Familyless, Woman of the Harem, Prostitute, Or Perhaps A Šūzubu

Yesterday I introduced abnormal readers to the question of how to read the last three signs in line 6 of RS 8.208 [F. Thureau-Dangin, “Trois Contrats de Ras-Shamra,” Syria (xviii) 18:3, 245-255, here 248, 252-255; PRU 3, 110–11]. If you haven’t done so, it might be helpful to check out that post before you proceed.
You will remember that the last three signs of RS 8.208:6 can be read SAL.É.KAR or SAL.KID.KAR each resulting in a somewhat different range of interpretations. Some readers may find what follows just abnormal rather than abnormally interesting. If don’t like philological minutiae, perhaps you should skip to the end of the post where I attempt summarize my own understanding and explain why discussing it is at least of minimal importance.
On reading SAL.É.KAR:
Because it speaks to the reading, Thureau-Dangin, 253, who was the first to publish this text, read amta-šu i-na fbitetea and rendered it “son esclave. En (presence?) de (femme) Bite-a . . .” – Bite-a being the proper name of some woman. While I don’t think the larger context supports Thureau-Dangin’s understanding, it is clear from his transliteration and translation that he read SAL.É.te.a (TE+A rather than KAR). In other words, he saw an É on the tablet rather than a KID as the second sign in the complex. Huehnergard, 1989:65, 383, 390, apparently following Nougayrol, 110, reads SAL().É.KAR. Huehnergard, but not Nougayrol, suggests, but only suggests, that we understand the complex as Akkadian arbūtu, here meaning a (female) person without a family. The less figurative meaning of the arbu, on which arbūtu is constructed, is “uncultivated.” Nougayrol translates the line, “sa servant, de (?) l’état de domestique(?).” (Finkelstein, 546, translates the line, “his maid servant, from among the women of the harem.” This would make me think he is reading an É sign rather than a KID sign but I’m not sure. See below.) It does strike me as significant that both Thureau-Dangin and Nougayrol saw an É. They both worked directly from the tablet and both, Nougayrol more than Thureau-Dangin, had seen many Akkadian tablets from Ugarit at the time they worked on this one.
Assuming the SAL.É.KAR option, how do we explain and weigh the various possible understandings. First, KAR is occasionally glossed by the Akkadian verb ḫarāmu, “to separate, cut off” to which ḫarīmūtu, “the state of being a prostitute,” may well be related. See my discussion of this below. At least one vocabulary text relates ḫarāmu with pārasu. Pārasu is a far more common Akkadian word sharing part of the its semantic range (“cut off”) with ḫarāmu (see CAD Ḫ, 89-9). It is always dangerous to mind read but I suppose it is something like this that led Finkelstein to translate SAL.É.KAR (amīlāt bīt ḫarmati???), “the women of the harem.” The problem is that, first, as far as I can tell, none of the possibly related lexemes like ḫarmatu, ḫarīmtu, or ḫarīmūtu mean “separated” in the way a harem is separated. They all imply prostitution. Second, there are other Akkadian lexemes that denote a harem woman: sekritu, for example. Sekritu does not gloss KAR. Third, this is likely a dead end because both ḫarāmu are pārasu are written ideographically KUD even if forms apparently derived from ḫarāmu are written with KAR. However, SAL.É.KAR may point in a somewhat different direction. See below.
Huehnergard’s, 1989:65, 383, 390, understanding requires, at least in part, that arbūtu, on this understanding “the status of a person without a family,” gloss KAR; this is a well-documented equation in lexical texts and elsewhere (see CAD A2, 240-41). Should the more fully written SAL.É.KAR also be simply be read arbūtu, as Huehnergard seems to think, or would it better be read amīlāt bīt arbūti, “(the) women(?) of the house of the familyless,” or mebīt arbūti, “(the) house of the familylessfor women” as the writing seems to indicate? It appears to me that Huehnergard suggestion only goes partway in understanding SAL.É.KAR.
