By R. D. Flavin
Ba'ath water is dirtier than ever... Iraq is
supposed to be sovereign and autonomous (with 50,000 US
troops remaining to “advise-and-assist”), but insurgent
attacks, ethnic and Islamic sectarian conflicts, and a
return to the widespread denigration of women (along with
physical abuse and worse), the post-Saddam nation is still
at war ...with itself. Baathist Syria is reportedly
following Iraq by gassing its own citizens (var. rebels,
as when Iraq used chemical weapons against its Kurdish
population in 1988), and with both al-Qaeda and US
opposition support, it's a full-fledged civil war.
Those Ass-Syrians are most troublesome, despite their
glorious ancient accomplishments, but much has changed
since Iraq and Syria were in their respective
heydays. After a series of classical occupations
(Persian, Greek, and Roman), Iraq fell to Islam in 633 CE
and Syria succumbed in 640 CE. And, in modern times,
after the French and British mandates of 1920, the
Ass-Syrians have been doing their damnedest to be mean and
bitter to themselves and most everyone around them.
Such a waste!
refer to ancient Iraq as the “Cradle of Civilization” with
the rise of the aboriginal Sumerians and the invention of
“writing” ca. 3200 BCE (contra Dreyer 1998). Giving
credit where credit is due, while other early
“civilizations” made their mark with monumental grandeur
(Egypt), or achieved much while in isolation (China and
Peru), the Sumerians did it first (Kramer 1981).
However, in spite of indigenous accomplishments, the
Sumerians were soon overthrown by the East
Semitic-speaking Akkadians (who prudently incorporated
cuneiform writing and even kept the Sumerian language
around for special occasions), only to cede their gains to
a rival East Semitic-speaking people, the Assyrains from
the city-state kingdom of Aššur (var. Ashur). The
Assyrians ruled ancient Iraq (and, at times, neighboring
regions) from ca. 2030 to 605 BCE, when they were
conquered by the Persian/Medes. As the ancient
Greeks began their name-game, Herodotus called the land we
know today as Syria, “the Philistine Syria”, yet those
overreaching early Latins weren't content and in 135 CE,
the Roman Emperor Hadrian changed it to “Provincia Syria
Palaestina.” 'Syria' was derived from the Greek Ασσυρία (Assyria),
which was used indiscriminately for parts of Syria,
Turkey, and Iran (Nöldeke 1871, Tvedtnes 1981, Frye 1992),
ignorantly combining West Semitic-speaking Syria'with the
East Semitic-speaking Assyrians (who borrowed much from
the Akkadians). Oy vey, mistakes are made every now
Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions on a sphinx from Serâbit el-Khâdin and Wadi el-Ḥôl.
East Semitic, encompassing Akkadian, Assyrian, and Eblaite (the Amorites used Akkadian in their writing and accounting, but spoke a West Semitic dialect), died out ca. 75 CE with a Babylonian almanac written in Neo-Assyrian cuneiform (Sachs 1976, Geller 1997, Houston et al. 2003). West Semitic, however, has had a stellar history as ancient Syrians in the employ of Egypt (some still argue “enslaved”) invented the alphabet ca. 1700 BCE while working at the turquoise mines in Serâbit el-Khâdin, Sinai (Petrie 1906). The date of ca. 1700 BCE has recently been challenged by the discovery of two Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions at Wadi el-Ḥôl in the Qena Bend of the Egyptian Western Desert and tentatively dated to the late 12th to early 13th Dynasty, ca. 1850-1700 BCE (Darnell et al. 2005). While I'm not qualified to dispute Darnell's suggested early dates (and despite years of attempts at dating patina or desert varnish, no reliable way yet exists for rock art or script dating, other than stylistically and with context from nearby archaelogical remains), I can disagree with Darnell's imagined scenario of Egyptian military scribes recording an Asiatic (Syrian or Proto-Canaanite) script. The Wadi el-Ḥôl inscriptions were not chiseled or engraved, but rather quickly scratched using a handy rock such as one would use to accomplish parietal graffiti. Indeed, I would further advance that the inscriptions were done by Syrian workers who stylistically blended elements of Egyptian hieratic so passersby would think that the markings were simply poorly wrought hieratic, in other words, a deliberate disguise rather than direct borrowing. It's been debated since immediately after Petrie that the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet (var. abjad - without vowels; a,b, g, d, etc., the letter order before the Greek "alphabet") was directly based on Egyptian hieratic with their rarely used (if ever) 24 consonantal uniliterals. Some alphabetolgists have recently suggested that Beth ב (
Knowledge of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing all but ended with The Graffito of Esmet-Akhom, ca. 396 CE, at Philae, a sacred island near the First Cataract of the river Nile, followed by some Demotic graffiti dated to 452 CE, and finally concluding with the closing of the temple complex at Philae by Justinian in 550 CE. The Egyptian language continued, however, with the use of the alphabetic Coptic script. The ability to 'read' Egyptian hieroglyphs may have disappeared, but the “Sacred Writings” remained popular and after the invention of printing, many works in the sixteenth century began to feature hieroglyphs as curiosities, and in the seventeenth century the works of Fr. Athanasius Kircher (Collegio Romano [Jesuit], Professor of Mathematics) claimed to show translations of the forgotten script through comparison to Coptic. He was the Renaissance-Dude of his day and his works (Kircher 1650, 1676, 1679) were taken as learned truths – modern Egyptologists call his work many unkind names.
