16/01: Joseph's Ox Horns of Uniting
While working on The Glyph Project recently, I came across this word jˁb, which is an Ancient Egyptian verb meaning "to unite". While making improvements to the page, I noticed that the word had been used in one of the phrase entries in the project, but I determined that the usage was more likely ˁb. Actually, the verb which is listed as ˁb, I expect, is actually the same word at a different point in the evolution of the language, or under the influence of a lazy scribe, or regional dialect. Those weak consonants had a tendency to disappear or become forgotten.
Anyhow, the interesting thing that I noticed was that ˁb is also a noun referring to a horn. This immediately struck me as familiar and relating to a prophecy about Ephraim. In particular, Deuteronomy 33:17 which reads:
His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh.
Note: The word we have here as unicorn, here, was, in Hebrew, referring to a wild ox.
So this verse is part of a prophecy regarding Joseph, and is here more particularly referring to his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, how are likened to the two horns of an ox. The thing that jumps out at me is that, at least in Egyptian, we have some interesting wordplay potential. Further interesting to me, is that since the verb "to unite" is often given a determinative of a horn, the Egyptian's very clearly connected the concept of horns and gathering. (I'm wondering if the horns reminded them of pitchforks or something, or if there's some behavior they were familiar with that I'm just not seeing.)
So, my immediate thought is to find out how this reads in Hebrew. Unfortunately, it doesn't look promising. Horn here is qrni and the verb is ingch, which is often translated as "gore". However, looking into this in more detail, I find that the verb refers to any kind of aggressive or forceful pushing, prodding, thrusting use of the horn and the proper translation can really depend a lot upon the context.
Anyhow, that got murkier than I was hoping, but for the time being, I'll just take Donctrine and Covenants 58:45 (as well as what we know of the roles of Ephraim and Manasseh) as an indication that the King James Version did a decent job in the interpretation.
So, seeing the excellent potential for wordplay, and more particularly, seeing how well the symbolism fits into the Egyptian system, and also seeing that it all seems nonexistent in the Hebrew, I think that we have some evidence of an Egyptian context for the prophecy.
Now, of course, the speaker was Moses, and he happens to have an Egyptian background. Being raised in the Pharaoh's household, Ancient Egyptian would likely have been his primary language, so an Egyptian background is to be expected. What remains is to wonder at the implications of the wordplay. I'm going to imagine that the wordplay was obvious to Moses and that it was there because of his Egyptian background. However, accepting that, I wonder whether he wrote it down first in Egyptian, or delivered it in Egyptian. How common was Egyptian proficiency among the Hebrews? I don't think we can assume that he necessarily received it "in Egyptian". Polyglot as he likely was, his mode of thinking, and thus, receiving revelation, would not have been subject to the same linguistic barriers that are common to people who strongly identify with only a single language. Nevertheless, the Egyptian influence would appear to be evident. However it was done, what we have now can only be traced back textually to a Hebrew document.
It's also possible that Israel made the same connection culturally, though not linguistically, and that what we have is merely evidence of a shared cultural heritage with the Egyptians.
Either way, I think it is pretty neat.