About the Book
Table of Contents
Part V: The Confusion of Languages
The Original Speech of Mankind
IT IS ONCE admitted that mankind formerly spoke a single language,
it seems logical to go one step further and attempt to identify
what kind of language it was.
Probably most readers are aware
of the fact that rabbinical commentators, early Christian writers,
and, until comparatively recently, modern Christian scholars
generally accepted the view that this original language was Hebrew.
It is true that a few of the early Church Fathers challenged
this, but such great names as those of Augustine, Jerome, and
Origen can be quoted in support of it; the few like Gregory of
Nyssa who argued against it failed to influence the general Christian
public, so that it became the accepted opinion throughout the
Middle Ages and to the recent past.
Were it not for the offensive tone
of his book, one could recommend the well-known work of Andrew
White entitled, A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology,
for its survey of this subject. (37) To him,
the very word Orthodox is equated with the word ridiculous,
and he has no argument other than ridicule against many ancient
and quite reasonable beliefs held by Christians. He does not
face squarely the evidence upon which such beliefs are founded,
nor does he seek to provide an equally cogent or reasonable alternative.
It is this unhappy circumstance which renders an otherwise massive
piece of scholarship a most unfortunate display of narrow-minded
and ill-considered dogmatism. What is perhaps even more unfortunate
in the context of this Paper is that not a few contemporary Christian
scholars have taken the same attitude toward the view that Hebrew
could have been the language of Eden.
37. White, Andrew, A History
of the Warfare of Science With Theology, Braziller, New York,
1955, vol. 2, p.175.
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I should like to make it clear that I am not proposing
that Hebrew itself was necessarily the language of Eden,
but rather that the language of Eden was a language of which
Hebrew may well be the closest modern representative. The point
I am seeking to establish is that some form of Semitic was the
original from which in the course of time were derived, not only
all the members of that family (Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, etc.),
but also the Japhetic (Indo-European) and the Hamitic.
The line of reasoning which I propose
to follow can be stated briefly thus:
The Names of Genesis
That the names of the immediate descendants of Noah (as set forth
in Genesis 10), by whom the earth was re-peopled after the Flood,
were the real names which those people originally bore and are
not merely transliterations; that they are still traceable, though
in modified forms, very extensively among their living descendants
who, however, have no recollection of their meanings; and finally,
that these names as given have meanings in Semitic but not in
Japhetic or Hamitic languages.
2. That in Genesis 4, which deals
specifically with the history of man from Adam to Noah, there
are a number of references to persons, places, and events that
throw unexpected light upon the subsequent history of both Indo-European
and Hamitic people even down to the present time. But this light
is obtained only if the key words in these references derive
their significance from their meaning in Semitic.
3. That if a Semitic form of language
was the language of Noah, and therefore presumably of Adam also
-- then assuming that Adam learned to speak because God undertook
to converse with him -- the language of heaven must be of the
same nature. It will be shown that Scripture lends some support
to this conclusion.
word or two may be in order, first of all, regarding the question
of whether the original language was specifically Hebrew or only
some form of Semitic speech. Judging by Laban's use of Aramaic
in Genesis 31:47, it seems likely that Abraham's parents spoke
Aramaic. But by the time of Jacob, two generations later, a form
of Hebrew seems to be in use, if we are to judge by the name
he gave to the monument of stones set up when he parted company
with Laban. Since Laban was the older of the two, one might be
forced to conclude that Aramaic was the older language.
Franz Delitzsch, basing his arguments
upon the supposition
Abraham himself did not originally speak Hebrew but rather Aramaic,
regard as better grounded the position of the Syriac, Aramaic,
and Persian writers that Syriac (i.e., Aramaic) or Nabatean was
the primitive speech, and that in the confusion of tongues it
was still retained as the language of Babylon (Chaldea).
it may be a disappointment to some Christian readers to discover
that Hebrew itself was probably not the original language, it
may at the same time be reassuring to remember that our Lord
Himself spoke not Hebrew, but Aramaic. This subject is dealt
with fully by the well-known Orientalist, Edouard Naville, in
his book, The Archaeology of the Old Testament: Was the Old
Testament written in Hebrew? (39) His conclusion is in accordance, save
for some minor details, with the views of Delitzsch.
