The Rosetta Stone Hoax: Pseudomacedonism’s Sharpest Tool

Aristotel Tentov and Tome Boševski, lecturing about their "discovery", December 2008

Aristotel Tentov and Tome Boševski, lecturing about their "discovery", December 2008

The Rosetta Stone Hoax of FYROM is a milestone in the idiosyncratic form of fascism which is developed along conservative-authoritarian lines and the myth of regional supremacy based on synthetic “Macedonian” origin. The revisionist act of translating (again!) an ancient text well-established as a cornerstone in annals of linguistic may seem as, in principle, a harmless exercise, but putting a straight face on the idea is already a challenge against scientific formulations which stood the test of time. The act of pseudoscientific forgery, delivered through unapologetic exhibitionism via the national media escalated into an official dogma.

Ethos of the regime is essentially ethno-socialist by nature: folkish common good is the motive for the goal-oriented activities of political party’s infrastructure which adapts the sphere of public opinion in a Machiavellian fashion, alternating both its transitory, actual content and the permanent, metaphysical concept of principles through manipulation with historiography as a way to outline the sequences of their manifestations in concrete manner. This is a main path chosen by policy makers of the vertical official nomenclatura and laterally positioned individuals in the sphere of administratively organized local culture. To a large degree, this state of affairs correlated with what could have been a petty play by two neophytes in the area of philology and historic linguistics.

So what is the Rosetta Stone Hoax all about and how does it fit into the political life of FYROM?

Enter Aristotel Tentov and Tome Boševski in the picture, two professors of engineering with an interesting claim:  an ancient text in hitherto unknown language, originating from today’s Egypt has been studied and translated by them and the resulting text is an ancestral form of today’s Slavic “Macedonian” language, quite similar to it. At a first glance, stated this way, it is a legitimate inquiry, the results of which should be subjected to scrutiny of peer-reviewed publication process. The main trouble, in theory. which nobody saw in the initial phase, is that the scholars wished to pursue an independent of any check-out presentational mode of contact with a general audience. In practice, the stance of linguistic combined with historiography was resolute for more than 100 years.

The Rosetta Stone,  a granite block containing an administrative decree by priests of the Ptolemaid Macedonian Greek dynasty, dated in 196 year BCE served as a benchmark for translation of the hieroglyphs, hitherto well-known but undeciphered script of Ancient Egyptians. It contains a text of the decree in hieroglyphs, demotic script and Greek alphabet, respectively, from the bottom to the top of one of its sides.

The presumption that the text in Ancient Greek could be a starting point for understanding of the hieroglyphs and the demotic script-a simplified variant of hieratic, which in turn is a variant of hieroglyphs-designated for fast writing in a more secular context that put premium on speed which appears from 7th CBE on Egyptian soil-seemed intuitive enough for the British scholar Thomas Young and his French colleague Jean-François Champollion. Successively and separately, in a process involving among other methods comparative studies of the language of the Copts, than in liturgical usage, Young deciphered the Demotic part of the monument and Champolion the hieroglyphic, laying the groundwork of modern Egyptology. Refinement of the method come with the successful application of initial principles to the quantitatively enormous wealth of Ancient Egyptian texts, that also included several polylingual monuments.

While the Rosetta Stone is one in a series of several known variants of the decree, the artifact, today custody of the British Museum in London remains iconic among epigraphical artifacts. As such,  its technical description and the translation of the text are universal starting point in any publication or study of Egyptology and in digested version, knowledge about the Stone is integral part of great deal of popular as well as broader-themed historical and archaeological books and articles. Rich bibliographical corpus formed for more than 100 years around the inscription and kindred artifacts. It is well popularized on the Internet, where general and even mid-level peer-reviewed, often technical information may be found.

Tentov and Boševski (T & B) gave these startling claims about the stone in 2006:

“This is a fallacy. For me it is not a scientific discovery, but a fallacy that the Ancient Macedonians were illiterate in their own language, and they founded the famous Alexandria library. What kind of illiterate people is making a library”? [ A1 TV, 26. 06. 2006]

Obviously the statement contains a lie: that the scholarly world thought of Ancient Macedonians as illiterate, which is very much out of question and professors must have known that. The statement about the library is a non sequitur. Among other claims that these two Pseudoscientist claim are:

The demotic script was not deciphered at all, an ordinary lie which could be easily verified.

That the script was originally ancient Macedonian. This claim, repeated enormous number of times, stands to a striking contrast with the facts that outside the domain of the Egyptian Civilization this script is unknown, that it is 3 centuries older than the establishment of Greeks led under Alexander the Great on the soil of today’s Egypt, that it is morphologically tied to the signs of the preceding hieroglyphic writing system. Being absolutely unknown outside the areal of the Egyptian culture, it remains such at the soil of Macedon, rest of Greece south of Mt. Olympus and throughout the entire Empire of Alexander, including the successor states in Middle East. No evidence exists that during the Hellenistic era demotic was exported for official or any kind of other use outside Egypt.

