A stone axe from near Shanghai, eastern China. May show a form of primitive writing.
This article in today's Guardian got me thinking about how ridiculous the Bronze Age origins myths in the Bible are and how easy it is to refute them by just looking at the world today.
For example, in Genesis we read about a worldwide flood which only a single family survived. It is inconceivable that the details of this and the names of Noah and his family, the people who saved the world and from whom we are all descended, would have been forgotten in just a few generations.
Yet further on we find a particularly implausible attempt to explain all the different languages with the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), although it only seems to account for the languages which were found within a few day's journey of the Middle East. Incidentally, this is the second attempt in the Bible to explain different languages. The first had been the even less plausible story of how all the descendants of the 'sons of Noah' spoke their own languages, in the immediately preceding chapter. (Genesis 10).
Whoever wrote Genesis 11 seems to be unaware of Genesis 10 and opened with:
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.
And this was only six generations after Noah!
|The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder|
Anyway, be that as it may, according to the Bible, the creator god believed this was possible, although he didn't seem to have been omniscient in those days because he didn't seem to know this would happen, and had to go and check to find out what was going on. It's almost as though this god was constantly surprised by what his creation was getting up to in those days. He seems to have talked to himself a lot too, though someone must have been around to have written it all down.
And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.
So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
So, if we take this tale at face value and ignore the implausibility of so few people being able to build such a tower, what with someone needing to grow the food to feed the workforce and other such economic problems of which the author seems blissfully unaware, we have a group of people located in the Middle East but suddenly speaking Chinese or at least a precursor language of modern Chinese. And these people, just a few generations after Noah, would certainly have known the stories of how the creator god had drowned everyone in a fit of pique and how they owed everything to the righteousness of Noah and his family, their recent ancestor. Why, Noah had even chatted personally with this god, allegedly!
According to Young-Earth Creationists and Bible literalists, this all happened about 5,500 years ago.
|Hwang Ho (Yellow River). The cradle of Chinese Civilization|
This is like Americans forgetting all about Columbus, the Puritans and the Mayflower, or the English forgetting Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Francis Drake and Cardinal Wolsey, complete with their entire religion, as well as their entire folklore, music and counting system. Every trace of their former culture completely eradicated from their collective memory, and a whole lot of new stories, origin myths, gods and cultural imperatives popping out of nowhere to replace them.
If you believe that you'll probably believe anything and will certainly be prey to all the spivs and charlatans who parasitize human credulity. I have these four magic beans for sale....
There is also other evidence that the Chinese were there even before the alleged biblical flood and that the origins of written Chinese are in the Neolithic.
In recent decades, a series of inscribed graphs and pictures have been found at Neolithic sites in China, including Jiahu (c. 6500 BCE), Dadiwan and Damaidi from the 6th millennium BCE, and Banpo (5th millennium BCE). Often these finds are accompanied by media reports that push back the purported beginnings of Chinese writing by thousands of years. However, because these marks occur singly, without any implied context, and are made crudely and simply, Qiu Xigui concluded that "we do not have any basis for stating that these constituted writing nor is there reason to conclude that they were ancestral to Shang Dynasty Chinese characters." They do however demonstrate a history of sign use in the Yellow River valley during the Neolithic through to the Shang period.
So how did the Bible's authors make such silly mistakes?
Quite simply it was the same reason they got so much of the science wrong - parochial ignorance. Just as they believed all the animals on Earth lived within a few days walk of Noah's house so saw no need to explain how he rounded them all up in a couple of weeks, so they believed all the languages on Earth were spoken in the Middle East and could be accounted for by the migration of the families of a few survivors of a flood within a handful of generations.
And of course, they believed that the only possible place for a mythical Heaven, where their mythical creator god lived, was directly above the Middle East where they lived. They never saw any need to explain why no one else remembered any of this stuff because they had no idea that anyone else existed and they couldn't imagine 'Heaven' being anywhere else because they lived on a small, flat planet with nothing of any importance much beyond the horizons.
Bible literalists can see nothing wrong with this view of the world, and see no problem at all with it not being supported by any evidence and being utterly inconsistent with what we know about little things like the origins of Chinese culture, language and writing.
After all, they are preaching to people almost as parochial and ignorant in their view of the world as were Bronze-Age Middle Eastern nomadic people in the infancy of our species.
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