What’s in a Name? SHISHAK and RAMESSES

What's in a Name? SHISHAK and RAMESSES 2

The ancient Hebrew writing of Shishak (the name the Bible gives for the pharaoh who plundered Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem in 925 BC) would have been written as above but with the letters reading from right to left rather than left to right (I have reversed the order of the letters here to facilitate the English writing in order to make the process easier to follow). There are no written vowels in ancient (pre-Masoretic) Hebrew, so we simply have Sh-y-sh-k.

What's in a Name? SHISHAK and RAMESSES 1

What's in a Name? SHISHAK and RAMESSES 3Like the Hebrew script, the Egyptian hieroglyphs also fail to record the vocalised vowels. The name Ramesses consists of four signs in its simplest form. First comes the symbol of the sun-god Ra (a sun disk); this is followed by the hieroglyphic sign of three fox pelts tied together which makes the syllable ‘mes’; the third and fourth signs are identical (a bolt of cloth) and represent the letter ‘s’ twice. Thus we have Ra-mes-ses.

It is important to remember that this is the ‘Egypto-speak’ version of modern scholarship – it does not represent the original vocalisation which is much more difficult to determine. However, we are lucky to have the name Ramesses written in another ancient foreign script (cuneiform) and language (Akkadian) because an ancient clay tablet has survived which records a peace treaty between Ramesses II and the Hittite emperor, Hattusilis III. This tablet, found in the archives of the Hittite capital at Boghazkoy, gives the syllabic writing of the pharaoh’s name in the form Ria-mash-shesha and this is, more than likely, quite close to the original vocalisation as the Hittite scribes heard it. Ra becomes Ria; mes becomes mash; and ss becomes shesha.

What's in a Name? SHISHAK and RAMESSES 4On a monumental gateway at Medinet Habu (the mortuary temple of Ramesses III) we find the hypocoristicon (shortened-form) or familiar name of Ramesses III. Here it is in its simplest skeletal form of the letter ‘s’ written twice, with the extra determinative sign of a king on a throne showing that we are reading a royal name. Given that we have the pronunciation of the final semitic (Akkadian) syllable, thanks to the Hittite treaty, we may vocalise this name as Shesha.

What's in a Name? SHISHAK and RAMESSES 5Ramesses II, who reigned a couple of generations before Ramesses III, had a more complex hypocoristicon which gives extra clues as to how the familiar name of Ramesses was pronounced. The two strokes (in red) represent the consonant ‘y’; the plant (in green) is combined with the coiled rope (in yellow) to give a syllable of undetermined value – possibly ‘su’ or ‘sa’. But we know from the Hittite version of the name Ramesses that the ending was ‘sha’. The Egyptian letter ‘s’ was often transcribed as ‘sh’ in semitic scripts (including Hebrew) and so we may render the hypocoristicon of Ramesses II as Shysha.

It is becoming clear that the familiar shortened form of the name Ramesses was very close in pronunciation to the biblical Hebrew name Shishak, making it vey likely that the plunderer of the Jerusalem Temple was a Ramesses. But we still have to resolve the issue of the final ‘k’ which appears in the biblical name Shishak but not in the name Shysha.

What's in a Name? SHISHAK and RAMESSES 6

The biblical redactor or editor often employs puns when dealing with foreign names which appear in the Bible. He replaces the original foreign word with a Hebrew word which sounds similar. Sometimes the Hebrew version can have a derogatory meaning so as to pour scorn on a foreigner who does not walk in the path of Yahweh. For example, the Phoenician name Yzebel (Jezebel), meaning ‘[Baal] is prince’ is transformed into the Hebrew word Ayzebel which means ‘where is the excrement?’. It has recently occurred to the New Chronology researchers that the name Shishak might also be a play on words. Indeed, the word formed by the three letters Sh-sh-k means ‘the one who crushes under foot (or wheel)’ – a suitable epithet for the mighty conqueror Ramesses II, known throughout the Levant by his familiar name of Shysha.

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