting point for examining Creation myths, we could do worse, which leads to another objection I can foresee with this, our method.
Undoubtedly, someone will read these preparatory words and think the author somehow wanting to grind his ecclesiastical axe, think me a Jew, or label me a “Creationist Nut,” and what’s worse, by their ad hominem attacks, consider the matter closed; others, perhaps of the psychobabble bent, might insist I am even what insist I am not, caught up as I am, they would say, in my own denial. Well since there is no real way to refute a charge such as “You are X in denial,” one of the silliest propositions yet by an ever-increasingly silly Science, irrefutable of course because it cannot be falsified, there is then no merit to the last charge, and no truth to the others. I state here and now, unequivocally, that I seek only the Truth, as I expect anyone following this melee to do as well. I have no doctrine I need to establish or confirm, nothing I need to deny. We have to begin somewhere, and so it will be with the Biblical account(s) of Creation that several billion inhabitants of this planets still believe. In the next chapter, we start with Genesis, as we could do worse.