Studies 7 (1963), 145. However, Count Joseph-Arthur Gobineau, whose extreme racial-
ism coexisted with the traditional shibboleths of ethnic theology, provides an important,
but idiosyncratic, counterexample to the overall argument presented in this chapter: see
Hannaford, Race, pp. 269, 272, 351. Ã•â€“ Hodgen, Early anthropology, p. 55.
Ã•â€” S. Reynolds, â€˜Medieval origines gentium and the community of the realmâ€™, History 68
Å’Â» Burke, Renaissance sense of the past, pp. 73â€“5. E.g. Jean Bodin, Method for the easy
comprehension of history (trans. B. Reynolds, New York, 1945), ch. 9, â€˜Criteria by which to
test the origins of peoplesâ€™.
28 Theological contexts
gullibility. The cultures of humanistic philology and of the Reformation
encouraged the study of the most authentic uncorrupted sources. Re-
newed emphasis on Mosaic ethnology at the expense of pagan origin
myths was part of this scholarly drive towards original sources â€“ ad fontes.
In this respect national mythistoires were much more vulnerable than
Mosaic pretensions. The early modern era witnessed a striking preference
for Scripture over the origin myths propagated by vainglorious gentile
nations, or unscrupulous monks. A distaste for previous origin myths
often coexisted with an untroubled acceptance of Mosaic ethnology. F. L.
Borchardt has demonstrated from the case of German origin myths that
one of the most consistent features of patriotic historiography in the
Renaissance was the displacement of one set of incredible myths by a
version more acceptable to the critical standards of the age (though not
necessarily any less fantastic to modern eyes).Å’â€¦
Instead of the adoption of a sceptical approach to ethnic origins, there
was an accession of new myths. For instance, much of early sixteenth-
century Europe was taken in by the Noachic genealogies of the peopling
of Europe found in the spurious ancient annals forged by Annius of
Viterbo and published in 1498, which foisted on the world the pseudo-
histories of the Chaldaean chronicler Berosus and of the Egyptian
Manetho. These histories from the perspective of antiquity interwove
Noachic history with the history of nations. For instance, in the Celtic line
it identiWed a great king Samothes.Å’Â Although Anniusâ€™s forgery was soon
found out, his work continued to be inXuential, and some of his critics
were even taken in by elements of the deception.Å’Ã€ Above all, it is import-
ant to note that those scholars who rejected the myths of the Pseudo-
Berosus did not reject what they regarded as its substratum of truth in
Mosaic history.Å’Ãƒ Despite the exposure of the Pseudo-Berosus, it seemed
clear that the basic Scriptural accounts of the Noachids were not human
forgeries; indeed, they remained central to ethnic enquiry into the eight-
eenth century. The critical antennae of early modern scholars were
scarcely attuned to the possibility of error in sacred history. Indeed,
reliance on Scriptural accounts of the peopling of the world helped to
Å’â€¦ F. L. Borchardt, German antiquity in Renaissance myth (Baltimore and London, 1971),
pp. 44â€“5; Borchardt, â€˜The topos of critical rejection in the Renaissanceâ€™, Modern Lan-
guage Notes 81 (1966), 476â€“88.
Å’Â J. H. Franklin, Jean Bodin and the sixteenth-century revolution in the methodology of law and
history (New York and London, 1963), pp. 122â€“4; Grafton, Defenders of the text, ch. 3;
Grafton, â€˜Scaligerâ€™, 165; T. D. Kendrick, British antiquity (London, 1950), pp. 70â€“2;
S. Piggott, Celts, Saxons, and the early antiquaries (Oâ€™Donnell Lecture, 1966: Edinburgh,
1967), pp. 6â€“7. For the text of the Pseudo-Berosus, see R. E. Asher, National myths in
Renaissance France (Edinburgh, 1993), pp. 196â€“227.
Å’Ã€ Grafton, Defenders of the text, pp. 98â€“9.
Å’Ãƒ Ibid., pp. 99â€“101, for the case of Goropius Becanus.
Prologue: the Mosaic foundations 29
cleanse many cultures in early modern Europe of the most fantastical of
their Graeco-Trojan origin myths, often substituting in their stead
Noachic lineages which carried the reliable warranty of Scriptural verac-
The critical assault on the vanity of nations had, according to Rossi,
become a familiar â€˜literary toposâ€™ by the middle of the seventeenth cen-
tury.Å’Å’ Nevertheless, pride in a nationâ€™s Japhetan original was a much
more sensitive issue. Sacred history was not only much less vulnerable
than secular mythology, but was indeed a common substitute for it. For
example, Vico criticised the â€˜conceit of nationsâ€™ â€“ not least in the matter of
their boasts to high antiquity â€“ without abandoning the Genesis story of
the division of mankind. Indeed, the preposterous vainglory of national
myths was an intellectual consequence of the gentile Fall from divine
The Mosaic history of the peopling of Europe â€“ â€˜the isles of the
Gentilesâ€™ â€“ was incorporated into the diVerent discursive contexts of
several early modern patriotisms. The Poles, in particular, drew susten-
ance from the identiWcation of Europe with the descendants of Japhet.
