The Myth making of Don Richardson - transforming myths into history
p.6 The Santal- Thakur Jiu
Folk religion consists of ethnic or regional religious customs that are not institutionalized, their beliefs are identified within a particular group of people, ethnicity or tribe. They often have no formal creeds or sacred texts (non literate). They are found worldwide. There are African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions. In sub-Saharan Africa, many that practice Christianity or Islam and incorporate elements of African traditional religions. Among the many folk religions there is syncretism that takes place in their history.
Richardson is saying the majority of the folk religions of the world knew God (hundreds of cultures) when the Bible says the opposite; He is challenging the most basic teaching of the Bible.
We read over and over of these tribes Richardson refers to, whose God had a son but they have no explanation of Him, besides he will do something good. For their god to have a son like the Bible describes they would have to have knowledge, which comes ONLY by direct communication. Either by the Bible, or by formerly sent- missionaries which they heard the gospel from (Rom.10:15). But they don’t admit to have this, this is all hearsay passed on. Why are some so gullible to believe this. This is not how God told us to learn the truth.
One of the better evidences Richardson presents are the Santal people and their worship of Thakur Jiu.
What Richardson does for one cultures god, he does for another.
The Santal and Thakur Jiu
The Santal are an ancient tribe, found mostly in North Bengal (Northern part of Bangladesh). Some believe that the Kherwars came into the land of Bengal after the first clashes with the invading Aryan tribes (2500 B. C.). Many believe the Santal probably landed in Bangladesh no later than 1000 B.C.
They were scattered at the time of the Muslim invasion of this region during the end of the 12th century through the beginning of the 13th century. In 1855 they came under the British colonial rule. There is a tradition in South India that the Apostle Thomas introduced Christianity to them in 52 AD.
Lars Skrefsrud and Hans Borreson began mission work with the Santal Tribe north of Calcutta in 1867. Richardson writes, “Skrefsrud found no disqualifying barnacles of error attached to the name Thakur Jiu. It was not in the Zeus category, worthy of rejection, but in the Theos/Logos category, worthy of acceptance. Further, he reasoned that if he as a Norwegian could call the Almighty Gud—a name which sprang out of just as pagan a background as Theos in Greek and Deus in Latin—then surely Santal had a right to call Him Thakur Jiu!”
Skrefsrud accepted the name! For a while, to be sure, it felt strange to hear his own lips proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Son of Thakur Jiu! But only for a couple of weeks. After that, the strangeness wore off. No doubt it sounded just as strange the first time someone said that Jesus Christ was the Son of Theos, or of Deus, or of Gud or, for that matter, of God! (p.44-45 Eternity in their Hearts)
Let’s pause and consider what is and what is not being said here. Skrefsrud and Borrenson may or may not have been able to speak correctly on “the name ‘Thakur Jiu.” For this is NOT a generic title for God as i.e. theos, (nor is it a specific name for the God of Israel). Let’s look at the claim “Skrefsrud found no disqualifying barnacles of error attached to the name Thakur Jiu.”
To do this we must read others who have done more extensive research for us to get more accurate details of their beliefs, Stephen Murmu writes,
“The Santals have an interesting myth on the creation of mankind by Thakur Jiu (Supreme God). The Santal sacred story of the origin of humanity combines the Principles of creation and evolution, for according to it humankind are ultimately derived from two images, which were modelled in human form out of damp clay, but afterwards accidentally transformed into birds***, from whose eggs the first Man and woman of flesh and blood were hatched. This story of origin of Mankind finds some similarities with the biblical view of creation of Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:7).
‘Thakur jiu’ (God) made two human couples of earth. When He was ready to impart souls or breathe (life) into them, the “Sin Sadom” (The day horse of the Sun in the form of horse) came down from above and trampled them to pieces. ‘Thakur jiu’ became awfully grieved by this. Thakur Baba (God the Father) did not give up His plan of creating humankind. The myth further asserts, “Then Thakur jiu created physical formation of male and female birds instead of human formation out of damp clay. The birds were imparted”breath or soul Oife) by the ‘Thakur jiu’ from the inner part of His bosom. “17
He named the birds-Has and Hasil (meaning goose and gander). He used to keep the birds on his hands and talk and play with them. When the birds needed place to live, 'Thakur jiu' formed the earth and whole creation along with all the necessities. The birds made a nest in a clump of thatching grass. The female bird (Hasil) laid two eggs. From those eggs two humans were born-one male child and another female child. They were called by the name, ·Pilcu Haram" and Pilcu Budhi. "18
The first human couple grew up in "Hihiri Pipiri,» the original birth place of the Santals. The place Hihiri Pipiri, geographically is uncertain. But one of the songs denote that the Hihiri pipiri was a place like paradise, a peaceful place situated somewhere in Babylon. The first human beings were taken care of by the birds according to the advice of the "Thakur jiu" (God)” (Source: Understanding the Concept of God in Santal Traditional Myths by Stephen Murm, pp. 77-78)
The main points is that we have a story of two gods, Thakur jiu’ along with Thakur Baba who made birds (accidentally) before he made earth and from their eggs were hatched man an women.
