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Deciphering Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics
The key to deciphering the ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs was found in the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1798.
What were the Hieroglyphs?
For centuries scholars have wondered about the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs that would hopefully reveal answers about the first major civilization and world power on Earth. For about 3000 years the Egyptians used these peculiar pictures inscribed on their temples, statues, and monuments. Yet the knowledge of their meaning had died out long before Christ.
What scholars had to do to discover their meaning was to hunt out ancient writings of the Greeks and Romans to learn what their theories were and if anyone actually had the key. Yet no no Greek or Roman understood the nature of the hieroglyphs. The Greek tradition taught that hieroglyphs were symbolic signs or allegories and not phonetic signs.
The Middle Ages had no knowledge of hieroglyphic writing nor did they take any interest in it. But a manuscript of Horapollon brought to Florence in 1422 stirred great interest but they were still interpreted as hidden symbols for centuries to come.
How Scholars Decipher a (dead) Language
If no ancient documents were available to provide a key, typically the thing to do was to look for a bilingual example, where the unknown language is written alongside the exact same text that is already known and interpreted and begin various deciphering methods. Another way to narrow down the method was to look for the name of a person such as a king or a certain god that was believed in during that time period. But there were no helps for deciphering the hieroglyphs.
The Discovery of the Rosetta Stone
Then one day in 1798, while General Napoleon Bonaparte was leading his French Republican army into Egypt to occupy it, on accident a lieutenant named Bouchard was supervising fortifications at Rashid (Rosetta), on the west bank of the Nile Delta, about 35 N.E. of Alexandria, and noticed a black basalt stone that had been built right into the wall. He reported the stone to the archaeologists that had accompanied Napoleon's army and low and behold, it became one of the greatest discoveries in the 18th century.
The stone was 3 ft 9 in. (114 cm) long and 2 ft 4 1/2 in. (72 cm) wide, and partly broken. It had three horizontal bands with inscriptions carved in 2 languages, Egyptian and Greek, with 3 different scripts on each band: hieroglyphics, demotic script, and koine Greek. The Greek section, which was already known, indicated that all 3 texts contained the same message. The inscriptions, apparently written by the priests of Memphis, summarize benefactions given to Ptolemy V Epiphanes (205-180 BC) and were written in the ninth year of his reign in commemoration of his accession to the throne. When the French surrendered to Britain in 1801 the stone was brought to Britain and it now remains at the British Museum in London.
This was definitely a monumental discovery and scholars in Europe were very excited. They began by working on the demotic section and locating certain names alongside the Greek text. But they made little headway until in 1816 when an English physicist named Thomas Young realized that the hieroglyphs had a sound value rather than being just symbols.
note: I actually have a picture of the Rosetta Stone that a friend of mine took for me while visiting the British Museum in London. You can take a look at it larger by clicking here. If you think you might be interested check out this Hieroglyphic Name Translator. This is cool!
Soon after, a young French scholar named Jean-Francois Champollion who, by age 16, had become proficient in six ancient Oriental languages as well as Greek, Latin and Coptic, became the code-breaker and demonstrated that the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone were indeed phonetic and had a sound value representing spoken alphabetic signs and syllables. He compared the 1,419 hieroglyphics with the Greek text which was the same message in less than 500 words. He also explained that out of the 1,419 hieroglyphs there were actually only 66 originals and the rest were repeated. His work lasted a painful 14 years with many setbacks and yet he compiled an Egyptian grammar and dictionary for ancient Middle Kingdom Egyptian hieroglyphics.
How Champollion Did It
This is actually how he did it: On the stone were the names of Ptolemy and Cleopatra, and both royal names were within a rectangular circle. He then took the letters P O L in both names while also reviewing the hieroglyphic spelling of Ramses' name, and various signs in a cartouche of Cleopatra found on an obelisk from Philae. Champollion determined the phonetic values of the signs.
What Were the Hieroglyphs and their Meaning?
Hieroglyphs were characters used by priests and scribes in a system of pictorial writing (phonetic) on ancient Egyptian monuments to record the nation's historical and religious texts. There were several hundred signs. Hieroglyphic symbols may represent objects but they usually stand for particular sounds or groups of sounds. Hieroglyph literally means "holy or sacred carving," and is a Greek translation of the Egyptian phrase "the god's words," which was used at the time of the early Greek contacts with Egypt to distinguish the older hieroglyphs from the handwriting of the day (demotic).
