Ancient Secrets?

The secrecy of ancient oriental sciences has often been assumed without any attempt to investigate the foundation for such a hypothesis. There exist indeed examples of “cryptographic” writing both in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Cenotaph of Seti I, for instance, contains cryptographic passages in the mythological inscriptions which are written around the sky goddess. Some of the passages use rare readings of hieroglyphs, some are simply incorrectly arranged lines of the original from which the artist copied. In a related text concerning a sun dial the words are written backwards, as if reflected by a mirror, but this causes no real difficulty in reading the text. On the whole, however, all texts with mathematical and astronomical context show not the slightest intention of concealing their meaning from the reader. I think one can only agree with T. E. Peet, the editor of the mathematical Papyrus Rhind, that we have no reason for assuming the existence of any secret science in Egypt.

The same holds for Babylonia. The Old Babylonian mathematical texts are as plainly written as possible. From the latest period there exist a few texts which give lists of numbers and signs obviously for coding and decoding purposes. A few words and proper names are written in such a code in the colophons of two ephemerides. The ephemerides themselves as well as the procedure texts show no trace of an attempt to hide their contents. If many details remain unintelligible to us, it is our ignorance and missing texts which cause the difficulties, not an intentionally cryptic writing. I think the remark found occasionally in colophons of Uruk texts that the text should only be shown to “the informed” is not to be taken too seriously. It hardly indicates much more than professional pride and feeling of importance of members of the scribal guild.

Cryptographic devices occur also in Greek manuscripts of the Byzantine period, based, e. g., on a simple substitution of letters and their numerical values in inverse order; cf. e. g., V. Gardthausen, Griechische Palaeographie II (2nd ed., Leipzig 1913) p. 300 ff. Magical texts are, of course, full of secret combinations of letters; astrological texts, however, are practically free of such secrecy.

Otto Neugebauer, The Exact Sciences in Antiquity. Second edition. (Brown University Press, 1957). Page 144.

The Fall of Babylon

In my second campaign, I marched quickly against Babylon which I was set upon conquering. Like the onset of a storm I swept, (and) like a fog I enveloped it. I laid seige to that city; with mines and siege engines, I personally took it—the spoil of his mighty men, small and great. I left no one. I filled the city squares with their corpses. Shuzubu, king of Babylon, together with his family and his [ ], I brought alive to my land. I handed out the wealth of that city—silver, gold, precious stones, property and goods—to my people and they made it their own. My men took the (images of the) gods who dwell there and smashed them. They took their property and their wealth. Adad and Shala, the gods of Ekallate, which Marduk-nadin-ahhe, king of Babylon had taken and carried off to Babylon during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser (I), King of Assyria, I brought out of Babylon and returned them to their place in Ekallate.

I destroyed and tore down and burned with fire the city (and) it houses, from its foundations to its parapets. I tore out the inner and outer walls, temples, the ziggurat of brick and earth, as many as there were, and threw them into the Arahu river. I dug canals through the city and flooded its place with water, destroying the structure of its foundation. I made its devastation greater than that of “the Flood.” So that in future days, the site of that city, its temples and its gods, would not be identifiable, I completely destroyed it with water and annihilated it like inundated territory. (text: Hallo, COS 2.119E)

Sennacherib’s destruction of Babylon is dated to 689 BC. “Shuzubu” is Mushezib-Marduk from the southwestern Aramean/Chaldean tribal area Bīt-Dakkuri, king of Babylon from 693, and one of several usurpers in those troubled years. Taking a captive ruler and family alive back to Assyria was not necessarily a good thing. Earlier Assyrian kings did the same, with dire results: with an audience of Assyrians, the captive king’s family was slaughtered before his eyes, followed by his being skinned alive. Tiglath-Pileser I reigned 1115-1077, and Marduk-nadin-ahhe 1098-1081. Ekallate was a city near Asshur. The recovery of the images of these two gods, 400 years after their capture and removal, displays the length of historical memory possible in ancient Near Eastern cultures.

