November 19, 2013
The other day I plotted the distribution of Ugaritic school tablets within the Royal Palace at Ugarit. Today I do the same thing for the Akkadian and Sumerian scholarly texts found there.
Considering the large number of Akkadian texts found in the Royal Palace, the first thing one notices about the scholarly texts is how few of them there are to plot - 7 if you count the one that is a surface find. Second, one notices that all these texts are advanced. Texts like Ḫarra=ḫubullu and Lú 1 come quite late in the standard scribal curriculum. There is not TU-TA-TI, a Silbenalphabet A or a Sa Syllabary or Sa Vocabulary among them. These more elementary texts are all well represented in other centers of learning at Ugarit. Except for RS 16.364 and, of course, the surface fine, the scholarly texts from the Royal Palace were found among or very near large archives.
What to make of this? Again, I’m not sure. However, it does appear that Akkadian was taught in the Royal Palace at Ugarit. But to whom? Arguments from absence are dangerous but the presences of advanced texts to the exclusion of elementary ones leads me to speculate that the Akkadian students in the Palace were advanced students, perhaps apprentice scribers, who took their elementary training elsewhere.
November 17, 2013
I’m still messing around with the question of why half of the abecedaries found at Ugarit were found in the Royal Palace. Part of the project involves plotting the find locations. I’ve plotted find spots over Yon’s map of the Royal Palace.
Some of you will note that I have not included KTU 1.79 and KTU 1.80 on this plot. While some may see these two texts as school texts, I don’t. I see them as the work of a literate professional who lacked (full?) scribal training. Others may question the appropriateness of a few of the other tablets I do plot (KTU 193 for example). So do I.
The locations plotted on this map are at best approximate. Room location is reasonably accurate but exact locations within a room are not. One thing to notice is that there are two tablet clusters on this plot. The most obvious cluster of Ugaritic school texts in coincident with the Southwest Archives. It is in this area that archaeologists uncovered the tablet with equates alphabetic letters and syllabic equivalents (KTU 5.14). This archive is dominated by Ugaritic texts that are clearly not school texts but the work of professional scribes working as scribes rather than master teachers. Another cluster is the area just east of the Royal Plaza in the vicinity of the West Archives. Remember, in both cases, it is likely that tablets came from upstairs locations when the Palace collapsed. The other three school tablets, all abecedaries, are scattered around without clear association with each other or either of the two clusters. KTU 5.9 may be associated with the Annex Archives but the other two do not appear to be associated with any well-defined archive.
Below is a plot of the Location of the Royal Palace archives.
What can we learn from this? I’m not sure as yet. My views on this are in flux. My current working hypothesis is that two classes of students were taught to read and write Ugaritic in alphabetic script within the Royal Palace. I now imagine that those who studied Ugaritic in the vicinity of the Southwest archives were apprentice scribes well advanced in Akkadian but just learning Ugaritic. I tend to associate the other locations with a different class of student, possibly members of the royal family and/or palace officials other than scribes. I won’t recite my arguments for these opinions now. Suffice to say that my agreements are rather weak - barely strong enough to trigger self-confirming bias. I’m working to see how my arguments will develop as I look at other evidence. I will plot the find locations of the Akkadian scholarly texts found in the Royal Palace for a future post.
October 8, 2013
There are many pretty and winning things about the human race. It is perhaps the poorest of all the inventions of all the gods, but it has never suspected it once. There is nothing prettier than its naïve and complacent appreciation of itself. It comes out frankly and proclaims, without bashfulness, or any sign of a blush, that it is the noblest work of God. It has had a billion opportunities to know better, but all signs fail with this ass. I could say harsh things about it, but I cannot bring myself to do it—it is like hitting a child.
I think I will ask Santa for a copy.
September 21, 2013
They seem to be in a realm of their own. At least according to Sanjay Srivastava's correlation they are.
As the father of two working professional philosophers I’m not at all surprised. They are in a class of their own: among the smartest and the hottest. Notice that those folks who study religion are the best looking, even better looking than philosophers. But when it comes to intelligence they are barely smarter than political scientists. Head over to The Hardest Science for the background story.
