Shekels For Sticks and Stones

This post on an obscure Akkadian word on an even more obscure tablet from Ugarit is only for those with truly abnormal interests. Those with only normal abnormal interests are advised to spend your time some other way.
Exactly what does GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ (uluḫḫu) mean in the Akkadian text RS 17.150+ (Ug. 5 12) from Ugarit. Nougayrol, 16, described the text thus, “Compte de sommes d’argent relative à des acquisition diverse à la charge de personnes en partie étrangères à la ville d’Ugarit. ” Which I think means something like, “Record of sums of money for various acquisitions to the account of people partly outside the city of Ugarit.” Uluḫḫu appears in the majority of the lines of this text as the designation of some such acquisition. In the text and translations below, I use – to indicate a space in the text. In nearly all but not quite all of the readable cases, the lines begin x KÙ.UD (some number [of shekels] of silver), then a blank space of about one sign width, then the MIN sign and another black space. I render the MIN sign “ditto” but it might mean “another” or “second (occurrence)” in this text. This MIN sign and space is followed by a personal name or some other indication of a specific person, sometimes with place of residence, followed finally by some kind of accounting. The MIN sign also appears several times in final part of a few lines line, sometimes repeated as many as five times in a row. That’s a problem for another time and another post.
The plurality of readable lines in this text mention GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ (uluḫḫu). Here are a few examples,
8) 1 KÙ.UD (kaspu) – MIN – mḫa-ag-ba-nuurumu-[l]u(?)-ki ša GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ (uluḫḫi) ù [ . . . ]
1 (shekel of) silver – ditto(?) – Ḫagbanu, man of Muluku (?), of stick and [?]
11) 1 KÙ.UD – M[IN – m]píl-sú-ya DUMU i[a]-an-ḫa-miurupi(?)-di(?) ša GIŠ.[Ù.LUḪ]
[1 (shekel of) silver – ditto(?) – Pilsuya son of Ynaḫamu, man of Pidi (?), of stick
13) [x KÙ.UD – MIN – mx ] LÚ uruma-ra-ba ša GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ.MEŠ ša[é-e]
[x (shekels of) silver] – ditto – X man of Maraba, of sticks (and) of alum(?).
31) [x KÙ.UD – MIN – mṣi-id-q]a(?)-na(?) ša 1 GAL UD.KA.BAR (ZABAR, siparri) ù 50 GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ
[x (shekels of) silver – ditto – Ṣidqanu(?), of one portion(?) of bronze and (of) 50 stick(s)
So what does GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ (uluḫḫu) mean in our text? I’m not sure. Nougayrol renders GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ, “cannes.” Huehnergard, 71, renders it “cane(?).” CAD U/W, 89-90, notes that the Akkadian uluḫḫu is a Sumerian loanword and means “scepter” in most Standard Babylonian texts. But ours is not a Standard Babylonian text. Citing our text from Ugaritic, CAD tentatively renders it “stick.” AHw, 1411, provides no additional help. I adopted the CAD suggestion because it seems rather noncommittal.
A few minor points: Following Huehnergard, 348, and AHw, 1254, I read read NA4 ga-b[é-e], alum, in line 12 rather than Nougayrol’s reading of NA4 (aban).GA (šizbi), “milk stone(?).” Be that as it may, aban kurumti, another stone or stone derivative, frequently occurs in the text. Kurumti is otherwise unattested. See CAD K 579.
While I can’t make up my mind if it has any relevance to GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ (uluḫḫu) in our text, I found something else abnormally interesting. In CT 17 33:9f uluḫ (GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ) šarrûti, “royal scepter” occurs in the phrase, uluḫ šarrûti iṣṣi ezza kak la pīdi, “the royal scepter, the terrible staff, the merciless weapon (CAD I/J 215).” Those in the know will know that Akkadian iṣ()u is cognate with Hebrew עֵץ.
There are two reasons I’m interested in the meaning of Akkadian uluḫḫu. First, I have really abnormal interests. Second, I had a wild thought that I’m not quite ready to reveal. This thought was motivated by a kind of philological free association. The last observation in the above paragraph provides a clue. While this thought process may yield something abnormal, I’m not sure it will be very interesting. This appears to be one of those cases where the journey is far more interesting than the destination.