With but one abnormally interesting exception, CAD does not document any occasions where the KAR ideogram is preceded by É or bīt. I may have missed something but I spent a lot of time searching for such patterns in CAD. I did not find É.KAR where KAR is glossed by any of the lexemes so far discussed or where É or bīt is followed by any of these lexemes written syllabically. Before I take up the one exception, I will consider the reading SAL.KID.KAR.
On reading SAL.KID.KAR:
CAD Ḫ, 102, reads the complex SAL.KID.KAR and tentatively associates it with ḫarīmūtu, “the state of being a prostitute.” They translate the line and context, “his slave girl, from her status as a prostitute . . . (he) emancipates her.” If this line read GEMÉ-šu i-na SAL.KAR.KID rather than GEMÉ-šu i-na SAL.KID.KAR, in other words, with the last two signs were reversed, this post would now end in a whimper. SAL.KID.KAR commonly stands for “prostitute” or being of the status of a prostitute (Akkadian ḫarīmūtu or ḫarīmtu or the like); the problem of the line is solved. But the last two signs are in the order they are in and while scribal reversals are known, there is no reason to see them everywhere. To be sure, the three sign complex SAL.KID.KAR occurs in a vocabulary text from Boğazköy (see CAD Ḫ, 101). The line immediately following [KAR.KID] \\ []a-ri-im-du() in this Izi text is [KID.KAR] \\ ki-ti-e-qa-ru-u. (Don’t worry just now about the ideograms in []. That’s for another post or long footnote, neither of which are worthy of your time or mine just now.) So what does kiteqarû or kitekarû mean? It’s a Sumerian loanword for, you guessed it, “prostitute.” While KID.KAR is a very uncommon complex, it is obviously not unknown. Because of the Boğazköy Izu text, Eleyawe having been of the social class of prostitutes, if not a prostitute herself, cannot be easily dismissed.
Another Option – SAL.É.KAR \\ bīt šuzubūti:
Now, at last, comes what I think I discovered. A more thorough literature search will be required for certainty.
What I’ve discussed so far does not exhaust the options. In fact the theoretical options are rather numerous. The KAR sign is glossed by several of Akkadian lexemes some of which are near synonyms while others have (to me) no obvious relationship.
The Akkadian verb eṭêru, “to take away” or “to save (a person)” and various derivative words commonly gloss KAR. The equation KAR \\ eṭêru is the first entry under KAR in the great Sa vocabulary series. This certainly includes the Sa polyglot vocabulary text from Ugarit. The line (RS 20.123+ II:17’) reads:
[KAR] \\ (Akkadian) [eṭêru] \\ (Hurrian) eḫ-lu-um-me \\ (Ugaritic) ḫu-PI(wa/ya?)-ú – “to save, repair”)
But perhaps more interesting is the fourth entry under KAR in this text (II:20’):
KAR \\ (Akkadian) šu-zu-bu \\ (Hurrian) a-bu-uš-ku-me \\ (Ugaritic) pu-la-ṭu[ . ] -“to save.”
Note: the translations at the end of each line are for reference only and are based on the assumption that the entry reflects a verb in the infinitive. At least on the surface, this appears to be the case with the Ugarit column. However, it is not necessarily case with regard to one or both of these entries.
We also see the KAR \ šu-zu-bu gloss in the “canonical” vocabulary texts A VIII/I:209ff and Sb II 311ff and KAR as an element is in more complex ideographic chains with šu-zu-bu as a gloss in Ermihuš V 1ff. (ŠU.KAR) and 5R 16 r. I 71 (ŠU.KAR.KAR) (see CAD E, 416). The KAR \ šu-zu-bu gloss is all the more interesting in the light of several texts from Alalakh, letter 187 for example, which refer to É šu-zu-bu. CAD Z, 419, renders this “households of š.-s.” In line 4 of Alalakh text 187, É šu-zu-bu follows and is in apparent parallel with É ḫu-up-šu. A ḫupšu is a free person of low social order. See CAD Ḫ, 241-42. Following this line of thought, perhaps we should read SAL.É.KAR, bīt šuzubūti, “the house(hold) of the (female) šuzubu.” So what is a šuzubu? In a lengthy study of the social structure at Alalakh and Ugarit, Dietrich and Loretz, look at a great many examples social status words in names and narrative from the Alalakh IV texts. Of what they call the “eḫele-šūzubu-Gruppe,” they say,

