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KRONOS Vol V, No. 1



Part I Orientation


This section of a three-part paper lays the foundation for my method of analysis of Seti's Cenotaph* at Abydos. The thesis to be established in subsequent sections is firmly stated here, namely that Seti is proximate to the Assyria of Assurbanipal (668-627 B. C.) and only about two centuries anterior to Plato. I have been able to connect the cosmogony of Seti's cenotaph unambiguously with The Seven Tablets of Creation** of Assurbanipal. This is demonstrated in detail in Part II; in Part III the Timaeus of Plato is proven to be a thoroughly Egyptian document, and the indebtedness of Plato to Pythagoras is shown not to be the sole nexus between Plato and Egypt. Indeed, a connection is traced between Seti's sarcophagus inscription The Book of Gates*** and Plato. The substance of Part II contains many translations of Egyptian hieroglyphics with appropriate questions; Part III requires some pages of geometrical figures while demonstrating that the relationship between Plato and Egypt is exact and exquisite.

* A structure in the form of a royal tomb where religious ceremonies were allegedly carried on before and/or after the death of the person to whom the cenotaph was dedicated.

** An important cosmological and cosmogonical document from the time of Assurbanipal, and usually referred to by contemporary scholars as Enuma Elish, after its opening words.

*** A cosmological document that deals both with the structure of the physical world and the relationship between the living and the dead.

I am more than usually critical of classical readings of Egyptian materials. Everyone today is told that there are no serious problems that will not yield to the method of Monsieur Jean Francois Champollion. It should be added that Champollion's competence with late Egyptian interpretations of hieroglyphics, and with ecclesiastical Coptic, is neither questioned by me nor any other Egyptological scholar. However, having studied cybernetics and information theory as well as cryptography, in my many years of preparation for computer science, my approach to language is something less than mystical. Therefore, I am particularly sensitive by training to artificially arranged correspondences. Nevertheless I have availed myself of traditional archaeological and historical training; and although I have learned the Egyptian language and its history, I have never swallowed it whole as far as the usual interpretations are concerned.

I'm of the "vulgar opinion" (to use the British characterization) that Seti, if he were living today, would share my view of academic Egyptian. There is something to the "translations", but the matter is by no means closed. This questioning attitude of mine horrifies grammarians who argue over the fine points of semantics on the assumption that they can "correct" the "sloppy writings" of ancient Egyptian scribes!

Literally hundreds of sources have been consulted for this series, but not as "interpretations". Thus, when I use a book by Budge, the critical response of "antiquated material" is wholly inept. Budge is still an abundant source of texts, obelisk inscriptions, and the like, and to avoid using his words is a little silly. I am also well acquainted with the nearly exclusive emphasis upon Sir Alan Gardiner, and am not impressed. My departure from conventional Egyptology is not an exercise in iconoclastic attitudes: It is the penalty one has to pay for thinking for oneself. God knows there are more comfortable avenues.


It is very difficult to investigate an extinct civilization on its own terms, that is, without resorting to interpretations conditioned by our own philosophical convictions. Egyptology is a young and overly confident science, and its literature is ample proof of the aforementioned difficulty. How would our texts read if cultured Hindu yogis had constructed this science? How would Egyptian religion be explained if oriental scholars had conducted all of the archaeological research and linguistic analysis now credited to the French and English?

Objective measurements of objects and determinations of material properties will be conducted in much the same manner by Easterners and Westerners alike. There, however, the agreement ends because Hindu yogis, for example, acknowledge perceptual experience which is not merely denied but hotly rejected by any well-funded Western institution. And yet, Egyptian remains have functioned very much like giant Rorschach cards; those in the Judeo-Christian tradition read in them stories which parallel in every way their own convictions. Heavens, hells, saviors, and devils abound. Tidy lexicographers and philologists find "mythology, but no mysticism," a finding totally in keeping with their horror of "oriental superstition".

Medievally minded linguists equip the old Egyptians with an academically delightful and elaborate grammar, interpreting the entirety of Egypt's store of hieroglyphic sequences on the basis of a few late and corrupt stone inscriptions. We are assured that the only problems are very small, while linguistic specialists argue over fine points of "meaning" with a subtlety little short of astonishing: Of course the lady's name was Nefertiti, we know what she had for breakfast, precisely when she lived, what she believed and whom she loved or hated. Moreover, the religion of those who planned and built the Temple at Karnak, in a manner still unknown, was merely a faith in demons and petty gods; their mathematics was child's play and their science a primitive and unrationalized pragmatism.

