Friday, August 22, 2014

Wadi el-Hol Hoax...

(This was a late-night thought, the basic premise of which is that Wadi el-Hol might more squarely fit the after-Sinaitic and before-Arabian writing period - placing it anywhere from possibly around 1400 to 1200 BC).

I think I can now show, just as I will no longer foreseeably have time to do so, that the idiosyncrasies in connections between the Wadi el-Hol Inscription and Ancient Arabian are not so idiosyncratic.  In short, one core assumption regarding Wadi el-Hol may not best fit the reconstituted facts given this outlook.  Namely, Wadi el-Hol may not be particularly ancient.

In fact, the presence of a distinct nowhere present in Sinai - which can be more reliably placed within a range of 1700-1550 BC, squarely within the Hyksos and Intermediate periods.  Conversely, the earliest evidence of Ancient Arabian writing - in this regard - comes perhaps just ahead of the cusp of the first millennium BC and is in a number of ways dissimilar to these earlier trends.  Before that, several anomalous but linear alphabetic (i.e. not the workers' graffiti) were purchased in South Egypt by Petrie.  These reveal no obvious connection to Arabian or Wadi el-Hol, but rather seem more Canaanite or perhaps late-Sinaitic.  Conversely, in other ways their paleography is undeniably Arabian (particularly S1 and Z).

But the Wadi el-Hol h was not a suggestion in a total vacuum.  The anthropomorphization juxtaposes it with the 'worshiping-man' , and its grammatical context seems strong.  So that Jamme 863 is apparently archaic and squarely in Yemen is pretty odd - particularly if the h present at Wadi el-Hol is also present there.  But moreover, that same h may have been used as the Ugaritic alphabet's , and vice versa, sometime (realistically) between 1200 and 1150 BC in Coastal Syria.

So what we actually have here is a reasonable geo-temporal range: Sinai Peninsula - 1700-1550 BC, South Egypt - (perhaps) 1400 BC, Yemen (perhaps) 1300 BC, Coastal Syria 1200 BC.  The core question is whether the evidence for the dating of Wadi el-Hol to 1800 (or 1800-1700 or whatever) BC is strong - particularly given it is based on an unknown language and no agreed-upon translation, nor any physical evidence.  It might make more sense to interpret the other South Egyptian texts as indicative of the spread, within Egypt, of this primarily Semitic fad of writing in alphabets particularly after the collapse of the Hyksos.

That these don't exhibit the later connections leading to Arabian in some regards, but rather a closer connection to Sinaitic and even Proto-Canaanite is interesting.  It suggests the possible cross-pollination of perhaps individually-spread alphabetic traditions within Egypt after the collapse of the Hyksos.  The contexts tend to be religious, although nothing can be said for certain.  However, Egypt had large communities not just of expatriate workers but also educated entourages from Northern principalities.  This could, for instance, account for possible evidence of Mesopotamian (writing) influence on Wadi el-Hol and later inscriptions.

Hiring Canaanite shamans was not unknown, so some scribes from the Sinaitic period might have found purpose there.  However, the Wadi el-Hol Inscription is also definitive evidence for nomadic use of the alphabet (probably the earliest definitive use) in that it occurs at or near a shrine to Hathor on a desert road used in a pilgrimage between Hu and Thebes.  Whether the author (probably Syrian or Syro-Arabian) was a 'permanent resident' of Egypt is immaterial.  The inscription itself was carved in transit, almost certainly for religious ritual.

This rethinking came as I was working again with Jamme 863 - trying to firmly translate it to South Arabian.  "With the people of (maybe) Fatihan, Yahmad respects that this is a protected BRN."  This may have been on or near a building called BRN, or this place or region might have at some point been called BRN.  Fthn is listed as the name of a valley of unknown location in a text from roughly 280 km southwest of Jamme 863 and BRN is used as a name for both a place and building within a similar radius.  So it may simply be the case that this inscription is early and anomalous.

