Hayim Tadmor z”l

As noted on the ANE list and elsewhere, Hayim Tadmor passed away today. I was rather shocked, and entirely saddened, as just yesterday I had finished spending several days working through his stunningly excellent The Inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III King of Assyria, which I hope will still be reprinted soon.

May his memory be for a blessing.

PS Death sucks.

Lactantius on Theodicy

I am well aware of the response that can be made from the other side: why does that one and only God of yours, that great God, lord of all things and master of all people as you call him, permit such things to happen and not either avenge or protect his worshippers? Why are people who don’t worship him rich, powerful and happy, in power as magistrates and kings, holding those very worshippers of his in subjection to their own dominion and might? This too must have its explanation, so that no confusion remains. First, this is the reason why worship of God is thought to be ineffective: people are led astray by the way the immediate goods of this earth look, which are quite irrelevant to care of the soul. Because they see the just are without these things and the unjust amply provided, they conclude that worsihpping God is futile as they can’t see those goods in it, and they think too that worship of gods is sound, since their worshippers enjoy wealth, position and kingship. But people of that persuasion are not looking deeply enough into the point of human existence, which is totally spiritual, not physical. All they can see is the visible: the body, that is. Now the body, in being available to sight and touch, is weak, fragile and mortal. All its goods are things of desire and admiration—wealth, position and power, for instance—because they bring a physical gratification, and for that reason are as perishable as the body itself. Since the soul, in which alone man has his being, is not susceptible to sight, so neither can its goods be seen, and they have their being in virtue alone; for that reason the soul is bound to be as stable, consistent and lasting a thing as virtue itself is, and the good of the spirit has its being in virtue.

Divine Institutes, Book 5, 21.7-11

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!

Abba Joseph of Panephysis

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’

Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’

When daemons die

“As to the question whether daemons can die, I have heard a story from a man who was neither a fool nor an impostor. The father of Aemilianus, the professor of rhetoric whose students some of you have been, was called Epiterses; he was a school teacher and lived in the same town I did. He told me that he once made a trip to Italy and embarked on a ship that carried commercial goods and a large number of passengers. It was already evening; they were near the Echinades Islands. The wind dropped, and the ship drifted near Paxi.

“Many of the passengers were awake, and some were still drinking after having finished their dinner. Suddenly a voice was heard from Paxi loudly calling ‘Thamus! Thamus!’ Everybody was astonished. Thamus happened to be our pilot, an Egyptian, but he was not known by name even to many of us onboard. The voice called twice, and he remained silent, but the third time, he answered. The caller, raising his voice, now said: ‘When you get across to Palodes, announce that the Great Pan is dead.’ On hearing this, Epitherses said, everybody was amazed, and they argued among themselves whether it might be better to do what they were told or not to get involved in something and let the matter go. So Thamus decided that if there should be a breeze he would sail past and say nothing, but with no wind and a smooth sea all around he would announce what he had been told. When he came near Palodes, and there was no wind, no wave, Thamus looked from the stern toward the land and said the words as he had heard them: ‘The Great Pan is dead.’ He had not yet finished when there was much wailing, not just from one person, but from many, mingled with shouts of amazement. Since there were many persons on board, the story soon spread in all of Rome, and Thamus was sent for by the emperor Tiberius. Tiberius became so convinced that the story was true that he ordered a thorough investigation concerning Pan; the scholars at his court—and there were many of them—guessed that he was the son of Hermes and Penelope.”

Plutarch, On the Cessation of the Oracles, 418E—419E

A unique empire….

If only we had such a wealth of information for every kingdom in the ancient world that we have in the Hebrew Scriptures! Tantalizingly circumspect as they sometimes are, as linguistically obscure as they indubitably have become, as debatedly historical, religious, idealistic, ideological or irrelevant as we may find them, these Hebrew writings are still a singular treasure trove of information from an ancient culture, a collection of literary works which is completely and inarguably, indeed unquestionably unique in the world: a body of writing originating in an act of conscious self-selection in time out of mind, yet preserved in a living tradition of respect and belief from ancient times down to the present, transmitted, and regarded as canonical texts, with or without additional works alongside, and thus normative to one extent or the other, by two religions descendant from that ancient culture, the adherents of which comprise approximately one-third of the world’s current population. This is absolutely astounding! Especially so considering that no such coherent, self-selected set of writings exists for any of the many small kingdoms of the region, indeed, for even the larger civilizations typically associated with the majestic term “empires,” whose creativity has never been in doubt. The Sumerian, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Achaemenid Persian, Hellenistic Greek, and pagan Roman civilizations have not left us any such coherent collection as an expression of their self-identity, of their intimately personal worldview, despite the few whole and many more fragmentary of their various works, however multiply-copied and obviously popular they may have been, which we have found as solely incidental detritus in each of the regions which they spanned in their greatness and in their own home cities, now crumbled into ruins. No living tradition preserved and transmitted those collections never made. No descendant religions continue to praise the might of the Son of Enki, the Daughter of Asshur, the Chosen One of Almighty Marduk. The holy temples of the cities of Eridu, Larsa, Mennufer, Seleucia are no longer thronged by pilgrims from distant lands, the cities themselves being level with the earth. Yet we find that it is a small library of Hebrew writings, put together in some manner at some time, both of which we wonder at and dispute over, a self-selection from within that living tradition, from that tiny little remnant of a kingdom, after a time supplemented by some Greek texts also springing from that vibrantly living source, that has persisted for these more than two thousand years, and can in a real way be said to have created a kind of empire greater than any other that has ever been, an empire in which a Shepherd King’s songs are still sung, and a King who was hailed by shepherds still rules!