Polish nationhood was Wrmly bound up with the identity of its szlachta or
gentry caste. The szlachta were identiWed as Sarmatians descended from
Japhet. By contrast, the mass of serfs over whom they ruled were identi-
Wed as the cursed progeny of Ham. For example, an early seventeenth-
century critique of spurious nouveaux entrants into the rank of the gentry,
Trepkaâ€™s Liber Chamorum â€“ â€˜The Book of Hamitesâ€™ â€“ applied Noachic
categories to Polandâ€™s ethnic and social composition.Å’â€“ Similar uses of
sacred history in the construction of ethnic caste identities can be found
in early modern France.Å’â€” A very diVerent deployment of Noachic geneal-
ogy occurred in early modern Sweden. Seventeenth-century Swedish
imperialism was fuelled by powerful myths of the nationâ€™s ethnic origins
and of an ancient golden age of Gothic expansionism. A central com-
ponent of the myth was the identiWcation of the noble Swedes as
Å’Ã• J. W. Johnson, â€˜Chronological writing: its concepts and developmentâ€™, H+T 2 (1962),
143; Ryan, â€˜Assimilating new worldsâ€™, 534. Å’Å’ Rossi, Dark abyss, p. 168.
Å’Å“ Vico, New science, pp. 61, 68; Rossi, Dark abyss, p. 168; Lilla, Vico, pp. 119â€“20, 141, 165.
Å’â€“ J. Tazbir, La republique nobiliaire et le monde: etudes sur lâ€™histoire de la culture polonaise a
lâ€™epoque du baroque (Wroclaw, 1986), pp. 17, 68; Tazbir, â€˜Poland and the concept of
Europe in the sixteenthâ€“eighteenth centuriesâ€™, European Studies Review 7 (1977), 34;
P. Burke, â€˜The language of orders in early modern Europeâ€™, in M. L. Bush (ed.), Social
orders and social classes in Europe since 1500 (London, 1992), p. 4; N. Davies, Godâ€™s
playground (1981: 2 vols., Oxford pbk, 1982), I, p. 234. For elsewhere in eastern Europe,
see E. Niederhauser, â€˜Problemes de la conscience historique dans les mouvements de
renaissance nationale en Europe orientaleâ€™, Acta Historica (Budapest) 18 (1972), 61â€“2.
Å’â€” A. Jouanna, Lâ€™idee de race en France au XVIe siecle et au debut du XVIIe siecle (1498â€“1614)
Â´ ` Â´ `
(2 vols., Paris, 1976), II, p. 623 n.; A. Devyver, Le sang epure: les prejuges de race chez les
gentilshommes franÃ§ais de lâ€™ancien regime (1560â€“1720) (Brussels, 1973), p. 177.
30 Theological contexts
descendants of Noahâ€™s eldest son, Japhet, through the line of Magog, and
his son Gotar, the father of the Goths. The tradition culminated in the
identiWcation of Sweden with the lost Atlantis in the Gothicist classic, the
Atlantica sive Manheim (1679â€“1702) of the polymath Olaus Rudbeck
(1630â€“1702). Rudbeck embroidered the traditional notion that Scandi-
navia was the womb of nations into an argument that Sweden was the
birthplace of the European Japhetan nations, including the classical
civilisations.Å“Â» German Gothicism was also characterised by pride in a
direct noble decent from Noah and the patriarchs.Å“â€¦
However, it is important to stress that the Mosaic paradigm empha-
sised aYliation and relationships within the Noachic family tree rather
than the notions of diVerence and otherness which we associate with
modern nationalism. The German Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher
(1602â€“80) set his undoubted patriotism in the context of the wider
peopling of Europe. Following in the footsteps of his fellow German
geographer Philip Cluverius, Kircher also noted the close connection
between the Germans and (Celtic) Gauls through descent from Gomer.Å“Â
The linguistic aspect of early modern ethnic identity was particularly
aVected by religious considerations. This occurred on a variety of levels.
