July 16, 2006

A Scribal Exercise or Only a Scribal Error

I'm working on my next post in my series on how to identify a scribal school. This next post will be on "Training in the alphabetic writing system from Ugarit and training in a second language in the Late Bronze Age." These two issues may be more closely related than you think. One of the questions that I am working on is did all (or most of the scribes) learn to read and write in both Ugaritic and Akkadian. The tentative answer is yes.

In the course of my research, I came across the Ugaritic text KTU 4.340. The tablet contains a list of salt fields belonging to various individuals. Each line of the body of the text begins with şş, which means "salt field," followed by a personal name and a number. Like several of these economic tablets whose bodies are written in Ugaritic, this one has a caption or summary on one edge that is written in Akkadian. Many others have a summary in Ugaritic. What is perhaps unique about this tablet is that the summary is bilingual, Akkadain and Ugaritic. I could not fine any other examples of an economic tablet with a bilingual summary. In addition, the Akkadian summary has an error.

The left edge reads,

šb‛ mat . ttm kbd (the Ugaritc caption)
7 me-at 60 HI.MEŠ (the Akadian caption)

The Ugaritic captions reads in translation,"760 heavy (shekels[?])" and the Akkadian reads, "760 penises." Well, the HI might be read as the logogram DÙG which could be understood in Akkadian as meaning birku, which means "knee" in English and was sometimes used as an euphemism for genitals. More likely the scribe did intended it to mean DÙG, but with the far more common Akkadian meaning of ţābu ("good" or "sweet") or ţābtu ("goodwill" or the like). This is particularly true at Ugarit where DÙG meaning birku is unattested but I can't be faulted for having a little fun.

Rowe (apud Dietrich, Loretz and Sanmartin, 341) pointed out that HI was likely an error for MUN, which would have been read ţabtu, with the shorter "a," meaning "salt" or "salt field." In addition, three Akkadian tablets from Ugarit show that Akkadian ţābtu, represented by MUN, is equivalent to Ugaritic şş (see Huehnergard, 170). With this reading, the Akkadian summary would translate into "760 salt fields." To be sure, the Ugaritic and Akkadian are not direct translations of each other but at least the Akkadian now makes sense.

Notice that while the HI sign (Labat, sign 396) and MUN (Labat, sign 95) sign look nothing alike, the Akkadian word for "goodwill" and the Akkadian word for "salt" sounded somewhat similar.

So, is this the work of an inexperienced scribe who made an error or is this a scribal exercise that also has an error? The only real indication that KTU 4.340 may be a scribal exercise is the unique summary in both Ugaritic and Akkadian. If it is a scribal exercise then his teacher made him do the summary in Ugaritic and Akkadian where it would normally be done in one or the other. In any case, my guess is that the error is the result of an inexperienced scribe who used the only sign he knew for the Akkadian sounds he heard in his ear or in his mind.


Dietrich, Manfried, Oswald Lorenz, and Joaquín Sanmartin, The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani and Other Places (KTU:second, enlarged edition), Abhandlungen zur Alt-Syrien Palästinas (ALASP), 8, Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995

Huehnergard, John, Ugaritic Vocabulary in Syllabic Transcription, Harvard Semitic Studies 32, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987

Labat, René, d'Épigrphie Akkadienne (Signes, Syllabaire, Idèogrammes), Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1963

Rowe, I. Márquez, Ugarit Forschungen 24, Münster: Verlag Butzon and Bercher Keverlaer, 1992, 261f. (apud Dietrich, Loretz and Sanmartin, 341)

Posted by DuaneSmith at July 16, 2006 02:43 PM | Read more on Scribal Schools |

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