GORDON, Cyrus (1909-2001), Ugarit and Minoan Crete: The bearing of their texts on the Origins of Western Culture. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1966.

Cyrus Gordon has just died at the age of 92 on March 30, and the New York Times has just published an obituary.
by Robert Brow   (www.brow.on.ca)

In 1929 a large number of inscriptions were unearthed in the ruins of Ugarit in the western part of modern Syria, and Cyrus Gordon worked at and published many of these texts. Based on this he claimed that the ancient Minoan language of Crete (Linear A, which is still not deciphered) belonged to the North West Semitic group of languages. This opened up an alternative model on a grand scale. But it was dismissed by other scholars without offering any plausible alternative.

What interested me was that, if Cyrus Gordon was right, it would tie together the grouping of Hamitic languages in the Table Nations (Genesis 10:6-20). These fall into four groups called Cush (Arabian east coast of Red Sea), Mizraim (Egypt), Put (Libya), and Canaan (West Canaanite). This grouping of languages is now known to include Accadian and Arabic.

It is interesting that the Table of Nations features the importance of Nimrod. He was a Hamite from Cush in the area of the Red Sea. But he made a surprise camel raid 600 miles north across the Arabian Desert to establish "Babel, Erech, and Acccad in the land of Shinar (Babylonia). From there his armies took over one by one the Sumerian cities of Mesopotamia. And in the process his Hamitic language replaced the ancient Sumerian language. By the 14th. Century BC it had become, like English today, the international language of diplomacy.

As a result Abraham would have known the dominant Accadian in Ur of the Chaldees and in his journeys would have understood the West Semitic dialects including Canaanite and even Egyptian (as easily as an Italian would understand Spanish. See W.F.Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine, Penguin Books, 1960, p.180) I regret my OT books are so ancient, and I hope others will bring us up to date on this topic.

Unfortunately because Abraham was descended from Shem (Genesis 11:10-29) the great German linguists of the nineteenth century wrongly called Hebrew (and therefore Canaanite and Arabic) Semitic languages. According to the Bible Abraham was a Shemite (probably a Sumerian descended from Arpachshad , Genesis 11:12)) who came into the promised land and there spoke "the language of Canaan" (Isaiah 19:18).

It was reading Gordon's great book that showed me how elegant and persuasive was the model used by the writer of Genesis. We know that the Minoans came from North Africa, and had connections with Egypt and the Philistine Sea Peoples (Genesis 10:14). Cyrus Gordon was viewed as a gadfly, but his guess that Linear A was written in a language which the Bible calls Hamitic seems much more plausible to me than those who still have the hubris to dismiss the Table of Nations as evidence of scribal ignorance. I am looking forward to discussing glory of Minoan Knossos with him (Revelation 21:24).

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