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Category: Hieroglyphs

Ibn Wayshiyya and Magic

“Magic has always had a role to play in Islamic society. Its use has often been condemned by religious scholars, yet the efficacy of magic has never been contested; the early tenth-century religious scholar al-Ash’arī (d. 324/936), to take but one example, wrote in his dogmatical work Ibána (p. 19): «(…) and we belíeve that there are magicians and magic in this world, and that magic is an existing entity in this world».

During the Middle Ages magic always kept this role not only among common people but also among the learned. In the tenth century the Brethren of Purity wrote extensively on magic in their Rasā’il (esp. IV:283- 335) and magical elements can easily be detected from a variety of sources, including the biography of the prophet Muhammad.

One of the learned authors who was very much interested in magic and esoterica was the early tenth-century Abū Bakr Ibn Wahshiyya (alive in 318/930), the author or translator of many «Nabatean» books, among them the famous al-Filāha an-Nabatiyya, «the Nabatean Agriculture>.

The Nabatean books (also called the Nabatean corpus in the following) of Ibn Wahshiyya claim to be translations from «ancient Syriac». Both the author and his book, mainly Filāha, have been controversial since the nineteenth century, when the corpus was first enthusiatically received in Europe as deriving from the ancient Babylonians, though subsequently exposed as a forgery.

There is no need to cover once again the history of the controversy, and it is enough to draw attention to the present situation. The majority of scholars have more or less ignored both Ibn Wahshiyya and his works, whereas a few, especially Toufic Fahd, have courageously but not always coherently defended the authenticity of Filāha, not as a remnant of ancient Babylonian literature but as an authentic Arabic translation of a fourth/fifth century AD pseudepigraphic Aramic text.

The other works of Ibn Wahshiyya have received extremely scant attention, despite their obvious importance as a source for the almost unknown rural and parochial life in Iraq.

Hiéroglyphe reproduits par Ibn Wahshiyyah, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Arabe 6805 folios 92b. ff

Hiéroglyphe reproduits par Ibn Wahshiyyah, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS Arabe 6805 folios 92b. ff

In the final analysis the question of the texts’ exact provenence must still be left open, though the lack of any signs of translation in the texts as well as the absence of similar genuine texts in Aramaic argues against their authenticity.

Nevertheless, we must make a difference between the works and their material. Whether the works of the Nabatean corpus are authentic or not, that is whether they indeed derive from complete books written in Syriac or some other form of Aramaic or not, there are features that speak in favour of the authenticity of (some of) the material in these books.

First, there are several prayers in Aramaic, in Arabic script, in, eg., Sumūm, which clearly sound Aramaic; their present corruption is most probably due to later copyists. Ibn Wahshiyya himself could hardly have composed these prayers, so they must have come to him in either written or oral form.

Second, the local setting is given accurately, which proves that Ibn Wahshiyya did know the area he was speaking about and thus there is nothing ínherently improbable in presuming that he had access to local traditions.

Third, and most importantly, much of the material has to be genuine as parallels can be found in Babylonian and Assyrian sources—I am referring to the Tammūz/Dumuzi description in particular—which proves that it cannot be a product of Muslim fiction but a report of practices in semipagan rural areas.

Some of these descriptions are more detailed and accurate in the works of Ibn Wahshiyya than in any of the other extant Muslim sources, which makes it improbable that Ibn Wahshiyya could have found them in the Arabic literature at his disposal.

Thus they must stem from a living tradition—although obviously an already dying one.”

Jaakko Hāmeem-Anttila, “Ibn Wahshiyya and Magic,” Anaquel de Estudios Árabes X, 1999, pp. 39-41.

On the Neo-Platonic Forgeries

IN giving to the public a new edition of Cory’s Ancient Fragments I have endeavoured to respond to the wishes of numerous literary friends by furnishing a brief account of the several authors to whom we are indebted for these extracts, and, at the same time, some information respecting the decipherment of the hieroglyphic texts of Egypt, and the cuneiform records of Nineveh and Babylon.

The first edition of this work appeared in 1828, the second in 1832; therefore, at a time when Egyptian scholarship was still in its infancy, while cuneiform research had not yet seen the light. The discoveries of Champollion, Young, Birch, Bunsen, Brugsch, Chabas, Le Page Renouf, Godwin, and a host of other scholars in the former field of research, and of Layard, Botta, Rawlinson, Norris, Oppert, Menant, George Smith, Sayce, Fox Talbot, and Schrader in the latter, have furnished so much valuable information respecting the ancient empires of Egypt and Assyria, that we can no longer rest satisfied with the meagre accounts transmitted to us by the classic writers concerning times and people with which they were themselves but imperfectly acquainted.

At a time, therefore, when, thanks to the labours of the distinguished scholars above named, we can read with considerable facility and astonishing certainty the papyri of Egypt and the clay-tablets of Babylon, it behoves us to pause for a moment, and consider how this wonderful mine of ancient treasures was discovered, and the means by which it has been worked.

