September 18, 2005

The Cuneiform Short Alphabet: Part 1.

Table of Contents

(Each post contains a link to a more detailed study in PDF format.)

The Cuneiform Short Alphabet: Part 1. (You are here now)
Amurriyu's Sacrifice to Baal: KTU 1.77 (RS 6.411, UT 74, CTA 187, Syria 16, 186)

The Cuneiform Short Alphabet: Part 2.
Record of Purchases: KTU 4.31 (RS 5.197+5.212+5.213, UT 57, CTA 207, Syria 14, 103):

The Cuneiform Short Alphabet: Part 3.
Wheat and Olives for the House of Yatiru: KTU 4.710 (RS 22.03; Syria 58, 1981, 301; CRAI 1960, 85)

The Cuneiform Short Alphabet: Part 4.
Inscribed Votive Nail Head: KTU 7.60 (RS 9.496; Sryia 19, 1938, 140, CTA 206)

The Cuneiform Short Alphabet: Part 5.
A School Text: KTU 5.22 (RS 26.135; UF 7 (1975), 166f; UF 11 (1979), 121f)

The Cuneiform Short Alphabet: Part 6.
An Inscribed Jar Handle from Sarepta in Lebanon: KTU 6.70 (Sar 3102, Pritchard [1975], 97-104)

The Cuneiform Short Alphabet: Part 7.
Inscription on a Knife from Tabor Valley, Wadi Bire: KTU 6.1 (IAA 44.318, Yeivin [1945])

The Cuneiform Short Alphabet: Part 8.
Medical Text from Tell Taanach: KTU 4.767 (TT 433, Hillers [1964])

The Cuneiform Short Alphabet: Part 9.
The Beth Shemesh Tablet: KTU 5.24 = 8.1 (AS 33.5.165, Barton [1933])
The New South Semitic Abecedary from Ugarit: KTU 9.426 (RS 88.2215, Bordreuil and Pardee [1995])

Bibliography (In PDF file format)

Publication Information (In PDF file format)

I will be adding new posts to this table of contents as they become available. (Last update: April 11, 2006)

Amurriyu's Sacrifice to Baal: KTU 1.77 (RS 6.411, UT 74, CTA 187, Syria 16, 186)

As I've hinted before, I have an idea concerning the short cuneiform alphabet represented in a few texts from Ugarit and elsewhere. I'm far from ready to expose my idea because it could well be both very wrong and embarrassing. Most likely, it is simply unsupportable. But as part of developing the evidence to confirm or eliminate my idea, I am working my way through the corpus of texts in this alphabet.

Because of the strange fonts that are required to explain any interpretation of these texts, my detailed work is best published electronically as a PDF file. However, I will offer an English translation for each of the texts (or in the case of one of them only an explanation) as I complete them and give a summary interpretation here on Abnormal Interests pages with a link to the relevant detailed PDF file. I will also use this first post on the subject to discuss methodology, some issues concerning references and give a very brief overview of the long and short alphabets. A far more detailed discussion will come only after I have studied all the relevant texts.

[Full disclosure: Some 35 years ago, I studied a number of Semitic languages including Ugaritic under Loren Fisher who was himself a student of Cyrus Gordon. At that time, I was fortunate enough to publish a paper in a peer-reviewed journal and be the associate editor of one volume of a major undertaking involving Ugaritic studies to which I contributed a chapter and did a lot of the work on another chapter. I also wrote a couple on encyclopedia entries and taught Biblical Hebrew and a couple of related subjects as lecturer. During the intervening years, I have only very occasionally looked at an Ugaritic text. From time to time, I have looked at the Hebrew Bible when something of interest came up. But whatever skills I may have once had have greatly atrophied. Another thing that has severely atrophied is my ability to read French and German. Because much of the secondary material is in one or the other of these languages, my interpretation of this material has no doubt suffered also. So consider what you are about to read and the accompanying PDF file as a retraining exercise of a student rather than the work of a scholar. For this reason, everything I say in this post is subject to change without notice and likely without any memory of my previous position. I hope my references will point the curious to the most important scholarly works. But I may well have missed quite a few.]

While I have made a preliminary study of all the texts in the short alphabet, the first text I want to discuss goes by the mind benumbing excavation number of RS 6.411 also known as KTU 1.77. It is from Minet el-Beida, the port at Ugarit. Normally I will use the KTU numbers from Dietrich, Loretz and Sanmartin, The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places (1995) for reference. The other numbers in the subtitle above will be understood by those familiar with Ugaritic studies and represent other places where this text has been published. The original publication by Virolleaud is in the journal Syria volume 16, page 186. Like many, but likely not all, of the texts in the short cuneiform alphabet, this one is written from right to left. The text is on a jar handle and is slightly broken along both the right and the left margins, perhaps more on the left than the right so that not all the letters can be read at least on the left.