In the Wrst place, the language of Adam and the events associated with the
Tower of Babel were of greater import than ethnic vernaculars. Which
was the original Adamic language? How many languages were created at
the confounding of speech at Babel, and which modern vernaculars had
originated as the Wrst post-Babelian mother-languages?Å“Ã€ Daniel Droixhe
Å“Â» M. Roberts, The Swedish imperial experience 1560â€“1718 (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 70â€“5;
K. Johannesson, The renaissance of the Goths in sixteenth-century Sweden (1982: trans.
J. Larson, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1991); S. Brough, The Goths and the concept of Gothic
in Germany from 1500 to 1750 (Frankfurt, 1985), p. 133; K. Johannisson, A life of learning:
Uppsala University during Wve centuries (Uppsala, 1989), pp. 33â€“5; T. Frangsmyr, â€˜The
Enlightenment in Swedenâ€™, in R. Porter and M. Teich (eds.), The Enlightenment in
national context (Cambridge, 1981), p. 171; Gibbon, DF, I, p. 234; P. Hall, â€˜Nationalism
and historicityâ€™, Nations and Nationalism 3 (1997), 8â€“12.
Å“â€¦ Brough, Goths, pp. 34â€“7, 87, 149, 202â€“3.
Å“Â Athanasius Kircher, Arca Noe (Amsterdam, 1675), â€˜Tabula geographica divisionis gen-
tium et populorum per tres Wlios Noe, Sem, Cham, Japhet, posterosque eorumâ€™, at pp.
Å“Ã€ See e.g. the speculations of Robert Baillie in 1627 on the primeval language, in J. Durkan,
â€˜King Aristotle and Old â€˜â€˜Butterdishâ€™â€™: the making of a graduate in seventeenth-century
Glasgowâ€™, College Courant, no. 63 (September 1979), 19. John Lightfoot, Master of
Catherine Hall, Cambridge, was keen to nail the notion that because the oVspring of
Noah were divided into seventy nations there were as many as seventy languages created
at Babel: see Lightfoot, A chronicle of the times, and the order of the texts in the Old Testament,
in Lightfoot, Works (2 vols., London, 1684), I, p. 9; A few, and new observations, upon the
book of Genesis, ibid., I, p. 694; Erubhin, ibid., I, pp. 1009â€“11. These were still live issues in
the eighteenth century: see the treatment of â€˜Languageâ€™ in the classic Biblical dictionary
of the Benedictine scholar Augustin Calmet, An historical, critical, geographical, chronologi-
cal and etymological dictionary of the Holy Bible (trans. S. Dâ€™Oyly and J. Colson, 3 vols.,
London, 1732), II, pp. 26â€“30; Benjamin Holloway, The primaevity and preeminence of the
sacred Hebrew, above all other languages, vindicated (Oxford, 1754).
Prologue: the Mosaic foundations 31
has demonstrated the central importance of the Book of Genesis to the
study of linguistics in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe.Å“Ãƒ For
example, the inXuential work of the Huguenot pastor and doyen of ethnic
theologians, Samuel Bochart, stressed connections via the Phoenicians
between Hebrew and the languages of western Europe.Å“Ã• However, it was
the rival Scytho-Celtic paradigm which prevailed in European linguistics
before the advent of the Indo-European philology developed by Sir
William Jones and Franz Bopp. Scytho-Celticists tended to operate on
the notion that the peoples of Europe were descended from Japhet,
though historians of linguistics now recognise sophisticated comparativist
and Eurasianist â€˜anticipationsâ€™ of Jones in the notion of a lost Scythian
parent language.Å“Å’ As late as the 1750s, scholars such as the prominent
Celticist Jean-Baptiste Bullet continued to advance this Japhetan
When patriotic humanists did attempt to advance the glory of their
native languages they did so most often within a theological rather than an
exclusively ethnocentric context. It was a common refrain of patriotic
scholars that their own national tongue was the authentic remnant of the
pre-Babelian primitive universal language. In his Origines Antwerpianae
(1569), Goropius Becanus (1518â€“72) claimed that the Cimbri, direct
descendants of Japhet and ancestors of the Flemish, had not been present
at Babel. Hence, the Flemish dialect spoken in Antwerp was identiWed as
the original Adamic language.Å“â€“ The claims made by Becanus were quali-
Wed and reWned in the Lingua Belgica (1612) of Abraham Mylius, who
argued that Belgian had been one of the ancient languages of the post-
Noachic era.Å“â€” Scandinavia spawned its own extravagant claims. Georg
Stiernhielm (1598â€“1672) in Babel destructa, seu runa suethica (1669) and
Rudbeckâ€™s Atlantica argued that the Scythian tongue of the ancient
Swedes was the universal language, while Andreas Kempe in Die
Sprachen des Paradises (1688) concocted a Gothic Eden where God spoke
Swedish, Adam conversed in Danish and the Fall was brought about,
naturally, by a smooth-talking Francophone serpent.â€“Â»
Å“Ãƒ D. Droixhe, La linguistique et lâ€™appel de lâ€™histoire (1600â€“1800) (Geneva, 1978).