The most fundamental question is: how is it possible that Egyptologists were blind for more than 150 years regarding  the reality that they are dealing not only with an Indo-European Slavic language but the most implausible of them all when reading the second text on the Rosetta Stone? The Proto-Slavic language out of which the FYROMian Bulgarian dialect originates exhibits traces of contact with Baltic, Germanic, Ugro-Finnic and Iranian speakers, all of them attested through multidisciplinary studies in and around north to central parts of Eastern Europe. Furthermore, with regard to plausibility of the s. c. “Macedonian”, as it is called after 1944 (no description whatsoever of the language as “Macedonian” exist in texts predating 19th century) the claim that the “discovered” language on the stone contains features of grammar and syntax which make it identical to the modern day Pseudomacedonian are grossly untenable, since most of these features, including the post-positive article were developed in the FYROM-Bulgarian space only during the last 400-500 years out of the older attested cases, typical for all other Slavic language, including the Old Church Slavonic based on South Balkan Slavic dialects of middle ages. It is impossible that the more simpler article system evolved into the elaborate case system and than reverted spontaneously into analytical article system of the exactly same type.

Obviously, not only that authors cannot explain – and they never tried -the existence of Slavic languages of  Eastern Europe (One is reminded of the Pseudomacedonian theory of deserting Ancient Macedonian soldiers which reached Ukraine and appeared in history later as Slavs) but the absence of any kind of Slavic or-if anachronisms are to be avoided in T & B’s virtual reality, “Slavoid” language either in historic Macedonia or elsewhere in the lands of the Empire left by Alexander, this fact including later Roman/Byzantine Macedonia prior to the richly documented arrival of Slavs. The entire body of texts that may be seen is Greek if the later official usage of Latin is excluded.

The most absurd consequence of the find is that all other demotic texts- thousands of them, documenting over a millennia of  Egyptian history-which are translated according to the principles surrounding the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, and which produced perfectly logically structured texts, with meaning and coherence expressed in a variety of styles, would prove fake, void and the application of T & B’s methods would supplant the results with thousands of sets of entirely other coherent contents! The absurdity of this proposition to which many professionals and a number of informed laymen have pointed, needs no further proof of its obviousness.

This brief background on the historic and linguistic context regarding the genesis and the territorial area of demotic, the origin of Slavic as well as the Greek character of the Macedonian literacy which apart from fundamentally marginal influences of neighboring Non-Greek Ancient Balkan languages shows no hint of any other collateral language inside Macedonia was necessary to demonstrate the logic behind the impossibility of even grains of truth behind the claims by Tentov and Boševski. What is much more  relevant to the demonstration of the totalitarian character of Pseudomacedonian political protagonist is the reception and the public atmosphere created since the announcement of this discovery, which can be safely termed one of the greatest hoaxes in the history of linguistic and perhaps insofar the single most devastating Pseudomacedonian farce of this decade.

The authors of this ludicrous thesis after their, quite symptomatically, never received qualifiers which media outlets reserve for announcements of breakthrough discoveries in scientific fields, like “allegedly, “according to the authors”, “authors are claiming”. Instead, TV and journals of all genres took their claim not only for granted, but with unprecedented glorification and pompousness. The authors were called on main term news and on talk shows in initial days without invitation of linguists and philologists, being elevated to status of national heroes for breaking “the unknown script”, “discovering our ancient roots”, “proving that we are Biblical nation”. Opposition was suppressed that year: Marija Stankovska – Dzamali, then a Postgraduate of studies in Epigraphy in France, published her expertly opinion in FYROMian newspapers in form of facts coupled with common sense. She was quickly suppressed by “spontaneous” barrage of letters from citizens supportive of T & B’s discovery and was denounced as well as threatened in FYROMomophonic part of the Net. P. Hr. Ilievski, academic of MANU was obstructed by the very same institution to publish a rather lengthy paper (he republished it in 2008 in a -pdf format) explaining and denouncing the political and “patriotic” motives of the authors. In 2006 a concise and detailed expose of the hoax appeared in the peer-reviewed “Istorija”, authored by V. Sarakinski, lecturer at UKIM, but reached a very limited audience. In collectivist fashion, acceptance of T & B’s theory by a marginal symposium of Russian pseudoscientists operating outside any professional framework was promoted as “confirmation by the Russians”, while ecstatic crowds gathered  massively around Skoplje’s “Alexander the Great” airport during each case of Boševski and Tentov return from “congresses” and “seminars” which in true were private gatherings of amateur historians.

These circumstances strongly suggest that there is an action by the Pseudomacedonian authorities to at minimum suppress the truth and allow high penetration of the information sphere in FYROM of what wouldn’t be otherwise issue worthy of a brief tabloid article. It is obviously that any research journalist would find mountains of evidence against virtually every generalization of T & B  simply making online research, excluding consulting conventional publications and asking opinions from certified experts, yet none of them stood against  theory that only a scratch on the surface can demolish. In a surreal twist of events, the entire discovery was several times revamped not by any new discovery – the reader is reminded that T & B never tested their method by translating massively demotic texts others than the one found on the Rosetta Stone-but via cumulative announcements in which present time mode was used in the headlines, including the latest all-pervading campaign in December 2008, which indicates that the “discovery” happened just now, not two years before.

