What if one day, instead of speaking hundreds of different languages, all of humanity suddenly began speaking the exact same language? More incredibly—what if we already do? A new movement called “Edenics” makes the claim that modern day English is simply a derivative of biblical Hebrew. In fact, the proponents of this theory say that all human languages are simply offshoots of Hebrew and claim to have thousands of examples to back them up.
At first glance, the idea seems preposterous. English and Hebrew sound entirely different and almost every two equivalent meaning words are completely dissimilar. For example: Dog: Kelev; Cat, Hatul; Chair, Kiseh; House, Bayit.
Besides which, how could a modern European language created over the last millennia have anything to do with an ancient Semitic language from the Middle East, established thousands of years ago? English is a West Germanic language brought to Britain by German invaders some 1,500 years ago. German in turn comes from Latin, which is an Italic language derived from Greek and Phoenician. These, in turn, belong to what is known as the Indo-European superfamily of languages. Hebrew, on the other hand, is a West Semitic dialect belonging to the Afro-Asiatic superfamily of languages. In short, English and Hebrew come from two completely different sources.
On the other hand, if tiny little Judaism, a minor Eastern Mediterranean tribal cult in the days of antiquity, was powerful enough to spin off not one, but two major world religions, Christianity and Islam, then who knows? And indeed, a brief investigation of the relevant material seems to demonstrate that dozens if not hundreds of basic Hebrew and English words cited by the Edenicists do indeed seem to share an uncanny resemblance to each other.
According to the Hebrew Bible, all of humanity once spoke a single language, until God confounded their speech to prevent them from building the Tower of Babel. For the past century the linguistics establishment dismissed the idea of a single mother tongue for all peoples as myth and believed that different languages sprouted up independently of each other in different regions of the globe. But over the last two and half decades that has slowly begun to change.
The late Joseph Greenberg of Stanford University was the first to claim that hundreds of seemingly unrelated languages were actually just dialects of several huge language “superfamilies.” Then, in the late 1980s Russian-born linguist Vitaly V. Shevoroshkin, teaching at the University of Michigan, began propagating the idea that there was proof of a single primordial language from which all others derived. “Ultimately, all languages, with perhaps some little exceptions, are related,” he was quoted as saying. This became known as the Nostratic school of thought.
Recently a major study analyzing more than 500 languages was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences supporting the theory. The study, co-authored by Dr. Quentin Atkinson, of Auckland University, and Dr. Mark Pagel, of the University of Reading, U.K., concludes that there is evidence for a single origin of language.
The guru of Edenics and self-declared “founder, chief researcher and editor of the idea” is Isaac E. Mozeson, an American-born lecturer on literature and Judaica who moved to Israel in 2010. “It was a little birdie that whispered the Edenic concept into my ear back in 1978,” Mozeson wrote, describing a time when he was a doctoral student of literature at New York University (he never completed the degree). “I was stuck with a boring linguistics requirement. One day our professor was demonstrating the genius of what he said was the Indo-European root for the generic bird word SPER. Suddenly my mind harkened back to my second-grade Hebrew class when I first learned a similar generic word for bird … TSIPOR.”
This chance event set off in Mozeson a train of thought that would consume him for the next 35 years as he came to believe—and set out to prove—that Hebrew was the root of all languages. The lack of approval from the linguistics establishment did not dampen Mozeson’s enthusiasm for his theory, and he went on to publish two books on the subject. The Word: The Dictionary That Reveals the Hebrew Roots of English (1989), a 300-page book with some 20,000 English-Hebrew linked words, and The Origin of Speeches (2006), in which words from multiple languages are connected to Hebrew. Mozeson has also put out three CDs. In addition he has a website, blog, and all sorts of social media. The whole operation runs on a shoe-string budget, some part of which Mozeson claims is provided by co-founder of Skype and Kazaa, Kevin Bermeister, who is listed as a supporter of Edenics.
Ironically, for a man who seeks to revolutionize our understanding of language, Mozeson himself has a severe speech impediment. This incurred during a five-day coma and massive organ failure that he suffered following severe heat stroke in 1996. Yet Mozeson has succeeded in gathering a cadre of dozens of like-minded individuals, from all over the world and from a wide variety of languages and traditions. All of them believe in the Edenics theory and spend time searching out and publicizing what they believe are the Hebrew roots of their native tongues. Overall he and his team claim to have mapped out the Hebrew roots to more than 60,000 words from dozens of languages.
