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Interpretation of Hieroglyphics.
to the varying fancy of the students, or their skill in hermeneutics. These count for absolutely nothing among our available resources for the recovery of the lost history of Egypt, and might have been omitted, had we not considered ourselves bound in justice to make the enumeration complete.
After these follow 163 determinatives; but what they determine, except their own indeterminateness, our readers may judge by a specimen or two:
The sign of a star, for instance, is determinative of "a star, a month, a fortnight, an hour;" also of "constellations, the swan, the thigh, Ursa Major;" "to adore; a gate."
But still more indefinite is the sign of the disc of the sun, which is determinative of "disc, the sun, to give light, to shine, to gleam; of solar time, as a year, a month, dawn, a day; yesterday, sunset, night, a festival, an hour." So that the sun can define at once day and night, a year and an hour, the dawn and the sunset.
From this we may pass on to the alphabets, of which there are two, the older and the more modern; these being, in point of fact, the only reliable expositors of the wisdom hidden under the veil of the hieroglyph.
The first of these contains 130 letters, or vocal sounds, ending with the Greek letters of combinations, X, ox, after u, omitting the letters c, d, e, g, o, q, r; some of these letters, however, probably finding equivalents in letters of corresponding sound. The more recent alphabet contains 110 letters, with the same omissions, and ending with u.
In the old alphabet, the human mouth sounds either L or R, and the lion couchant the same.
In the later we have the sun's disc shining; man with disc on his head, holding two palm branches; man without the disc; man with palm twig on his head; a mask, cows' horns, the leg of a couch, a frog, a flying scarabæus, a panegyry, the lower part of the same, a crooked stick, or tongue, and the lid of a box; or thirteen different objects, to represent the letter H, with what satisfaction to the interpreter, if possessed of a reasonable scepticism, it is not hard to say.
The letter I has three vocal signs,-the human eye, a jackal, and a fish; while K has a man holding up his hands, a wig, a tear, an angry ape, an uræus, a reptile, the side of a seat, an angle, and a vase on a stand, or nine different objects to represent the single sound.
We have the very same signs already employed to represent I and K, to represent L or R, namely, the human eye, and the
But we pass on to S, with which we shall close. S has fifteen objects to represent its phonetic power: a star, a seated female, a sitting child, a jackal, (already used for I,) a sheep, a
goose, an egg, an arrow, a reed growing, a footstool, a flute, a shuttle, a quiver-top, a skein of thread, and a basket.
We believe that a little industry in analysis would show some one object out of the whole collection, representing in turn nearly every letter of the alphabet; and, again, several letters of the alphabet having more than one sign in common. to this we add, that many signs are themselves undetermined, that is, that the objects which they are designed to represent cannot be defined, and that the vocal powers of as large a number besides cannot be fixed, we conceive we have shown cause sufficiently valid for pausing ere we pronounce dogmatically upon points which rest on hieroglyphic proof. Were all that the hieroglyphics could tell us unravelled, it would form but a fragmentary portion of the old language of Egypt,-only as much as was embodied in public documents, epitaphs, genealogies, and such-like things; so that, even thus, we should be at a loss for all that made the common life and literature of the people. Surely they cultivated the arts,-these mighty engineers, and sculptors, and painters, and astronomers; these delineators of all natural objects with such surprising accuracy and facility, that we recognise them at the distance of three thousand years, as if they had been done but yesterday; these embalmers, who under a burning sun could bid defiance to the inroads of corruption on dead humanity, and have handed down to the present day all-convincing tokens of their practical chemistry; those poets and philosophers, whose strains descend to us in faint echoes of myth and tradition, the songs of Osiris, the wisdom of Thoth and Hermes; and all this must have needed a wealthy vocabulary for its conveyance from lip to listening ear. And they loved, and suffered, and wept, and rejoiced, and married their brides, and buried their dead, and had all manner of communication in articulate speech, such as belongs to a highly civilized community; yet of all this, which constitutes the real life of a people, so far as research has hitherto gone, nothing or next to nothing has been recovered.
We receive, therefore, the story of the interpretation of the tale above alluded to, with extreme limitation. We have seen how no one inscription of any length has been interpreted without recourse to conjectural emendation and palpable guessing; and therefore we will not receive, without more full recognition of the process of translation whereby an Egyptian tale has been made accessible to modern savans, the belief that a close translation has yet been accomplished.
A fact, however, more convincing, perhaps, than all which we have urged upon the subject is this, that the hieroglyphics of the Rosetta Stone have never yet found a competent interpreter, even with the help of its two fellow inscriptions, Enchorial and Greek. If, with the aid of these equivalents, especially the
Chronology of Eratosthenes.
latter, this Stone still refuses to render up the whole of its secret to the astute questioner, how can we expect inscriptions unaccompanied with a like key to be more complaisant? Bunsen himself says, with an emphasis we could not exceed, "We confidently maintain that no man living is competent to read and explain the whole of any one section of the Book of the Dead, far less one of the historical papyri:" (vol. i., p. 267:) with which quotation we leave the subject.
Nor let us be thought unduly exacting, if we require a more satisfying account than has yet been accorded of the critical reasons which governed Eratosthenes' exclusion of some of the names from the fuller lists of Egyptian Dynasties which were in existence in his day. To say that he used the Grecian method of computation, with its simple lists of reigning Sovereigns, and the corresponding dates of their reigns, while Manetho and the native historians followed the Egyptian or genealogical mode of record, is merely to amuse us with words, and ventilate a hypothesis, while seeming to proffer an explanation. How came the Greek chronologer to distinguish the reigning Sovereigns in Manetho's lists from the other members of the imperial house, honoured with an equally prominent place in the catalogues of the Egyptian Priest? That he has made the distinction, and correctly, we will not question, as our object is not to dispute, but to obtain satisfaction. We cavil neither at the competency nor at the honesty of Eratosthenes, but simply ask, as so much is built upon his foundation, by what canon the Athenian architect proceeded, when he laid that foundation down. And why should the smaller list of Eratosthenes, and the shorter period, be chosen, rather than the more plethoric list and wider margin of the chronology of Manetho, save that the scantier numbers and briefer time dovetail somewhat more readily into Bunsen's system?
