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The Paravars: Chapter 2 – The Jewish Lore


Myself

 By T. V. Antony Raj Fernando

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Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths

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Parvaim 

Today, most of the Paravars live mainly in and around the seaport towns in the Tirunelveli district in south India and in some of the provinces on the north-west coast of Sri Lanka and are steadfast Roman Catholics. To the affluent Paravars, who wish to remove the stigma placed on the occupation of their caste which was considered “low and ritually polluting occupations,” namely, fishing, diving for pearls and chanks, and producing salt, the following information about Parvaim and Ophir ought to warm their hearts.

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Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty ( 1807-1860)
Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty ( 1807-1860)

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In 1873, in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, Volume 4, Issue 07, January 1837, pp 130-134, a paper submitted by Mudaliyar Simon Casie Chitty (1807-1860), District Judge of Chilaw and Maniagar of Puttalam, Ceylon, a writer of great repute, says:

“In the classification of the Tamil castes, the Parawas rank first among the tribes of fishermen, and they are generally allowed to have been the earliest navigators in the Indian Ocean, like the Phœnicians in the Mediterranean. They are described in the Tamil dictionary, entitled Nigundu Súlamaní, under the head of Neythanílémakkal, or inhabitants of the sea-coast. In Sanscrit, they are called Parasavas, or Nishadas, and in Tamil, Parathar, Parathavar, and Paravar. The author of the Historia Ecclesiastica (published in Tamil, at Tranquebar, in the year 1735), identifies them with the Parvaim of the Scriptures, and adds, that in the time of Solomon they were famous among those who made voyages by sea; but it does not appear that there is any solid foundation for this hypothesis.” (Art. V.—Remarks on the Origin and History of the Parawas)

Tranquebar is present-day Tharangambadi, founded by the Danish East India Company in 1620.

The word Parvaim occurs only in 2 Chronicles 3:6 in the Bible, as the place from which Solomon obtained gold for decorating his Temple.

He also covered the house with precious stones for splendor; the gold was from Parvaim. (2 Chronicles 3:6)

Some scholars have suggested that Parvaim derives from the Sanskrit word purva, a general term for ‘east’. Whether there was such a place called Parvaim in the East is doubtful.

Ophir

Some scholars have identified Parvaim with Ophir, but it is uncertain whether it is even the name of a place.

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King Hiram's freet brings gifts to King Solomon
King Hiram’s fleet brings gifts to King Solomon

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In the Bible (and the Torah) The Books of Kings and Chronicles tell of a joint expedition to Ophir, a port on the Red Sea, by King Solomon and the Tyrian King Hiram I from Eziongeber. They brought back vast amounts of gold, precious stones and almug wood from Ophir:

They went to Ophir, and obtained four hundred and twenty talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon. ( 1 Kings 9:28)

Hiram’s fleet, which used to bring gold from Ophir, also brought from there a very large quantity of almug wood and precious stones. ( 1 Kings 10:11)

But now, because of the delight I take in the house of my God, in addition to all that I stored up for the holy house, I give to the house of my God my personal fortune in gold and silver: three thousand talents of Ophir gold, and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for overlaying the walls of the rooms for the various utensils to be made of gold and silver, and for every work that is to be done by artisans. Now, who else will contribute generously and consecrate themselves this day to the LORD?” (1 Chronicles 29:3-5)

The servants of Huram and of Solomon who brought gold from Ophir also brought cabinet wood and precious stones. (2 Chronicles 9:10)

In those times Solomon went to Ezion-geber and to Elath on the seashore of the land of Edom. Huram had his servants send him ships and his own servants, expert seamen; they went with Solomon’s servants to Ophir, and obtained there four hundred and fifty talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon. (2 Chronicles 8:17-18)

King Solomon also built a fleet at Ezion-geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea in the land of Edom. To this fleet, Hiram sent his own servants, expert sailors, with the servants of Solomon. They went to Ophir, and obtained four hundred and twenty talents of gold and brought it to King Solomon. (1 Kings 9:26-28)

Almug (sometimes rendered Algum) is a type of wood referred to in the Hebrew Bible, however, the variety of this wood is unknown. King Solomon constructed the Temple using almug together with cedar and pine. Almug was also used to craft musical instruments for use in the Temple. Likely the wood brought from the distant country of Ophir was very valuable.

There are references to the ‘gold of Ophir’ in several other books of the Bible:

And treat raw gold as dust, the fine gold of Ophir as pebbles in the wadi, (Book of Job 22:24)

Daughters of kings are your lovely wives; a princess arrayed in Ophir’s gold comes to stand at your right hand. (Psalms 45:10)

I will make mortals more rare than pure gold, human beings, than the gold of Ophir. (Isaiah 13:12)

There are specific possibilities that Ophir is in the Southern part of India – a region well-known for gold, ivory and peacocks. In ancient times, sandalwood came almost exclusively from South India.

In a dictionary of the Bible published by Sir William Smith in 1863, Hurd and Houghton, 1863 (1870), a note on page 1441 says that the Hebrew word for peacock Thukki, is derived from the Classical Tamil word Thogkai referring to peacock. Thogkai is just one of the classical Tamil words along with words for ivory, cotton-cloth and apes mentioned in the Torah.

This theory that Ophir is in Tamil Nadu, India, is further supported by other historians like K. S. Ramaswami Sastri, in The Tamils and their culture, Annamalai University, 1967, pp.16; Gregory James, Tamil Lexicography, M. Niemeyer, 1991, pp.10; Edna Fernandes, The last Jews of Kerala, Portobello, 2008, pp.98.

Some identify Ophir as Uvari, a coastal village in Radhapuram Taluk in Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu State, India. It is 59 kilometres towards the South from Tirunelveli and 704 kilometres from Chennai. The main occupation of the villagers is fishing. Many of the men are sailors.

