Posts Tagged ‘etymology’

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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