Many scholars consider the original Homeland of the Santals in Babylon ("Hihiri Pipiri). The historian Rev. C.H. Koomar called their land Babul which is actually referred to as Babylon. So This may explain them having a fragmented understanding from the ancient past on certain points distorted into their personal myths. the Santal religious tradition is unique woven into an abundance of myths that relate to human situations. The creator of the myths is "Thakur jiu", the creator (The supreme God). They believe God is invisible, along with other deities and spirits.
If one wants to find the Biblical story in this they certainly have to apply imagination. This is why myths are not to be sought after as accuracy of truth. Interpreting Thakur Jiu as Yahweh gives validity to this myth. If one thinks this is acceptable, to approve their myth as presenting the same God as the Bible then they should be able to accept Babylon’s worship as well. Babylon, where the worlds false worship of god was first organized.
Stephen Oppenheimer in his book “Eden in the East” writes of even more differences than Murmu did in this creation myth.
“The Santal story starts with an adviser creator, ‘Thakur Jiu’ in a primeval ocean. His servants requested a blessing or the right to start creating humans. He recommended they ask for help from a female creator being, ‘Malin Budhi’, in a rock cave under water. She used some special froth and stiff clay to make two human bodies, and laid them out to dry. The day-horse, ‘Singh Sadom’ passed that way and trampled the models under foot. ‘Thakur Jiu recommended the pieces be kicked into the Ganges and into the sea. With ‘Thakur Jiu’ ‘s blessing Malin Budhi tried again. However at this second attempt there was another hitch. Thakur Jiu had left the human spirits on top of a door frame next to the spirits intended for the birds.”
Malin Budhi being short, fetched the wrong ones and, when animated, her models turned into birds who flew away over the seas for twelve years looking for somewhere to nest. Thakur Jiu asked a number of sea creatures to raise the land above the sea, but all were unsuccessful. Finally, the earthworm who had swallowed earth only to pass it out from its other end, suggested asking Prince tortoise from the sea. The subterranean land was hitched up b four chains to the turtle and raised as an island. Thakur Jiu made a garden by planting grass and trees on the island. The birds landed and laid their eggs, which were then eaten by ‘Raghop Buar’. Thakur Jiu then sent ‘Jaer-era’ to guard the eggs. Finally, the eggs hatched to produce two human beings, a male and female ‘Pilchu Haram’ and ‘Pilchu Budhi’, who were the progenitors of the species.”
Is this what the missionaries, Lars Skrefsrud and Hans Borreson in the 1800’s heard? It certainly puts a damper on what Richardson is trying to present. Richardson avoids the details contained in this myth, for good reason. Stephen Oppenheimer’s “Eden in the East” fills in some of the differences that are not mentioned in Murmu’s account. Both are far different than what Richardson makes to be Biblical, of which there is no precedent.
Richardson writes of Lars using Thakur Jiu, “Just as Abraham freely accepted El Elyon, Melchizedek's Canaanite name for God, and just as Paul, Barnabas, John, and their successors followed a path blazed by Greek philosophers when they accepted the Greek names Logos and Theos as valid names for the Almighty, so Lars decided to learn a lesson from Kolean and his forefathers. He accepted Thakur Jiu as Yahweh's name among the Santal.
“they found themselves with literally thousands of Santal inquirers begging to learn how they could be reconciled to Thakur Jiu through Jesus Christ! The possibility that the rift between their race and Thakur Jiu could be healed excited them no end! (P.46 Eternity in their Hearts)
The pragmatic application of a cultures god offered as the true god worked. They were reconciled to the god of this myth who didn’t send Jesus to earth? Wake up people this is not the evangelism the Bible instructs.
Skrefsrud may have not have found any disqualifying barnacles of error attached to the name Thakur Jiu but others certainly have. This is why we must be very careful with myths and ancient traditional practices and not be lenient to just get results on the mission field.
Richardson writes, “Long, long ago, according to Kolean, Thakur Jiu—the Genuine God—created the first man Haram—and the first woman—Ayo—and placed them far to the west of India in a region called Hihiri Pipiri. There a being named Lita tempted them to make rice beer. Then Lita enticed them to pour part of the beer on the ground as an offering to Satan. Haram and Ayo became drunk on the rest of the beer and slept. When they awoke they knew they were naked and felt ashamed.
