Re: Genesis in cuneiform on tablets

From: PASAlist@aol.com
Date: Wed Oct 16 2002 - 00:05:50 EDT

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    Peter wrote,
    <<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....

    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.>>

    The earliest writing in Mesopotamia is usually dated from c. 3200 BC. If one
    says 3300, it really does not make any significant difference because it
    would still be quite primitive. From 3200 to c. 3000 it is pictographs. In
    some 4000 tablets from those first two centuries of writing, 85 to 90% are
    just economic receipts composed of nouns, numerals, and a few adjectives:
    like "sheep-three-temple"; and the other 10 to 15% are lists of words for the
    scribes to learn. There are no narratives. There is a slow development from
    logographic to phonetic or syllabic writing (which is what is necessary to
    have a language able to match speech), but this is very minimal in these
    first two centuries. In fact, most scholars go down to c. 2900 or even 2800
    before speaking of the next stage of writing.

    With regard to the tablets down to c. 2900, Driver says their meaning can be
    more or less roughly guessed, "although they can hardly be read in the strict
    sense." (G.R. Driver, Semitic Writing). Cambridge Ancient History 3rd edition
    vol 1:1 p. 227 talks about Sumerian writing from the earliest period down to
    the Early Dynastic Period 1, that is down to 2900 to 2800 BC, and says,
    "Before that, writing is restricted to economic texts, usually of a very
    simple kind, and in several respects it is very deficient. Signs lack
    standardization: their order within a word is arbitrary; phonetic writing is
    largely confined to personal names. This inefficiency of early writing
    coupled with its highly restricted use, means that our picture of the period
    it covers is never going to be more than fragmentary. ’ĶHence the spread of
    writing beyond the economic sphere, and the appearance of fully intelligible
    texts, marks the beginning of history proper in Mesopotamia." Note that they
    put the appearance of "fully intelligible texts" after the Proto-historic
    period, that is, after 2800 BC.

    The Sumerologist, Samuel Kramer, set forth the same thing: Speaking of the
    beginning of writing. he said, "Their first attempts were crude and
    pictographic; they could be used only for the simplest administrative
    notations. But, in the centuries that followed the Sumerian scribes and
    teachers gradually so modified and molded their system of writing that it
    completely lost its pictographic character and became a highly
    conventionalized and purely phonetic system of writing. In the second half of
    the third millennium, the Sumerian writing technique had become sufficiently
    plastic and flexible to express without difficulty the most complicated
    historical and literary compositions. " Samuel Noah Kramer, History Begins at
    Sumer (Doubleday, 1959) xix. Note that he is placing the peak of writing
    that is able to express complicated historical and literary compositions
    after 2500 BC.

    Gen 1-5:2 with its sophisticated wordplays, poetic lines and involved
    narrative simply does not fit the kind of writing that existed earlier than
    c. 2900 BC.

    <<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.>>

    I agree with Carol Hill (and Dick Fischer before her, and a number of
    archaeologists before any of us) that the flood of 2900 BC is probably the
    Flood the Bible is talking about. But, as you say this would push Adam's
    death and his tablets (Gen 1-5:2) back to c. 3600 BC, and that just makes
    them all the more improbable.

    In addition to the fact that the Sumerian writing before c. 2900 BC is not
    developed to the place where it can be easily used for narrative, Gen 1-5:2
    contains names and even more importantly wordplays like 2:7 Adam and adamah
    (ground), 4:1 Cain and kanah (acquire); 4:25 Seth, actually Sheth and shith
    (appoint, set) which depend upon a Semitic original. Gen 1-5:2 would have to
    have been written at least in Akkadian, not Sumerian which is not a Semitic
    language; and the wordplays would not work in Sumerian. And since the
    Akkadian writing was adopted from the Sumerian, anything written in Akkadian
    would have to be dated even later than 2900 B.C. The first evidence of
    Akkadian in the tablets found thus far is Semitic names in Sumerian documents
    c. 2600 BC., and actual Akkadian literature is even later.

    Paul



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