But it still doesn't refer to my opinions of the Wadi el-Hol Inscriptions - or it being a hoax.  So it was kind a scam-title.  The hoax aspect is that the inscriptions may simply be from the early New Kingdom or very late Second Intermediate Period, when relations between Syria-Palestine and South Egypt would have increased, realigned, and renormalized.  Similarly, it is during this period that the myth of this wandering goddess is better known, thereby negating the possibility that Egypt may have in fact borrowed the myth from this Wadi el-Hol author.  The more logical explanation is not (per se) that the strong evidence I've gathered for the character-identifications is wrong but rather that their relationship in the broader scheme was.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Thebes 1


"Bohan worshiped Set, the one who [would] stab you who [would] ruin this."

(this might be a slightly better version of what's below)

Ok so the first postulate was this:

[Left-to-Right; Top-to-bottom]


Who? this smites


Whoever smashes this, may Set stab you, the one who is celebrated by these [letters?].


But basically, the leftmost lines seem highly cluttered... why would someone do that and then widely space out the rightmost ones - the rightmost one, which also curves inward toward the right...  Set's name (if accepted thus) is sort of dead center, slightly too far to the left maybe.  So perhaps there was a stylized spacing, around that name, which does arguably have that effect anyway.

I've struggled with what that weird line (L???) to the left of the T_ is and it might just be a text directional indicator - which also wouldn't be totally unique (even at Wadi el-Hol I think it's pretty clear that a line groups three characters in the Horizontal Inscription into a cogent word (NFS2)).  But the other problem is that given my above suggestion, which I pretty much held in reversing the column-order, why would the author use (B)HN, in this context which would have to unarguably be some type of plural pronoun, and then also Z an inarguable (at least in Hebrew) singular pronoun?


So this led me to rethink the possibilities.  There's a philological basis to this as well.  I think the last(/first) two lines are very strong in that regard - M Z LQY / DcS.=K... "Whosoever this [should] efface(/break) / (Set) [will] stab you..."  Granted this language is possibly unique, and maybe a little odd, but the formula is widespread among at least Arabian inscriptions - if you break this, you'll be blinded, a curse upon you, etc.

However... an inscription solely in that formula is pretty odd - why would someone write down ... if you ruin this you'll be ruined?  That seems like a vain pursuit for the possibility of someone encountering it randomly - let alone being able to read it.  More likely, that is the beginning or end of a dedicatory text.  So whereas with the possible exception of S1T_, it's hard to finagle anything else except BHN.  S1T_ - particularly in that orthography occurs at least tentatively in Thebes 6 (though not otherwise, and not Thebes 4).  I cannot make anything of it besides Set (unless it's an improperly written phonetic loan from a dialect like Aramaic where they where it merged with T); but I'm open to suggestions.

I failed to mention that along with Thebes 6, this is the earliest non-Canaanite inscriptions (though these may predate almost all of that anyway) to use the Phoenician-form H.  Along with the language present in Thebes 6, I think it's reasonable to assume that this is probably Syrian or Northern Canaanite and not actually Arabian - those similarities being the result of a dearth of evidence from the period, in part.  However, I don't think one can make a clear claim that this is specifically Hebrew - and I am not knowledgeable enough in Aramaic to make that claim.

The really remarkable thing, though isn't that so much as what one comes to when investigating BHN.  It's a plural of BN in South Arabian, but if we're sticking to the Ugaritic-Hebrew (essentially) clave or phylum, then Ugaritic offers no real help and Hebrew offers only two uses in the Bible (that are not pronominal): bohen "thumb" (Ex 29:20, Lev 8:23-4, 14:14, :17, :25, :28) and Bohan, apparently a son of Reuben (Joshua 15:6, 18:17).

When we re-parse the grammar - particularly noting the thought that this is dedicatory, it comes down to the first word (if the correct starting column) almost certainly being a name.  This, or L (maybe M or B) would be the most obvious beginnings of dedicatory inscriptions.  Moreover the presence of the name Bohan suggests this might have been a name otherwise.  As for the unusual verbal treatment of H.G (expected H.GG), I have to assume this is the result of maybe gemination - which occurs at least in Aramaic.

