Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Snakes and spells and mummy smells? Deciphering of earliest Semitic text reveals talk of snakes and spells
A 5,000-year-old Semitic text dealing with magical spells and snakes has been deciphered from an ancient Egyptian pyramid inscription, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced Monday.

The texts, which were first discovered a century ago in a 24th Century BCE Egyptian pyramid, are the earliest continuous Semitic texts ever to have been deciphered, said Semitic languages Prof. Richard Steiner of New York's Yeshiva University in a premiere presentation at the Hebrew University.

The passages, serpent spells written in hieroglyphic characters, are estimated to have been written between the 25th to the 30th centuries BCE.

Says they were found in the pyramid of Unas at Saqqara. This part is interesting:
Although written in Egyptian characters, the texts turned out to be composed in the Semitic language spoken by the Canaanites in the third millennium BCE, a very archaic form of the languages later known as Phoenician and Hebrew.

. . .

The new discovery shows that they also imported magical spells intended to protect royal mummies against poisonous snakes that were thought to understand Canaanite.

Although the Egyptians viewed their culture as far superior to that of their neighbors, their morbid fear of snakes made them open to the borrowing of Semitic magic.

Hence, we now know the origin of "Snakes. . . . why'd it have to be snakes?"

UPDATE: More here.