Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Water of Sebus and The Waters of Amun

Only two extant Egyptian texts describe semi-nomadic Semitic tribes bringing their flocks to a place of water. One is Alma 17 in the Book of Mormon; the other, found in Papyrus Anastasi IV, is a report of the Egyptian border patrol (discussed in James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts, #131, 106-07).

I. And after he had been in the service of the king three days, as he was with the Lamanitish servants going forth with their flocks to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus, and all the Lamanites drive their flocks hither, that they may have water (Alma 17:26; elsewhere termed the waters of Sebus).

II. We are finished letting the tribe of Edomite bedouin pass by Fort Merneptah-hotpe-hi-ma'at, l.p.h., which is in Tjeku, to the pools of Pi-Tum [of] Merneptah-hotpe-hi-ma'at. . .in order to keep their flocks alive (An IV).

The word for pools, so Professor Hoch tells us, is a Hebrew loan word into New Kingdom Egyptian [bi4=r=ka=ta, *birkata, *barkata]. Pools occurs in the Egyptian onomastica, the vocabulary lists kept for scribal consultation. Spanish also has the word: alberca (from the Arabic pool, swimming pool).

Other Semitic loan words into Egyptian describe "the place of water," and prominent among these is *mash'aba Watering Place (Hoch, #205, 156): "The word occurs in the onomastica among bodies of water," and it is the standard expression in New Kingdom Egypt for such a place. The Water or Waters of Sebus might well have been "The mash'aba Sebus," which has a nice alliterative ring to it. Besides, given that the element ma- is a marker of place, the Place of Sha'ba, or even the Waters of Sha'ba, absent that element, what do we see but Sebus itself? She, by the way, is also the Egyptian word for lake or pool: the Waters of the Pool of Bus? Might we hear an echo of Bes, a divinity associated with the animal world?

Another borrowing into Egyptian from Semitic (Hoch, 289-290) is shaqona or shakuna? as in:

Akkadian: mashqitu Watering Places
Arabic: siqaya

The word for revealed law in Islam is famously shari'a, which, along with mashra'a, primarily denotes the path to the water hole, drinking place. The River Jordan is thus Nahr ash-Shari'a, the Syro-Palestinian "Waters of Sebus" for many a desert tribe (see Wehr's Dictionary of Modern Arabic). Isaiah unfolds the Waters of Shiloah, from which the thirsty, in quietude, may draw living waters, and of course, the Bible yields many such Waters for the thirsting seeker.

The Egyptian onomastica also yield the expression "the water, or waters of So-and-So" as place name, as is the case with the branches of the Nile Delta (see Alan H. Gardiner, Ancient Egyptian Onomastica, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947). Note that the Egyptian word mw, a collective plural, may be translated as either water or waters, just as in Alma:

P3 mw nj P3-r'  The Water of Pre [Re: the Water of the Sun] II 164*
(And cf. jtrw '3, the "great river," a watering place for cattle)
P3 mw [nj] Pth  The Water of Ptah, II 155*
P3 mw [nj] Jmn  The Water of Amun 
(recalling the Waters of Mormon = Meriamun?)
P3 mw [nj] Mnm3'tre'  The Water of Menma'trei [= Sethos I], II 155*
(The Waters of Enduring is the Justice of Re)
P3 mw 3  The Three Waters

Given the heroic deeds of Prince Ammon at the Water of Sebus, may we not also call the place the Water of Ammon (P3 mw Jmn)?

Book of Mormon Sebus, by the way, does something recall the Semitic word for sun (sh/s-m-s), especially in its Ugaritic form, Shapash, which last often signifies the female sun (Hathor?). Water of the Sun matches the Egyptian place name P3 mw r', The Waters of Re. Another stab at Sebus appears in the Book of Mormon Onomasticon, where Professor Paul Hoskisson ties the name to a West Semitic root, sbs, "which means 'to gather/assemble (persons).' It appears as an Aramaic loan word in Neo-Babylonian texts" (see Chicago Assyrian Dictionary S, 341, sub "subbusu"; AHW, 1053). According to Hoskisson, Lamanite Sebus may thus denote a place of assembly or gathering. One thinks, here, not of the tropics of course, but a drier zone, savanna or desert.

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