Archive for the ‘Pre-Flood World’ Category

One of the tasks of a fiction writer is to decide what to name his or her characters. I’ve had to think carefully about how to handle that in the Edhai historical-fiction series I’m working on.

The series begins in the time before the Biblical Deluge and thus in a period when all the world spoke a single language. In more recent times — meaning the past few thousand years — people have been shorter-lived, so languages have been more apt to change. But in the pre-flood period, people lived much longer — Adam for 930 years, Seth for 912 years, Enosh for 905 years, and so on (see Gen 5:3-11). Given such longer lifetimes and the overlap among generations, I surmise that there would have been more stability in language. It would have changed less.

Even after the Flood, humans lived for a relatively long period of time, Noah living to 950 years and his son Shem to 600 years (see Gen 9:29 and 11:10, 11). This would likely also contribute to linguistic stability until the confusion of human languages at Babel sometime between 2269 and 2030 BCE during the lifetime of Peleg (Gen 10:25, 11:1-9).

What I’m getting at here is that for the first couple of thousand years of human existence all humans would likely have spoken the same language — Hebrew or something like it — and might never even have conceived of the idea of a foreign tongue. This would affect all names of humans and places, which would have been based on words and their meanings, rather than just on family traditions or the sound of the name — ‘my grandfather’s name was Robert, let’s name the baby after him’ or ‘I like the way “Chelsea” sounds.’


The Tetragrammaton as it appears on a church window in Decorah, Iowa. via Wikimedia.

So in The Cursed Ground, the initial novel in the series, I’m choosing names with real English meanings. For example, the two main characters are named Boon and Temper. The story doesn’t deal much with historical characters like Noah and Lamech, but even when they are mentioned, I try to employ English equivalents, such as Soothe and Plainspeaker.

This is an interesting problem, but not as easily solved as you might think. Not all English words really sound that great if you try to use them as proper names — calling someone “Smart” or “Friendly” or “Robust” just doesn’t have quite the right ring to it.

What to call the true God presented an especial challenge when I was trying to decide how the characters would refer to him in the story. Ancient people who knew the name of God would have pronounced it in their own language, using something like “Yehewah” or “Jehovah” or “Yahweh.” But in the story, I wanted to have the characters speaking of God with consciousness of the meaning of his name.

The name JHVH or YHWH (a.k.a., the Tetragrammaton) in Hebrew expresses the causative form and imperfect state of the verb ha-wah’, or “become.” The divine name, then, basically means “He Causes to Become,” in that Jehovah causes himself to become whatever he wishes in order to fulfill his purposes. Thus I decided that in The Cursed Ground and in the sequels to follow, the characters who know this God would refer to him as “He Who Causes to Become,” or, more often “the Becomer.”

Anyhow, I thought I would share my thought process leading to the way names are devised in the Edhai series, in case this might be of interest to readers.

ARK — 22 October 2014



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I was intrigued recently to read an article by independent scholar Bengt Sage, “Noah and Human Etymology,” in which he makes a startling claim:

As traditions of the universal flood spread around the world with the post-Ararat migrations, the venerable name of Noah traveled with them.

Manu being saved from the deluge

The fish avatar of Vishnu saves Manu and the Seven Sages during the deluge. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Sage goes on to make connections between the name Noah and various versions of that name in Sanskrit, Latin, Lithuanian, ancient Egyptian and Sumerian, Gothic, and even African and East Asian languages.

I admit I was skeptical at first. Sage seems to base a number of his assertions on apparent cognates among the various languages — cognates being two or more words having a common etymological origin. The problem is that similarity between two words in different languages does not in itself prove a common origin — false cognates are a possibility. So the similarity among the names Manu in Sanskrit, Menes in Egyptian, and Minos in Greek does not prove that they all originally referred to the same person.

However, some investigation in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) reveals that Sage’s assertions have more going for them than I originally thought.

In discussing the Sanskrit name Manu, Sage writes:

Manu was the name of the flood hero in the traditions of India. He, like Noah, is said to have built an ark in which eight people were saved. It is highly probable that Noah and Manu were thus the same individual. “Ma” is an ancient word for “water,” so that Manu could mean “Noah of the waters.”

… In Sanskrit, the name Manu appropriately came to mean “man” or “mankind” (since Manu, or Noah, was the father of all post-flood mankind).

This claim is generally in line with what the OED says in its Manu entry:

Etymology:  < Sanskrit Manu progenitor of mankind (also used with metaphorical implication ‘mankind’; derivatives meaning ‘offspring of Manu’ are used for ‘man, human being’), cognate with man n.1 Compare manvantara n.