Auffallend hoch ist der Prozentsatz (knapp 38%) an Personen, die in einem Dienstverhältnis zum König, zum Palast ober zu Privatpersonen (auch zu Frauen) stehen. [90]
[The percentage (almost 38%) of persons (in this group) who are in an employment relationship to the King, to the Palace top individuals, (even for women) is remarkably high. (my translation)]

And later,

Der Angehörige der eḫele-šūzubu-Gruppe scheint demnach ein Freigelassener, Befreiter zu sein, der häufig und mit vielfältigen Berufen im Dienste des Königs ober des Palastes (sowie hochgestellter Privatpersonen) stand. Er hatte als Freigelassener offensichtlich eine wirtschaftlich wichtige Position inne, die nich zuletzt auf seiner beruflichen Tüchtigkeit beruht haben dürfte. [92]
[The members of eḫele-šūzubu Group seem therefore to be liberated a free person who frequently and with diverse professions in the service of the King or the Palace (as well as high ranked individuals). He was obviously in an economically important position as a freedman, which did not ultimately rest on professional skill.]

Without going into their reasons here, Dietrich and Loretz argue that eḫele is the Hurrian equivalent of Akkadian šūzubu. For now I would simply suggest that one look at the Hurrian and Akkadian columns in the two lines from the polyglot vocabulary text quoted above.
On this understanding, Eleyawe was a skilled professional, but not a prostitute, living among comparably skilled professionals in the employee of Gilben, the overseer of the queen’s estate. Her profession was one enjoyed by both men and women at Alalakh and presumably at Ugarit. For our tablet it appears that Eleyawe was not as free as Dietrich and Loretz lead us to expect. However, it’s not clear just how free even a free woman was at Ugarit. Even if she is of the class of free persons, she was likely under the “protection” of some man. This would be good place to say something about the beginning of line 6 and the payment of 20 shekels of silver mentioned in lines 15-17. The line begins GEMÉ-šu, amassu, “his servant girl” or is it “his slave girl?” It’s hard to tell which and, in my way of thinking, the fee does not settle the issue. Certainly, Gilben had some claim on Eleyawe even if she was among a class people normally seen as free. Some compensation was due but it’s not clear to me what that composition was for. Even if we think of “replacement costs” we are not necessarily dealing with a slave (but we might be). Even skilled professional women had value to those they served. Before I can assert my suggested understanding with any real force, I will need to address these issues. One cannot live or die by philological evidence alone but the evidence from the Alalakh tablets combined with the evidence from the vocabulary texts, particularly the Sa polyglot text from Ugarit, sure is suggestive.
Final Remarks:
Well, final remarks for now. I plan to keep looking to this and may have more to say about it here at Abnormal Interests or in some more traditional forum.
So which is it, SAL.KID.KAR \\ ḫarīmūtu, “prostitute” or SAL.É.KAR \\ bīt šuzubūti, some kind of skilled professional living among other (female) professionals of the same kind? It’s hard to tell. Obviously, I prefer bīt šuzubūti, largely because I discovered the possibility (or pending more research, I think I did).
This exercise does caution against premature closure in areas where scholars differ. For example, at one point I was tempted to cite RS 8.208 as evidence for taking a prostitute in marriage and seeing a loose but interesting parallel with Hosea’s marriage to Gomer. At another point I thought it might speak to Tawil’s, 120, suggestion that Hebrew חרם, “to excommunicate, exterminate” be understood as cognate with Akkadian ḫarāmu, “to separate.” Now, in my view Tawil is correct in seeing a cognate relationship of some sort but without more certainty RS 8.208 does not appear to inform that relationship meaningfully and on my reading it wouldn’t inform it at all. Likewise, a parallel with Hosea only works if we read SAL.KID.KAR \\ ḫarīmūtu, “prostitute.” Our text does seem to provide valuable information concerning social structure and social relationships at Ugarit but only we could satisfy ourselves that we understand the meaning of line 6. Eleyawe, even if free on one level, was clearly under Gilben’s control or protection. It is interesting that Buriyanu compensated Gilben 20 shekels of silver for the loss of Eleyawe’s services whatever those services may have been. I also find Eleyawe name abnormally interesting but that is for another time.
Update (February 6. 2013)
I just noticed that Huehnergard, 1989:65, worries about the É also.