In the Bible, H.G is almost exclusively used as 'feast' except in Psalms 118:27, where it seems to be used as 'sacrifice' and in Job 26:10 where it is the verbal 'to compass'.  It's interesting, the Aramaic milieu is clearly 'celebrate' and the Hebrew is of a 'feast.'  Murtonen (1990) stresses the broad continuity of the verbal use of to celebrate a feast, and I can't find a reason to really forego that.  However, it's worth noting that it is difficult to differentiate between the continuum of shared vocabulary from Aramaic and very archaic Hebrew in this context.


"Bohan celebrated a feast [for] Seth, the one who stabs you who [would] ruin this."

*  Isaiah 42:24/Psalms 74:2
** This usage is odd but not impossible.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

New Ramesside Inscription from South Egypt

New Ramesside Inscription from South Egypt

This should supersede my previous analysis of this inscription, which is possibly all garbage.

I've never seen either symbol on either end of the inscription - under the jackal/lynx/dog.  There's what seems to be a 'star' and what seems to be a person missing their right leg (possibly).  The latter I originally took as a weak link in a chain of anthropomorphic characters.  However, given where this is found, and thus when it is from - particularly given the attached drawing of a dog and the Egyptian symbols above (ankh and was-staff), that is probably a temporal mismatch.  I don't know what that symbol is.  It could be the only known (in my opinion) actual human-determinative in the history of the early alphabet.  But I have not seen source photographs.  It's possible the 'star' sets the beginning of the inscription.  But at this point, I am ruling out either as part.


[, Macdonald in Woodward 2008]

At first I read the second character F, but if the line underneath connects it might be more reasonably connected with D (Dadanitic, maybe Hismaic), in which case that '4th' character would possibly have to more rightly be connected with S1 - which might be the case anyway - (really Dadanitic - though it is never oriented this way, which is the issue).

The next word probably connects with Sabaic QH., which is posited in Sabaic reflects physical repair - as masonry.  In a few other cases (I think by Jamme) YQH. it is posited to mean 'to recover' or 'restore.'  The W-QH. rather than Y-QH. expected in that root is unusual but not impossible.  And the Arabic connection is not totally clear, but might be through quh.h. 'pure, sheer, unmixed, unadulterated; genuine' - found only in that form not connected to a root.  There is no obvious Aramaic connection.

The problem is that DHS1 - or Aramaic DWS1 meant, somewhat commonly, to trample.  So it could be read mi duhish waqah. (or something) - "[May he] who is trampled be restored."  But this seems a little arbitrary - unless the final anthropomorphic character is missing a leg for that reason.  However, it could also be taken alongside the Minaic place name DHS1W and Qatabanic tribal and Sabaic family and place name DHS1M - as just a personal name.

[starting mark?/monogram?] M DHS1 WQH. [person ?]
"From Dahash the Restorer*".

I would like to see any photos to look specifically at the '2nd' and '4th' characters, but without tying this specifically to another site

*  So in this case "Restorer" or "Repairman" might have some specialized meaning - as with masonry.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Rejecting a Controversial Revision

Summary (tl;dr):

Basically, this writeup suggests that I was incorrect in suggesting that a specifically three-peaked character was D_ and not M.  I revisit two key inscriptions in reference to that - those at Wadi el-Hol and Sinai 345.  In the case of the latter, I find that this revision produces: M 'HB(B)cL[T] / Z NFK LBcLT : "From 'Beloved-of-the-Mistress'-/of-Turquoise, to The Mistress."  And at Wadi el-Hol, the resulting revision produces MN cT_TR=H QS1T KPT_ 'L / RB [ilu] DN M NH. NPS2=H' W=S.H_R : "What are for Athtar?  The bow and the scimitar.  Ilu / is the Powerful Lord [god] who intoxicates her soul and depletes [it]."  These still, then each reflect half the tone of the story of the return or renewal of Hathor or the Wandering Goddess, but essentially violence and then intoxicated pacification.

