Ass-Syrians

By R. D. Flavin

3-15-2013


The flag of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party.

     The 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!


Proto-Hieroglyphic Egyptian markings from Umm el-Qa`āb/Abydos claimed by Dreyer to date to ca. 3200 BCE.

     We 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 and then.

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 ( *bayt- “house”) owes its origin not to the Egyptians, but rather a borrowing from the Hurrians, Syria's neighbors to the north (at the time). Ah, the more you know...

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Egyptian sign for 'house' (pr), Akkadian E-bitu, Proto-Siniatic 'Bet',Hurrian cuneiform for 'house' (purni, puruli), alphabetic Ugaritic cuneiform 'Bet', Phoenician 'Beth', and modern Hebrew handwriting 'Bet'.

     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.


Fr. Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) and two publications of Egyptian hieroglyphs (Kircher 1650; Kircher 1676).

     Much like Medieval Christians and occultists dabbled in the mysterious Kabbalah and the Hebrew alphabet, with revolutionary aplomb, two French authors stirred things up with unexpected (I hope...) results.  Charles François Dupuis (Collège de Lisieux, Professor of Rhetoric) survived and prospered during the French Revolution despite publishing his opinion that Christ never existed, but was merely a Sun-hero myth (Dupuis 1795).  Critics were sarcastic, and some were even manic about his Sun-hero thesis (Priestly 1799).  Shortly afterward, a racist Masonic wannabe, Antoine Fabre d'Olivet, a Neo-Pythagorian poet by trade (or con), was rebuked by Napoleon for healing a deaf child in the street and was deemed a “Non-Person,” and later excommunicated by the Catholic Church.   And, his subsequent publishing of a book claiming that the “true” Hebrew script and meaning is contained in Egyptian hieroglyphs certainly didn't help his street-cred (Fabre d'Olivet 1815-1816).   Thankfully, as the Wheel of Karma spins, less than a decade later, the French scholar, Jean-François Champollion (Collège de France, Professor of Egyptology), correctly deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs in 1822 ( Champollion 1824), and the claims of Kircher, Fabre d'Olivet, and many others were proved to be non-sensical and incorrect. Okay, so Napoleon's looting of Egypt and the acquisition of the Rosetta Stone helped ...a bit.  After thirteen hundred years, Egyptian hieroglyphs were back!  [Note: My brief dalliance with a zodiacal Jesus may be read at “The Zodiacs: Maps of Heaven and History.”]


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!  [Note: More on the Ugaritic abecedary may be perused at my “The Oldest ABC's: The Ugarit Cuneiform Alphabet.”]


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 arah 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).  Phoenicia passed along their abjad to Greece ca. 1000-900 BCE, Hebrew is attested with the eighth century Mesha Stele (var. Moabite Stone), which mentions the "House of Omni" and Yahwey (though it's held that King David existed ca. 1000 BCE), and South Semitic gave rise to the Old South Arabian script in the eigth century BCE (the last inscription is dated to ca. 554 CE),diffused and inspired the Brahmi script in the mid-fourth century BCE, with the first Arabic script emerging at 512 CE, and then with The Quran (allegedly 609-632 CE), the alphabet spread to far away places (Diringer 1948).  It's been fun in the ancient Near East, but what's happening NOW is always more important.


Fig. 10. The lzbet Sartah Sherd,” a twelfth century BCE Proto-Canaanite abecedary (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.

Bibliography:

Champollion, 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 Précis of the hieroglyphic system of the ancient Egyptians, or Research on elements of the first Sacred Writings on their various combinations, and the relationship of this system with other Egyptian graphical methods”). Paris: Treuttel et Würtz.

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. 59: 63+65+67-71+73-113+115-124.

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. 1997. "The Last Wedge." Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vorderasitische Archäologie. 86: 43–95.

Houston et al. 2003. 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. Comparative Study of Society and History. 45: 430-479.

Kircher, Athanasius.  1650.  Obeliscus Pamphilius.  Rome: Grignani Press.
Kircher, Athanasius.  1676.  Sphinx Mystagoga.  Amsterdam: Ex Officina Janssonio-Waesbergiana.
Kircher, Athanasius.  1679.  Turris Babel, sive Archontologia qua Primo Priscorum post diluvium hominum vita. mores rerumque gestarum magnitudo, Secundo Turris fabrica civitatumque exstructio, confusio linguarum, et inde gentium transmigrationis, cum principalium inde enatorum idiomatum historia, multiplici eruditione describuntur et explicantur.  Amsterdam: Ex Officina Janssonio-Waesbergiana.

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. Researches 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 1,2,3,"
Rick

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