Pronouncing Sumerograms as Sumerograms?

Lots of times, we who read and copy Akkadian texts pronounce the sumerograms instead of normalizing them into Akkadian. It’s convenient, when in teaching or learning, or when dictating. Is it logical to suppose that the ancient scribes also did so?

Explanation about sumerograms in Akkadian, for the non-specialists out there:

Akkadian is the language of Assyrian and Babylonian texts, during more or less the 2nd and 1st millennia B.C.E. The writing system for Akkadian was borrowed from a completely different language, Sumerian. Consequently, while most of the signs used to spell Akkadian represent syllables (not single sounds, as with an alphabet), the scribes would often represent an entire Akkadian word by using the Sumerian sign that had represented that word in Sumerian. So, a phrase spelled entirely with syllabic Akkadian characters like this (from Code of Hammurapi §102):

šum-ma tam-ka-ru-um a-na ša-ma-al-le-em ka-as-pa-am a-na ta-ad-mi-iq-tim it-ta-di-in-ma…

This represents the spoken phrase, šumma tamkarum ana šamallêm kaspam ana tadmiqtim ittaddin-ma… (“If a trader has given silver to a trading agent as an advance…”). But, in practice, such a phrase would employ many sumerograms along with the syllabic signs: here, DAM.GAR3 for tamkarum, ŠAMAN2.LA2 for šamallêm, and KUG.BABBAR for kaspam. As a result, the actual spelling turns out to be:

šum-ma DAM.GAR3 a-na ŠAMAN2.LA2 KUG.BABBAR a-na ta-ad-mi-iq-tim it-ta-di-in-ma…

The point of all this is that, in reading the text, you pronounce the Akkadian words, not the sumerograms that represent them. So, šumma tamkarum ana šamallêm kaspam anaetc. But, when we scholars are talking about the text, asking how it is written, we might pronounce the sumerograms as sumerograms, so our hearer understands what’s happening on the tablet: “shumma dam gar-three ana shaman-two-la-two kug babbar ana…etc.”

Does that make sense? There is reading what the text says, when you pronounce the sumerograms as the Akkadian words they represent; then there is talking about how the text says it, where you pronounce the sumerograms as sumerograms.

Getting on with things:

My question concerns whether some texts suggest that ancient scribes—at least sometimes, presumably among themselves—pronounced sumerograms as sumerograms, rather than as the Akkadian words they represent.

Take a text I came across in Lesson Eighteen in Huehnergard’s grammar.[1] Line four of the tablet contains the sumerogram AD.TA.NI, when expected is AD.A.NI (AD represents “father,” and A.NI represents “his/her”). So why is the sign TA used instead of A? Physically, the signs are not remotely alike and could not be confused one for the other. Well, in Akkadian, the dental consonants are not always carefully distinguished: so, the sumerogram AD also can represent, not only the sound /ad/, but also /at/ or /aṭ/. I would—hesitantly—wonder if the spelling AD.TA.NI reflect a rapid pronunciation of the sumerograms: /at-ta-ni/ for /at-a-ni/.

This had been in the back of my mind since I came across it recently, when lo! and behold, I find this note to the 75th Amarna letter: [2] “Very hesitantly, it is proposed that KU.TI.TI is a syllabic writing for GU2.(UN).DI6.DI6, ābilāt bilti, lit. ‘bearers of tribute.’”

If Moran is “hesitant,” then I’m hesitant enough to stand behind him even more hesitantly. But, again, why shouldn’t the ancient scribes have found it convenient, as we do, to pronounce the sumerograms from time to time, especially in the context of teaching, learning, dictating, and taking dictation?

Does anybody know of more data on this? Are the Assyriologists all taking this kind of thing for granted, such that it’s no big deal? Anyone?

BACK TO POST The text is the adoption of a slave, from Vorderasiatische Schriftdenkmäler der Königlichen Museen zu Berlin; vol. 7,8.
BACK TO POST William L. Moran, The Amarna Letters; Baltimore: University of John Hopkins Press, 1992), page 146, EA 75 n. 7.

[Pronouncing Sumerograms as Sumerograms? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/08/24. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Students, You’re on Notice!

