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?


  1. Thanks for such a close (and unexpected!) reading of my humble blog post, Chris!

    To answer your question: I don’t know. The first Assyrian reference to Israel is in an account of the battle at Qarqar, which mentions “Ahabbu of Sir’alaya,” Ahab of Israel. Subsequently, however, that kingdom is always referred to as Bīt-Humri. Similarly, in rather a reverse style from the Tel Dan stela, the Assyrians refer to Judah as Iauda, rather than (some form of) Bīt-Daudi. The answer would lie with the Assyrians and Arameans, and I don’t think anyone can give a hard and fast answer on why one or the other is used at any particular time. The fact that the majority of Aramean states were self-named B?t-PN shows it as a primarily Aramean practice, adopted by the Assyrians as they came into contact with those territories. I can suggest only a possibility. As the Arameans referred to non-Aramean states on their periphery with which they had no direct dealings yet in the same manner as their own states, with the GN of Bīt-PN, once they were directly involved with those states, perhaps through the capture of territories and/or large numbers of captives, they learned of the internal self-determined names of the territories. This would also be the case with the Assyrians. Notice in the pdf file lines 243-246. While all these territories are utilizing the geographic names otherwise known for them from various exemplars the Bible, they all bear a distinctly Aramaic emphatic suffix, -aya (represented in Akkadian by the double -a- sign)suggesting that the contact and initial reception of the names is via Aramaic. Alternatively, the local geographic names may enter Aramean/Assyrian through treaty arrangements, with Aramean/Assyrian usage predominating before. The first mention of Judah in the Assyrian inscriptions is in number 245: “Iauhaz of the land of Iauda,” Jehoahaz of Judah, known from the biblical texts as Hezekiah’s father, and in which texts is also said to have “bribed” the Assyrian king to get Israel and Aram-Damascus off his back, so to speak. That a treaty situation would involve the Assyrians knowing the precise name of the territory is not surprising, and should actually be considered required, for the efficacy of the divine curses for breaking the treaty, at the very least. Prior to this treaty incident, the Assyrians may simply have never dealt directly with the territory, as we can see through the complete absence of reference to it in the inscriptions. This is also not surprising, as Assyria was rather at low-ebb for the entire 11th and 10th centuries, reviving in the 9th under Shalmaneser III and Qarqar, but really only moving west in the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III in the third quarter of the 8th century.

    Anyhow, while there are several possibilities, there is definitely both historical and linguistic indication of the close link between Assyrian and Aramean usage regarding the Bīt-PN terminology, which is exactly what’s needed here.

    Now to your comments. For my mention of the particular item of Jehu overthrowing the Omride dynast in 2 Kings, using “read” just sounded too pedestrian. However, if we don’t take this item into account as historical (not to say that this is the only reason we should), then we are left with the situation of absolutely no other evidence regarding local dynasties mentioned by the Assyrians. Therefore, we would not be able to say that the Assyrian practice of naming rulers of the Bīt-PN territories were mistaken in calling them “son of PN.” It’s far more important to include local information, however attenuated. If only we had similar texts for, say, Bīt-Adini, or any of the numerous territories, that would give us some of the same dynastic information, and then we might be able to ignore, in this case, the biblical texts and the possibility that they preserve historical data.

    Regarding the Tel Dan stela, I think it’s better to say that in our current understanding of that very fragmentary text, there is mention of a battle and perhaps the killing of the kings of Israel and Bêt-Dawid (or however it was vocalized). I think that’s very likely the appropriate reading, but as George Athas has mentioned, fragment B of the stela may need to be placed further down in the text, based on line angle. Regardless, I do think that both the biblical and stela texts refer to the same event: the killing of the two kings of Israel and Judah/House of David. The relationship between those two accounts is, as you say, much more interesting, and I would also like to get to the point of discussing that. It brings up all kinds of fascinating questions, some reminiscent of a modern political thriller: Was Jehu an agent of Damascus? Was there a fifth column in Israel supporting him? What nefarious plans did the court of Damascus have for our (not-so-)noble Israelites? Unfortunately, for now we’ll have to deal with the BYTDWD in there for a while longer.

  2. Thanks for doing the “heavy lifting” on the data, Kevin. As you know, I do not find any reading other than “House of David” persuasive for the Tel Dan inscription, for reasons discussed over on Higgaion from time to time.

    I do, however, have one question and one slightly contrarian comment.

    The question: If the Assyrian Bit-PN usage is analogous to, perhaps even derived from, Aramean usage, why does the Tel Dan stele refer to Israel as “Israel” and Judah as “the House of David”?

    The comment: You write, “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).” I have to quibble just a bit with the word “learn”; that is, from the biblical texts we learn that the author of 2 Kings 9-10 credits Jehu with ending the dynasty of Omri. The Tel Dan inscription doesn’t just “refer to” the deaths of the kings of Israel and Judah, as you put it here; it claims credit for their deaths on behalf of the inscription’s speaking persona, which seems to directly challenge the Bible’s version of the events. This is, it seems to me, an immensely more interesting feature of the Tel Dan inscription than the mention of David (however fascinating that may be), a feature that is worthy of much attention and comment. The appearance of the phrase “House of David” is not the only feature of the Tel Dan inscription that bears on the historical reliability of biblical narrative (and it does that only obliquely), but it gets the lion’s share of the attention (and in the recent blogabout on the topic I’m as guilty of that as anyone, though I blame Joe Cathey [it’s such an easy and convenient thing to do]).

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