November 18, 2008

The Soul of Kuttamuwa

Since I am on the west coast and had to take my car in for servicing this morning just about everyone has already written on the latest news concerning the now famous Kuttamuwa Stele from Zinjirli.

Chip Hardy posted the best picture I have seen at his Daily Hebrew blog. Except for the hard places, much of the text is readable from this picture. But as Ed Cook said, "why not wait for Pardee's definite treatment this weekend?" The three news articles I've seen differ only in details.

The first line or so, the only part, other than the picture, that is publically available at this time reads in Pardee's translation,

I, Kuttamuwa, servant of [the king] Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber [?] and established a feast at this chamber: a bull for [the god] Hadad, a ram for [the god] Shamash and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.

And, of course, the last phrase of this, which Ed Cook transliterates, correctly I think, ויבל לנבשי זי בנצב זנ, has gotten the most attention. Kuttamuwa's soul is in this stele. Where else would it be?

Loren Fisher was kind enough to pass along his reflections on what we know of the stele so far.

The article in the NYT on18 Nov 08 concerning "An Ancient Monument to the Soul" is interesting. This report does not give us enough information to come to any real conclusions, and I have found that reporters do not always understand or sometimes misquote the professors. So, I do not have a lot to go on, but the comments by the "experts" invite some response.

This business of the soul is difficult. Everyone has been taught that in Semitic thought body and soul are a unity and not to be separated, but that does not mean that body and soul cannot be distinguished. This even happens in Genesis 2:7. And after reading the Debate Between A Man and His Ba, I think that I should change my translation of Job 10:1 from "my being" to "my soul." Thus we have: "My soul is disgusted with my life; I will give free rein to my complaint; I will speak concerning the bitterness of my soul." An interesting thing about this verse is that the soul is the subject of 1a and then the person takes over in 1b and 1c. Therefore, I have changed the translation of b, the preposition, in 1c to “concerning” instead of “from.” I only relate this as an example of how we must remain open on many things that we have repeated so many times.

The Egyptologist, Joseph Wegner, is reported as saying that the idea of a soul being separate from the body was not common in the Middle East “except in Egypt.” Then he says that the concept of the soul in this text “sounds vaguely Egyptian. But there was nothing in history or archaeology, he added, to suggest that the Egyptian civilization had a direct influence on this border kingdom." Perhaps not at the time of this text, but much earlier Egypt had a tremendous impact on northern Mesopotamia, the coastal areas, Ugarit, and other northern states. Influence that is earlier and indirect is still influence. I am writing a book on direct Egyptian influence at Nuzi, and the Hurrian and Egyptian influence was probably even stronger in the west. Lawrence Stager's comments make a lot more sense. He speaks of “the mixed cultural heritage in the region at that time.” He also said that this text reflects “the give-and-take of mixed cultures, part Indo-European, part Semitic, at a borderland in antiquity. The Egyptians did get around, and their influence is everywhere.

We will have to wait until we have the text to really appreciate this find.

Update: The reading in the following paragraph is likely wrong. See comments. Therefore, everything else in it is likely wrong too.

One thing that I noticed was חיי נשם, "life of breath," at the beginning of line 2. I'm fairly sure this is what Pardee translates "alive." נשם may be further inflected; I can't read what immediately follows it from the picture with any confidence. I also can't read the very end of line 1 with certainty. חיי נשם is itself somewhat reminiscent of Genesis 2:7 and to a lesser extent Genesis 7:22.

Posted by Duane Smith at November 18, 2008 3:23 PM | Read more on Archaeology |

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


now how is it that on the one hand ed cook said to wait for pardee's official publication and then 4 lines down you say he has transliterated a bit himself? is he waiting or isn't he?

Posted by: Jim at November 18, 2008 3:52 PM


Like me, Ed's waiting for all those other parts that he hasn't taken an abnormal interest in as yet.

Posted by: Duane at November 18, 2008 4:46 PM

Duane, I've read through the hi-res photo pointed out by Chuck Jones, and I think חיי is the end of a phrase beginning in the first line, though its hard to tell since the first line is a bit effaced at the end. It is followed by ושמת . ותה . באתר . עלמ 'and I placed it in an eternal place' or something like that. I'm not sure about אתר. I too am waiting for the 'official' word from Dr Pardee.


Posted by: Pete Bekins at November 18, 2008 5:20 PM


Now that I have seen the still better picture, I tend to agree with you.

Posted by: Pete at November 18, 2008 6:11 PM

Just as interesting is the portrait. Compare it with Kilamuwa's portrait. This clearly is a realistic portrait. As such, it also ties in with the text.

And, of course, another large amount of script for study. Great find.

Keep it coming, Duane.

Posted by: rochelle at November 19, 2008 6:17 AM

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.
Send me an email if it is important.