“There are hundreds of English words which have almost the exact same structure as similar-meaning Hebrew words,” he told me during a long interview in his Spartan apartment in downtown Jerusalem. “For instance: Eye: Ayin; Twin: Towem; Tour: Toor; Fruit: Feyrot; Evil: Avel; Cry: Kria; Lick: Likek; Piece: Pasis; Scale: Shakel; Earth: Aretz; Wine: Yayin; Direction: Derech. While it’s easy to assume the Hebrew words I just mentioned were inspired by modern English, they’re not. All these Hebrew words are found in the Bible, which means they are over 2,500 years old—far older than English.”
The bookish and wiry Mozeson elaborated on his thesis. “Since there are some 20 consonants in the alphabet, the chances that two words, with similar meaning, in two completely unrelated languages, would have the same three consonants are 1 in 8,000 (20 x 20 x 20). Still not convinced? Try these—Source: Shoresh; Idea: Yidea; Agony: Yagon; Mystery: Mistor; Regular: Regel; Dye: Dio; Ashamed: Asham; Boor: Baar; Yell: Yilel; Mirror: Marah.”
He went on, speaking fervently: “Edenics works via word roots that are found over and over again in different words with similar connotations,” he said. “For instance, the Hebrew word for counting is MoNeh. The Mem-Nun (M-N) sub-root found here makes up a large word family, from every language, dealing with a MouNts. This includes MaMoN: MoNey; HaMoN: MaNy; the Hebrew word MiNyan and the English words MiNus; DiMiNish; NuMber and MiNi.”
And Mozeson expands his theory into other languages. “The Hebrew word DeRech (way/road),” he said, “with its DR root, is also found in DaRoga (Russian), DeRecho (Spanish), DuRch (German) and DoRo (Japanese). By the way, if you take the DR root of DeRech and reverse its order you get the English word RoaD. Can you see the Hebrew root from ShoMeR (guardian) in the Japanese word SaMuRai (the emperor’s royal guard)?”
Finding relationships between similarly sounding words seems to be too easy for Mozeson. The real challenge for him is proving connectivity between words that at first glance appear to be completely different. He does this via some common phonetic techniques, despite his lack of official linguistic training.
“Metathesis is the action of letters changing places within words,” he explained. “This happens either because it’s easier for the speaker to pronounce the word in its altered form or due to some type of dyslexia. Examples of metathesis within English would include such words as: CaSe and SaCK, CaVity and VaCuum, FoRM and MoRPH, FoLio and LeaF; RoTary and TiRe and more. Metathesis between Edenic and English include such words as: BeSeeCH: BaCHeSh; DaRK: KeDaR; DeGRee: DaRGa.
“A second common phonetic technique is nasalization, whereby an N is added to a word. Applied to Edenics we get Datz (jump with joy): Dantz (Dance); AtiQ (old): AntiQue; Shoak (leg): Shank.”
For an obscure scholar with an abstruse theory, the ferociousness of the attacks against Mozeson seems disproportionate. His work has been called in academic and popular circles “a joke,” “pseudo-science,” “farcical regression,” “a disgrace,” “idiocy,” “blaringly ignorant,” “ludicrous,” and even “dangerous.” Reader reviews on Amazon have outright urged him to “stop his work immediately” and “leave linguistics to real linguists.” One even urged others to “Stay away! Tell everyone to stay away!”
“I’m not aware of any respected academics who accept the Edenics theory,” Mark Liberman, of the University of Pennsylvania Linguistics Department, wrote via email. Liberman dismissed Edenics theory as “crank etymology.” “His theory seems to be that God was a sort of weak cryptographer, who didn’t actually create any new languages after Babel but simply mixed up the old ones in ways that Mozeson has figured out how to decrypt,” Liberman added. “Mozeson is not the first person with eccentric theories of etymology. There’s Goropius Becanus, who theorized that Antwerpian Brabantic, spoken in the region between the Scheldt and Meuse Rivers, was the original language spoken in Paradise.”
