Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Suns of God: The God Sun, part 1

The God Sun

(Still in a draft stage).

The onset of this chapter states the obvious: the sun has been a fixture on the skies of mankind for quite some time, and this can be noticed in every culture. This has, naturally granted it a prominent place in religions all over the world, but also in less religious contexts. Due to its ubiquitous nature, its occurrence in idioms and metaphors, stories and so on is no surprise to anyone - and her attempt to make it seem as though mainstream scholars would be surprised by this is confounding. For a different perspective on solar worship, I recommend this post. (Although the linguistic claims made in it should be taken with a grain of salt as well: Ahura Mazda is not cognate with Jupiter. The article it links to on the age of words is also phrased in a way that exaggerates the finds fairly strongly.)

However, some of the things she lists as indicative of the great religious importance of the sun are exaggerated. It's obvious that some things would be done with the sun above the heads of the ancients, as in times when the only alternative sources of light were fires of varying sizes using a variety of fuels. Now, in what essentially is a listing of views the ancients had of the sun she says they attributed the invention of writing to it, with the following quote, which says something quite different from what she says it says:

The sun was also portrayed as responsbile for the invention of writing and ciphers: In China, for example, some scholars have concluded that sun images on the Neolithic pottery of the Da-wen-kou culture (4300-2500 BC) could have been the basis of primitive Chinese script." [1. p 62]
The source given gives no further source, and as far as I can tell, none of the scholars involved in writing this volume were linguists. There is about a dozen Chinese sources listen in the bibliography of the book, but since none of them is given as a source for this particular statement, I can only throw my hands in the air in frustration. It is not an important claim, but it serves to prop up a vacuous thesis even more, and with the nature of the claim, Acharya's erudition seems even greater to the non-critical reader - wow, she reads stuff on historical Chinese linguistics as well...

Regarding Emperor Julian, the theory that he was assassinated by Christians is supported outright, despite the best and earliest sources supporting the claim that he was killed by a Persian soldier. [Look up sources]
I wonder if the libertarian slant given to Emperor Julian is intentional or not - given the popularity of libertarian ideals in the conspiracy-theory camp, it would not surprise me if she were trying to endear herself to the libertarian wing:
Julian was also very much a leader of the people, as he opposed the elite and reduced the government, acts that made him powerful enemies. [1, p. 67]
I am not dissing libertarianism, just noting a thing I kind of find suspicious. [Here, more sources have to be looked up.]

 Why Francis of Assisi is given a short paragraph [1, p. 70] is not clear - the point seems rather to be along the lines of showing that Christianity is paganism by showing that Francis of Assisi liked nature.

Acharya seems incapable of distinguishing comparing from equating, she provides a quote from Ficino:
Dionysius the Areopagite, the first of the Platonists, whose interpretation I hold in my hands, freely embraces a similar comparison of the Sun to God.[1, p. 71]
From this, she concludes that Dionysius the Areopagite considered the Sun to be God. Further she makes a weird point out of Malachi being the last book of the Old Testament, which "leads into the New Testament".[1, p. 71] The book of Malachi did not lead into the New Testament in the LXX, and an honest scholar of Greek would mention that, instead of trying to mislead readers.[2] Only with the translation of Vulgate, it seems, did the modern order appear. So sneaking such a point in there is quite dishonest as well.
It is important to remember that this writer was in a Catholic country, under the threat of the Inquisition. Yet, he was able to express the ancient perception of "God," as well as the pervasiveness and depth of sun worship. Knowing this fact, it is obvious that not only did sun worship permeate the world even up to the 15th century, within the supposedly "non-Pagan" religions, but that the Christian elite were quite aware of it.[1, pp. 71-72]
This is  not the only possible interpretation of the facts - the fact that all quotes he provides seem to use a language of simile, rather than equating God with the Sun is rather important here, and opens up for a number of rather less fantastic interpretations.