August 18, 2013
Uziel and Zanton read this . . . r(?)yhw bn bnh and suggest that it might be understood as "[Zecha]riah the son of Benaiah (ריהו בן בניה)," a name mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20:14. The Israel Antiquities Authority announcement is at least a little equivocal on this, “The first letter of the ceramic bowl’s partially preserved inscription in ancient Hebrew script is broken and is therefore difficult to read, but appears to be the letter ר;” “The most similar name to our inscription is Zechariah the son of Benaiah, the father of the Prophet Jahaziel [Emphases added].” And Uziel and Zanton say, “If we consider the possibility that we are dealing with an unvowelized or ‘defective’ spelling of the name בניה (Benaiah), then what we have before us is the name ‘...ריהו בן בניה’ [[Emphases added].”
The article itself points to the two largest problems with the identification. The spelling of בניה is defective and the first readable letter may not be an r. In fact, what can be read of it looks very similar to the two unquestionable bs in the inscription. Notice that the tail extends across the lower part of the y like the other two bs extent across the lower part of the following ns. If I am correct and I may not be, the tail of an r generally extends straight down. So I read the inscription as . . . b(?)yhw bn bnh and understand it as meaning . . . well, I’m not sure what it means.
August 2, 2013
What follows is a rather disconnected, not real well thought out, string of speculations. Among several obvious failings, I am not all that clear on what I mean by “descriptive” and perhaps “prescriptive/proscriptive” also. I hope that my usage is not so muddled that you can’t figure out what I’m getting at. On the one hand, no one should take all this very seriously. On the other hand, I would like some feedback, if nothing more than to help me clean up my language. I'd also like to know if anyone else may have entertained such ideas. Yes, I should do my own literature search but any help will be appreciated.
Our predominantly western culture has conditioned us to take nearly every biblical passage as ethically or theologically prescriptive or proscriptive: what we should or should not do; what we should or should not believe. But does every word need to be understood as element of prescription or proscription? Take Exodus 20:4-6 (// Deuteronomy 5:8-10), the second (or first) commandment, as an example. I’m thinking specifically of Exodus 20:5bii as defined below but let’s look at the whole thing.
(4a) You should not make for yourself an image,
(4b) or any likeness
of what is in the heavens above,
or on the earth below,
or in the waters under the earth.
(5a) You shall not bow down to them or serve them.
(5bi) For I YHWH your god am an impassioned god,
(5bii) visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children,
upon the third and upon the fourth generations
of those who reject me,
(6) but showing kindness to the thousandth generation
of those who love me
and keep my commandments.
[JPS with minor modifications]
It’s been a while since I studied this in detail but I think the general view is that the first clause (4a), “You should not make for yourself a פֶסֶל ('image'),” is the oldest part which itself may well show signs of development. The remainder of verse 4 further defines פֶסֶל. Verse 5a then expands the prohibition from making to worshiping. But something else begins with 5b. Verses 5b-6 are in their final form a twofold motivation - stated negatively and positively.
But what if we understand 5bii, “visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject me,” as in some way descriptive of a fact of the matter? Perhaps it is descriptive of folks who appear to be outside of the sphere of blessing from their god through no fault of their own. I don’t mean that a description can’t be motivational. But I am thinking along a somewhat different line. Might we have in Exodus 20:5bii an explanation for unjustified bad fortune? Is Exodus 20:5bii in some way the theodicy?
Of course, even if one answers this last question in the affirmative, (the addition of?) Exodus 20:6 drives our understanding 5b in the direction of motivation and therefore proscription.
I raise this question not because I'm all that worried about making or worshiping images or even what might become of the grandchildren or great grandchildren. Rather, I continue to think about divination. How all this ties into divination will need to wait for another
ramble post? Suffice it to say, that a literature that purports to reflect or is purported to reflect the will and the mind of god or gods is an instrument of divination (at least broadly speaking).
July 23, 2013
I’m not so sure.
Now does it say Elisha?
These images are slightly enhanced screen captures from a CBN News video about Amihai Mazar uncovering of a rather strange building from 9th century BCE Tel Rehov. Tel Rehov is in the Jordon valley near Beit She’an. The first image was on the screen for little more than a single frame at which point the red tracing was superimposed. Archeologists discovered the ostracon in the strange building.
