The early logo-syllabic scripts functioned like picture puzzles, based on the rebus principle. Each sign was originally a picture, denoting the object represented by it. For example, the picture of an arrow meant 'arrow.' But because many things, especially abstract concepts, are not easy to draw as pictures in a simple and unambiguous manner, another expedient was resorted to. The meaning of the pictograms was extended from the name of the depicted object to all of its homonyms, that is, words with a similar phonetic shape but a different meaning.
For example, in the Sumerian script the picture of arrow meant 'arrow' as well as 'life' and 'rib,' because all three words were pronounced alike in the Sumerian language: ti . Homophonies like this have often given rise to etiological myths. Thus the identity of the Sumerian words for 'life' and 'rib' is behind that part of the Sumerian paradise myth in which the goddess Nin-ti 'Mistress of Life' heals the rib of the sick god Enki.
Puns are language specific, but etiological myths based on them can travel from one folk to another. If the Sumerian myth just mentioned was not known, it would be difficult to understand why Eve was created from Adam's rib. The Hebrew name of Eve, Hawwa , means 'life' (cf. Genesis 3:20, "And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living"), but it has no resemblance to the Hebrew word for 'rib', sela. On the other hand, we know from the Bible that the Virgin Mary did not become pregnant from a berry eaten in the forest. Undoubtedly, this peculiar version of the Biblical story in the ancient Finnish folklore owes its origin to the homonym marja 'berry' that the Finnish language has for the proper name Maria.
[Originally published as Parpola, Asko (1988) Religion reflected in the iconic signs of the Indus script: penetrating into long-forgotten picto+graphic messages. Visible Religion 6: pp. 114-135.]