Friday, May 20, 2016


Here I set out on a quest for a Semitic language in ancient Crete
For Linear A,  I am basically using:
Carlo Consani e Mario Negri, Testi Minoici Trascritti con Interpretazione e Glossario (Roma 1999). More readily accessible for us all is John Younger's relevant website

For Eteocretan:
Yves Duhoux, L'Étéocrétois. Les textes, la langue (Amsterdam 1982). An amazing monograph.
For the Semitic viewpoint on the evidence:
Cyrus H. Gordon, Evidence for the Minoan Language (Ventnor 1966)
C. Gordon,  The Decipherment of Minoan and Eteocretan, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1975, 148-158.
Jan Best, The Language of Linear A, in Jan Best and Fred Woudhuizen, Lost Languages from the Mediterranean (Leiden 1989) 1-35.
Gordon and Best have numerous publications on the subject.
Of course, I am basically reliant on L. Godart and J.-P. Olivier, Recueil des inscriptions en Linéaire A (5 volumes).
The useful book that has stimulated me to look into this subject again:
Brent Davis, Minoan Stone Vessels with Linear A Inscriptions (Leuven-Liège 2014).
I have always been reluctant to use the term MINOAN, which was coined by Arthur Evans from the name of Minos, the legendary King of Crete, and is currently applied to an epoch stretching from around 3000, or else 2000, BCE, but certainly in the time when palaces were built.  What I wanted to know was whether Minos reigned in the period of Linear A (before the 15th Century BCE) or Linear B (the era when Mycenaean Greek was the official language used at Knossos, as it was in the cities of the mainland, such as Pylos). Given the tradition that Minos lived a few generations before the Trojan War, the end of the Bronze Age seemed to be the correct time for him. 
   The story of Minos and his Minotaur, in which young people from Greece were brought to Crete as a sacrificial form of tribute, suggests to me that Minos was a tyrant who had conquered Crete and was subduing Greece, and that the language and era of Linear A was his. Seeing that a Semitic language is detectable in Linear A documents, the question now becomes: was Minos Semitic or Hellenic?
Since Minos was traditionally associated with Europa and Kadmos (clearly from the Semitic East, qadm) he would not be Hellenic but Semitic.
   The terrm 'Eteocretan' (Duhoux Étéocrétois) seems to say echt-Cretan, original Cretan; Homer put the word into the mouth of Odysseus, to identify one of the ethnic groups in Crete, but it is now applied to the language of the late tablets inscribed with a Semitic language in Greek alphabetic letters (Cyrus Gordon). The implication seems to be that the original Cretans were Semitic. But I doubt this. The so-called Eteocretans may have been the dominant people of the Minoan period (17th century onwards) but they were Semitic interlopers who had invaded the island and imposed their rule. A possible reason for this invasion was the expulsion of the 'Hyksos' Semites  from northern Egypt, though Crete might have become part of this empire even earlier. (Conversely, the Philistines who settled in Palestine at the end of the Bronze Age, and who reportedly came from Kaphtor [Amos 9:7, Jer 47:4; cp. the Kaphtorim from Kaphtor in the region of Gaza, Dt 2:23] which is undoubtedly Crete [Kaptara] may have been Semitic; the Philistian language has not been clearly identified )
    In this scenario a strong but not necessarily exclusive Hellenic presence pervaded Crete before the Semitic invasion, and there was a resurgence in the Mycenean period and beyond, to the present day. My suspicion is that the two logo-syllabic (unhelpfully called 'hieroglyphic') writing systems were constructed acrophonically on the basis of Hellenic.The northern script is found at Knossos and Mallia; the southern script is represented by the Phaistos disc and a few tablets, and the disc has been read by Steven Fischer as an account of a naval invasion, written in a Hellenic dialect; and I suggest that it might well be the Semites who are attacking Phaistos. Thereafter, the official script is Linear A (which is a stylized form of the Knossos script, not the Phaistos script).
   With regard to Kadmos: he is said to have introduced writing to the Greeks, and this is usually  thought to refer to the Grecian alphabet, which emerges in the 8th Century BCE, the time of Homer. Another possibility is that the model of the acrophonic logo-syllabary, as known from Byblos and elsewhere, was what came from the East, and was the basis for the two pictophonic writing systems of Crete, specifically the Knossos and Phaistos scripts.
(1) Kingship
Evidence for kingship is hard to find in Crete, and at this point I am struggling to detect a word for it in the Linear A and Eteocretan documents that are available at present.
   When the language is West Semitic (Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic) the word is malku/malik/melek. In East Semitic (Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian) it is sharru ($arru). In the decipherment of the Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet script, and in the cracking of the West Semitic (Phoenician) alphabet, and its predecessor the West Semitic (Byblian) syllabary, mlk was an important clue. See my summary article, which does not mention mlk!
My search for an instance of m-r-k (r represents l or r) in the Cretan texts has been fruitless, thus far.
Nevertheless, there may be a word for 'ruler' in Praisos 2 (Eteocretan): MOSEL, Hebrew moshel (Gordon 1966, 11).
And malik can be seen (and also sar) in Cypro-Cretan (Cypro-Minoan) documents:
Enkomi cylinder, lines 2-3

