Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ancient spell may be oldest Semitic text

"A magic spell to keep snakes away from the tombs of Egyptian kings, adopted from the Canaanites almost 5,000 years ago, could be the oldest Semitic text yet discovered, experts said Tuesday.
The phrases, interspersed throughout religious texts in Egyptian characters in the underground chambers of a pyramid south of Cairo, stumped Egyptian experts for about a century, until the Semitic connection was found.
In 2002 one of the Egyptologists e-mailed the undeciphered part of the inscription to Richard Steiner, a professor of Semitic languages at Yeshiva University in New York. Steiner discovered that the phrases are the transcription of a language used by Canaanites at some point in the period from 25th to the 30th centuries B.C."
"Richard Steiner, professor of Semitic languages and literature at Yeshiva University, interpreted Semitic passages in Egyptian texts discovered more than a century ago inscribed on the subterranean walls of the pyramid of King Unas at Saqqara in Egypt sometime between the 25th and 30th centuries BCE.
The passages, which were meant to protect royal mummies against poisonous snakes, were written in hieroglyphic characters, but Steiner discovered that they were composed in the Semitic language spoken by the Canaanites in the third millennium BCE, an archaic form of the languages later known as Phoenician and Hebrew.
The Canaanite priests of the ancient city of Byblos, in present-day Lebanon, provided these texts to the kings of Egypt. "

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