Sunday, March 3, 2024

Was the Yellow Emperor a Mesopotamian Priest Physician?


The Yellow Emperor as depicted in the album Portraits of Famous Men c.1900 AD.
Housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

A member of the Bible and Anthropology Facebook group has asked an excellent question about the origin of Chinese medicine and a possible connection to the Yellow Emperor. He notes that according to the Book of Jubilees knowledge of medicine was given to Noah prior to the flood. This was then passed on the Shem, who has been said to be the grandfather of China's Yellow Emperor.

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

The traders and merchants of the ancient world did business along the great rivers. That is why the oldest settlements are along major rivers in Africa, Mesopotamia, India, and China. The traders carried valuable commodities as well as information and technologies. Some were royal officials who acted as emissaries between rulers. Adventurers and itinerant priests traveled with the traders for safety. In the ancient world healing was the work of priests. 

Noah and his descendants were members of a ruler-priest caste. However, Shem could not be the Yellow Emperor's grandfather because these two men lived at least 1100 years apart.

In the ancient world, only members of the elite strata of society learned and practiced medicine. One of the earliest known medical practitioners was Eanach (Enoch). He served the Pharaoh as his priest-physician, a wab sxmt (wab sekhmet). Eanach lived around 3000 B.C. and is said to have "healed the pharaoh's nostrils." Likely, this means that he performed a healing ritual that involved placing the cross-like Ankh against the Pharaoh's nose and offering prayers for his healing.

The Mesopotamian priest-physician was called azu in Akkadian, the oldest known Semitic language. Their skills probably were learned from the early Nilotic ruler-priests who moved into Mesopotamia as early as 4000 BC in the service of the early kingdom builders like Nimrod, the Kushite (Gen. 10). Genetic studied indicate that some of the Chinese are in mtDNA haplogroup N which has its point of origin in central east Africa (shown on this map).

The priest-physicians specialized in one part of the body: head, stomach, heart, etc, as was noted by Diodorus Siculus, who wrote, "The study of medicine with them was divided between specialists; each physician attending to one kind of illness only. Every place possessed several doctors; some for diseases of the eyes, others for the head, or the teeth, or the stomach, or for internal diseases." 

Priests were often leaders of their people. They were rulers and priests. Some were deified. The legendary Yellow Emperor (Huangdi) seems to fit this pattern. However, long after his time (2697-2598 BC) he became the center of a Chinese cult, and his devotees embellished his achievements. He was credited, for example, with introducing clothing, inventing explosives, and founding Taoism.

The French Sinologist Albert Terrien de Lacouperie (1845–94) wrote about early contact between Mesopotamian peoples and the peoples of China in his 1892 book The Western Origin of the Early Chinese Civilization. He claimed that Chinese civilization was founded around 2300 BC by immigrants from Mesopotamia. According to Lacouperie's hypothesis Huangdi was a Mesopotamian chief who led his people into China around 2300 BC.

Yangshao vessel 3900-3000 BC

Ancient migrating populations settled at major water systems The Pengtoushan culture thrived along the Yangtze River between 7500–6100 B.C., and the Yangshao culture flourished along the central Yellow River between 5000 and 3000 B.C. Yangshao nobles wore silk garments and many motifs found on pottery vessels such as the one above resemble the motifs found on Mesopotamian pottery.

The early priests were also embalmers who prepared the mummies that have been found along the Nile and in the Taklamakan Desert of China. The Tarim Basin population to which the earliest mummies belonged was agropastoral, and they lived c.2000 BC in what was formerly a freshwater environment.

Related reading: Ancient Words for Priests; Physician Priests of Antiquity; Medical Care in the Ancient World

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