Since the world was supposed to end today it’s only appropriate I talk about Apocalypse. In Finland Apocalypse is known as “Tuho” (lit. Destruction) and he was the one who brought Angel back to life after he was killed by the Morloks. But let’s go back in time to when Apocalypse was born, because that is what I’m really interested about! You see, according to the back story Apocalypse was born in anciet Egypt and was abandoned by his parents – I think it was because of his grey skin colour? Well, whatever the reason, he was found by some nomads, given the name En Sabah Nur, which according to the Marvel Universe Wiki (MUW) means “The First One”.
My major subject in university is Egyptology but my minor subjects include Islamic and Arabic studies. I must confess I’m not very good in Arabic or in any other semitic languages, but still I can tell you that the translation is utterly wrong. In fact, pondering on this wrong translation my nerdy side took the better of me and I had to take a closer look at Apocalypse’s past.
The MUW lists Apocalypse’s other aliases as High Lord, Forever Walker, Son of the Morning Fire, The First One, Set, Huitxilopochti, Sauru, Kali-Ma, Aten and “many others”, and the Marvel Comics Database (MCD) lists even more including Eternal One, Eternal Pharaoh, and Eighth Apocalypse.
MCD sheds more light on Apocalypse’s background: “En Sabah Nur was born nearly five thousand years ago in a lone settlement on the very edge of the Amentet and the very edge of the Valley of the Kings, in Egypt, as a member of a tribe in Akkaba.”
OK, so I’m not really expecting any of this superhero stuff to be based on anything real, but let’s still have a closer look at what has been said. If Apocalypse was born five thousand years ago he would have been born in 3000 BC. That would have been around the time Egypt was united under the first pharaohs. Apocalypse’s history also names a pharaoh called Rama-Tut. No surprise, there is no pharaoh under that name known to have ruled Egypt, but according to MCD he was active in Egypt around 2950 AD [sic, must mean BC] during the 2nd Dynasty. It’s hard to say precisely as to when Egypt’s 2nd Dynasty ruled, but according to the Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, which we in the University of Helsinki use as our “official” timeline, the 2nd dynasty ruled c. 2890-2686 BC, so the years are a close match to when Apocalypse is said to have been born.
It says Apocalypse was born in a village called Amentet near the Valley of the Kings. According to my knowlegde no such village has ever existed on the west bank of Luxor, where Valley of the Kings is located. It’s also noteworthy that Valley of the Kings was founded by Ahmose, who was the first ruler of the 18th Dynasty (c. 1550-1295 BC). Luxor or Thebes or [Wast] existed at least to some level back then already, but there is to my knowledge no mention of a city or village under the name Amentet from that period. Then again, it is a possibility, since the local god of Thebes was Amon/Amen, so I suppose such a place could have existed. I can’t check right now if he was the local god already during the early dynastic period, but it’s plausible. The word for west in Egyptian is [jmntt] so the name of the village Amentet means West, but it could also mean something like being on the right side or even a secret place with feminine marker [-t].
To have a village on the western side of the Nile is a bit weird in itself. The Egyptians believed the western side of the Nile belonged to the dead. Also there was no Valley of the Kings at that time and the land is desert so there is no reason for anyone to live over there. Even when the Worker’s village of Deir el-Medina was occupied (on the mountains next to the Valley of the Kings) it wasn’t exactly a good place to live since it’s so far away from everything and needed to be supported by the government for whom they were building the tombs.
Well then, the name – En Sabah Nur. It doesn’t mean anything in Arabic nor in ancient Egyptian languages nor even in Akkadian or Sumerian languages. (Many thanks to my assyriologist friends Aino and Saana for help!) Instead Google translate told me that in Turkish En Sabah Nur means “the morning light”. And even though I don’t know any Turkish, Google translate is correct to the extent that in Arabic “sabah” means morning and “nur” means light. Remember, one of his names was “Son of the Morning Fire”. The part “En” is weird since it desn’t mean anything. Assyriologist Aino proposed En could be an incorrect spelling of the word “ibn”, meaning son. I saw it as a misplaced and misspelled Arabian definite article El/Al. With my Arabic skills, The Son of the Morning Light would be “Ibn Nur As-Sabah”. If it was “Ibn Sabah En-Nur” it would mean “Son of the light’s morning” which makes no sense, so we need to put Sabah and Nur the other way around.
But all of that is utter nonsense since Apocalypse was born in ancient Egypt where they spoke ancient Egyptian languages. Even though Egyptian languages belong to the same afroasiatic language tree as semitic languages like Arabic, they form a language group of their own, and since the language is much more older than the modern Arabic, there really isn’t much in common with the languages. But my dictionaries tell me that nur [nwr] means “to tremble, to shake” in Egyptian. As for Sabah, if it’s spelled [sbH] it means “to cry, to shriek. leprosy, or wind”, [sbhA] “to cause someone to flee“, [sbx] “to enclose (with arms)”, [sAb] “colourful”, and spelled as [SbA] it derives into words like star. In Egyptian morning is [bkA] or in some cases [dwA.t] but then it also refers to the Underworld, meaning the land of the dead. And light in Egyptian is [jAx.w] referring more to sunshine or to the rays of the sun.
So, no, Apocalypse’s name doesn’t mean a thing in Egyptian languages. Besides, if they would have wanted to refer to him as something which lights the sky they most likely would have used the word [xaj], “appear in glory”, to describe him, which leads us even further away from his name.
But, looking back to the story of feared nomads having taken Apocalypse and raising him as their own, it’s likely that they were the ones who named him En Sabah Nur. It’s noteworthy that original Arabs, before they received word from the God, were mostly nomads and I have recollection that they used to raid villages in the distant past. I doubt it would have been them raising Apocalypse, but if we stretch it a bit we could imagine that he was maybe raised by some pre-Arab tribe using semitic language and naming him En Sabah Nur, Ibn Sabah Nur or maybe even Ibn Nur As-Sabah. Meaning The Son of the Morning Light, not The First One.
So there you have it, the “corrected” history of Apocalypse. And here’s the drawing. Enjoy!