In passing, it may be of interest
to note how the Jewish people themselves, catering to their national
pride, treated the subject in one of their rabbinical commentaries.
Quoting from Hershon, we read the following argument for Hebrew
as the original: (40)
tongue, Hebrew, was spoken by all till the generation of the
Confusion of Tongues, for the world was created with the sacred
tongue; but now each of the 70 angels took one nation and instructed
it in a new language; but God instructed Israel in the Hebrew
significance of the number 70 rests upon the fact that Genesis
10 uses a total of 70 names, equal to the number of Jacob's children
when he went into Egypt. It is interesting that the Lord sent
12 apostles to preach specifically to the 12 tribes of Israel,
but 70 to carry out a general evangelistic ministry without respect
to nationality (Luke 10:8f. -- "into any city").
Coming more specifically to a consideration
of the evidence from history that the original language of mankind
was Semitic, we deal first with the names of Noah's immediate
descendants. There is nothing new in the observation that when
a people habitually employ personal names for themselves and
their children which have an undoubted meaning in some particular
language, such a people originally spoke that language. A community
with a large proportion of -sees is as clearly Scandinavian
as a community with a large number of vans is Dutch or
-fils would be French.
38. Delitzsch, Franz, "Genesis"
in Commentary of the Holy Scriptures, edited by Peter
Lange, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, reprint, p.362.
39. Naville, Edouard, Archaeology of the Old Testament: Was
the Old Testament written in Hebrew? Robert Scott, London,
1903, 212 pp.
40. Hershon, Paul Isaac, A Rabbinical Commentary on Genesis,
Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1885, p.57.
There is an instructive illustration of this in Ontario,
Canada. One particular city known originally as "Berlin"
was renamed "Kitchener" after World War I at the request
of a number of its citizens. In the community, however, one finds
many names which have an easily discovered meaning in German,
but which have no obvious significance in the language now spoken
by most of its citizens -- which is, of course, Canadian. Surely
it would not have been unreasonable for a stranger unacquainted
with the past history of the city to observe that, since so many
of the names were much more meaningful in German than in English,
the original language of these people was indeed German. He would
not be surprised, therefore, to find that their settlement was
once named Berlin.
Jerusalem is as obviously a Semitic
city as Peterborough is an English city, because the name
Jerusalem is really a compound of two words having a meaning
in Hebrew ("City of peace"), and Peterborough a compound
of two words having a meaning in English ("City of Peter").
This is the principle. Of course, this is not always the case,
since some names have been preserved in such a disguised form
that no one has any idea of their original meaning; therefore
they cannot for certain be attached to any particular language,
so that there are many exceptions to the principle.
However, it is this form of reasoning
applied to Genesis 10 which lists the names of the descendants
of Noah, that has lent strong support to the claim that Hebrew
or some form of Semitic language was the original language of
Noah and accordingly of mankind right back to Adam -- assuming
that no significant change took place in the interval between
Genesis 10 begins the genealogical
survey with Japheth, and from Japheth are derived a number of
descendants whose names have been preserved remarkably intact
among Indo-Europeans. In the first place, the Greeks claimed
as their father one whom they named Japetos. (41) In fact,
he was, according to them, the father not merely of the Greeks,
but of the human race. The Aryans claimed as their original father
one whose name is given as Djapatischa. (42) Both of
these forms are modifications of the original name Japheth.
There is no doubt, I think, that in neither language did
the name have the slightest meaning, whereas in Semitic the meaning
seems to be
41. See on this: M. L. Rouse,
"The Bible Pedigree of the Nations of the World," in
Transactions of the Victorian Institute, vol. 38, 1906,
42. Dods, Marcus, Genesis, Clark, Edinburgh, no date,
p.43. The Indian Aryans were early referred to as Yavanas, undoubtedly
from "Javan," a son of Japheth. See Wardour, Mythology
and the Law of Nations, Burns, Oates, London, 1872, p.43.
either from the root Yapah which means "to be fair,"
or from the root pathah which means "to be extended
or enlarged." Either of these is legitimate etymologically,
and either would be appropriate provided that Japheth was, as
is generally assumed, fair in complexion. It is not unusual for
Hebrew names to have two possible derivations, both of which
are appropriate -- a fact which has sometimes led to much argument,
as in the case of the word Babel. (43)
While it is possible to trace with
a considerable measure of certainty the descendants of Japheth
whose names are given in Genesis 10:2-5, we limit ourselves to
one or two for purposes of illustration here. This is the subject
of another Doorway Paper. (44)
One of Japheth's sons is named
Gomer. This name is still to be found in slightly modified
form very widely in the Old World wherever Indo-Europeans have
settled. In antiquity his descendants preserved his name as the
Cimri. In another part of Europe the word reappears as
Hiber-nia: (45) In England the name appears in the word Cumberland.