Cyprian tablet from Ugarit (RS 20.25) line 19

On the Hagia Triada tablets a term SARU occurs (86, 94, 95, 123); also SARO (9, 17, 19, 42); and  SARYA (11. 18, 28, 30, 32).
Jan Best (11-15) has studied HT 11b. one of the SARYA tablets (he transcribes SARA2 as sari, 'my king').
He notes that the two words accompanying it could be Semitic titles. My version of these would be:
RUZUNA = Hbr razon, 'dignitary, potentate' (root rzn, 'have weight'); in Proverbs 14: 28 it is in parallel with mlk, 'king').
SAQERI = Hbr sokher, 'trader'; in I Kings 10:28, it refers to 'the king's buyers' (Solomon's agents).
The tablet ends with the KURO, meaning 'total', and that seems to correspond to Semitic kullu, Hbr kol, 'all'.
(2) Numbers 
In Creto-Semitica (1) Kingship,  I struggled to find a Semitic word for 'king'. In Linear A texts, SARU was a faint possibility (East Semitic sharru 'king', or Hebrew sar  'prince, officer, leader'), but no trace of West Semitic malku. However, Eteocretan MOSEL (written in Greek alphabet letters) could be moshel 'ruler' (Hebrew).
   We now begin a quest for numbers/numerals in Linear A texts ('Eteocretan A', perhaps) and ' Eteocretan H' texts (Hellenic, in that they use the Greek alphabet, but the language is the same as in some, if not all, Linear A inscriptions). I must ask from the outset this serious question: if the language is indeed West Semitic, why did they not use the Byblos syllabary in the Bronze Age, and the Phoenician alphabet in the Iron Age, since Linear A and the Greek alphabet are not suited to a language which has so many different sounds needing to be separately recorded?
   But the Semites used a variety of foreign scripts, starting with their borrowing of the Sumerian system in Mesopotamia, for Babylonian Ccuneiform writing. This plethora of scripts (some Semitic, and some modeled on the West Semitic syllabary and consonantary, and some others, such as Egyptian scripts) is outlined here:
The Mediterranean Diet in Ancient West Semitic Inscriptions