Regarding Ficino getting the gender of the moon right - there are two genders to guess, and I bet you will find authors of the time that got the moon masculine as well - so had she wanted to showcase that people all the way from ancient times had thought of the moon as a masculine god, that could just as well be done. Acharya seems to fail at understanding the insignificance of some facts. In this case, though, Italian having the moon in the feminine gender may have been a factor as well?

Claiming two words "am" and "on" to be "ancient" and mean sun is also quite unfalsifiable.[p. 75]. No primary source - or even language - is given. The ancient languages of the middle east were written in any number of scripts, and dictionaries are not exactly cheap to come by (and the middle east languages of antiquity are too many to list here - obtaining a dictionary for each and every one of those would make any man bankrupt). Simply put, by omitting information, she makes her claim uncheckable. This is not how a scholar goes about the business of being scholarly.
Bryant abundantly uses etymology to prove his points:
The most common name for the Sun was San, and Son; expressed also as Zan, Zon, and Zaan.... it is mentioned by [Hesychius]  that the Indian Hercules, by which is always meant the chief Deity, was styled Dorsanes... the name Dorsanes is an abridgement of Ador San, or Ador-Sanes, that is Ador-Sol, the lord of  light. It was a title conferred upon Ham...
Bryant notes that the Eygptian priests were called "Sonchin" or "Son-Cohen"-priests of the sun. Thus the English word "son" is not a false cognate with "sun," and it is truthfully said that the "son of God" is the "sun of God." This son-sun connection can also be found in the Indian language: In tracing many Indo-European and Vedic words to a common root, Roy proffers, among others, the root "son," representing "sunu" in Vedic and "son" in Indo-European. [1, 76]
This bit is so confused it should never have occured in print ever. I am at a loss how to most concisely answer it, and therefore, I end up having to explain the scholarly consensus on this matter:

The Indian Language per se is a meaningless term. In the context, it's clear she probably refers to Vedic Sanskrit. Modern India has 22 official languages, and over a hundred distinct languages divided on several language families[3]. Now, there is nothing surprising that a word in Vedic Sanskrit has a parallel in Indo-European, as Vedic Sanskrit is an Indo-European language.

This means Sanskrit (and its descendants: Punjabi, Hindi, etc) is a descendant of a language that once was spoken probably somewhere around Ukraine or central Asia. (Other plausible theories do exist as to where it was.) What exactly it means for one language to derive from another is unclear to many outside of the fields of philology, and this is why you will run into statements like "English derives from Latin", "Swedish derives from German", "Latin derives from Greek", and so on.

So, how does the Vedic Sanskrit word in common with (other) Indo-European work? Once, maybe 7000 years ago, some tribes spoke this language which left no written traces, as writing had not been invented yet. Not even now that writing has been invented do all languages spoken leave written traces, although now, there are scholars travelling around the world, trying to document as much as they can before small languages disappear.

These tribes expanded their territory, and moved out from their urheimat. While doing so, contact between different communities speaking this Proto-Indo-European language was reduced, and their speech diverged. As they arrived in areas with different vegetation, fauna, natural formation and so on, their vocabulary adapted to the different situations. Other words as well changed, due to whatever reasons - societal change, social reasons, etc. They encountered different non-indo-european tribes (and soon, they started to encounter indo-european tribes that had diverged sufficiently to speak so differently as to not be recognized as a tribe with the same origin), and interacted with them. Meanwhile, sound changes happened at different rates and of different kinds in the different communities, and at some point, PIE had fragmented into Proto-Italic, Proto-Albanian, Proto-Balto-Slavic, Proto-Celtic, Proto-Armenian, Proto-Indo-Persian, Proto-Hellenic, etc. The Proto- is used to denote, simply, that this is the earliest ancestor of all the Italic (and so on) languages, that is not also an ancestor of other languages.

Now, English, Dutch, Afrikaans and Low German are relatively closely related, and these together with the High German dialects form West Germanic. The fact that English has borrowed a lot of vocabulary from Latin and French does not transform English into a Latin language, although some have been led to believe it to be of Latin descent. English grammar, its core vocabulary, and phonology all give away its Germanic roots.