It is, in fact, possible to trace his descendants through
history up into Europe, where they continued to retain the memory
of his name in a number of forms, any of which is easily equated
with the original form Gomer.
For the benefit of anyone who is
not familiar with the kind of changes which may take place in
words -- and who finds it difficult, for example, to equate Gomer
with Cumber -- on account of the appearance of the
b in the middle of it -- it is only necessary to point
out that the Latin word numerus becomes in English number.
The additional consonant slips in for euphony. Replacing
the initial G with a hard C is a common occurrence -- for example,
where the Semitic form gamal becomes camel in English.
But in none of these subsequent forms can we find a meaning in
the language of the people who preserved the name. In the Semitic
original, it is evidently derived from Gamar, meaning
"to complete or finish."
One of the sons of Gomer was named
Ashkenaz. With the assistance of historical notices from
antiquity, ancient and modern place names, and various other
means, it has been possible to trace the spread of the descendants
of Ashkenaz up into Europe, where the name underwent certain
changes in form, appearing sometimes as Sakasene, and
more familiarly as Saxon and finally in the compound word
Scandi-navia. Such identifications may seem dubious
43. In connection with the
name Babel, see John Urquhart, The New Biblical Guide,
where two possible roots with very different connotations
44. "A Study of the Names in Genesis 10," Part II in
Noah's Three Sons, vol.1 in The Doorway Papers Series.
45. This was the ancient name of Ireland, the initial H
being a hard H like the Gh in English, making the original
form probably Ghiber-nia.
with philology. As already stated, the subject is treated more
fully in another Paper; but it may be mentioned at this point
that much of this is based on a thesis accepted by the University
of Toronto, Orientals Department, for an Honours Degree in Oriental
Languages. I mention this here because it has always rather intrigued
me that the panel of judges of my thesis stated that they considered
the one really new and significant contribution in my presentation
was the section which dealt with the tracing of the descendants
of Ashkenaz -- and yet some of my scholarly Christian friends
have since criticized it unmercifully!
Another descendant is given (in
Genesis 10:4) as bearing the name Elishah. This name has
intrigued ethnologists for several reasons, not the least being
the fact that it is so strongly Semitic in form, yet it seems
clearly to have been really the name of a Japhethite (i.e., an
Indo-European) and preserved subsequently in the familiar word
Hellas. (46) There are other possible identifications, but they
need not concern us at the moment. It is sufficient to state
that we have here a clearly Semitic name retained among a clearly
Indo-European people in virtually the same form which has no
meaning whatever except for a people speaking a Semitic language.
If we pass down the list into the
descendants of Ham and thus find ourselves no longer in Indo-European
circles, we still meet with the same anomaly: words with a meaning
in Semitic preserved as a patronymic of non-Semitic people. Thus,
for example, in verse 15 we have the name Heth, undoubtedly
referring to the progenitor of the Hittites. Whatever else may
not be said about the ethnology of these particular people, one
thing is certain -- they were not Semites. And yet their original
progenitor bore a name which in Semitic means terrible. It
does not appear to have any meaning in the language of his descendants
as far as our knowledge of the Hittite language goes at the present
Such, then, is the kind of evidence
which led not a few scholars of a generation or so ago to argue
stoutly that Semite was the language used by Noah. The argument
seems to me to be a powerful one, and those who ridicule it must
surely find some way to account for the strange circumstance
that nations who no longer speak a Semitic language nevertheless
recollect in one way or another that their first "father"
bore a name, meaningless in their present tongue,
46. This was early recognized
by M. M. Kalisch, Historical and Critical Commentary on the
Old Testament, "Genesis," Longmans, London, 1858,
p.242. J. Skinner disagrees (International Critical Commentary:
Genesis, Clark, Edinburgh, 1951, p.198), though pointing
out that the Targum of Jonathan supported the identification.
of meaning in a Semitic one. One must surely conclude, therefore,
that Noah -- and presumably Adam also -- spoke some form of Semitic
Incidental Light From Genesis 4
events set forth in barest outline in Genesis 4 have always fascinated
Bible students, because Scripture has somehow succeeded in epitomizing
here the history of a period of something like two thousand years.