Skrefsrud marveled at the biblical parallel in Kolean's story.
But there was more ...”
“Thakur Jiu called mankind to "return to Him." When man refused, Thakur Jiu hid "a holy pair" in a cave on Mount Harata (note the resemblance to the biblical name Ararat). Then Thakur Jiu destroyed the rest of mankind with a flood. Later, descendants of the "holy pair" multiplied and migrated to a plain called Sasan Beda ("mustard field"). There Thakur Jul divided them into many different peoples.
A branch of mankind (which we shall call "protoSantal") migrated first to "Jarpi land," and then continued eastward "from forest to forest" until high mountains blocked their way. Desperately they sought a way through the mountains, but every route proved impassable, at least to their women and children. Not unlike the children of Israel in Sinai, the people became faint on their journey. In those days, Kolean explained, the proto-Santal, as descendants of the holy pair, still acknowledged Thakur Jiu as the genuine God.” (p.44 Eternity in their Hearts)
Richardson further elaborates on his theory ignoring the actual myth because of a few points of similar words. The Bible did not have a pair but eight people, 4 pairs, husbands and wives who went into an ark, not a cave, but this is presented as Adam and Eve! How can anyone justify this as a Biblical story? The details are wrong. If there is no accuracy how do we conclude this to be the true God? The gymnastics he has to do to get this theory to be believed; and people accept this!
We do not lower the bar so every culture can be accepted, God has given us the truth to use as a straight line. Was the true God found in other nations? Romans 1 says they all turned away. Did they worship Him or have His truth? No, as far back as Moses 3,500 years ago we read, Deut. 18:9-14: “you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations.” Deuteronomy 12:30: “be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.”
God said the nations worshiped false gods, not Him. God did not know of a single nation that worshiped him after they were dispersed from Babylon. Only Israel whom He personally groomed and gave his word to, beginning with Abraham. Apparently this is no longer part of the equation in peoples theological construct of Bible history. Because of this lack of understanding, we find ourselves at this juncture of “inclusiveness of cultures.”
We read in the New Testament period, Titus 1:14 “Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.”2 Timothy 4:4:“they will turn away from the truth, unto MYTHS.”
There are fables and myths found in many cultures, not just Judaism.
The Santals (like so many others) have no recorded history. We cannot be absolutely certain on anything, as very little is known. But Lars used it, he accepted Thakur Jiu as Yahweh's name among the Santal.
Richardson approving writes, “How did Skrefsrud respond? Some missionaries, to be sure, have responded in similar situations by saying, "Forget this being you think is God! He can only be the devil! I will tell you who the true God is." Such arrogant reactions have often quashed the potential responsiveness of entire peoples” ( p.45 Eternity in the Hearts)
One does not have to react in the way Richardson states to disagree with their god, there are other tactful ways to reach a culture. But I think it’s just as arrogant to say their God is the same as the God of Bible by ignoring the glaring differences that are contained in their Myths.
Richardson speaks of a Santal sage named Kolean. Again, for one to make an actual correlation there have to be some corresponding facts on God that match the Bible, not just that he is not seen, and called a creator over earth and man and had a flood.
The God Thakur Jui is not a generic name the Santal’s used, he was attached to myths, he is a mythical being and Richardson (and others) made him into the same God who gave us the Bible. Therefore we are left with 2 options. The God of the bible is also a myth, or, nearly all the cultures god’s (90% of folk religions) are the same as Israel’s. That is a theory that should be categorically rejected by all who are believers that know their God.
Syncretism by Myth
Christianity first arrived in Bangladesh during the late 16th to early 17th century by Portuguese traders and missionaries (through the port of Chittagong). That is hundreds of years before Lars lived among them. As with so many folk religions some things do find their way into their traditions.
Rev. Skrefsrud by the Santal, Kolean guru in 1869 (Bodding 1942, 10 & 12). demanded that the Santal should return to worship the (Sun) god Chando or Rama and clean themselves from their sins instead of worshipping their traditional godheads, the Bongas, whom he considered as evil.
Kolean's comment to Skrefsrud about Santal sun worshipers mingling Thakur Jiu's name with their sun worship is instructive…..Researchers who investigate only the cultic ritual of any given society could thus miss the very different viewpoint of more discerning members of a culture, such as Kolean among the Santal. In the absence of that viewpoint, an outsider might easily come to the erroneous conclusion that Thakur Jiu was the name of a Santal sun god.
When it comes to the meaning of “religion” the examples given often indicate that a more literate translation would be to “perform rituals towards some god”. For instance Dibi sewa dhorom means “a religion with worship of Durga”; bonga sewa dhorom means “a religion with worship of spirits” (ie. Bodding’s Christian flavoured translation of the bongas, that 2 The collections underlying this dictionary were initiated by Rev. Skrefsrud’s in 1869 and continued by Rev. Bodding up to about 1930. (Bodding 1934: II, 183-184).
