Re: [INDOLOGY] Origin of Mahācīna

Dan Lusthaus yogacara at
Fri Mar 11 01:58:49 UTC 2016

There has been some controversy as to whether the biblical Sin is China or
somewhere else (speculations abound, from Ethiopia, to a city in Egypt, to
Phoenicia, to its cognate Sinai, to areas hidden away in corners of
Mesopotamia, and so on). The strongest argument against Sin (or "the people
of Sinim" -- Sinim is the plural of Sin) referring to China is that it
appears in the book of Isaiah, the initial portions of which were believed
to have been written in the 8th c BCE or so, and the reference to Sinim
occurs in the section scholars call Deutero-Isaiah, believed to come from
the 6th c BCE or so. at which times the existence of a kingdom of Qin is
dubious, and the various Chinese kingdoms were still centuries away from
being unified under a Qin ruler. Isaiah, however, has been subject to many
interpolations and the hands of organized, systematic revisionists, so the
date of individual passages can vary even in the same section. The
indication from Isaiah (49:12) is that it is someplace remote that is
neither north nor west. That leaves south and east. Welcome to open season
on speculation. That the idea of a remote people at the ends of the earth
would be to the East rather than the south, for which we have little
Biblical evidence of awareness of "remote" cultures -- Egypt and Phoenicia,
for instance, were part of normal travel routes and considered rather
proximate -- seems a reasonable assumption.

Similar controversies attempted to dismiss references to India and Solomon's
trade with India, but more recent discoveries have added legitimacy to the
biblical references (the materials said to be imported were indeed coming
from India at that time, etc.). So the reference to China in the Bible may
not "highly improbable," if not fully proven. The efforts to identify
alternate locations, in fact, are the "highly improbable" speculations,
driven by an impulse to pose alternatives rather than meaningful evidence.

While in recent years the biblical references to India are coming to be
accepted and the skepticism has faded, the question of the reference to Sin
has not undergone serious recent evaluations. Since Arabic and Persian and
Syriac all use something similar to Chin / Sin / Tsin for China, and did so
from early on, it is unreasonable to assert that Hebrew alone, of the
regional languages, lacked that information, as much as some scholars have
strained to insist on that conclusion. That it is a modern addition to
Hebrew is "highly improbable."

Dan Lusthaus.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Lubomir Ondracka" <ondracka at>

> It seems highly improbable that the Hebrew Sin (סִין) used in Tanach could 
> be connected to China:
> And this meaning is not attested even in Talmud and Midrashic literature 
> (see Jastrow for סְיָן, p. 982). It would be interesting to know since 
> when does Sin in Hebrew mean China. It could be rather modern usage, I 
> don't know.
> LO

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