Friday, February 21, 2014

The Origin of All Alphabets, Including Sensen, in the Traditions of the Astronomical Sign Lists and Calendars

As I noted in previous posts, that I had read Flavin's article years back, where he talks about the book The Alphabet and the Ancient Calendar Signs, Second Edition, by Hugh A. Moran and David H. Kelley.  It's a relatively rare, out-of-print book.  Also, Flavin notes Cyrus Gordon's belief that the Ugaritic Alphabet represented a Lunar Zodiac, after being influenced by Moran and Kelley's book.  I believe that the alphabet has something to do with Constellation lists, not necessarily the Solar or Lunar Zodiacs, contrary to what I had previously supposed.

Anyhow, the characters in the Sensen papyrus in the columns surrounding Facsimile #1, I believe have calendrical/alphabetical significance in an ancient derivative composition that is no longer extant, although the literal interpretation of them give the identification of the owner of the papyrus:

The order of the characters is not in the typical alphabetical order, but nevertheless, it is a sign list containing "Alphabetical" (i.e. phonetic and determinative) characters from the corpus of Egyptian characters, and they were repurposed for use in the said derivative composition.

Also, after reading through some parts of Moran's and Kelley's book, Moran's attempts to tie the Solar Zodiac to the Lunar Zodiac and the Alphabet are not very convincing to me.  But there is still something to it.  Kelley's argument, however, that the Mesoamerican calendar has its origins in Hindu and perhaps North Semitic calendars and lunar zodiacs, is very solid to me.  This will go along very nicely with what I will be presenting about Joseph Smith's Egyptian Counting section of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers in later posts.

I also found it interesting that even John Sorenson of Book of Mormon Geography fame quoted from this book in trying to establish good arguments for evidence of transatlantic contacts.  Anyhow, while mentioning linguistic correspondences between Greek, Mayan, Hindu, and Jain alphabetic/calendrical/zodiacal systems, Kelley stated:

These names are the only indication of borrowing at a linguistic level between any of the groups considered.  This gives extremely important support both to Moran's theory of alphabetic origins and to my own proposal of the derivation of the Mesoamerican calendar from the Eurasian lunar mansions.  While I pointed this out in an earlier study, I did not consider there the problems involved in this comparison.
The first question is how Old World alphabet-names could show up as a part of a calendar sequence in the New World among a group that did not have an alphabet.  If we accept Moran's hypothesis, I think we must also accept the implicit premise of a former system of lunar houses which provided the basic symbols and which may have had some of the names that subsequently became names of letters of the alphabet.  Such a system could not have had all of the alphabetic names unless we suppose that the process was reversed and that the names of the lunar constellations derived from a pre-existing alphabet, which seems to me exceedingly improbable.  It is obviously more likely that such a constellation series lies behind the Mayan day-names than that they derive from an alphabetic series.  My former student, Joe D. Stewart, has pointed out that a small number of Assyro-Babylonian constellation names could have supplied names to some of the letters of the alphabet . . .
The second major problem is how a unified Mesoamerican calendar system can show marked similarity in names to a postulated Greco-Semitic constellation list while deities seem best represented in a Hindu list.  The unity of the Mesoamerican system is found in the structure as a perpetually-repeating series of 20 names, in the accompanying complexities which create a unique 52-year cycle, and in the greater number of correspondences and meaning and in mythological associations.  We cannot postulate with any plausibility that Greeks or Semites introduced their calendar/alphabet to the Mayans, on the one hand, while Hindus introduced theirs to the Aztecs, and both were modified into a unified system.  Rather, I think we must postulate a series of lunar mansions containing some names which later became alphabet names and with accompanying deities like those of the Hindus.  (The Alphabet and the Ancient Calendar Signs, pp. 164-165)