Yesterday afternoon, my son had a play date with a Taekwon-Do classmate who also happens to be the child of one of our Masters students. The student, my wife, and I chatted aimlessly while the kids played on a water slide in the back yard. Among the topics that came and went were:

  • The first of the Amarna Letters (EA 1), with comments on the epistolary genre of the letters (specifically, how a flattering salutation and an exhaustive list of well wishes and assurances of well-being precede a body mostly involving bitter squabbling);
  • How 1000 words is really not that many to write, and how students with writing experience know that editing down to 1000 words is ‘way harder than getting up to 1000 words in the first place.

Not three hours later, I got an email from said student, in which she:

  • composed the email in a parody of the epistolary genre of EA 1; and
  • pointed me to where she had demonstrated our point about writing by banging out 1000 words on the first topic to come ready to hand, specifically Ecclesiastes 1–2.

Students who would complain that form criticism is intractable or that 1000 words is a lot to write: you’re on notice!

[Students, You’re on Notice! was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/07/30. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Feeding Curiosity: Snacks for Hebrew Bible Students

“Food is sleep,” as they say. And, “A brain without sugar is no brain at all.” So, on the occasion of their final exam, I brought my Biblical Hebrew students an Old-Testament-correct snack of unleavened barley cakes and date syrup.

Barley Cakes: My son loves these dry, without any topping or spread.

I mix the dough at 70% hydration: this means that the amount of water equals 70% of the amount of flour. For example, if 500 grams of barley flour, then 350 grams of water. I also add about 1 T olive oil for each 200-300 grams flour, and about 1 (scant) t salt for each 500 grams or so of flour.

  • Have a pizza stone in the oven on the middle rack. If you don’t have a pizza stone, wash a clean, very large, unglazed terracotta flower pot very well, allow to dry thoroughly (like overnight), and break it carefully so as to preserve one big piece to use as a convex stone. Preheat oven to about 525-550 if it will go there, or else as high as it will go. If your flowerpot piece explodes, it wasn’t dry enough. Allow the stone or pot to absorb heat for a good thirty minutes after the oven reaches temperature.
  • Combine ingredients (no worries about adding in the salt right away, because there’s no leaven to kill);
  • Mix together, then let the flour absorb the water for about 45 minutes.
  • Knead for about 5 minutes. You’re not building gluten here, just evening out the mixture. If it feels really dry, wet your hands with warm water and knead some more. There’s a fine line here: it’s easy to add too much water and get mud pies, but at the same time, you want as much hydration as you can get since a dry barley dough is very crumbly. Allow it to rest again.
  • Chop off pieces of about 100 grams (lemon-sized, say). Roll them in your hands, then flatten them. Use a roller (or clean glass jar) to roll them out on the counter top. Lift carefully.
  • Lay one patty on your pizza stone or flower pot piece. (If the latter, then press carefully to maximize contact on the convex surface.)
  • Cook about 2 1/2 minutes per side on the stone, or about 3–5 minutes on one side against the potsherd. Let the first one cool well on a wire rack, and then break it open: then you’ll know if your cooking through okay.
  • Eat warm or eat later.

Date Syrup: My boy tells me that this may be the best thing I have ever made. It’s sweet and refreshing. The ingredients are…dates and water. This is probably the “honey” (דבש) most frequently named in the Hebrew Bible.

  • Buy a bag of pitted dates. Whole Foods has them bulk where we are. Get enough to fill a saucepan.
  • If you have a blender or food processor, chop them up well (or chop by hand).
  • Drop them in the saucepan, and add enough water to cover the dates.
  • Bring to a boil, and boil for about five minutes. Reduce heat, and simmer partially covered for 30–60 minutes, until well reduced. You have to stir regularly to break up the “skin.”
  • The consistency is like a cross between caramel and apple sauce. You can filter out the solids, but if you chopped really well, everything should dissolve nicely, and the fiber is a nice piece of the nutritional value.
  • Allow to cool. Store some in the fridge, and freeze anything you won’t eat soon.

To be really scientific, I ought to have allowed only half of the class to eat the barley cakes and date syrup, and then compared their performance. But, I have always been an old softie, and I also have a lot of date syrup to go through.

What Hebrew-Bible-correct snacks would you like to see in the classroom?

[Feeding Curiosity: Snacks for Hebrew Bible Students was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/05/11. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Kids Discover: Mesopotamia

My son subscribes to Kids Discover periodical. The current issue is titled, “Mesopotamia,” and is simply excellent.[FOOTNOTE]

Each two-page spread of “Mesopotamia” is on a single topic, e.g. “Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and More”; “Day to Day”; “Gods and Demons”; “Those Accomplished Mesopotamians”; “The Legendary Gilgamesh and the Origins of Writing”; “How We Know What We Know.”