It is done in a matter of only twenty-six verses, of which approximately
a third are taken up with the record of a conversation between
the Lord and Cain. The text is so familiar in fact to many of
us that we fail to recognize how much is actually crowded into
these few sentences, how factual it all is, how obviously myth
is totally absent, how vivid are the characters presented to
us. The beginnings of so many things are here.
One of these beginnings is stated
simply in verse 17: "And Cain knew his wife: and she conceived,
and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of
the city, after the name of his son, Enoch."
The subsequent history of this
city we do not know: but of the name of the city we know
a great deal. Without entering into too much detail regarding
changes in pronunciation which occur in the course of the development
of a language, it seems necessary to point out here that the
sound represented by the letter N is often reproduced
(strange as it may seem) as an R. The Ch sound
which terminates the name Enoch may be replaced by a K
or G or Gh. These changes are common. When cuneiform
was being deciphered for the first time, it soon became apparent
that some of the cities mentioned in biblical antiquity were
still in existence as mounds, and very often the natives in the
area had preserved the original name in a modified form. An important
city in antiquity appeared under the name Uruk, and a
study of cuneiform soon revealed that this could equally well
be pronounced Unuk, which was recognized at once by Sayce
and many others as identical with the biblical word Enoch.
One feature of cuneiform writing
was the use of what are called determinatives, signs placed
before or after certain words to enable the reader to distinguish
between names of cities and names of people, or names of deities
and names of mortals, and so forth. Thus, if a city happened
to have a name which was also the name of a famous man, it was
customary to use a determinative to let the reader know whether
one was referring to the man or to the place. In the case of
a man's name, the determinative was put in front of the word;
the determinative came after the word. The determinative place
took the following form (left) or in earlier times (right):
both of which were pronounced
KI. The interesting thing about the city Unuk, or Uruk,
is that the determinative was omitted. It is the only instance
in which this is so. (47) The reason for this sole exception
to the rule was not apparent at first; then it was realized after
considerable study of cuneiform texts that the word had come
to mean The City par excellence, a special city, special
for historical reasons. As such, it was not considered to stand
in need of any distinguishing determinative. The "specialness"
lay in the fact that it was the name of the first city ever to
have been built; as such it was the prototype of all others and
came to be referred to, to all intents and purposes, as "The
City" -- in somewhat the same way that people tend in England
to refer to London as "The City."
obviously the city which Cain built and named after his son Enoch
must have been destroyed by the Flood, so that the physical entity
itself probably disappeared, though it was subsequently refounded.
If the rebuilders had followed our pattern, they might thenceforth
have called it "New Uruk"! But though the original
city was lost for a season, the name and its special significance
were never lost sight of, for in time the name Uruk ceased
to be a name at all and became merely a word meaning "city."
In later cuneiform this city was
known as Ereck, and at the present time the site is known
by the local people as Warka. This may seem a very different
word, but it is not really so. And this is not the end of the
The city concept was not common to either
Japheth's descendants or Shem's, and both these people borrowed the idea
and the term from the Hamites. The word they borrowed was Ereck,
or Warka, a word which re-appeared in Asia Minor in Perg-amos,
for example. It travelled up into Europe in a number of slightly variant
forms, becoming in due time burg and, of course, such other variants
as burgh and borough. It is interesting, too, that in Greek
this word took the form of Purg‹os () meaning "tower,"
i.e., a place of ascent. In view of the fact that in Genesis 11 the people
of Mesopotamia made the unanimous decision "to build a city
and a tower," the association of the two words in subsequent history
is remarkable. Nor does the association end here, for the word tower
47. See on this: J. Urquhart,
"The Bearing of Recent Oriental Discoveries on Old Testament
History," in Transactions of the Victorian Institute,
vol. 38, 1906, p.48. Also W. S. Boscawen, The Bible
and the Monuments, Eyre and Spottiswoode, London. 1896, p.94.
into other Indo-European languages in the form of tour and
its cognate in English, the word town.
