Samgar in Jeremiah 39.3

John Hobbins, Charles Halton, Chris Heard and I have been discussing (offline) some other details regarding Jeremiah 39.3 in light of the Jursa discovery. John has the latest update out of the gang, here. These are just some preliminary notes on one aspect of that conversation that seem good to share. I’ll be sure to post any major adjustments to the below, as they occur.

I’ve been focusing on the word sāmgār ( MT סַמְגַּר ) which is generally agreed to represent the Babylonian word sinmagir, or, more properly, Sîn-magīr. The relationship suggests that the Hebrew should perhaps be repointed to סִמַּגִר, with the Akkadian /n/ elided into the doubled /m/ in Hebrew. The word is obviously a title of some sort belonging to the immediately preceding name Nergalsharezer, just as the other two Babylonian officials mentioned also bear titular epithets. (Their titles, I’m sure, will be taken up elsewhere.) The issue is that of the meaning of this title Sîn-magīr, not just here in Jeremiah 39.3, but even in Neo-Babylonian texts.

The epithet, when understood as such, has been taken as alternately either a place name (as is reflected in the NIV and NET translations of Jeremiah 39.3: Nergal-sharezer of Samgar) or simply as a title, “the Sîn-magīr official,” as is the preferred meaning in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary. Throughout the last century and up to the present, there has been no decisive conclusion made regarding the meaning, and so some scholars treat it as a title, while others treat it as a geographic name. Neither of these, however, quite conveys the proper meaning, as this name (for indeed, it is a personal name) has a very long history in Babylonia.

It seems to have first appeared as the name of King Sîn-magīr of the First Dynasty of Isin, who ruled 1827-1817 BC. The name perhaps means “(the moon god) Sin is noble.” Thereafter, Sîn-magīr was a very popular name during the Old Babylonian period, as we see from it popping up in numerous legal and economic texts of the period. In the late Kassite Dynasty and in the Second Dynasty of Isin (circa 1200-1125 BC), we find that there was a province called Bīt-Sîn-magīr, “House of Sîn-magīr,” perhaps originally named for a Kassite tribal chief bearing the name Sîn-magīr. During this period the governor of that province was called šakin Bīt-Sîn-magīr, all of which was preceded by the logographic determinative LÚ, pronounced awīl or amēl in Babylonian, meaning “man” in general or more specifically “official” in contexts like this. Over the course of the next several centuries, something very interesting appears to have happened with the name of this territory and this governor’s title. By the time it is mentioned again in the late Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian periods, we see LÚ.DINGIR Sîn-magīr, that is, “Sîn-magīr man” or “Sîn-magīr official.” There is a mechanism to explain this.

Already in the Isin II period, the phrase šakin māti “governor of the land” was being reduced to simply šakin in the case of this governor and others. This may be because immediately following the māti would sometimes occur the KUR (read as māt, “land of”) logographic determinative right before the name of the region, and this duplication was considered dysphonic. Another interesting thing is that in the phrase Bīt-Sîn-magīr and in other such Bīt-PN phrases where the personal name is compound, the PN is not in the genitive, as it is in the case of non-compound examples: Bīt-Adini, Bīt-Zamāni, etc). This seems to be a rule, as it is consistent. In any case, the Bīt-, “House of…” drops from the phrase Bīt-Sîn-magīr during the course of the roughly five centuries between Isin II and the Neo-Babylonian period, for whatever reason, perhaps simply for hypocoristic reasons. The end result is that the remaining Sîn-magīr, which was always a personal name and was still understood as a personal name, does not appear to bear geographic determinatives, though perhaps future discoveries will show these to us. We also now find the title of the ruler of this province or territory now being simply LÚ.DINGIR Sîn-magīr, “the Sîn-magīr man” or “the Sîn-magīr official.”

Recognizing Sîn-magīr as a hypocorism, or familiar nickname, for Bīt-Sîn-magīr makes this title much more clear. In support of this particular understanding is a text often referred to as Nebuchadnezzar’s Hofkalender, a clay prism found in the Etemenanki, the temple of Marduk at Babylon. This text dates to Nebuchadnezzar’s seventh year, 598 BC, and give a list of his chief court officials, and also of the “chiefs of the land of Akkad,” first among whom is listed I.DINGIR Nergal-šar-uṣur LÚ.DINGIR Sîn-magīr, that is, Nergal-šar-uṣur the Sîn-magīr official, followed by a list of governors of all the other provinces of Akkad. The proper connotation of “the Sîn-magīr official,” therefore, judging from the above, appears to be “the governor of (Bīt-)Sîn-magīr.” This same individual appears in Jermiah 39.3 as “Nergalsharezer of Samgar,” and is often referred to in English as Neriglissar, the form of his name found in the epitomes of Berossus. He was married to the daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, and was the instigator of a successful coup which ended the reign and life of Amel-Marduk, and brought Neriglissar to the throne.

In summary, then, Sîn-magīr is a personal name hypocoristically standing for the fuller geographic name Bīt-Sîn-magīr, which had included that personal name. By the Neo-Babylonian period, the traditional title of the governor of this territory had also shortened to simply awīl Sîn-magīr, “man of Sîn-magīr.” I would thereefore suggest that the clearest ranslation of this phrase into English would be “governor of Sîn-magīr.”

Thanks especially to Charles for prodding me to express all this better, and his patience.

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