Graham Pemberton
7 min readApr 1, 2023

What do the First Three Chapters of Genesis Really Mean? — Part 2

pixabay, RobertCheaib

In part 1 I introduced the book The Hebraic Tongue Restored by Fabre d’Olivet to any Medium reader unfamiliar with it. (I assume that would be the vast majority, as it is somewhat obscure.) This is an extremely important text, whether or not one believes his historical claims in their entirety, because he says that he is re-establishing the text and the original meaning of the first ten chapters of Genesis. That at the very least makes his book worthy of study for both Christians and anyone interested in such matters. In this article I’ll give some more preamble and background to the book, which will hopefully whet your appetite, then in following articles I’ll explore the text in detail¹.

Here are some extracts from the foreword, written by Nayan Louise Redfield, a big fan of d’Olivet and translator of his books:

The Hebraic Tongue Restored is a strong appeal to those who, realizing that the time of philosophy is past and the time of religion (spirituality?) at hand, are seeking for those higher truths the spreading knowledge of which has already altered the complexion of the world and signalled the approaching end of materialism. (My italics. That should make the book appealing to those who think like me.)

“In this prodigious work of Fabre d’Olivet… he goes back to the origin of speech and rebuilds upon a basis of truly colossal learning the edifice of primitive and hieroglyphic Hebrew, bringing back the Hebraic tongue to its constitutive principles by deriving it wholly from the Sign, which he considers the symbolic and living image of the generative ideas of language. He gives a neoteric translation of the first ten chapters of the Sepher of Moses (i.e. the Book of Genesis) in which he supports each with a scientific, historic and grammatical commentary to bring out the three meanings: literal, figurative and hieroglyphic, corresponding to the natural, psychic and divine worlds. He asserts plainly and fearlessly that the Genesis of Moses was symbolically expressed and ought not to be taken in a purely literal sense”.

Since, about 500 BC “the Hebrews having become Jews no longer spoke nor understood their original tongue, he denies the value of the Hebrew as it is understood today, and has undertaken to restore this tongue lost for twenty-five centuries… This idiom, therefore, having become separated from a tongue which had attained its highest perfection and was composed entirely of universal, intellectual, abstract expressions, would naturally fall from degeneracy to degeneracy, from restriction to restriction, to its most material elements; all that was spirit would become substance; all that was intellectual would become sentient; all that was universal, particular”.

“According to the Essenian* tradition, every word in this Sepher of Moses contains three meanings — the positive or simple, the comparative or figurative, the superlative or hieratic. When one has penetrated to (the deepest) meaning, all things are disclosed through a radiant illumination and the soul of that one attains to heights which those bound to the narrow limits of the positive meaning and satisfied with the letter which killeth, never know”. (* D’Olivet and his interpreter Best believe that the Essenes were the inheritors of the authentic Mosaic tradition.)

Moving on now to d’Olivet himself, here are some of the most interesting extracts from his introduction:

“…the unusual course that I had given to my studies, had convinced me long since that the Hebraic tongue was lost, and that the Bible which we possess was far from being the exact translation of the Sepher of Moses. Having attained this original Sepher by other paths than that of the Greeks and Latins… I saw plainly that the greater part of the vulgar interpretations were false, and that, in order to restore the tongue of Moses in its primitive grammar, it would be necessary to clash violently with the scientific or religious prejudices that custom, pride, interest, the rust of ages and the respect which it attached to ancient errors, concurred in consecrating, strengthening and preserving” (p21). (That would be an arduous task, but one definitely worth pursuing.)

“Moses had delved deeply into the sanctuaries of Egypt, and he had been initiated into the mysteries; it is easily discovered in examining the form of his Cosmogony… He made use of the Egyptian tongue in all its purity. This tongue had at this time attained its highest degree of perfection” (p29).

