The Calendars of Ancient Egypt

The Calendars of Ancient Egypt

By Richard A. Parker

Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, No. 26 (The University of Chicago Press, 1950)

Early in the course of Parker’s work on the text volume to Medinet Habu III: The Calendar, a project upon which Dr. Harold H. Nelson and he intend to collaborate, it became evident that he could not successfully grapple with the problems of Ramses III’s temple calendar without a thorough investigation into all the calendarial phenomena of ancient Egypt. Once started, his own predilection for the subject led him farther and farther, so that what was originally intended as a page or two of footnotes has grown to the proportions of the present volume. Parker demonstrates that the Egyptians had three calendars, two lunar and religious, one civil. Parker begins with a consideration of the lunar day and month, passes on to an analysis of the later lunar calendar, then discusses the probable nature of the early lunar calendar, and, finally, suggests a possible origin for the civil calendar. In three excursuses he offers solutions to various problems which arose naturally out of the calendarial material.

Excerpt: All that we know of ancient and modern time-reckoning leads to the conclusion that lunar months begin with some observable phase of the moon. “As always,” says Nilsson, “the concrete phenomenon is the starting point.” Most peoples (both ancient and modern) who use a lunar calendar start the month with the new crescent; a few count from full moon; while two East African tribes, the Masais and the Wadschaggas, begin with the moon’s invisibility. All these starting points, as well as one other, conjunction, have been maintaineed for the Egyptian lunar month by various scholars from as a recent a year as 1932. It is the purpose of this chapter to demonstrate that the ancient Egyptians, like the Masais and the Wadschaggas, began their lunar month on the morning of the day when the old crescent of the moon was no longer visible in the eastern sky before sunrise.

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