All things Woy, Amun, ancient Egypt, Anubis, Australia, epithets, fraud, Geb, Gosford, hieroglyphs, hoax, Kariong, Khufu, nefer, Nefer-Djeseb, Nefer-Ti-Ru, obelisk, Old Kingdom, Ray Johnson, Re-Horakthy, Rex Gilroy, Set, titles, translation
For our new segment on the hoax of the Gosford Glyphs, it’s a good idea to take a closer and more analytical look at the story itself, as translated by the Australian Ray Johnson. For anyone who is versed in the ancient Egyptian culture, religion, and inscriptional material, the story presents a number of notable oddities. For the sake of convenience, I repeat the translation below:
THUS SPEAKS HIS HIGHNESS THE PRINCE FROM THIS WRETCHED PLACE WITHIN THIS LAND, TRANSPORTED THERE BY SHIP.
DOING THIS WRITING FOR THE CROWN OF LOWER EGYPT, ACCORDING TO GOD’S WORDS. THE FELLAHEEN CALL OUT FROM THIS PLACE IN THIS STRANGE LAND, FOR SUTI.
I, NEFER-DJESEB, SON OF THE KING KHUFU, THE KING OF UPPER AND LOWER EGYPT, BELOVED OF “PTAH” HAVE TRANSPORTED “SUTI.”
“HE (NEFER-TI-RU) IS KIND (AND) BENEVOLENT, (A) FOLLOWER (OF THE) GOLDEN-HAIRED GOD, “RA-HERU.” “TWO YEARS* THAT I (HE ?) MAKE WAY WESTWARDS, I (HE, NEFER TI-RU) (PUT) UP STRONG FRONT, PRAYING, JOYFUL, SMITING INSECTS. HIS HIGHNESS, A SERVANT OF GOD, HE (SAY’S) GOD BRINGS THE INSECTS, THUS THINE OWN FELLAHEEN PROTECT.”
THE SNAKE BIT TWICE, ALL THOSE BEHIND THE DIVINE LORD OF KHUFU, THE LORD OF THE TWO ADZES , MIGHTY ONE OF LOWER EGYPT. NOT ALL GO BACK. (WE ARE) MARCHING FORWARD, (WE) DO NOT LOOK BACK.
(WE) ALL DAMAGED THE BOAT AT LOW TIDE. OUR BOAT IS TIED UP. THE SNAKE CAUSED THE DEATH. (WE) GAVE HALF AN EGG (FROM MEDICINE) BOX (OR CHEST), (AND) PRAYED TO THE HIDDEN ONE, FOR HE WAS STRUCK TWICE.”
A HARD ROAD, WE ALL WEPT OVER THE BODY, KEEPING TO THAT, WHICH IS ALLOWED. “SEATED (BY) THE SIDE WAY.” “WITH CONCERN AND DEEP LOVE, (THE) FELLAHEEN.
PLANTS WILTING, LAND DYING, IS THIS MY LOT FROM THE MOST HIGH GOD, OF THE SACRED MER. THE SUN POURS DOWN UPON (MY BACK), O! KHEPERA, MOST HIGH, THIS IS NOT AS THE ORACLE SAID. MY OBELISK IS OVERTURNED, BUT NOT BROKEN.
THE BANDAGED ONE IS CONFINED, HEAR, THE RED EARTH REGION.” THEN OF TIME TO GROW, (I.E. SPRING), WE WALLED IN WITH LOCAL STONES THE ENTRANCE TO THE SIDE CHAMBER. I COUNTED AND IMPOUNDED THE DAGGERS (OF THE) FELLAHEEN.
THE THREE DOORS TO ETERNITY ARE CONNECTED TO THE REAR END BEHIND THE BULWARK (OF THE GRAVE).
A NECKLACE PLACED BY HIS SIDE. A ROYAL TOKEN, SIGNIFYING HEAVENS GIFT, AS FROM THOU…! O HOLY SHINING ONES. TAKEN ACROSS (TO) PRIVATE SANCTUARY (OF THIS) TOMB. (ALONG WITH) THE SILVER DAGGER, A ROYAL TOKEN (OF THE) GREAT MAKER.
SEPARATED FROM (THE CITY OF) “ PENU” (IS) THE ROYAL BODY (AND FROM) ALL OTHERS. THAT REGAL PERSON THAT CAME FROM THE HOUSE OF GOD, NEFER-TI-RU, THE SON OF KHUFU, KING OF UPPER AND LOWER EGYPT , WHO DIED BEFORE, IS LAID TO REST.