The disciplined, precise, well-packaged and fluent arguments with which such views are supported are both impressive and persuasive until one understands why they win debates. Arguments which are more easily grasped compliment the ego of the listener, while more difficult excursions imply, or seem to imply, a feigned superiority of the advocate over the listener. Thus the listener is made to work, to think and to doubt, and this is not nearly so pleasant as an appeal to common sense, usually accompanied by humorously sarcastic caricatures of the more elaborate, opposing views. This is the real punch behind celebrity science. The currently blessed and holy water sprinkled coterie presents its ideas simply, and then the novices become "one with the body," an enviable honor indeed considering how important They are. Ideas are accepted and rejected, given respect or lampooned, by just these means.

A key feature of ancient Egypt is its emphasis upon spiritual experience, experience not in any way reducible to the verities of common sense and practical perception governing daily affairs. We know of no other ancient people of whom this is true to the same degree, yet the investigators of this civilization have a nearly uniform contempt for all cultures which take such experience seriously, especially those of the Far East. With mockery and derision the Hindu and Chinese scriptures are held as examples of absurdity. How easy it is to characterize any alleged spiritual experience, any non-public perception, as "autohypnotic self-deception" or "hallucination". Such terms are about as explanatory and analytical as stating that Mozart played the violin from the first day he held one because he had a "high musical aptitude". No information whatever is conveyed in a quantitative sense by such statements. They are simply exclamations of vulgar prejudice, costumed in semi-intellectual language. With all the evidence to the contrary, we find it necessary to consider Egypt wholly within the context of Western ideology. Thus, by implication, it becomes a seat of "devil worship" and such other ancestral activities that must be considered no more than inchoate manifestations of our more enlightened religious and social views.

There does not appear to be a proper realization just how different the world of ancient Egypt was from our own Western world, or of the degree to which Egypt resembled the most ancient Orient. There is no comforting, reassuring linkage of their philosophy to ours, no direct inheritance to make them merely the childhood of our own supposedly superior beliefs and institutions.

Egypt died without heirs. One after another her destroyers paraded and gave victory speeches, marched about with her corpse impaled on their conquering horns, imagining that they had drained her of her secrets. The process still continues, and any doubts, however well-founded, are treated with increasing disdain. The pivotal reason for this is the now nearly universally held belief that we can read all of the Egyptian texts as easily as we can read Greek or Latin, making this an effective barrier to progress. Who will bother to investigate something already fully explained? Why ask any questions for which the total answers have been supplied?

If anyone really wanted to destroy all knowledge of ancient Egypt, the most effective means of achieving this is not to attempt to burn all of the papyri or grind all of the temple stones to powder. Some will surely escape. Rather, merely code it all so that everyone looking at it will read childish things. It would be as if you were trying to communicate serious, mature information to a foreign audience, and your translator had constructed an ingenious coding system which corresponded structurally in every way to your own language, and yet conveyed useless platitudes. You would have had your say, it would have been translated for the audience, but . . .


It would be saying too much to assert that there is no validity to our present system of translating Egyptian. But this system is not to be verified simply by the delightful discovery that, when employed, it leads to groupings of terms which "make sense". The same argument can be given for the work of any competent cryptographer. He too can work in either direction, providing a "translation" of any well-ordered assemblage of symbols which will have virtually nothing to do with the meanings attached to the original compilation. And, once the "translation" has been worked out, he can take words in the new language and find "correspondence" which makes sense in terms of the old language.

If the reader has any doubt whatever of this and provided that a straight answer can be obtained ask any high officer in any military intelligence operation in any sophisticated country of the entire world. These practices are well-known, and the art is supremely developed. It has recently become even more sophisticated with the advent of cybernetics and information theory of coding structures. One of the first rules which emerges, if forced translations are to be constructed, is that the grammar must be increasingly complex in proportion to the difference which exists between the structures to be correlated. Grammatical complexity, in turn, may be understood to some degree as the latitude allowed in interpretation. If two symbols in one language are to be made phonetically equivalent in the other language, then a "principle of homophony" is invoked. In like manner, even a beginner feels uneasy when each sign in Egyptian can be either an ideogram or a phonogram; and if an ideogram, then either a generic determinative or a pictograph; or if a phonogram, then perhaps a uniliteral, biliteral, or triliteral phonogram, where it can stand for one, two, or three letters. Furthermore, the function can shift from context to context. Oh yes, eventually a coherent translation scheme is worked out, but the wide morphological latitude of interpretation must lend suspicion to the scheme. It is not as automatic and neat as its advocates maintain.