Charles François Dupuis, Antoine Fabre d'Olivet, and Jean-François Champollion.
Now, returning to West Semitic, as the Amorite Period (ca. 2000–1595 BCE) ended, a wonderfully successful city-state which excelled in trading by sea and land, Ugarit, in ancient Syria, was established ca. 1500 BCE and as the Ugaritic language is based on Amorite, we may guess that some Amorites migrated a bit south in Syria and started anew. Ugarit was destroyed by the Sea Peoples (those marauding bikers with boats who raided the Levant and took out Egypt for a couple of dynasties) in ca. 1200-1190 BCE. Lost to history for over three millennium, Ugarit was discovered accidentally in 1928 and the following archaeologists unearthed a massive collection of clay tablets written in Sumerian, Akkadian, Hurrian, and Ugaritic cuneiform, as well as Egyptian and Luwian hieroglyphs, and the still undeciphered Cypro-Minoan script. As the native Ugaritic revealed itself to be Northwest Semitic and related to Phoenician, Hebrew, and Aramaic, a marvelously unique cuneiform abecedary in Ugaritic was discovered in 1948. Dated to ca. 1400-1200, the letter order is nearly identical to subsequent abjads and alphabets, including our present-day Roman alphabet. Most cool!
A Ugarit abecedary discovered in 1948, photograph by M. Deitrich, reproduction permission granted by Suleiman Sarra, Cultural Affairs, Embassy of The Syrian Arab Republic in 1994.
After the destruction of Ugarit, two related groups of exiles headed south and established Phoenicia and the split nations of Judea and Israel. Bypassing the myth of Moses, Proto-Canaanite (var. Old Canaanite) inscriptions have been found in “Canaan” dating from the twelfth to eleventh centuries BCE. Continuing the all-to-rare archaeological equivalent of a “Eureka!” moment, in 1976 Moshe Kochavi discovered an Old Canaanite abecedary at ‘Izbet Ṣarṭah which is dated to the twelfth century BCE (Kochavi 1977). The letter order is somewhat askew (understood as amateurish), but is close enough to be recognizable as representing our dear abjads and alphabets (Cross 1980).
The Baathist Party is still going strong in Syria and though outlawed in Iraq in 2003, recent videos by the current leader-in-exile, Secretary of the Iraqi Regional Command of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party, Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri, have been broadcast to agitate the hornet's nest that is present-day Iraq. As if dealing with Kurdish violence (both perpetrated by and directed against), the age-old street-fighting between Sunni and Shite Muslims, and the increasingly deadly and opportunistic weren't enough, the Iraqi Baathists want back in the corruption game. Just a few days ago, 24 innocents died from two car-bombs and a suicide bomber in the famous (for poor security) Green Zone in downtown Baghdad. I really feel bad for the 50,000 troops stationed there to “advise advise and assist.” Iraq is still far from “Mission Accomplished.”
The Syrian Civil War is a difficult call... Ideally, contingents from Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt should take care of their local problem, but current governments are bidding their time and hoping the US will step forward (and foot the bill for an extended military operation).
Founded as the Arab political party of "Unity, Liberty, Socialism" in 1954, whose predecessors had asked for help from the Nazis to get rid of the British, soon became a bunch of thugs and gangsters who only have use for Islam when it's socially necessary or profitable. I know the Baathist Party in Syria and the underground resurgence in Iraq won't last that much longer, but I feel their ends will be quite messy. Maybe the Ass-Syrians deserve their inevitable fate or maybe not. Only The Shadow knows... And, the Illuminati and Billy Can-Man down at the tavern.