HE IS NOT OF THIS PLACE. HIS HOME IS PENU. RETURN HIM TO HIS TOWN . ONE THIRD OF (THE) FRUITS, I MYSELF DIVIDED FOR THE BURIAL SERVICE. HOLD HIS SPIRIT WITH LOVE, O MOST HIGH. WORMS IN THE BASKET OF FRUIT, GOING INTO (HIM), SHALL NOT BE.
MAY HE HAVE LIFE, EVERLASTING. AM I NOT TO GO BACK BESIDES THE WATERS OF THE SACRED MER, THEN CLASP HIM, MY BROTHER’S SPIRIT TO THY SIDE, O FATHER OF THE EARTH.
The Egyptians left us a veritable wealth of inscriptions and texts from all periods of pharaonic history. Indeed, until Jean-François Champollion cracked the hieroglyphic code in 1822, no one knew anything meaningful or substantial about ancient Egypt. Almost two centuries of steady decipherment, linguistics, and philology have opened Egypt to us—teaching us everything from their personal names to the names of their deities to the most enigmatic rituals in their religion.
I’ll pull only some examples of oddities from Ray Johnson’s translation. The more I read it, the more fault I can find in the translation, to the point that almost every line presents something dubious or unlikely.
We can start with the main players in the story, the princes Nefer-Djeseb and Nefer-Ti-Ru. As I explained in Part I, these were supposedly sons of King Khufu, the builder of the Great Pyramid and one of the most powerful monarchs of the entire Old Kingdom. If we search actual monuments from the reign of Khufu, can we find evidence for two sons named Nefer-Djeseb and Nefer-Ti-Ru? This should be easy enough. In the tombs of Giza, especially in the mastaba field to the east of the Great Pyramid, we find the family members of Khufu—their names inscribed not only in their own tombs but also in the tombs of fellow family members. Khufu’s family is well attested, in other words.
The answer for Nefer-Djeseb and Nefer-Ti-Ru is: No. They are not mentioned. And yet we know the names of Khufu’s children, both sons and daughters: Neferetiabet, Kawab, Hetepheres II, Djedefre, Hordjedef, Minkhaf, Babaef A, Meryetyotes II, Bauefre, Khufukhaf I, Meresankh II, Horbaef (Dodson & Hilton 2004: 52-61). So why should two sons named Nefer-Djeseb and Nefer-Ti-Ru be completely unattested except for a dubious smattering of glyphs on rock faces in Australia? This alone is highly suspect.
Whoever etched the Gosford Glyphs may have been decidedly unlearned in Egyptian hieroglyphs but they knew at least enough to be clever. The “nefer” element was safe to go with. Meaning such things as “beautiful,” “good,” and “perfect” in the ancient language, “nefer” was a common part of names for both males and females (think of two of pharaonic Egypt’s most famous queens, Nefertiti and Nefertari). To the uninitiated, then, the two “nefer” names at Gosford have a familiar ring and are therefore believable. However, as much as “Djeseb” might sound like ancient Egyptian, try as I might I could not find any record of this name or root or word in the ancient language. It’s a modern invention. As for “Nefer-Ti-Ru,” I could find very little at all. The only thing I came across that might be close is the name Nefertiry (another way to render Nefertari), and there was a Nefertiry B: a daughter of Tuthmosis III whose name appears in that king’s tomb, KV34 (ibid 140). This of course would have no relation with the invented “Nefer-Ti-Ru.”
So right off the bat the two main players in the story clearly come across as a modern attempt to represent Egyptian-sounding names. What else can the translation tell us?
Quite a lot. It’s loaded with factual errors. One that jumped out at me is the reference to the “Golden-haired god Re-Heru.” Re was of course the principal solar deity of ancient Egypt, and Heru is a decent rendering of the name of the falcon god Horus as it might have actually been spoken in the ancient tongue. The synthesis of these two gods, Re and Horus, goes back to the very earliest times in Egypt, but the proper form of the name is Re-Horakhty. This might be a fussy point for me to make but I admit to being a stickler for details, and this is not the sort of error a real translator should make. More bizarre, however, is the epithet “Golden-haired god,” which makes Re-Horakhty sound like some sort of Scandinavian studmuffin. In point of fact the Egyptians themselves held that the skin of Re was made of gold, his bones were of silver, and his hair was of lapis lazuli (which means his hair wasn’t golden but blue).