Dietrich, M,. and O. Loretz, “Die soziale Struktur von Alalaḫ und Ugarit (II): Die sozialen Gruppen ḫupše-namê, ḫaniaḫḫe-ekû, eḫele-šūzubu und marjanne nach Texten aus Alalaḫ IV, ” Die Welt des Orients, 5:1 (1969), 57-93, here, 93.
Finkelstein, J. J., “Documents from the Practice of Law,” in James R. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (ANET) (3rd ed.; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 543-547.
Huehnergard, John, Ugaritic Vocabulary in Syllabic Transcription (Harvard Semitic Studies 32; Atlanta: Scholars Press 1987).
Huehnergard, John, The Akkadian of Ugarit (Harvard Semitic Studies 34; Atlanta: Scholars Press 1989).
Nougayrol, Jean, “Textes Accadiens et Hourrites des Archives est, ouest et Centrales,” Claude Schaeffer ed., Le Palais Royal d’Ugarit (PRU), III (Mission de Ras Shamra, VI; Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1955).
Tawil, Hayim ben Yosef, An Akkadian Lexical Companion For Biblical Hebrew: Etymological-Semantic and Idiomatic Equivalents with Supplement on Biblical Aramaic (Jersey City, NJ: KTAV, 2009).
Thureau-Dangin, F., “Trois Contrats de Ras-Shamra,” Syria, 18:3 (1937), 245-255.

3 thoughts on “Familyless, Woman of the Harem, Prostitute, Or Perhaps A Šūzubu

  1. Your discussion of ḫarāmu reminds me of the Hebrew word kadesha. It comes from a root (K D Sh) that is normally translated as “sanctified”, but a kadesha was apparently a prostitute (cf. Gen 38:15,21). Other words derived from the same root mean “prepare” or “remove” or “set aside” – very much like ḫarāmu and ḫarīmūtu!
    If there is a conceptual parallel between these pairs of words it has interesting implications. Kadesha isn’t a common word; there’s another, more common word for a prostitute: zonah. I had always understood that a kadesha was someone with a special status that separated them from everyone else, but perhaps it really means they are identified with a place that is K-D-Sh.
    By way of analogy, a clerk may work for the government or for a private firm, but he is only a public servant if he works for the government. None the less, if all the government workers we knew were clerks we might think that the phrase “public servant” was synonymous with “clerk”. Perhaps the same thing applies to kadesha and, I suppose, ḫarīmūtu: they are identified by their association with a place that is kodesh or ḫarāmu and some (but not all) of the people with that status were what we would prostitutes.

  2. Joe,
    As I was writing the post, I worried a little about the meaning of prostitute or what it meant to be of the status of a prostitute. I haven’t really researched this but I think the issue is rather complex, both in Mesopotamian and in the Hebrew Bible and that our modern western ideas may be less than a perfect fit. If I remember correctly there are a couple of good papers on this but I will need to dig-up proper references which just now elude me. I do think you are correct in seeing some kind of parallel between Hebrew kadesha and Akkadian ḫarīmūtu with regard to being set aside in some way or other. I need to think a good deal about the idea that either of them is identified with a place but it would make for still another understanding of RS 8.208. It would be nice to see É ḫa-ri-mu-tu or the like spelled out somewhere. I tried to find something like that and failed.

  3. The Biblical text is open to the reading that being a kadesha implied being receptive to sexual advances, but I don’t think we can safely go further than that.
    I have a feeling that a kadesh or kadesha was basically somebody who hung around a sanctuary and had some informal social role. They were disliked by the priests (and get no respect in the Bible) but they weren’t prostitutes or even necessarily sexually available. It’s just that they had a low formal social position; and therefore a prostitute might be a kadesha, or a kadesha might be willing to spend some with a gentleman caller. On the other hand, perhaps a kadesh or kadesha could also be a lay preacher.
    There are precedents for this sort of thing: consider the prophet Samuel, who as a child was a sort of Temple servant (and apparently slept in the sanctuary of the Tabernacle) but who ultimately became a prophet, politician and king-maker. Could he ever have been described as a kadesh? The Bible doesn’t say so, but it seems reasonable.
    Anyway, insofar as any of this has been relevent, my point is that there are lots of different ways to understand the idea of someone being KDSh: they themselves are sanctified (i.e., they are priests); they “belong” to a sanctuary; they are merely associated with, or just hang around, a sanctuary; they are somehow marked out, so that their insular state makes them resemble a sanctuary. From what you say if ḫarīmūtu can be a parallel then it might well have the same range of associated meanings.

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