A principal point is the late status of all the materials upon which modern translations depend: It is the Egyptian of the Ptolemies, (principally the Rosetta Stone, and secondarily the earlier Stele of Canopus dated from the reign of Ptolemy III Euergetes), texts from many periods in hieratic, and a later "enchorial" or demotic script which appears on the aforementioned stones which form a basis for the system; and just how late the demotic form is depends entirely upon the credibility of Egyptian chronology. One suspects that it is much later than the 900-800 B. C. period assigned to it. Indeed, it is the Egypt not far removed from the Christian era upon which modern scholarship is based, and this is a telling observation when one considers the conquerors in the late period, known from independent sources of history.

There is no doubt that Coptic was spoken in Egypt, even into the sixteenth century of our own era, and that it is still the ecclesiastical language of the Monophysitic Church of Egypt. It was written in demotic script and later in Greek characters, except for a few residual demotic signs. It must have been known to the Ptolemies, and may have been related to their own language, whatever Greek dialects were spoken in ancient Macedonia.

In any event, the idea that Coptic goes back to the time of the Pyramid Texts is about as cogent as the notion that English is rooted in the language of the Navajo Indians. We transcribe American Indian symbols and words into letters of our own alphabet; we then ask perfectly willing and educated Indian friends to give us the meanings of these terms, and they try to do so. No doubt something of the old meaning comes through, as much perhaps as the vast differences in cosmology, cosmogony, cultural values and conceptual modes will permit. But only a fool would suppose that there is cultural continuity.

By the time of the Ptolemies, at least by the time of Ptolemy V Epiphanes, the famous contemporary of the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian hieroglyphics had become demotically coded, with rough equivalents given in Greek. We know that the Ptolemaic invaders of Egypt were Indo-European, as were the Aryan invaders of India, and that their culture influenced that of the peoples they conquered. Additionally, we know that the Slavic "invaders", who migrated from the Baltic to the Mediterranean about the fourth century of our era, borrowed from their neighbors and wrote their spoken language in Greek characters with a few invented signs, as exhibited in the "old Slavonic grammar" of the Middle Ages. Similarly, Coptic is a language written in Greek characters with a few invented signs, and our only connection with the language of Egypt is through this means. We are also aware that there are confident arguments to the effect that Coptic is an African language, with an African or "Hamitic" structure, while other authorities give equally confident arguments to the effect that Coptic is a Semitic language.

In all of this I can only read that there is no parallel between Coptic and some other language of the kind that persists between, say, English and French. It could as easily be the old Macedonian of Alexander and the Ptolemies. There is scarcely a language in the world for which one cannot find specific words resembling, or identical to, words in some other language. Egypt is in Africa, and Egypt has had and still enjoys Semitic neighbors; thus it is natural to find African and Semitic terms here and there. But the overwhelming impression one receives from Coptic is that of a medieval ecclesiastical, essentially Christian language, ancestral to that whole mood and culture subsumed under the name Byzantium. Those who still use the language bear a far closer resemblance in physical appearance, culture, and ideology to the late conquerors of Egypt than to the ancient Egyptians.

Treatises on Egyptian religion and philosophy ought to be taken as highly tentative until far more comprehensive studies have been made of comparative ideology, preferably in the tradition of Tibetan studies by the late W. Y. Evans-Wentz, and by a scholar of deep competence in both Eastern and Western philosophy, such as India's Sri M. P. Pandit. One would suspect that such studies would be at least as important as the almost exclusively biblical approach of the last century and a half.

