Writing Before the Flood
NOT so long ago people believed that Moses was the first to invent writing, doing so in order to carry out God’s commandment: “The LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book.” (Ex. 17:14) But even before this, in the days of Job, this man of affliction had cried out: “Oh that my defence were written, oh that my case could be preserved in writing, cut with an iron pen on lead, or lastingly engraved on stone!” He also spoke of “the scroll which my opponent has written”. (Job 19:23, 24, Mo; 31:35, 36, AT) At times scoffers have sought to discredit the Bible statement that Moses wrote the first five books, by claiming that writing was unknown at his time.
However, in recent years archaeologists have unearthed proof not only that writing was known at the time of Moses and even Job, but that it was used many centuries before the existence of these two men, even before the flood of Noah’s day, in 2370 B.C. The questions arise, How long before the flood did writing start? Where did it start? What was preflood writing like? How was it done? Why did Jehovah have a preflood written record kept? This article, backed by the authoritative sources shown in the footnotes, attempts to answer these questions.
“This is the book of the generations of Adam.” The use of the word book implies writing. ‘Adam’s written history’1* (Gen. 2:5 to 5:2) covers the period from man’s creation to the time of Tubal-cain, “the forerunner of those who forge vessels of bronze [copper] and iron.” (Gen. 4:22, Catholic Confraternity Version) Since Tubal-cain was a great-great-great-grandson of Enoch, Cain’s son, and Enoch was born near the time that Seth was born; Tubal-cain was probably a contemporary of Seth’s great-great-great-grandson Enoch, the son of Jared.2* Since Enoch, the son of Jared, was born in 3404 B.C., Tubal-cain’s metal-working probably took place in the thirty-fourth century B.C. or a little later.3* And as it is the latest event mentioned in ‘Adam’s history book’, that book was probably written in the thirty-fourth century B.C. or later; but not later than the end of the thirty-first century B.C., because Adam died in 3096 B.C. So ‘Adam’s history book’ was written probably between about 3350 and 3096 B.C.4*
But this book is not the first one mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 2:4 says: “This is the book of the generation of heaven and earth.” (Bagster’s Septuagint) While this book of the “story of the heavens and the earth” (Confraternity) was not necessarily written in Eden,5* it is probably older than ‘Adam’s history book’.
So writing has been done on earth since Adam’s time. Since he died 726 years before the flood came, writing must have started not later than that many years before the flood and possibly much earlier.
If Adam did not write the ‘history of the heavens and the earth’ in Eden, then we do not know exactly where writing started. Since two of the rivers which flowed out of the garden of Eden (the Euphrates and Hiddekel, or Tigris) rise in or near Armenia, the garden of Eden was probably somewhere in what is now known as Armenia. Genesis 3:24 indicates that Adam was driven eastward out of the garden of Eden, but the Scriptures do not reveal whether he remained there to the day of his death, or whether he moved about. His son Cain moved to the land of Nod, also east of Eden. (Gen. 4:16) While preflood human remains in various parts of the earth show that man had moved to various parts of the earth before the flood came, we know nothing of Adam’s movements after his expulsion from Eden.
Remains of preflood writing have been found in Elam (at Shushan) and in Shinar, and possibly at Ghassul in the southern Jordan valley and at Gebal on the Phoenician coast. Of these remains the oldest are those found in Shinar, if what was found at Ghassul was not writing.
