August 2, 2006

An Interesting Coincidence

As I prepare for my next post on identifying a scribal school, I am looking at a variety of texts that may have bearing on that discussion. I am also waiting for my copy of Horowitz, Oshima, and Sanders, Cuneiform in Canaan to arrive first at Eisenbrauns and then be shipped to me.

One of the more interesting texts that I've looked at, and it's not in cuneiform, is an inscription on the side of a pot. This inscription was discovered by Pritchard in the early seventies at Sarepta. The incised script is Phoenician which Lemaire, 228-230, and Teixidor, 97-101 date to the fifth-fourth century BCE. This is considerably later than what would, at first glance, appear useful for my purposes but it is interesting nonetheless. It is a two line text which reads.

1)       ]hwzħţy[
2)       ] ’mr l’dnn grmlqr[t?
(remember I use ħ for het and ţ for tet)

Lemaire recognized the first line as part of an abecedaryand and on the bases of a Phoenician papyrus from Saqqarah and a fragmentary Paleo-Hebrew papyrus palimpsest from Murabba'at, he identified the second line as the formulaic beginning of a letter. On this understanding, the second line would read in English, "Say to our lord Germilqart." Here is my translation of part of what Lemaire, 229-230, says about the inscription,

Since there is not another line of writing after line 2, it is obviously an exercise in writing, or rather about "writing," that begins the learning process of the formulaic expressions at the introduction of letters. We have, alongside of the abecedary, a new type of scholastic writing for a little more advanced schoolchild.

If you recall my discussion of the educational process that was used at Ugairit to train scribes in writing alphabetic cuneiform nearly one thousand years earlier, you may remember KTU 5.9, a practice letter with two partial alphabets, one on each edge. To be sure, KTU 5.9 has a more complete practice letter plus some other strange stuff at the end.

So, what do I make of this? Not a whole lot. A thousand years is a very long time for a pedagogical device of combining letter writing training with an abecedary to survive. Sure, each on its own would continue because learning the alphabet and learning how to write letters in that alphabet require training. But together? I'm not sure there is enough "glue" to span the years. Unless someone can show a few intermediate examples I think it best to see these two cases as separate and unrelated events. But it is abnormally interesting nonetheless.

For the record, Lemaire noted the similarity between the Phoenician inscription and KTU 5.9 (he called it by it's excavation number, RS 16.265) in a footnote, n. 36. Curses, another earth-shattering discovery discovered by someone else first!

Update August 3, 2006
Fixed error


Lamaire, André, "Abécédaires et Exercices d'Écolier en Épigraphie Nord-Quest Sémitque," Journal Asiatique, CCLXVI, 1978, 221-135

Teixdor, Javier, "Selected Inscriptions," Prichard, James B., ed., Sarepta: A Preliminary Report on the Iron Age, Philadelphia: University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, 1975, 97-101

Posted by Duane Smith at August 2, 2006 7:59 PM | Read more on Scribal Schools |

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"Both Lemaire recognized the first line as part of an abecedary."

You can delete this comment after you fix the minor error if you want...

Posted by: Chris Weimer at August 3, 2006 12:49 AM

Error fixed, thanks.

Posted by: Duane at August 3, 2006 6:51 AM

Dear Duane,
on the famous pithoi from Kuntillet 'Ajrud you can find inscriptions with (part of) abecedaries and "incipit" of letters (and blessing formulas...).
Best wishes,
Paolo Merlo

Posted by: Paolo Merlo at August 7, 2006 11:52 PM

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