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Open letter to science editors

 

Forum

SOTHIC DATING REDUX

To the Editor of KRONOS:

When I received KRONOS [VI:1] and read it I had neither the time nor indeed the inclination to respond to criticism that ranges from well-intentioned but at times erroneous speculation to mere nit-picking. At the moment I have some time and am persuaded to make a few comments.

In the category of nit-picking I place the remarks of Lynn E. Rose. He well knows that my article was not intended to be an astronomical treatise. The very small error in reducing the decimal fraction of the tropical year to hours, minutes and seconds goes back to some source I have now forgotten but it has no bearing whatever on my argument for the validity of Sesostris III Sothic dating.

Similarly with my definition of arcus visionis. The degrees that make it up have to be measured from the instant of first appearance of a star on the horizon after invisibility until the sun itself appears on the horizon. So too, with the "motion of Sirius". The point involved is the alteration in the length of the Sirius/Sothis year and that is all that matters.

Since Rose does agree that the heliacal rising of Sirius fell on Thoth I in +139 the rest of his discussion about years just before and after that date is irrelevant. With +139 as the anchor the Sothic cycle can be projected backwards with sufficient latitude to accommodate possible errors of observation and that is all that my argument depends on.

In the category of erroneous speculation let us place Shane H. Mage's quotation from the Ebers Papyrus about an eye-salve "as told to us by a Jew from Byblos". The word he accepted as meaning "Jew" is Egyptian '3m, a term used as early as the Old Kingdom. It is translated in the Wörterbuch and by other editors of Ebers as "Asiatic". A Jew may be an Asiatic but not all Asiatics are Jews.

Rather than continue in this point by point fashion I propose to set forth a few observations on the Egyptian calendar system which if coupled with a thorough reading of my Calendars and my article "Sothic Dates and Calendar 'Adjustment'" (Revue d'Egyptologie 9, pp. 101-08) will clear up, I feel sure, many problems for the uninitiated.

A. The only Egyptian calendar governed by the heliacal rising of Sirius, prt Spdt, was the original lunar calendar. According to this calendar the rising had to take place in the twelfth month of the year. When it might fall out of that month an intercalary month was added before the next year began. This happened at two or three year intervals. The resulting calendar kept its place in the seasons with only the slight movement back and forth. The normal year was thus one of three seasons and twelve months (Senmut ceiling) but it could be shown with the intercalary month added (Ramesseum ceiling).

B. At some time in the Old Kingdom an averaged lunar year with three seasons of four thirty-day months was introduced, no doubt for simplicity in government and business. To this basic year of 360 days was added yearly a small intercalary month of five days, designated as "upon the year," in Egyptian 5 hryw rnpt. In calculations the year was frequently, for convenience, reckoned as but 360 days. That the 365-day year existed in the Old Kingdom is evidenced, for example, by papyri from the funerary temple of Neferirkare, the third king of the Fifth Dynasty, published by Posener-Kriéger and De Cenival (Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum, Fifth Series, The Abu-Sir Papyri, London, 1968). On Pl. XIV, A, 3, the epagomenal days are mentioned. The epagomenal days also figured on the verso of the Palermo Stone and in the star-clocks of the Ninth to Twelfth Dynasties (Neugebauer-Parker, Egyptian Astronomical Texts, 1. The Early Decans, 1960). The so-called evidence for a 320-day year on the recto of the Palermo Stone in reality shows two year-compartments with six months and seven days in the last year of the old king and four months and thirteen days in the first year-compartment of the new king. The obvious conclusion is that an interregnum took place.

C. At the installation of the civil calendar it was to run concurrently with the original lunar calendar, the two complementing one another. Very gradually the civil year, with no leap year, advanced in the seasons and lost its harmony with the lunar calendar. At this time, if ever, one might think of calendar adjustment but this did not happen. Instead a second lunar calendar was designed, one governed by the civil year so that the two would remain in harmony. Whenever I 3ht 1 lunar would fall before I 3ht 1 civil the month became intercalary. The twenty-five year lunar cycle that resulted is preserved in P. Carlsberg 9 and this cycle is itself adequate evidence that no adjustment of the civil year ever occurred.

D. The star Sirius as Spdt/Sothis is almost always represented by the goddess Isis (EAT, III, pp. 115, 124, 132, 134, 148).

E. In no Egyptian astronomical text now known to us is Venus represented by Isis (EAT, III, pp. 180-82). In only one, Edfu, is the representative even a goddess. All others are of a heron or a god, sometimes Osiris.

In conclusion let me add that to me it is highly significant that in all the forty pages Velikovsky devotes to his supplement "Astronomy and Chronology" in Peoples of the Sea, published in 1977, he never once refers to any of my own studies on the Egyptian calendars and chronology or to any of the three volumes of Egyptian Astronomical Texts (1960-69) by Neugebauer and myself. Why did he prefer to deal with secondary and earlier sources instead of primary ones? Why, indeed?