The ancient Hittites, Mayans, and early Cretans used hieroglyphs but they were entirely different than that of Egypt.
Check out this Egyptian Hieroglyph-English Dictionary
Egypt in Smith's Bible Dictionary
(land of the Copts), a country occupying the northeast angle of Africa. Its limits appear always to have been very nearly the same. It is bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the east by Palestine, Arabia and the Red Sea, on the south by Nubia, and on the west by the Great Desert. It is divided into upper Egypt --the valley of the Nile --and lower Egypt, the plain of the Delta, from the Greek letter; it is formed by the branching mouths of the Nile, and the Mediterranean Sea. The portions made fertile by the Nile comprise about 9582 square geographical miles, of which only about 5600 is under cultivation. --Encyc. Brit. The Delta extends about 200 miles along the Mediterranean, and Egypt is 520 miles long from north to south from the sea to the First Cataract. NAMES. --The common name of Egypt in the Bible is "Mizraim." It is in the dual number, which indicates the two natural divisions of the country into an upper and a lower region. The Arabic name of Egypt --Mizr-- signifies "red mud." Egypt is also called in the Bible "the land of Ham," Ps 105:23,27 comp. Psal 78:51 Full Article
Egyptian Writing in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE
We now turn to some outline of the civilization of the Egyptians. The language had primitive relations with the Semitic and the Libyan. Perhaps one common stock has separated into three languages--Semitic, Egyptian, and Libyan. But though some basal words and grammar are in common, all the bulk of the words of daily life were entirely different in the three, and no one could be said to be derived from the other. Egyptian so far as we can see, is a separate language without any connection as close as that between the Indo-European group. From its proximity to Syria, Semitic loan words were often introduced, and became common in the XVIIIth Dynasty and fashionable in the XIXth. The language continually altered, and decayed in the later periods until Coptic is as different from it as Italian is from Latin.
The writing was at first ideographic, using a symbol for each word. Gradually, signs were used phonetically; but the symbol, or some emblem of the idea of the word, continued to be added to it, now called a determinative. From syllabic signs purely alphabetic signs were produced by clipping and decay, so that by 1000 to 500 BC the writing was almost alphabetic. After that it became modified by the influence of the short Greek alphabet, until by 200 AD it was expressed in Greek letters with a few extra signs. The actual signs used were elaborate pictures of the objects in the early times, and even down to the later periods very detailed signs were carved for monumental purposes. But as early as the 1st Dynasty a very much simplified current hand had been started, and during the pyramid period this became hardly recognizable from the original forms. Later on this current hand, or hieratic, is a study by itself and was written much more fully than the hieroglyphs on monuments, as its forms were so corrupt that an ample spelling was needed to identify the word. By about 800 BC begins a much shortened set of signs, still more remote from their origins, known as demotic, which continued as the popular writing till Roman times. On public decrees the hieroglyphic and demotic are both given, showing that a knowledge of one was useless for reading the other, and that they were separate studies.
The literature begins during the pyramid period, before 4000 BC, with biographies and collections of maxims for conduct; these show well-regulated society, and would benefit any modern community in which they were followed. In the XIIth Dynasty tales appear, occupied with magic and foreign travel and wonders. A long poem in praise of the king shows very regular versification and system, of the type of Ps 136, the refrain differing in each stanza and being probably repeated in chorus, while the independent lines were sung by the leader. In the XVIIIth Dynasty, tales of character begin to develop and show much skill, long annals were recorded, and in the XIXth Dynasty there is an elaborate battle poem describing the valor of Rameses II. At about 700 BC there is a considerable tale which describes the quarrels of the rival chiefs, and the great fight regulated like a tournament by which the differences were settled. Such are the principal literary works apart from business documents. Full Article
Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics
Unlocking the Riddle
Everyone loves a good mystery. If you want to grab someone's attention, present them with a riddle to solve and start them off with a few clues. You'll get guesses and demands for more information right away.
Centuries of effort could not decipher the ancient and mysterious Egyptian Hieroglyphics. The strange characters on pyramid walls captured the imagination and left the seekers filled with intrigue and frustration until the key was found in the Rosetta Stone. Hieroglyphs and known languages reporting the same events made the deciphering possible.
God weaves a good mystery and bids the adventurous to come and solve. He doesn't just lay out all of His cards, but rather reveals clues to those who consider Him worthy of pursuit. Are you solving a mystery in your life? Did you know God has secrets that He is willing to reveal to you?
