Bible and ancient Tamil language

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?

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Chandar,
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:
Brian

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@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!

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This is really an interesting topic. As a Tamilian myself, I have the same questions as asked by Chandar. Brian and Lakshmi thanks for the inputs and resources.

Lakshmi, do you know Mr. Sadhu Chellapa (evangelist) from Tamil Nadu? There are Christian evangelists like Mr. Sadhu and Dr. Basakara Doss who evangelize and preach the Gospel to the Hindus using the Indian Vedas as a starting point. They claim that Christ is portrayed in Indian Vedas.

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@Yuven204, Please excuse my late response as I have been away traveling. Glad to note that the previous post was helpful.

Yes, I have heard of Sadhu Chellappa but have not listened to many sermons of his myself. On seeing your question, I refreshed my knowledge on Sadhu Chellappa’s testimony and his positions. While I praise God that He believes in Jesus, I do have serious concerns with his approach to evangelism using hindu scriptures. There were a few problems that were evident right away even after listening briefly only to parts of his interview on a Christian channel-

  1. In portraying Prajapati as symbolic of Jesus, a divine inspiration by the Holy Spirit of the Rig veda at least in part is assumed. However, as Christians we believe that the Bible alone is unique in being inspired by the Holy Spirit. Christ did not come to fulfill hindu scriptures but the Old testament scriptures which Jesus affirms in the gospels. Salvation was to come from jews! ( John 4:22).
  2. If Prajapati was a prophecy of Jesus then his life should be similar to Jesus. However, there is no match when it comes to details when comparing Jesus’s with Prajapati’s life. Prajapati’s life is certainly not sinless and in no way aligns with other prophecies of the Bible regarding Jesus’s birth - where He is born, who would visit, whose line He is born etc.
  3. Sadhu Chellappa equates Bramha as Creator God and Shakti as the Holy Spirit. But Bramha is another god of Hinduism and Shakti is considered to be a cosmic feminine energy and also known as Durga, Parvati, Kali depending on what line of Hinduism one is in.
  4. He reinterpreted Diwali as a festival celebrating light of Jesus. A celebration of lights does not automatically mean celebration of Jesus. We have to interpret things in context and take the whole and not parts of other scriptures.

When Christians twist hindu scriptures out of context, it marrs their testimony for Jesus before hindus. This kind of approach results in religious syncretism where one is neither true fully to Hinduism nor Christianity.

The whole idea of Jesus coming to India is a distortion of history. Please see below:

There have been some detailed responses on this topic of Prajapati by TS Balan, a hindu convert to Christ here and also by other Indian theologians - Dr. Johnson Phillip and Dr. Saneesh Cherian here. Here are some highlights:

TS Balan

  • The word of God was given to the Jews only. (Ps.147:19,20; Rom.3:1,2)
  • Prajapati not sinless!
    Itareya Brahmana:3.2.9.
    Here the Prajapati is seen taking his own daughter as his wife, and on seeing this, the other gods objected. They tried to prevent Prajapati from committing such a sin, but he did not agree with them. So the gods got angry and tried to kill Prajapati, but they could not. So, they got united together and created Rudra. He succeeded in killing Prajapati.
  • They state that the Vedas say that the one who is able to save is Prajapati alone. If anyone reads the rest of the sukta, this argument will prove to be false. The sukta calls upon Agni, Indra, Varuna, Mitra, Vishnu, Maruths, Rudra, Pughav, and the wives of all these gods to come to the rescue and provide salvation.
  • The Prajapati cult depends much on a portion of the Rig Veda known as the Purusha Sukta (Rig. 10: 90)… In the Purusha sukta, there is more than one Purusha. 1 . The first Purusha, who has a thousand heads and thousand eyes. 2 . The Virat, the shining, who was born from the first Purusha. 3 . The third Purusha who was offered as a sacrifice. No one has so far clarified who the Purusha Prajapati is. The Cult has just ignored the problem since it is difficult to explain the matter. The origin of the caste system is seen in the sukta.
  • If we can borrow the other god’s names and use it to address Jesus, it will lead us to great dangers. For example, the word BAAL means, LORD. Who is the Lord? We know that it is our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Can we preach: “Believe in Baal and you will be saved”. Consider the warning in the Bible. “Now, the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy …” (1 Tim. 4: 1).

Johnson Phillip and Saneesh Cherian - A History of the Prajapati Falsehood.