    If we could find the words for the numbers (the names of the numerals) we could see immediately which language family we are looking at, whether Afro-Asiatic (Hamito-Semitic), 'Euro-Asiatic' (Indo-European), 'Anatolic',  'Caucasic' (Hurrian), Finno-Ugric (it has been suggested that Sumerian might belong here, although its numeral-names are entirely different from Finnish), or an unknown unique tongue. In the latter case, it has been said that what we see in the Linear A and Eteocretan documents bears no resemblance to any known language (Yves Duhoux, Brent Davis); but practitioners of the 'discredited' etymological method of decipherment will beg to differ, along several separate paths, of course, and mine will be the Via Semitica.
    We know the signs of the Cretan numerical scheme:  it is a decimal system, with digits (|) for 1 to 9, and horizontal strokes  (--)  for tens; but these ideograms conceal the names of the numbers from us.
  We accept that KURO introduces the total of the numbers in lists, particularly on Hagia Triada tablets, but there is an example from Zakros: Tablet ZA 15ab concerns wine, as the five occurrences of the VIN ideogram testify. There are ten words in its list, and as usual we wonder whether they are names of persons (anthroponyms), places (toponyms), or things (common nouns); each has an accompanying numeral.
   The first line of ZA 15ab has: *47 ku na sa VINa (and no numeral).
SA is a simple Y-shaped representation of a cuttle-fish (*sapia, sêpia).
NA is an eye with a tear-flow (nama)
KU is dog-head, with an eye and a protruding tongue (kuôn).
AB 47 is a  circle with  X, and it might be YI, or a variant of AB46 YE, representing a person walking.
  A sequence yikuna looks very Semitic, as a verbal form, from the root kwn, 'be'; but the additional SA produces a possible word from the root k-n-s or k-n-sh, 'gather, collect'. When we come to examine the formulas on offering-tables, we will encounter unakanasi, and 'collect' would fit the context of giving and gathering that a Semitic reading reaps from those inscriptions. Here the introductory word might refer to the wine that has been collected; it is a heading and therefore does not have a number.
    ZA 4ab tells a similar story about wine, but it is damaged, and the first line is lost; it shares two words with ZA 15ab: kadi and sipiki. ZA 5b also has sipiki, again with a wine connection, but much of the text is lacking on both sides. Hebrew spq denotes 'abundance' and has been used with reference to wine;  but Semitic sh-p-k has the meaning 'pour'; the universe is riddled with coincidences, and perhaps neither of these choices is valid. WS kad 'jar' or 'jug' was for liquids or grains. If these two items were containers (for pouring wine), then the rest of the words would presumably refer to vessels; but speculation is cheap. Incidentally, the -i ending could be the indicator of masculine plural (kadi, 'jugs')
  Note also that  the Zakros scribe distinguishes I and NO clearly (on ZA 6, for example): the sign for NO is an upraised hand (in my view it symbolizes kheirôn nomos, the law of force) with a prominent thumb on the right side; the I-character might be a suppliant's olive branch wound round with wool (' iketêria elaia) with the end of the thread projecting on the right. Also of importance for us is the sign AB34 (on ZA 6a.1) which, I have long maintained, stands for KRA (it represents a side-view of an eyeball with the pupil, glênê); and it is not a mere variant of AB35, KRO (klôstêr, 'thread' or 'line') which shows a cord wound on a stick, a measuring 'line'; this  same character is the origin of Q in the alphabet (qaw, a 'line'). KRA appears in a Linear A legend  on a bowl from Knossos (KN Zcb), in a word kratiri  (=kratêr).
  Turning now to the KURO in ZA 15, the sum of all the numbers (57+10+3+6+2+5+4+5+3) is 95; but the kuro total is divided into two parts: VINa 78, RA VINa 17.

HT 122b  has an interesting addition to this practice (again there are two totals): 
kuro 31 (122a 8) kuro 65 (122b 5) potokuro 97(?) (122b 6).
The potokuro must mean 'grand total', or 'sum total' of the two totals. If it is a Semitic term, perhaps it is bat (Hbr bath) kul, 'daughter total'; but this could possibly imply that the new total is less than its two parent-totals, but not necessarily; I have not found an analogy for this.
   Here is another thought: it says 'pan-total', 'all in all'. Could poto be related to pant- or pantô(s), as a Greek loan-word? My suspicion is that there was a Hellenic dialect lurking in Crete (before the Mycenians came) and it may even be recorded on the imprinted disc from Phaistos, near Hagia Triada.
   KIRO is another word on the administration tablets; it is believed to mean something like  'deficit'; at the moment I can only suggest a faintly possible connection with Hebrew kl', 'hold back, withhold')
Is there an equivalent to kuro  in the late Eteocretan H inscriptions? These are not accounting documents, so there is no counterpart for 'total'. But on Praisos 1 and 3  there is a sequence KLES  (Kappa Lambda Epsilon Sigma). Cyrus Gordon understood  kl es as West Semitic kol 'ish, 'every man'. 
  One Semitic numeral that stands out in decipherment exercises is the number three (3): t-l- t/sh-l-sh. My search in Linear A texts has not brought anything like that to light. But Gordon has highlighted three possible numerals in Praisos 2 (and Yves Duhoux did not take sufficient account of these in his critique of Gordon's Semitic hypothesis): 
SPhA[A] (Hbr sheba`) 'seven'; TSAA (Hbr tesha`) 'nine'; SAR (Hbr `eser) 'ten' (or perhaps TORSAR, 'twelve').