Å“Ã• Ibid., pp. 38â€“9; Rossi, Dark abyss, p. 153; G. Parry, The trophies of time (Oxford, 1995),
Å“Å’ J.-C. Muller, â€˜Early stages of language comparison from Sassetti to Sir William Jones
(1786)â€™, Kratylos 31 (1986), 1â€“31; D. Droixhe, De lâ€™origine du langage aux langues du
monde: etudes sur les XVIIe et XVIIIe siecles (Tu
Â´ ` Â¨bingen, 1987), pp. 65â€“8; J. T. Leerssen,
Mere Irish and FÄ±or-Ghael (1986: 2nd edn, Cork, 1996), pp. 288â€“9.
Å“Å“ Jean-Baptiste Bullet, Memoires sur la langue celtique (3 vols., BesanÃ§on, 1754â€“60), I, p. 9.
Å“â€“ A. Grafton, Forgers and critics (London, 1990), pp. 116â€“17; Rossi, Dark abyss, p. 198.
Å“â€” G. J. Metcalf, â€˜Abraham Mylius on historical linguisticsâ€™, PMLA 68 (1953), 535â€“54.
â€“Â» E. Seaton, Literary relations of England and Scandinavia in the seventeenth century (Oxford,
1935), p. 189; U. Eco, The search for the perfect language (trans. J. Fentress, Oxford,
1995), p. 97; G. Bonfante, â€˜Ideas on the kinship of the European languages from 1200 to
1800â€™, Journal of World History 1 (1953â€“4), 685.
32 Theological contexts
Not all linguistic patriots were quite so blatant in identifying a particu-
lar modern vernacular as the single Adamic language. Some advanced the
argument that at Babel the speech of mankind had been divided into
seventy (or seventy-two) core languages â€“ linguae matrices â€“ and cham-
pioned their vernaculars with more plausibility as one of the un-derivative
matrix languages created at Babel.â€“â€¦ Thomas Fuller, for instance, an
Anglican champion of his churchâ€™s non-papal origins among the ancient
Britons, the ancestors of the modern Welsh, took pride in the â€˜Britishâ€™
tongue as â€˜one of those which departed from Babel; and herein it relates
to God, as the more immediate author thereof: whereas most tongues in
Europe owe their beginning to human depraving of some original lan-
guageâ€™.â€“Â Kircher challenged the patriotic boasting of Goropius Becanus
that Flemish was the original pre-Babelian speech: the lingua Belgica was
clearly a Wlia of the German mother-tongue. However, instead of puYng
German in the place of Flemish, Kircher was content to champion
Hebrew as the original divine language, claiming for German only the
title of being the language of the distinguished Noachids Ashkenaz and
Tuiscon.â€“Ã€ Breton linguistic patriotism would continue to be couched in
this idiom throughout the Enlightenment, in works such as Le Brigantâ€™s
Elements de la langue des Celto-gomerites (1779), which alludes in its title to
Gomer, son of Japhet and reputed father of the Celts.
Many of the leading minds of Europe saw the potential of language not
as a way of exciting patriotic diVerences, but as a means of binding
confessional divisions. The wars of religion which disWgured early mod-
ern Christendom kindled aspirations among linguists to recreate a univer-
sal language which might restore its unity, or at least promote a degree of
ecumenical understanding.â€“Ãƒ According to Vivian Salmon, John Wilkins,
author of the monumental linguistic treatise, An essay towards a real
character and a philosophical language (1668), aimed to unite the divided
Protestant churches of Europe â€˜by attempting to remove the verbal
ambiguity which he considered to lie at the heart of theological dis-
putesâ€™.â€“Ã• It was not uncommon for early modern literati to be more
obsessed with devising schemes for universal languages or with defending
the sacred status of Hebrew than with mouthing the glories of their own
national tongues and literatures.â€“Å’
Hodgen, Early anthropology, p. 304.
Thomas Fuller, Church history of Britain (1655: 3 vols., London, 1842), I, p. 96.
Athanasius Kircher, Turris Babel (Amsterdam, 1679), pp. 194, 212.
J. Knowlson, Universal language schemes in England and France 1600â€“1800 (Toronto,
1975), p. 10.
â€“Ã• V. Salmon, â€˜Language-planning in seventeenth-century England: its context and aimsâ€™,
in Salmon, The study of language in seventeenth-century England (Amsterdam, 1979),
Prologue: the Mosaic foundations 33
The connection between ethnology and theology was two-way. As Gib-
bon noted, the Mosaic account of the peopling of the world aVected the
ways in which the particular ethnic identities of the European peoples
were elaborated and related one to another. Nevertheless, the fact that the