Tuesday, October 1, 2013


To Know is the Only Way

(Zhidao shi zhidao)

Reading recently about Western perception of the Fall and Western roots for the word "knowledge" has been really eye opening. One thing we've talked about is that the Latin word, sapere, "to know" also means "to taste." We see this relevant in all sorts of Latin-based languages like French where the word "savoir" (to know) is so closely related to "saveur" (to savor or taste). Having recently come from a very different language, I wondered if there would be any connections between the two ideas in Chinese. While I found some similarites in the connotations of words regarding knowledge, there were some stark contrasts I'd like to bring to light.

As a background, for those of you not familiar with Chinese, each word is made up of one or two characters. Each character is given one syllable and has it's own meaning.  Each character, however, can be made up of many symbols (or radicals) each with its own, respective meaning. Let's look at the word "good."

The blue radical is the character for "woman," the red one means "man." When together, the word means "good," which makes literal the statement in Genesis 2:18 "It is not good for man to be alone."

There have been whole studies about the Chinese characters associated with the Fall. Believe it or not, the most commonly used characters nearly all have ties to the book of Genesis (examples include "man," "want," "west," "first," "talk," "create," and so many more). One that hadn't been researched, but that I'd like to pick apart for you is the character for "knowledge."

丿++ =

In this case, the blue radical means "to throw away," the gray, "heaven," the red "mouth." All three together mean "knowledge." Knowledge is what you get after you throw away heaven by tasting the fruit. And if you throw the character for "day"  日 in there, you get this: 

which means "wisdom." Genesis 2:17 "For in the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." Perhaps it would have been wiser for Adam and Eve to heed this counsel? Or was it wiser for them to throw heaven away for this knowledge?

Those who know don't speak, those who speak don't know.

For those of you interested in seeing more characters with Christian origins, I highly recommend this PowerPoint.


  1. Holy cow!! That is so cool! I'm dying to go check it out now! I feel like I've got questions all over the place! I don't really know anything about Chinese history. How early was the story of the Fall present in Chinese culture? Do they have a similar story of the creation or not? If not, then again, how?! I don't know why that strikes me as so awesome but it does. Really interesting connection, Jessica!

  2. That's really neat. I knew that certain Asian languages functioned that way, but I wasn't sure whether or not Chinese was one of them! It's interesting that even within a non-Judeo-Christian culture, there are what seem to be references to the Edenic narrative. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Greg, you'll have to tell me how Russian functions! Elise, If you're interested in learning more, there's a PowerPoint that's much clearer and thorough at http://students.washington.edu/cbsf/cool/Chinese.swf

    1. Russian's basically made up of roots, prefixes, and suffixes, so you can make up words and it totally makes sense. The word for redemption, for example, is (latinized) is-kup-lyenei, which literally means 'out of/from--buy--state/act of,' or the state of having been bought.