Some reasons to reject Prajapati heresy-

  • Fragmentary quotes
  • Aberrant interpretation
  • Christian hermeneutics for hindu scriptures
  • Multiple sources mixed
  • Fraudulent quotations

Not sure to what extent Chellappa is a Prajapati adherent but here are some notes from the article by Phillip and Cherian:

Prajapati heresy started as early as 1875 with Krishnamohan Banerjea. A gospel tract from 1950 with fictional quotations of hindu scriptures popularized the heresy. The real heresy grew in the 90’s with books by Koshy Abraham. Some of the non biblical beliefs of adherents of Prajapati heresy are:

  • Hindu religious books are as inspired by the Holy Spirit as the Bible is
  • Biblical theology and Vedanta philosophy are identical in essence
  • Man is not a sinner at birth
  • Jesus Christ and many of the hindu gods are same in essence
  • Jesus is not eternal but a creation of God
  • Hinduism contains the gospel of salvation .

Finally, let me end with the warning from the Bible which appears to have been taken lightly in explaining Jesus from Vedas.

Revelation 22:18-19 King James Version (KJV)

18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

I am not a scholar but in just going through some of the information on what Sadhu Chellappa stated in an interview, and the reasons stated here, I would not support his interpretations. It is sad to see many sincere undiscerning Christians buying into unbiblical propaganda. I have not looked into Bhaskara Doss but if he says the same thing, then you have the answer. Thanks for your question, an important one for Indians.

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In short, the God of the universe chose a very specific people group from the descendants of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. The origins of Hebrew language have grown and expanded through centuries. The stories and miracles of the Old Testament took place in the Middle East. The transmission and traditions and writings of Hebrew communication have miraculously survived near extinction several times. The fact that God has resurrected Israel and the Hebrew language again in our era is another Devine action that could not, nor has not ever been repeated.
I too have visited my grandfather’s mission field in south India and have looked at the Tamil Bible he used. It is an amazing country, civilization and history. But God chose to use the people and language of the Jews to birth the Messiah. That was a miracle.
Shalom,
Brian

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@Lakshmismehta Thank you so much for the reply. I was worried at first whether you would reply since this was a quite old post. I am really thankful and appreciate the effort and research you did in explaining this.

I was really struggling to find a consensus answer to this topic based on the biblical aspect. But now there is clarity. Yes, certainly I agree with you on the problems that you raised on Mr. Chellapa’s way of evangelism. Also, the Hindu Vedas claim the creation of the universe happens in a cyclical way, but science shows that our universe is expanding. In addition, the Hindu Vedas and other Eastern scriptures are very esoteric in nature, but the Bible is not. As a matter of fact, I even tried to contact Mr. Chellappa and his son (Finny Chellappa) for further clarification on my questions. But I could not reach Mr. Chellappa and his son completely ignored my emails and did not pick up my phone. That’s when my intuition started to doubt their approach. Dr. Baskara Doss is a close friend Mr. Chellappa. So like what you said, we have the answer for Dr. Doss’ claims also.

In relation to Mr. Chellappa’s works, how do we reconcile on the fact for some claims that the Tamil Poet, Thiruvalluvar would have been influenced by Apostle Thomas? My main intention behind all these topics is to defend our Judeo-Christian worldview with Hindus who claim that Hinduism is the oldest religion, and hence this worldview would have been the ‘real’ method of salvation from God.

Initially, I wanted to defend by making a counter-claim that ancient Israel and their scriptures are in fact even older that Hindu scriptures (Job, Genesis, etc.). However, I also have another analogy to defend the Bible (the first microscope vs. present-day electron microscope). The first microscope built by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek has limited magnification and hence you can’t clearly see the cell’s complete design. But recent electron microscopes have higher magnification, and hence we can see the intricate structures of the cell. So even though Hinduism could have been the oldest religion, but it has a lower magnification of life. The Bible clearly says that all humans are made in the image of God. So all humans must have a relational aspect to think about God, but the ultimate salvation came from the God chosen people, the Jews, and in the end salvation for gentiles through Christ.

I have another hypothesis about Hinduism; it is actually a man-made religion. This is my perception of subcontinent India and Hinduism: Ancient Indian subcontinent which spanned above present-day Iraq was the center point for an explosion and radiation of different ancient world views that resulted in a conglomerated rituals, practices, and cultures collectively known today as Hinduism. There is a strong difference between North and South Indian traditions and culture. Spirit worship is more prominent in the South. Idol worship could have originated from the North. My assumption is that North Indians are Aryans who migrated from Persia, Greece, Ukraine, etc. Hence there is lots of idol worship. Do you think there is a pagan influence in Hinduism? My observations tell me so.

