Sir James George FrazerA century ago the world traveler was struck with the fact that the hand of Western culture was evident from the Bedouin tents of Arabia to the aboriginal huts of Tasmania. At that time, the obvious outward and visible sign was the Singer sewing machine; today it is the ubiquitous Coke bottle. There is no question here that an idea in the form of a unique product, identified with the manufacturer’s name and geographical location, has in a relatively short time, diffused throughout the world. Commerce knows no real bounds.

    The great historian Arnold Toynbee observed that diffusion works in human affairs in a vigorous and effective way in inverse ratio to the value and importance of the social properties conveyed (Toynbee 1934, 1:430). In other words, Western knick-knacks find an easy market, but Western ideas are much harder to sell. Religious and philosophical concepts diffuse far less readily than Coke. Yet we face the fact that Islam, Judeo-Christianity and even Darwinism and Marxism have diffused throughout the World from identifiable geographic and historical sources. These ideas are intangible products not based upon material proof but upon faith, and that faith becomes the basis for our worldview.

    When it comes to the question of human origins, this too is based upon faith, but here the issue is much more sharply divided. Traditionally, there has always been the belief that humanity descended from a single mating pair whose descendants were at one time reduced to four couples confined to one geographical location, i.e. Noah’s family at Mt. Ararat. During the past century or so the opposing view, based upon evolution, has been developed, but this is divided within itself. Here there have been two schools of thought known among the anthropological fraternity as the Diffusion Theory and the Uniformity Theory respectively. The latter is dominant today.

    The early champions of the British Diffusion Theory were Professor G. E. Smith (1930), and W. H. Perry (1923). It was Smith who was involved with and completely taken in by the Piltdown Man hoax. The theory argued that there was one account of the beginning of humanity that originated in the first high civilization believed to be Egypt. This account traveled with people as part of their cultural baggage as they migrated from this point of origin. But with time that account became corrupted.

    Smith and Perry believed that the Egyptic culture was unique in that it arose without any outside assistance, then diffused as far as the Pacific. However, this turned out to be the Achilles heel of the argument, because most other civilizations are not related to the Egyptic. These authors might have been more successful had they chosen Ararat instead of Egypt as their point of origin. The other school was championed by such illustrious names as Robertson Smith, editor of the famed ninth edition [1875] of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Sir James George Frazer, author of the ever-popular Golden Bough [1890]. Frazer accumulated extensive evidence for the Uniformity Theory in the early twentieth century including Folklore in the Old Testament [1918, see below]. Smith and Frazer’s works have since virtually eclipsed the Diffusion Theory even though it is admitted that cultural diffusion has occurred.

    The Uniformity Theory is based squarely on the theory of evolution and argues that as humans pass through each similar evolutionary stage, their physiological make up will cause them to have similar notions and beliefs, such as the account of their origins. Thus, similar ideas will occur spontaneously and independently at different points in time and geographic locations. There is no doubt that many practical ideas and inventions have been invented several times, not because of any physiological reason but simply out of expediency. However, to extend this reasoning to the genesis of intangible beliefs is another thing, and when the evidence for human origins is examined objectively, the case for uniformity could not possibly stand up in any court of law. However, we shall let reader decide for himself.

    Sir James George Frazer, acknowledged to be and likely to remain, the doyen of anthropology, spent 50 years in the libraries of Cambridge University culling through the written reports of missionaries and travelers of the past to amass one of the greatest collections of facts concerning the habits, folklore and traditions of humanity. His Folklore in the Old Testament was a small part of his total output and was published in three stout volumes in 1918. The first chapter of the first volume gives some 66 accounts from around the world of the origin of humanity. Each of these is faithfully and fully documented. Rather than attempt to redocument these sources here, readers are referred to Frazer’s work although university libraries seldom have copies. The accounts of human origins fall into two categories: the first consists of 37 accounts that tell of humans being created from the clay of the ground. The second consists of 29 accounts which say humans were derived in various ways from the lower animals and even plants. Following are examples from these accounts.

    Beginning with the Hebrew account as given in the Book of Genesis, Frazer points out that the word for ground, Adamah, is the feminine of the word for man, Adam, while the word for red is Adom (p. 29). When we find that the Mota, a tribe in the Banks Islands (Melanesia) tell of their hero god, Qat, who molded the first human out of red clay (p. 12), or the Korkus, a tribe in central India, who have an account of their god, Mahadeo, who took an ant-hill of red earth to make the first human (p. 18), or the Maidu Indians of California, who say that their god, named Earth-Initiate, took dark clay and molded the first man and woman (p. 24), we might be inclined to think that these accounts, together with that of the Hebrews, have a common source. Further we find connected meanings even in the more familiar Latin roots of our Western tongue. The Latin Homo and the French l’homme both mean earth-born and are related to the same root found in our word “humus” or soil. Diodorus (Oldfather 1:88:4-5), writing about 50 B.C., makes the interesting comment in his Histories that the early kings of Egypt would annually sacrifice a man (a foreigner) of red color or red hair, at the grave of Osiris, while Plutarch (Griffiths 1970, 235 and 551) says that these annual sacrifices were of red-haired men and were to assure good crops. Crawley (in Hastings 6:845) adds that Viraj of the Indo-Aryans was the first man created and by the immolation of man in sacrifice Viraj is also immolated and food is obtained. The suggestion here is that of atonement for the Fall of Adam, the “red man.”