Jean-François. 1824. Précis du système hiéroglyphique
des anciens Égyptiens, ou Recherches sur les élémens
premiers de cette écriture sacrée, sur leurs diverses
combinaisons, et sur les rapports de ce système avec
les autres méthodes graphiques égyptiennes (“A
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Cross, Frank Moore. 1980. “Newly Found Inscriptions in Old Canaanite and Early Phoenician Scripts.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 238: 1-20.
Darnell et al. 2005.
“Two Early Alphabetic Inscriptions from the Wadi el-Ḥôl:
New Evidence for the Origin of the Alphabet from the
Western Desert of Egypt.” By John Coleman Darnell, F. W.
Dobbs-Allsopp, Marilyn J. Lundberg, P. Kyle McCarter,
Bruce Zuckerman and Colleen Manassa. The
Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
Diringer, David. 1948. The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind. New York: Philosophical Library. Based on: Diringer, David. 1937. L'Alfabeto nella storia della civilta. With an introduction by Guido Mazzoni. Florence: S. A. G. Barbera Editore. In Italian. See also: Diringer, David. 1953. The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind. 2nd edition. New York: Philosophical Library; also Diringer, David. 1968. The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind. With Reinhold Regensburger. 3rd edition in two volumes. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
Fabre d'Olivet, Antoine. 1815-1816. La Langue Hebraïque réstituée, et le véritable sens des mots hébreux rétabli et prouvé par leur analyse radicale (“The Hebraic Tongue Restored and the True Meaning of the Hebrew Words Re-established and Proved by their Radical Analysis”). 2 vols. Chez l'Auteur; Barrois l'Ainé; Eberhar. See also: 1921. The Hebraic Tongue Restored and the True Meaning of the Hebrew Words Re-established and Proved by their Radical Analysis. By Antoine Fabre d'Olivet and translated into English by Nayá Louise Redfield. New York, London: G. P. Putnam's Sons.Dreyer, Günter. 1998. Umm el-Qaab l: Das Prädynastische Königsgrab U-j und seine frühen Schriftzeugnisse ("Umm el-Qaab I: The Predynastic Royal Tomb U-j and its Earlv Writing Evidenced"). Archäologische Veröffentlichungen (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. Abteilung Kairo). Vol. 86. Mainz: Philio von Zabern. For a balance critique, see: Mattessich, Richard. 2002. “The Oldest Writings, and Inventory Tags of Egypt.” The Accounting Historians Journal. 29, 1: 195-208.
Dupuis, Charles François. 1795. Origine de tous les Cultus, ou Religion Universelle (“The Origin of All Cults, or Universal Religion”). Vols. 1-3. Published as “Par Dupuis, Citoyen François – Lan III de las République.” Paris: Chez H. Agasse, rue des Poitevins.
Frye, Richard N. 1992. “Assyria and Syria: Synonyms.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 51, 4:, 281-285.
Geller, Marckham J.
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vorderasitische Archäologie. 86: 43–95.
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Houston, Stephen and John Baines with Jerrold Cooper.
2003. "Last Writing: Script Obsolescence in Egypt,
Mesopotamia, and Mesoamerica." By Stephen Houston, and
John Baines with Jerrold Cooper.
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Athanasius. 1650. Obeliscus Pamphilius.
Rome: Grignani Press.
Kramer, Samuel Noah. 1981. History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man's Recorded History. Third revised edition. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.
Nöldeke, Th. 1871.
“ΑΣΣΥΡΙΟΣΣΥΡΙΟΣΣΥΡΟΣ.” In German. Hermes.
5, 3: 443-468.
Petrie, W. M. F. 1906.
in Sinai. London: John Murray.
Sachs, A. 1976. "The Last Datable Cuneiform Tablets." Alter Orient und Altes Testament (Kramer Anniversary Volume: Cuneiform Studies in Honor of Samuel Noah Kramer). 25: 379-398
Tvedtnes, John A. 1981. “The Origin of the Name 'Syria'.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies. 40, 2: 139-140. An attempted refutation of Nöldeke, Tvedtnes was at BYU at the time (“'Nuff Said!”), and was corrected by Fyre.
Peace, "...it's as easy as