Cory’s Fragments constitute a fitting supplement to the fragments which have been exhumed from the mounds of Nineveh, and rescued from the tombs and mummy-pits of Egypt. Considered in this light they will be found to explain and complete one another; for, in the one we have Assyrians and Egyptians speaking for themselves each in his own tongue; in the other the information is supplied through a Greek channel, and reaches us, no doubt, more or less coloured by the media through which it has passed.

It is only when we place the two accounts side by side that we are in a position to estimate their respective values, and reproduce the half obliterated lines. “The contents of this volume,” says Cory, in his preface, “are fragments, which have been translated from foreign languages into Greek, or have been quoted, or transcribed, by Greeks from foreign authors; or, have been written in the Greek language by foreigners who have had access to the archives of their own countries.”

[ … ]

I have also referred the student to authorised translations of cuneiform and hieroglyphic texts, whenever I thought that any additional light was thrown by them upon the statements contained in these Fragments. Lastly, it remains only for me to say in this place that I have omitted Cory’s preface entirely, as resting chiefly upon the long-exploded learning of Jacob Bryant, Faber, and Parkhurst; and have dispensed altogether with the Neo-Platonic forgeries which Cory had placed at the end, bearing the titles respectively of, Oracles of Zoroaster, the Hermetic Creed, the Orphic, Pythagorean, and other fragments, of doubtful authenticity and of little value.

We now possess, thanks to the labours of MM. Anquetil Duperron, Spiegel, and Haug, all the remains of the so-called Zend-Avesta, of which only a small portion the Gathas are regarded by competent scholars as genuine. Comparing these so-called Oracles of Zoroaster with the genuine fragments, we have every reason to reject them as spurious.

Such as they are, however, they will be found, translated into English, in Stanley’s Lives of the Philosophers. I have preferred, therefore, in the present edition, to omit this farrago of metaphysico-philosophical nonsense, and have added several fragments of other ancient authors containing matter of greater importance.”

E. Richmond Hodges, Cory’s Ancient Fragments of the Phoenician, Carthaginian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Other Authors, London: Reeves & Turner, 1876, pp. vii-xiii.

Legend of the Destruction of Mankind

The text containing the Legend of the Destruction of Mankind is written in hieroglyphs, and is found on the four walls of a small chamber which is entered from the “hall of columns” in the tomb of Seti I., which is situated on the west bank of the Nile at Thebes.

On the wall facing the door of this chamber is painted in red the figure of the large “Cow of Heaven.” The lower part of her belly is decorated with a series of thirteen stars, and immediately beneath it are the two Boats of Ra, called Semketet and Mantchet, or Sektet and Matet.

Each of her four legs is held in position by two gods, and the god Shu, with outstretched uplifted arms, supports her body. The Cow was published by Champollion, [Monuments, tom., iii., p. 245] without the text.

[ … ]

The legend takes us back to the time when the gods of Egypt went about in the country, and mingled with men and were thoroughly acquainted with their desires and needs. The king who reigned over Egypt was Ra, the Sun-god, who was not, however, the first of the Dynasty of Gods who ruled the land.

His predecessor on the throne was Hephaistos, who, according to Manetho, reigned 9000 years, whilst Ra reigned only 992 years; Panodorus makes his reign to have lasted less than 100 years.

Be this as it may, it seems that the “self-created and self-begotten” god Ra had been ruling over mankind for a very long time, for his subjects were murmuring against him, and they were complaining that he was old, that his bones were like silver, his body like gold, and his hair like lapis-lazuli.

When Ra heard these murmurings he ordered his bodyguard to summon all the gods who had been with him in the primeval World-ocean, and to bid them privately to assemble in the Great House, which can be no other than the famous temple of Heliopolis. This statement is interesting, for it proves that the legend is of Heliopolitan origin, like the cult of Ra itself, and that it does not belong, at least in so far as it applies to Ra, to the Predynastic Period.

When Ra entered the Great Temple, the gods made obeisance to him, and took up their positions on each side of him, and informed him that they awaited his words. Addressing Nu, the personification of the World-ocean, Ra bade them to take notice of the fact that the men and women whom his Eye had created were murmuring against him. He then asked them to consider the matter and to devise a plan of action for him, for he was unwilling to slay the rebels without hearing what his gods had to say.

In reply the gods advised Ra to send forth his Eye to destroy the blasphemers, for there was no eye on earth that could resist it, especially when it took the form of the goddess Hathor. Ra accepted their advice and sent forth his Eye in the form of Hathor to destroy them, and, though the rebels had fled to the mountains in fear, the Eye pursued them and overtook them and destroyed them.

Hathor rejoiced in her work of destruction, and on her return was praised by Ra, for what she had done. The slaughter of men began at Suten-henen (Herakleopolis), and during the night Hathor waded about in the blood of men. Ra asserted his intention of being master of the rebels, and this is probably referred to in the Book of the Dead, Chapter XVII., in which it is said that Ra rose as king for the first time in Suten-henen.

Osiris also was crowned at Suten-henen, and in this city lived the great Bennu bird, or Phoenix, and the “Crusher of Bones” mentioned in the Negative Confession.

E.A. Wallis Budge, Legends of the Gods: The Egyptian Texts, edited with Translations, London, 1912. (No page numbers are given in my edition).

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