Richard A. Parker

Professor Emeritus/Brown University


Prof. Lynn E. Rose Replies:

When it is Professor Parker who is correcting an error (whether his own or someone else's), he can describe the error as a "neglect of scholarly duty". But when it is someone else who is correcting Parker's errors, he describes this as "nit-picking".

It should be noted that Parker did not refute a single one of the "nits" to which I pointed; he simply dismissed them as unimportant. Those "nits" are indeed relatively minor, taken one by one. What is disconcerting about them, however, is that there are so many of them. One would have expected the world's leading authority on Egyptian astronomy to do better.

My own investigations of the Egyptian calendar have for the most part been limited to the Canopus Decree, and to the remarks of such late writers as Censorinus about the so-called "Sothic period". Parker's errors about Censorinus were discussed in KRONOS VI: 1, pages 67-69; this present discussion will be focused on Parker's errors about the Canopus Decree.

In his discussion of the chronological context of the Canopus Decree (KRONOS VI: 1, pages 64-65), Parker says that A. E. Samuel "has shown conclusively, in my opinion that the first year of Euergetes I was a very short one, with his accession falling on Dios 25 (= IIII [Egyptian Text]ht [Choiak] 7) and his second year beginning on Dystros 24 (= I smw [Pachons] 4)". But Samuel puts the accession on Dios 25 Macedonian = January 29 Julian, -245, which is Choiak 8 Egyptian; the "7" is an error. And the fact is that Samuel doesn't even try to show that Dystros 24 Macedonian fell on Pachons 4 Egyptian. All that Samuel does is to offer a possible scenario (on one of the very pages cited by Parker, it is twice called "hypothetical"), according to which Dystros 24 Macedonian might have fallen on Pachons 4 Egyptian. Whether it actually did fall on that date depends upon the exact pattern of intercalations and upon the exact date of the beginning of the lunar month in question neither of which has Samuel claimed to know. Thus Parker (who took his faulty figure regarding the tropical year from some source that he no longer remembers) should perhaps put his own house in order before becoming overly critical of Velikovsky's use of sources. On the general subject of Velikovsky's use of sources, see my discussion in KRONOS IV:2, pages 34-36, which I consider applicable here.

Parker again goes astray in saying that "calculation would show that Year 9 (Macedonian) should begin on Dystros 24 in 239 B.C., certainly before prt Spdt on 11 smw (Payni) 1". This is a good guess, and seems highly probable; but the evidence about intercalations is again lacking which leaves open at least the possibility that Payni I Egyptian could have preceded Dystros 24 Macedonian in -238. Parker is speaking here of what "calculation" would "certainly" show; he is not at the moment speaking about the testimony of the Canopus Decree itself, which he reads as saying that prt Spdt had indeed already occurred in Year 9.

That reading is still another error on Parker's part. He says that "one has but to read any of the three texts Greek, Demotic, or hieroglyphic to learn that the festival had already been celebrated in Year 9". It is quite likely, as I stated earlier, that the festival had indeed already been celebrated in Year 9. But the three texts are not clear on this. All that they tell us is that, in the future, the festival will remain on Payni I Egyptian, the day on which it was celebrated in Year 9. The frame of reference for the past tense here seems to be some future time, not the date of the Canopus Decree; thus it remains an open question whether the Canopus Decree preceded or followed prt Spdt in Year 9.

Finally, by combining the erroneous assumption that Censorinus rightly took +139 through +142 as a quadrennium with the erroneous assumption of "a constant four-year cycle back to the Canopus Decree", Parker needlessly forces himself into the position of having to say that there was a quadrennium from -241 to -238, and that "for the year of its [the Canopus Decree's] publication the epagomenal days were already past, though it was exactly to these that the sixth day should have been added". Parker must of course avoid these awkward results of his own logic, so he decides that actually 238 "was not the last year of a quadrennium and that to some degree observation still controlled" such matters. Parker and his readers could have been spared this false and tortuous trail, if only Parker had not deemed it "safe to conclude" that +139 to +142 was a quadrennium, and had not tried to impose "a constant four-year cycle". These particular "nits" caused a great deal of unnecessary trouble. Perhaps if Parker had done more "nit-picking" of his own during the course of his research, the rest of us would not now have to do it for him.

I will leave it to others to deal with Parker's claims about still earlier calendars. Suffice it to say that if Parker makes a muddle of Samuel, a muddle of Censorinus, a muddle of the concept of arcus visionis (see also his 1950 work, page 7), a muddle of the apparent motions of Sirius, and a muddle of the Canopus Decree, then he has done little to inspire our confidence in his authoritative pronouncements regarding other matters. On the general subject of uniformitarian pronouncements regarding ancient evidence, see my discussion in KRONOS IV:2, pages 39-43, which I also consider applicable here.

