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.

Solar Eclipses over Egypt over the Millennia

[Note: updated and revised on October 13, 2005 to reflect the fact that Amir Bey's eclipse data for Egypt are still online.]

Fred Espenak has website pages covering historical and future solar eclipses at
NASA - Eight Millennium Catalog of Long Solar Eclipses
"Eight Millennium Catalog of Long Solar Eclipses [by] Fred Espenak -2999 to +5000 (3000 BCE to 5000 CE) [covering the] eight Millennium period -2999 to 5000 (3000 BCE to 5000 CE[1]), [during which the] Earth will experience 18,988 solar eclipses.....[longest-lasting eclipses are listed]."

The exact dating and location of these eclipses is uncertain because of variations in the calculation of Delta T, the mathematical value for changes in the rate of the spin of the Earth over time, which is variable.
See Espenak, Espenak on Saros, David Herald, Felix Verbelen, and for comprehensive detail Robert H. van Gent.
Most recent values are found cited at Guide-User, where it is written by Bill J. Gray:

"Usual warning: Delta-T becomes increasingly ill-defined as you extrapolate it. For example, a decade or so ago, it looked as if Delta-T was going to keep increasing by about a second or so each year, requiring a new "leap second" each December. Then it stopped increasing so briskly, and we've not had a new leap second since 1999. The above formula is there simply because Guide has to say _something_ about what Delta-T is apt to be, even if that something isn't very

We have our own explanation for the slowdown in the increase starting at 1999 which we have posted elsewhere as well:

"One way to understand Delta-T better is to spot the cycles which may be incorporated within it. One of these may be solar luminosity - which may have a ca. 190-year cycle, as manifested in the delta-T values evidenced between ca. 1700 and ca. 1890.

As written at Inside Earth:
"A Master’s thesis on a broken stalagmite in the main cave indicates a temperature cycle of 190 years between ~13,500 and 9,500 years ago, most likely a solar luminosity cycle."

This in turn may relate to the cycles in sunspots

which in turn are related to geomagnetic activity.

In my opinion, these variations are caused by planetary perturbations viz. planetary positions varying between perihelion and aphelion.

If that were true, then primarily responsible for the ca. 190-year cycle would be Pluto (actually, the orbit here is 248 years as such), which was at perihelion until 1999, when it was still within Neptune's orbit.

Now Pluto is headed back out to be the 9th planet again.

Accordingly, if the above theory be true, Delta T should now slow down as it has done, stay constant at ca. +65 and then diminish, rather than increase. Of course even if we were right on this prediction, we could be wrong, since current theory is that the planets can not exert this kind of influence, but I am not so sure."

Solar eclipses are useful for chronology and potentially especially for the history of Ancient Egypt. See LexiLine and Amir Bey, Eclipses over Egypt.

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