Skip to main content

Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

See other formats

6z                    Writing and Literature
hundred miles north of Byblus is a very notable discovery in the
domain of early epigraphy, and the perspicacity with which its
decipherers Bauer, Dhorme, and Virolleaud have unravelled the
texts written by its means is worthy of the deepest respect.
Still, it is difficult to see what importance this discovery can
possess for the history of the Greek and Phoenician alphabets.
The most plausible explanation of the Ras Shamra script is that
it was invented by a community which had recognized the use-
fulness of purely alphabetic writing as employed by their
southern neighbours, but felt itself too much tied by its clay
writing-material and its centuries-old addiction to the wedge-
shaped (cuneiform) characters of Babylonia to abandon these
completely. The sole sidelight which on this view could be cast
by the Ras Shamra tablets upon the problem of the Phoenician
alphabet would be to suggest its existence as early as the four-
teenth century, since it seems certain that the tablets go back
to that date.
It is impossible here to do more than glance at the complica-
tions offered by the discovery, also at Byblus, of an inscription
in a new, entirely unparalleled hieroglyphic script, and by the
evidence to be found in the ancient alphabets of Arabia, namely
the Thamudic and the Sabaean. The latter, so far as they sway
the balance in any direction at all, obviously do so on the side
of the Serabit hypothesis. For us it is more important to revert
to the sarcophagus of Ahiram. If the dating to the reign of
Harnesses II be correct, then it would indeed present an obstacle,
though perhaps not an insurmountable one, to the theory pro-
posed by myself. Accordingly several Serabitists have cast doubt
upon that date. If this should seem a rather arbitrary proceed-
ing, at least it has in its favour the extraordinary similarity of
Ahiram's alphabet to that of the two statues of the Egyptian
Twenty-second Dynasty mentioned above. As eminent an
epigraphist as Lidzbarski took the view that Ahiram must be
later than the date attributed to him by Montet and Dussaud,