James P. Allen Charles Edwin Wilbour Professor of Egyptology, Professor of Egyptology and Assyriology

James P. Allen received his PhD from the University of Chicago. Before joining Brown in 2007, Prof. Allen was an epigrapher with the University of Chicago's Epigraphic Survey, Cairo Director of the American Research Center in Egypt, and curator of Egyptian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From 2008 to 2015, he was President of the International Association of Egyptologists.
Prof. Allen's research interests include ancient Egyptian grammar and literature, religion, and history. He has written extensively on these subjects, including Genesis in Egypt: the Philosophy of Ancient Egyptian Creation Accounts (Yale, 1988), Middle Egyptian: an Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs (Cambridge, 2000; 2010, 2014), The Heqanakht Papyri (MMA, 2002), The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), The Debate between a Man and His Soul (Brill, 2011), The Ancient Egyptian Language, an Historical Study (Cambridge, 2013), and Middle Egyptian Literature: Eight Literary Works (2014). He is currently working on publication of material from the Metropolitan Museum's excavations at Dahshur, a comprehensive grammar of the ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts, and a study of ancient Egyptian religion and thought.

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

research overview

Prof. Allen is one of a small number of Egyptologists currently involved in a reevaluation of the model by which the earliest stages of the ancient Egyptian language is understood. In 2013, he hosted an international workshop on the subject at Brown, the results of which have been published in the Department's Wilbour Studies series of scholarly monographs.

research statement

The main thrust of my research since 2010 has been on the verbal system of Earlier (Old and Middle) Egyptian. Previous models of the language have proven either inaccurate or overly mechanical in explaining the formal, semantic, and syntactic features of a number of verb forms. As a result, I and a number of my colleagues in Europe have begun to rethink our approach to the data. My contribution since 2010 has been to identify the phenomenon of gemination (consonant doubling) as a lexical feature rather than an inflectional one, to reduce the inventory of a primary verb form (the sḏm.f) from six forms to two in Old Egyptian (unmarked and marked, the latter expressing incompletion) and only one in Middle Egyptian, to re-analyze the use of two verb forms (the sḏm.f and sḏm.n.f) in relative clauses as a feature of syntax rather than inflection, and to re-analyze the so-called “emphatic” construction (in which the verb is thematic rather than rhematic) as conditioned by context rather than by inflection or syntax.

These all reflect my conviction that previous analyses of the Egyptian verbal system (including some of my own) have been corrupted by the unconscious biases that stem from translations into our own languages. For example, the Late Egyptian sḏm.f has been analyzed as concealing two inflected forms, preterite and subjunctive, because its uses require one or the other translation. Both forms, however, look exactly the same in writing, and it makes more sense to understand them as reflecting only one inflected form, unmarked for either tense or mood.

For the last few years I have been working primarily on the Pyramid Texts, the oldest substantial body of ancient Egyptian literature. Most recently, I have begun work on a comprehensive grammar of the Pyramid Texts, which does not yet exist. To that end, I recently compiled a new concordance of all published sources from the Old Kingdom, a six-volume work that has been made freely available online (https://www.dropbox.com/sh/0xo88uy04urnz0v/o16_ojF8f_), and the first volume of my grammar, dedicated to the oldest Pyramid Texts, those of Unis (Dyn. V, ca. 2323 BC), will appear in Eisenbrauns’ Languages of the Ancient Near East series in 2016.