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In 1979, missionary C.H. Kang and medical pathologist Ethel R. Nelson published The Discovery of Genesis, a book proposing the theory that the Biblical book of Genesis is encoded in the Chinese language. The theory lacks rigorous evidence, but it's interesting. Coincidence or truth?

Disclaimer: I'm not really religious, and I'm not trying to convert anyone with this material. This is just of etymological interest to me.


GENESIS: The Creation of Man

On the sixth day of creation, after creating the heavens and earth, God created the first man. God gathered dust and shaped it in his own image, to form the body of a man. God then breathed into the man's nostril to bring the dust to life, infusing it with spirit.

Character Dissection Biblical Explanation
One of God's creations was a talking and walking entity, a human being.
The first man was created from dust; the dust made alive. (How the single stroke represents "alive" escapes me.)

GENESIS: The Garden of Eden

Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, live peacefully with God in the Garden of Eden, a natural paradise. Adam and Eve are allowed to eat from all trees in the garden except for two forbidden trees: the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge. Satan (the devil), disguised as a serpent, tempts Eve to eat from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. Eve succumbs, and then she tempts Adam to eat from the same tree. Adam and Eve then become aware of their nakedness and feel ashamed. They hide in the trees and cover their private areas with the leaves of a fig tree. God eventually discovers their sin and banishes the two from Eden. As added punishments, the earth would no longer bear nourishment for humans without being toiled over (by males), and females would no longer give birth without pain.

Character Dissection Biblical Explanation
God had forbid Adam and Eve from eating from two particular trees.
Eve, the female counterpart of Adam, had the sinful desire to eat from the forbidden trees.
Eve secretly eats from the Tree of Knowledge with her mouth. This first sin marks the beginning of humankind's descent from the heavenly realm.
The devil secretly goes to the Garden of Eden. Although he comes in the form of a snake, he speaks as a man.
Embrace the devil with two trees and a cover, and you get a tempter. The devil tempts the humans to eat from the two trees, and the devil comes undercover, camouflaged as a snake.
After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Even become aware of their nakedness and hide in the trees. "Body is tree" characterizes this intent of camouflaging into the background.
All three of these characters mean "naked", and share the character for fruit as a component. If you were to design a language, why would you use the word for fruit to make the word "naked"? Genesis provides a contextual explanation for this choice. Adam and Eve hide their private areas with the leaves of a fruit tree; specifically, a fig tree.

Note: I thought this was a good argument for Kang's theory.

GENESIS: The Flood

Some time after the descent of Adam and Eve from heaven, humans become extremely sinful, and God is greatly angered. He decides to destroy all humans with a massive flood, except for Noah, who apparently is the only good person left on the planet. God tells Noah to build an ark, a waterproof boat for withstanding the flood. Noah is allowed to bring along 2 of every animal species. Also, Noah is allowed to bring his family, which consists of himself, his wife, their three sons, and the three wives of the three sons. The flood lasts for 40 days and 40 nights. Afterwards, God presents Noah with a rainbow, a symbolic promise that God would never again incur such hellish wrath on humankind.

Character Dissection Biblical Explanation
The character for boat consists of "vessel", "eight", and "mouth". "Eight mouths" implies eight people. There were exactly eight humans on Noah's Ark.
After the flood, the eight humans on the Ark settle down, have children, and eventually diffuse themselves throughout the land to form different nations.

GENESIS: The Tower of Babel

Some time after the flood, humans start thinking that God is overrated. So they get together and begin building the Tower of Babel, a tower high enough to reach Heaven. The completion of such a tower would show that humans can reach Heaven without the help of God. While construction is underway, God regulates by scrambling the common language of humans to a myriad of different languages. No longer able to feasibly communicate amongst themselves, the workers are confused and construction ceases.

Character Dissection Biblical Explanation
Many cocky humans unite to undertake the realization of the Tower of Babel. The "weeds" character suggests that something is rotten about this undertaking.
The Tower of Babel is an undertaking in clay construction.
God transforms the common language (Hebrew?) of the construction workers into a thousand disjoint languages.