Both the written and the video reports claim that this strange building may well have been the house of the Biblical prophet Elisha. The evidence for such an extraordinary claim is transparently thin. Of course, that didn’t keep Cary Summers of Nazareth Village for making this wild remark, “Well, it's like any other archeological site, in essence…every scoop of dirt it proves the Bible, one scoop at a time. And this site is absolutely magnificent dealing with the prophet Elisha.” Nonsense - but it may help the local economy.
But Summers’ mockable remark is not the only weird thing about this report. To my mind the ostracon is the best evidence that this building had anything to do with some Elisha or other. Yet it is buried rather deep in the article (and the video), after a discussion of an outside area with incense burners and the supersized serving vessels. I’d think the inscribed this pot shard would be the lead of the story.
By the way, the name Elisha (אלישע) is found at least once and possibly twice on one Ostracon from Samaria (S 1:4, 7[?] and perhaps once on another (S 41:1). For the sake of convenience (mine) I am using Gogel’s designations. The name is also found twice on an ostracon from Arad (A 24:15, 19-20). From context it is rather clear that these Elishas are not the Biblical Elisha. They are also likely from later centuries. I think the name is also known elsewhere but I'm too lazy to track down the references if there are any. There doesn’t seem to be any remaining textual context for the name, if it is a name, on the ostracon from Tel Rehov. The archeological context, no matter how strange, isn’t really helpful.
As usual, we await a properly published report on the ostracon and on the strange building.
July 14, 2013
Alice Mouton and Ian Rutherford mentioned my paper “Portentous Birds Flying West” in their article “Luwian Religion, A Research Project: The Case of ‘Hittite’ Augury” Here’s what they said, “Smith forthcoming will argue that such bird oracles have close parallels to some of the Sumerian Šumma Ālu series of omens (337, n 61)." Of course, they also list my paper in their bibliography. I sure hope I didn’t say that Šumma Ālu was a Sumerian omen series. It may have had Sumerian precursors but as far as I know all the Šumma Ālu tablets are in Akkadian. Also, my paper is no longer "forthcoming." It has come forth.
In the body of the paper they note “On the face of it, augury as depicted in Homer has little on common with Anatolian augury of the 2nd millennium as we know it from Hittite texts” and suggest that apparent differences between Hittite and Homeric bird divination might be due to the “medium of poetry.” I used this same argument to gloss over differences between Akkadian and Homeric bird divination. I don’t have access just now to the whole of Mouton and Rutherford’s paper, but I’m not sure from what I have seen via Google Books that they argue against me.
Smith, Duane E., “Portentous Birds Flying West: On the Mesopotamian Origin of Homeric Bird-Divination,” JANER, 13 (2013), 49-85
July 9, 2013
Sarah Palin told Sean Hannity that she has considered running for the Senate. She’s “still waiting to see, you know, what the lineup will be . . .”
July 8, 2013
In recently concluded excavators at Hala Sultan Tekke uncovered a manufacturing district from the Late Bronze Age.
Perhaps the rather extensive copper production area with its copper ore, slag (hundreds of kilograms of it), and clay pipes is the most impressive discovery but I found this abnormally interesting.
Close to the copper production site a room was excavated in which large vessels were found filled with murex shells from which purple dye was extracted. The shells, in connection with finds associated with the production of textiles, such as spindle whorls and loom weights, point to the manufacturing of one of the most expensive products in the Bronze Age: purple dyed textiles. (News Network - Archeology)
The work on Cyprus is important for at least two reasons. First, the history of Cyprus is important for its own sake. Second, Cyprus was an important locus where east met west. As the News Network piece concludes,
The high standard of living of the Cypriots during the Bronze Age was not only a result of the production of copper but also of the export of high quality Cypriot pottery and purple textiles. In exchange, the Cypriots imported gold, silver, lead, and art objects mainly from Greece, Egypt and the Levant. There is also evidence for the import of dried fish from the Nile in Egypt.
The article notes the unearthing of Levantine imports. I wish it told us more about them. Alas, I fear we must await the formal excavation publication.