I am also interested to know how the church developed in the East. We have a wealth of information for the Church history in the West, but in the east is limited. I have found some books on Early Christianity in Syria. But I am more interested to know about the Far East: India, China, etc. There are some gnostic gospels (Acts of Thomas, Gospel of Thomas). I assume only 50% of them are true and they have been distorted by other views.

Yes, it is actually sad to see the Bible being used to spread propaganda. I think we have the obligation to expose these and show the real Christ to the world. Even Christ warned against false teachings and prophets. Thanks again for your reply.

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@Yuven204, thank you for the detailed reply. Its great to see that you have been thinking about how to best defend our worldview before the Hindus and seems like you are making progress on the different leads. Thanks for sharing those ideas for further discussion. Its probably best to address some of those questions separately as new topics at a later time but below are a few thoughts I have for now.

I think it may be worth pursuing a greater understanding of how old Hindu scriptures really are. I happened to read somewhere ( I will need time to dig out reference) that epigraphical evidence for Sanskrit text appears much later than Hebrew. So our question can be - if Hindu religion and Sanskrit are really that old, then why is there no earlier epigraphical evidence for the time period that Hebrew scriptures have epigraphical evidence? I think it’s worth pursuing evidence to support this idea. Here’s how David Sterrett from Probe ministries answers the question of hindus claim of their religion being the oldest religion and hence true -

Even among scholars of the writings of the Vedas, there is some dispute about when the actual writings of the Vedas were written. Some of them might date back to 1500 BC, but some Biblical scholars date the Exodus of the Hebrews around this time. Conservative Biblical scholars (and I) hold that Moses was the primary author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible.) This would date the Pentateuch as being as old as some of the Vedas. But it is true that Christianity was started with Christ or, technically, after his resurrection. The New Testament was written in the first century. So, in one sense, one might claim that Hinduism is older than “CHRISTianity” because it dates back before Christ. [However, Christianity’s roots are in Judaism, which, again, traces its roots all the way back to the first man and woman.]

But if a Hindu apologist uses the phrase “Hinduism is older than Christianity” kind of as a “gotcha” statement, trying to make something more credible because of its age, their implications include a couple fallacies. First, Hinduism has changed and added books with their Vedas over the years, and it’s difficult to say all the Vedas are older than the Torah. Second, just because something is older doesn’t make something more true. This is the logical fallacy “Argumentum ab Annis” (argument because of age). Just because a religion, a thousand years ago from a primitive group, taught that child sacrifice to the gods was good, this didn’t make their belief or their practice true or good. And not just because of the argument that one religion being older makes it better. However, God’s existence, his creation, the existence of Adam, and calling of Abraham existed in reality years before Moses documented them in the Torah.

I have thought along the same lines that pagan influences may have been there in Hinduism from the middle east. This is because there are many pagan practices in Hinduism and Indus valley civilization is considered to have come after Egyptian, though debated. When I was looking into yoga, I had come across Egyptian yoga which had many elements similar to Hindu beliefs in yoga. The worship of trees, stones, other elements in nature in paganism also overlap Hindu customs. However, there are areas that they differ greatly in to and I dont want to make the same straw man errors that Prajapati adherents make. I am interested in looking into this further as well. If I come across books along these lines, I will let you know.

One of the things about Hinduism is that the idea of God seems to evolve over time from impersonal to personal unlike the Bible where the description of God as a triune personal being stays the same from OT to NT times. Interestingly, the gods of rig veda are hardly worshipped these days and the current gods like Krishna or Rama are not mentioned in the Rig Veda. This to me suggests that there could have been man-made additions over time even in the traditional hindu practice as we know it now.

Your question about Tamil poet and the spread of Christianity in India is interesting and I have never looked into it. Definitely something to pursue as another topic.

Lots of good questions and thoughts! Much to learn! I hope this reply helps a bit. Looking forward to further conversations in the future.

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@Lakshmismehta Thank you again for the detailed response. It’s a good idea to separate the topics in different topics/ threads. I got so carried away with the wealth of information! I will also post if I find any materials that talk about epigraphical evidence for Hebrew and Sanskrit scriptures.

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