Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Egyptians Equated "Israel" with Hebrews

In the Book of Exodus, the Egyptians refer to a foreign group within their land as "Hebrews" while the same call themselves "Children of Israel" [Jacob]. When Moses addresses Pharaoh, he, himself, employs "Hebrews" when speaking about his people.

This can be construed as an indication that even the author[s] of this Biblical text realized that "Hebrew" could be a commonly used Egyptian word. Josephus, the historian, wrote that the Hebrews were first called "Ermuth" but, after the time of Abraham, they became referred to by the more familiar appellation. Tell el Mukayyar can be identified with the Sumerian city of Ur, which in ancient texts was called Uriwa or Urima--hence perhaps Urima can be connected to "Ermuth". I am aware of the Biblical "Eber", [Gen. 10:24] whose name seems to mean "beyond", but I don't think this has anything to do with him. I do find it plausible to connect "Hebrew" " to Hurrian because in that language "apiri" has the meaning of "wanderer". Therefore, the followers of Abraham had been named by a Hurrian people somewhere in northern Mesopotamia.

And, yet, the term "Hebrew" seems more complex. Far removed from the time of Abraham and the fall of Ur, in the earlier part of the 18th Dynasty, Amenhotep II [who had inherited an empire] captured "aprw"or "apwiryw" [spelled variously] and at the same time some warriors known as "maryanna", some Indic elite class who, at one period, seemed to be the rulers of the Hurrians in a place called Mitanni. However, by the time of Akhenaten of the same dynasty, the leader of the "aprw" was called "Labayu", evidently a Semitic name. These "aprw" caused a great deal of difficulty for the Egyptian king and his Canaanite vassals--and ultimately seem to have killed all those princes loyal to Egypt.

By then, it seems to me, the notion of who was an "aprw", in its foreign context, seems to have changed. It is perhaps too facile to conclude that, while once many of the Hebrews were Hurrians, after they were enslaved in Egypt, became involved with the descendant of a "wandering Aramean" ("aAmw", actually pronounced "Aramu")--Moses--, came to Canaan, and began to be Semitic speakers, adopting the language of the territory. But it is as good an explanation as any, in my opinion. However, that would have had to have happened in the interim between Amenhotep II [who, from the records, brought back more captives to Egypt than is otherwise known] and Akhenaten. That involves a period of less than a century and, if some attempt at ethnic cleansing was perpetrated in Egypt, little distinction between "Aramean" and whomever else would have occurred. That may have included "an undesirable portion" of the older Egyptian populace, itself, a veritable "mixed multitude". And, yes, there are indications of a Hurrian element in Egypt in this very interim, including many coming to Egypt due to the Mitanni brides of Thutmose IV and his son, Amenhotep III. But, by the era of Akhenaten, relations between these two nations seem to have broken down. And the word "aprw" seems to have become a synonym for "rebel".
There is, however, a 19th Dynasty text that demonstrates that "Israel" and "aprw" was synonymous. That is the "Israel Stela" of King Merneptah, son of Ramesses the Great. There is a section of the text, rife with puns and rhymes, mentioning certain defeated Canaanite towns--even Canaan, itself. And then there is "wn YziriAr fkt bn prtw" or "Israel is laid waste; it's seed is no more". This would have been vocalized as "oun Yisrael foke ban apriou", the last word being a pun on "Hebrews".

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Have You Seen My Green Donkey?

One doesn't have to be a Time Traveler to know how vivid some of the colors that were used by ancient Egyptian artists appeared--because many times they have stayed that way to this very day. In the more recent past [but not too recent] a brown paint was made from powdered mummy, a thing that would have scandalized the heck out of the old Egyptians. Anyway, they, themselves, didn't even have a specific word for that hue. If that seems odd, consider that Arabic doesn't have "brown", either, nor "gray". If one happens to own a gray donkey, one calls it "green".

Everybody knows by now that the Egyptians painted the skin of their men with red ochre and that of the women with yellow. But, sometimes, the people were shown with whitish skin--and their garments were white, usually . How did the artist or his assistant make white paint? Well, he could grind up chalk, if he had access to some. Or...he could cover lead bars with the dregs of old wine and seal them up in a shed filled with animal dung. Blue paint was horribly expensive because lapis lazuli, a stone that had to come all the way from Afghanistan, had to be ground up for it. I don't know any other way for the Egyptians to have been able to get blue. If anyone else can think of another way, I wish you would post that here in a comment. Green could be likewise obtained from malachite, a stone, but possibly also from vegetable dye. I would tend to believe the latter was the most practical as green was commonly used.

