16 Egyptian (Beyond Babel a Handbook of Biblical Hebrew and Related Languages)

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EGYPTIAN Donald B. Redford 1. THE LANGUAGE Unlike Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, Egyptian has not enjoyed an uninterrupted continuum in the collective consciousness of the world. This has proven a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the scholar cannot refer to a “received” textual tradition, expurgated and authorized by a surviving community (either spiritual or ethnic). On the other hand, the absence of an archival hegemony has permitted the recovery ad hoc of pieces, preserved by chance, which a surv
  EGYPTIAN Donald B. Redford  1.THE LANGUAGE Unlike Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, Egyptian has not enjoyed an unin-terrupted continuum in the collective consciousness of the world. This hasproven a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the scholar cannot refer to a“received” textual tradition, expurgated and authorized by a surviving com-munity (either spiritual or ethnic). On the other hand, the absence of anarchival hegemony has permitted the recovery ad hoc of pieces, preservedby chance, which a surviving tradition would not have countenanced.1.1.DECIPHERMENT With Egypt’s political subjugation to Persia in 525 B . C . E .and to Mace-don in 332 B . C . E ., the Egyptians found themselves in subjection to regimesthat replaced the language of the autochthonous inhabitants first with Ara-maic and later with Greek as the language of government. The Egyptianlanguage and script, in the “Demotic” stage at the time, remained the vehi-cles for the expression of native religious custom and business transactionsamong the native population. But when foreigners became involved withEgyptians in any kind of interaction, the language favored by the con-querors had to be used. This situation created a great incentive forEgyptians increasingly to abandon their native script (if not their language), which thus retreated to a purely cultic register. In consequence, the tem-ples of Egypt increasingly adopted the (self-imposed) role of guardians of the classical cultic, prescriptive, and belletristic literature, which waslodged now solely within temple archives. 1  After the disaster of 343 B . C . E ., when the conquering Persians confiscated the contents of temple librariesthroughout Egypt, the priesthood became wary of outside authorities andcommitted a good deal of this written material to inscribed form on tem-ple walls. A “siege mentality” developed among the priesthood that was 1 Donald B. Redford, Pharaonic King-Lists, Annals and Daybooks  (Mississauga,Ont.: Benben, 1986).109  only exacerbated when Rome added Egypt to its empire in 30 B . C . E .Thenew rulers introduced fiscal and legal disincentives to weaken and reducethe native clergy by curtailing recruitment. The overall result was a vastly diminished body of those who could read the native script, numbering inthe third century C . E .only a few hundred. 2 By 200 C . E .the use of Demotic,even in business transactions, was beginning to die out, and beyond themiddle of the third century, the practice of rendering the emperor’s namein hieroglyphs was discontinued. During the late third and early fourthcenturies C . E .native temples began to close down under the impact of theexpansion of Christianity. Encouraged by the anathema they pronouncedon all “pagan” culture, the Christians ransacked temple archives, commit-ting the papyri to the flames. 3 The end followed swiftly. The last known hieroglyphic inscriptiondates to 394 C . E ., within half a decade of the edict of Theodosius closingthe pagan places of worship, and the last Demotic text fifty-eight yearslater. Within a single generation accurate knowledge of the script was lost.The diletantish work of one Horapollo, toward the end of the fifth cen-tury, purporting to “explain” the hieroglyphic script, is in fact a mishmashof a few dimly remembered facts, distorted by a fixation with symbolicinterpretation. For fourteen centuries the hieroglyphs were to remain aclosed book.This tragic loss derives as much from a classical “attitude” as fromChristian animosity. In spite of the proverbial fascination shown by Greeks for the physical remains of ancient Egypt, no writer in Greek saveManetho, the Egyptian  priest, cared enough to master the hieroglyphicscript. They knew of the latter solely through its appearance on temple walls (hence iJeroglufikov , “sacred script”), a use that seemed to be con-sonant with the insistence of Middle- and Neoplatonic thinkers on the value of symbols to convey profound, philosophical truths. 4 This mistakensemiotic preconception was abetted by the hidden agenda of such mar-ginal, though influential, movements as Gnosticism and Hermeticism, which, while containing a solid core of material of Egyptian srcin,strangely promoted the allegorical reading of all things Egyptian, includ-ing the script. Hence, throughout the Middle Ages and well into the 110 EGYPTIAN 2 Roger S. Bagnall, Egypt in Late Antiquity  (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), 237. 3 This was especially true for the magical papyri. See Hans Dieter Betz, The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986),xli–xlii. 4 Erik Iversen, The Myth of Egypt and Its Hieroglyphs in European Tradition  (2ded.; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993).  