Главная страница «Первого сентября»Главная страница журнала «Английский язык»Содержание №12/2009

Origin of Scriptures or the Gift of Gods

Recently I came back from my visit to Greece, bringing back many interesting “insignia”. To begin with, I was impressed with my ability – not knowing Greek – to read and write words in the language. Try to do it yourselves: CTAP/\OUK and CTI/\ – star look and style, ПРОГРАММА СЕМINAPION – the program of a seminar, TECT – test, MOUCIKE – music, XHMEIA – chemistry, KPICHC – crisis, TECTOCTEPONH – testosterone, ФHCIKA – physics, CTPATHГIKH – strategy, YPOTPOФIA – hypotrophy, EUГENIKH – eugenics, EПIДEPMICA – epidermis (skin), KOLIE – necklace, ТОП – top, КАФТАNI – kaftan, long shirt, ПАNТЕ/\ОNIA – pantaloon, trousers. The list is endless and I met much more interesting examples.

In one of the bookshops of the Greek capital I came across the book BIBLIJA: Stari i Novi Zavet. Sa Objasnenjima i Ilustracijama by L. Bakotic and M. Imerovski (Bible: The Old and New Testament. With Explanations and Illustrations...). The book tells the story of the discovery made in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, a little to the north of Luxor. Many first Christian texts written in Greek were found by chance. In one illustration a reader can see two ancient pages of gospels codex handwritten in the end of the first century AD. On the left page I easily read: AПOKPYФON – Apocrypha, that is “hidden”, not evident, revealed. We know some words with the same root: crypt of a church or a temple, as well as small intestine (gut), cryptography, cryptesthesia (hidden paranormal sensing and unusual perception), cryptonym (secret name) and so on. The antonym to Apocrypha is Apocalypse or Revelation, e.g. of Saint John the Divine, the last book in the New Testament. To be honest I was proud of myself deep in my soul that I could read the title of one of the earliest Christian scriptures – even not knowing the Greek language!

In my book Mysteries of Genetics which is devoted to the origin of man, his mind and civilizations, I wrote of an interesting problem: how, when and where writing systems were born. There are two main “scriptures” – hieroglyphic (or characters if you mean Chinese) and alphabetic – that uses letters. We know the ancient hieroglyphs of Egypt, China and Japan and the much younger pictorial writing of Maya in Central America. Of course the Sumerian cuneiform system of Mesopotamia should be mentioned. It was “borrowed” by the Assyrians, but now is dead (as well as Egyptian hieroglyphs that are “enlivened” only for tourists).

From the Mayan texts we can see that their hieroglyphs are real pictures – pictograms – of rulers and gods, mortals and sacred animals, plants and so on. If the text author wanted to communicate the idea of speaking something, he simply “gave” a man a long tongue. Hieroglyphs from the Nile valley were more complex in their meaning, but the Egyptian scribes used the same pictures of pharaohs and gods, common people and bulls, as well as animals and plants, a bee and reed, a pot of honey and so on.

The Chinese characters differ in many aspects from those ancient “pictorials”: they are more complex and sophisticated. Teachers of Chinese say that the complex characters have 28 degrees and the simplest are the most ancient and “basic”. These show a man and a woman, simple actions such as “to go”, “to grow” and so on. But even those simple original characters can gain multiple and rather diversified meanings and contents. For example, the character “to flow” can relate the meaning of water and a lake/pond, a city park with a water basin and a pearl gained from water, as well as money that flows like water. The same we have with our words that can mean rather different things as in a rhyme:

“In spring I spring like a spring over a spring”.

“Zhong” or “Zhung” (compare: tonnel/tunnel, Rossia/Russia, Moskovia/Muskovites), the ancient character designating the sun, was quite naturally a circle with or without a point (small spot) in the center of it. Medieval European alchemists used “zhong” in their manuscripts as the symbol of the “sunny metal” gold. In China, the circle transformed itself into a square with a vertical line crossing it. The line symbolized the route, path, “walking” of the sun in the sky. Unlike modern people, the ancients oriented themselves to the East. That character is pronounced as [djun] or [chzhu(n)] (the latter we have in the name of Manchuria). The same Japanese character has a horizontal line crossing the square and is read as “Nip” or “Nik”.

Then to the symbol of the sun a second character is added: in Chinese it’s a square with crossed “streets” and “lanes” within rectangular city walls (pronounced [go/gu]). It means a union, country, state and empire. The Japanese one presents a cross with two “roots” below the horizontal line going down at the angle of 45 degrees (pronounced [pon] or [kon]) and means a tree, growth and emerging might. These give us the self-names of two great Eastern countries which native titles are “Djun/Zhung-go” and “Nippon/Nikkon”. The first name we usually translate as “Podnebesnaya” – “[The Land] Under the sun in the Sky”, – and the second one the whole world knows as “[The country of] the Rising Sun”. (The word “go” we can see in the historical name of Mantchou-go – the still-born state of the last Chinese emperor that existed up to ’45 when the Soviet army went into China and put an end to it.