With regard to the language itself, as long as lengthy and unimpeachable identities between the Indus Valley script, the script of Easter Island, the picture sequences of the Polynesians (including precise and identical "side-view" drawings of human and animal figures), and the Egyptian hieroglyphics are laughed off as "coincidences" by scholars steeped in Middle Eastern and Byzantine traditions, little progress will be made. A thousand such scholars all quoting one another and agreeing upon a code does not, alas, constitute proof of objectivity. In view of the distinct possibility of the rapid movement of continents and of the existence of recent terrible catastrophes, present distances do not form a good inferential basis for rejecting cultural affinity. Pharaohs and priests functioned to an amazing degree like not-long-extinct Ali'is and Kahunas. And it was just 3500 years ago that the Indus civilization was suddenly and inexplicably wiped out of the line of development that is India. These are facts, and they are not changed by the charge of "coincidence".

The basis of any historical inference must be physical evidence. With all of the legitimate doubts one can raise, no one will argue about immediate textual correspondence, whatever the ultimate "meaning" may be. As it happens, those hieroglyphic sequences known as Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, and New Kingdom Texts do exist, and so do the pyramids, coffins, cenotaphs, tombs, and temples. In this paper we shall be concerned with a pivotal and seldom discussed monument the Cenotaph of Seti at Abydos. This monument is important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the light it sheds upon relations between Egyptians and Assyrians.

In the time of Seti, as specified in conventional chronology, no relations are assumed to exist between Seti and the Assyrians. Yet, we shall also find an unexpected relation between Plato's Timaeus and his cosmological dialogues, and the Book of Gates of Seti that cosmological sequence found not only on Seti's alabaster sarcophagus but also in the sacred cenotaph. In linking Seti with the Assyrians and Greeks, considerable weight is given to the chronology proposed by Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky in his more recent publications (see for example Ramses II and His Time and "From the End of the Eighteenth Dynasty to the Time of Ramses II," KRONOS III:3 (Spring-1978), pp. 3-33).

Just a prefatory note is in order on the danger of moral generalizations. In spite of their boasted objectivity, not a small part of both archaeology and history engages in moral value judgments which are quite unfair. A very old country, as with a very old person, is likely to have a heterogeneous history. In some phases of Assyria's long history, the family of Assyrians may have been better friends to their Egyptian neighbors than some of Egypt's closer relatives; after all, the Egypt they attacked was an Egypt in the hands of foreign invaders. As an aside, it is also well-known that a teacher may receive more love and respect from a foreign student than he receives from his own son. All of this should give us pause.

I do not see the Assyrians as a culture of villains. Surely one cannot find a comparable leader among them more ruthless than Alexander of Macedon, who is still called "the Great". It ought to be recognized that all peoples of the Earth, especially those older cultures, have both villains and heroes, petty and great men alike. To characterize the Assyrians as cruel and antagonistic to Egypt is not in accord with the facts. There is good reason to believe that in the time of Seti the Great exchanges of culture occurred which were both positive and wholesome. Seti emerges as an international figure of great strength. He retained an entirely traditional Egyptian identity while incorporating in his cosmology elements close to the heart of all mankind.

To carry this point one step further, one should be also suspicious of any accounts of Egyptian military history which try to sell the impression that the pharaohs were simply egomaniacs intent upon the subjugation of all of their neighbors. We have good evidence that Alexander burned Tyre to the ground and wreaked havoc in the East without provocation. The idea was to win, and such wars were purely aggressive. This psychology cannot be ascribed to Seti, at least not without serious modification.

No one familiar with the Middle East and its history can imagine for a moment that Egypt's "neighbors" were necessarily benign, or that the military strength of Egypt was merely the apparatus of a bully. On the other hand, one must admit that the head emblem of the pharaoh consists of a falcon and a poisonous snake indeed, of the most poisonous and death-dealing of snakes, the cobra. The philosophical meaning and religious or cosmological significance of these symbols are deep, but they are not the sort of displays one would find upon the head of a meek sacrificial lamb, and I am perfectly willing to admit that Seti, along with other pharaohs, was ambitious for his country. Let us try to see his world through his eyes.

