Monday, October 08, 2007

In search of ancient quotations

Two creationalist works share a similar theme. Can you find it?

Thanks to modern archaeology, these Biblical Hittites were confirmed to be non-mythological, and were discovered to have also had a legend about the global Flood, the same Deluge recounted in a legend from the Tamils of southern India which was survived by again eight people, Satyavrata (Noah), Sharma (Shem), Charma (Ham), Japati (Japheth), and their wives.
-- Northwest Creation Network, The Ancients Knew of the Global Flood

Aristophanes claims Japetos as the ancestor of the Greeks and in the "Institutes of Manu" dated about 1280 B.C., one of the ancient Aryan histories, it is said that a certain individual named Satyaurata had three sons, the eldest of whom was named Jyapeti. The others were named Sharma (Shem?) and C'harma (Ham?).
--Arthur Custance, Noah's Three Sons
You may be surprised to discover that the interesting similarity is not the claim that the ancient dot*-not-feather Indians knew about Ham, Shem, and Japheth, but rather, it is in the vague manner in which such relatively explosive information is delivered. Custance notes that such a story exists, and the NCN notes that the tale is "a legend from the Tamils." Neither of them provides a footnote, which one might expect unless such important information were common knowledge.

I can't speak for the NCN - for other than this piece I have never read any of their work and I only found it because I was checking up on Custance - but Doctor Custance, a PhD in Oriental Languages (University of Toronto**), is a man whom I have always found to be a very careful scholar.

So why the weasel-wording?

Since this might be rather important for those studying the post-Babel dispersion of peoples from the Middle East, I went looking for the original source. After all, it has to exist somewhere for all these*** people to quote it. So where is it?

Actually, the earliest source I could find was almost exactly 200 years old, in the works of philologist Sir William Jones, a Briton living in India at the turn of the 19th Century. Jones was neither fool nor naif; in fact it is because of his work that we speak today of the Indo-European language group, for he was the first to note that Sanskrit and European languages share many of the same roots and features.

From there I discovered another, Thomas Maurice's 1840 History of Hindoostan, which quotes Sir William and leans on his authority fairly heavily. Jones had an authority that could be leaned on, in fact, I discovered 8 or 10 different published papers coming from the period between these two works which quoted him more or less verbatim. Jones' authority in the field was unquestioned by his contemporaries.

But then it stopped. I mean dead. Other than a few stray pieces, almost no scholar after 1840 touches the quote, and rare is the one who does who provides a source.

Now Custance provides a source, the "Institutes of Manu," which he dates at 1280bc and others date earlier. Unfortunately, one can peruse them at the Indian Sourcebook in vain. They do not contain the quote or anything like it. Another work, the Critical Review (1802), claimed it to be from a literal translation of the Padma-Puran. Though I cannot locate the whole thing online (at least not in English), I did locate a summary, which assuredly talks about creation but lacks this particular flood narrative.

However, I did discover that Custance's Satyavrata is also called "Manu"**** and is considered by the Hindus to be the progenitor of mankind and the man who survived the world-wide flood, so Custance's "Institutes of Manu" is not so far off as it seems - he may simply be talking about a collection rather than one specific work. Another ancient Hindu document, the Matsya Purana, tells the story of how Manu spared a little fish, who told him about the flood and then guided his ark to safety while the rest of the world perished. So we do have a flood and an Indian Noah, but we are still sans his three sons.

So I'm sorry to let you down right here, but I do not have a conclusion. I really don't even have a theory other than that Sir William was mistaken and everyone figured it out but neglected to say so. I simply note that this single piece of evidence, still bandied about - mostly but not completely by creationalists - has simply disappeared from the earth, if in fact it ever even existed. Maybe it's time to stop mentioning it without providing a decent source, or at least a pretty significant caveat.

* no relation, I'm sure.

** Which I mention for two reasons. The first is to counter the accusation that creationalists do not get degrees from real universities and the second is because his doctoral thesis (which I have mentioned before) traced the linguistic descent of the people of Ashkenaz, the grandson of Japheth.

*** I realize that two is not "all these," but there are many more, from Madame Blavatsky's ridiculous "Isis Unveiled" to this book from the current decade which tries to demonstrate how the Jews stole everything from the Hindus.

**** Which apears to be a title rather than a personal name.

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