Our cossacks who came to the Far East transformed Japanese “Nippon” into “Yaponia” which was easier to their ear. Now this old “ethnic etymology” is the official name of Japan which in turn is the Western variant of the native Nippon/Nikkon.

The sun character has many additional meanings. For example, the names of circular, ring roads in Beijing begin with it. In Shanghai the name of the old river embankment “Union” (Bund in German) – begins with the same “Zhong” and in Singapore the hotel “Grand Central” is relayed with the same Chinese characters – “growing tree” and “sun”.

The same process of old pictures transforming into written signs led to the origin of the letters which are so familiar to us. Archeologists discovered that the origin of letters took place in Egypt but for some reason the process did not develop. It could be connected with the decline of a dynasty or “subversive” actions of temple priests. But the idea persisted, especially in the areas of ancient Egyptian, influence which included the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea where the ancient people Chanaans or Canaanites lived (the territory of today’s Syria).

Recent archeological findings made during excavations in this region – especially a ceramic “ostrakon” of the 15th BC – show that merchants of this enterprising nation actively used letters even in those times. On that terracotta ostracon we easily decipher several familiar signs and some additional ones that are known to those interested in old Greek and the history of its writing.

The first and the most important domestic animal in ancient Egypt were the cow and bull because they gave milk and skin, horns and very calorific and easily digested and “energizing” meat. Quite naturally, the Egyptians praised and honored the bull, especially the white Apis. In Memphis (located not far from modern Cairo) they had a huge underground “vault” Serapeion where priests saved more than 700 bull mummies. It can be mentioned that the sculptures of the sacred bulls have a sunny disk between their horns. Secondly place, the ancient inhabitants of the Nile Valley of course valued their house with its inner court yard. The Egyptians pictured a bull as a head with two horns and the hieroglyph had a pronunciation close to “halph/haleph” (there were no signs for vowels in Egyptian writing). In Syria they have a city that in ancient times was the center of cattle trade. Its name is Aleppo – Haleb in Arabic.

The second sign for a house was “pt/bt” that’s why the name for the home deity was Ptah or Btah. The Canaanites assimilated, inherited those first simplified (original) pictorial signs and began using them as letters. Letters are more useful in everyday life because their set is more “confined” and easily learnt even by children. (Egyptian scribes had to spend several years to master their art of writing.)

Then the Greeks came to Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt where they founded their city-colonies. They readily caught the idea of lettering, but had to some degree transformed them. Their language belongs to the Indo-European family with at least five or six vowels. It made them change the consonant “halph” into the vowel “alpha”. The second sign converted into “beta” and the two-letter combination gave birth to the word “alphabet” (“alfavit” in Russian in which the Western European “b” often passes into “v”. – Basil becomes Vasilii, Bethlehem – Vifleem and Byzantium – Vizantia). There is of course “Bedlam” that was borrowed from English much later.

In their myth the Greeks honored the Phoenician prince Kadm who came to Hellas and brought the art of writing with him. It’s a rare case in history because the myths of other nations tell that the writings were the gift of gods: the wisdom gods Thoth in Egypt and Ganes (or Ganesh) in India. The latter is pictured and sculptured with the head of a wise elephant. Its Indo-European root represented by a consonant set “gn” gave such Greek words as “nus” (compare: noosphere) and gnosis, dia- and prognosis, gnoseologia and such pair of words as agnosticism/gnosticism.

The Greeks after borrowing the Eastern letters made another thing, namely inverted them by a right angle (90 degrees). In the original Eastern alphabet the letters “lay” – were written – horizontally and Hellenic scribes began writing them vеrtically – “A” and “Б”. With the passing of time, the upper line of “Б”, completely closed itself and the second letter of the alphabet got the form of “B”. Both the forms we can see in inscriptions on the Byzantine coins because the empire mint craftsmen didn’t differentiate between these (double) graphical variants. And in the famous Rosetta stone that I myself saw at the entrance of the British Museum library, everybody can read the names of Cleopatra and Ptolemy carved in Greek: K/\EOПATPA, ПTO/\EMAIOC (/\ means of course L – “lambda” of the Greek alphabet). The last queen of Hellenistic Egypt signed her decrees, epistles and orders with the letter “K”.

The Romans – diligent disciples of their Greek tutors – at first simply used the alphabet of “scholia” – schools of Athens and Thebes. Then the citizens of the Eternal City began, step by step, to transform it: “К” became C, “П” – P and a small “tail” grew from the Greek “P” to become the Latin R. The Roman variant of the alphabet was disseminated into the provinces Gallia, Britannia, Africa and Hispania as well as Asia Minor, Syria and Palestina with the “help” of imperial legions. Its “evolution” was interrupted with the Barbarian invasions and the only offspring was the Scandinavian runes which are dead today.

This is a very brief and partial description of the origins of writing that show us the natural process of letter design in the history of peoples. Not only the first two letters of our alphabet have their pictorial or hieroglyphic “roots”, but all of them. And an interesting history comes after each of them telling us how ancient people lived, worked, what they ate and how they fought themselves and their enemies. I hope that in some time I will tell my readers of those letters’ history as well.

Source: The American Heritage Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston 80

By Igor Lalayants