Hebrew: The Language of Eden
This article discusses the possibility that Hebrew might have been the original language of the world, before the dispersion from Babylon.
Since the publication of my book, Forgotten History of the Western People, some of my readers have pointed out that the original world language, before the dispersion from the Tower of Babel, might have been Hebrew. They believe that Hebrew was the original language of the garden of Eden, and the study of this subject is called “Edenics”. They also believe that many English words are derived from Hebrew. When I first heard of this, I found it a bit strange because English is an Indo-European language, and Hebrew is Semitic, and the notion of the Hebrew roots of the English language runs contrary to modern thinking of linguistics. I wondered if it might be just another fanciful idea from the British Israelites, who believe that the British people are descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel, placing them in a special covenant realtionship with God. However, I found that the supporters of Edenics are not British Israelites and they are not trying to prove any religious doctrine.
So, I decided to look into the subject, and to my surprise I found there is some quite substantal evidence that Hebrew might indeed be the original world language. The main source of linguistic evidence is The Word: The Dictionary That Reveals the Hebrew Source of English, by Isaac Mozeson. For a summary of the evidence from various sources, but primarily from Mozeson’s book, see Edenic – The First Language.
Structure of Genesis
In addition to the linguistic arguments, I discovered there are other reasons to believe that Hebrew was the first language, and this lies in the construction of the Book of Genesis, otherwise known as the first of the five books of Moses. However, Moses could not have written it, because it describes events that occurred long before his time. Instead he compiled it from other documents that were available to him. It was commonplace in the ancient world to write a “colophon” at the end of a document, identifying the author, and sometimes the date and place when it was written. Colophons have been found on stone tablets belonging to ancient Babylon, and they are the equivalent of the modern-day title page that appears at the beginning of a book.
The colophons in the Book of Genesis all have a similar form such as “This the book of the generations of Adam”, or “These are the generations of Noah”. The Hebrew word “toledoth” is consistently used, which means “generations”, “origins” or “histories”, and then there is the name of the person who is signing off this section of the history. In some cases it is followed by a list of his descendants, and this has led some commentators to believe that the “toledoth” phrase is an introduction to a genealogical list. However, there is not always a genealogy, and the regular repetition of the “toledoth” phrase indicates that it is genuinely a signing-off phrase and not an introduction. For a discussion of the text, see The First Book of Moses and the ‘Toledoth’ of Genesis, by Damien F. Mackey. He credits P.J. Wiseman as the original author who discovered the toledoth structure in 1936, and since then it has appeared in various commentaries, including The Genesis Record by Henry Morris.
There are nine sections in the Book of Genesis as follows:
The Book of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 1:1 – 2.4), ending with “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens”. This must have been written by God because it covers the days of creation when no man was present.
The Book of Adam (Gen. 2:5 – 5:2), ending with “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.”.
Note: Gen. 5:2 is probably part of the colophon because of the use of the word “day”, similar to Gen. 2:4.
The Book of Noah (Gen. 5:3 – 6:9a), ending with “These are the generations of Noah”.
The Book of the Sons of Noah (Gen. 6:9b – 10:1a), ending with “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth”.
The Book of Shem (Gen. 10:1b – 11:10a), ending with “These are the generations of Shem”.
The Book of Terah (Gen. 11:10b-27a), ending with “Now these are the generations of Terah”.
The Book of Isaac and Ishmael (Gen. 11:27b – 25:19a), ending with “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son”. It is thought that this large section is mainly from Isaac, but there is a contribution from Ishmael, ending with “Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bare unto Abraham” (Gen. 25:12).
The Book of Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:19b – 37:2a), ending with “These are the generations of Jacob”. There are two contributions from Esau. The first one ends with “Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom” (Gen. 36:1), and the second one ends with “And these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in mount Seir”. (Gen. 36:9).
The Book of the Sons of Jacob (Gen. 37:2b – Exodus 1:4), ending with “Now these are the names of the children of Israel, which came into Egypt; every man and his household came with Jacob. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, Dan, and Naphtali, Gad, and Asher.”.
In this case the word “toledoth” is not used in Exodus 1:1, but the structure is the same, using the word “shemoth” which means “names”. The names that follow are not a list of descendants, but the names of the brothers themselves, probably assembled together for a signing-off ceremony. Joseph’s name is missing because he had died, as recorded in the last verse of Genesis. In that case, the signing-off ceremony was probably soon after Joseph’s funeral. They were all assembled at Joseph’s house, and they looked at the books that had been written so far, and then they wrote their own book and signed it off. The complete collection of books remained in the royal archive, and would have been available to Moses who was brought up in Pharaoh’s house.
Note: The word “generation” which appears in Exodus 1:6 is not “toledoth”. Instead it is “dor”, which means “circle” or “generation” and is commonly used to imply continuity.
Having established that the Book of Genesis consists of nine separate books, written by different people, the question arises, in what language were all these books written? The name “Hebrew”, referring to both the people and the language of the Israelites, is attributed to their ancestor Heber, the great-grandson of Shem, so it must be a very ancient language. All the books from Terah onwards must have been written in Hebrew, because he was the fifth-generation descendant of Heber. The earlier books must also have been written in Hebrew, for the following reasons:
The language structure is essentially the same throughout the book of Genesis, including the colophons, and there is no reason to believe that the earlier books were translations from something else.
Moses and his scribes were not linguists and there is no reason to believe that they were compiling and translating documents from different languages.
The Hebrew scribes had such reverence for the language of the Torah, that if an error was made while copying a scroll, they would throw the entire scroll away. There were no critical revisions, as might be expected with translations. They behaved entirely as if they were dealing with original text, and not just any old text, but something very precious that had been handed down to them from the beginning of the world.
I have referred to the linguistic arguments of Mozeson, that the original language of the pre-flood world might have been Hebrew, and I have also given the structure of the book of Genesis, on the basis of the well-known “toledoth” phrases. However, I have not yet found any books or web pages suggesting that the structure of Genesis adds weight to the argument, that Hebrew was the language of Eden. Have I discovered something new, or have I simply rediscovered something that was known to our ancestors, whose work is buried somewhere in a mountain of forgotten histories?
Update, July 28, 2003
Since I wrote this article, I found some Jewish people who say that, according to Jewish tradition, Hebrew is the language of Eden, and this is what the Jews have always believed. They call it L’shon HaKodesh which means The Holy Language, and there are many references to the special status of Hebrew in the Jewish literature. To give just one example, the Midrash Rabbah, Genesis XXXI:8 says that “Just as the Torah was given in Hebrew, so was the world created with Hebrew”