Sunday, March 16, 2014

Joseph Smith's Iota and the Egyptian Pupil of the Eye, and the Egyptian Biliteral Character Irt

Joseph Smith's Iota in his Egyptian Alphabet seems to be another character that has a name that at first would seem to derive from Semitic or Greek alphabets, but whose derivation in Egyptian isn't really related to the original forms in Semitic or Greek alphabets.  But in fact, its name has a lot in common with the Egyptian form.  In Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet, it is just a dot:


Joseph Smith translated this as "see, saw, or having seen."  Or "having been seen."  Or "me, myself."

It is possible that part of the reason the name was chosen for this Egyptian character by the ancients was because of the notion of smallness, not because of derivation from the Greek Iota or the Semitic Yod.  But it is also, no doubt, a nod and a salute to the alphabetic traditions in general, showing that what was going on in the Sensen papyrus is in the same tradition.  The Semitic Yod is a picture of an arm and a hand.  For example:

Iota and its successor Jot . . . from Greek iota, Hebrew yodh [are] the smallest letters in those two alphabets . . . ( word is used in a common English phrase, 'not one iota', meaning 'not the slightest amount', in reference to a phrase in the New Testament: "until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law" (Mt 5:18).  The word 'jot' (or iot) derives from iota.  The Portuguese and Spanish name for the letter J (jota) is derived from iota. (

It seems that the Egyptian Symbol derives from the character that is for the pupil of the eye:

This is character D12 from Gardiner's sign list.  Joseph Smith translated this as the idea of I, me, myself, to see, and so forth, which is very plausible, and makes a lot of sense.  It goes to show that the individuals behind the ancient understanding of the Sensen Papyrus were multilingual, having Greek, Hebrew, Semitic and Egyptian influence on them for their interpretations of the various characters.  Everything that we have seen so far has all the hallmarks of heavy syncretism between many traditions.

Another obvious evidence of Greek influence is the word Ha-dees (obviously the Greek Hades, being Spirit World, Sheol or Hell depending on the context), which Joseph Smith translated as:  "Another kingdom of wickedness, under the government of one who is an enemy to God . . ."

It is true that in the Semitic alphabets, the name of the eye character was ayin, and they also had the form of a circle, deriving from D12 or other similar eye characters, which turned into o-micron (small O) in Greek.  Other more ancient forms of Ayin look like this, from the Proto-Sinaitic:

(Image credit:

This one seems to be derived from Gardiner's D4, which we will speak about in a moment.  About the fact that a name shifted from a different character, we see that it is not the first time that such a thing has happened:

Somewhat analogous [to the shift between nahas and nun in the Semitic alphabets], though more complicated, was the situation in the case of the Greek sibilants:  in Doric Greek, the name san preserved the name of the Semitic shin, but took the alphabetic position and form of the tsade, while in other dialects sigma, retaining the position and form of shin, apparently took its name from still another sibilant, samekh. (American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 31, No. 3, July - Sep. 1927, p. 318)

Now we noted previously that the Egyptian uniliteral character for the I or Y sound was the reed.  However, the Egyptian BILITERAL, meaning for the IR sound, is the ideogram for the pronunciation "Irt," or "Jrt" and it happens to be the eye character:

(Image Credit:

On Gardiner's sign list, this is character D4, and is a determinative, for words related to vision. (;  Now, take notice that both the sounds I and T are both in the Egyptian vocalization Irt.  This is indeed Iota.  So, Joseph Smith was right on the money with his Egyptian Iota.  It seems absolutely clear that this is the Greek-ized pronunciation for Irt.  As Moran writes:

The Egyptian y, i sound is represented by yr , an eye. (The Alphabet and the Ancient Calendar Signs, p. 10.)

Indeed.  Joseph Smith got this one VERY RIGHT.  The bottom line is the alignment of IoTa and the Egyptian IrT is not coincidence.  This is one of those things where it is difficult to not suspect that it is just changes in the Egyptian language itself over time, as well as the fact that Egyptological Egyptian is an artificial reconstruction, that are the reason for the difference between the pronunciations of Joseph Smith's Iota and the Egyptologically-derived Irt.  Another possibility would be the principle that is known as Materes Lectiones, which means that in some alphabets, certain "consonants" sometimes represent vowel sounds, or that over time, a pronunciation of something that originated as a consonant is transformed into a vowel.  If such is the case, the R in the word IRT may represent a vowel.