This, in a nutshell, is what I generally agree with now, though it is not necessarily a lunar Zodiac.  There may have been some original prototypical constellation list that had some kind of influence universally on calendars and alphabets all over the world.  However, this was not a necessarily a list that we typically think of as a "Zodiac" which either follows the ecliptic (the path of the Sun) or the path of the Moon.  I am seeing from my research that these are may be from a Babylonian list or something else very ancient.  We read:
The formal scheme of Babylonian constellations was established early in the 2nd millennium BCE to mark 3 "equatorially-centred" stellar paths. These were the Paths of Anu, Enlil, and Ea. (It is doubtful that the Babylonians of the 2nd millennium had either actually identified the celestial equator or developed a formal concept of the celestial equator.) The dual purpose of the constellation scheme was calendrical and also to serve as sky markers. It was unrelated to the ecliptic (and to the zodiac which was not yet developed). Despite popular assertions to the contrary there is no mention of the zodiacal scheme in Babylonia, or elsewhere in the Occident, prior to the 1st millennium BCE.
Some constellations that later formed part of the zodiac were established in Mesopotamia circa 2000 BCE or perhaps earlier, and some were perhaps originally used as seasonal markers. (The expression "Stars of Elam, Akkad, and Amurru" perhaps suggests that, even very early, at least in Mesopotamia, the constellations originated as independent formal schemes having a calendrical purpose.) However, in the early 2nd millennium BCE these constellations formed part of the Babylonian system of "three stars each" i.e., the Paths of Anu, Enlil, and Ea. (There is some ambiguous evidence of earlier Sumerian constellations. It is reasonable to hold that perhaps the Sumerians originated certain constellations and perhaps they had a formal scheme for such.)
A significant change occurred (during the Assyrian Period) circa 1000 BCE with the astronomy of the Mul.Apin series. The astronomy of the Mul.Apin series established the preconditions for the establishment of the zodiac. (
Although Moran and Kelley may not have had a specific context for the introduction of Old-World calendrical systems to the New World, the Book of Mormon certainly answers part of that question.  For many calendrical and alphabetic systems, there is probably a prototypical constellation list that somehow has something to do with both Semites and Hindus.  Perhaps it originated in Babylonia or Persia and spread.  And I think it somehow also relates to or has some vague association to Abraham, which is why Ancient Egyptians chose to associate Abraham with the Sensen.  This is precisely the type of odd mix we see in the Egyptian Counting section of the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.  Things that somehow not only seem to relate to Semites and Egyptians, but also to the ancient Hindus.  Far from being separate systems, it seems there is a prototypical Indo-Semitic system for the Indo-Arabic family of numerals, and for Hieratic numerals somehow.

Part of the biggest problem in Moran's work is the fact that he neglects to use the earliest form of the Alphabet, the Proto-Sinaitic (which also has Proto-Canaanite/Old Negev variants), forms of which were known in the era when he wrote his book.  And contrary to Moran, these are all definitely derived from Egyptian characters.  Furthermore, Moran and Kelley neglect to go to the earliest of constellation lists, but rely on the later lists.

Anyhow, my research on the connection between constellations/asterisms and the alphabet has gone through a number of stages, especially after reading Kelley's contributions to the book. I have come to the conclusion that the alphabets are not specifically zodiacs, because they are not in the order of a zodiac, nor do they necessarily follow the ecliptic.  Instead, they are just GROUPINGS OF CONSTELLATIONS, ASTERISMS AND OTHER ASTRONOMICAL/ASTROLOGICAL OBJECTS.  If you look at what is happening in Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar, this is what you will find there as well, because it is a custom usage of Sensen characters in a way they weren't intended to be used before.  The groupings of characters are not in a Zodiacal order, and are not even constellations.  But a good number of them are astronomical in the way they are used in the KEP, or in other words, in the way they are repurposed in the KEP.

So, Kelly and Moran are not totally wrong.  The original alphabets still contain constellations, etc.  They just aren't specifically zodiacs in the general use of the word, where we would expect a typical constellation list to follow the ecliptic.