We want infinitely more light, too, we must add, both historical and chronographic, on the subject of the Middle Empire,that of the supposed Hyksos, or Shepherd-Kings, a cloud-land of peculiar mistiness and vagueness, the pons asinorum of Egyptologers hitherto,-a problem on which scarcely any two men of science are yet agreed. Besides the question of the length of the period to be assigned to this series of foreign potentates, differing in the calculations of divers persons as much as a thousand years, and the identification, or otherwise, of the Hyksos with the Israelites in Egypt, on which the most opposite opinions prevail, the Tablet of Abydos ignores both the persons and the period altogether. An examination of that most important stone monument shows no interval whatever between the Kings of Manetho's Twelfth Dynasty and his Eighteenth,―the two series following in direct succession. So large an intercalation as that of nine hundred years, and so wide a history as that
of the thirty generations claimed for this period, will require an amount of evidence to bear it out in proportion to the importance of the demand upon our belief. By every consideration of what is due to truth, to others, and to ourselves, we are bound to beg for firm standing-ground,-something to justify our reliance, be it ever so small. We ask no wide area, comprehensive, vast; only one small platform on which we may say, as we stamp with assured foot, to confirm our sense of security, "Here, at least, we are safe: this is rock beneath our feet."
We are not prepared to receive the Egyptian chronology until the evidence be clearer, fuller, and less questionable than it is. That some points are made out satisfactorily, we are ready to concede; but, as a whole, we confess to serious misgivings respecting the tenableness of the Chevalier's scheme. Hyksos period, however, as we have already urged, is the great stumbling-block in the way of our belief, wanting, as it seems to us, stronger evidence in every way of its nature and duration, requiring, as it does, a complication in its mode of reckoning, to reduce it to Bunsen's figures, seriously damaging to the hypothesis.
In the case of the really ascertained Empires and facts, we have the threefold evidence of historical writings, tabular sculptures and inscriptions, and architectural remains; but, in the case of the Hyksos, we are thrown almost entirely upon the former, and even these shadowy and unsatisfactory to an extreme degree. A tradition or two, relating to an era two thousand years before Christ, reach the ear in echoes so faint as to make a very indistinct impression upon the sense. We naturally look for stronger vouchers than these for facts, assuming them to be such, which took nine centuries for their evolution, and which, from the mere protractedness of their existence and development, must have left a permanent impression upon the land. Instead of this, there is really little more than the echo of a whispered tradition, preserved in the pages of a Church historian of the ninth century, of undoubted good faith, it may be, but of seemingly shallow capacity, and shut up within very confined notions. What further evidence the author may exhibit in the course of his Fourth Book, which he encourages us shortly to expect, and which we shall await with great eagerness, we cannot tell; but that it will add, in any essential measure, to the weight of existing evidence, we must honestly aver our doubt. Reasoning may apply itself with some success to the distribution of its present materials, and to the arrangement and emphasis of its arguments; but reasoning, however close and cogent, will not avail instead of historical data. It is not a question of logic, but of fact; not of luminous ability in the advocate, an endowment we cheerfully concede him,-but of matter for the uses of the historian.
Chronology of Scripture.
We have now to direct attention to a portion of our author's work which presents nothing pleasing, but much that is difficult and embarrassing to a conscientious Christian critic. readers will have perceived that not only isolated conclusions of Chevalier Bunsen, but even the entire scheme of his chronological system, are in direct antagonism to the authoritative revelations of Holy Scripture, as they are generally understood.
To obviate this reflection on our author, some have contended that the chronological numbers which are generally regarded as scriptural, possess no divine authority, but are merely the productions of Archbishop Usher and other chronologers. Now this is not a fair statement of the case. Moses has certainly given us a series of generations from Adam, the first man, to Noah, and from Noah to Jacob. These generations are not only confirmed by other Old-Testament writers, but have received the express sanction of Matthew and Luke. So far, then, as the number of these generations is concerned, it is clear that, although, like every other portion of the sacred text, they are open to just criticism, they are in their true and proper sense a part of revealed truth. But, it will be asked, what are the lengths of these generations? Every well informed Bible reader is aware, that the sacred books have come down to us through three distinct and independent religious bodies, and in three different languages or dialects. The Hebrew Jews of Jerusalem have given us copies of the Old Testament in the square Hebrew character; the Samaritans preserved copies of the Pentateuch in the Old Hebrew, or Samaritan, character; while the Egyptian Jews of Heliopolis have been mainly instrumental in supplying us with copies of the Septuagint or Greck version of the OldTestament books. Each of these has different numbers attached to the generations of the Patriarchs. We give the reader a summary of these figures:
From the Creation to the Flood
From the Flood to the Birth of Abraham.
Hebrew. Samaritan. Greek. 1,656 1,307 2,262 292 942 1,072
From the Creation to the Birth of Abraham. 1,948 2,249 3,334
These discrepancies are a fair subject for critical investigation: the biblical science of the present age has given its verdict distinctly in favour of the Septuagint numbers. But however just or unjust this judgment may be, here are certainly scriptural data for the chronology of the early ages of the world's history. Beyond this term, it does not seem easy to conceive how persons can carry the age of the world, without placing their views in antagonism to Holy Writ. Yet we are bound in all candour to say, that our author has done this, and, so far as his own mind is concerned, without this result. We must admit,