Renaissance the conviction that the hieroglyphic script conveyed a languageof symbols continued to cloud the minds of the European intelligentsia.It was not until Napoleon’s Egyptian expedition (1798–1801) that suf-ficient textual comparanda had become available to aid in a successfuldecipherment. The recovery by the French, excavating the foundations of a fort at Rashid in the Delta, of the trilingual decree of 195 B . C . E . (the“Rosetta” Stone) and the 1815 discovery at Philae of an obelisk with a bilin-gual text provided European savants with Greek texts done into Egyptian.Through a close comparison of the hieroglyphic renderings of the personalnames “Ptolemy” and “Kleopatra,” J. F. Champollion was able to determinethat the signs of which the cartouche ovals were composed stood for con-sonantal sounds. His list of phonetic equivalents expanded markedly as anincreasing number of cartouches yielded the names of Ptolemaic kings andRoman emperors. The unexpected, though welcome, consistency with which Thutmoside and Ramesside royal names submitted to deciphermentalong the same lines, proved that the essentially phonetic nature of thecore of the sign-list had informed the script from the start. 1.2.ADVANCES IN THE STUDY OF THE LANGUAGEThe nineteenth century witnessed a whirlwind of activity in text col-lection and grammatical and syntactic studies. 5 Champollion himself toured Egypt in 1828 in search of new inscriptional material, and hislabors issued (posthumously) in Notices Descriptive, Monuments d’Egypte et de la Nubie  and in a grammar (1838). Thanks to the enlightenedpatronage of a monarch, Frederick William IV, R. Lepsius undertook thefirst scientific epigraphic mission to Egypt in the 1840s and from 1849 to1858 produced the monumental Denkmäler aus Ägypten und Äthiopen,  which is still used today. 6 European consuls in Egypt, such as B.Drovetti (France), G. Anastasi (Sweden), and H. Salt (Great Britain) andhis agent G. B. Belzoni, indulged in collecting antiquities in vast quan-tities, and the papyri and inscriptions they amassed today form the heartof several museum collections. At the same time, formal, if not scientific,excavations in Egypt began to produce inscriptions. A. Mariette at thebehest of the Khedive founded the Service des antiquités de l’Égypte, andfrom 1850 to 1881 he controlled extensive clearing operations at suchsites as Karnak, Abydos, Saqqara, and Tanis. For advances in the study of Egyptian grammar, syntax, and lexicon, we are most indebted to Ger-man scholars, especially those of Berlin. Among these A. Erman DONALDB . REDFORD 111 5  Jean Vercoutter, The Search for Ancient Egypt  (New York: Abrams, 1992). 6 R. Lepsius, Denkmäler aus Ägypten und Äthiopen  (6 vols.; Berlin:NicolaischeBuchhandlung, 1849–1858).  occupies a prominent place for his groundbreaking work on Middle andLate Egyptian grammar. He is closely followed by K. Sethe for his mon-umental work on the Egyptian verb and W. Spiegelberg for his studiesin Demotic grammar and syntax. 7 The advances in language studies during the twentieth century owemost to the application of modern linguistic theory and lexicography. B. Gunninaugurated the modern era with his Studies in Egyptian Syntax  (Paris,1924), to be followed three years later by (Sir) A. H. Gardiner’s Egyptian Grammar,  which underwent two further editions into the 1950s. 8 One of Sethe’s students, H. J. Polotsky, made a signal breakthrough in the study of the Egyptian verbal system with his publication in 1944 of Études de syn- taxe copte  and his introduction of “Standard Theory,” which appliedobservations based on Coptic grammar to Middle Egyptian. 9 Subsequentdecades witnessed contributions to the discussion (many based on Polot-sky) of Middle and Late Egyptian grammar 10 and of Coptic. 11 It remained 112 EGYPTIAN 7  Adolf Erman, Ägyptisch Grammatik  (4th ed.; 3 vols.; Porta linguarum orien-talium; Berlin:Reuther & Reichard, 1928–1929); Kurt Sethe, Das ägyptische Verbum in altägyptischen, neuägyptischen und koptischen  (3 vols.; Leipzig: Hin-richs, 1899–1902); Wilhelm Spiegelberg, Demotische Grammatik  (Heidelberg: Winter, 1975). 8 B. Gunn, Studies in Egyptian Syntax  (Paris:Geuthner, 1924); Alan H. Gar-diner, Egyptian Grammar  (3d ed.; Oxford: Griffith Institute Ashmolean Museum,1957). 9 H. J. Polotsky, Études de syntaxe copte  (Cairo: Société d’archéologie copte,1944); idem, “The Coptic Conjugation System,” Or  29 (1960): 392–422; and idem, Egyptian Tenses  (Jerusalem: Central, 1965). For more on standard theory, see LeoDepuydt, “The Standard Theory of the ‘Emphatic’ Forms in Classical (Middle)Egyptian: A Historical Survey,” OLP  14 (1983): 13–53; and James P. Allen, Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs  (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2000), 389–410. 10 Elmar Edel, Altägyptische Grammatik  (AnOr 34, 39; Rome: Biblical InstitutePress, 1955–1964); Gertie Englund and Paul John Frandsen, Crossroad: Chaos or the Beginning of a New Paradigm: Papers from the Conference on Egyptian Gram- mar, Helsingor 28–30 May 1986  (Copenhagen: Carsten Niebuhr Institute of AncientNear East Studies, 1986); Paul John Frandsen, An Outline of the Late Egyptian Ver- bal System  (Copenhagen: Akademisk, 1974); Jaroslav C   S erny    g and Sarah Israelit-Groll,assisted by Christopher Eyre, A Late Egyptian Grammar  (Studia Pohl, series maior4; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1975); D. Mueller, A Concise Introduction to Mid- dle Egyptian Grammar  (Lethbridge:unpublished, 1975). 11 Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Sahidic Coptic  (Macon, Ga: Mercer Uni- versity Press, 1983); Jozef Vergote, Grammaire Copte  (2 vols.; Leuven: Peeters,1973–1983; repr., 1992); W. C. Till, Koptisches Grammatik(Saïdischer Dialekt)  (Leipzig:Harrassowitz, 1955).
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