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Ancient Creation Stories told by the Numbers

by H. Peter Aleff




Footnotes :

[23]  Michael A. Hoffman: “ Egypt before the Pharaohs -- The Prehistoric Foundations of Egyptian Civilization”, 1979, edition consulted Dorset Press, New York, 1990, page 247 bottom.  


[24] Henry Hodges: “Technology in the Ancient World”, 1970, edition consulted Barnes & Noble, New York, 1992, pages 62 to 65.  


[25] Sir Alan Gardiner: “Egyptian Grammar”, Griffith Institute, Oxford, first published 1927, edition consulted 1982, page 1 middle.  


[26] Michael A. Hoffman: “ Egypt before the Pharaohs -- The Prehistoric Foundations of Egyptian Civilization”, 1979, edition consulted Dorset Press, New York, 1990, pages 292 and 293.  


[27]  Denise Schmandt-Besserat: “Before Writing -- Volume 1: From Counting to Cuneiform”, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1992.  







Numerals and constants  


 tell the creations of numbers and world


Mesopotamian influences on early Egypt

In pre- dynastic times, before the early kings of the freshly united Egypt seem to have closed the borders for some time, traders from the Nile Delta had sustained many direct and/or indirect contacts with Mesopotamia and other regions of the ancient Near East . 

Michael A. Hoffmann, an archaeologist who specialized in prehistoric Egypt, described these contacts as “a vast super- exchange network that revolved around symbolically prestigious, exotic goods increasingly in demand by the emergent social and political elite from Egypt to India”.   The evidence for this long- distance trade includes, for instance, Mesopotamian cylinder seals and Afghan lapis lazuli found in early Egyptian tombs[23]. 

The Nile dwellers of old imported not only such physical items but also ideas: one example is the elaborate manufacturing process for the so- called “Egyptian faience”, a glazed ceramic and forerunner of glass which they produced in great quantities to imitate lapis lazuli, the vividly blue mineral with abundant small golden specks in its depth which occurs only in Afghanistan and was therefore rare and expensive. 

This mineral and its imitation were a natural symbol for the deep blue and star- speckled sky and thus had great magical and religious value, despite their lack of practical uses that could not be handled with regular pottery.  Faience represents our species’ first known attempt to synthesize a material to match specific properties; it appeared around 4,000 BCE in Mesopotamia, long before the Egyptians copied the rather complicated process to start their own industry[24].  

Similarly, some scholars believe that the idea of building step pyramids originated with the Mesopotamian ziggurats and diffused to Egypt,  together with the fashion to structure walls of sacred enclosures with niches between protruding bastions.  A prominent example of this borrowed style is the wall around the step pyramid complex of the Third Dynasty king Djoser in Saqqara.

Another item of early Mesopotamian influence on Egypt seems to be the concept of writing.  The Egyptians did not copy any details of this Sumerian invention but re- invented it from scratch for their different language, their different writing materials, and their different aesthetic and religious purposes.  

The Sumerians had developed their system for prosaic accounting purposes before they or their successors began to view numbers as divine whereas the Egyptians gave from the very start strong religious and symbolic significance to their writing signs.  This included the numerals, as we saw in the creation story these tell.  The Egyptian hieroglyphs were above all sacred writing, deemed to be “the god’s words”[25] and endowed with magical power.  

Despite these important differences, Hoffman held that

“the two ideas that a standardized picture may be used as a symbol to convey a specific word and that words which cannot be pictured may be conveyed phonetically by the rebus principle”[26]

had clearly been invented earlier in Sumer, with continuous finds covering millennia of their gradual organic development[27] whereas hieroglyphic writing in Egypt appeared suddenly and evolved very quickly into its almost final form. 

Theoretically, the Egyptians could have come up with these ideas independently, despite the almost complete absence of proto- hieroglyphs on the potsherds and other objects where one would expect to find them.  However, if the pharaohs had not been so thoroughly robbed of their treasures, a patent attorney for the Sumerians would probably be able to convince an impartial court that the Egyptians owed royalties for the essential notion of writing to her clients. 

Since the early Egyptians were so receptive to influences from abroad, including ideas connected with religious symbolism, it would have been surprising if they had not also developed some parallel to the number mysticism for which the Mesopotamians and the Hebrews became so renowned because more of their writings about it survived. 


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