A final note must be added with respect to "translations" of ancient and dead languages. In ordinary, everyday English we sometimes say, "I shall cut you off from your inheritance," or "Someone who sticks his nose into the affairs of others may have it cut off," or "You shall be cut off from your foundations," or "Sir Walter Raleigh's head was cut off" (Raleigh actually was executed in 1618), and the like. If all of those who know and speak English should somehow vanish, leaving some translation clue behind, it would not be necessary to prove that all of the sentences given above could lead to some absurd conclusions. Hyperbole could be mistaken for fact, for in speaking of "cut off noses" we really mean to say that the person will be prevented from future enquiry, not that we actually intend to take a knife and maim the rudely curious. And if one should make the mistake of mistranslating the words "inheritance" or "foundations," the act of rejection could be cited as an act of savage violence.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the matter of Egyptian language translation is not closed, and that the Rosetta Stone is so far removed from the Pyramid Texts that its relevance is far more limited than most scholars are willing to admit. Similarly, the matter of Egyptian religion and cosmology is hardly opened. This paper is one attempt to let the materials speak for themselves, and to base inferences as nearly as possible upon authentic remains, chemical composition, geometry, location, alignment, and reconstructed usage of ancient materials.


One of the most exciting results established by Velikovsky's historical research is that Plato's nineteenth birthday coincides with the two hundredth anniversary of Seti's death, these events occurring in 409. But, the difference between conventional chronology and that of Velikovsky lies in the Egyptian direction convention places Seti's death in 1290, whereas Velikovsky assigns the year 609 to this event. In the conventional view Seti then died 862 years before Plato was born. Fortunately, this is a matter capable of investigation using abundant and available data from Egypt, Greece, and Assyria. Seti's enormous energy and international influence were tempered by a conservative, traditional Egyptian view, with a nearly unique insistence upon integrating his administrative and philosophical activities with the whole past of Egypt. We shall show this unique characteristic in concrete archaeological terms by an examination of monuments, temples, and texts from his time.

If Seti had lived only a couple of centuries prior to Plato, it would have been Seti's power and influence which persisted when Plato visited Heliopolis, and traces of these would be implanted in Plato's cosmology. It is incontrovertible that Plato admired both Sparta and Egypt. I am assuming that his trip to Egypt, like that of other cultured Greeks, was as a student. It will not do, of course, to argue for Velikovsky's thesis by citing the fact that Egyptian influence can be found in Greek literature and philosophy. This is well-known and proves nothing as far as Seti's proximity to Plato is concerned. Traditional scholarship is agreed that Plato was influenced by Pythagoras, and that Pythagoras himself visited Egypt. The majority of scholars support a "divine conception" theory of Greek mathematics and philosophy; however, the so-called "Golden Section" embodied in the construction of the Parthenon and Khufu Pyramid is, for them, a crank observation, which if true at all can be ascribed to coincidence and in any case is of absolutely no importance. No less a scholar than Jay Hambidge has pointed this out, but the charge of "crank" is too effective a means of silencing competition to be lightly passed by. The temptation, particularly for one of powerful reputation, is overwhelming.

The net result in current historical opinion is a dogma which says that Egyptian influence on Greek philosophy is minor, that that philosophy is too late in time, and that Plato's Egyptian notions are neither pivotal to his own thinking nor a result of his studies in Egypt. Rather, the school of Pythagoras is cited as the principal source of Plato's philosophy, while Pythagorean indebtedness to Egyptian science is questioned if not entirely denied.

Scholarly belief that the Egyptians, though old and full of experience, had only a primitive mathematics, rests on the premise that their mathematics was charmingly pragmatic but essentially superficial. It is also clear and certain that the binary number system, prior to the age of computers, could be described in the same way, and indeed was merely a "curiosity of antiquarians". The great German philosopher and mathematician, Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, thought otherwise, but of course he too was considered a crank.

A close reading of Otto Neugebauer's The Exact Sciences in Antiquity reveals a surprising and ill-founded identification of mathematical complexity and mathematical profundity. This attitude is not an invention of Professor Neugebauer, but is entwined deep in the roots of Western thinking. The universe, it is insisted, cannot be basically simple. Its descriptions, it is declared, must involve only the most abstruse and difficult mathematics. And the same prejudice is to be found in the writings of nearly every modern philosopher and historian of science. If a theory is understandable it will be rejected principally on that ground. What an insult to God if it all turns out to demand no more than ninth grade algebra and penetrating insight!