Such is the intriguing history,
not only of the city idea, but of the very word which conveys
it, and this word may be traced in an unbroken line right back
into Genesis 4, into pre-Flood times, to the first city ever
planned. We are, therefore, back to the second generation from
Adam. And the word Enoch -- which has no meaning in the
languages of those people who made particular use of it in subsequent
history -- does, however, have a meaning in Semitic, namely teacher.
The second illustration I should
like to use takes us on a rather wide excursion of ancient and
modern history. Probably the most famous son of Ham is the man
named Nimrod in Genesis 10, whose name, it had been expected,
would turn up somewhere in the enormous collection of cuneiform
tablets now available. But disappointingly, the name Nimrod
has not appeared yet, so far as one can gather from the relevant
literature. However, I have seen it stated that according to
Brunnow's Classified List of Sumerian Ideographs, one
particularly famous name, Nin-gir-shu, may also be read
as Nin-mir-rud. (48) As is well known, many readings of
cuneiform ideographs are merely alternatives, some signs having
at least a dozen different sound values. It is possible that
Nin-gir-shu is, therefore, in fact Nin-mir-rud, i.e.,
Now, the father of Nimrod was Cush
who was in turn the son of Ham. The name Cush is found
in a number of localities, one of them Africa. In an article
which deals with the magnificent Nigerian Bronzes from Africa,
K. C. Murray, speaking of the Yoruba people who originated these
bronzes, said: (49)
concerning the origins of the Yoruba seem to deal with the establishment
of a ruling dynasty. It is believed that in the second millennium
B.C., a people known as the Kishites (Cushites?) began to enter
the Horn of Africa from Mesopotamia and later gradually spread
westwards. . . . According to the account by Sultan Bello of
Sokoto, the Yoruba were of the Tribe of Nimrod.
is customary in reading cuneiform to replace the weak letter
N at the end of a syllable by doubling the next consonant
or by lengthening
48. I am unable to verify
this. However, the Sumerian word Nimru means "leopard,"
a rather interesting finding in view of Nimrod's reputation as
a mighty hunter. Furthermore, according to Rene Labat (Manuel
d'Epigraplue Akkadienne, Paris, 1952, p.159), the sound value
Mir may be read also as Gir, so that Nimgir
may be read as Nimmir. I am aware that a good case
can be made for identifying Nimrod with Marduk, or Merodach,
an early Babylonian deity.
49. Murray, K. C., "Nigerian Bronzes: Work from Life,"
in Antiquity, March, 1941, p.76.
vowel that precedes it. Thus Nin-gir-shu would tend to
be pronounced as Nigger-shu or Nyger-shu. It may
well be that we have here not only the origin of the word Nigeria
(pronounced with a long I), but even of the form nigger,
for the native of Africa. The only representations of Nimrod
of which I am aware are those given by Hyslop, where he is shown
According to R. E. Dennett, the
Yoruba tribe claims that the founder of their race had a wife
whose name meant "Child of Brass." (50) And if
we go back a little further in the line of Noah we finally arrive
at an individual who was said to have originated the art of working
metals, iron and brass. In Genesis 4:22 his name is given as
Tubal-Cain; although the name does not appear in this
form in antiquity. R. J. Forbes, one of the outstanding authorities
on metallurgy in antiquity, points out that Cain means
"smith." (51) And according to the same author,
one of the tribes long associated in the ancient world with metalworking
was the Tibareni, (52) whom many scholars identify with
Tubal, the L and the R being interchangeable.
We may go one step further in this
when we discover that the name of the individual who came to
be constituted as the god of the Tiber (a clearly related word)
was Vulcan. To my mind, there is little doubt that Tubal-Cain
is the earliest form of the name Vulcan which
in its later stages was merely shortened by the omission of the
Tu-. In his commentary on Genesis, Marcus Dods points
out that everything is so faithfully perpetuated in the East
that the blacksmith of the village Gubbatea-ez-zetun referred
to the iron "splinters" struck off while working at
his forge as tubal. (53) Is it entirely a coincidence
that we should refer to an iron worker as a blacksmith,
in view of the fact that these Hamitic people, themselves
probably black-skinned, seem to have been the initial workers
Now, the traditions regarding Vulcan
are rather interesting. He is, of course, associated with fire
and the working of metals, later appearing as the divine smith
of the Roman Tubilustrum. (54) He is said to have been a cripple,
having been thrown out of heaven by Jupiter as a punishment for
having taken the part of his mother in a quarrel which occurred
between them. (55)
In Genesis 4:23 there is the rather
extraordinary story of how
50. Dennett, R. E., Nigerian
Studies, London, 1910, p.75.
