Tuesday, September 13, 2011


 Gordon Hamilton has issued a personal account of eleven West Semitic inscriptions discovered in recent times,  including a button-sized disc from Deir Rifa (Petrie Museum  UC 51354) on the website "The Bible and Interpretation" (http://bibleinterp.com). His article is available on a pdf :

(But it is not there now, March 2012)

GJH had already published (http://jss.oxfordjournals.org/)"A proposal to read the legend of a seal-amulet from Deir Rifa, Egypt as an early West Semitic alphabetic inscription" (Journal of Semitic Studies, 54, 2009, 51-79, with a photograph, plate 2, p. 53).

First, I notice Gordon does not mention me, though I  refer (though not defer) to him in my websites, and it can not simply be because I report my research in progress on the internet, since he has a lot of web addresses in his footnotes; and he did quote me in his book (mostly dismissively), but  it would appear that after my review of it, the Albrightians (I am still an adherent of the Albright school, but not a believer of all the tenets, particularly with regard to West Semitic scripts) have ostracized me (as you do, with ostraca). They do not rank me as one of their 'peers', apparently, and therefore do not need to give peer reviews of my work. It may be noted that F.M. Cross (the dean of the Albright school) had been consulted in the process of interpreting the legend (p. 73), and he had insisted that the word for 'seer' (h.z) was present; hence Hamilton's idea that it was the seal of a seer.

The basic defect in Hamilton's whole case for identifying the original  Proto-Canaanite letters is that he has not taken into account the six documents published by W. F. Petrie in 1912: one of them provides a paradigm of the consonantal proto-alphabet; two others, taken together, offer another copy of the consonantary; one of them has a text using the syllabic script. Every speculatively constructed paradigm has to be tested alongside these two original prototypes, but this exercise has not been done by anyone else. I have presented my results in my critique of Hamilton's conjectural table of Proto-Canaanite consonantal signs.

Turning now to the  inscription, we are told that Rifeh (Deir Rifa) is situated in the extreme south of Middle  Egypt and it was a border-post between the Hyksos and Theban sectors of the Two Lands.
For our own examination of the object, we can see a drawing (fig. 2, on p. 4 of the pdf) and a photograph (plate 2, p. 53, of the JSS article).   Hamilton's interpretation has it as a seal-amulet bearing a name and a title in alphabetic script, and he reads it as:

L QN H.Z  Belonging to Cain (qn) the seer.

With his characteristic confidence (which seems insufficiently critical and 'scientific') he draws all kinds of conclusions from this, and boldly declares: "Only the first letter is ambiguous paleographically";  because 'Hamilton' (as he calls himself third-personally and objectively) says so. He is referring to the proposed L; but I think he is tearing off one of the bull's horns, making it Lamed instead of 'Aleph (ox).

Coincidentally, I have already put on this website a seal with a Canaanite inscription (apparently from a Hyksos set of scarabs).


This one employs the West Semitic syllabary, not the consonantary (proto-alphabet), as does the signet ring from Megiddo (acknowledged by Giovanni Garbini and myself, but treated as consonantal by Hamilton):


Accordingly, the possibility has to be faced that the Deir Rifa inscription is likewise logo-syllabic (the Megiddo ring has one logogram in my interpretation: "Sealed, the SCEPTRE of Megiddo").

This is one form of ambiguity which has to be considered, and I suggest that the Rifeh text has two logograms, among the scroll-decorations (note that I have omitted the scrolling from my drawings, leaving only the script). GJH sees them as two Egyptian `ankh symbols, denoting 'life' (p. 56). However, they are possibly different signs; this is clear on Petrie's drawing (fig. 1, p. 55) and Hamilton's (fig. 2, p. 55) . The one with O and T (so to speak) as its constituent parts is the `ankh; the other is the nefer sign (O+), symbolizing goodness and beauty.  Accordingly, these signs are saying "good life". Also, the nefer sign is T. (Tet) in the consonantary and T.A in the syllabary (both derived acrophonically from t.abu 'good'); but the `ankh is only used in the syllabary (as H.I and h.iwatu 'life').

A fundamental question is whether the Deir Rifa text is consonantal or syllabic. Hamilton simply chooses to read it consonantally, ignoring the syllabic option. Of course, since one-quarter of the syllabic signs are found in the consonantary, we can easily start off on the wrong track.

The way the object should be held and viewed is another source of conclusion-confusion. GJH has it so that an ax-head and a fence are upright at the bottom, hence ZH., but he (following F. M. Cross) wants it to be H.Z 'seer', another point of ambiguity. I am sure the fence is not the origin of H., and I doubt that Z is an ax, preferring to see a manacle (ziqq). At the top he sees L (coil of rope?) with an extra stroke attaching it to the 8-sign (Q on the Albrightian table, but actually S., Tsadey). Then comes a snake for N.

Holding the object so that there is a horizontal line of writing (with the # sign sitting on the ingot), not a vertical column, the plausible snake sign (NA or N) becomes a  face-profile, PA (panu). The # is presumably attached to the base, to form a complete SA (or S, Samek), the Egyptian Djed column, representing the backbone.  At the left end I now  see 'Alep, ox-head with horns (alphabetic ', or  syllabic 'A). The 8 could be DU (dudu, jar).

So, if I had to read it alphabetically it would come out thus: ' S. N S

But syllabically it would be 'A DU PA SA, or SA PA DU 'A.

The sequence du'a suggests the common Semitic root dw(h) "be sick", noting Arabic da'a.

The common Semitic root sph can be transitive (sweep away, vanish) or intransitive (be swept away, vanish); but it is sometimes indistinguishable from swp (cease, end).

SA PA DU 'A "Vanish sickness. Good life"

This interpretation seems appropriate if the object is a talisman with an apotropaic function.

(*Do the beads indicate a woman?)

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