Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ancient Origin of the Word Deseret

2: 3 And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee; and thus they did carry with them swarms of bees, and all manner of that which was upon the face of the land, seeds of every kind.

Some critics of the Book of Mormon point to the use of the word "deseret" as a clear mistake by Joseph Smith in his attempt to pass off the Book of Mormon as authentic ancient scripture. The Book of Mormon was described as being written in a Reformed Egyptian script. And it turns out that deseret or "dsrt" is an Ancient Egyptian word. Unfortunately, modern Egyptologists translate the word "dsrt" to mean "red crown" and not "honeybee" as the Book of Mormon states. Furthermore, the Egyptian word for bee is "bt". Well, many critics would like to leave the argument right there. But, as you might have guessed, there is much more to the story.

It turns out that the "red crown" of the Lower Kingdom has another name. And that other name has to do with what they crown represents and not just what color it is. What is that name? You guessed it, the red crown of the Lower Kingdom is referred to as the "bee crown". The crown even has a thin antenna like protrusion in the front representing the antenna of a honeybee. In fact, when the Lower and Upper Egypt were later unified, the King of Egypt wore a double crown which was a combination of the "white crown" or "sedge crown" of Upper Egypt and the "red crown" or "bee crown" of Lower Egypt.

Early Pharaohs in Egypt were commonly shown with 2 crowns, representing Upper and Lower Egypt. The 2 crowns are the white crown of the sedge representing Upper Egypt and the red crown of the bee representing Lower Egypt. Therefore the title of the Pharaoh "nswt-bity" means the "King of Upper and Lower Egypt", or literally "he of the sedge and the bee". Therefore, I believe the crown was originally named for what it represented and not just by the redness of its color. Therefore, I believe the red crown of Lower Egypt is more correctly referred to as the "bee crown" and not the "red crown".

In fact, the word "bt" is found in many places to refer to the "red crown" and the glyph for the word "bt" actually looks like a honeybee while the glyph for "dsrt" just looks like a simplified picture of the "red crown". Therefore, some may argue that "dsrt" must only refer to the crown's redness while the word "bt" referrs to the crown's bee-ness. Well, if that is true, then for the Book of Mormon to keep its hopes alive whe need to demonstrate that at some point the word and glyph "bt" for bee replaced the word and "dsrt" and its associated glyph.

How can I prove that "dsrt" was replaced by the word and glyph "bt"? I can't. But some other smart people may be able to. Alan Gardiner, in Egyptian Grammar, states that "dsrt", was used to replace 'bt' in two Egyptian titles referring to the King of Lower Egypt. Thus, the title n-sw-bt was sometimes written as n-sw-dsrt, which literally means "He who belongs to the sedge plant (of Upper Egypt) and to the bee (of Lower Egypt)." This substitution of 'bt' for 'dsrt' has led Nibley (another smart person) to associate the Egyptian word "dsrt" and the Book of Mormon word Deseret.

("dsrt" and "bt")

("n-sw-dsrt" and "n-sw-bt")

Why is the honeybee such a powerful symbol to the Early Egyptians? Well, Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Abraham together with what we know about Egyptian history gives us another clue. The Book of Abraham refers to Abraham's visit to Egypt on his way to Canaan. Before Abraham describes the details of what happens to his wife and him in Egypt, Abraham comments that Egypt was named after Egyptus the daughter of Ham, who bestowed the kingship over Egypt upon her son Pharaoh. Now, Egyptus is a more modern Greek-derived name. Therefore, the name "Egyptus" and "Pharaoh" in the Book of Abraham are considered anachronisms since the origin of term "Egypt" is likely to have come from another source much later in history from the time of the narrative described in the Book of Abraham. But, the point of Abraham's story is not what the daughter of Ham was named, but that the authority of kingship of Pharaoh was maternally derived. Consequently, what Abraham is explaining telling us this detail together with the fact that Egypt and the sons of Ham were cursed or denied the priesthood of God, was that the ruling authority of Early Ancient Egypt was by matriarchal succession. This may be why the symbol of the bee is strongly associated with the King, the crown, and the territory of the Lower Kingdom. The bee is a powerful example of a matriarchal order in nature.