    The examples of the first man, and sometimes the first woman, being molded from clay by the deity are worldwide. The Babylonian account has a man molded from earth mixed with the blood of the god Bel (p. 6); Prometheus of Greek legend molded a man out of clay at Panopeus in Phocis (Greece, p. 6); Khnoumou, the father of the gods in Egyptian mythology, molded men out of clay on a potter’s wheel (p. 6); the Dyaks of Sakarran, Borneo, have the first man molded from damp earth by their god Salampandai (p. 14); the Nias of Sumatra believe their god, Luo Zaho, did the same thing (p. 15). The Cheremiss of Russia, a Finnish people, believe the Creator molded a man out of clay (p. 22); the god Juok of the Shilluks of the White Nile molded a man from different colored clays, thus ingeniously explaining the origin of white, red and black races (p.22); the Ewe-speaking tribes of Togoland, in West Africa think that God still makes men out of clay, using good clay and bad clay for good and bad people respectively (p. 23); finally, the Peruvian Indians of Tiahuanaco believe that the Creator restored men after the great Flood by molding them from clay (p. 28). It should be pointed out that Frazer was in correspondence with some of the collectors of these accounts and received assurance that the beliefs were held by the individual tribes long before the influence of missionaries and their Bibles. Of course, in the case of the Babylonian, Egyptian and Greek tales, the documentation existed prior to the advent of Christianity.

    So far we have not considered the matter of the origin of woman nor the matter of the deity imparting breath to the figure of clay. Here we find an even greater concordance with the Genesis account. The Australian aborigines near Melbourne claim that the Creator, Pund-jel, took two large pieces of bark, laid clay upon them and worked it into two men. He then blew hard into their mouths, noses and navels, and they became living men (p. 8); the Maoris of New Zealand say that their god, named Tu, Tiki, or Tane, took red clay, kneaded it with his own blood into a likeness of himself, then animated it by blowing into its mouth and nostrils (p. 9). In Tahiti they believe that the god Toara molded a man from red earth, then later took a bone out of the man and made a woman named “Ivi,” which means “bone” (p. 9); a related tribe of Bowditch Island is more specific, saying it was a rib bone, that the woman’s name was “Eevee” (meaning “rib”) and that the whole human race sprang from this pair (p. 10); the Karens of Burma also say that the man was created from clay, that he was brought to life by breath in his nostrils, and that the woman was taken from the man’s rib (p. 10); the Bedel Tartars of Siberia have a similar account where God made the first man from clay, but then add that the Devil took the rib bone out and made the first woman! (p. 11). The Eskimo of Point Barrow, in Alaska, claim a spirit named a-se-lu made the man of clay and breathed life into him, while nearby tribes claim that it was the raven who made the first woman out of clay to be a companion to the man (p. 24); the Diegueno Indians called Kawakipais of California say that their god, Tcaipakomat, took clay, made a man, then took one of the man’s ribs and made a woman (p. 25). This list is by no means exhaustive; it is simply meant to show the remarkable concordance of accounts of human origins from around the world on three major points: the clay, the breath to animate the figure, and the origin of the woman. Frazer points out, somewhat anachronistically, that “many savages reject the hypothesis of creation in favor of the theory of evolution” (p. 29), and this forms our second category. Here there is no typical case, but each tribe, particularly totemic tribes, imagine that their ancestors sprang from their totemic animal or even plant. For example, some of the California Indians think they are descended from the prairie wolf or coyoté; they particularly deplore the loss of their tails and, interestingly, Darwin thought that the tail in humans had been reduced and modified by their erect posture (Darwin 1879, 60). The Turtle clan of the Iroquois Indians claim they descended from the turtle (p. 30); the Carp clan of the Ootawak (Ottawa) Indians say they were descended from the eggs of the carp (p. 31); the Osage Indians claim that humans derived from the unlikely marriage of a male snail and a beaver maid (p. 30), while the Haida Indians have an equally unlikely union between a raven and a cockle (p. 31). The land Dyaks of Borneo claim they came from a fish while the Kayans, claim they came from a tree (p. 34).

    Practically every animal in creation, including the apes, can claim to be someone’s ancestor. Perhaps the most disgusting account is that of the Samoans who claim that humans derived from two grubs in a rotting convolvulus (p. 40). The Greeks were, of course, represented by the account of Empedocles (5th century B.C.), who has shapeless lumps of earth and water thrown into the subterranean fires to form monsters that were gradually eliminated until the existing species of animals and humans evolved (p. 44). The almost total absence of concordance among the evolutionary accounts in comparison with the remarkably good concordance among the creation accounts would surely convince any jury called to weigh the evidence that the latter is likely to be closer to the truth. Nevertheless, today’s anthropology has chosen to reject the book of Genesis in favor of The Origin of Species.


    Darwin, C. 1879. The Descent of Man. London: John Murray (2nd ed.).

    Frazer, J.G. 1918. Folklore in the Old Testament. London: Macmillan. 3 vols.

    Griffiths, J.G. 1970. Plutarch’s De Iside et Osiride. Cambridge: U. of Wales.

    Hastings, J. ed. 1908-27. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 12 vols.

    Oldfather, C.H. 1933-67. Diodorus of Sicily. London: William Heinemann. 12 vols.

    Perry, W.H. 1923. The Children of the Sun. London: Methuen.

    Smith, G.E. 1930. Human History. London: Cape.

    Toynbee, A. 1934-61. A Study of History. London: Oxford U. Press. 12 vols.

    Photo: Sir James George Frazer.


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