When Sennacherib was assassinated in 681, the new Assyrian king, his son Esarhaddon, almost immediately set about rebuilding Babylon, at great expense. Not only the Babylonians had been scandalized by the destruction of such an ancient city, recognized and respected especially as the home to Marduk, but many Assyrians were also quite distressed by it, most especially by its apparent consequences. Sennacherib’s assassination was attributed to this perceived act of impiety. The destruction was noted throughout the known world, even among the Hebrews. The city lay in ruins for only 11 years. Esarhaddon began its rebuilding, but Babylon reached its most glorious condition under Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562). Babylon never again experienced such destruction. Though it was occupied, attacked, and looted numerous times, it was never subjected to an obliteration like that of Sennacherib. While most of today’s ancient Babylon is in ruins, a local population has continued there since ancient times, as still in the modern village Hillah, itself partially situated in the residential district of the ancient Babylon.

Progress on Bīt-PN research

I’ve completed going through Andreas Fuchs’ Inschriften Sargons II. aus Khorsabad for information relevant to the Bīt-PN study in progress. The information has been added to my pdf file of the raw data, here. I’ve also taken a quick first stab at organizing the data in another file, here. The important thing to notice is that there is a trend in usage in the Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions in the case of many of the newer Aramaean states in which the personal name of the geographic name “Bīt-PN” is explicitly (through the use of determinatives) or implicitly (through mention as a progenitor) personal, showing the understanding of the Assyrians that a real person, in many cases, lay behind the name. As noted in Hélène Sader’s Les États Araméens de Syrie: depuis leur Fondation jusqu’à leur Transformation en Provinces Assyriennes (Beiruter Texte und Studien 36. Beirut, 1987), these states were formed early in the first millennium by various personages for which a large number of territories were named, some examples of which being Bīt-Abdadāni, Bīt-Adini, and Bīt-Agūsi. The Assyrians, in referring to later rulers of these territories, typically recognized these rulers as descendants of the founders, and explicitly referred to them not as “king of Bīt-PN” but as “son of PN.” The geographic name thus also doubles in this kind of usage as a dynastic name: the place Bīt-Adini, the House of Adinu, is ruled by the descndants of Adinu, his ‘house’, and a ruler is referred to as “son of Adinu.” Whether these rulers were actually descended from the eponymous founders of their kingdoms is unknown, but the Assyrian scribes, presumably based upon Aramaean practice, treated the situation thus. The Assyrians themselves maintained a longstanding tradition of having their own single dynasty of rulers (however fictional this was), which may have influenced their understanding of other states for which they were not completely aware of the internal workings.

In any case, my further investigation into this subject will entail: looking into the origins of these “new” Aramaean states themselves; their relation to the ahlamu Aramaeans of the second (and third?) millennium; Aramaean influence on Neo-Assyrian Akkadian in some of the names of these states and others (it looks like in some cases, the Aramaic emphatic suffix is used); and last, but not least, the connection of all this to the Tel Dan Stela and the usage there of BYTDWD and its links to the phrase “House of David” and its equivalents in the Old Testament.

Some earlier postings here dealing with this subject are:
“House of David” and BYTDWD
Further on “House of …” usage
Further on Bīt-PN usage

Joe Cathey has also been keeping track of various postings on the Tel Dan BYTDWD subject, one of his summaries of which is Tel Dan – A Response. Look through the available links there (Jim West’s blog no longer exists, unfortunately, so those posts are all gone).


I’ve made some minor corrections, some additions, and done a little other editing on the bitpn.pdf file, which contains all examples of usage of the Bīt-PN(GN) phrase in Assyrian royal inscriptions from 1114-727 BC. I’m awaiting a copy of the Fuchs book of Sargon’s inscriptions still, but will add those when it arrives. I similarly await a copy of Hélène Sader’s Les états araméens de Syrie depuis leur fondation jusqu’à leur
transformation en provinces assyriennes
, which sounds perfectly apposite. That and a handful more of articles will be enough to slap together a nice little article on the subject.

One thing I have done to the file is remove those exemplars which were completely reconstructed and are therefore not true exemplars. It serves only pedantry to include them in this case. Because of this and the additions of a few missed exemplars in the versions of the file resulting from my initial rush, the line numbers have changed for the examples. You should download the latest version at the link above.

Further on Bīt-PN usage

I’ve updated my notes file with information from the inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III. I’ve also altered the format, hopefully making it easier for reading. And though I will continue to collect evidence and present analyses here soon, and most likely eventually publish the final result, I thought a preliminary summary was in order.