There is also the repeated reference to “fellahin.” I can’t think of any modern translation that would use this term to refer to ordinary people or a work crew of sailing crew in ancient Egypt. In fact, “fellahin” is an Arabic word to describe farmers or agricultural workers. A word in ancient Egyptian for ordinary people would be “khet” (Xt) or even more commonly “rekhyt” (rxyt) (Faulkner 2002: 152, 200). To refer to the men specifically as the crew of a ship, as these men were supposed to be, the term would be “iset” (ist) (ibid 30). This might also be a fussy point, but it goes to the accuracy of translation (or lack thereof) and whether the translator is merely making it up based on his or her lack of training in the ancient script.
Titles and epithets in the story are particularly odd. In one line, for instance, Khufu is provided the title “Lord of the Two Adzes.” King’s titles and epithets are particularly well attested from all periods, understandably, but this isn’t one of them. “Lord of the Two Lands” was certainly a common title for kings, but one wonders where “Two Adzes” comes from? “Father of the Earth” is found at the end of the story but who or what is “Father of the Earth?” Geb was a prominent earth deity but this isn’t a title for him. The phrases “Great Maker” and “O Most High” sound a lot more Judeo-Christian than ancient Egyptian.
Unusual is the point near the middle of the story where we’re told the crew “prayed to the Hidden One.” Now, this does fit well with the god Amun, whose name more or less translates as “Hidden One.” It is a decidedly noticeable anachronism in this case, however, because Amun was a very minor deity in the Old Kingdom and isn’t seen in the Egyptian pantheon until the earliest appearances of the Pyramid Texts at the end of Dynasty 5, more than 150 years after the time of Khufu. This was not a deity to whom this sailing crew should have been praying. Amun would not have been important to them. Amun did eventually become an extremely important deity, but in Egyptian history he didn’t start to emerge as prominent until the Middle Kingdom (Wilkinson 2003: 92).
At one point we are told of an obelisk that was “overturned, but not broken.” The obelisk is one of the hallmarks of ancient Egypt, and a familiar sight to us all. It was co-opted by all sorts of cultures, ancient and modern; think of the Washington Monument. However, obelisks were not always a fixture in pharaonic Egypt. The earliest one on record which was carved for someone other than a king dates to Dynasty 6 at the end of the Old Kingdom (Quirke 2001: 135), and this is of course well after Khufu.
On a last note, one of the most prominent carvings at Gosford is this tall figure:
This is the deity recorded as “Suti” in the translation of Ray Johnson. Even most kids whom I’ve met would immediately know that this is supposed to be Anubis, one of the primary deities of the underworld and patron god of ancient Egyptian embalmers, so where does “Suti” come from? “Suti” is an alternate spelling for the name of the god Set, the deity associated with chaos, storms, and the desert. So why did Johnson “translate” the above figure as Suti and not Anubis?
This is a bit of a puzzle. One of the followers of Ray Johnson’s work is an Australian man called Hans-Dieter von Senff. He wrote a paper titled “Ancient Egyptians in Australia: The Kariong Glyphs, a Proto-Egyptian script deciphered.” It’s one of those papers you can download on the internet, which is the only place it exists. Von Senff clearly worked hard to support Johnson’s translation and his “Ancient Egyptians in Australia” paper stretches on to 149 pages. It’s a tortured attempt to make Johnson’s translation seem legitimate and, aside from falling well short in that regard, von Senff attempts to explain this odd discrepancy between Anubis and Set by framing “Suti” as more suitable for travelers and the only deity that could be used in this Australian setting for the deceased Nefer-Ti-Ru.
One could go on for a while refuting the flawed reasoning in von Senff’s explanation, but one is immediately caused to ask: if the Egyptian carver intended the figure to be Set, why not use a figure of Set instead of Anubis? The forms and iconography of Anubis and Set are entirely different and would’ve been very familiar to ancient Egyptians, from all periods. In any case, Set was not an afterlife deity in most respects, especially in the Old Kingdom when our story is supposed to have taken place.
In my next installment on the Gosford hoax I’ll go into more detail on other clear errors in the glyphs. But all in all, whoever carved the glyphs and initiated this hoax, they don’t seem to have anything whatsoever in common with the translation Ray Johnson concocted. It’s a completely transparent invention on the part of Johnson, and it’s just plain silly. This is not the translation work of anyone truly acquainted with the ancient Egyptian language, the orthography of hieroglyphs, or the fundamentals of ancient Egyptian religion and culture.
I hope you’ll keep reading.
Dodson, Aidan & Dyan Hilton. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. 2004.
Faulkner, Raymond O. A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. 1962.
Quirke, Stephen. The Cult of Re: Sun-Worship in Ancient Egypt. 2001.
Wilkinson, Richard. Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. 2003.