Anyhow, this is what I see in the Sensen Papyrus now.  Its characters were repurposed in to an Abecedarium-type structure in derivative documents.  This idea to do this type of thing originally had its origins in the traditions of sign lists with astronomical entities like rest of the alphabets did, though in itself, it is NOT necessarily a lunar zodiac.  Nevertheless, this type of idea originates in the genre of sign lists like calendars and zodiacs.  The mythology of Khonsu and the Sensen (Conjunction of the Two Bulls) are so prevalent in the Sensen Papyrus was so convenient, that it was capitalized on by the person that created a derivative document.  The usage of the papyrus in this way, in a derivative composition, goes back to a prototypical Lunar Zodiac/Abecedarium/Calendar tradition.  We will start out by deducing generalities like this, and moving more towards specifics.  More than just being something specifically that certain Egyptians associated with Abraham traditions (which it certainly is on one level), it has something more generally to do with the Lunar Zodiac, Calendars, Ancient Gaming Systems and Abecedaria.  Somehow, all of these elements are all tied together in this one tradition, of which the Sensen is a part.

So, in other words, while we will see some elements in Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet in common with other alphabets, it is not specifically an alphabet where all things will coincide with all other alphabets.  And it was not intended to be a lunar zodiac particularly, yet it does belong to the tradition thereof.

Furthermore, there appears to actually be more than one alphabet in the Kirtland Egyptian Papers.

Anyway, to summarize, the Sensen Papyrus is a papyrus that contains characters that were employed in applications that are tied to the Abecedaria, Zodiacs and Calendars.  It is a papyrus that supplied characters to be used as alphabetic characters in these compositions.  It was up to the user to supply the context for the way he would use the alphabet.  In other words, what the Sensen Papyrus does NOT contain is the mechanical Book of Abraham text.  The things that it DOES CONTAIN are characters that can be used in ways similar to or according to principles apparent in ancient abecedaria, zodiac, and calendar traditions.  And these principles allow for the ability to represent the Abraham story and tradition in derivative compositions with these characters.  These principles are such things as the alphabetical principle of acrostic-like, constrained expansions or mappings or linkages, as well as the alphabetical principle of Acrophony, which I will elucidate and expand on in later posts.

Now its not that there is anything wrong with the idea that the characters in the Proto-Sinaitic/Proto-Canaanite Alphabet (which is the presumed original to the Semitic Alphabets/Abjads) originated in Egyptian Hieroglyphs.  Similarly, there is nothing wrong with the idea that the regular Egyptian symbols used as Phonetic characters in Egyptian also represent an Alphabet.  Its just that, the reason for the selection of symbols for Alphabets rather than others was not arbitrary.  It was originally astronomical/astrological.  Also, of course, acrophony came into the mix.  Speaking of Proto-Sinaitic, the following says:
A major breakthrough came with the decipherment of the word b`lt, (B`alat) by Sir Alan Gardiner in 1916. Gardiner concluded that the Sinaitic signs were created by reforming Egyptian Hieroglyphic signs based upon their acrophonic value. His reasoning has been found to be sound and his work continues to be the foundation upon which progress continues to the present. (

And also, another scholar wrote:

The origin of the Phoenician letters . . . in the Proto-Canaanite and Proto-Sinaitic scripts, and the borrowing of most, if not all, letter forms in the latter script from Egyptian hieroglyphics on the basis of acrophony are now seen as indubitable facts . . . (

Where the exact balance is to be found between acrophony and the other factors (such as mythology and astronomical factors) that inspired the alphabet has yet to be determined by further research.  I do not believe that these factors in the origin of the alphabet contradict each other.  And I believe that they are all important factors, and they are all involved in the mix.

