Bible and ancient Tamil language

(Chandar) #1

South Indian history claims Tamil is the oldest of all the language and there are lot of books/manuscripts written and some of them still persist. My question is, if that is the case how does bible doesn’t have any saying on this and how to get convinced word of God is not reached to that people.
Also Is Tamil very ancient than biblical written languages?
How did such language exist in biblical stand point? and during whose biblical period in period such language exist?

(Brian Lalor) #3

I will do my best to answer your question. I actually attend a bible study here in China with a man from Bangalore, who is a geologist. He is doing some post doc. research here. I am learning a lot from him about the age of the earth.
To find answers to your questions I looked up a couple of sites such as this one:

Both sources I checked are dating the earliest written Tamil documents to date back to the second century B.C. It is indeed an old language. I believe the oldest written language we have is Egyptian. This can date back to 2600 B.C.
I believe the oldest copy of the bible we have are the Dead Sea Scrolls. These date back to 408 B.C.
From a biblical stand point we generally believe that the earliest humans were speaking one language. I presume it was some form of Hebrew, but I have no evidence of that. We learn in Genesis 11, that God decided to move people throughout the earth by giving them different languages. I do not think we have any way of knowing this date but it would have to be at the very least a few thousand years before Christ.
I hope this helps:slightly_smiling_face:

(Lakshmi Mehta) #4

@bachan, thanks for that unique and interesting question. It definitely sparked my interest because of my Indian origins. @brianlalor has provided some good sources of information to be able to estimate the dating of Tamil language in relation to the Bible. If I am hearing you right, some of the questions you are asking are -

  1. How can I trust the Bible if it has no mention of Tamil, a language that is considered to be one of the oldest?
  2. Is the claim of Tamil being the oldest language true?
  3. Where in the biblical timeline should the inception of Tamil be placed?

Let me start with the first one. One assumption that Indians often make in questioning the validity of the Bible based on the age of Christianity is that something must be true just because something is old. This is actually a logical error. In the opposite direction, we would say something is false just because it is new. So should we even believe them? The way to assess the truth of anything is to see if there is any evidence for the claims. You might have heard Ravi Zacharias say, “There are 3 tests for truth: logical consistency, empirical adequacy, & experiential relevance”. When you apply these tests to the questions of origin, meaning, morality and destiny, Christian faith will stand unique. So the absence of some facts in the Bible, doesn’t change the truth. While Bible has some history, geography, science, poetry etc., the overarching story of the Bible is of man’s relationship with God. It is a story of how God pursues man in love. It is not based on speculations but about the person of Jesus Christ who gives us hope because of His resurrection. We can also point out that though Christian faith seems new, it actually is on the foundation of the Jewish faith that takes one back all the way to the first human couple. Vedas by the way are not as old as it is claimed, it’s around 1500 BC because Sanskrit in written form did not exist prior to that.

On seeing your question I was curious if Bible mentions Tamil in any way. So as I looked, I stumbled upon an interesting source of information that has received recognition from even the Indian linguists. The book is written by Iowa-born Hebrew University professor David Shulman, a world-renowned scholar of the Dravidian language family of southern India to which Tamil belong.

A few facts from the description about the book -

  • Shulman presents a comprehensive cultural history of Tamil—language, literature, and civilization—emphasizing how Tamil speakers and poets have understood the unique features of their language over its long history.

  • Shulman tracks Tamil from its earliest traces at the end of the first millennium BCE through the classical period, 850 to 1200 CE, when Tamil-speaking rulers held sway over southern India, and into late-medieval and modern times, including the deeply contentious politics that overshadow Tamil today.

At first glance, this dating seems to be in disagreement with the other article cited by @brianlalor, but please note Schulman’s article is referring to earliest traces of Tamil language and could
include the spoken form. Languages can be spoken for several years before a script evolves for the language.

What’s even more interesting is that Schulman found ‘two’ words in the Bible that are likely of Sanskrit origin and ‘one’ from Tamil. This may further prove the historical relevance of the Bible to those you are trying to reach. There is also growing linguistic evidence that the world languages came out of one language suggesting the story of Babel as true.

Here are some thoughts from the Philologos, a Jewish language columnist’s site about the the three Sanskrit/Tamil words in the Bible that Shulman described in his book.

One of the minor details about Tamil that caught my attention in Shulman’s book is the claim that it contributed at least one word to the Hebrew Bible. This is tukiyim, “peacocks,” which occurs in the first book of Kings. In Chapters 9 and 10 of 1Kings we read of an ambitious maritime enterprise conducted by King Solomon in partnership with Hiram, the Phoenician king of Tyre. In 9:26 we are told (as usual, I quote from the King James Version):

And King Solomon made a navy of ships in Etsyon-Gever, which is beside Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea. . . . And Hiram sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon.

Verse 10:11 then relates:

And the navy of Hiram, which brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir a great plenty of almug trees and precious stones.

And in 10:22 we read:

For the king [Solomon] had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram. Once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.

Were Ophir, and perhaps Tarshish, ports in India? Shulman, following in the path of 19th-century scholars before him, identifies three Indian loan words in 1Kings. Two he traces to Sanskrit, the Indo-European language of northern India that is historically unrelated to Dravidian tongues like Tamil, though the two families greatly influenced each other. The biblical word for ivory, shenhav, he observes, is most likely a compound of Hebrew shen, tooth, and Sanskrit ibha, elephant, while Hebrew kofim, apes or monkeys, “certainly derived from Sanskrit kapi.”

**As for tuki (the singular of tukiyim ), it, according to Shulman, was “taken from Tamil tokai, the male peacock’s tail.” ** One can easily imagine, he writes, “ancient Israelite mariners pointing to the [peacock’s] splendid tail feathers and asking their Tamil-speaking colleagues what name it had.” The Tamil speakers would have taken the question to refer to the tail alone; their Hebrew-speaking questioners would have understood their answer to refer to the entire bird.

Since the reign of King Solomon is from 977 - 930 BC , it is interesting to note that this dating is within the range of what Schulman tracked for Tamil around 1000 BC using other resources apart from the Bible as well.

Finally, it may also interest you that the name “India”, is mentioned twice in the Bible in the Book of Esther:

Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus (this was the Ahasuerus who reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia) (Esther 1:1).

So the king’s scribes were called at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan, on the twenty-third day; and it was written, according to all that Mordecai commanded, to the Jews, the satraps, the governors, and the princes of the provinces from India to Ethiopia, one hundred and twenty-seven provinces in all, to every province in its own script, to every people in their own language, and to the Jews in their own script and language (Esther 8:9).

Another piece of evidence that may support the story of Babel in the Bible is this paper on the common source of world languages.

I hope this will be helpful in reaching out to your loved ones. I have not read the recommended resources in entirety but I have shared information that is relevant to your question. God bless your efforts in reaching out!