Note in that entry that the OED lists Manu as a cognate to the English word man. The OED entry on man discusses extensively the Indo-European derivation of the word man, specifically connecting it to the Sanskrit manu, Sanskrit also being part of the (hypothetical, really) Indo-European language family.

In Hindu mythology, the story of Manu does carry some striking similarities to that of Noah. The Encyclopedia Britannica relates the story thus:

In the story of the great flood, Manu combines the characteristics of the Hebrew Bible figures of Noah, who preserved life from extinction in a great flood, and Adam, the first man. The Shatapatha Brahmana recounts how he was warned by a fish, to whom he had done a kindness, that a flood would destroy the whole of humanity. He therefore built a boat, as the fish advised. When the flood came, he tied this boat to the fish’s horn and was safely steered to a resting place on a mountaintop. When the flood receded, Manu, the sole human survivor, performed a sacrifice, pouring oblations of butter and sour milk into the waters. After a year there was born from the waters a woman who announced herself as “the daughter of Manu.” These two then became the ancestors of a new human race to replenish the earth. In the Mahabharata (“Great Epic of the Bharata Dynasty”), the fish is identified with the god Brahma, while in the Puranas (“Ancient Lore”) it is Matsya, the fish incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

In the Hebrew Bible, Noah’s name “No-ach” probably means something like “rest” or “consolation.” As you might know, I’m working on a fiction series called “Edhai,” which is set in ancient times and touches on Bible history. The story begins during the pre-flood period, so I’m interested in the character of Noah. In the Edhai series, the main characters are entirely fictional, and real Bible characters such as Noah only appear briefly if at all. However, knowledge of their life and times is vital to the story line.

I plan to release the first episode in the Edhai series in the very near future. If you’re interested in hearing about that release — or in following my research as I work on the series — of if you just want to keep in touch, please sign up to receive my email updates by following this link.

ARK — 24 September 2014

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What were people like in prehistoric times? British archaeologist and paleolinguist Colin Renfrew has some ideas. Renfrew’s book “Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind” is a discussion of findings from what’s referred to as “cognitive archaeology,” a theoretical model that tries to describe the thinking of ancient peoples by studying archaeological finds.

The book reads well and is useful and interesting for me, as my Edhai fiction project focuses on the remote past. I particularly appreciated Renfrew’s discussions of economics and trade in prehistoric times. As one might expect, Renfrew subscribes to a view of the past conventional in mainstream academia, filtered through darwinism and an inflated chronology of history and prehistory. Outside of those common assumptions, I find this book commendably free of speculation.

These comments are based on my review of “Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind” at Goodreads, where you can see what I’m reading, along with my other reviews.

ARK — 13 August 2014


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I was just alerted to an extensive online collection of historical artifacts from the Penn Museum. With almost 700,000 items, many from antiquity, the database includes photos and descriptions that are very useful for research and for writing. You’ll find many everyday objects that should help you visualize how life was during ancient times.

For example, I recently needed to write a scene where someone was using a scoop. Searching the Penn database for “scoop” revealed many hits, including this nice example of a woven scoop from Asia:

Asian woven scoop


ARK — 6 July 2014



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Robert Pershing Wadlow. via Wikimedia.

Robert Pershing Wadlow. via Wikimedia.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post showing that some popular photos of giant skeletons were faked — see “Have Archaeologists Found Skeletons of Biblical Giants in Greece?

However, in that post I didn’t say much about whether giant humans could in fact have existed at one time. The “giant skeletons” article has been viewed tens of thousands of times and has received many comments from people who seem to take it personally that I exposed these photos as faked. Many took it that I was contradicting the Bible account in Genesis, which they believe speaks of a time when giant humans walked the earth.

I should point out that very large people have been known even in modern times. The American Robert Pershing Wadlow lived from 1918 to 1940. Wadlow reached 8 feet 11.1 inches (2.72 meters) and 492 pounds (223 kg). So it doesn’t seem impossible to suppose that a human could reach a height of 10 feet or so.

About giants in the Bible: According to 1 Sam. 17:4, the Philistine giant Goliath was six cubits and a span, about 9 ½ feet tall (2.9 meters). That’s not too much larger than Wadlow. Pre-flood creatures described at Gen. 6:1,2,4 are sometimes called “giants,” but the actual word used there is nefilim, meaning “fellers” in Hebrew, or those who cause others to fall down by striking them. The Bible doesn’t say how big they were.

giants6smallIf you look at the first faked photo I show in the “giant skeletons” post, you will see that it shows a skull appearing to be about five feet high (or 60 inches). If you figure that a normal human skull is about seven inches high, the skull in the faked photo would have to represent a human about 50 feet tall.