From the Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation, the following is very interesting.  (The following was translated by Aryeh Kaplan):
Twenty-two foundation letters: He engraved them, He carved them, He permuted them, He weighed them, He transformed them, And with them, He depicted all that was formed and all that would be formed…. Twenty-two foundation Letters: He placed them in a circle like a wall with 231 gates. The circle oscillates back and forth…. He formed substance out of chaos and made nonexistence into existence. He carved great pillars from air that cannot be grasped. This is a sign [Alef with them all, and all of them with Alef]. He foresees, transforms and makes all that is formed and all that is spoken: one Name. A sign for this thing: Twenty-two objects in a single body…. a rule of twelve and seven and three: He set them in the Teli, the Cycle, and the Heart…. He bound the twenty-two letters of the Torah to his tongueand He revealed to him His mystery. He drew them in water, He flamed them with fire, He agitated them with Breath, He burned them with the seven [planets], He directed them with the twelve constellations (, On the Origins of the Alphabet, by Brian R. Pellar, SINO-PLATONIC PAPERS, Number 196 December, 2009)
It seems especially clear here that this book is connecting the Alphabet to the Zodiacs.  In his paper where he quotes this, Brian R. Pellar uses it to try to substantiate a theory that I do not agree with, which is somewhat based on Moran's conclusions, where he tries to line up the Semitic Alphabet and the Chinese Lunar Zodiac with the Solar Zodiac, by doubling up the characters (or combining them into compound characters) and thereby, attempting to demonstrate how more than one character in the alphabet/lunar zodiac would match up with a character in the solar Zodiac.  I think some of Pellar's opinions are useful, but his central thesis is problematic, as is some of Moran's.  At least Pellar made use of the Proto-Sinaitic script.  All of these scholars have some things to add, but I can't agree with everything they believe.

As for the place of the origin of the Alphabet, it makes sense to me what some scholars at Yale believe, after they discovered some of the same Proto-Sinaitic type of writing at Wadi-El-Hol:
The Wadi el-Hol inscriptions (Arabic وادي الهول Wādī al-Hawl 'Ravine of Terror') were carved on the stone sides of an ancient high-desert military and trade road linking Thebes and Abydos, in the heart of literate Egypt. They are in a wadi in the Qena bend of the Nile, at approx. 25°57′N 32°25′E, among dozens of hieratic and hieroglyphic inscriptions. The inscriptions are graphically very similar to the Serabit inscriptions, but show a greater hieroglyphic influence, such as a glyph for a man that was apparently not read alphabetically. (
Now, here is what they said about it:

About 4,000 years ago, Egypt underwent a lengthy period of internal insurrection. In the course of reunifying his fragmented realm, the reigning pharaoh attempted to pacify and employ roving bands of mercenaries who had come from outside Egypt to fight in the civil wars. The Egyptians were the quintessential bureaucrats, and under Bebi’s command, there must have been a small army of scribes in the military whose job it was to keep track of these "Asiatics." There would also have been, says Darnell, a communications gap.
“There was no such thing as a POW camp in ancient Egypt," he explains. "When you were captured, you were simply put to work doing your old job, but for the other side, and so these 'Asiatic' troops, who were probably already quite Egyptianized, had to find a way to talk to their new comrades.”
They also had to deal with civil servants, all of whom could read and write hieratic. And somewhere out there in the desert, suggests Darnell, inventive scribes, to enable the captured troops to record their names and other basic information, apparently came up with a kind of easy-to-learn Egyptian shorthand.
It makes sense that the alphabet originated in Egypt, a place that was highly literate and had already developed a system of pictorial writing, rather than in the illiterate Sinai area," says Darnell. In fact, given the timing, it now appears likely that the alphabet in fact did not originate in Palestine, but was imported to the area from Egypt, and took on such a vigorous life of its own that historians have been persuaded ever since that it was born there. (
While it is true that there is no consensus among scholars on these points discussed here, at least there are some academicians that are experts in the Canaanitic scripts that side with this type of interpretation.  This makes a lot more sense with respect to why an "Egyptian Alphabet" would be invented from characters in the Sensen Papyrus, and to why the Kirtland Egyptian Papers would manifest Semitic names for the characters in it.  And why the Sensen tradition would have to do with an alphabet that seems to have so many Semitic connections.  If anyone would have given these characters names that Semitic people could understand, and modeled them after a Lunar Zodiac, it was the Egyptians.  Indeed, as Tacitus, a Roman Senator and historian wrote:
It was the Egyptians who first symbolized ideas, and that by the figures of animals.  These records, the most ancient of all human history, are still seen engraved on stone.  The Egyptians also claim to have invented the alphabet, which the Phoenicians, they say, by means of their superior seamanship, introduced into Greece, and of which they appropriated the glory, giving out that they had discovered what they had really been taught.  (Annals of Tacitus, by Cornelius Tacitus, p.187).
The possible fact that there is an astronomical connection to the alphabet makes more sense in light of the idea that it was invented by literate Egyptians than the theory that it was invented by illiterate Canaanites working for the Egyptians in the Sinai Desert.  Although many scholars do indeed prefer the theory that it originated in the Sinai.