Another point here is that we need to beware that when we translate a word we do not just translate what the word means based on how the word is used today, but that we translate the word based on how it was used and what it meant at the time it was actually written. Words change meaning, and common words get replaced by other words all the time. With a Kingdom like Egypt which has been around since the Flood, it is not a stretch to assume the meaning of words has evolved over time. Therefore, it is very likely the word "dsrt" was at some point replaced by the word "bt".

Today, we call the "dsrt crown" the "red crown" because it is red and that is what stands out most to us. However, to an Ancient Egyptian, I bet they didn't call the "dsrt crown" the "red crown", I bet they called it the "bee crown" because I think the crown is more visually associated with a bee (notice the antenna) than just its color. At some point a new word and glyph "bt" for "bee" likely replaced the word and glyph "dsrt" for bee. This could easily happen. I imagine in the beginning the Egyptians used the common word and glyph "dsrt" for the king and his red bee crown as well as to refer to the common honeybee. But I image that out of respect for the king, the people chose another word and glyph to use in daily life for the honeybee. After a while, it is very probable the people started using the new common word "bt" for bee to refer to the king also.

But finally, there is another important point here that we must not forget. The word "deseret" here may not be intended to represent the actual Reformed Egyptian word for bee. Yes, the Book of Mormon was written in a Reformed Egyptian writing, but the context in which the word is used suggests Moroni ,who is traslating the Jaredite record, is telling us what the Jaredites themselves called the honeybee and not the Egyptians. And since the Jaredites came from the tower of Babel and didn't have their languages confounded, they didn't speak Egyptian but likely spoke the original language of Adam. Therefore, the fact that Egypt borrowed the word "dsrt" which is not exactly interpreted today as honeybee does not cause not much of a problem for the Book of Mormon. On the other hand, the tight association with the word "dsrt" and the "bee crown of the Lower Kingdom" is an interesting convergence that Joseph Smith could have never guessed.


Anonymous said...

"And they did also carry with them deseret, which, by interpretation, is a honey bee"

If the Book of Mormon was written in reformed Egyptian for a population who understood reformed Egyptian, why would a translation of "deseret" be on the plates in the first place?

David B said...

The Book of Mormon was actually written in Hebrew using Egyptian script or characters. Moroni commented that they would have used Hebrew script/characters (paleo-Hebrew/phoenician) but there wasn't enough room on the plates. Understanding this point explains why the grammatical hebraism come across in the Translation. This also explains why Moroni would bother giving the "Egyptian" word for bee written in egyptian along with the paleo-Hebrew word written in Egyptian characters.

David B said...

The Book of Mormon writers borrowed a reformed Egyptian alphabet/script/character, and not the language itself. And if you look at the Rosetta stone you will see how compact it is compared

Anonymous said...

the point is, why is a translation needed at all when the readers already understood the language it was written in???
Joseph Smith obviously saw the same thing used in the Bible and thought it would add credibility to his book.
The only time this happens in the Bible is when the writer is using a foreign language, but this is not the case here!

Smith said...

Fantastic post, well done indeed.
There's just two commenters I'd like to address, then I'll be on my way.
@ David B
-- The Book of Mormon was not written in Egyptian script (I'm assuming you mean hieroglyphics; if not, I sincerely apologize); this is not so, because the BoM writers said that they used this Reformed Egyptian because it was shorter than Hebrew script -- Egyptian hieroglyphics are far larger and take up far more room than Hebrew letters. The golden plates were more than likely written in something more akin to demotic, or perhaps hieratic script -- though, it may be important to study the Anthon manuscript(s) and compare them to the inscriptions found in Mexico to find a better understanding of the Nephite script itself.
@ Anonymous, who commented at 1:27 PM, and 10:42 PM --
You seem to be misunderstanding what David B has told you. The Book of Ether, which is the book in the Book of Mormon in which contains the term "deseret," was translated (also redacted and abridged) by Moroni into his own tongue. This was done because the readers in Moroni's day did not understand the language that the current record of Ether was written in (no more than I'm sure you understand biblical Hebrew or Greek). Therefore, a translation into the "modern" tongue of Moroni's day would indeed be necessary; it's actually a very common process, one you'll see used in the synoptic Gospels and in the Gospel of John. For John in particular, John must explain Hebrew/Aramaic terms in Koine Greek. Why is it difficult to consider that Moroni would have to use Nephite words to describe Babel-era or even Egyptian terms? And with the article on this page, the point is made even sharper; deseret is the transliteration of a legitimate Egyptian word.

