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Did Ancient Semites Father the Germanic Languages?

January 9, 2015
Could Sigurd, the legendary Germanic hero, have been a Phoenician?

Could legendary heroes of the Germanic people have been Phoenicians?

German, English, Swedish, and the other Germanic languages belong to the Indo-European family, but they’re odd members. They and Proto-Germanic, their common grandparent, have a lot of vocabulary and grammar utterly unlike other Indo-European languages. Rather, it resembles Semitic languages, like Hebrew and Arabic. That suggests a fascinating lost history, with civilized Middle Easterners setting up camp among the primitives of northern Europe’s great forests.

Fully one-third of Proto-Germanic vocabulary has no relation to other Indo-European words. But it does often resemble Semitic vocabulary. The Proto-Germanic word for maiden, for instance, is something like magath. The early Semitic version was makhat. Just as interesting, the ancient Germans worshiped a god named Balder, while many ancient Semites worshiped Baal Addir, which they shortened to Baldir. Plus, Germanic languages have a lot of breathy consonants, as well as an unusual verb-shift for the past tense — in both cases unlike other Indo-European languages but like Semitic languages.

Proto-Germanic branched off from the Indo-European family tree around 500 B.C.E. What ancient Semites could have lived in northern Europe that far back? The Phoenicians came from cities in Lebanon and Syria, and they were the Mediterranean’s great sailors. We know they reached Portugal. They could easily have sailed on to northern Germany and southern Scandinavia, where Proto-Germanic formed. Plus, the Phoenicians worshiped Baal Addir (to the horror of their Hebrew cousins, who moaned about Baal in the Old Testament). And Proto-Germanic’s odd, Semitic-sounding vocabulary includes just about all its words for the sea, fish, and ships.

To reshape the natives’ language, the Phoenicians would’ve had to stay a long time, possibly in trading posts (like the ones Europeans set up in Africa and Asia during the 16th and 17th Centuries). Those settlements would be under water now, since sea levels have risen. But recently, off the coast of northern Germany, archeologists found a Phoenician pot.

Of course, the theory has to explain why the Phoenicians built settlements so far from home. Were they refugees or pilgrims, or did northern Germany offer natural resources hard to find elsewhere? We don’t know.




© 2015 by David W. Tollen

America’s Enemies Already Knew

December 12, 2014

Wolf Blitzer asked Senator Feinstein whether she’d feel guilty if the enhanced interrogation report led to American deaths. Many Republicans have made the same point: our enemies will now torture and kill our soldiers.

Their assumption is wrong. Our enemies already know we tortured their men. It’s a poorly kept secret, and our enemies don’t trust American democracy so much that they won’t accept clams of torture without proof. The report doesn’t reveal the truth to our enemies but rather to us: to the American people who still doubted the government of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would torture.


December 10, 2014

Every tyrant throughout all history could argue that torture prevented war, stopped terrorism, or otherwise saved lives. That’s not the point.

None of us is safe under a regime that uses enhanced interrogation — under a government that tortures.

The Walking Dead: A Tour of Prehistory

December 9, 2014

The Walking Dead offers some good prehistory. In the show’s post-apocalyptic world, humanity returns to the key life stages of our prehistoric past: [SPOILER ALERT for Seasons 1-5!] Read more…

Cheddar Man’s Family

December 7, 2014

Scientists call Britain’s oldest complete skeleton “Cheddar Man.” He lived around 7150 B.C.E., when forest covered Britain and antelope roamed, along with wild horses. Cheddar Man’s people were hunter-gatherers, and they ate the antelope and horses — along with each other, most likely. Butcher marks on his skeleton suggest someone carved him up, possibly after murdering him. Read more…

How Disobedient Confederate Generals Saved America

November 4, 2014

The South didn’t have to surrender in 1865, at the end of the U.S. Civil War. Its armies had lost, but Confederate soldiers could’ve taken to the hills and forests to fight a guerrilla war. Southern generals had plenty of role models — including the American guerrillas who’d frustrated the British during the Revolution. Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered his generals to do the same. Had they obeyed, the Civil War might have dragged on for years, darkening America’s character. Guerrilla combat often degenerates into terrorism, with both sides targeting civilians and killing for revenge. Democracy itself could’ve suffered. The Confederacy might even have won, since many in the exhausted North already wanted to give up in 1865. (Imagine the 20th Century without a unified America to oppose totalitarianism.) Read more…

History of the Fortune Cookie

November 3, 2014

The first record of fortune cookies comes from Japan in the early 1800’s, not from China, according to Rude Dude’s Book of Food, by Tim Myers. The Japanese flavored their treats with ginger and miso — not exactly the cookies we know — but they did squeeze written fortunes into the crease. The owner of San Francisco’s famous Japanese Tea Garden, Makoto Hagiwara, apparently introduced the concoction to America. Both Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans saw an opportunity, and soon both community’s shops and restaurants offered fortune cookies. Neither culture had a major dessert tradition, so fortune cookies helped feed the American sweet tooth, particularly as they evolved from the Japanese ginger and miso treat into the cookies we know today. Read more…


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