Re: Genesis in cuneiform on tablets

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Mon Oct 14 2002 - 00:51:49 EDT

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    Paul Seely wrote:
    > Peter wrote,
    > << Ok, granted. So we have two possibilities: the patriarchs either
    > belonged to the 5%, or they hired scribes. In my answer to Dick Fischer,
    > I wrote: "As for the patriarchs writing clay tablets, Wiseman
    > underscored the fact that the biblical text presents them as quite
    > mighty princes in their times (cf. Abraham). And if the genealogies of
    > Gen.5 and 11 can be set parallel to the king lists found on cuneiform
    > tablets, the same would apply to these patriarchs. I think the usual
    > representation of the patriarchs as 'primitive nomads' is not supported
    > by the evidence." As for the 600 cuneiform signs with multiple values,
    > how does this look in comparison with Chinese? Doesn't Chinese have many
    > more signs? What's the literacy rate (in globo, and among simple people)
    > in modern China? I was told that modern Tamil has 247 different signs,
    > but all children learn them, even those who live here and have to learn
    > up to three western languages besides. >>
    > If Gen 5 and 11 are compared to the king lists, then they were indeed written
    > by scribes. Of course the patriarchs could have learned cuneiform if they
    > went to school long enough, but all of the historical indications are that
    > they did not.

    I don't know of any historical indications, one way or another (they may
    have had home-schooling - without tongue-in-cheek). Wiseman doesn't
    insist that the colophon refers to the author; he consistently includes
    the possibility that it was the owner instead (implying that it was
    written by a scribe), even preferring this variant, it seems to me.

    > <<Is it known for certain that early Sumerian pictographic writing was
    > grammar-less? Or is it possible that an unconventional type of
    > grammatical conventions is built-in but hasn't been deciphered as yet?>.
    > Pictographs are just simple pictures, somewhat like our modern circles with a
    > diagonal line through them. They cannot even be called Sumerian. They are so
    > lacking in grammatical indications that they could just as easily be German
    > as Sumerian. Further, they begin with 1200 signs, which get boiled down to
    > 600 over the next couple of centuries. Even when you get the first Sumerian
    > it is so primitive, scholars still have to do a lot of guessing as to what it
    > says.

    So you confirm that there is still a lot of guesswork, at least when it
    starts to be real Sumerian. Why not earlier, as well? How can this
    distinction between pictographs and real Sumerian pictograms be
    determined, except perhaps by their progressive stylization? Wiseman
    mentions the stylization as an almost necessary consequence of a writing
    technique using clay tablets. And how do you determine whether there
    were any semantic effects of position, sequence, or combinations of the
    seemingly simple pictures? Egyptian hieroglyphs also look like simple
    pictures. By the way, what are the time frames in which scholars detect
    the different types of Sumerian writing?

    A review by A.Lawler, Science 292 (29 June 2001), 2418-2420, suggests
    that the origin of writing has been pushed back to at least 3300 B.C.,
    if not much earlier. "The prehistoric communication revolution" is
    believed to have begun about 7000 B.C., but there seems to be very
    little information dating to before 3500 B.C. In Mesopotamia, clay
    tokens preceded real writing. To date, the earliest clay tablets found
    at Uruk date to perhaps 3200 B.C. and early cuneiform to 3100 B.C. A
    photograph of an example of "protocuneiform" dating to 3000 B.C. is
    shown. One researcher called the early cuneiform "too good" to have been
    developed in a haphazard way, implying sufficient sophistication to
    write texts like early Genesis.