“In his article on the Santals Risley stressed that Skrefsrud, who was one of his correspondents on Santal Parganas, identified the supreme deity of the Santals as Thakur. A position which Risley objected to as “I am myself inclined to doubt whether a god bearing the Hindu name Thakur, and exercising supreme powers which mark a comparatively late stage of theological development, can really have formed part of the original system of the Santals.” (Risley 1891/1981, II: 232).
And the last point which make them so interesting for studies in syncretism is that they incorporated Hindu as well as Christian elements in their belief system. This was an introduction of a combination of “foreign” elements to Santal religion which has often been underestimated due to the fact that some of the early descriptions of the Kherwars were made by missionaries who were against the Kherwars in one way or the other. Either by fighting them as the well known specialist on the Kherwars Rev. Skrefsrud did during the 1870s and early 1880s (Hodne 1966, 265-287) or like his successor Rev. Bodding who underestimated the importance of the Christian elements in their teaching and made it disappear by assessing them as representing perverted forms of Christianity (in O’Malley 1910, 150).
Read this article on the history of the Santals and the real possibility of syncretism with Christian beliefshttp://srpbypst.blogspot.com/2011/05/revival-syncretism-and-anti-colonial.html
Richardson presents these culture[s] past history in an ingenious way, with the least of a common denominator to Christianity. And it worked, but this does not mean what he told the church was accurate. There are others, experts in the field that have a different view on the Santal people’s past that should not be disregarded. Richardson includes some points, but none of the real details that would actually counter his theory. So we have a right to question his presentation of their history. Before we conclude; just a few more examples of their myths.
Stories of a man in white who appears out of thin air happens to going on for some time: “A particular Santal Historical event reminds us of God's personal revelation in a human form to liberate the Santals from their tears of distresses. T.K Rapaj quotes Kalikar Datta, The revelation came all of a sudden, Sidhu and Kanhu were at night seated in their home, revolving upon many things (in their minds); their brothers, Chand and Bhyrub (Bhairab), were ten miles away at Simul chap, a bit of paper fell on Seedoo's (Sidhu's) head, and suddenly the Thakur (God) appeared before the astonished gaze of Seedoo (Sidhu) and Kanhu, he was like a white man though dressed in the native style; on each hand he had ten fingers; he held a white book and wrote therein; the book and with it 20 pieces of paper in 5 batches, four in each batch, he presented to the brothers, ascended upwards and disappeared."quoted on p.76 MurmuT.K. Rapaj, Hazaribagh Reak' Jtioos (the History of Hazaribagh), Calcutta, 1994, p. 89, quoted from Kalikar Datta, The Santal Insurrection of 1855-57, Chapter U, p. 1
There was no biblical test applied to this appearance but it was recorded by Murmu who states “The content of this historical revelation is that God was moved with compassion on the socio-economically oppressed people”
Santal songs are varied to their ritualistic observances. These further portray the myths in their culture.
A song rendered during marriage, this universe was invisible in the beginning. There was darkness all round and it was foggy everywhere. The universe could be seen only after the sun produced light out of anger.
The sun was above the sea in the sky
The sun became angry
By living in the dark
And by living in the fog
His anger produced light.
Water is above
It is below the sky
The two, the Has and the Hasin weep
Where will they sit ?
Where will they sleep ?
The Has and Hasin are not tired of flying
They will sit on the head of god
They will sleep there
The two, the Has and the Hasin are alive
From what did the earth originate ?
From what did the earth originate ?
Form what did man of this earth originate ?
This earth originated from the turtle
The soil originated from the earthworm
A pair of swans gave birth to man.
(Song Source: http://ignca.nic.in/ps_01014.htm)
After reading this let me state, that I’m not saying there are no Santal Christians regardless of these methods used. People are free to believe what they want but let’s not let cultural inclusivists tell us that these myths are like the Bible and make connections that are not there, making this a new way for evangelism.
Again we need to consider how this started "Skrefsrud accepted the name! ... it felt strange to hear his own lips proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Son of Thakur Jiu! But only for a couple of weeks. After that, the strangeness wore off."
Skrefsrud had good intentions and convinced himself that Thakur jui was acceptable. Many have adopted this unbiblical method because it was already in effect. Its time to correct it, because Our God is NOT a God of myths.
We need to consider Exodus 23:13 "Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips”
A god is known by what he says, what he communicates, which results in how the people worship him. If he has not spoken as the God of Israel can He be the same? Consider the Bible first, not culture.
* Today the Santal’s are threatened by a growing presence of Islam and certainly need prayer.