Here is my translation:

1) []Amurriyu offers a sacrif[ice]
2) []May Ba['al] bless him[ ]
3) [](May) Ba'al bless (this?) p[itcher (?)]
4) []For Mushki (one of the) Hittites (?) from (among the)[??]
5) [?]bians, a pitcher of blended wine.[ ]

Square brackets indicate broken or restored areas on the jar handle. If you want to know why I think this is a reasonable translation of KTU 1.77 link to the PDF file.

KTU 1.77 Photo KTU 1.77 Autograph KTU 1.77 Transliteration

Above, from left to right, is a photo of the text from Herder's CTA pl. LXXXVIII; Puech's, RB, 93 (1969), 200 transcription and my transliteration. I did not use Virolleaud's transcription because it has at least one probable error.

In the transliteration and translation, square brackets indicate that some part of the text is or may be missing. Any letters within the square brackets are restored. I have used a subscripted "2" after signs that may not have the same phonetic value or range of values as the sign they most resemble in the long cuneiform alphabet. The sign I call š2 in line 4, a small circular impression, does not appear in the long alphabet at all. Letters in italics are relatively certain as to reading and letters not in italics are broken, restored, or hard to read for some reason or another. When there is a "/" between two letters, it is difficult to tell which is the correct reading although one or the other is very possible. Think of the case where you see the right half of a Latin letter and cannot tell if it is an "F" or a "P." In the case of the "/" between the restored "t" or "d" in line 3, the problem involves, among other things, how one understands the word "kt" in line 5. See the PDF file for more information on this perplexing problem.

The text involves a sacrifice of "blended wine" to Baal by one Amurriyu on be half of the Hittite Mushki who is living somewhere away from home but among other Hittites. The text contains a petition to Baal to bless Mushki and, perhaps the jar (pitcher) itself (?). Don't think of a great Cabernet Sauvignon or Chianti when I say "blended wine" but it is some kind of a mixture; perhaps even a wine with spice added. Amurriyu may well be understood as "the Amorite."

Because I have left a few rants here and there about thinking in probabilistic terms concerning various matters of interpretation in archeology and Biblical studies. I thought it would be fun attempt to apply those principles to my interpretation of this text and try to estimate beginning informal probabilities for my interpretation. The proposition I am seeking to evaluate may be stated as follows, "A native speaker/reader reading KTU 1.77 would agree with my interpretation." Let's take this in two groups of lines:

Lines 1-3: Except for the last word in each line that the native speaker might not know how to reconstruct for sure either, I think it is fairly likely that my interpretation is nearly correct. However, if the native speaker had access to the original last words in these lines, line 1 in particular, the likelihood of my being correct is reduced. He would know something I cannot know for sure.

Lines 4-5: These two lines have a raft of problems from unusual grammatical forms to strange proper names to a word with an unusual spelling (if my interpretations and that of others is correct) among several other difficulties including a line broken off at a crucial place. While I believe I have done the best that I can do, given the state of the text here, the probability that my mythical native speaker would concur with me is well under 50%, even under 25% if he knew the text in an unbroken form.

This means that the probability of the proposition, "A native speaker/reader reading KTU 1.77 would agree with my interpretation," being correct is quite low for all the details taken together in the text as a whole. It is likely around 50% for my more general assessment of the meaning of the text. This is perhaps a little depressing, but as additional evidence and thought process are brought to bear on this text the probabilities will go up (or down) and that is why all this is part of a process and rather than a conclusion.

If I have whetted your appetite for more information on this text, take the link to the PDF file. Below I will discuss three additional issues: First, I will give a short overview of the cuneiform alphabets. Second, I will say something about methodology. Finally, I will discuss my method of citing primary and secondary sources that I use in the accompanying PDF files.

Most of the alphabetic texts from the ancient city of Ugarit are written on clay tablets using a set of 30 cuneiform symbols that, for the most part, are letters of an alphabet: the long cuneiform alphabet. A couple of the symbols may be better understood as representing syllables. But that isn't very important, at least not at the beginning of this study. Most of these texts are in the Ugaritic language but a few are in other languages, mostly the Hurrian language. Ugaritic is a Semitic language in the same general family as Hebrew and Arabic. There is an ongoing debate about its relationship to other Semitic languages. Ugaritic shares much of its vocabulary and grammar with languages like Hebrew and Phoenician but also has much in common with Akkadian (Babylonian and Assyrian) on the one hand and Arabic on the other. While most of the texts in the long cuneiform alphabet are from Ugarit, although some have been found at a few other places.