Likewise, tribes deriving from these proto-Indo-Europeans entered India, and their language further split up into new branches in that area. Different groups interacted with the previous inhabitants: the Burushaskis, the Dravidians, etc. Yet, most of the languages thus emerging from the IE stock retained clearly IE traits in their grammars, vocabulary, and so on.

Languages are known to influence each other when they are in contact - grammars do converge to some extent, vocabulary is borrowed, sound systems approach each other. But even then, these similarities seldom show any regular patterns to them, as words are borrowed at different times and go through different amounts of sound changes in both the source and receiver languages.

Diversion: in the natural sciences, to explain some phenomenon or natural law, (abstract) models are often constructed. If two models both explain the same observed results or phenomena, the simpler model is preferred. If two equally simple models explain the same observed results or phenomena, but differ slightly as to how accurate they are, the more accurate one is preferred. This is known (partially) as Occam's Razor.

The simplest model to explain why there are a huge number of regular correspondences between most languages of Europe, Kurdistan and Persia, and a large number of languages in India is that they share a common ancestor, from which they slowly have diverged. Centuries of scholarship already has traced these similarities. It is well established - more so than essentially anything else in philology - that Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Proto-Germanic, Proto-Celtic, Proto-Armenian, Proto-Slavic (and so on) have a shared origin. For most of them, the sound changes it has taken to reach various stages in the history of these language families are well known, with just a few minor open questions left.

The model fits, it seems a reasonable development of things, and there is no other model that is as simple and as accurate - the alternative Acharya supports (although, it appears, waveringly) is some kind of Indigenous Aryan-theory - the Indo-European languages of India never arrived in India, they were always there. A theory that does not explain much regarding the observed linguistic facts (nor genetically established facts).

Son and sun both have etymologies that go back to Proto-Indo-European. Reconstruction is done not by looking at the word for sun in different languages, and then trying to figure out some kind of 'average' form or form from which all descendant forms could derive. Rather, reconstruction is done by comparing huge numbers of words, and trying to find rules which probably have changed large numbers of them in one language into the form they now have, from some potential previous form. The success of this method can be verified by reading up on the laryngeal theory and its archeological verification.

The resulting roots that Indo-Europeanists have reached are as follows:

Several Indo-European languages have inherited their words for the sun from
*sóh₂wl̥ and *sh̥₂uén, these were, apparently, inflected forms of the same word. [4, p. 206]
Son, on the other hand, comes from *seu̯H-, a verb meaning "to bear", whence PIE *suHnús. [4, p. 39]
The H means something like unknown laryngeal - the laryngeals were sounds that have been lost in all descendant languages of proto-Indo-European (except the extinct Hittite language).

Now, given the rules that are known for the derivation of every Indo-European language, these work out to give the forms we can see in the vast majority of Indo-European languages. Acharya S wants us to think that these rules magically excepted these two words for no other reason than it fits her theory.

This shoe fits, we cannot acquit. Now, the history of the theories that try to place the Indo-European Urheimat in India does not really belong here, but suffice to say, there is little of scholarly value in it, and a lot of militant Nationalism.

This chapter is so full of terrible scholarship that I must divide it in two, the next installment starts roughly at page 78 if anyone is keeping track. The number of major distortions of facts per page this far is something like 10 pages per major error. There's many potential errors I've let slip simply because time is finite. More to come.

[1] Suns of God, Acharya S, 2004
[4] Comparative Indo-European Linguistics An introduction, Prof. Robert S.P. Beekes, Dr. Michiel de Vaan,   2011


  1. "In this case, though, Italian having the moon in the feminine gender may have been a factor as well?"
    Modern Italian, and Latin as well.

  2. Regarding the business about the masculinity/feminity of the sun and moon. I doubt an educated man in 15th century Italy would have been unaware of the classical myths of Diana/Artemis etc., so this is hardly proof of anything.

    It's also worth noting that the Babylonian moon god Sin is male, and there are sun goddesses in different parts of the world as well.

