Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Dingir – Tau and Theta

Posted by Fredsvenn on May 13, 2016

Sumerian Ti means rib and to live. Ninti is the Sumerian goddess of life. Ninti is also one of the eight goddesses of healing who was created by Ninhursag to heal Enki’s body. Her specific healing area was the rib.

Enki had eaten forbidden flowers and was then cursed by Ninhursaga, who was later persuaded by the other gods to heal him. Some scholars suggest that this served as the basis for the story of Eve created from Adam’s rib in the Book of Genesis.

Dingir (usually transliterated diĝir is a Sumerian word for “god” or “goddess”. Its cuneiform sign is most commonly employed as the determinative for “deity” although it has related meanings as well. As a determinative, it is not pronounced, and is conventionally transliterated as a superscript “D” as in e.g. DInanna. Its emesal pronunciation was dimer.

The Sumerian sign DIĜIR originated as a star-shaped ideogram indicating a god in general, or the Sumerian god An, the supreme father of the gods. Dingir also meant sky or heaven in contrast with ki which meant earth.

The sign in Sumerian cuneiform DIĜIR by itself represents the Sumerian word an (“sky” or “heaven”), the ideogram for An or the word diĝir (“god”), the supreme deity of the Sumerian pantheon.

In Assyrian cuneiform, it (AN, DIĜIR) could be either an ideogram for “deity” (ilum) or a syllabogram for an, or ìl-. InHittite orthography, the syllabic value of the sign was again an.

The concept of “divinity” in Sumerian is closely associated with the heavens, as is evident from the fact that the cuneiform sign doubles as the ideogram for “sky”, and that its original shape is the picture of a star. The original association of “divinity” is thus with “bright” or “shining” hierophanies in the sky.

Tau (uppercase Τ, lowercase τ; Greek: ταυ) is the 19th letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 300. Tau was derived from the Phoenician letter taw. It is the twenty-second and last letter of the Semitic abjads. Its original sound value is /t/. The Phoenician letter gave rise to the Greek tau (Τ), Latin T, and Cyrillic Т.

Taw is believed to be derived from the Egyptian hieroglyph meaning “mark”. “From aleph to taf” describes something from beginning to end, the Hebrew equivalent of the English “From A to Z.”

Tav is the last letter of the Hebrew word emet, which means ‘truth’. The midrash explains that emet is made up of the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph, mem, and tav).

Sheqer (falsehood), on the other hand, is made up of the 19th, 20th, and 21st (and penultimate) letters. Thus, truth is all-encompassing, while falsehood is narrow and deceiving.

In Jewish mythology it was the word emet that was carved into the head of the golem, an animated anthropomorphic being, magically created entirely from inanimate matter, which ultimately gave it life. But when the letter aleph was erased from the golem’s forehead, what was left was “met”—dead. And so the golem died.

In Biblical times, the taw was put on men to distinguish those who lamented sin, although newer versions of the Bible have replaced the ancient term taw with mark (Ezekiel 9:4) or signature (Job 31:35).

The tau was also considered a symbol of salvation due to the identification of the tau with the sign which in Ezekiel 9:4 was marked on the forehead of the saved ones (“set a mark (tav; after the Phoenician cross-shape 𐤕) on the forehead of the men”), or due to the tau-shaped outstretched hands of Moses in Exodus 17:11.

The symbolism of the cross was connected not only to the letter chi but also to tau, the equivalent of the last letter in the Phoenician and Old Hebrew alphabets, and which was originally cruciform in shape.

An essay written around 160 AD, attributed to Lucian, a mock legal prosecution called The Consonants at Law — Sigma v. Tau in the Court of Seven Vowels, contains a reference to the cross attribution. Sigma petitions the court to sentence Tau to death by crucifixion, saying:

Men weep, and bewail their lot, and curse Cadmus with many curses for introducing Tau into the family of letters; they say it was his body that tyrants took for a model, his shape that they imitated, when they set up structures on which men are crucified. Stauros (cross) the vile engine is called, and it derives its vile name from him.

Now, with all these crimes upon him, does he not deserve death, nay, many deaths? For my part I know none bad enough but that supplied by his own shape — that shape which he gave to the gibbet named stauros after him by men

The Tau Cross is most commonly used in reference to the Franciscan Order and Saint Francis of Assisi, who adopted it as his personal coat of arms after hearing Pope Innocent III talk about the Tau symbol. It is now used as a symbol of the Franciscan Order.

Almost all Franciscan churches have painted a tau with two crossing arms, both with stigmata, the one of Jesus and the other of Francis; usually members of the Secular Franciscan Order wear a wooden τ in a string with three knots around the neck.

The Cross of Tau is a form of the Christian cross symbol named after the Greek letter it resembles. It is also variously St. Anthony’s Cross, Old Testament Cross, Anticipatory Cross, Cross Commissee, Egyptian Cross, Advent Cross, Croce taumata, Saint Francis’s Cross, Crux Commissa.

The staurogram was a tau-rho ligature used to abbreviate the Greek word for cross in very early New Testament manuscripts. The tau was also considered a symbol of salvation due to the identification of the tau with the sign which in Ezechiel 9:4 was marked on the forehead of the saved ones “set a mark on the forehead of the men”, or due to the tau-shaped outstretched hands of Moses in Exodus 17:11.

The bovines in the region in which Ptah was worshipped exhibited white patterning on their mainly black bodies, and so a belief grew up that the Apis bull had to have a certain set of markings suitable to its role. It was required to have a white triangle upon its forehead, a white vulture wing outline on its back, a scarab mark under its tongue, a white crescent moon shape on its right flank, and double hairs on its tail.

In ancient times, tau was used as a symbol for life or resurrection, whereas the eighth letter of the Greek alphabet, theta, was considered the symbol of death.

According to Porphyry of Tyros, the Egyptians used an X within a circle as a symbol of the soul; having a value of nine, it was used as a symbol for Ennead or Great Ennead, a group of nine deities in Egyptian mythology worshipped at Heliopolis.

Johannes Lydus says that the Egyptians used a symbol for cosmos in the form of theta, with a fiery circle representing the world, and a snake spanning the middle representing Agathos Daimon (literally: good spirit).

Theta is the eighth letter of the Greek alphabet, derived from the Phoenician letter Teth. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 9. The Egyptians also used the symbol of a point within a circle (the sun disc) to represent the sun, which might be a possible origin of its use as the Sun’s astrological glyph. It is worthwhile to note that theta has the same numerical value in isopsephy as Helios.

In classical Athens, it was used as an abbreviation for the Greek thanatos (“death”) and as it vaguely resembles a human skull, theta was used as a warning symbol of death, in the same way that skull and crossbones are used in modern times. It survives on potsherds used by Athenians when voting for the death penalty.

Petrus de Dacia in a document from 1291 relates the idea that theta was used to brand criminals as empty ciphers, and the branding rod was affixed to the crossbar spanning the circle. For this reason, use of the number theta was sometimes avoided where the connotation was felt to be unlucky—the mint marks of some Late Imperial Roman coins famously have the sum ΔΕ or ΕΔ (delta and epsilon, that is 4 and 5) substituted as a euphemism where a Θ (9) would otherwise be expected.


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