51. Forbes, R J., Metallurgy in Antiquity, Brill,
Leiden, 1950, p.97.
52. Ibid. p.88
53. Dods, Marcus, ref. 42, p.26.
54. Forbes, R. J., ref. 51, p.90. Also H. J. Rose, "The
Cult of Vulcanus at Rome," in Journal of the Royal Society,
vol. 23, 1933, p.46
55. See T. Bulfinch, The Age of Fable, Heritage Press,
New York, 1942, pp.7-8.
took vengeance on a young man for wounding him. Lamech's son
was Tubal-Cain, perhaps none other than Vulcan, subsequently
deified. In the brief account in Genesis, it is stated that
Lamech had two wives, one of whom was named Zillah. Let
us suppose, for a moment, that it was with Zillah that Lamech
quarrelled and that Tubal-Cain, the son of Zillah, took his mother's
part and got into a fight with his father, Lamech. Whatever happened
to Lamech is not clear, although he appears to have been wounded;
but Tubal-Cain himself was injured sufficiently to become thereafter
a lame man. Moreover, it is customary, in a society where polygamy
is allowed, to name the child not after the father but after
the mother, since this obviously assures better identification.
In early cuneiform one of the curious words which has puzzled
Sumerologists, is parzillu, the word for iron.
Now, surely this word is none other than a masculinized form
of two Semitic words, Bar Zillah, i.e., "Son of Zillah."
In the course of time, because the ending -ah tended to
be reserved for words of feminine gender, the word became Parzillu
or Barzillu with a correct masculine termination.
Putting all these things together,
one has a remarkable series of fragments of tradition in which
there is a continuity of name-forms, all related in meaning or
association and wrapped up in a trade of very ancient origin,
associated with a deity who had the strange experience of being
ejected from his home and rendered lame for taking his mother's
part and who thereafter lent his title, "Son of Zillah,"
to the Sumerian people as their word for iron. Furthermore,
these same Sumerian people -- in spite of paintings in which
they are portrayed in reconstructions as having had bronzed faces
-- always referred to themselves as black-headed ones, (56)
and are indeed spoken of by other people as black-headed, (57)
while their relatives in the Indus Valley were similarly termed
black and noseless (!) by the white Aryans who conquered them.
(58) The very name Ham means "burned"
or "dark," and though his descendants were certainly
not all black (witness the "yellow" Mongols, "red"
Indians, and "brown" Malays), it seems that the traditions
of iron working were kept particularly within the circle of black
people: so Africa became the instructor of Indo-Europeans in
this art, and metalworkers refer to themselves as "the Hamites"
or, to use the original, al Hami, which in due time came
to be identified with their art as alchemy, whence our
56. Kramer, S., From the
Tablets of Sumer, Falcon's Wing Press, 1956, p.60.
57. Thus Code of Hammurabi, Deimel's Transcription (1930), R.
24, line 11. Sennacherib's Prism (Col. I, line 15) refers to
the related Canaanites in the same way.
58. Piggott, S., Prehistoric India, Pelican Books, London,
Such, then, is the light which this
very early story in Genesis seems to shed upon much that is otherwise
strange -- and even absurd -- in ancient tradition. That there
is a basis of fact throughout is clearly confirmed by the very
continuity of the blacksmith's art. Yet only in some form of
Semitic language does one find any meaning to the venerable name
Tubal-Cain, or any light upon the origin of the hitherto
mysterious word Barzillu or Parzillu, which soon
ceased to be a Semitic word at all.
