KTU 1.79, Where? Oh Where Are You From?

After a multi-year diversion into divination, I’m back worrying about literacy and scribal practices at Ugarit and vicinity. Back in 2008 I speculated that KTU 1.79 and KTU 1.80 (RS 13.006 and RS 15.072) might have something to say on these issues. These two descriptions of sacrificial practice were both found in the Royal Palace at Ugarit. But, as Pardee argues, they do not reflect royal sacrificial practice. Internally, the texts locate these sacrifices in the hinterlands of Ugarit – certainly not in the Palace or the big city.
van Soldt, 292 tells us, “Five major archives were discovered in this Late Bronze Age building, among which a clear distribution of genre and consequently, of language and script can be established.” So I wondered about the exact find spots of KTU 1.79 and KTU 1.80. KTU 1.80 seems rather straight forward. It was unearthed at a depth of 0.82 meters in room 41 of the Royal Palace of Ugarit. I’m not sure that the situation with KTU 1.79 is so clear. The official inventory places its discovery at a depth of 0.80 meters in Courtyard I of the Royal Palace. I wonder.
The two tablets have much in common. Both are about the same size and color; both have the very unusual property of extending a line or lines from the obverse around the right edge and continuing it well across the reverse; both show the same peculiarities of ductus – for example, strange writing of the Š with two unusually oriented Winkelhaken; failure to rotate the stylus when forming vertical wedges. Both are on the same subject, have similar formal structures and refer to the same person (Ṣitqānu) and same place (the Ilishtami plantation).
Were these tablets kept more than 30 meters apart with neither of them clearly associated with a major archive? I somewhat doubt it. Room 41 is quite a ways from the find spots of other alphabetic tablets (of any tablets for that matter). The nearest archive is 25 meters or so to the east. Why would one keep such a tablet all by itself in Room 41 or, more likely, above Room 41? While a few other tablets were recovered from Courtyard 1, it is mid-way between the West Archive about 20 meters to the north, and the Annex Office Archive about 20 meters to the south. (Don’t worry about tablets found in courtyards, they likely come from the collapse of a second story.) Pardee, 428, makes an interesting observation about KTU 1.79, “The state of wear on the surface indicates that the tablet had to be exposed to the elements for a sufficient period [to cause that wear].” But when and under what circumstances? Pardee concludes, “We shall probably never know how these two tablets, which seem to have no relation to the palatial concerns, finally came to be separated by 30 meters.” While I think they were both written in the hinterlands, I wonder if perhaps they were both originally stored in Room 41 and became separated at some later (modern?) time. If so, they were both kept together in a part of the palace where few other tablets were stored. Pardee wonders if “ . . . the isolation provides an indication of fortuitous presence in the Palace.”
Is this important to the larger question I am investigating? I don’t know. It sure is a curiosity. In a future post I’ll discuss Pardee’s question concerning the possibility of one or both of these tablets being scribal exercises – as some scholars have suggested.

Pardee, Dennis, Les Textes Rituels (Ras Shamra-Ougarit XII; Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations, 2000).
van Soldt, Wilfred H., “Private Archives at Ugarit,” in Bongenaar, A. C. V. M., ed, Interdependency of Institutions and Private Entrepreneurs, Proceeding of the Second MOS Symposium (Leiden, 1998) (Leiden: Nederlands Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 2000), 292 – 245.

4 thoughts on “KTU 1.79, Where? Oh Where Are You From?”

  1. A lot of inscriptions seem to get described as “scribal exercises”, much as a lot of strange relics end up being called “spindles” or “something cultic”. I suppose that scribal exercises would be more widely dispersed than formal documents, so each one would have a distinct chance of surviving (as opposed to an archive either surviving or not, in its entirety). None the less, it’s not a very satisfying answer: “Here, copy this out! And then carefully preserve it in case we want to check your work 3,000 years later.”

  2. Joe,
    I do worry that many texts are called scribal exercises aren’t. Among the problems is that tablets that are rather clearly scribal exercises show up along with the remains of what seem otherwise to be official archives. Master scribes were also teachers. There are a rather large number of texts that are known to be school texts, part of a well understood scribal curriculum. When these show up defaced or purposely broken and/or with a particular set of errors they are almost certainly the work of students. Then there is a group of literary texts used in scribal training where whether or not they are student exercises becomes more subjective and rests solely on the nature of errors. Once in a while a colophon will make it clear that the scribe is a student. But even here some care is called for. In the case of KTU 1.79 and KTU 1.80, I think they are definitely not scribal exercises. They show writing anomalies that any master worthy of his stylus would not allow in a student sufficiently advanced to take on these texts. This (these?) writer’s issues would have been fixed at the abecedary stage of the curriculum.

  3. Have you an explanation for the way some lines extend to the obverse of the tablet? I could understand it if it were, say, an amateur copy of an original, but from your description I would think this tablet is the original. Why wouldn’t the author simply have continued on a separate line, rather than got to the effort of writing on one surface while preserving the other?
    Not-serious suggestion: some day a tablet will be found that says “INSTRUCTIONS FOR REGISTERING A COMPLAINT: … in the interests of brevity describe your complaint in no more than seven lines.”

  4. Joe,
    The best answer to your question concerning how I might explain the extension of the lines is the creator’s lack of formal training or his or her failure to remember how to properly use a tablet. Simply put I think these tablets were written by an “amateur” as originals – as reports. Here I mean by “amateur” a (somewhat) literate professional who either had no formal training or for whom an elementary training was in a distant youth. There are several factors that point to this conclusion, the extension the lines onto the obverse is but one of them. The failure to rotate the stylus when forming vertical wedges is another. Then there is an issue of the failure to clearly differentiate between a couple of letters. Plus a few of other things that bother me that I’m not ready just now to commit to.

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