Monday, May 20, 2024

Griffins (Cherubim) and apples (forbidden fruit) come from the same place

In my May 1 post "Armored vultures and Cherubim," I note the etymological theory that the word griffin may be related to Cherubim. In Genesis, the Cherubim are stationed as guardians to keep the exiled Adam and Eve from returning to Eden. This was after they had eaten the forbidden fruit, which tradition overwhelmingly identifies as the apple.

Today I was reading the 2011 edition of Adreinne Mayor's seminal book The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times. In building her case that griffin legends originated with Protoceratops-type fossils (quadrupeds with eagle-like beaks), Mayor traces Greek griffin lore back to Scythia:

The territory of the Issedonian Scythians where Aristeas learned about the griffin in about 675 B.C. is a wedge bounded by the Tien Shan and Altai ranges, in an area that straddles present-day northwestern Mongolia, northwestern China, southern Siberia, and southeastern Kazakhstan.

Compare this to what Wikipedia says about the origin of the apple:

The original wild ancestor of Malus domestica was Malus sieversii, found growing wild in the mountains of Central Asia in southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and northwestern China. Cultivation of the species, most likely beginning on the forested flanks of the Tian Shan mountains . . . .

I thought it was an interesting coincidence. Tian Shan is Chinese and literally means "Mountain(s) of God," which fits with what Ezekiel wrote about Eden and the Cherub:

Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God . . . . Thou art the anointed cherub . . . thou wast upon the holy mountain of God (Ezek. 28:13-14).

I was going to say I don't think anyone has ever proposed that Eden was in Central Asia, but actually someone has: Apparently, the Chinese Australian Christian Tse Tsan-tai proposed that it was in Xinjiang -- i.e., northwestern China, griffin and apple territory.

1 comment:

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Tse Tsan-tai's pamphlet on the subject is available here:

It's pretty light on evidence and relies heavily on some extremely strained readings of classical Chinese texts. The mother goddess Nuwa, for example, is taken to have been male -- Noah -- and to have repaired not the sky (tian) but the Tian Shan mountains after the flood.

I wouldn't recommend reading it if you don't know any Chinese, as you would be unable to recognize the extreme liberties he is taking with his source material.

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