The story of Lamech is not myth,
but fact; its special significance here is predicated upon a
Semitic original. (59)
The Language of Heaven
may seem absurd to suggest that spiritual beings in heaven converse
in any kind of language such as we are accustomed to use: language
as we know it by reason of its very nature places limitations
upon the communication of our thoughts to one another. Surely
no such limitations exist in heaven. One cannot imagine that
God the Father would in this limiting sense "speak"
to God the Son, though it might be conceivable that the angels
would speak to one another and be spoken to by God. There may,
of course, be some entirely different way of communicating, of
which we know nothing at the moment, but which might bear some
relation to the fact of inspiration -- for example, the kind
of inspiration which leads to prophetic utterances and so forth
and could be by a process of telepathy. Scripture notes a number
of conversations in heaven between God and angels and even among
angels themselves, as in Job 1:6 and Daniel 10:21. In the latter
instance there is a suggestion of something in the nature of
At any rate, God has spoken to
man, and it is perhaps not without significance that when He
did so -- whether in writing as in the giving of the Ten Commandments
and upon the wall of Belshazzar's palace, or in direct conversation
as when He spoke to the First Adam and to the Last Adam, and
even through the Last Adam to man (in Aramaic) -- the language
is always some form of Semitic. It might be argued that this
was inevitable, since the Hebrew people had been chosen as God's
intermediary in the matter of His self-revelation. This could
be a quite sufficient explanation but for two circumstances which
may possibly have special significance: (a) the original name
which Adam applied to his helpmeet, and (b) the new names given
to two New Testament converts.
A word should be said, first of
all, about the significance of
59. J. C. Jones points out
with force that the very form of Lamech's song preserved the
characteristic feature of Hebrew poetry, namely, atrophic parallelism
(Primeval Revelation, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1897,
This is the subject of another Doorway Paper, (60) but it
may be said that in almost all other societies than our own,
a personal name is not merely a useful label for identification
purposes, but is the personal identity of the individual. This
principle of identity originates in antiquity. One of the earliest
cuneiform tablets of special interest to Bible students deals
with the Creation story and describes the time before the earth
was formed -- i.e., had no existence -- as a time when the earth
"was not named." The couplet reads: (61)
Time was when Heaven above was not named,
To the earth beneath no name was given.
name, no real existence. An unnamed object is not a real object;
an unnamed child is not a real person. Barbarous though it may
seem to us, Eskimo mothers sometimes had to practice infanticide;
but they sought to avoid it after the child had received
a name. A nameless child was not yet a real human being at all,
and its destruction was not considered a serious matter. Until
the child was named, it was a thing, not a human being; it really
had no soul.
The story of Adam's naming of the
animals brought to him is much more significant than we are apt
to suppose, because the names that he gave to them were not merely
labels, but summations of their "personalities." By
these names he indicated his recognition of the fact that not
one of them was a proper counterpart of his own being and therefore
could not be a true helpmeet for him. When he awoke from the
deep sleep which subsequently fell upon him, and when he saw
that God had now brought to him one more of His creatures, he
at once perceived in her a true helpmeet. By the name which he
gave to her, he demonstrated his realization of her relationship
to himself. Her original name was not Eve (a name given
to her later on) but Woman.
It happens that the word woman
is a translation of a Semitic word which is the feminine
form of the word for man. Man is Ish, woman is
Ishah. In no other language does it appear to be true
that the word for woman is the feminine form of the word for
man. Compare, for example, the Latin: vir for man, mulier
for woman; the Greek. aner for man, gune for
woman. In English the word woman is a broken down form
of an original "woof-man," which meant "the man
who weaves." (62) In Spanish the forms senor and
senora may seem
60. "The Importance of a Name,"
V in The Flood: Local or
Global?, vol. 9 in The Doorway Papers Series.
61. Barton, G., Archaeology of the Bible, American Sunday
School Union, Philadelphia, 1933, p.62.
62. So Worcester Unabridged Dictionary, under "Woman."
Other suggested alternatives are: Chamber's, Wif(e)-man,
also Womb-man. But all agree that it is not formed by making
the word man feminine.
sight to be parallel, but senor is not really the word
for "man" nor senora the word for "woman."
They are more exactly titles of courtesy like "sir"
and "lady" in English. This exceptional circumstance
in the story of Adam and Eve is in itself some evidence that
Semitic was the form of speech which Adam employed, since it
would seem only natural that the first human being should have
named his helpmeet by a modified form of his own name.
Now, just as a name is equated
with existence, so a new name is equated with a new existence.