...for the LORD detests a perverse man but takes the upright into his confidence. Proverbs 3:32
There is a trail of clues for each willing soul that God has laid out to reveal Himself and His purpose. What is your quest? Is everything simple and figured out, or are there equations to solve? Is everything exactly as you expected or is there a need in your lap that demands an answer? The need will lead you to your destination in Him. Joseph was given dreams and visions early in life that brought about circumstances unexpected and painful. But what his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good for the saving of many lives. Gen. 50:20 David had many years of solving for Saul before the solution to his equation was finally revealed.
The amazing discovery of the Rosetta Stone unlocked centuries of Egyptian history and meaning. One discovery can make all the difference. God has that discovery for you. Keep seeking Him for your Rosetta Stone and He will suddenly explain your past and unlock your future for the benefit of the many He's called you to touch.
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young- let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance- for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.
The Bible Mentions a lot Concerning "Egypt"
Exodus 34:18 - The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.
Genesis 46:7 - His sons, and his sons' sons with him, his daughters, and his sons' daughters, and all his seed brought he with him into Egypt.
Jeremiah 2:18 - And now what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river?
Jeremiah 44:14 - So that none of the remnant of Judah, which are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall escape or remain, that they should return into the land of Judah, to the which they have a desire to return to dwell there: for none shall return but such as shall escape.
Isaiah 19:22 - And the LORD shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal [it]: and they shall return [even] to the LORD, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them.
2 Kings 17:4 - And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea: for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and brought no present to the king of Assyria, as [he had done] year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison.
Exodus 23:15 - Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)
Exodus 10:13 - And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all [that] night; [and] when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.
Exodus 9:25 - And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that [was] in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field.
Jeremiah 44:30 - Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will give Pharaohhophra king of Egypt into the hand of his enemies, and into the hand of them that seek his life; as I gave Zedekiah king of Judah into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, his enemy, and that sought his life.
Ezekiel 20:5 - And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I [am] the LORD your God;
Numbers 11:18 - And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to morrow, and ye shall eat flesh: for ye have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying, Who shall give us flesh to eat? for [it was] well with us in Egypt: therefore the LORD will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.
1 Kings 8:16 - Since the day that I brought forth my people Israel out of Egypt, I chose no city out of all the tribes of Israel to build an house, that my name might be therein; but I chose David to be over my people Israel.
Joshua 5:6 - For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people [that were] men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the LORD: unto whom the LORD sware that he would not shew them the land, which the LORD sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey.
Jeremiah 43:11 - And when he cometh, he shall smite the land of Egypt, [and deliver] such [as are] for death to death; and such [as are] for captivity to captivity; and such [as are] for the sword to the sword.
Genesis 47:6 - The land of Egypt [is] before thee; in the best of the land make thy father and brethren to dwell; in the land of Goshen let them dwell: and if thou knowest [any] men of activity among them, then make them rulers over my cattle.
Ezekiel 29:12 - And I will make the land of Egypt desolate in the midst of the countries [that are] desolate, and her cities among the cities [that are] laid waste shall be desolate forty years: and I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations, and will disperse them through the countries.
Exodus 12:42 - It [is] a night to be much observed unto the LORD for bringing them out from the land of Egypt: this [is] that night of the LORD to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations.
Deuteronomy 16:1 - Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.
Deuteronomy 17:16 - But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
Joshua 24:4 - And I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.
Judges 6:8 - That the LORD sent a prophet unto the children of Israel, which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage;
Genesis 41:36 - And that food shall be for store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.
Deuteronomy 13:5 - And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn [you] away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.
Joshua 24:32 - And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.
Joshua 5:5 - Now all the people that came out were circumcised: but all the people [that were] born in the wilderness by the way as they came forth out of Egypt, [them] they had not circumcised.
Genesis 45:23 - And to his father he sent after this [manner]; ten asses laden with the good things of Egypt, and ten she asses laden with corn and bread and meat for his father by the way.
Exodus 8:17 - And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.
Ezekiel 30:6 - Thus saith the LORD; They also that uphold Egypt shall fall; and the pride of her power shall come down: from the tower of Syene shall they fall in it by the sword, saith the Lord GOD.
2 Chronicles 6:5 - Since the day that I brought forth my people out of the land of Egypt I chose no city among all the tribes of Israel to build an house in, that my name might be there; neither chose I any man to be a ruler over my people Israel.
Bibliography on Ancient Baal Worship
Elijah, Yahweh, and Baal by Gunkel and Hanson, 106 Pages, Pub. 2014