Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reforming a Language – A Familiar Story

Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2). 
    Somewhere around the time of Jeremiah, who was born between 650 and 645 B.C., based on a series of events that occurred about four centuries later, namely the letter of Aristeas written to his brother Philocrates, as brought into the library in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus. Whether the letter and its history is accurate (there are always questions about ancient Egyptian history), it speaks of an event that is found elsewhere in history, namely, the movement of numerous Jewish priests from Jerusalem to Thebes along the upper Nile in Egypt, carrying Egyptian records with them.
    The script, called Meroïtic, was the written phonetic script of Northern Sudan in the ancient civilization of Kush, located west of the Red Sea near the city of Meroë, which was located on the east bank of the Nile in the area known as Török. These Jews later occupied an area in ancient Kush, near Meroë, south of where the Atbara River flows off to the east.
    Interested in promoting Judaism, and not wanting anything to do with Alexandrian society, they devised a plan to communicate through this Meroïtic language, which was basically a series of Egyptian characters .
    Today, it is seen as the oldest written script in Africa other than Egyptian hieroglyphs and the related hieratic and demotic scripts. It has a hieroglyphic form using some adopted Egyptian signs and a cursive form similar to demotic. The script had one innovation uncommon in ancient written scripts, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics or Greek, in that there was a word separator, similar in function to spaces in modern scripts, that looks similar to a colon. Meroïtic is first attested in the 2nd century BC and was continuously used until the fall of Meroë in the mid-4th century AD.
The script was rediscovered in the 19th and 20th centuries as Western archaeologists began investigating the ancient ruins of Török northern Sudan (the ancient Kingdom of Kush). The first substantial progress in deciphering Meroïtic came around 1909 when British archaeologist Francis Llewellyn Griffith was able to use a barque stand bearing the names of Meroïtic rulers in both Meroïtic and Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Meroïtic hieroglyphs were then corresponded to the Meroïtic cursive script, allowing the transliteration of Meroïtic.
Some vocabulary was later deciphered by scholars including loan words from Egyptian, gods, names, honorific phrases, and other common words. However, the script remains largely undeciphered. The greatest hope for decipherment, an inscription similar to the Rosetta Stone, containing writing in Meroïtic and a known language such as Egyptian, Greek, Latin, or Axumite, has yet to be found.
    Further confounding research is the debate regarding which language family Meroïtic belongs to. Cognate (related) analysis has proceeded extremely slowly due to the dispute as to which language family Meroïtic properly belongs.
    It is evident that no language has ever been fully deciphered using purely statistical or mathematical techniques, and Meroïtic will of course never be completely understood using these tools alone—what will be needed, is something like the Rosetta Stone, or the Urim and Thummim.
    In particular, many of the subtleties of human semantics and syntax are irregular or do not follow consistent patterns, which statistics would be excellent at analyzing. Thus, we have a language, Meroïtic, that is simply not going to be deciphered until the time of the Lord.
    Does this sound familiar?
    Nephi and Moroni’s “Reformed Egyptian was in that category. It simply could not be translated until the Lord was ready to have it done. Even today, 186 years after Joseph Smith translated the Reformed Egyptian from the plates, no other Egyptologist has shown his ability to do so, even from the scrap of glyphs shown below.
It is not that Meroïtic (2nd image above) or Reformed Egyptian (above) are the same language, or even similar. It is important to note that they both evidently came about from the same source—some type of reformed or altered Egyptian language
    It should be noted that this reformed or altered Meroïtic script is not a fluke somewhere, or a language meant to  be hidden from the people like Nephi’s Reformed Egyptian, since it was used in the Kingdom of Kush, from the 2nd century B.C. onwards until the 5th century A.D., about a 700 year period, in an area of the Nile Valley stretching from Philae in Nubia to near Khartoum in Sudan. The form of this script was borrowed from Egyptian, but the way the system worked was quite different.
    Whether or not this Meroïtic had the same type of beginning as did Lehi’s Reformed Egyptian is not known, and may never be determined until the Lord reveals more of his secrets.
Eastern Sudanic (Northern) language family with Meroïtic inserted according to the research of Rilly, who considered it a possible vestigial language of Lower Nubia
    The important part is that there is a pattern that is not connected to the Book of Mormon or the scriptural record, but to history itself. One can only wonder where we might be in better understanding Lehi’s Reformed Egyptian if knowledgeable scholars spent less time trying to convince us it did not exist and more time in trying to find a way it might fit into the Egyptian world as Rilley did with Meroïtic.
     Once again, the point is there is a type—a pattern shown in the Meroïtic script that should open the door in Academia to where a similar language, such as Lehi’s Reformed Egyptian might also fit. After all, if there is one type of altered Egyptian that can be traced back to the Egyptian language, and there are as many Eastern Sudanic languages in that family as Rilley has shown and orthodox Egyptologists accept, there is certainly a reason to see if Lehi’s Reformed Egyptian is another such language and see where it might fit. If this idea was connected to anything other than the Book of Mormon scriptural record, it would have sufficient merit to warrant such an effort. It might also, along this same line, be suggested that if this idea was not connected with a different approach than the one found at BYU over the past hundred years, namely, Mesoamerica, it might even find some interest there where a greater reason to look into it could be found than regular Acdemia.
The complete Meroïtic text or glyphs. The main impetus behind deciphering Meroïtic was done by the English scholar Francis Llewellyn Griffith (1862-1934), who worked out the phonetic value of the signs by comparing proper names on texts in Meroïtic and Egyptian
    It should also be noted that while scholars can read the glyphs, they cannot understand what the texts mean, because the problem is that the Meroïtic language is an isolate as far as linguists know. It has no known relatives, and the meaning of its words and its grammatical structure remain relatively obscure, therefore so impeding attempts at reading of the texts.
    As Moroni closed out his father’s record, saying: “But the Lord knoweth the things which we have written, and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof” (Mormon 9:34). Again, this is not to say that Meroïtic is Moroni’s language, or has anything to do with the Book of Mormon scriptural record—but it is a type. Consequently, we now have proof of such a thing as Reformed Egyptian that Egyptologists accept as real and existing, but cannot read and do not understand.

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