In some ways these revisions actually strengthen the posited grammar in both of these.  Since Sinai 345 is bilingual, the Egyptian may simply record the name of the devotee.  Though both inscriptions include a specific reference to a Mistress (or Hathor) of Turquoise, it is not clear if this is merely a clarification or part of the standard epithet to that aspect - or part of the name of the devotee.  In any event, it would seem that the phrase found in Egyptian - Meri-Hathar-Mafka3t - is directly analogous to 'ahubba`ltu-za-nafki.  The longer Semitic reflects a full dedication in the dialect of this person or their scribe, apparently.


M 'HB-[B]`L[T]-     "From Beloved-of-the-Mistress-
-Z-NFK L B`LT      "-of-Turquoise* for The Mistress."

(* 'HB-B`LT or Meri-Hathar or Beloved-of-the-Mistress (B`LT/Hathor) are, presumably, the name of this devotee.)

I am unclear exactly on exactly why Sinai 345 was rejected as bilingual - or seems to generally have been.  The first reason seems to have to do with the implied gemination - potentially indicated by the dot in the first B.  I should point out that this is by no means an attempt at an academic paper.  I'm more or less just thinking out loud.
So the "controversial revision" alluded to above refers to the first character being a D_ (I'm not doing special characters, sorry).  This pertains to a hypothesis related to the Wadi el-Hol Inscriptions and some of the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions.  There are valid reasons to consider this, even if they have no antecedent evidence.  But regardless, let's assume that's wrong and these three-peaked characters are just M's.

Does that in any way actually tank the broader implications of my translations?  I would argue basically no.  The D_ I posited retains the role (solely) of a relative or demonstrative pronoun in the cases where I have found it - a detail that is highly significant.  But having rejected this theoretically, the Semitic M is also a widespread pronoun - "who?".  And its use is effectively versatile, sometimes similar to that of D_.

My original translation for above was D_ 'HB(B)cL[T]=/Z=NFK LBcLT - "This is 'The-Beloved-of-the-Mistress'/-of-Turquoise for the Mistress."  The orthography 'hb also occurs in Sinai 350.**  But it is worth noting that one of the probable reasons for the rejection of the bilinguality of the inscription is also that M'HB is not a known orthography for 'beloved,' and therefore this is probably coincidental.  At least that's what I basically got from Sass's synthesis.  The problem is that that's not the orthography we're supposed to be looking for, but rather 'hb.

So again, if we simply ignore my D_ hypothesis, what we get here is: M 'HB(B)cL[T]=/=Z=NFK LBcLT.  "From the 'Beloved-of-the-Mistress'/-of-Turquoise, to the Mistress."  In many ways this is actually a lot less ambiguous.  The person offering is 'ahubbaclt[u] (probably the fusional inflection was lost - hence the gemination), and the goddess is is 'The Mistress,' but specifically 'of Turquoise' which is apparently the namesake of the devotee.  None of this is probably surprising because of the widespread use of that name or title - Bclt - for the deity apparently juxtaposed with Hathor.

This is effectively confirmed by the Egyptian inscription, which says, simply, mry h.t-h.r mfk3.t, which is embellished in translation (presumably based on external evidence, but I really don't know why) to "Beloved of Hathor [Lady] of Turquoise" or something very similar - though actually it means Beloved of "Hathor of Turquoise."  That may have been 'ahubbaclt[u]'s Egyptian name, though it isn't clear who she (or he**) was - 'ahubbaclt- being juxtaposed with Meri-Hathar.

So what kind of wrench does this throw into the Wadi el-Hol hypothesis?  Again really none.  If you don't accept my hypothesis (effectively) that Egyptian paleography seems not to have been singularly influential in the earliest period of alphabetic development, then maybe none of this matters.  But if the issue again is this apparently concocted new character that crops up as a demonstrative/relative, the basic premise remains in tact:

MN `T_TRH QS1T KPT_ / 'L...    "What are for Athtar?  The bow and the scimitar.  Ilu is..."