Could a human exist at a height of 40 feet, 50 feet, or more? It’s an interesting question, but it has been explored by competent researchers.

In 1928, geneticist J.B.S. Haldane wrote a well-known essay called “On Being the Right Size,” in which he wrote that “it is easy to show that a hare could not be as large as a hippopotamus, or a whale as small as a herring. For every type of animal there is a most convenient size, and a large change in size inevitably carries with it a change of form.” Haldane gives an extensive discussion of the relationship between size and function in living things, but he also addresses the problem of a giant human by supposing a human were the size of the giants Pope and Pagan in the version of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress that he, Haldane, had when he was a child. He shows what engineering problems would result from being so large:

Let us take the most obvious of possible cases, and consider a giant man sixty feet high — about the height of Giant Pope and Giant Pagan in the illustrated Pilgrim’s Progress of my childhood. These monsters were not only ten times as high as Christian, but ten times as wide and ten times as thick, so that their total weight was a thousand times his, or about eighty to ninety tons. Unfortunately the cross sections of their bones were only a hundred times those of Christian, so that every square inch of giant bone had to support ten times the weight borne by a square inch of human bone. As the human thigh-bone breaks under about ten times the human weight, Pope and Pagan would have broken their thighs every time they took a step.

Such problems are solved in nature by what we might call “right-sizing.” Haldane offers the example of the gazelle:

To turn to zoology, suppose that a gazelle, a graceful little creature with long thin legs, is to become large, it will break its bones unless it does one of two things. It may make its legs short and thick, like the rhinoceros, so that every pound of weight has still about the same area of bone to support it. Or it can compress its body and stretch out its legs obliquely to gain stability, like the giraffe. I mention these two beasts because they happen to belong to the same order as the gazelle, and both are quite successful mechanically, being remarkably fast runners.

Movie poster by Reynold Brown via Wikimedia.

Movie poster by Reynold Brown via Wikimedia.

Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope goes into greater detail about the structural problems of being a 50-foot-tall human in his post “Could an attacking 50-foot woman actually exist?” The reference here is to the science fiction movie Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

Adams explains that, according to the Principle of Similitude, “women, men, and critters in general can only get so big,” because “strength increases with the square of height while bulk increases with the cube.” So if an animal were to get taller while keeping the same proportions, it would get too weak to support its weight: “doubling the size of an animal while keeping its proportions the same increases the cross-sectional area of its muscles and bones by a factor of four while increasing its weight by a factor of eight.” Consequently, “if a woman starts off at five feet and 100 pounds and then grows to 50 feet, she’ll have 100 times the bone and muscle area but weigh 1,000 times as much — 50 tons.”

Adams also explains that a human of that size would run into insurmountable problems with its cardiovascular system, among other difficulties.

Given the engineering obstacles around human gigantism, I suggest that we all be satisfied with imagining giants of more modest size. After all, a nine-foot-tall guy would be pretty impressive, no?

ARK — 6 Nov. 2013

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I was researching metalworking in the ancient world and came across a mention of the “seven metals of antiquity.” I found a good short summary, “A Short History of Metals,” by Alan W. Cramb, a metallurgist who is now provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Cramb identifies “the metals upon which civilization was based” as:

  1. Gold (ca) 6000BC
  2. Copper (ca) 4200BC
  3. Silver (ca) 4000BC
  4. Lead (ca) 3500BC
  5. Tin (ca) 1750BC
  6. Iron,smelte, (ca) 1500BC
  7. Mercury (ca) 750BC

Cramb discusses each of these metals and their history in more detail and says that

These metals were known to the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks, and the Romans. Of the seven metals, five can be found in their native states, e.g., gold, silver, copper, iron (from meteors) and mercury. However, the occurrence of these metals was not abundant and the first two metals to be used widely were gold and copper.

One of the sources he lists is the much more extensive 1960 book, A History of Metals, by Leslie Aitchison. I found an electronic copy of this Aitchison book available through the HathiTrust. You might be able to get access to it if you have an account with an academic library.

Credit: Phirosiberia via Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Phirosiberia via Wikimedia Commons

ARK — 8 September 2013

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I previously posted an entry linking to various maps of the hypothesized supercontinent of Pangea that might have existed 250 million years ago during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic ages. Here’s a new map that was recently uploaded to Reddit by LikeWolvesDo. Click on the image to enlarge it:


ARK — 26 May 2014

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