Re: [INDOLOGY] Origin of Mahācīna

Lubomir Ondracka ondracka at
Fri Mar 11 16:04:20 UTC 2016

Thanks for clarification. You are right, the identification of Sin (Sinim) is clearly inconclusive and one should not exclude that it could mean China since rather early times. Some (and of course outdated) references are in Brown-Driver-Briggs sub Sinim:

For our Indological context, one reference is interesting: T. de Lacouperie "who thinks of Šina, at foot of Hindu Kush, but unlikely".

Klein's Etymological Dictionary (סִין, p. 444) says: "China (a hapax legomenon in the Bible occurring Is 49:12... The Sinim are identified by many scholars with
the Chinese, cp. Ptolemaic Gk. sinai (= the Chinese)."

It would be important to know since when this identification with Chine/Chinese is indisputably attested in Hebrew, Arabic and Persian sources.


On Thu, 10 Mar 2016 20:58:49 -0500
"Dan Lusthaus" <yogacara at> wrote:

> 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
> _______________________________________________
> INDOLOGY mailing list
> indology-owner at (messages to the list's managing committee)
> (where you can change your list options or unsubscribe)

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list