The initial three-peaked character is still bisected by an N but in addition to M-, MN is also a common and widespread Semitic term for "who."  However, though Wadi el-Hol is unique, this would mark the only early alphabetic occurrence of MN (that I am aware of), and I think in context also the (also) common Semitic MN [Akkadian minu] - "what" pronoun fits better here.  So here, we come to a similar revision: MN cT_TRH QS1T KPT_ 'L - "What are for `Athtar? The bow and the scimitar.  Ilu..."

And the same character appears without that -N in the Horizontal Inscription a few feet to the left of this right-to-left Vertical Inscription (on the same rock spur).  They're the only known inscription in this alphabet and so separating them particularly given the overt connection of two modal halves of a singular cosmological story common both to Semitic speakers and Egyptians, and celebrated particularly in the area of Wadi el-Hol - and Wadi el-Hol itself is probably the site of at least one chapel specifically related to a holiday devoted to this story.

RB [ilu] DN M NwH. NPS2=H' WS.H_R    "...the Powerful Lord who intoxciates her soul and depletes it."

So the same revision herein yields: RB DN M NH. NPS2=H' W=S.H_R - "...the Powerful Lord [ILU] who intoxicates her soul that it is depleted."  It's worth noting that the variant orthography S.H_R may have been influenced by the cuneiform orthography (which would have lacked the root -G/- that is transformed to H_ here) - in which case the term S.G/R to refer to depleting the soul of the violent goddess may have been influenced Akkadian (where I anyway found this meaning originally).

Conversely, the variant orthography NPS2 instead of the expected NPS1 may have precedent in Amorite but suggests this is a very early use and maybe borrowing of a word (originally meaning to breathe or a breath) for a progressive meaning that would later become the more widespread common Semitic form - that likely speaks to the genuine antiquity of these inscriptions.  And the entire thing would read:

"What are for Athtar?  The bow and the scimitar.  Ilu / is the Powerful Lord [god] who intoxicates her soul and depletes [it]."

I suppose if one were really against reading them together, one could read: "What are for Athtar? The bow, the scimitar, and Ilu.  The Powerful Lord [is] who intoxicates..."
The grammar does not make as much sense, in my opinion, read that way - but we have no examples of this dialect (that we know of now) other than this.  Ultimately, read either way, in my opinion the meaning is overtly clear - violence and intoxicated rest.  This is the story of the Wandering Goddess - possibly the earliest extant version (predating Egyptian?; I'm not sure about that claim).

In some ways this revision both reduces tension between my hypothesis and extant literature, though it doesn't really reconcile the general conflict, but it also strengthens the translations of both Sinai 345 and the Wadi el-Hol Inscriptions.  I guess I'm prepared to admit that without additional evidence, my hypothesis was spurious and I was probably wrong there.

** It's actually worth noting my hypothesis on Sinai 350, because even though the inscription is badly fragmented, reconstructed as in Hamilton 2006, 341 the first two lines can be reconstructed in full with a high degree of certainty (because they contain a standard format found elsewhere) as: R: ’L . ṢṮ . [Ẓ?]B[Ṭ?] . NQB / L: ’HB . [---]T –... preceding the T is arguably BcL- though I had also contemplated 'RH_; but in any case it is very likely an epithet to 'the Goddess' involved in many or most of the Proto-Sinaitic corpus.  This inscription seems to say, then: “The god Set is the [Keep]er? of Naqab / The-Beloved-of–[the-Mistr]ess [?]...”  In the context of other inscriptions, these titles are basically unremarkable, but they suggest that 'hb[bclt] may have commonly referred to Set and therefore in Sinai 345 it may refer to a man's name.  This is not spurious despite the uncertainty, as Sinai 350 contains the only other reference to 'hb that I have thus far found among Proto-Sinaitic.