The Rosetta Stone and the deciphering of hieroglyphs (Exodus 9)

In 1799 Napoleon’s soldiers discovered an inscribed stone near the town of Rosetta on the Nile delta, just south of the Mediterranean Sea. Known as the Rosetta Stone, this stele helped to solve the mystery of the Egyptian writing system known as hieroglyphics, thereby providing the key to understanding much of the Egyptian history and culture recorded on ancient monuments.

Originally inscribed to honour Ptolemy V Epiphanes (203-181 B.C.), this stone is divided into three sections called registers, each of which contains the same text but in a different writing system (hieroglyphics, demotic and Greek). At the time of its discovery only the bottom, Greek register could be read. It described how Egyptian priests, in gratitude for how Ptolemy had endowed their temple, declared him to be a god and ruler of Egypt forever. Soon several scholars isolated the royal names mentioned in the stone’s hieroglyphics on the basis of their Greek equivalents. The most exciting breakthrough in decoding the stele’s hieroglyphics, however, occurred when a historian named J-F. Chapollion realized that the writing included symbols not only for letters but also for syllable-like sounds and even for entire words. Champollion announced in 1822 that he had substantially solved the riddle. Since then Egyptologists have steadily enhanced our knowledge of hieroglyphics and, as a cnsequence, of anient Egypt.

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