There is enough material here already to show that these two Cretan media of writing (Linear A, Greek alphabet) were not adequate for recording West Semitic:  S syllabograms and Sigma had to cover a batch of sibilants (s, ts, shin, sin, t, z); and 'gutturals' had no letters to accommodate them ('alep, `ayin, gh, h, h., h). This will also make it easy for the sceptical to dismiss my case.
(3) Vessels
Words for containers have already been considered in section 2, namely kadi (jars?) and sipiki ('pourers', jugs?) in ZA 4 and Za 15. we move now to HT 31 (unfortunately one-third of its text is obliterated); it has depictions of various vessels with their names written above them, and these are probably Semitic. Actually, this tablet should have been saved for the grand finale of my presentation of the evidence, so that it could function as the verifying "tripod" (a Linear B tablet with a Greek  word ti-ri-po-de, and a drawing of a three-legged vessel confirmed Michael Ventris's decipherment). By coincidence, this Linear A document (HT 31) also depicts a tripod vessel, but there is apparently no name above it. However, my climax will focus on reading sentences (see CRETAN SEMITIC TEXTS), but at this point it is a matter of identifying Semitic vocabulary.

What I am offering on my websites is a contribution to the decipherment of some intractable West Semitic and Aegean scripts: the West Semitic logo-syllabary, the logo-consonantary (proto-alphabet), and the new syllabary of early Israel; also the Kaptarian Linear A syllabary of Crete , and the Alashiyan syllabary of Cyprus; and finally some new ideas for reading Eteocretan inscriptions. The use of the Greek alphabet for the West Semitic language of the Eteocretans is surprising, given the existence of the Phoenician alphabet, which was entirely suited to their needs. The same can be said of the Semitic “Minoans” and their adoption of the Cretan syllabary (Linear A), with its scope for a mere dozen consonants, when their language had at least twenty-two, and possibly twenty-seven (as shown by the long and short Canaanian alphabets). Incidentally, this phenomenon should be kept in mind by anyone attempting to describe the phonology of the “Minoan” language.[1]

I will set down here a tentative hypothesis: The two main scripts of Crete, emanating from Knossos and Phaistos, are acrophonically based  on Hellenic language ("Danaic", if Hellas is anachronistic here). Linear B texts are certainly Greek, and Linear A tablets are West Semitic, but some inscriptions and names must be Anatolic (L.R. Palmer, Margalit Finkelberg). Were the Anatolian inhabitants the Eteocretans?

