Thursday, June 17, 2010

Defining "msxr" in the Egyptian Dreambook: A New Dictionary Entry

The Egyptian Dreambook, a New Kingdom classic on dream interpretation, neatly divides dreams into good and evil. Among the evil we find (r.7.7):

Dreaming about going into (or coming upon) a msxr 
Evil Dream.
It means a secret plot will be hatched against him.

hr shm.t hr msxr
xpr bs pw nj md.t r=f

What is a msxr? Lexicographer Rainer Hannig considers the unique word, or spelling, to be a mistake for msxn. And what is a msxn? M, prefixed to a noun, is the morpheme of placemsxn is, accordingly, a place of sxn, that is, a place of rest, ein Ruheplatz. The word often refers to the descent of the divine powers into statues of the gods housed in the temple.

Yet while Hannig is right on the money in identifying msxr as a nominal form marking place, I wonder why he disregarded (or rejected) the possibility of reading the word as m+sxr (place of sxr)?

Sxr is the verb of planning, of counsel, and m+sxr thus signifies place of counsel, meaning that secret court where plans are made. The Akkadian word mapras, by the way, not only serves to name the construction marking place in that language; it literally signifies place of prs, or place of separations, i.e., decisions. Egyptian msxr also calls to mind Arabic majlis, the place of sitting, of counsel, another mapras noun. Yet msxr need not refer to an official Rathaus; it might be anywhere the cunning meet to plot. It might refer to any corner.

The dreamer has thus gone into--did he stumble upon it?--the very place where secrets are discussed and plans laid, a precarious ground to walk upon in a groundless dreamworld. In Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, you will recall, dreams have no sure ground: the dreamer may even be suspended above the earth, as if on a crow's-nest.

Indeed the interpretation of the dream all but insists on the reading of msxr as place of counsel, for we learn that a "secret word" will now work against him: the dreamer has, in fact, activated a secret plot against himself by entering into its own place, the secret council. The two noun phrases, msxr and bs nj md.t, fall perfectly into place:

Dreaming about stumbling upon a place of counsel.
It means a secret plan will be hatched against him.

The wording in the Egyptian Dreambook also recalls an obscure place in the Doctrine and Covenants, a book which shows many parallels to Semitic and Egyptian usage:

And now I show unto you a mystery [bs], a thing [md.t = thing or word] which is had in secret chambers [msxr], to bring to pass [xpr] even your destruction in process of time, and ye knew it not: But now I tell it unto you, and ye are blessed (38:13-14).

Although the anxious reader is not told what Brother Joseph further saw or heard about the secret chambers and its mystery, the plotting, "in process of time," unfolds far differently than that which the Egyptian Dreambook portends. Joseph the Dreamer unravels the Egyptian dream unto favor: the plot against his life bursts with blessing on his head.


There are two editions of the Dreambook. Alan Gardiner prepared the first; an old school chum, Kasia Szpakowska, now Senior Lecturer in Egyptology at Swansea University, Wales, has recently published a new edition.

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