A typical case of Materes Lectiones is with the Hebrew word Jehovah as the Tetragrammation (YHWH), with four letters thought to be consonants in most usages.  However, an interesting thing exists in the Book of Abraham and the Kirtland Egyptian Papers surrounding this name.  Nibley relates it to the name of Ja-oh-eh, meaning "Earth" or our world, which is the name applied to it in both the explanation for Facsimile #2 and also in the Kirtland Egptian Papers.  Hugh Nibley notes that this brings to mind, or suggests, Jaoel, the angel who visits Abraham in the Apocalypse of Abraham, an ancient extra-canonical text.  He notes that this name is identified by a scholar named George H. Box as Jehovah, and the name Jaoel means "Jehovah is God."  Nibley talks about various issues surrounding the tetragrammation (YHVH or YHWH), which are the consonants for the name Jehovah in Hebrew.  He notes that these letters actually referred to four vowels, U-A-I-E, which were uttered by the high priest in the temple once a year.  (One Eternal Round, p. 257-258).  It is interesting that the Jewish Encyclopedia says:
It was in connection with magic that the Tetragrammaton was introduced into the magic papyri and, in all probability, into the writings of the Church Fathers, these two sources containing the following forms, written in Greek letters: (1) "Iaoouee," "Iaoue," "Iabe,"; (2) "Iao," "Iaho," "Iae"; (3) "Aia"; (4) "Ia." . . . "Iabe" is designated as the Samaritan pronunciation. There are external and internal grounds for this assumption; for the very agreement of the Jewish, Christian, heathen, and Gnostic statements proves that they undoubtedly give the actual pronunciation . . . The "mystic quadriliteral name" . . . was well known to the Gnostics, as is shown by the fact that the third of the eight eons of one of their systems of creation was called "the unpronounced," the fourth "the invisible," and the seventh "the unnamed," terms which are merely designations of the Tetragrammaton . . . Even the Palestinian Jews had inscribed the letters of the Name on amulets . . . ; and, in view of the frequency with which the appellations of foreign deities were employed in magic, it was but natural that heathen magicians should show an especial preference for this "great and holy name," knowing its pronunciation as they knew the names of their own deities.  (
It is interesting that it is in relation to the Magical Papyri that this is used a lot in the Greek spellings of the name.  It shows that the ancients associated these letters with vowels in this name, even though in Hebrew, all they  had were consonants to spell them with.  This is the principle that is known as Materes Lectiones, that I have spoken of in other blog posts.  Which means that in some alphabets, certain "consonants" sometimes represent vowel sounds.  As we see above, we are assured by many ancient sources that the Tegragrammation was was actually pronounced something like IAOUE ("Yah-weh"), as a set of vowels.  And furthermore, many in the Greco-Roman period represented the name with the letters IAO as a shortened form, something similar to the representation of the word in Hebrew as "Yah," as we find in the Bible in various people's names.

Anyway, the point is, Nibley in the book One Eternal Round is trying to connect the name of earth "Ja-oh-eh" to the name Yahweh.  Does this demonstrate the possibility of ownership and dominion, that the very name of earth could either be connected to the name of God, or be a form of the name of God?  Anyhow, Nibley writes that one source states that the original Tetragrammation was Yod-Ayin-Waw-Aleph which he says "corresponds to "Joseph Smith's j-a-o-e" (which Joseph Smith gives as the name of the Earth), instead of the classic spelling of the Tetragrammation as Yod-Heh-Vaw-Heh.  It is interesting that there could be a connection here to the Magical Papyri once again, as we read above.

Anyhow, these principles may also apply to Joseph Smith's Iota.  It may well be that Iota goes back to the way it was pronounced at the Greco-Roman period:

While the consonantal phonology of the Egyptian language may be reconstructed, its exact phonetics are unknown, and there are varying opinions on how to classify the individual phonemes. In addition, because Egyptian is also recorded over a full two millennia, the Archaic and Late stages being separated by the amount of time that separates Old Latin from modern Italian, it must be assumed that significant phonetic changes would have occurred over that time. . . 
Since vowels were not written, reconstructions of the Egyptian vowel system are much more uncertain, relying mainly on the evidence from Coptic and foreign transcriptions of Egyptian personal and place names. The vocalization of Egyptian is partially known, largely on the basis of reconstruction from Coptic, in which the vowels are written. Recordings of Egyptian words in other languages provide an additional source of evidence. Scribal errors provide evidence of changes in pronunciation over time. The actual pronunciations reconstructed by such means are used only by a few specialists in the language. For all other purposes the Egyptological pronunciation is used, which is, of course, artificial and often bears little resemblance to what is known of how Egyptian was spoken. (
Another analogy to what I'm suggesting is what John Gee pointed out for the name Nephi, which seems to be derived from the common Egyptian NFR.  Bowen notes:

As John Gee first proposed, the name Nephi is best explained as a form of the Egyptian word nfr, which was later pronounced neh-fee, nay-fee, or nou-fee, especially during and after Lehi’s time. The word nfr denotes “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” fair.” (Nephi’s Good Inclusio, by Matthew L. Bowen,
Gee writes:

F. L. Benz . . . sees the name KNPY as the Phonecian for m of K
, an attested Egyptian name.  This equation was later confirmed by G. Vittmann, who added that the Aramaic spellings KNWP' and QNPHY were also attested.  Further, the Aramaic KNWPY is attested in the Elephantie inscriptions.  Vittmann also notes that the name 'HRNPY, attested in teh Aramaic inscriptions, was probably Egyptian 'nh-hr-nfr.  The name element NPY seems to be the Semitic (i.e., Aramaic, Phoenician) transcription of the Egyptian nfr, a common element of Egyptian personal names . . .
. . . Nfr itself is an attested Egyptian name.  At this time (fifth century B. C.) in Egyptian, the final r had fallen out of the pronunciation of nfr, and this remained the case in Coptic, where the from was noufi. (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 1/1, 1992, pp. 189-191)
As you can see, it seems this is pretty much the same principle that I'm talking about, a verbal shift in the r, especially when Semitic speaking peoples were using words that originated with the Egyptians, where this is essentially identical to or very similar to Materes Lectiones, where Aramaic/Semitic speakers were shifting the r to a y sound, treating it as a vowel, or just skipping the sound.