Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Writing System of Menes, the First Lawgiver


"Upon this first...rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to believe, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry."--Charles Sanders Peirce, 1896


In Abraham's time there were about 750 hieroglyphs. Only about 500 signs were commonly used. However in the time of Menes the first lawgiver, there may have been as many as 1000. Archaeology Magazine reported (1999) that the earliest Egyptian glyphs date to 3400 BC, the time of Menes, which challenges "the commonly held belief that early logographs, pictographic symbols representing a specific place, object, or quantity, first evolved into more complex phonetic symbols in Mesopotamia."

Menes was the first to unite the peoples of the Nile Valley. He is shown as the first in the procession of ancient lawgivers in the South Wall Frieze of the United States Supreme Court. His was called the Law of Tehut. Menes (c. 3200 BC) and the kings after him bore Horus names. They were Horite ruler-priests whose wisdom and skill was still remembered in the times of the Egyptian historian Manetho (3rd century BC) and the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC). 

The word hiero-gylphs refers to the symbols used by priest scribes, an ancient world caste in service to the rulers. These appear to have been clans designated by the prefix Ar. Israelites associated by their names with the Ar patrimony include Aroch (1 Chr 7:39, Ezr 2:5, Neh 6:18, Neh 7:10) and Ariel (Ezr 8:16, Isa 29:1, Isa 29:1, Isa 29:2, Isa 29:2, Isa 29:7). Ariel means “Scribe/Messenger of God.” So it appears that the Ar clans were scribes or messengers. This is further suggested by the name Ar-vad. Vad means “to speak” in Sanskrit. The association of the name Ar with the scribal caste is further demonstrated by the discovery of Aramaic scrolls from Arsames, the satrap, to his Egyptian administrator Psamshek and to an Egyptian ruler named Nekht-Hor. (A.T. Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, Chicago, 1948, pp.116-117)


Egyptian scribe
(c. 2494 to 2345 BC)


In 1999, C. Peust recognized the likelihood of an Old Nubian-Meroitic connection. He claimed that the Meroitic script was used to write two distinct languages, that of the Tanyideamani and Akinidad funerary stelae and that of the Kharamadoye inscription. Kharamadoye was the ruler representative of the Nubian deity called AriteƱ, perhaps the patron deity of scribes. Khar is a form of Har and refers to Horus.

Meroitic is an alphasyllabary script. It has signs for syllables consisting of consonants plus a and for initial vowels and syllables which have vowels other than the default a. This type of writing system is represented by various ancient scripts including Old Nubian, Old Persian cuneiform, Kharoshti (related to Aramaic), Brahmi, and Ethiopian Ge'ez.

When Jean-Francois Champollion deciphered hieroglyphs using the Rosetta Stone, he thought there were 864 different signs in total, but today it is thought that the earliest hieroglyphs numbered about 1,000. When Champollion deciphered hieroglyphs and hieratic, he matched the signs with the later Coptic writing and converted them into Coptic. Champollion was fluent in Coptic. He was then able to see if a Coptic word existed that was fairly similar to his ancient Egyptian word, and he could translate the word into French. This was not always accurate, because the Coptic or Ge'ez had changed.

Ancient Egyptian is a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Written records of the Egyptian language have been dated from about 3400 BC, making it one of the oldest recorded languages known, outside of Sumerian. Today the national language of Egypt is Egyptian Arabic, which replaced Coptic as the language of daily life after the Muslim conquest of Egypt. Memphitic or Bohairic Coptic is still the liturgical language of the Coptic ChurchThe Bohairic dialect originated in the western Nile Delta during the 3rd century A.D.

Egyptian has many biradical roots, in contrast to the Semitic preference for triradical roots. In this regard, Ancient Egyptian appears to be more archaic.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Really fascinating material on your blog! I'm an anthropologist, a practicing Christian, and from a Mande ethnic group called the Kono in Sierra Leone (also known as the Vai in Liberia). I have always been interested in the parallels between Genesis, Mande initiation ceremonies and creation myths, which are almost identical with Egyptian mythology. I am finalizing my book project on female and male initiation among the Mandinka and would love to speak more with you about your writings and wealth of anthropological knowledge on christian anthropology (great name...). Is there a way I can contact you by email?

Alice Linsley said...

I will be glad to communicate with you also. Contact me at aproeditor-at-gmail-dot-com

Best wishes,

Alice C. Linsley