The evidence is conclusive. The Assyrians, drawing upon a wider Aramean form of usage (which on occasion even displays in GNs bearing an Aramaic emphatic suffix) believed that the vast majority of the Bīt-PN territories were both named after individuals, former rulers of those territories, and that the current rulers were considered direct descendants of the eponymous ruler. A very strong possibility for the source of the Assyrian belief that each of these territories was still ruled by the same dynasty is the unusual dynastic situation in Assyrian history: one dynasty from beginning to end. It is thus possible that the default assumption on the part of the Assyrian scribes is that other kingdoms were also single, long-lasting dynasties. Unfortunately, there are no Assyrian scribes around to ask! The evidence is clear, however, whatever the reason. The Assyrians believed that the various rulers were descended from those rulers for whom the territories were named in Aramean, and thus Assyrian practice. There is also a definite relationship seen between the territory ruled and the dynastic association. One ruler (Ahunu of Bīt-Adini) loses his dynastic association in the inscriptions at the point that he abandons his territory. Thus, this naming convention needs to be understood in a more complex light. It bears an unusual, intertwined connotation in reference to both territory and dynasty.

Regarding the BYTDWD of the Tel Dan inscription, we happen to know of a DWD/DWYD/David from other ancient near eastern sources, mostly in the various biblical texts, and also in Moabite (the Mesha stela) and perhaps Egyptian (a potential toponymic reference in Shishak’s list) inscriptions. Thus, a ruler named DWD in the Palestinian area is known of through various sources external to the multiple sources which are the biblical books themselves.

If we are to apply the Assyrian/Aramean usage to the BYTDWD found in the Tel Dan stele, this would connote that DWD/David was a former ruler of the territory so named, was considered to be a dynastic founder, and that either a direct descendant of this person ruled that territory, or someone who was thought to be a direct descendant ruled. The usage itself connotes that the ruler was a direct descendant.

With that in mind, we have to understand why it appears that, in our current understanding of the Tel Dan stele, only Judah is referred to as the House of David. In biblical usage, the reason is clearly that the dynasty of David was ruling there. In the Aramaic usage, as in the Assyrian, this was also the assumption in the usage of the term. The tie between the territory name and the belief in a continued dynastic rulership were intertwined in the Aramean/Assyrian usage. Thus, the connotation is both that the “son of David” rules in the “House of David” and also the “House of David” is called such because David and the “son of David” rule/d there. This usage is the standard form in the Assyrian.

We see the unusual belief of a single dynasty for other kingdoms, and the importance in Assyrian eyes of a connection to the dynasty and territory name, in the case of Assyrian reference to Israel. It is, as is well-known, usually referred to as Bīt-Humri. An item of interest is the reference to Iaua son of Humri, Jehu son of Omri. From the biblical texts (2 Kings 9-10), we learn that Jehu was actually responsible for ending the dynasty of Omri, by killing the kings of both Israel and Judah (the deaths of whom appear to be referred to in the Tel Dan stela). Yet, because Jehu/Iaua was a local dynast ruling within his traditional territory, that of Bīt-Humri, the House of Omri, he was still considered “son of Omri,” however incorrectly. Later, when much of the territory of Bīt-Humri was taken by Tiglath-Pileser III and annexed to Assyria, the rulers are no longer referred to as “son of Omri.” The reason seems to be that the local integrity of rulership was compromised both in matters of lost territory and in the loss of legitimacy by the rulers of the northern kingdom in their rebellion, as in the case of Ahunu of Bīt-Adini. Or it could simply be a matter of the Assyrians finally having learned that the dynasty of Omri was long over, and thus everyone ruling Bīt-Humri at that point might have been considered the “son of a nobody.” The patronymics for the last two rulers were not recorded, unfortunately.

Questions? Comments?

Further on “House of …” usage

As I mentioned in a comment on a post chez Chris Heard, I’ve been compiling instances of the Assyrian usage of the phrase “House of …” in reference to territories and their associated rulers, of which we have much more information than in the case of the Aramaic usage. The importance of the Assyrian evidence lies in that it is predominantly if not universally held among Assyriologists that this naming convention originated among the Arameans, and the Assyrian usage represents the Aramean without distortion. So much for Eigenbegrifflichkeit!