“Moses himself, foreseeing the fate to which his book must be submitted and the false interpretations that must be given it in the course of time, had recourse to an oral law which he gave by word of mouth to reliable men whose fidelity he had tested, and whom he charged to transmit it in the secret of the sanctuary to other men… This oral law that the modern Jews are confident they still possess, is named Kabbala, from a Hebrew word which signifies, that which is received, that which comes from elsewhere, that which is passed from hand to hand, etc” (p29–30).

“Let us rely firmly upon this important truth: the Hebraic tongue already corrupted by a gross people, and intellectual as it was in its origin, brought down to its most material elements, was entirely lost after the captivity of Babylon. This is an historic fact impossible to be doubted, whatever skepticism we may profess. The Bible shows it; the Talmud affirms it; it is the sentiment of the most famous rabbis; Walton cannot deny it; the best critic who has written upon this matter, Richard Simon, never wearies of repeating it. Thus therefore, nearly six centuries before Jesus Christ, the Hebrews, having become Jews, no longer spoke or understood their original tongue. They used a Syriac dialect called Aramaic, formed of the union of several idioms of Assyria and Phoenicia…” (p37).

I don’t know how controversial in modern times is d’Olivet’s claim that the original Hebrew language was lost. He clearly believes that it is beyond dispute. The references he gives for the statements in that last paragraph are:

  • Nehemiah chapter 8
  • Thalm devot chapter 4
  • Elias, Kimchi, Ephode, etc.
  • Proleg. III and XII (I assume he is referring to the scholar Brian Walton. His book is more commonly known as Polyglot, but I believe that is what d’Olivet is referring to.)
  • Hist. Crit. L. I. chapters 8,16,17, etc. (He is referring to Histoire Critique du Vieux Testament — Critical History of the Old Testament — by Richard Simon, a French Roman Catholic Priest.)

I would be very happy to receive any comments or observations from anyone more knowledgeable about this matter than I am, especially if they have convincing evidence to the contrary (rather than mere indignant denials).

D’Olivet goes on to discuss the Essenes, who he says are “infinitely more learned” than the Pharisees and Sadducees, and “if it is true, as everyone attests, that Moses has left an oral law, it is among the Essenes that it has been preserved” (p38, p39).

Without going into all the historical details he provides, let me just say that d’Olivet is not a fan of the Septuagint, nor Jerome’s Vulgate. Of the latter he says: “The Council of Trent has declared this translation authentic, without nevertheless, declaring it infallible; but the Inquisition has sustained it with all the force of its arguments, and the theologians with all the weight of their intolerance and their partiality”.

He goes on to note the “numberless controversies” which these two versions have brought about, and that the various European translations, whether before the Reformation or after, are inevitably faulty, given that they are “only copies more or less removed from the Greek and Latin”, thus the Septuagint and Vulgate.

The solution would be “a true and perfect knowledge of the Hebraic tongue”. How can this be achieved? “By re-establishing this lost tongue in its original principles: by throwing off the Hellenistic yoke: by reconstructing its lexicon: by penetrating the sanctuaries of the Essenes: by mistrusting the exterior doctrine of the Jews: by opening at last that holy ark which for more than three thousand years, closed to the profane, has brought down to us, by a decree of Divine Providence, the treasures amassed by the wisdom of the Egyptians” (p51).

D’Olivet claims that this is what he has achieved in his book — he would think that, wouldn’t he? — which is a very bold, and inevitably controversial, claim.

In future articles I’ll take a look at his text, along with the translations and commentaries by Nayan Louise Redfield, and Shabaz Britten Best.

Here’s a link to the next article, part 3.

Fabre d’Olivet

I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All of those articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here). My most recent articles, however, are only on Medium; for those please check out my lists.

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Footnote:

  1. The full title is The Hebraic Tongue Restored and the True Meaning of the Hebrew Words Re-established and Proved by their Radical Analysis. My edition is from Kessinger Publishing Company. This is a reprint of the 1918 translation.

Bruce McGraw

Gerald R. Baron

Simon Heathcote

Graham Pemberton

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com