The “Macedonian” Orthodox Church, a schismatic and unrecognized organization which promotes Pseudomacedonian myths-among other those of unbroken continuity of Christianity in FYROM for 2000 (sic) years, FYROMians being a “biblical nation” and Apostle Paul’s mission to Thessaloniki as being directly related to Slavs of FYROM -embraced T & B’s theory with great enthusiasm. The narrative of the news story – indeed, a pickled news story, pulled out of the jar once in a while – is by now firmly embraced by the “Macedonian” people,  a nation that lives in a fascist pseudo-history cherishing as proof of their postulated continuity with Macedonians of Phillip and Alexander. The inclusion of the discovery in speech at the occasion of the „23. October Award“ ceremony by Tome Boševski, which was appointed a headman of the event, makes the theory in a certain sense official, and in the current climate it is likely that voices of opposition, regardless of the origin will be marginalized and crushed. The Rosetta Stone Hoax became the strongest point of convergence of Pseudomacedonian nationalism. The meaningless set of one-liners that passes for a translation of the demotic text, counterarguments against which are redundant at this point, has a level of coherence not very far for what would come out of a random words generator. Yet it is a hymn to thousands of fanatic Pseudomacedonians worldwide. Search result listings give tens of thousands of results for “Rosetta Stone” (“ Каменот од Розета“ – “Kamenot od Rozeta” )in Pseudomacedonian, linking not only to newly added pages but to entirely new ad hoc created sites and this was not a case before 2006. The ultranationalist hysteria in the undisputed land of Nikola Gruevski , the “state of Ancient Macedonians”, triumphed.

Before a conclusion is given, a dilemma that readers may have must be answered. The main question is : how the Rosetta Stone Hoax and its acceptance as a truth carved in stone in FYROM and nowhere else is correlated with Governmental policy? Wouldn’t be much more easily to explain it as a brief trend born out of ignorance of general public on specific details of Egyptology, which has it genesis in existential condition (poor people don’t buy archeology books)? The answer is that apart from the uniformity in reporting by nominally independent media and the lack of opposition among professionals in relevant fields, both of which show the pathology of collectivism (compulsive sensationalism as gratifying to the mob mentality on one hand and instilled fear of ostracism and violence on the other), in the Rosetta Stone hoax one may observe a rich symbolism which filled the preexisting gap in the atmosphere created by elite-imposed identity practices. From the viewpoint of events outside the identity discourse, Ancient Macedonia in the public eye catches attention with creation of visual points-airport terminals, squares, streets and most strikingly-statues (erecting a 15 meters tall statue of Alexander in Skoplje’s center square is scheduled for early 2009). These are metaphorical spoils taken from Hellenism, a reclaimed cultural property which “returns” home, fulfilling an archetypal mythical narrative. The official Pseudohistoriography  projected to the public via prolonged popularization and the educational system cannot function without such complementary signs of the nation-building projection.

But the whole circus of Pseudomacedonism would not represent an integral mechanism without an invention of literature bridging the worlds firmly separated by content, space and time. Pseudolingistical fabrications may only represent a finite number of concepts in comparison with potential productivity of language as an actual and theoretical concept. Regardless of that, The function of bridging the caricature of Ancient Macedonia which exists among FYROMian Slavs is achieved through creation of brief idiosyncratic glosses and phrases. While they cannot be used to extrapolate real history in form of consistent rapport, they provide a false echo of  poetic-sounding, ritualistic past, in a language which sounds recognizably Slavic. Speculative and liberal mind may developed these imagination into impressionistic contours, into escapist landscape. And the described travesty of the Rosetta Stone delivered by two electric engineers, together with works demonstrating Slavic character of the Homeric opus and Vasil Iljov’s immensely popular pseudolingustic attempts to build a “Stone Age Macedonian philosophical system”, represent a perfect starting line. The regime’s guilt is that it let this monstrosity spiral out of control and to actively lend support to its propagation in a small society where the power of action carried from the top via gray, unofficial, informal links and person-to-person dependencies exists on a scale unimaginable and impossible for the post-industrial metropolitan societies of the First World.
The Pseudomacedonian regime cordially opened  the doors to both con-artists and invigorated  the FYROMians public perception of themselves as Macedonians, something that they are not and never were.

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3 responses to “The Rosetta Stone Hoax: Pseudomacedonism’s Sharpest Tool

  1. James papadopolos

    Well said! it seems time and place have no connection in the mind of blind nationalism.

  2. There should be a response given from skopjan linguists to the hoax. Why isn’t there a collective effort?

  3. A detailed expose’ of the Tendov/Boshevski pseudoscientific claims can be found here:

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