I have yet to examine the texts of Tiglath-Pileser III and Sargon II, in which quite a number (including instances of “Bīt-Hūmrī”) of relevant examples are to be found, and which will be quite fun, regardless. Until I’ve done so, just to keep the conversation from going stale, or continuing on the basis of opinion rather than evidence, I’ll share below the preliminary results of investigating, exhaustively, all the known published royal Assyrian inscriptions included in the Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia: the Assyrian Period, volumes 2 and 3, covering the dates 1114-745 BC. I should be done by the weekend with both TPIII and Sargon, and have a web page up with the primary source data, and some (hopefully conclusive! probative! definitive!) conclusions. (I’m going to put them onto a web page because I’m having “issues” with fonts in this blog!)

Preliminarily, it’s certainly clear that, regardless of the actual dynastic situation in the various territories, the Assyrians considered the PN in the Bīt-PN phrase to refer to a personal, dynastic founder. [Please note that this is in contrast to my understanding of only last week, that the dynastic assumption was premature. My subsequent exhaustive investigation of the primary sources is conclusive and incontrovertible, therefore I’ve quite sanely admitted my egregious error, and changed my mind to reflect that reality!] How is this learned? In two ways. Firstly through reference to the ruling successors of that person, who are invariably noted as “son of PN.” A geographic territory does not have children, nor does a political entity. Secondly, the personal name element of the Bīt-PN phrase is often tellingly marked with a determinative indicating that the name belonged to an individual, either male (as in most cases), or female (in the case of Bīt-Halupe). The combination of these two points leads undoubtedly to the conclusion that the names involved belonged to people, former rulers of the territories named for them. Mr. Adinu ruled at some point the territory of Bīt-Adini. Madame Halupe ruled at some point the territory of Bīt-Halupe.

There is another very interesting instance of the usage, or rather non-usage of the Bīt-PN/son of PN phrases in the case of Ahunu of Bīt-Adini/Ahunu son of Adinu, a vassal ruler active in the reigns of Adad-narari II and Shalmaneser III. While he is ruling in the city Til-Barsip, his territory is called Bīt-Adini, and he is referred to invariably as Ahunu son of Adinu. During Shalmaneser’s reign he gathered a coalition of rebels, but fled at the approach of the Assyrian army, abandoning the city to the Assyrians. Now, what we see in the royal inscriptions is this rebellious ruler being called, while still ruling his territory Bīt-Adini from his city, “Ahunu son of Adinu.” After abandoning his city, he is only referred to as Ahunu, without the patronymic. It appears that the Assyrians considered that Ahunu had abandoned not only his city, but also his dynastic association itself. That is certainly how they depicted it: he no longer belonged to the dynasty of Adinu! An alternative interpretation is that, with the elimination of local rule, the Assyrian garrisoning of the city, and Til-Barsip’s being renamed to Kar Shalmaneser, the dynasty of Adinu was considered gone, so no one could be a member of it anymore (even though the last scion of the house of Adinu, dynastically speaking, was still, temporarily, alive). It’s hard to say, not being an ancient Assyrian, which of the two would be the reason. It is clear, however, that the patronymic was deliberately omitted after Ahinu fled his city.

Now, while the Assyrians treated these territories as named for founding dynasts, that doesn’t mean that the eponymous ruler’s dynasty was still actually ruling. The only evidence that I’ve so far seen for this (there’ll be more as I get through the later rulers) is that of “Jehu son of Omri.” We are only aware of the Assyrian usage as being incorrect through the accounts in the Hebrew Bible. Jehu, according to those texts, killed the last of the Omrides and was the founder of new dynasty. (This is the precise point of contact of the Hebrew Bible and the Tel Dan Stele, which appears to be in part an Aramean account of the deaths of those same kings.) Yet, as a ruler in the still locally-ruled (Assyrian vassal? Aramean vassal?) territory of Bīt-Hūmrī, “House of Omri”, also known to the Assyrians as Sir’al/Israel, he was considered, despite the historical (or biblical) dynastic gymnastics, to be a member of Omri’s dynasty. Thus we have in the Assyrian inscriptions, “Jehu son of Omri,” which we are also completely justified, in view of Assyrian usage as described above, in translating as “Jehu, ruler of the territory ‘House of Omri'” if we like.