One final point: it is too late to ask Velikovsky why he did not cite Parker; it is not too late to ask Parker why he has never cited Velikovsky. Perhaps the answer to both questions is that Parker's work is permeated with unexamined uniformitarianism.


Dr. Shane H. Mage Replies:

Professor Parker may well be right that Bryan's translation of the Ebers Papyrus is unjustified in its use of the phrase "Jew from Byblos". I certainly have no competence to speculate about variant translations from the Egyptian. Other of Parker's comments, nevertheless, are more amenable to speculative discussion.

Parker asserts that the difference of calendars between the Senmut and Ramesseum ceilings illustrates that the normal twelve-month year could also "be shown with the intercalary month added". Questions, however, are demanded by the word "shown". Whatever may have been the nature of Egyptian tomb inscriptions, they were most unlikely to have been there for "show". If their purpose was indeed the concrete "magical" one of aiding the deceased in his continued existence on the celestial plane, then correspondence to astronomical reality might well be crucial. It would follow that material changes in depiction of the calendar would be more likely to signify changes in the celestial order than to express changes in artistic style.

Unsatisfactory, likewise, is Parker's treatment of the rationale for the 365-day civil year. For one thing, he seems to present the twelve 30-day months and the five epagomenal days as having been introduced simultaneously as a single calendar "sometime in the Old Kingdom . . . no doubt for simplicity in government and business". This seems inconsistent both with the reference of the Canopus Decree to "the three hundred and sixty days, and to the five days which were afterwards ordered to be added",(1) and with the famous story of Thoth "winning" the extra five days in a gambling bout with the Moon.

A graver, if subtler, difficulty is that Parker still provides no explanation for the supposed original decision not to intercalate a sixth epagomenal day every four years. He seems to believe that this defect was not even noticed until "very gradually the civil year, with no leap-year, advanced in the seasons and lost its harmony with the lunar calendar". This line of speculation is certainly erroneous. The introduction of a radically new Civil Calendar was obviously a major (literally epochal) political act with crucial religious and social implications. It could never have occurred without extensive preliminary deliberation, preparation, . . . and calculation. But whether the Egyptians calculated the length of the year by observing the heliacal rising of Sirius or Canopus, the maximum declination of the Sun at rising or setting on a solstice, the minimum or maximum shadow cast by a tall object at solstitial noon, or any other method, the same reckoning would be inevitable after less than a decade of purposeful observation: a year of 365 and 1/4 days.

Since Egyptian ignorance can thus be excluded as an explanatory factor, and since Parker's own insistence on parallel use of a lunar calendar proves that the Egyptians observed no prohibition against periodic intercalation, we are still lacking any plausible alternative to the explanation advanced by Velikovsky: that calendrical adjustments reflected real changes in the celestial order. If even without reference to the worldwide array of drastic calendar changes with catastrophic associations documented in Worlds in Collision this ranks as the most probable account, then Parker's contention as to the antiquity of the epagomena, if valid, can at most be held to indicate that certain of these changes came close to offsetting each other. But no application of "Sothic dating" can have more validity than its presumptively invalid basis the speculative assumption of an unchanging celestial and calendrical order during the two millennia preceding 687 BCE.

Finally, in reference to the correspondence between Isis and the planet Venus, it should be noted that Velikovsky insists on this only in reference to the very late period of his source, Pliny a period which might well include the time of the Canopus Decree, three centuries only before Pliny. Velikovsky maintains that, in earlier times, Isis was more closely identified with the planet Jupiter (like Demeter, the Greek goddess homologized by Herodotus to Isis, and who was identical with Rhea, consort of Kronos and mother of Zeus).(2) The Egyptian pantheon is notoriously crammed with syncretisms, but it is at least suggestive that Isis is very closely linked with Hathor (homologized by Herodotus to Aphrodite); that her name (Aset) is based on the same consonants as the Semitic appellations of Venus (Istar and Astarte); and that she assumed the title "Queen of Heaven", also held by the Egyptian Athene Neith.(3)

REFERENCES

1. Cited in Worlds in Collision, p. 336.

2. Herodotus II, 159; Cf. Hamlet 's Mill, p. 259.

3. Cf. Timaeus, 21E. [Athene, too, was associated with the planet Venus (Worlds in Collision, p. 170; P. J. James, "Aphrodite The Moon or Venus?" SIS Review I:1, Jan. 1976, pp. 2-7); and "Neith (Neit), whom the Greeks identified with their Pallas Athene . . . was introduced into the Osirian cult and confounded with Isis" (Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, N. Y., 1960, pp. 36-37). Cf. R. E. Witt, Isis in the Graeco-Roman World (Ithaca, 1971); "Iside" in Enciclopedia Dell'Arte Antica, Vol. IV (Rome, 1961), pp. 235-240. LMG]

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