In conclusion, I know the Book of Mormon to be true, and it's points like these that testify in a booming voice of that authenticity.
Thank you once again for this wonderful article.

David B said...

When I say Egyptian script: I do not mean hieroglyphs, demotic, hieretic, or meroitic. But the script was very likely very similar to meroitic which dates to 600 BC. However,the Nephites used the reformed shorthand Egyptian script/alphabet to write Hebrew and not to write Egyptian.

When comparing Hebrew to a Meroitic-like script, please don't confuse classical Hebrew with paleo-Hebrew. Classical squared Hebrew wasn't invented until the Babylonian captivity. Prior to the captivity, Ancient Israel wrote using a bulkier Phoenecian script.

Anonymous said...

This has been an interesting read.
But since there is no proof whatsoever that a language/writing
named Egyptian Reformed ever existed, it puts this article in
a different perspective.
The attempts of the LDS to explain
the BoM and the writings of JS
are always interesting.

NanaLinda said...

Hi David, I followed a link to your page when researching the origin of the word "deseret", being interested because of something I just read in Scott Wolter's book The Hooked X. In it, he proposes possible connections between the bee with some amazing Egyptian symbology,the fleur-de-lis of France and other ancient American artifacts. If you want, let me know what you think about that.

Linda Hite
M.A.R. Yale Divinity School

David B said...

http://ancientegypt.hypermart.net/treeoflife/ --- fleur-de-lis and Egyptian tree of life.

If I wasn't clear. The common last name "Nezbit" has its origins as a title of the Pharaoh meaning "King of Upper and Lower Egypt" or "He of the sedge (Cyperus papyrus) and the bee". We all know the papyrus as an important symbol of Egypt but the bee is not as well known.

The Fleur-de-lis represents the 3 public components of society: those who work, those who fight, and those who pray. It also represents a 4th hidden elite element of society represented by the band that holds the 3 leaves together.

David B said...

http://ancientegypt.hypermart.net/treeoflife/ --- fleur-de-lis and Egyptian tree of life.

If I wasn't clear. The common last name "Nezbit" has its origins as a title of the Pharaoh meaning "King of Upper and Lower Egypt" or "He of the sedge (Cyperus papyrus) and the bee". We all know the papyrus as an important symbol of Egypt but the bee is not as well known.

The Fleur-de-lis represents the 3 public components of society: those who work, those who fight, and those who pray. It also represents a 4th hidden elite element of society represented by the band that holds the 3 leaves together.

Chris Coles said...

David B, with all due respect, it appears pretty amazing to me that The Book of Mormon published in 1829 actually matches the word "deseret" (Egyptian DSRT) with the honey bee. Not only do we find an instance where DSRT replaces honey bee, but the Deshret Crown has a coiled wire protruding from the crown symbolizing the honey bee proboscis. It appears you are avoiding how impossible it would be to know this in 1829 and focusing on other elements you are trying to find fault with. There are hundreds of other evidences just like this that can be found in the Book of Mormon for those who are willing to honestly search and find them.

Lesley Harrop said...

Hugh Nibley also has a very interesting explanation for this occurrence in the Book of Mormon. There was no substantial evidence of the practice of bee keeping in ancient Mesopotamia. This is also a place where the Jaredites (who first used the term deseret) were possibly thought to have come from. This would mean in order to have brought bees with them, they received them from an outside source, possibly Egypt. They would have needed a word for bee-keeping, which is why there is no conclusive roots in other ancient languages to the actual word of deseret itself, only little tidbits or sounds or meanings of various terms, like red crown as you pointed out. I find this to be a logical explanation, also quite fitting that the word is defined by the author of Book of Mormon, because it was a word used by a people with their own language.