Sunday, August 13, 2017

Facsimile 2 Figure 11 Article Two: Ancient Egyptian Number Puzzles

Prior to this article, we presented the first theory on the numbers in Facsimile 2, Figure 11, which was an attempt to primarily link up the Egyptian uniliteral (single-consonantal) letters to the Hebrew and Greek number system.  This one is a separate theory from that.  This follows some of the other theories on this blog regarding Egyptian word games like puns, etc.  The Egyptians also had a system of numbers that was based on number-word puzzles.
As Georges Ifrah, an important scholar on numbers has observed:

Egyptian carvers, especially in the later periods, indulged in all sorts of puns and learned word-games, most notably in the inscriptions on the temples of Edfu and Dendara.  Some of these word-games involve the names of the numbers . . . (The Universal History of Numbers, p. 176).

Then, on that page and the following, Ifrah shows how he has created a table based on the work of P. Barguet, H. W. Fairmain, J. C. Goyon and C. de Wit, of the inscriptions from the walls of the temples of Edfu and Dendara (Dendera).  We will review here the information in this table and comment on them, to extract the principles in each entry in the table.

But first, we will quote something else that we had quoted in a previous article.  Professor Scott B. Noegel, Chair, Dept. of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Washington tell writes:

("On Puns and Divination: Egyptian Dream Exegesis from a Comparative Perspective,"  Here is Gardiner’s sign list, I12, used to represent the Uraeus (Greek), or Iaret, the Cobra:

As we see, the Egyptian word  w’t.w means Uraeus (Cobra), but was associated by pun with the word wa’,(w’.w) meaning the number one.  So, it is quite possible that Cobra/Uraeus was used symbol for the number one by way of this pun.  Other evidence for this is from the Rosetta Stone, where not only the uraeus is associated with the number one through a pun, but also the hieroglyph for the picture of the harpoon, another symbol for one:

In the 198 BC Rosetta Stone of Ptolemy V Epiphanes, the harpoon hieroglyph is used only once, in line 8: "crowns, 10...with uraeus on their fronts, on one every among them."—("on each among them"). (
As Ifrah mentions in his table on pages 176-177 of the book Universal History of Numbers, the harpoon symbol is this:

It is Gardiner’s sign list T20, stands for the number one, through the principle of homophony, or identical-sounding words, because both the number one, and the harpoon, are pronounced wa’.  This means that the harpoon now becomes a suitable symbol for the number one, and can be swapped out or substituted for the conventional symbol for one.

Above is the Egyptian sun symbol, which is Gardiner’s sign list N5, also stands for the number one, according to Ifrah, because there is only one sun.  The singularity and uniqueness of this fact, makes it a suitable symbol for the number.

All of these are variants of the moon hieroglyph, numbered N9, N10, N11, N12 in Gardiner's sign list.  As Ifrah writes, these stand for the number one, similar to the sun symbols, according to Ifrah, because there is only one moon.  Again, it is because of the singularity and uniqueness of this fact.

According to Ifrah, the symbol above for the fraction 1/30 (one thirtieth) is used to mean the number one in the phrase “one day” or “the first day.”  And so, this is because of the fact that there are 30 days in a month for the Egyptians.  And so, for a phrase where the context is about days, the usage makes sense.

Ifrah says that the “Jubilaeum” above, or Gardiner’s sign list W4 is a determinative for hb, or Heb, meaning “feast,”or the “feast of the first of the year,” the Heb Sed, known as the “feast of the tail.”  The W4 hieroglyph is a combination of two other hieroglyphs.  The first is W3, the alabaster basin:

This is also pronounced hb for the festival.  The next piece is O22, a booth supported by a pole:

W4, the Jubilaeum, stands for the number 4.  Ifrah says there is no known explanation as to why.  However, there may be a clue in the ritual race of the festival.  As we noted before, it means the “feast of the tail.”  In the race the Pharaoh would wear a kilt with a bull’s tail attached to the back of it.  And he would run this ritual race alongside of the Apis bull four times as the ruler of upper Egypt and four times as the ruler of lower Egypt.  Therefore, this numerology is probably as a result of this fact about the race.  Therefore, the principle here is probably an attribute of the race/ritual was drawn upon as why these symbols symbolized the number.

The above, which is Gardiner’s N14 is the hieroglyph for star, has 5 points, so it stands for the number 5.  In this case, Ifrah says it is “self-evident” why this is the number 5.  The principle here is that a visual attribute of the symbol is the key to the number it represents, in this case, the number of points.

The human head, which is Gardiner’s D1, stands for the number 7, because, according to Ifrah, it has seven orifices:  “two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, mouth.”  So, the principle here is that an attribute of the symbol (in this case the number of orifices) is used as the key to which number it represents, much like in the case of the 5 pointed star.

Above is the Ibis (Gardiners G25), was the symbol for the god Thoth, who was the principal god of Hermopolis, known in the Egyptian language as Khmnw or Khemenu, which means “city of eight.”  The number 8 is khemen.  So the principle here is an association between the symbol for the god and the name of the city.  It is an attribute of the mythology of the symbol that ties it to the city.

This looks like two hooks, and stands for the number 8.  In hieratic, the number 8 looks like this:

This is numbered as Moeller 621.  As for the hieroglyph that looks like two hooks, it is evident, as Ifrah writes, that it is a “curious ‘re-formation’ in hieroglyphics of the hieratic numeral 8.”  In other words, they created this hieroglyphic from the form of the hieratic numeral.  The principle here, is that the hieroglyph as a visual similarity or affinity or association with the hieratic numeral.  This is an idea is pretty similar to the definition of to a visual pun.

Above is Gardiner’s sign list N8, which stands for the sun and its rays.  It means “shining” or “to shine.”  This is pronounced psd, just as the number 9 is pronounced psd.  The principle here again is homophony between the word to shine and the name of the number.

Above are Gardiner’s sign list numbers U1 and U2, are the sickle or scythe.  Here are some of the forms of the hieratic number nine:

This is numbered as Moeller 622.  As Ifrah writes, it is “Based on the fact that in hieratic, the numeral 9 and the sign for scythe were identical.”  As in the case of the number 8, here it is visual similarity or affinity between signs that is the key.  Once again, this is like a visual pun.

Above is Gardiner’s sign list G5, which is pronounced hrw or “Horus.”  This stands for the number 10.  This is because, as Ifrah says, “the falcon-god Horus was the first to be added to the original nine deities of Heliopolis, and thus represents 10.”  It is tied to an attribute of the mythology of the gods of Heliopolis, as the use of the Ibis as a number is tied to the mythology of Hermopolis.

Different combinations of symbols such as two harpoons can mathematically equal the number two.  Or the combination of a sun and moon can mean the number two.  Or the combination of three harpoons can mean the number three.  And so on and so forth.

The point of all this is that we can see that this type of punnish number/word/symbol game is in line with the same type of creativity or mental games found in Ptolemaic hieroglyphics of the Greco-Roman era.  We can expect the system used in Facsimile #2, figure 11 to use some type of system like this.  Future articles may attempt to ascertain what the exact system or method is in use in Facsimile #2 for these numbers.  The purpose of this current article was only to establish a mental framework for this thing, and to demonstrate that indeed, not only are the typical numbers in Egyptian the only symbols used for numbers.