I have noticed that, in a few tombs, a real crimson was employed--and this is a color easily distinguishable from red ochre. This shade of red could be made from a worm, "tola'at shani" in Hebrew. One could crush up some tree-dwelling insects and boil them in lye. Addition of sulfur and mercury make vermilicum--or vermillion--and one can see why the producing of paints might not be too good for the health. Anyway, the bright red is rare in Egyptian painting and probably cost the dear earth. Too much trouble and difficult to afford. The ancient Egyptians didn't know purple or couldn't reproduce it. Later on, the island of Tyre became famous for a shade of purple obtained from mollusks. Black was cheap--basically just soot. But the way the Egyptians blended their colors, shaded them, makes one forget they had nothing but the basic hues with which to work. One never tires of looking at some of their best efforts, true masterworks even given the restructions of the Egyptian artistic canon.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Could They Still Make Lemonade?

Traveling in the Middle Ages was not that much fun but that didn't stop men like Meshullam ben Menachem of Volterra, who went to the Middle East, including Egypt. His account of his travels is fascinating. Meshullam left "Misr" [a name for Cairo] on the 4th of July, 1481. It is interesting that, in his time, certain Biblical toponyms were thought to be identified. "Bilibis" or Bilbeis was thought to be Goshen. El-Arish was Succoth because, as Meshullam mentions, "for in Arabic arish means hut. This is the place built by our father, Jacob, peace to his memory, and there is only one little house there in ruins and a well of brackish water; and, behold, at night there came upon us a swarm of insects found in the sand of the desert as large as two flies and rather red. They say that these are the lice with which Pharaoh was plagued, and they bit me big bites, but fortunately we had lemons which we brought with us from Misr, because we knew about them, that there is no remedy to their bite except lemon juice, for the juice prevents the wound festering in a man's flesh, and I swear that in all my days I never had so much pain as that night..."

Meshullam further says there was nothing but brackish water until they arrived at a place called "Asika, in Arabic called Azan" but then it's possible he gives us a clue as to who one of the Sea Peoples might have been . This Azan was about "four miles from the sea and the Moslems keep guard there because of the corsairs [pirates] from the sea. They are mostly corsairs of Rhodes who come mostly to levy booty from the travellers there...the corsair robbers were about four hundred men...all those who were in al-Khan fled when they heard about them and left all their property and went to Gaza...From Misr to Gaza is 298 miles..." Meshullam and his caravan made it to Gaza by July 21st--17 days in all. Since the people of ancient Rhodes were connected to a character named Danaeus, perhaps they can have been the "Danuna".

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Science Needs To Be Shared

Anybody out there besides me who is very annoyed by the silence on the part of the Egyptians when it comes to the DNA-testing of the Royal Mummies? They keep announcing they plan to test this one and that, even give a finish date for the project, and we wait, filled with hope for some confirmation of something NEW [finally] in the discipline of Egyptology. But it never comes and I'm afraid we can all count on growing a long, white beard before it does. Did the mummy from KV60 ever fulfill the requirements to be confirmed as Queen Hatshepsut? Enquiring Time Travelers want to know, Dr. Zahi Hawass. Now I hear the DNA search is on for the parents of Tutankhamun. Great, but that's been a question in people's minds since 1922. Isn't it about time we got some info--even if it's only the admission "We were not able to discover the truth." Of course, any inter-disciplinary effort is problematic. The microbiologists don't know the intricacies of the pharaonic genealogies and the Egyptologists don't comprehend the terminology of microbiology--much less how it works. Still, all it would take is for the microbiologist to announce, "Mummy A shares a certain allele with Mummy B" and explain what that is. Some of us can figure out the rest.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

It Takes A While To Get Back To This Century

And that's why it's taken me so long to start blogging! Okay, it might be fun. We'll see. Those of you who know me realize that I've mostly been stuck in Ancient Egypt due to mechanical failure but some wizard there recently fixed my dial and I was able to fastforward to the 19th Century AD. From there to the 21st is an easy hop so I'll be traveling back and forth a lot.

Why the 19th? Ever since I lived in St. Paul, Minnesota, I've been traveling to the Nile Valley but, suddenly, I cracked open an old history of St. Paul and got into it. Even though I live far away from Minnesota now, I like the fact that it has a colorful past and am trying to turn myself into an expert on it. So that's what my next book will be about. [To see what's in my others, you can do a search on my name at ] I'll be writing about a low character, Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant , notorious purveyor of whiskey, and his complete opposite, Father Lucien Galtier, who named the future city. There is no photo of "Pig's Eye", whose description makes him seem pretty unphotogenic, anyway, but here's Father Galtier, who was. Below him is his log church, the first one in the area where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet. So that's my current project, even though you know I'll be whizzing back to old Egypt a lot. Maybe there'll be time for comments on current events, as well, although they never seem to interest us Time Travelers for too long. We're always pulled backward, one foot in the past and the other on a banana peel or the remains of whatever we eat on the fly.