If that list of topics does not have you slavering for a copy, well…what am I saying? Of course it does.

Each spread comprises a short summary followed by 12–20 photographs and drawings, captioned appropriately for elementary-school-aged kids. I recognize many of my favorite images among these, and also a great many surprises. Speaking of surprises, I am almost embarrassed to say how much I am learning from this juvenile resource (Assyrians crafted a ground-glass lens?).

If you are still on the fence concerning whether to chase down a copy…

I want to say just one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening?

“Expisticy.” [Dang: “extispicy”; we used to joke about “extra spicy”; thanks, Chris.]

Back issues of Kids Discover can be ordered for $3.99 through their home page. “Mesopotamia” is Volume 20, Issue 5, May 2010. You can just enter “Mesopotamia” as a Quick Search term on their Store page.

BACK TO POST (Kids Discover is a periodical “curriculum supplement,” and contains no advertising. See their home page or Facebook page for information on Kids Discover. I do not work for Kids Discover and they do not pay me to say nice things about them.)

[Kids Discover: Mesopotamia was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/05/06. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Sting Like a Bee: Waking the Sleeping God (Context of Scripture)

Against the assertion of Psa 121:4 that “the God of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” many of the psalms find that God does indeed sleep while the righteous undergo persecution. Fortunately, God can be awakened with a careful combination of slaps and strokes.

About a week ago in our continuing reading of COS in a year, we read “The Wrath of Telipinu” (1.57), one of the Hittite “disappearing god texts”: in these, the deity is imagined as having wandered off in pique and gone to sleep. In the god’s absence, everything goes badly, and so the god must be sought out, awakened, and convinced to return. In this text, the mother-goddess sends a bee to find and sting the god Telipinu; he awakens angry, of course, and the remainder of the text directs the offering of good foods, like beer-bread, to placate him and draw him back to the people.

The Bible frequently speaks of God as having gone to sleep and needing to be awakened. As God sleeps, God’s people are vulnerable, especially to their enemies. Taking the biblical texts (many of them the “complaint psalms”) at their word about the “sleeping God,” I am inclined to see the sharp rhetoric of the complaint psalm genre function like the bee and the beer-bread of the “Wrath of Telipinu.”

The texts I have in mind are Psa 7:7 (Eng 7:6); 35:23; 44:24 (Eng 44:23); 59:5. One might read Psa 121:4 as an absolute counter-claim (“the God of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” that is, ever) or as a timely reassurance (he won’t sleep right now when you need him). Of interest are 1 Kgs 18:27 (taunting the Baal priests) and Hab 2:19 (rousing wood and stone), and perhaps Psa 78:65; Isa 51:9; 52:1; Song 4:16; Zech 13:7.

Each of these four psalms attempts to rouse God from sleep.

Rise up, O YHWH…Awake, O my God! (Psa 7:7)

Wake up! Bestir yourself for my cause and my defense, my God and my Lord! (Psa 35:23)

Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake! (Psa 44:24)

Rouse yourself! (Psa 59:5)

This imperative acts as a “stinger,” a jolt. So, too, do the sharp complaints themselves that define these psalms: as the wicked continue in victory and God’s righteous suffer loss, the natural order of God’s creation is upset and requires righting. This suggests another “stinger”: that God and God’s favored ones are losing face in the sight of God’s enemies, when it is the latter who should be shamed. Related to this is the formal element of the “statement of trust”: since God has established God’s reputation by saving the people Israel in the past, the trust of the people rests now in God’s hands…will it be in vain? The innocence of the psalmist or the community is another “stinger”: given the injustice of the psalmist’s plight, God is publicly culpable for letting the abominable situation continue.

Of course, the complaint psalms offer “beer-bread” as well. Just as several of the “stingers” revolve around the maintenance of God’s reputation, so too does the “beer-bread” that may positively induce God to awake and save. The “vow of thanksgiving” is the obvious example: after God wakes up and saves, the recipient of God’s largesse will recount God’s saving acts in public worship when he makes good his vows at the shrine or Temple. The “address to God” may include elements of praise that also, beer-bread-like, “sweeten the deal.”

Context of Scripture (William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger, eds.; 3 vols; Brill, 1997) is available in many theological libraries, and Charles’ schedule is an easy one. Jump in any time, and blog about your findings.

