Dating Egyptian Literary Texts/Linguistic Dating of Middle Egyptian Literary Texts.

Author:Depuydt, Leo
Position::Book review
 
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Dating Egyptian Literary Texts. Edited by GERALD MOERS; KAI WlDMAIER; ANTONIA GlEWEKMEYER; Arndt Lumers; and Ralf Ernst. Lingua Aegyptia, Studia Monographica, vol. 11. Hamburg: WlDMAIER Verlag, 2013. Pp. xiv + 653.

Linguistic Dating of Middle Egyptian Literary Texts. By ANDREAS STAUDER. Lingua Aegyptia, Studia Monographica, vol. 12. Hamburg: Widmaier Verlag, 2013. Pp. xx + 568.

Literature, understood here in the narrow sense as belles lettres--hence excluding, for example, religious literature--first emerges on the world scene in Egypt and Mesopotamia, many centuries before appearing anywhere else. The present focus is on Egypt. One often reads that Egyptian literature took off in the early second millennium b.c.e., in Dynasty 12 (roughly 2000 B.c.E.-1800 B.C.E.), perhaps a little earlier. There is much to be said for this assumption and it has for some time been, and will probably remain, dominant. But in the end, there is no incontrovertible evidence in favor of it, only a rather sizeable set of plausible arguments. Nor is there definite evidence in favor of the existence of Egyptian literature before about 2000 B.C.E.

The two main branches of Egyptian literature are narrative texts and wisdom texts. In addition, there are a number of significant works that belong to neither.

The Egyptians viewed their earliest literature--composed in the so-called Middle Egyptian stage of the Egyptian language, which dates to the early second millennium b.c.e.--as a kind of classical literature for several centuries. The main evidence is as follows: Long after Middle Egyptian ceased being spoken and the Egyptian language had evolved into its so-called Late Egyptian stage of the later second millennium b.c.E., scribes kept copying Middle Egyptian literature. The overwhelming share of the evidence comes from the desert village of Deir el-Medina, where the artists who worked on the rock tombs in the Valley of the Kings lived.

Then, around 1000 b.c.E., Middle Egyptian literature dropped completely off the map. It is not fully clear why. In any event, when an entirely new literary corpus emerged from about 650 b.c.E. onward, it was written in Demotic, the stage of Egyptian following Late Egyptian.

There is also literature written in Late Egyptian. Most of it seems to have been composed in Dynasties 19-21, that is, roughly from 1300 b.c.E. to 950 b.c.E.--though some of it, not much, is a little earlier. Late Egyptian literature too ceased being copied after about roughly 950 b.c.E. The substantial Wisdom of Amenenope is a peculiar exception. The extant manuscripts all date to after 1000 b.c.E. Sections of Amenemope are cited in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Proverbs. The late dates of the manuscripts of Amenemope make it easier to account historically for the transmission of some of its sections into Hebrew. Nothing certain is known about the modality of this transmission.

The focus of the two volumes under review is on pre-Demotic literature--and especially, though not exclusively, on Middle Egyptian literature. Accordingly, the time frame under investigation is for the most part the thousand-year period of the second millennium b.c.E., from its very beginning to its very end.

In terms of subject matter, the volumes' main focus is on dating literary texts. The editors made the unusual decision of publishing two works belonging to different genres under a shared title, Dating Egyptian Literary Texts, namely: 1) the acts of a conference held at Gbttingen on June 9-12, 2010 on dating Egyptian literary texts, styled as Volume 1; 2) the published version of A. Stauder's habilitation thesis, styled as Volume 2. It so happened that the conference and the habilitation thesis deal with the same topic and materialized around the same time.

The more narrow subject-matter focus of much if not most of both volumes is described in the letter of invitation sent to potential...

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