At Ghassul a large number of inscribed objects have been dug up, including stones, pebbles, seals, bricks, and broken pottery. About 150 pieces of broken pottery (potsherds) have only one sign, others have from two to six signs each, and about 170 stones have similar inscriptions. All these marks are scratched on the objects. Most of the lines are straight, while curved lines are very rare.6* This writing, if it really is writing, was done after Tubal-cain began to work in metals, for these marked objects appear sometime after copper objects do.7*
Later than the inscriptions at Ghassul, inscriptions begin to show up in Shinar. Shinar was the flat plain built up by the mud, clay, etc., laid down by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and was later called also “Babylonia”.8* Apparently this flat plain was still under water, and hence uninhabited, when Tubal-cain was working in metals, for copper objects are found in the highlands to the north of it before any signs of human habitation appear in Shinar.9* The first to settle in Shinar were highlanders from the region east of Shinar.9* They began to go there during the time that the inscriptions were being made at Ghassul. If they could write, they must have done so on perishable materials, for no inscription of theirs has been found. Next, some mountaineers from the center of what is now Turkey came down into Shinar and settled in Erech and other cities.10* A while afterward their writing began to appear on clay tablets, the first writing to show up in Shinar. From this earliest period of preflood writing in Shinar several tablets have been found: 570 at Erech, one at Kish (just east of the place where the tower of Babel was later built), one at Umma and one from another Shinar site.11* This period is known as the Uruk (Erech) period.12* In the next period, known as the Jemdet Nasr period, people from the eastern highlands came down into Shinar.13* It was during this period that the flood came, probably toward the end. From the earlier part of the Jemdet Nasr period 34 inscribed tablets have been found at Erech and a few at other places in Shinar.11* From the latter part of that period 194 inscribed tablets have been dug up at Jemdet Nasr itself,11* a site in Shinar about 17 miles northeast of Kish.14* As will be shown later, the very form of the writing showed that it did not start in Shinar, but that it was brought there from the mountains. Why, then, do the inscriptions not begin to show up as soon as the mountaineers move into Shinar? Possibly because when they first settled there they wrote on perishable materials that have not been preserved to our day, and it was only later that they started to use clay as a material to write on.15*
WHAT PREFLOOD WRITING WAS LIKE
In Shinar the writing on preflood tablets consists of numbers followed by depicted objects. Thus the tablets were economic rather than historical.16* If any historical writing was done there before the flood it must have been on perishable materials.
In the earliest Shinar texts found some of the signs are pictographs or pictures of the objects they are intended to represent, but many are used as ideographs too, that is, the sign is used to represent the underlying ideas associated with the things they represent as pictures; for example, a sign made up of three, four, or five intersecting lines, [Artwork—Shinar sign], was evidently a pictograph representing a star, but it was used also as an ideograph to represent the word heaven, sky, or god. However, signs appear in these inscriptions that do not resemble any object, signs that may represent words with abstract meanings.17* Did they resemble some object in their original forms, or had they never been used as pictographs? Some 900 different signs have been found in the 570 oldest tablets from Erech. Perhaps this is not half the number that were in use. The 194 tablets from Jemdet Nasr have about 400 different signs. Of the 900 signs from early Erech 31 mean “sheep”, perhaps to distinguish their breed or quality. In the 34 tablets from Erech of the early Jemdet Nasr period, only three different signs are used which mean “sheep”. The reason may be that instead of using a totally different sign to indicate sheep of different breeds or qualities, the different breed or quality was indicated by another sign used with the same one for sheep.18*
In the later Jemdet Nasr period a certain sign is sometimes used not to represent the word for which it stands but the sound of the syllable which was added to a word to make it plural.19*
Since one sign might stand for several different words, the way that the writer indicated which one of the words he meant was to write with it another sign to indicate the general class to which the word belonged. Such added signs are called determinatives. The sign for god, [Artwork—Shinar sign], became one of such determinatives, and was used with the names of their demon gods. One instance of such use of it may appear on a tablet from Erech of the Uruk period. Another determinative appears on the tablets from Jemdet Nasr.20* One of the evidences that the Shinar writing did not originate there is that the symbol for sun was originally a picture of the sun rising between two mountain peaks, [Artwork—Shinar sign].21* If the writing had originated in Shinar no doubt the sun would have been shown rising from the level horizon. Another evidence is the fact that the sign for land or homeland, which was used to designate the flat level plain of Shinar, was the picture of three mountain peaks, [Artwork—Shinar sign]. This shows that these signs must have been used in the mountains before they were used in Shinar.22*
On the tablets of the Uruk period no attempt was made to break up the text into lines or columns or to arrange the words in logical order. The signs were more or less uniformly distributed over the tablet without regard to the sense. On the larger tablets occasionally horizontal lines divided the text into two or three compartments. During the Jemdet Nasr period the larger tablets often had vertical lines dividing the signs into groups or compartments, though within such bands or columns the signs were still distributed without regard to order. The signs in the right-hand band were to be read first, then the signs in the next band to the left, etc.23*
At Erech during the Uruk period the lines were drawn in the clay and were thin. During the early Jemdet Nasr period the sign was imprinted into the clay and with a coarser stylus; therefore the lines were thicker.24* The curved lines were dropped and straight ones took their place.25* It was not until after the flood that the lines took on the wedgelike appearance that has given the name cuneiform (wedge-shaped) to all the Shinar writing on clay, stone, etc., preflood and postflood.26*
HOW AND WHY
The oldest tablets were mostly rectangular (square or oblong) one and a half to two inches long and one to one and a quarter inches broad. They were usually made of clay, though sometimes they were made of burnt gypsum mixed with sand. While the clay was still moist and soft, but not so soft that it stuck to the writer’s hand, the signs were written on it with a stylus. Before the flood the tablets were not baked, but just allowed to dry in the sun.27*
From the foregoing it appears that writing started in Adam’s time, centuries before the flood, in or near Eden, but not in Shinar, and became widespread at least in the Near East. Writing was pictographic, at least in part. It was scratched on clay or stone or was put on some perishable material.