“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!

Arcana Mundi, second edition

Coming soon, in April 2006, is the second edition of Georg Luck’s Arcana Mundi, the first edition of which was, for me and hopefully for you, O reader, quite a page-turner! It will undoubtedly be a treasure worth waiting for.

…the women who served…

I’ve always wondered about these ladies mentioned in Exodus 38.8:

He made the basin of bronze with its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

What did they do? Do we have here a stratum of female functionaries associated with Tabernacle and Temple? (And no, I don’t think they were merely temple prostitutes, as if the only possible religious value of a woman is as a sacred whore!) Why do none of the usual suspects mention them? (Nor do I think it’s just because they were men!) Would such have existed even in Herodian times? Does anyone know of any mention of them in rabbinic sources?

And last, but not least, why did they have so many mirrors…?

Thoughts on the Tel Zayit abecedary

Or should that be abgad? Nevertheless, there is an obvious interest in this building stone from Tel Zayit, now playing at a blog near you. While the importance of finding any literate inscription from the ancient world is a cause for celebration, I’d like to state my reasons for caution in making any conclusions regarding this particular inscription vis-à-vis biblical historiography.

1.) Regarding the skill of the writer:
I don’t see that anyone should deny that this was written by a scribe, whether a newly trained one or one of hoary experience. Throughout the history of writing in the ancient near east, we know that scribes did the overwhelmingly majority of all writing. However, this particular inscription appears to be scratched onto a stone with a completely unprepared surface. You try scratching, with a bronze or iron stylus, a modern alphabet into rock like that and see how far you get without slips, mistakes, and a result that resembles much more the scrawl of a juvenile scribal pupil than your typical (hopefully) elegant penmanship.

2.) Regarding the purpose of the inscription:
Now, if my understanding of the reportage of the find is correct, the stone was inscribed prior to its placement in the wall, as the entire inscription was not able to be read in that location. In the wall above this inscribed stone was another non-native stone of onyx. These were situated so as to be opposite the entrance to a room, the function of which is indeterminate. I think the only two conclusions possible to draw from this placement of two unusual stones in one prominent place is that they are there for either a.) apotropaic, or b.) decorative. For case a.), the apotropaic usage, those placing the stone there may have seen the inscription and recognized it as writing, but not known what it said, if they were illiterate, and perhaps dealt with it as a kind of amulet, displaying a somewhat primitive awe of writing. I find that more likely than that an abecedary was considered apotropaic. For case b.), the decorative, well, interesting scribbles on rocks can be decorative, I suppose. A big chunk of onyx in the wall sounds rather nice. But again, this doesn’t sound as though it indicates literacy on the part of the people who placed the stone in the wall. For my part, I consider the abecedary inscription on the rock to have possibly been scribal practice, perhaps practicing to do an inscription on some similar stone, now lost. Certainly a 40 pound stone is not a very practical practice tablet for scribal teacher or student! This stone, found on the site by an illiterate builder, undoubtedly generated enough interest for it to be considered as striking as the chunk of onyx above.

3.) Phoenician or Hebrew?
Here lies the crux, and the great interest in the inscription. The answer can come from two directions: paleography or archaeology.
a.) Paleography: To be perfectly honest, I think that we need a greater selection of data for comparison, a greater selection which has simply not been discovered yet, indeed may never be discovered due to preservation issues. This especially in the case of earliest Hebrew, and how it diverges from the more northern Phoenician, and how specifically it would differ from southern, strictly Canaanite (southern coastal Palestinian) inscriptional letter forms (of which I recall none, though I hope someone will correct me, if I’m wrong on that). This Tel Zayit inscription (if Hebrew), the Gezer calendar, and the Izbet Sartah inscription do not appear to be in a trained hand. Using them as paleographical reference points (even as nice as the Gezer calendar hand is) doesn’t seem as wise as using something clearly done by a full-fledged professional scribe under ideal conditions, like the Ahirom of Byblos sarcophagus or the Mesha of Moab stele. It’s all unfortunately to our loss that the scribes of Canaan and Israel appear to have favored papyrus over clay for their documentation, as the majority of the exemplars from which a truly representative set of data could’ve been found.
b.) Archaeology: From the reportage, apparently there’s evidence of a change in material culture with the particular layer of occupation to which the building with this inscription is assigned. The earlier layers indicate connections with the coast, while the inscription building’s layer displays connections to the hills. That’s quite interesting. At this point, I have more questions at this point than suggestions. Is the site large enough to have had the resources to be considered strong enough to have made such switches of allegiance on its own terms? If not, is it not logical that either a coalition of eastern towns or a larger eastern city took it from under the hegemony of a coastal coalition or city? (That is, after all, the former, and some would argue current, way of the world.) Does such a change of culture indicate or require an ethnic change? How clear is the connection to hill country and the difference from coastal? Could it be, after all is said and done, that the two lines of evidence, paleographical and archaeological, reinforce one another in this hill country connection, a hill country which we probably have seen called Israel prior to this time (in Merneptah’s stele; I say “probably” because the precise location is debatable, though Chris very well describes the standard reading and possibilities), and know is called Israel from later inscriptions (Mesha’s stele, the Tel Dan stele) and the descendants of that culture’s own writings?

Beyond all of this and the initial excitement and all the flutter, I await full and exhaustive publication. No doubt several of my questions/objections will be answered, and those of others. All talk of “nail in the coffin” seems really quite premature.