So, stay tuned!

“House of David” and BYTDWD

Joe and Jim are at it again, over the Tel Dan Stele. I can’t resist. I have to point out some issues that it seems both sides of the argument are perhaps either unaware of, or have forgotten.

(I haven’t yet gotten and read a copy of George Athas’ book on the Tel Dan Stele, so if anyone has read it and the following points are addressed, which I certainly expect they would be, I’d appreciate hearing about it.)

The vast majority usage in the Hebrew Bible of the phrase בית דוד / בית דויד refer to the Davidic Dynasty. Other usages include David’s literal house, i.e. his home/palace, as in 1Sam 19.11, seemingly a metaphoric term for the current king of Judah, as in Isaiah 7.13, and maybe, just maybe, it appears once as a parallel term for the kingdom of Judah, in Isaiah 7.2 (which is interesting, as the same verse mentions Aram [see below!]).

In first millennium Aramaic usage, adopted by the Assyrians apparently wholesale, the phraseology “Bīt-[PN of ruler in genitive]” referred to a kingdom. Whether the ruler in question was actually the founder of a dynasty or not is probably not strictly proven. Certainly the PN is that of a well-known (to the Syrians? to the Assyrians? to everyone?) ruler of the principality so named, as we find in the case of the territory named the Bīt-Adini, “House of Adin”, the principal city of which was Til-Barsip, and which at one point was ruled by a man named Adin (see the Annals of Ashurbanipal, III.55, which you can read here, which refers to “Ahuni son of Adin” or the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, as found in COS 2, p. 261, which refers to him as “Ahuni of Bīt-Adini”). Adin reigned probably early in the 9th century, as his son Ahuni is encountered by the Assyrian kings from about the second quarter to middle of the century. So, in the case of Bīt-Adini, we know of a territory named for a former king of the territory. It may be that Adin was the first ruler in Til-Barsip that the Assyrians directly dealt with, either by military encounter or treaty, most likely the latter, as it is his son who is punished for rebelling.

(Just for fun, here’s a quick list of the Bīt-(genitive PN) territory names from The Helsinki Atlas of the Near East in the Neo-Assyrian Period, in the Ancient-Modern Gazetteer, pp 7-8:
Bīt-Abdadāni, Bīt-Adad-erība, Bīt-Adini, Bīt-Agūsi, Bīt-Ammān, Bīt-Amukāni, Bīt-Bahiāni, Bīt-Barrūa, Bīt-Bunakki, Bīt-Dakkūri, Bīt-Gabbāri, Bīt-Halupê, Bīt-Hamban, Bīt-Hazail, Bīt-Humrî, Bīt-Iakīn, Bīt-Kapsi, Bīt-Purūtaš, Bīt-Ruhūbu, Bīt-Sagbat, Bīt-Šabāia, Bīt-Supūri, Bīt-Tābti, Bīt-Zamāni, Bīt-Zualza. Some of the PNs are clearly familiar or at least recognizable by their constructions, obviously.)

As the Tel Dan stele is clearly Aramaic, a victory stele left at Tel Dan by an Aramean king whose name is now lost. We should expect the Aramaean/Assyrian usage there, and that the BYTDWD there refers to that territory and kingdom otherwise known as Judah. We should NOT read the Tel Dan Stele as referring to the Davidic Dynasty, as that is the Hebrew usage. The two cultures (Assyrian/Aramean and Hebrew) are separate enough for the connotation of “house of…” to have different primary connotations in the different languages, as one finds quite apparently through the usage in the inscriptions and the preserved usage in the Hebrew Bible.

So, yes, the BYTDWD of the Tel Dan Stele is evidence for an earlier David being on the throne in that territory which we typically refer to as Judah. But there is no indication of how much earlier than the date of the inscription David was there, that David founded a dynasty, that a direct descendant of David and king of that dynasty had been on the throne and was killed as described in the stela. We learn all of that kind of detail only from the preserved Hebrew writings. So, let’s keep the usage distinct. It’s only fair to the evidence.

I hope that is a helpful contribution to the discussion. Now back to laundry!