Huehnergard, John, Ugaritic Vocabulary in Syllabic Transcription (Harvard Semitic Studies 32; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987)
Nougayrol, Jean, “Textes Suméro-Accadiens des Archives et Bibliothèques Privées d’Ugarit,” Ugaritica V (Mission de Ras Shamra XVI ; Paris: P. Geuthner, 1968)

7 thoughts on “Shekels For Sticks and Stones”

  1. If this were in a Biblical context I would say that sticks or staves are used as metonyms to represent tribal or perhaps familial groupings. The OED seems to think that a similar transference turned what was once a reference to an officer’s baton into the employees (the “staff”) of a business or enterprise today.

  2. Joe,
    The Biblical situation is complex. You are certainly correct with regard to Ez. 37:16. But even there, I wonder what kind of “stick” is meant. In the case of Hosea 4:12, I think Dietrich and Loretz (UF, 42, 142-159), and others, are correct to see these as divining rods (Orakelstabs) or the like. In many other places in the Hebrew Bible, a stick is just a stick.
    In the Akkadian text from Ugarit, I am almost certain (but not absolutely certain) that the sticks are some of commodity. But what? I’m not sure.

  3. I hadn’t even thought of those two verses. The reference to Ezekiel is very interesting, although in the context of his other symbolic behaviours it is less convincing. I think that the reference to Hosea is weakened by the fact that it’s leading into a tirade about sacred groves.
    What I was referring to earlier was the use of the words “shevet”, “mateh”, and perhaps “makel” to refer to tribes, kingdoms, or groups of people. Ernest Klein’s Etymological Dictionary says that the words come from verbs meaning “to strike” and “to stretch out” (and “uncertain”) respectively, but the clear implication is that we’re talking about staves, which can be used either as rods with which to beat or sceptres with which to indicate.
    Jeremiah 48:17 and Isaiah 14:5 are perfect examples of the use of a rod or sceptre to mean a kingdom, but besides these metonymic uses of the words the articles themselves were used as symbols of authority (at least in the earlier parts of the Bible): c.f. Aaron’s rod blossoming among the rods of the tribal elders; the “rod and the staff” which “comfort me”; and possibly Judah’s staff, which he gave to Tamar.
    Anyway, what if the payments are for labor or service? This would explain why most of them are in single units, and one of them is for fifty units: the single units are for the services of one person’s staff (i.e., his employees or perhaps his private soldiers), and the other is for a sort of company made up of fifty groups.

  4. Joe,
    Interesting observations all. You are correct that identifying “sticks” with divining rods in Hosea may be weakened the unfolding context. But I’m not so sure. This seems to me to be a tirade against a host of evil practices from a much larger list than what goes on under oaks, poplars and terabits. “They have strayed from submission to their God (JHS).”
    My own current interests leads me to focus more on “aits (or however one should transliterate עֵץ)” than on the other words that sometimes mean stick that you noted. I don’t have Klein handy and am at least for now too lazy to research all this in detail so I can’t say for sure about “shevet”, “mateh”, and “ma(k/)qqel” but I’ll bet that like “aits” and their various cognate parallels, they all have a considerable and overlapping semantic range. I probable need to look into this further.
    As to your suggestion regarding “stick(s)” in the Akkadian text, I have two observations. First, it is true that most of the references involve a single “stick” but the one that I quoted that mentions 50 sticks is not completely unique in referencing a plurality of “sticks.” By the way, one interesting case can be seen in line 13 which I did quote. “Sticks” is written in the plural (GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ.MEŠ) but no number is given! Because of this and some other things in the text I wonder if this tablet isn’t some kind of a student exercise but it’s hard to tell. Other school texts come from the same archive at Ugarit. But tablets that are clearly not school exercises were also found among the archive of Rashapabu. Second, if these “sticks” represent labor or service, how should we account for things like “bronze” and various stones or derivatives of stones appearing in the same grammatical formula and often in the same entry.

