Re: Genesis in cuneiform on tablets

From: Peter Ruest (
Date: Tue Oct 29 2002 - 00:48:36 EST

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    This is in connection with Paul Seely's posts of Wed, 16 Oct 2002, and
    Mon, 21 Oct 2002. Paul's references given on 16 Oct are quite dated:
    G.R.Driver, Semitic Writing (1954); S.N.Kramer, History Begins at Sumer
    (1959); Cambridge Ancient History 3rd edition vol 1:1 (1970). So I
    discussed the question of early Mesopotamian writing with a specialist
    for Akkadian and Sumerian at the University of Bern, with the following
    results (giving, between dotted lines, his indications and judgment,
    without any of my own comment):

    A more recent reference is: Jean-Jacques Glassner, "Ecrire ý Sumer:
    l'invention du cunČiforme" (Paris: Seuil, 2000; ISBN 2-02-038506-6), 300

    Dating of the clay tablet texts found is still very imprecise, possible
    errors amounting to perhaps +-100 years around 1800 B.C. and +-300 years
    around 3000 B.C. One usually dated them on the basis of astronomical
    data like solar eclipses mentioned, but also on the basis of comparing
    them with how other, presumably better dated, texts look. It is hoped
    that more precise dates, such as tree ring dates, will soon become

    Hebrew doesn't descend directly from Akkadian. There are various
    different models of Semitic language classification. But all of them
    class Akkadian as the only eastern-Semitic language, whereas Hebrew is a
    northwestern-Semitic language (of the Canaanitic group). Akkadian
    successively replaced the earlier Sumerian, a non-Semitic language. Some
    Sumerian texts contain Akkadian words. But it isn't known when exactly
    Sumerian ceased to be a living language. At the latest, this happened at
    the beginning of the 2nd millennium B.C. (apart from a few conservative
    Sumerian language islands like Nippur). Akkadian pronunciation tables of
    Sumerian words help us to know, more or less, Sumerian pronunciation.
    The origin of the Sumerian language (and the Sumerian people) is

    In early Sumerian, the words were written without modifiers / qualifyers
    indicating tenses, cases etc. Later Sumerian had them as suffixes. But
    this need not imply that early Sumerian was less powerful, as the forms
    not expressed explicitely could nevertheless be understood implicitely
    by the Sumerian reader. In a similar way, masoretic vocalization of
    Hebrew did not make the language more powerful: "merely" consonantal
    writing is fully capable of expressing the same contents and is equally
    well understood by a Hebrew reader. Early Sumerian pictograms, e.g.
    those of Uruk before 3000 B.C., were sufficiently complex for narrative.
    The signs were already heavily stylized, i.e. they were the result of a
    lengthy developmental history.

    Among the early Sumerian clay tablets of Uruk IV/III (end of the 4th
    millennium B.C.), not a single narrative has been found. The first known
    text which is, with certainty, of a literary character dates from about
    2800 B.C.; literary texts become more numerous after 2600 B.C. One
    doesn't expect to find any narratives appreciably older than from about
    2800 B.C., but neither is it completely impossible that some predating
    3000 B.C. might yet be found. Some extensively elaborated narratives,
    such as the "Instructions of Shuruppag", had a long prehistory of
    simpler precursors (this doesn't apply to "Enuma Elish"). Different
    sources were combined, texts modified, etc., as it is assumed for the

    Wordplays like Gen.2:7 Adam and adamah (ground), 4:1 Cain and kanah
    (acquire), 4:25 Sheth and shith (appoint, set) are very simple to find.
    When a text is translated into a different language, they can often be
    replaced by similar new wordplays. For "rib" (Gen.2:21), for instance, a
    wordplay fitting into the context is possible in Sumerian.

    >From this, I conclude that Paul's description of the development of
    writing in Mesopotamia and his datings hold up, more or less. But his
    "impossible"'s have to be softened quite a bit. We just don't know
    enough, as yet, to exclude the possibility of Wiseman's hypothesis of
    Genesis in cuneiform on tablets.

    Even if the presently accepted date of the earliest Sumerian syllabic
    writing capable of formulating narratives (about 3000 B.C.), the
    accepted date of the flood (2900 B.C.), and the numbers in the Gen.5
    genealogy hold up, Wiseman's hypothesis would need only minimal

    We may have to modify the interpretation of the colophon of the second,
    or "Adam's tablet" (Gen.2:4b - 5:1a), e.g. by hypothesizing that Adam's
    name in the colophon in 5:1a indicates "information obtained from Adam",
    rather than Adam as owner or commissioner. The colophon of this tablet
    has a peculiarity in that it is the only one containing the word
    "sepher" (book, writing) before "toledot" (account, genealogy). Was this
    to indicate that on this tablet, some information that previously had
    been transmitted orally was now being committed to writing? According to
    the genealogy in Gen.5:1b-32, Noah's father Lamech could have known Adam
    personally. Lamech was 56 when Adam died, and he lived until shortly
    before the flood in 2900 B.C. So he could have written (or commissioned)
    a narrative in syllabic Sumerian on clay tablets.

    The colophon of the first tablet (Gen.1:1 - 2:4a) is exceptional in that
    it does not contain any name of a commissioner / writer / owner.
    Furthermore, if this tablet contains any narrative at all (as I believe
    it does), it is not a human narrative proper, but a direct divine
    revelation to a prophet, as there could not have been any human
    witnesses until the last part of "day" six. It may have been written in
    Lamech's time, as well, or later.

    Paul writes: "The first evidence of Akkadian in the tablets found thus
    far is Semitic names in Sumerian documents c. 2600 BC...". As Noah died
    350 years after the flood (Gen.9:28), i.e. about 2550 B.C., he may have
    known Akkadian, so if we defer the writing of the second tablet to Noah
    instead of Lamech, the Semitic wordplays with the names of Adam
    (Gen.2:7), Cain (4:1), and Seth (4:25) may first have been formulated in
    Akkadian by Noah. Or Noah may have translated Lamech's tablets from
    Sumerian to Akkadian. In this case, he may even have replaced earlier
    Sumerian names having particular etymological meanings by their Akkadian
    equivalents (there might even have been corresponding wordplays in
    Sumerian and Akkadian for the cases found on the second tablet). As
    there was a time overlap of at least 600 years between Sumerian and
    Akkadian, with extensive dictionaries on clay tablets found, such a
    translation may also have happened later.

    As for replacing names in a tradited text upon translation, Wiseman
    suggests that Moses replaced earlier designations for God which were
    more specific than the general "'elohim" (such as "El Elyon", "El
    Shadday") by the newly revealed (Ex.6:3) specific name of God, "Yahweh",
    wherever a precise designation, in contradistinction to heathen gods,
    was needed (and implied by the original meanings of the designations
    given in the source texts available to Moses) (cf. my initial post of 28
    Sep 2002 starting this thread). Another example is the replacement of
    the Aramaic name of "Kepha" by the Greek "Petros" (a stone), as
    indicated in John 1:42.

    I haven't yet been able to look at Glassner's book.


    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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