In addition to the over one thousand texts in the long alphabet, there are between seven and twelve that are in a shorter alphabet of about 22 cuneiform letters. I say "about" because, as will be seen as the study unfolds over the next several posts on this subject, the exact number is a matter of uncertainty. Also exactly what text qualifies as a short cuneiform alphabetic text is not as clear as one would like. Most of these texts are very short and broken and usually only contain a small sample of the letters of the alphabet. To give you an idea how this can happen, in the slightly over 900 words I have written so far for this post I have not used a "z" except once in a non-English proper name. So, if one was to try to reconstruct the alphabet used for writing English from the first part of this post, not counting the last sentence, one might think there are only 25 letters in the alphabet plus a special symbol that is only used at the end of some foreign proper names, perhaps it is only used in the language of the person by that name. If I had not used that name, one might think there where only 25 letters period in the alphabet I am using to write these words.

It appears that all the texts in the short alphabet also represent one or more Semitic languages. But it is not always so clear which one(s). Some of these texts give enough information for one to form an educated guess as to their language while others do not. For example, the text that is the subject of this post seems to be, with a few little questions here and there, in a language that is very much like the majority of long alphabet Ugaritic texts. I'm not necessarily saying it does represent that language; I'm only saying that from this text alone it would be very hard say that it doesn't. Other short cuneiform alphabet texts have more the feel of Phoenician and at least one may reflect an Old South Arabic tradition. Just in case you are wondering, neither of these alphabets is the oldest known alphabet. The earliest know text written in a cuneiform alphabet can be no earlier than the 14th century BCE. The oldest alphabetic text of any kind found so far is likely from the 18th century BCE or older. It is a linear alphabet rather than a cuneiform alphabet. Tyler Williams has a picture of the only known text in this alphabet and some interesting discussion at Codex Blogspot . There are, of course, much older texts in syllabic and idiographic cuneiform.

No one can work on texts of this difficulty without the help of secondary sources. If you don't believe me just compare the interpretations in the original publications, remember that their authors were among the very best Semitic scholars in the world, with the work of later scholars and see how often those more recent scholars cite each other and their predecessors and you will begin to understand what I mean. Having said that, I started by studying each text by trying to avoid reference to secondary sources. This is often quite difficult because the original publications usually contain an interpretation of the text under study. The first thing I did as I faced each text was to collate the earliest transcription of the text with any pictures that might be available. Photographs of cuneiform texts are notoriously hard to work with. When I was satisfied that I had a useful working transcription, I attempted to produce a transliteration. Phonetic or near phonetic transliterations are easier to work with then the original alphabets. At this point, I attempted a grammatical analysis and translation without reference to the work of others. I did consult dictionaries and grammars on frequent occasion. Only after I had gone down this road as far as I could go (sometimes a little further than I could go) did I begin to look at the secondary sources. I have reached this point with my study of all the known texts in the short cuneiform alphabet. Sometimes, as in the case of this text, I was able to get quite a ways. For example, I was able to understand the first three lines reasonably well before I began the process of interacting with the secondary material. The last two lines were still a mystery, although I had a few ideas about how to deal with some of it. From this point on, the work involved interacting with the secondary sources, trying to understand them and modifying my preliminary interpretations as these sources improved my understanding of the text under study. I am still looking for additional secondary studies but thought it was time to formalize what had been accomplished so far: this post and its accompanying PDF file and the ones that are to come.

Even though the alphabetic texts do not normally represented vowels, I make no apology for writing proper names, at least in translation, in a readable fashion with vowels inserted. When possible I have tried to use Akkadian syllabic equivalents or, occasionally, other sources for help in spelling. But when I could not find anything, I took my best shot.

Now for some even more boring stuff about references: I try to use the KTU numbering system for all the Ugaritic texts as the primary reference. If for some reason I want to direct the reader to an Ugaritic text in Gordon's Ugaritic Textbook (1965), I will use Gordon's numbering system following the letters UT (e.g. UT 2006:9 means line 9 in the text Gordon numbers 2006). If I want to reference something that Gordon himself says in the Ugaritic Textbook, I will cite it as Gordon, 1965, 23 meaning page 23 in Gordon's 1965 version of the Ugaritic Textbook. I have tried to use excavation numbers for all the other texts except when publication references would make them clearly more accessible. I have tried to use a consistent format in citing secondary sources. When the secondary source is a journal, I have used the journal name or a common abbreviation for the journal. I may not have been completely consistent in this but I hope the references are clear. The most complete work that I know of on the short cuneiform alphabetical texts is Dietrich and Loretz's Die Keilaphabete: Die phönizisch-kanaanäischen und altratabishen Alphabete in Ugarit, I cite it as Dietrich and Loretz, 1988, followed by the page number. This is how I cite books in generally.

In the PDF files, I use the KTU convention for broken or questionable signs. A sign in italics is clear and, within the bounds of reason, undisputable. A sign not in italics is broken, restored, or otherwise messed up and not completely trustworthy. Anything in square brackets is restored.

When I near the end of this journey, I plan to publish a complete bibliography. For now, if any of my references are not clear and you want to check on something, please drop me an email or leave a comment and I'll let you know the complete bibliographic information.

Posted by DuaneSmith at September 18, 2005 10:00 AM | Read more on Ugarit |

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