Note: I know for a fact that this fanciful Biblical interpretation of the tongue character is false. From researching earlier forms of Chinese characters, I know that the modern-day tongue character actually evolved from a pictogram depicting a tongue-like body protruding from a mouth -- the mouth character being the rectangle at the bottom. Sinologist expert Bernard Karlgren backs me up on this.
After God transforms the common language into a thousand different ones, the workers are very confused, and end up separating from themselves. The "right leg" character indicates how the workers walk away from each other. According to the Bible, this event explains the formation of different countries with different languages.


More neato Biblical character interpretations either constructed or relayed to me by friends.


If you are unable to view the Chinese characters in the right column properly through your browser (e.g., you just see garbage like @#!*$?6-), then you need to download a Chinese language pack from one of the sites below.

Character Biblical Explanation
CURSE (zhou4). 兄 (elder brother, xiong1) + 口 (mouth, kou3) = 咒 (curse, zhou4). Scriptural interpretation: Genesis 4:11 [to Cain] "now you are under a curse and driven from the ground which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand."

Thanks to Contributor: Ashley Houchin


To the right we can see how various Chinese characters appeared at around 1500 to 500 B.C., during the period of oracle bone script. These characters share the root character of lamb, whose pictographic evolution over time is shown at the top. (The curls at the top represent ram horns, and the rest of the symbol represents the face and nose.) Note that the Hebrew cultural treatment of lambs is very similar to that of the Chinese. Lamb = Sheep + Fire clearly indicates that the lamb is considered a sacrificial animal in Chinese culture as well. Many heavy religious concepts, such as righteousness, eternity, worship, respect, harmony, and deliverance, have character representations that include lambs. I particularly like the character for "to roam", which shows sheep at a crossroads. Christianity also considers sheep to be lost creatures, and uses them as an analogy for humans -- blind sheep who need a shepherd to guide them. Click here for more about the lamb motif in oracle bone characters.

More historical correlations: Many chinese classics texts, such as the ShangShu, Shi Ji, Y Zing, and Shi Zing, describe Shang Di (supreme God in Chinese mythology) with attributes similar to those of Yahweh (supreme God in Hebrew religion). Both are the creators of the universe, including humans. Both first made the heavens, earth, and animals, and then made man and woman last. Both are spirits which forbade construction of statue idols. Both desire animal sacrifices  specifically, perfect bulls and lambs. Records dating back to 2205 B.C. describe Chinese regularly offering lamb sacrifices to ShangDi at Mount Tai on the eastern border of China. Later, this sacrificial practice was moved to the Forbidden City in Beijing, at the Temple of Heaven.


I've relayed this material to Christians, and some of them respond with much happiness, declaring that God has preserved a wonderful record of Biblical accounts in the Chinese language. Well, I dunno about that. I haven't come to any conclusion myself. But here are some counterarguments I've thought of, which should hopefully persuade the reader to be wary of this material.

  1. The author of this theory is a missionary!
  2. Many Chinese characters can be interpreted so that you see whatever you want. It's like looking at clouds. However, there do exist particular interpretations that are probably correct -- ones that reflect the intentions of the character's maker. Etymological dictionaries can be researched to find these correct interpretations, which are derived from studies of character evolvement over time. The fact that I've seen many characters whose standard etymological interpretations conflict with Kang's suggests to me that Kang may have conjured many interpretations out of his own volition. Admittedly, some of the interpretations seem very convincing; however, some others are just laughable.
  3. Flood stories and tree-based creation stories are found in many cultures besides Hebrew. http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/flood-myths.html has a giant collection of flood myths. We see similarities in myths across the world. So even if some of Kang's interpretations are valid, that does not necessarily indicate a correlation to the Hebrew myth in particular. It shows a correlation to myths in general.
  4. Lambs are also considered sacrificial in some other cultures besides Hebrew and Chinese. For instance, the Sidama religion of Ethiopia.
  5. "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Kang, C.H. and Ethel Nelson. The Discovery of Genesis : How the Truths of Genesis Were Found Hidden in the
	Chinese Language. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1979.
Voo, Kui Shin and Larry Hovee. The Lamb of God Hidden In The Ancient Chinese Characters. Online. Internet. 
	Answers in Genesis. http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/faq/linguistics.asp

W. Wu, 2002-2006 ©.

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