Now, further research will hopefully manifest more direct evidence between the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet astronomical sign lists as time goes on.  At the very least now, the alphabet has been plausibly brought back to Egypt for its origin.  The conclusion is the same, even if it was invented in the Sinai.  Because the Canaanites in the Sinai were working for Egyptians, and if it was invented there, it was either Egyptians doing it for Canaanite use, or Canaanites doing it for their own use, having been influenced profoundly by Egyptian traditions.  It is now plausibly an Egyptian Alphabet, made by Egyptians for use by Semites/Canaanites.  And somehow, in the Greco-Roman Egypt, it has something to do with the Tradition of Sensen in Egypt, the Conjunction/Sacred Embrace of the Two Bulls, which is the mythological meaning of Sensen.

The Egyptians certainly had a Lunar Calendar, but we have yet to find a system of Lunar Mansions/Constellations among the Egyptians.  It seems strange that they would not have one and also have a Lunar Calendar.  It seems strange that it was among the Chinese and the other cultures, so plausibly among the Egyptians as well.  At least the evidence for the Lunar Calendar among them is clear and strong:
Egyptian calendar, dating system established several thousand years before the Christian era, the first calendar known to use a year of 365 days, approximately equal to the solar year. In addition to this civil calendar, the ancient Egyptians simultaneously maintained a second calendar based upon the phases of the moon.
The Egyptian lunar calendar, the older of the two systems, consisted of twelve months whose duration differed according to the length of a full lunar cycle (normally 28 or 29 days). Each lunar month began with the new moon—reckoned from the first morning after the waning crescent had become invisible—and was named after the major festival celebrated within it. Since the lunar calendar was 10 or 11 days shorter than the solar year, a 13th month (called Thoth) was intercalated every several years to keep the lunar calendar in rough correspondence with the agricultural seasons and their feasts. New Year’s Day was signaled by the annual heliacal rising of the star Sothis (Sirius), when it could be observed on the eastern horizon just before dawn in midsummer; the timing of this observation would determine whether or not the intercalary month would be employed. (

It is interesting that Hugh Nibley wrote, quoting Pineas Mordell, that:
In the oldest of alphabets, the Phoenician and Hebrew, "the order of the letters in the West Semitic System of writing is almost as old as the invention of that system itself.  It is only a short step from here to the hypothesis that the fixation of the order was part and parcel of that invention, that it was in fact a mnemonic device which helped the rapid spread of the West Semitic system of writing." (One Eternal Round, p. 258)
However, as I have shown in other posts it may be that alphabetic letters, rather than a set or static mnemonic device, it was something more like something that people applied a number of acrostics or similar structures to.  In other words, perhaps it was not so much a classic understanding of a static mnemonic in the usual sense, but rather, a set of things that were dynamic, and were applied to a great many things, such as the acrostics in the Psalms.  Hugh Nibley goes on to quote Phineas Mordell, writing that:
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, the letters "were made in the form of a 'state and arranged like an army in battle array,'" as if coordinating human affairs with the order of the cosmos.  We are told that "when Abraham understood it, his wisdom increased greatly, and he taught the whole law." (One Eternal Round, p. 258)
You see, what I believe this is saying is that, instead of being set meanings for the symbols, they were more like chess pieces on a chess board.  Like something dynamic, like the pieces on the Senet board or the Mehen board, the ancient Egyptian games, which I show elsewhere are also associated with the Facsimiles of the Book of Abraham, as well as calendars.  The Sensen Papyrus was the same.  It was a thing that had a ritualistic ordering of symbols, but the symbols were not to be "read" the way this ordering spelled out, but rather, dynamic meanings were to be applied to the characters like in an acrostic.