Monday, September 19, 2005

Hebrew tahas and Ancient Egyptian ths

I received this interesting inquiry from a reader:

"I saw in a paper that the Hebrew word "tehas" is a loanword from the Egyptian "ths" (= fine leather) I have searched on internet for "ths" and in the grammatics by Gardiner but couldn't find this word. Do you know this word, what is the hieroglyph and is there any connection with the leather of the sea animal dugong."

Here is the answer I sent:

Rainer Hannig at p. 1456 in his Ägyptisches Wörterbuch: Altes Reich und Erste Zwishcenzeit [Egyptian Dictionary I: Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period] has
(hieroglyphs: two-noosed animal noose, three-noosed wick, folded cloth hieroglyph, transcribed as t with a line below it, h with a dot below it and the letter s) and transliterated by Hannig in German as "recken (Fell, Leder über Gestell) giving the similar term hnt (h with a line below it) "Leder recken". "Recken" in German means "rack, stretcher" and in Egypt thus was apparently used to apply to leather stretched across a rack.

Tahas has also been transcribed in Hebrew as Taxus

This is to be distinguished from Egyptian dhr (the h has a dot below it and dhc (the d has a line below it, the h has a dot below it and the c is superscripted) meaning "leather, hide", i.e. leather in one piece.
The hieroglyphs used there are the cobra hieroglyph, the three-noosed candle wick hieroglyph, the extended arm hieroglyph and what I call the "curved ear" hieroglyph.
Online see
1. Leather in ancient Egypt
2. Rostau - dhr
3. Parts of mammals
4. Dravidian turutti < dr.ti skin, leather and Afro-Asiatic (Egyptian) dh.r bitter; hide, leather /Egyptian

Dugong ???? writes:
"[6] tn
The exact meaning of the Hebrew word here is difficult to determine. The term tahas (vj^T^) has been translated “badger [skins]” by the KJV tradition. The RSV uses “goat” skin; the NEB and NASB have “porpoise” skin, and the NIV has “sea-cow” hide. This is close to “porpoise,” and seems influenced by the Arabic. The evidence is not strong for any of these, and some of the suggestions would be problematic. It is possible the word is simply used for “fine leather,” based on the Egyptian ths. This has been followed by NRSV (“fine leather”) and NLT (“fine goatskin leather”) and the present translation. See further HALOT 4:1720-21."

tn might also simply be Old Kingdom tnj (the t has a line below it) meaning simply "cut strips of meat" or skins as it were

In any case, you now do have ths and tahas and a clue through tnj.
So what kind of leather was it?

Ronald S. Hendel, one of a bevy of reviewers of Mary Douglas's Leviticus as Literature writes:

"One of the leathers is called “tahas skins,” perhaps a type of beaded leather, see S. Dalley, “Hebrew tahas, Akkadian duhsu, Faience and Beadwork,” Journal of Semitic Studies (2000) 1-19; on the other fabrics in the Tent, see Haran, Temples, 160-63."

The equivalence of Hebrew tahas and Akkadian duhsu and the clue of "beaded leather" gives us the answer, since ancient Egyptian is Indo-European in its basic substratum.

In Latvian we have both term variations
kese(le) (the latvian k here has a comma below it and is pronounced tj) - "spoon-net"
dukurs - "purse-net, spoon-net"
Hence, this is going to be leather in strips stretched and dried on a rack and then interwoven net-wise like in sandals or mats, giving the leather the appearance as if it were like the skin of a fish, whence the confusion with fish hides or dugong.

Update 20 September, 2005:

Latvian for "leather, skin, hide" by the way is ada- (long a), while something made of leather would be no adas, i.e. "of leather", so that Latvian adas is essentially the same as tehas or ths. The ada- root would be very old since it would point to an original Indo-European root such as "OUTer" viz. Indo-European *ud-.

Latvian also provides the root for the Dravidian and Afro-Asiatic dh.r "leather" since Latvian dirat (long i, long a) means to "pull off leather, pull off the skin, to skin, to flay", presumably rooted in Latvian viz. proto-Indo-European *adi-raut "skin pull(ed) off". A "skinner" is a diratajs.

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