Tales from Genesis Retold in the Mother of European
I composed Before Babel to fill a hole that persists
after two centuries of dry academic work on Proto-Indo-European. It seems a shame that nobody has composed a
sample of reconstructed text with any literary merit. Schleicher’s fable is clever, but his
outdated theories of the proto-language were comically Indo-centric, and his
little fable does not do justice to the poetic power of the language.
I looked no further than Genesis and Psalms to find suitable
texts. I hope you find my light-hearted
“translations” of the tales more substantial than Schleicher’s fablet, and more
authentic than Dṇghū’s shameless calques on Latin models. They prove the point that the proto-language,
though poor in abstraction, lent itself to narration and poetry.
I also take the opportunity to promote the theory that the
tale of the Flood alludes to a conflict between ethnic groups that worshiped
different gods, and that the name Noaḥ (נוח)
derives from Indo-European *Nah²u.
Might Cain (קין), Abel (הבל),
and Eve (חוה) also have Indo-European origins?
The tales themselves use symbols that are not uniquely
Semitic. Sacred trees and malevolent
serpents are staples of Indo-European myth.
Could the tales be Hebrew retellings of Indo-European fables? If so, turnabout is fair play.
In fond tribute to the web site Early Indo-European
Online, created by the Linguistics Research Center of the University of
Texas, I have structured my materials in similar fashion. Besides the annotated tales, the reader will
find a précis of my grammatical conventions and a downloadable mini-lexicon,
confined to well-attested roots.
Before the reader has a chance to sniff out my distaste for
the too-fashionable and over-developed theory of laryngeals, I will freely
confess it. Too many different phenomena
have been explained by resort to laryngeals, and these theoretical explanations
defy rigorous statistical validation via inter-branch correlations. I minimize the use of obscure notation, and
will further vent my opinions in the notes on orthographic conventions.
The reader will find the syntax somewhat unorthodox. I was obliged to reinvent complex
constructions by imitating models from recorded languages, and to violate
canonical SOV word order at every turn.
I invite you to do better, in the knowledge that some of you will
= heavens, clouds -- acc-pl of abstract neuter *nebh-ës
suffix of abstract neuters alternates between *os in strong (NAV)
cases and *es in weak cases, yielding genus/genera = γενος/γενε(σ)α = janas/janasi, etc.
= Earth -- acc-sg (F) > ĝdhom(m) > Greek χθονα,
Sanskrit kšām, Latin humus, Slavic zemę. The root is reduced to ĝh.m in
weak cases, hence Vedic jm-.
The Earth was unformed and void,
dheĝhōm ne-dhiçtá vana-au bhevet
/ dheĝhom-s = the Earth -- nom-sg, feminine as if personified.
The nom-sg ending on M/N/R/L/A-stems is routinely suppressed, but
compensatory lengthening takes place.
/ diĝ-dha = formed-- nom-sg (F), past passive participle of root *dhi(n)ĝh > Latin ficta. (This
verb literally means to shape dough, or to build with mortar, but
figurative derivatives include German dichten, to compose poetry.)
/ euna = empty
but, whereas-- enclitic conjunction used to express opposition or contrast
between simple or strictly parallel elements
= it was -- imperfect of *bheu, connoting temporary state