For Liberman, the word connections that Mozeson finds are “mostly coincidences. For example, according to the OED, modern English ‘eye’ is from Old English éage, corresponding to Old Frisian âge, Old Saxon ôga, Old High German ouga, Old Norse auga and Gothic augo. Meanwhile, ‘fruit’ is from Old French fruit, Latin frūctus—*frugv root of fruī to enjoy. In those cases, the well-documented earlier forms are much less similar to the alleged Hebrew cognates. As for ‘wine,’ there may be a connection, but even if there’s a connection, the direction is not clear. There’s strong evidence from archeology and biology as well as from historical linguistics that Mozeson’s theory is not true.” Furthermore, Liberman said, “his methodology can be used to ‘prove’ that any randomly selected language is the parent of all other languages.”
Mozeson is hardly chastened by the attacks against him. “The extremes to which the academic establishment goes to hiding the Hebrew origin of words are often absurd,” he said, lashing out at his critics. “There are some English words that even the etymologists can’t deny have Hebrew origins—most of these have a Jewish religious context. Anything beyond this they can’t bear to admit. Take for example the word ‘amen’ (agreement or assent). The Oxford dictionary grudgingly admits,” he said, “that it originates from the Hebrew amen. Yet when it comes to the related word ‘amenable’ (open and responsive to suggestion), Oxford claims the source is from the Latin minari, to threaten. Who here is feeling threatened by whom?” He noted that Noah Webster, original publisher of Webster’s dictionary, included numerous Hebrew roots for English words, but most of these were later expunged in efforts to modernize the lexicon.
“Etymologists would have us believe that language was created via a process of evolution over thousands of years, even though no primitive languages have ever been discovered,” Mozeson, who disdains the academic establishment, told me. “It was none other than Noam Chomsky who famously proved that language had to come about spontaneously. In a 1998 New York Times interview,” he went on, “Chomsky explained his theory saying, ‘Imagine that some divine super engineer, in a single efficient strike, endowed humans with the power of language where formerly they had none.’ ”
And Mozeson can cite a number of leading academics who support somewhat related theories. These include Michael Astour, author of Hellenosemitica; Martin Bernal, author of Black Athena; William Worrell; French scholar Albert Cuny; Danish scholar Hermann Moller, and others.
Perhaps the strongest support for Mozeson’s own work came from world famous semioticist and ancient-language expert Cyrus Gordon (1908-2001) of New York University. In a personal note to Mozeson from 1987, Gordon wrote, “Your work is full of interesting comparisons—many of them new to me. The subject has a huge bibliography. … You must know that down to recent centuries, Hebrew as the original language and mother of all languages was a widely held view among intellectuals.” Incredibly, due the controversial nature of Mozeson’s theories, Gordon regretted that he could not publicly support Mozeson’s work, saying that such a move would jeopardize the careers of the students who received their doctorates from him. Mozeson says that for 25 years he agreed to keep Gordon’s esteem for his work secret so as not to harm the professor’s students. (A small portion of it appeared in The Origin of Speeches.) Only now that an entire generation of academics has passed, he said, did he agree to show the full letter.
In fact several academics who wrote approbations for Mozeson’s work in The Origin of Speeches and The Word refused to be interviewed for this article. Not everyone, however, has been apprehensive about speaking out about a link between Hebrew and Western languages. Martin Bernal (1937-2013) was professor emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Cornell University. In his famous work Black Athena: Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization he wrote, “I found what seemed to me a number of striking similarities between [Hebrew] and Greek.” There is also the fact that, in 1982, a self-taught linguist Joseph Yahuda published a 680-page volume titled Hebrew Is Greek. The foreword of the book was written by Saul Levin, of the Department of Ancient Languages of New York University, who explained that “Yahuda’s book provides overwhelming evidence that biblical Hebrew is camouflaged Greek.”
While Mozeson is frustrated by the summary dismissal of his ideas, he told me he takes comfort in the fact that other major “unifying” theories bitterly opposed by the academic establishment gradually became accepted due to the weight of evidence. “Until a few decades ago most scientists were extremely opposed to the notion that all continents were once linked in a super continent. Now the idea of Pangaea is accepted. Scientists also long disputed that humanity had common ancestry, but new DNA evidence reveals that Homo Sapiens do in fact share mutual ancestry and perhaps even a mutual ancestor. Since we know all humanity comes from the same people it makes sense to assume we shared a common language too.” As far as Mozeson is concerned, the only issue that remains to be determined, he said, is: What was the structure of that primordial language?
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