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China and the Hebrews? – Too Much Supposition
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by C.H. Kang and Ethel R. Nelson
The Discovery of Genesis:  How the Truths of Genesis Were Found Hidden in the Chinese Language (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1979. 139p.)

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This book presents some intriguing information and historical-cultural analysis on Chinese ideographic characters.  The historical and cultural analysis is very informative.  The authors trace back possible meanings and origins of the complex characters of Chinese ideographs.

It was helpful to understand how various ideas are built up from combinations of simpler symbols, to tell a story of meaning, that often seemed to tell much about the context in which it developed.  It appears, from a general historical-comparative perspective, that this method offers great promise for reconstructing details of cultural exchange and connections or merging of the many ethnic streams in the history of Asia.

It is possible that historical reconstructions have already been done on aspects of Chinese culture in this manner.  But I have not had experience in the Chinese ideography, and this introduction was of great interest.  Both the authors served in Chinese contexts for long years as Christian missionaries, and Kang is a native speakers of a Chinese language, now retired in Singapore.

They were particularly concerned to find ancient connections to the monotheistic concepts of God and the accompanying moral codes in the Semitic heritage as recorded in the Old Testament.  It is their contention that originally, Chinese culture was also based on a simple monotheism, and other forms of religion and devotion developed later as this heritage was forgotten.  Some of the examples, however, seem over-drawn and analysis includes some pretty shaky connections.

I was surprised by the high instance of "could be," "might refer," and similar phrases in trying to make connections.  One surprising aspect of the portrayal of some the biblical situations they reference is the cavalier handling of the actual biblical text.  I was disappointed that the authors added a lot of detail and extended the context of several of the biblical passages to make the connection work.  They give explanations and interpretations that the biblical text itself does not contain, and it is questionable that it could support them in many cases.

Let me put it this way: the explanations of some of the biblical passages, and the contexts that make the Chinese connections work, are drawn from other perspectives or contexts than the simple biblical passage itself.  I would like to see some of these investigated from a linguistic and historical perspective.  Some of the connections are challenging and informative.

The basic premise argued in this book is that the original religious perspective of the ancient Chinese culture was monotheistic with similar concepts as those portrayed in the biblical book of Genesis.

The authors point out, though, that the development of the Chinese ideographs that seem to indicate a monotheistic origin would have been developed before the time the book of Genesis was written.  Thus the knowledge was not derived from Hebrew/Jewish sources after the writing of Genesis (which occurred comparatively late in history), but separately derived from the same or similar primitive awareness in human knowledge.

This is of interest in the category of curiosity.  But there just seem to be too many steps of supposition intalongthe way to their goal.  There was some solid critical analysis done here, but it needed to be taken further, to more clearly establish the connections.  Those connections shown do not definitively indicate a definite connection to any direct line of culture or faith back to the Hebrews, as they have presented it.

There are too many details for which there could be other explanations, and the actual connections do not seem to be of a higher occurrence than would be accounted for by ordinary chance coincidence.  At any rate it was an interesting study, and I would recommend the book for its value on insights into ancient Chinese culture and language.  This stands on its on aside from any contention related to Hebrew or Christian beliefs.

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First reading notes written 26 February 2006
Posted on Amazon and Thoughts and Resources 12 September 2006
Last edited 14 November 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
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