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Tuesday, December 02, 2014
Wendy Wippel

As someone for whom apologetics is like crack, I am perpetually terrified of running out of new things to learn. But God always provides another fix, this week, in the form of names: Tepapa, Tannah Kumpok, Mulay, Pilchu Harem, Kuksu, Siah, and Tiki-Ahua: ancient names for Adam.  From all over the world.

We all know that after the tower of Babel, the world’s population spread into every corner of the world and, other than an occasional ephemeral empire that rose and fell, the world’s people remained largely sequestered from distant peoples by geography, language, and a reasonable fear. Consequently, aside from random news from those intrepid traders, most also remained largely without communication with distant pockets of humanity. 

Until the age of exploration. The dawn of the European Renaissance (following the limited horizons of the dark ages in Europe) birthed a desire to measure the world and define its extent.  Columbus, in a calculated risk, set sail due west, without really knowing what he would face (some maps at that time pictured the Atlantic extending some distance out from Europe, with what lay beyond labeled with “Here be Dragons” and decorated with pictures of sea monsters, and when Columbus’s educated guess of how long it would take him to reach the West Indies proved a little shy (he neglected to convert the Roman mile to the Persian mile) his crew mutinied. Columbus persuaded them to give him three more days, however, and the rest is history. He discovered a new world, and other European explorers followed in his footsteps, exploring that new world as well as Asia, India, and Africa as well.

And where explorers went, missionaries followed.  I happened to come across (free on google books) a massive missive written by Sir James George Frazier in which he collected reports on the mythology of the primitive peoples in the countries that these European explorers and missionaries contacted. And what these untouched cultures related to those missionaries and explorers is simply amazing.

Though it really shouldn’t surprise us.

What the missionaries and explorers brought back from those initial contacts with untouched tribes were legend after legend, cherished by those tribes for centuries as a trustworthy record of their origins that read like they came straight out of Genesis.

Beginning right at the beginning, with the creation of man, related in the Hebrew Scriptures like this:

“the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.. . .And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.” (Genesis 2:7,21-22)

Sir Frazier details oral histories, from 37 distinct people groups collected across six of the seven continents. And though over the thousands of years each culture embellished the story a little in their own unique ways, what we see is an astonishing conformity to Genesis in the principal points.

Starting with Genesis 2:7.  All 37 of the cultures that Frazier describes insist that the creator of the world formed man out of the earth itself.  Egypt, Greece, and Babylon believed it, but, as Israel’s neighbors, maybe that’s not surprising.

But the fact that the rest of the world’s populations from the Australian aborigines, the Maoris and other residents of the Polynesian Islands, tribes in Asia (Burma, the Philippines, China, Africa, India, Russia, Alaska and North and South America) have oral histories that confirm the Genesis account. That begs an explanation.

The Karen people in what is now Myanmar had a singsong oral legend that all members learned:

"God created man and of what did he form him? He created man from the earth and finished the work of creation.  He created woman, and from what did he form her? He took a rib from man and created woman. He created the spirit of life, and from what did he form the spirit? He took a particle of his life and breathed it into their nostrils and they came to life.”

Although most of the histories are not as comprehensive, they share the elements of the Karen’s oral history.  Many, including the native populations of Australia and nearby islands as well as the Inuit in Alaska, specified that the creator breathed life into his first human. The Karen believed that God breathed into the man’s nostrils, the Minahassa that inhabited some Indonesian Islands believed that it was the ears God breathed into, while native peoples of Nias, the largest island of Sumatra, believed that God weighed the wind and put just the right amount in the first man’s mouth.

Many tribal legends, those of the Maoris, for example, also included an assertion (or a hint) that man was made in God’s image.  The legends of the Maidi Indians, in what eventually became California, said that when God started to create man, the animals all wanted him to look like them, but God told the animals that man had to look like his creator. The natives of Sumatra describe God as being inspired to create man by looking at his own reflection in a lake. Others included part of God mixed into the clay. The Hopi in New Mexico and the Maidi believed that God mixed his sweat into the earth/clay, while many cultures, from the Bil-an in the Philippines, to the Pima in Arizona to ancient Babylon, said that God mixed in his own blood. Many cultures also described the earth used to create man as red. 

Intriguingly, some cultures described God having a helper when he created the world (including Adam). Some, like the Lakona, described the helper as a “spirit”, those that didn’t most often described the helper as a bird.

Which is interesting since Genesis says that spirit “hovered” or “fluttered” over creation at the beginning. According to some Eskimo tribes, in fact, a raven fluttered his wings in order to put the spirit of life inside of the man that the creator made.

And even more incredible, several cultures, including the fans of West Africa and the Lakona that inhabited the Melanesian Island of Santa Maria, report that the first man (Adam) came to life on the sixth day.

What about Eve?  Legends in such diverse groups as the inhabitants of Tahiti, Fakaofo, and Bowditch Island in Polynesia, The Bedel Tartars in Siberia, and the Kawakipas in Northern California all asserted that the first woman was created using a bone from the man, often specified as a rib. The Bedel tartars described the rib as growing out of the man’s side until it fell out and became the woman.  (The Fans say that when the man and woman saw each other, they laughed. For some reason that makes me happy.)

The native peoples of the Polynesian islands, in fact, name the first woman as Ivi. This sort of improbable coincidence made those early explorers suspicious that prior contact had, in fact, been made, but tribal members, in every case, unanimously insisted, according to Frazier, that their beliefs came down from their early ancestors. 

Was there prior contact? Is there any way we can know for sure?

Etymology—the study of changes in language and word meanings over time, often hint at historical origins.. And a shared source for both Genesis and the Polynesian oral histories that name the first woman as Ivi is suggested by the fact that Ivi, in the native language, also means bone.

Maybe it’s just coincidence? Or even if it is shared origin, how do we know which culture had the original story?  (Could we say, even, the truth?)

Etymology to the rescue again. In Hebrew, Adam means man, ground is adamah, and red is adom. Coincidence? I think not.

The Kumis, in Eastern India, also confirms the details of man’s creation in Genesis: the creator took red earth and clay and made man, and from man He made woman. To that they add a detail:

A snake devoured them.

But that’s a topic for another day.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: The Virgin and Her Son

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