And why did writing get such an early start? Evidently so that Jehovah could have a preflood written record of events kept as a safeguard against the lapses of memory of imperfect men, thus insuring an accurate uncorrupted transmission of the vital facts to future generations of God’s people.28*
1 The Hebrew word toledoth, often translated “generations”, should be translated “history” at Genesis 2:4; 5:1 and Ge 6:9, as proved in The Watchtower of July 1, 1948, pages 200 and 201, paragraphs 10 to 13.
2 However, Tubal-cain could have preceded Enoch, son of Jared, by about a century, for Lamech, Tubal-cain’s father, was not necessarily as old when Tubal-cain was born as Jared was (162) when his son Enoch was born. Lamech could have been as young when Tubal-cain was born as Mahalalel was (65) when his son Jared was born.—Gen. 4:1, 17-22, 25; 5:3-18.
3 According to footnote 2 this could have taken place in the thirty-fifth century B.C.
4 According to footnote 2 it could have been as early as the thirty-fifth century B.C.
5 See the July 1, 1918, Watchtower, page 202, paragraph 20.
6 G. R. Driver, Semitic Writing (1948), pages 90, 91.
7 W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (1949), pages 45 and 66.
8 The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible (1944), page 559, under “Shinar”.
9 Seton Lloyd, Twin Rivers (1947), pages 7 and 12.
9 Seton Lloyd, Twin Rivers (1947), pages 7 and 12.
10 Ibid, pages 7 and 13.
11 G. R. Driver, ibid., page 4.
12 It was during the latter part of the Uruk period that the inscriptions found at Gebal were made. Concerning these inscriptions W. F. Albright (ibid., page 185) says: “Some of these impressions contain a dozen or more separate ‘pictographs’ arranged in a regular order. . . . Only the future can tell us whether we are really dealing here with a kind of writing or not.”
13 Seton Lloyd, ibid., page 13.
11 G. R. Driver, ibid., page 4.
11 G. R. Driver, ibid., page 4.
14 It is from this time that the considerable collection of inscriptions from Shushan dates. (G. R. Driver, ibid., page 4) The Shushan writing does not seem to be derived from the Shinar writing, but both seem to have a common source in some older writing.—G. R. Driver, ibid., page 2; D. Diringir, The Alphabet (1948), page 54.
15 D. Diringir, ibid., pages 45 and 46.
16 G. R. Driver, ibid., pages 2, 6, 28.
17 D. Diringir, ibid., page 34; G. R. Driver, ibid., pages 46 and 47.
18 G. R. Driver, ibid., pages 50 and 51.
19 G. R. Driver, ibid., pages 6, 57, and 61.
20 D. Diringir, ibid., page 43; G. R. Driver, ibid., pages 6, 60, and 61.
21 G. R. Driver, ibid., page 50: “Such signs prove the Sumerians to have been originally a people dwelling in mountainous country.”
22 Journal of the University of Bombay, Vol. VII, Part 1, July, 1938, H. Heras, “The Origin of the Sumerian Writing,” page 9: “This dual meaning [hill, country] of the word . . . evidently shows that the country, i.e., their country, originally was mountainous.”
D. Diringir, ibid., page 41: “We are also unable to decide whether the cuneiform system was invented in Mesopotamia or elsewhere, which seems more probable.”
23 G. R. Driver, ibid., pages 39 and 40.
24 G. R. Driver. ibid., page 49.
25 G. R. Driver, ibid., page 50.
26 D. Diringir, ibid., page 43.
27 G. R. Driver, ibid., pages 8 and 9.
28 The Watchtower of July 1, 1948, page 204, paragraph 34.
[Map on page 299]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Limits of Shinar and coastline at time of Adam’s creation
Coastline at time of the Flood