Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Arabo-Ugaritic Translation of Jamme 863


Jamme 863 is a little-known "South Arabian" inscription from Yemen. My drawing of Jamme's drawing is displayed above. The drawing and their translation were published in 1955, and the transliteration and translation read as follows:
5
4
3
2
1
b
1. Šarḥum,
y
y
š
2. he of [the family of] Barlum,
b
r
3. respects [and]
n
m
r
4. protects
ḏt
y
m
l
m
5. in obedience to Ḏât-Ḥ[imyâm].
m


It is a viable translation epigraphically, but the ḏt that they posit is in fact a logogram for illu (see the previous post on the Wadi el-Hol Inscriptions). This makes it very unlikely that the following is somehow related to Ḏât-Ḥimyâm. The other problem is that the character they posit as a , which at the time was reasonable, is now in light of the Wadi el-Hol Inscriptions more likely to be identified as h.  Finally, though both Šarḥum and Barlum are attested South Arabian names, the former would more likely be the family name.

Hence I propose the reading be flipped and it be treated as a pre-South Arabian inscription paleographically. I also propose that from the first character in their Column 5 to the last character in their Column 4, in which the y is reversed in orientation, be treated as a single sentence. Likewise the next three columns should also be treated as a single sentence.  Obviously the column numbers in my reading are reversed.  Their identifications of l and n are not paleographically appropriate for Arabian scripts and should be reversed.  Finally, their transliteration of S2 as š is not appropriate for a Southern script trend and should be read s.

With those slight revisions I see the following:

1
2
3
4
5
b
1. In the tent, Ilu li-
y
y
h
s
2. ves and protects.
h
b
r
3. May he exalt
l
m
r
4. [He], the bowing one, the Lo-
[Illu]
y
m
n
m
5. rd, the Merciful.
m

While seemingly odd, the simplicity of the translation is at least striking.  It is also clear that in cases of grammaitcal ambiguity - as with whether hl [’il] reflects ’uhli [’ili] (God's tent) or the syntactically separate’uhli and [’ilu] - the word is broken between columns; this also occurs with mš to imply the accusative rather than genitive.  In each case, the grammar pivots as the word is divided between columns - nominative > verb / nominative (absolute state) > accusative - possibly in both cases implying non-genitive constructions; though this is speculative.  In both cases certainly implying grammatical pivots.  Conversely, the 'y' at the end of column two is flipped horizontally, almost certainly indicating a syntactic division.  The vowel (-a) in the imperfective verb is the result of a volitive state (i.e. 'may he exalt').


The confluence of Northwest Semitic language and proto-South Arabian paleography could also answer some questions about the transmission of the alphabet to Arabia-proper. Surprisingly, I have not been able to find any later published translations or analysis of this inscription. It is absent from the Corpus of South Arabian Inscriptions (CSAI).

The language itself, with a few exceptions, is not clearly Northwest or East Semitic.  Its lexicon suggests features of Arabian, which might also be considered Ugaritic.  The epithet massū is really known only through Akkadian (and Anatolian uses) for 'leader', though in this context (as in Thebes 6 and occasionally in 16th century Proto-Sinaitic) it connotes something closer to 'Lord.'  I suspect, and dating the inscription is pivotal, this is a contact point in the transmission of the alphabet, though the direction of that transmission is not entirely clear.  Placing a date on this text is extremely important, as it may have the honor of being the oldest unambiguously Abrahamic text in the world (perhaps 1400-1300 BC).

The specific vocalized text would read:

bi ’uhli [’ilu] ḥaya ḥamaya / ya‘aẓama habarun massa raḥma


"In the 'Tabernacle,' God lives and protects.  May the bowing one exalt the Merciful Lord."