This concept is widespread, and in many other societies a person
who changes his status will usually adopt a new (and often secret)
name. And a person who is ill for an undue length of time will
try the remedy of changing his name, thereby becoming another
individual and ridding himself of the sickness attached to the
old. Some instructive instances of this in recent times have
even been reported from our own mental institutions. (63)
Jacob received a new name after
a spiritual struggle of a very marked kind, and thereafter he
appears to have been called by either the old or the new one,
perhaps depending upon whether it was the old man or the new
man who was in view. The nation which sprang from him seems to
have been treated in the same way. Thus, while the Word of the
Lord was sent unto Jacob, it lighted only upon Israel (Isaiah
9:8). Similarly, in that great and terrible day of tribulation
it will be Jacob's trouble (Jeremiah 30:7) but only Israel shall
be saved (Romans 11:26). One such Israelite was Nathanael, called
by the Lord "an Israelite indeed" (John 1:47), as though
to point up the distinction. In Isaiah 45:4 Jacob is merely a
servant, whereas Israel is His elect bearing a new relationship
Of course, both the names Jacob
and Israel are Semitic words, so that the new name
was not in this respect in a different language. But in the New
Testament we have two people receiving new names: Peter (which
is Greek), and Mark (which is Latin), being given also
Semitic names. Peter was later re-named Cephas, which
is Aramaic; Mark was re-named John, which in the original
is a combination of two Hebrew words. Like Jacob, Peter did not
always "realize" his new name, except that Paul consistently
so referred to him in his first Epistle to the Corinthians (1:12;
Paul himself received a change
of name, and the time of the change is significant. It was not
coincident with his conversion. In Acts 9 Saul was converted,
but is still being referred to as Saul in Acts 13:2. However,
in Acts 13:9 we read this statement: "Then Saul
is also called Paul) being filled with the Holy Ghost. . . ."
Thenceforth he is never again referred to by his old name.
I would gather from these few fragments
of light that the new Name we are to receive, which is hidden
at the moment, will sum up in a unique way our whole new personality
in Christ and will probably have its meaning in Semitic -- the
language of heaven, where our citizenship is. One or two people
apparently were so manifestly and enduringly changed that their
new Name entirely replaced their old, but I suspect that Satan
is not able to discern the new person and therefore does not
know the new name (which is secret -- Revelation 2:17), so that
his accusations against us are against the old man and not the
new man, against the one who has already been judged and who
to all intents and purposes is dead in the sight of God.
Henceforth, then, as citizens of
heaven we quite appropriately have a new name in the language
of heaven, whether our present name is in English or Chinese
or African. In fact, I think there is a very real sense in which
those who are redeemed do learn to speak a new "language,"
God's language. Although we obviously do not speak Hebrew or
Aramaic, nevertheless the language of heaven it seems to me does
become meaningful to us, though in a special sense, so that there
may be times when we can be used to interpret to the world what
God has spoken. The Chosen People were His instruments in a unique
way, appointed to do this very thing in the world, i.e., to speak
for Him. Possibly a Semitic form of speech is the ideal vehicle
for this purpose, and thus God saw to it that Israel should never
entirely lose the knowledge of it.
Those who have studied Hebrew will
agree, I think, without hesitation that it is one of the most
remarkably pregnant languages for conveying deep spiritual truths.
This pregnancy results in part from the fact that it has so many
words with dual meanings. For example, the word "to forgive"
is the same as the word "to lift up"; the word for
"chasten" is the same as the word "to care for";
the words "to see" and "to provide" are the
same; and also the words "to believe" and "to
be established." This kind of dualism makes the language
full of significance for the Christian.
are only suggestive thoughts, and the argument is evanescent.
To one who is already convinced, these are strong confirmations,
they will carry little or no weight to those who are skeptical.
In closing, I cannot refrain from telling a rather beautiful
little story which has since been repeated on a number of recent
occasions but is actually to be found in a commentary on Genesis
published toward the end of the last century. It wonderfully
illustrates the universality of the language of heaven:
from different countries met at a conference and observed in
one another the unmistakable evidences of their common faith.
They approached each other with outstretched hands in welcome
and, though quite unable to speak a word of the other's language,
communicated perfectly when the one said, "Alleluia!"
and the other replied instantly, "Amen!" (64)
64. Quoted by Joseph S. Exell
in The Biblical Illustrator, vol. 1: "Genesis,"
Nisbet, London, no date, p.507.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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