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Sinai Turquoise inscription (S 375a) PART 1

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  • Brian Colless
    I propose to use a resurrected inscription from the turquoise mines in Sinai to show that it is possible to read these proto-alphabetic texts (wilfully,
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 27, 2008
      I propose to use a resurrected inscription from the turquoise mines in
      Sinai to show that it is possible to read these proto-alphabetic
      texts (wilfully, needlessly, unnecessarily dubbed "Proto-Sinaitic").

      This one has a context and a clue or two too to ease the process of

      This exercise is also a test of my own table of signs and sounds,
      worked out on the basis of the rest of the collection of inscriptions
      (and by comparing the pictographs with their later forms in the
      Phoenician and Arabian alphabets, and the cuneiform alphabet used at
      Ugarit and elsewhere in Syria-Palestine)

      Remember the difficulties we face:
      frequent illegibility;
      inconsistency (no fixed form for each sign)
      variability (no set direction for the line of writing)
      no separation between words or sentences;
      letters sometimes used as rebuses (Door [Dalt] as D or d-l-t);
      no vowels represented in proto-alphabetic writing.

      SINAI INSCRPTION 375a/383

      This is another interesting stone from the Sinai turquoise mines. It
      was found during excavations in Mine M, close to the obituary
      inscription of Asa (358), together with the rations plaque (375) and
      other inscribed objects (Starr and Butin 1936, 20-26).

      To study it with me you will need the photograph and drawing available


      You should also print yourself a copy of my table of the evolution of
      the alphabet:

      It is available as part of my article on that subject:

      [The sample of the table which I just printed for myself was faint
      red, so it needs to be taken to a photocopier and darkened. It looks
      much better, and bigger, on the screen.]

      Lundberg and Zuckerman have put eight clear photographs of the object
      on the internet: four coloured, four monochrome. To gain access to
      these and photographs of other ancient texts, we go to the wonderful
      database of the West Semitic Research project, and request Sinai 375a:
      INTERFACT (http://www.inscriptifact.com/)
      But you have to go through a few hoops to get access to the site.

      Each photograph of the set helps to identify the details of particular
      characters in the text, such as the cross in the middle of the stone,
      which does not always appear with all its four pieces standing out
      clearly. With the aid of these pictures, I can see most of the letters
      on the old photograph, but the lower left corner was blank.

      An interesting feature of the stone is the animal depicted on the
      other side. Hamilton (2006, 375) describes it as a jackal, or the Seth
      animal (2007, 33). (I have pondered over the origin of that mythical
      beast myself; its snout reminds me of an aardvark, or an anteater; or
      its destructive nature suggests a connection with the locust.) I think
      the letters on the left side of the inscribed sign refer to this

      Many of these Sinai texts have the basic form of labels, with Dh
      "this" introducing the object. The sign Dh is found in that column,
      below what appears to be an upright hand (K), and above the horns of
      the ox. Taking this as the starting point, the sequence runs:

      Dh ( two parallel horizontal lines: = )
      ' ('alep, ox-head)
      ` (`ayin, eye)
      S (fish; Hamilton follows the erroneous line that the fish is D)
      Hh (H., a house with two rooms and a yard, representing h.asir 'court,
      mansion'; there is another instance at the top of the stone; the
      courtyard can be rounded, and the one in the corner seems to have a
      bent line at the top; the two rooms can be adjacent with the yard
      section covering both; here the rooms and yard are all in parallel, in
      both cases).

      Note that Hamilton wants to turn the 'western' end of the long line in
      the middle (I do not show it extended so far but it does apparently
      pass right between the ox-head and the eye) into a snake, hence N, but
      I am not fully convinced.

      So my reading would be:
      Dh ' ` S Hh

      If we think Hebrew (or consult a Hebrew lexicon), and divide the
      letters into words, with introductory zeh (This), and keep the animal
      depicted on the back of the stone in mind, there is a ready solution

      Tell me if you can see what I see, or something different.

      Brian Colless
      Massey U, NZ
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