   Eteocretan should mean echt (or true) Cretan; but accepting the Semitic Eteocretans as the original Cretans or Kaptarians is questionable: possibly Hellenes preceded the Semites, but were subdued by them for a while, under West Semitic rulers such as the archetypal Minos, and then the tables were turned.[2] In this regard, Homer’s list of ethnic groups in Crete (Odyssey 19.172)[3] is either instructive or inscrutable: “Akhaians, great-hearted Eteokretans, Kudonians, Dorians, Pelasgians”.
And he mentions Knôsos as the great city where Minôs reigned; but he does not say in which group Minos belonged.
   Are Akhaians placed first, because they were there first? Strabo (around the beginning of the current era, CE) reports that the Dorians occupied the east of Crete, the Kudonians the west, and the Eteokretans the south, at Praesos where the temple of Diktian Zeus was.[4] The Akhaians and Pelasgians have disappeared. Perhaps the mysterious Pelasgians (the term is generally understood as meaning non-Greek and pre-Hellenic) were the indigenes of Crete. But the “Akhaian” newcomers introduced the syllabary to the island, under Phoenician influence.
   Traditionally, Kadmos (whose very name bewrays him as a Semite from the East, Phoenician qadmu) taught the art of writing to the Greeks. This information could be applied to the invention of the pictophonic syllabary in the Bronze Age in Crete, rather than the alphabet in the Iron Age in Greece, though it is true that in each case the Phoenicians provided the writing materials: first, the idea of a simple acrophonic syllabary with pictophonic characters (as employed in Gubla, Greek Byblos); and second, an alphabet (the Phoenician consonantary), to which the Greeks added vowel-letters, using consonant-signs that were superfluous to their purposes (Alpha the glottal stop became A, for example). But it was in Crete that the Phoenicians taught Greeks to write syllabically. It seems that the two early writing systems of Crete (emanating from Knossos in the north and from Phaistos in the south) are based on a Hellenic language[5] (and this idea has been tested in the inventory of Cretan syllabograms presented here:
   Minos and his dynasty were interlopers, perhaps from the time of the Hyksos empire in Egypt, when Phoenicians were scouring the world in their ships.
   The term “Minoan” was coined by Arthur Evans; it is like “Victorian”, referring to an era and a culture, and named after a monarch; and perhaps the Semites of Crete did consider themselves to be Minoans in some sense; and somehow they became Eteocretans, but they were really Neo-Cretans, and their genetic heritage may still linger in the population.
   Nanno Marinatos has produced a book (2010) in which she argues that “palatial Crete” (Bronze-Age Kaptar) belonged in the Near East, comprising Anatolia, Syria, the Levant, and Egypt. She quotes Evans at the head of her Introduction: “Throughout its course Minoan civilization continued to absorb elements from the Asiatic side”. Marinatos reminds us that Kothar, the West Semitic god of arts and crafts, had his abode in Kaptar (and he was also at home in Egyptian Memphis, as Ptah, and perhaps in Mesopotamia as Heyan, if that is Ea/Enki).[6] Accordingly, Marinatos proposes a religious koine of the Mediterranean world, and if Minoan religion was West Semitic, like the Minoan language, then she must be right. Deities and details of the religion have been set aside here, but there is no doubt that the West Semitic pantheon can be found in the Kaptarian documents.[7]
    One very significant point about the Mediterranean koine (Marinatos, Chapter 9) is the place that the double ax holds in Cretan iconography. She presents a number of questions about this icon, and states that one answer fits them all.

The double ax rises from the cosmic mountain.

  Birds greet it as it appears between the two peaks.

 It appears between the horns of a bovine head (boukephalion).


A rosette between the horns is another symbol

The double ax turns into a lily
The lily is atop the ax between bovine horns. The horns would be equivalent to the peaks of the cosmic mountain.

The double double ax is here seen with four rosettes (solar symbols).
Obviously the double ax symbolizes the sun in all the pictures we have seen here.

Everywhere else it was the sun disc with wings, but in Crete it was the double ax, doubled, like the parts of the wings.

 What do we say? Did the Kaptarians make a deliberate choice to put a battle-ax in place of the sun with wings, or in the stylization process was an error made, and it persisted? (Nanno Marinatos does not consider these questions, and I do not know whether she has noticed this connection.)

[1] Davis 2014: 193-268 (Linguistic analysis of Linear A).
[2] Marinatos 2010: 1-8 for a historical reconstruction of the Kaptar period.
[3] This and other ancient pieces of evidence are assembled in Duhoux 1982:9-12.
[4] Duhoux 1982: 10.
[5] Steven Fischer (1988) takes this stance, but he calls the Minoans “Greeks” (“East Hellenes”, p. 69).
[6] Marinatos 2010: 1; Gibson 1978: 54-55, Wyatt 1998: 88-90, for the Ugaritic myth (KTU 1.3, vi, 5-20) showing Kothar as the deity connecting the various realms of the Near East, also including Gubla (Byblos), and possibly Keilah (Gibson, citing1 Samuel 23:1, which has the Philistines attacking this town in Israel) or simply “the summit” (Wyatt).
[7] Gordon 1966: 31; Best 1989: 12-24.


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