Charles-Louis Montesquieu and the Indo-European Myth #3


Continuation of the previous part…

Britain Biblical, or as Professor of History and Anthropology at the University of Michigan Thomas Trautmann calls it, Mosaic ethnologists had a different opinion on the kinship of the European (and Indo-European) people to Noah’s sons, which more resembles Muslim scholars’ views rather than the ones of Continental Europeans.

Isaac Newton, in his posthumously published work in 1728 The chronology of ancient kingdoms amended, sought to prove that the Greek civilization is five hundred years younger that it was considered his times, thus granting Hebrews with greater antiquity, and implicitly backing opinion of some Church Fathers that the latter were the source of the Greek civilization. Newton postulated that the Egyptians at the time of Amon were first who invented astronomy and conception of the celestial sphere. Their religion and science spread around to Greeks, Chaldeans and others. Reconstructing the state of the spheres during the Exodus and Argonauts’ expedition on the loose legendary base, he concluded that Argonauts sailed out around 936 BC, forty-three years later than the Solomon’s death.

British historian and mythologist Jacob Bryant developed Newton’s thinking in his three-volume A New System; or, Analysis of ancient mythology published in 1774-76.  Using loose and questionable etymologies, he identified Egyptian sun god Amon with Ham himself, whose descendants forgot the monotheistic truth, idolized Amon, defied the God and dispersed outside the domain of Africa prescribed for them. Bryant included Greeks, Romans, and Indians into Amonian or Hamian group of people, arguing, and proving that also with doubtful etymology, that their myths are just corrupted versions of the true Biblical narrative. Their apostasy Hamians compensated with the boldness, wisdom, resourcefulness, and science. They were first seafarers, architectures, inventors of writing, and founders of civilization (Trautmann 1997 42-3):

They were the first apostates from the Truth; yet great in worldly wisdom. They introduced, wherever they came, many useful arts; and were looked up to, as a superior order of beings: hence they were styled Heroes, Daemones, Heliadae, Macarians. They were joined in their expeditions by other nations; especially by the collateral branches of their family, the Mizraim, Caphtorim, and the sons of Canaan. These were all of the line of Ham, who was held by his posterity in the highest veneration. They called him Amon: and having in process of time raised him to a divinity, they worshiped him as the Sun; and from this worship they were styled Amonians.

(Bryant in Feldman, Richardson 1975 244)

William “Oriental” Jones, when he accepted his post of Supreme Judge of Bengal, and found the Asiatick Society in Calcutta, was driven not only, or even not primarily, by the linguistic curiosity. Though he made his name early in his career as a learned expert in Oriental languages, publishing translations from Persian, Arabic, and Turkish, he considered the mastery of languages only as means of learning of more important things: “I have ever considered languages as the mere instruments of real learning and improperly confounded with learning itself” (Jones in Trautmann 1997 39-40). Though what was that real learning Jones was in pursuit for? He explains it in Anniversary discourses published in 1824 as a separate volume of Discourses delivered before the Asiatic Society. His whole project was to build rational defense of the Biblical legends, in particular Mosaic history of human dispersal on the base of linguistic and mythological materials accumulated by the Oriental science (Trautmann 1997 43).

Jones critiques Bryant’s work, but not for its conclusions, but for slippery and improbable etymologies, stemmed from Bryant’s unfamiliarity with Oriental languages outside of Hebrew.

Etymology has, no doubt, some use in historical researches; but it is a medium of proof so very fallacious, that, where it elucidates one fact, it obscures a thousand, and more frequently borders on the ridiculous, than leads to any solid conclusion.

(Jones cited in Trautmann 1997 45)

Jones takes on building a solid Indo-European etymology to give a more stable footing to Bryant’s version of Mosaic ethnology. In Jones’ etymology and ethnology Biblical Cush corresponds to son of King Rama, Kusa; Rama himself is the Biblical Raamah; and Sanskrit misra relates to Biblical Misr, Egypt; and Indian civilization was founded by Rama just shortly after the Noah’s Flood, making it the oldest human civilization (Trautmann 1997 45-7).

To be continued…

References:

Trautmann, Thomas R., Aryans and British India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997

Feldman, Burton and Richardson, Robert D., The rise of modern mythology: 1680-1860. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972

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