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 Previous: The Paravars: Chapter 1 – The Hindu Myths

Next:  The Paravars: Chapter 3 – The Pearl Fishery Coasts in the Gulf of Mannar

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Are the Creation-Flood Stories Myth or History?


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj .

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How should we, the contemporary readers interpret the creation-flood narrative in Genesis 2–11?

The stories are neither myth nor history.

“Myth” is a poor term, as it has many different meanings and so connotes untruth in prevalent English.

“History” is, likewise, misleading, for it implies that the events, in fact, took place. The proper term would be ‘creation-flood story.’

The ancient thinkers of the Middle East did not have our means for researching serious topics. They used narratives for issues that we would describe as philosophical or theological. They sought out meaning in the ancient stories of their times. They contemplated on topics such as: how gods act with justice and generosity, why humans are rebellious, the dynamics of carnal allurement and marital relationships, why there are so many Peoples and languages. Their stories reveal an exclusive period, when divine decisions determined the future of the human race.Moreover, every time they retold these stories, they added, or subtracted narrative matters.

Even though most of these stories might seem to us as primitive and naive, they are, in fact, narrated in a compressed form with skill, and subtlety. They offer radical answers to perennial questions about God and human beings. To illustrate here is the story of the Tower of Babel told in Genesis,

Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel

Story of the Tower of Babel – Genesis 11:1-9

The whole world had the same language and the same words.

When they were migrating from the east, they came to a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us mold bricks and harden them with fire.”

They used bricks for stone, and bitumen for mortar.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth.”

The LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had built.

Then the LORD said: If now, while they are one people and all have the same language, they have started to do this, nothing they presume to do will be out of their reach. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that no one will understand the speech of another.

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

That is why it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the speech of all the world. From there the LORD scattered them over all the earth.

One Jewish tradition implies that humans later defied God when he tried to forge a relationship between the various nations. So, God decided to direct his attention to one nation only, hoping it would eventually unite all the nations of the world. To bring God’s decision to fruition the authors of Genesis introduce Abraham.

The Covenant of Circumcision – Genesis 17:1-11

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said:

I am God the Almighty. Walk in my presence and be blameless. Between you and me I will establish my covenant, and I will multiply you exceedingly.

Abram fell face down and God said to him:

For my part, here is my covenant with you: you are to become the father of a multitude of nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations.

I will make you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings will stem from you. I will maintain my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting covenant, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now residing as aliens, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.

God said to Abraham:

For your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.

This is the covenant between me and you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised. Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. That will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

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Did the Gods Create Two Versions of Humans?


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Storm Clouds by sighlent
Storm Clouds by sighlent

The Torah (Hebrew: תּוֹרָה‎‎) meaning “teaching,” “doctrine,” or “instruction” is the name given to the first five books of the Jewish Bible. In Hebrew, the five books bear the initial phrase in the text as their names: Bereshit (“In the beginning,”), Shemot (“Names,”), Vayikra (“He called”), Bamidbar (“In the desert,”) and Devarim (“Words,”).

The Pentateuch meaning “five vessels,” “five containers,” or “five-volume book” is the comparative term for the Torah in Christian theology. The Christians call the five books as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

The Torah and the Pentateuch also known as “the five books of Moses,” form the first section of the Jewish and the Christian Scriptures.

Genesis is the first book of the Pentateuch. Its title in the Jewish Scriptures it is known as Bereshit, the opening Hebrew word, “in the beginning.” Its title in English, “Genesis,” comes from the Greek word γενέσεως of Genesis 2:4, literally, “the book of the generation (genesis) of the heavens and earth.”

Genesis 1:1–2:3 presents us a seven-day creation account where a God almighty whose mere word generates an exquisite universe. In this beautiful universe, humans play an intrinsic part.

The storyline of Genesis 2–11, find its origin in creation-flood stories found in Mesopotamian literature of the second and early first millennia.

In the Mesopotamian creation-flood accounts, the gods created the humans as immortal slaves to take care of the universe for them. The humans were needed to provide the gods with food, clothing, and pay homage to them in temples. In an unanticipated development, however, the humans grew in plenty and were so noisy that the gods were not able to sleep. Madly angered, the gods decided to destroy the human race by a universal flood. However, one man, secretly warned of the flood by his patron god, built a boat and survived with his family. Regretting their impetuous decision, the gods created a new version of mankind. They made the new human race mortal to ensure they would never grow numerous and disturb the gods.The authors of Genesis (Bereshit) adapted this Mesopotamian creation-flood story to suit their viewpoints about God and humanity. To illustrate, in Genesis we read that Noah, created by God before the floods, led a long life.

Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood. The whole lifetime of Noah was nine hundred and fifty years; then he died. (Genesis 9:28-29)

These authors attributed the weakness of the gods to human sin in lieu of divine oversight.

When the LORD saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil, the
LORD regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved.

So the LORD said: I will wipe out from the earth the human beings I have created, and not only the human beings, but also the animals and the crawling things and the birds of the air, for I regret that I made them. (Genesis 6:5–7)

The authors made God reaffirm mankind without modifying the original creation

God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth.

Fear and dread of you shall come upon all the animals of the earth and all
the birds of the air, upon all the creatures that move about on the ground and all the fishes of the sea; into your power they are delivered.

Any living creature that moves about shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants. Only meat with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.

Indeed for your own lifeblood I will demand an accounting: from every animal I will demand it, and from a human being, each one for the blood of another, I will demand an accounting for human life. Anyone who sheds the blood of a human being, by a human being shall that one’s blood be shed; For in the image of God have human beings been made. Be fertile, then, and multiply; abound on earth and subdue it. (Genesis 9:1–7).

In the biblical version God is just, powerful, and not needy.

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