But this snobbery is oblivious of the fact that virtually all of the pivotal equations in physics and chemistry are indeed very simple in form. On this basis, I shall argue that complexity is no proof of superiority and that Egyptian knowledge of reality cannot be gauged by such a measure. I shall also argue that the Greek predilection for geometric explanations of nature, their use of the "Golden Section" in pottery, sculpture, and temple alike, and even the dualism between "sensible and intelligible worlds" nearly definitive of Plato's system are as much stamped with the seals of ancient Egypt as were the doors of Egyptian tombs.

All of this still leaves unaddressed the revised chronology. In this case, there are two significant pieces of Greek evidence: The Greek emphasis upon Hermes, identical in all respects to Egypt's Thoth, and the cosmological Timaeus of Plato, which contains definitive related passages to the Egyptian Book of Gates and to the theology of Heliopolis. Specialists in Egyptology know that the Book of Gates is peculiar in literary history. Thus we are not merely indicating some generic Egyptian characteristic, such as reverence for Osiris.

On the Egyptian side, two matching pieces of evidence emerge: The Book of Gates inscribed on Seti's alabaster sarcophagus and also, with very minor variations, in his cenotaph at Abydos. There is also the curious story, inscribed in Seti's tomb, of Ra's abdication and the assignment of godhead to Thoth. This is not a common tale, this elevation of Thoth Hermes to the Highest Eminence. Let us not pass this fact lightly.

To have had a text placed on one's sarcophagus was to commit oneself to a perspective. Too many books dwell upon Seti's military history and omit more than passing comment upon what must have been far more important to him. To relate, unambiguously, this Book of Gates to Plato's Timaeus is to show proximity to Greek times. Here is an orthodox Egyptian pharaoh ascribing supreme godhood to Thoth following a devastating destruction of mankind to Thoth, the one Egyptian deity corresponding in every property to Hermes. And here is also a text which, unlike the "spells" and "chapters" of the Book of Coming Forth by Day, is peculiar to the time of Seti. The Book of Gates is uncommon, and except for a version in the tomb of Horemheb is unique to the period under discussion.

Still more evidence exists in the inscriptions at Khorsabad. Remains there are assigned to the time of Sargon II, and there is explicit proof of contacts with both Greece and Egypt. Both the Ionians and the Egyptian city of Heliopolis are mentioned, together with the city of Athens. This is fully accepted in even the most conservative archaeological circles. What is not generally known is that, in the cenotaph of Seti at Abydos, there is evidence of a deep cosmological relationship between Seti's views and those of the Assyria of Assurbanipal, who ruled 36 years after the death of Sargon II. I do not suggest any need for the Egyptians to borrow from the Assyrians, nor any need for the Assyrians to take up Egyptian philosophy. What is evident is that in Seti's time there was an attempt at universality, an emphasis upon common factors in both cultures.

In the Assyrian Seven Tablets of Creation, from the time of Assurbanipal, the eight primordial gods of Egypt appear the very substance of the cosmology expressed in stone in Seti's cenotaph at Abydos. In that cenotaph, the "watery abyss" is not merely a figurative expression, but literal. In astonishing detail the creation is depicted on a mound surrounded by water, an island which still to this day is subterranean, and still in the midst of living water. Life, death, and rebirth are reflected in this view of creation of the universe, an anthropocentric perspective shared, even to the last detail, by the Assyria of Assurbanipal. This is not a case of some "foreign" idea entering Egypt from Assyria, for the concept of this "mound of creation in the midst of water" is essential in the history of Egypt and seems not to have a detectable beginning.

What is significant is the commonality and cultural emphasis in the time of Seti of the substance of the Seven Tablets of Creation. That this cosmology of the Assyrian Seven Tablets is made eternal in stone in the time of Seti cannot be ascribed to coincidence. It is unthinkable that a pharaoh of Seti's magnitude and evident pride should have been a mere subject of the Assyrians. But it is quite thinkable that he could have been a good friend of his neighbors so good, in fact, that in Velikovsky's view* he allied himself with the crumbling Assyrian empire and gave it his military support against the Chaldeans.

* See I. Velikovsky, "From the End of the Eighteenth Dynasty to the Time of Ramses II," KRONOS III:3 (Spring-1978), pp. 30-33.

(To be continued in Part II Seti's Cenotaph and the Relation Between Egyptian and Assyrian Cosmology with Respect to Simultaneous Creation of the Human Body and the Universe)

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