  5. Could GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ.MEŠ be a dual form? That fortunate man is, has, or will have two sticks.
    One of the things that made me lean towards “stick” meaning a group of persons is that the numbers you cite fit into an organisational pattern: they’re single units (with perhaps one dual unit) apart from one which has fifty units. This doesn’t sound like a trading enterprise, which would either have random amounts or amounts that are simple multiples of a base, such as 6, 12, and 18; or 10, 20, and 30.
    If my interpretation of “sticks” were correct then I would say that a “bronze” is a higher-level officer, equivalent to a captain. He commands fifty “sticks”, after all. But that’s piling supposition on top of supposition, and it doesn’t explain the stone or alum reference at all. What other possibilities have occurred to you?

  6. I serendipitously came across an apparently relevant reference in Commodity Prices at Ugarit by Robert R. Stieglitz:

    (11:1) A staff and its annaku? (i4uluhhit annakiM?) was worth one shekel of silver (Ug. V, 12:8).

    (I don’t know how to do superscripts here, sorry)

    I suppose that an annaku may be what the OIUC Assyrian Dictionary translates as a cup; a sheath for the foot of a staff to stop it splitting. If so then it could explain the reference to bronze and, perhaps, other items that could decorate a staff.

  7. Joe,
    In Akkadian, the MEŠ sign after a noun almost always indicates the plural. It is sometimes transliterated as a superscript “M” after the noun. One would expect the MIN sign or more rarely MIN plus MEŠ to indicate the dual. In transliteration the MIN sign is often represented by superscript “2” or “II.” MIN plus MEŠ is exactly what we find in a lexical text from Ugarit, MSL 10 37, IGI.MIN.MEŠ, “(two) eyes.” In the literary text RS 17.155: r.:23’ (Ugaritca V, 17) we find Á.MIN-šú, “his (two) arms.”
    Thanks for reminding me of Stieglitz paper. In general this is a very good paper but here I think Stieglitz dropped the ball. In the post, I quoted everything that is readable in line 8 and AN.NA.MEŠ (annakiM, if it was once at the end of the line, is not readable. The word does occur six times in the text. For example, annaki is in line 6 but uluḫḫu is nowhere to be seen in this line. The only line where we can be sure that both uluḫḫu and annaki occur is line 32, [ . . .] –an-ni ša 1 me-at GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ ù AN.NA.MEŠ.MEŠ, ]-anni, of 100 sticks and tins (annaki pl., pl.). Why the MEŠ occurs twice after annaki is beyond me. Annaki appears in other lines clearly without uluḫḫu. Annaku means “tin.” It can also designate “lead” on occasion and just perhaps from time to time medal more generally. See CAD (aka OIUC Assyrian Dictionary) A2, 127-130 and AHw 49. I’m not sure why Nougayrol and Stieglitz simply transliterated it. It’s a well understood word. Perhaps the uncommon, but not unknown, plural designator(s) made them hesitant to understand the word as meaning tin. Maybe I overlooked something but I can’t find your CAD reference to “a cup; a sheath for the foot of a staff to stop it splitting.” The idea that the stuff other than the sticks, staffs as you would suggest, constitute decoration for the sticks is intriguing. But while most of the lines in this text mention “sticks,” several lines, unbroken where we might expect them to refer to “sticks,” do not mention them.
    I don’t have subscripts and superscripts enabled in the comments. Perhaps I should.
    I really don’t know what to make of this text as a whole. I continue to think that the sold (purchased?) items are commodities of some kind as opposed to manufactured items like canes and scepters. Perhaps a GIŠ.Ù.LUḪ in this text is some unit or type of lumber (a pile of wood). However, its actual meaning in this text will likely remain unclear until we get additional evidence.

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