    1. Yes, regarding the sun goddesses, I am going to get to that - I don't recall where I had planned for that to go, maybe at the point the Sami sun god Päivi (or somesuch, spelling variants abound) was mentioned. She conveniently leaves out the detail that Päivi mostly was considered a sun goddess, and uses the "fact" that Päivi was male as proof that male sun gods are everywhere.

    2. Which kind of needs some rethinking then, since I have restructured how I am writing this thing - it no longer adheres to the order of her books.

  3. “Why Francis of Assisi is given a short paragraph [1, p. 70] is not clear”
    • ‘Brother sun, sister moon’ gives a sense of cosmos as divine. Fransciscan theology emphasises the presence of God in nature, with Saint Francis recognised as the patron saint of ecology.
    she concludes that Dionysius the Areopagite considered the Sun to be God
    • No. Acharya does not say this. She says “the sun was considered to be ‘God’ at an early period, and Christians themselves were conscious of the ancient significance of the sun.” The conclusion you describe appears nowhere. You are making it up.
    Malachi did not lead into the New Testament in the LXX, and an honest scholar of Greek would mention that, instead of trying to mislead readers
    • Acharya’s mention that Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament is just a way to help readers find it. You are imagining things if you find more in it than that
    all quotes he provides seem to use a language of simile, rather than equating God with the Sun
    • Ficino does not say the sun is like God. He says God is seen through the sun.
    Acharya S wants us to think that [linguistic] rules magically excepted [sun and son].
    • No, you are misreading. She does not assert that the English pun between sun and son is the basis of the connection between these ideas in ancient languages. The point is that sun worship pervaded the ancient world. You are reading into the text errors that are not there.

    1. • Giving a sense of the cosmos as divine doesn't help the particular astrotheology thesis she's driving, though; why brother and sister? These could just as well be used by Franciscus to illustrate that all are creatures of the same father, viz. God. Franciscus' language there may rather imply a kind of equality - we're all children of god, we should treat each other with brotherly live.
      • Doesn't she? It goes on "In this statement, Ficino discusses two ancient sources, one from the 4th century BCE (Platon), and one from the 6th centuyr CE (Dionysius), the latter of whom is a Christian, although interestingly, Ficino considers him the "first of the Platonists," demonstrating the connection between Platonism and Christianity. [b]Obviously then, it was well understood that the sun was considered to be "god" at an early period[/b]", ... You are quote-mining HER now to get rid of a problem.
      • Acharya's mention of Malachi to help readers sounds rather unlike anything she's done this far as far as helping readers find in her sources. With the Bible it's exceptionally useless, since Bibles relatively often come with TABLES OF CONTENT. Even then, the reader that doesn't know his way around the Bible won't be helped much by this, since he won't know where to find the beginning of the NT. What makes it even more clear that this isn't what she's up to is both the structure of the statement, and it occurring twice in different forms!

      • Exhibit A:
      "Eusebius calls Jesus "the Sun of righteousness," a common designation based on the biblical text Maalchi 4:2, a book and verse immediately preceding the New Testament, [B]which shows that the gospel story was to be based on a hero with solar attributes[/b].
      • Exhibit B: "In reality, from the beginning Christians styled their savior "sol nostrum"--"our sun"--as well as "the sun of righteousness," as was the Messiah's title per the biblical book of Malachi, which leads into the New Testament."

      •In reality, she is implying that the NT authors took off where the OT ended and went from there.
      • "Bryant notes that the Egyptian priests were called "Sonchin," or Son-Cohen"--priests of the sun. Thus, the English word "son" is not a false cognate with "sun," and it is truthfully said that the "son of God" is the "sun of God".
      No, this is bullshit Robert. Sun and Son are not cognates, which is what she says - ""son" is not a false cognate with "sun". Getting this to mean anything but what it says requires magic. Sorry but her arguments really are what I say they are, if you want, I can quote even more to make it "abundantly clear", but I bet I will run into copyright lawyers sooner or later if I provide sufficient quotes to convince you.