    > <<The two books or tablets you mention are the third and fourth ones. The
    > story of the Tower of Babel is in Gen.11, i.e. on the fifth tablet
    > written by Shem, who was born 626 years after Adam's death (if we assume
    > no gaps). When he was 100, his first son was born. As this event is
    > recorded on the sixth tablet (Gen.11:10b-27a), Shem probably wrote his
    > tablet less than 726 years after Adam's death (the first two tablets
    > would have ben written by Adam). These at most about 726 years are the
    > only part of the genealogy in Gen.5 that has to be covered by a fully
    > functional writing system. So the 800 years of grammatical writing you
    > grant don't cause any problem. These circumstances certainly don't
    > constitute an impossibility decisive against Wiseman's model.>>
    > OK, I'll admit I was wrong. You could squeak this theory into Gen 5: Adam
    > writes his books the year of his death when Lamech is 56 years old. This is
    > sometime c. 3000 BC if we give the theory the best possible benefit of the
    > doubt. Lamech then lives another 126 years and gives birth to Noah, who lives
    > 500 years and gives birth to Ham, Shem and Japepth (5:32), thus one only
    > needs 626 years to get from the death of Adam to the end of Gen 5, leaving
    > 174 years to spare before we know the Tower of Babel was built. But, this is
    > at least stretching the possibilities since writing isn't all that well
    > developed in 2700 so how much less in 3000 BC? And the Tower of Babel could
    > have been built long before we first hear of it being rebuilt in historical
    > documents. But, let us go on.
    > Now we have the end of Gen 5 at c. 2374 BC (3000 minus 626) and the Flood a
    > hundred years later c. 2274 BC when Noah is 600. This presents an
    > archaeological problem. No archaeologist is going to be willing to say that
    > even southern Mesopotamia was covered by a Flood in 2274 BC, much less by a
    > Flood that let the ark land on a mountain in Urartu. Indeed, this date places
    > the Flood right on top of the empire of Sargon of Agade, which covered
    > Mesopotamia and continued until c. 2150 BC, and was followed shortly
    > thereafter by the Sumerian Third Dynasty of Ur. So archaeology makes the
    > chronology demanded by this theory highly improbable, and thus the theory
    > itself is highly improbable.

    You are right that this dating scheme doesn't work out with archeology.
    I failed to take this into account. I just tried to fit in your date of
    3000 B.C. as the earliest date for writing.

    If we accept 2900 B.C. as the date of the flood (according to Carol Ann
    Hill's article in the last issue of PSCF), Adam's death was in 3623 B.C.
    and Shem was born about 3000 B.C. So, the Tower of Babel is no problem,
    but we would have to push back the earliest writing at least by a little
    bit over 600 years. But is this really impossible? I still wouldn't call
    this highly improbable. The review by Lawler mentioned above has already
    pushed it back by at least 300 years to about 3300 B.C. Isn't it like
    dating the "earliest" fossils of some biological species? Many of these
    also keep beeing pushed back by newer finds. It seem that we need more
    data: earlier finds, more reliable datings, and better understanding of
    the scripts found.

    > <<In the meantime, I have looked up the "other reasons for doubting
    > Wiseman's theory", for which you referred me to Hamilton's book. He sees
    > three main problems: SNIP>>
    > But, you overlooked (on p. 6) what is perhaps the most telling point: a much
    > more extensive study of colophons (H. Hunger's study in 1968) than existed in
    > Wiseman's day shows that colophons never mention the author. Adam, Noah,
    > Shem, etc are then at best owners of the tablets. Even if the "tolodoth" are
    > colophons they prove nothing as to the original authors.
    > Paul

    I haven't overlooked Hunger's study, but didn't mention it because it
    doesn't contradict Wiseman. For a collection of 39 Old Babylonian, 33
    Middle Babylonian/Assyrian, and 489 Late Babylonian/Assyrian colophons
    (of which 491 date from after 1000 B.C.), "... Hunger compiles the types
    of information given in colophons - ... personal data (e.g. the names of
    scribe, owner, or commissioner of the tablet)..." From this, Hamilton
    concludes that "... the author's name is absent in the Akkadian
    colophons...". It seems that he takes an "author" to be different from
    either "scribe", "owner", or "commissioner". But how can Hunger and/or
    Hamilton know for sure that, in every case, the name given is not that
    of the "author" (comprising all three designations, "commissioner",
    "scribe", and "owner", in the same person)? It was my fault to write
    "author/owner" in my summary of Wiseman's book, instead of Wiseman's
    "scribe/owner", which is in full agreement with Hunger. I didn't
    consider the possibility that the patriarchs' reading/writing abilities
    would be in doubt. Furthermore, all or virtually all of Hunger's tablets
    seem to date after Abraham, almost 90% of them even much later than
    Moses. Customs may have changed by then.


    Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
    <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
    "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

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