[Sting Like a Bee: Waking the Sleeping God (Context of Scripture) was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/12. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Random Bullets of Research

It’s piled noticeably higher and deeper around here. Currently in the hopper are:

  • Deciding on bibliography for a course on “The Old Testament in the New Testament (Allusion and Influence)”;
  • Learning our institutional options and guidelines regarding creating course-packs, for above;
  • Bringing my dissertation’s bibliography (late 2007) up to date, for revision;
  • Inquiry into what “community” is, how we recognize it in a group of learners, and where it is found in the first sixteen years or so of internet-based online education (presentation for SBL 2010).
  • Bread in the Bible and the ANE, baby.

Fortunately, I took the precaution of earning a research degree. Otherwise, I’d be worried.

[Random Bullets of Research was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/04/06. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Context of Scripture: And When I Say, “Context”…

…I mean, context.

(Reading COS in a year, following Charles’ schedule. Join in any time!)

The archival document for the day is a short Ugaritic letter from “The King to Ḥayyaʾil Regarding an Allotment of Logs” (3.45Q). I know! Hold your excitement! Dennis Pardee offers a record-breaking ratio of commentary to text: the latter measuring about 6 square inches, the former a hefty 52 square inches (in reduced font, no less). In the letter, the king scolds his recipient for asking where to get the logs for a certain temple, and informs him where the logs will come from. In the commentary, Pardee finds opportunity to make illustrative inquiry into

  • indicators of genre, both in the language of the text and in such non-textual indicators as horizontal strokes dividing elements of the inscription;
  • the institutions and practices associated with timber production, sale, and distribution in and around Ugarit;
  • how to “follow the money” involved with dispersal of royal funds to or through civil employees and private vendors and distributors, possibly involving alliterative wordplay;
  • and more! Seriously, lots to learn here for the patient.

The other text for the day is the “Prophecies of Neferti” (1:45). Students in Bible will appreciate this one as an example of “prophecy ex eventu,” that is the literary fiction of prophecy formulated “after the fact” (as in the apocalypses of Daniel 7–12, for example, or in 1 Kings 13:1-3). Here, the wise scribe Neferti is said to live during the reign of Snefru (4st Dynasty), predicting a future disastrous period that will eventually be corrected by a restorative, redeeming king “Imeny” (Amenemhet I, 12th Dynasty). The work itself of course derives from the reign of that same Amenemhet I, justifying his usurpation and reforms.

Students of the ancient Egyptian language will know that this 12th Dynasty defines the “Middle Kingdom” period of Egypt, considered a literary high point, the style of which is considered normative in later periods. Reading “The Prophecies of Neferti” alongside of “The Instructions of Amenemhet I” (1.36; a work likely written after his death to defuse his assassination and legitimate his heir’s succession) and “The Tale of Sinuhe” (1.38; a politically charged fantasy story also reflecting Amenemhet I’s death and succession), while attending to the notes, begins to provide a textured depiction of this watershed moment in Egypt’s past.[FOOTNOTE]

Here in “The Prophecies of Neferti,” where it depicts the disastrous period preceding Amenemet’s usurpation of the crown, we learn a lot about what scares the daylights out of right-thinking ancient Egyptians:

  • Asiatics in Egypt
  • failure to observe ritual, including mourning rites
  • violence, and indifference to violence
  • burdensome taxes
  • breaking down of social hierarchies
  • Asiatics in Egypt.

This is why I have to be careful not to fall behind on our reading schedule, and when I do fall behind, to simply pick up where we are instead of trying to read too much at once. The texts are just so, so good on a second reading after I have had time to marinate in the contexts for a spell.

Happy reading!

BACK TO POST The interested reader might start with Ronald J. Leprohon, “Egypt, History of (Dyn. 11–17)” Anchor Bible Dictionary 2:345-348 (Doubleday, 1992).

[Context of Scripture: And When I Say, “Context”… was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/25. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Barley Flour, Pita, and “Oven Spring”

While the common barley flour used by the ancient Israelite lacks some of the qualities by which wheat flour makes such good loaves, even limited practice yields strategies of preparation that help barley flour produce the most leavened and appetizing possible bread.

As some of you know, the subject of bread production in Israel and the ancient Near East has seized my attention. While getting acquainted with the subject, one of my early projects is spending time learning to handle barley flour. While wheat flour would have been preferred where available (as today), barley flour was more affordable to the common family and, at certain times of the agricultural cycle, even the sole available grain. My Arrowhead Mills barley flour arrived a couple of days ago, courtesy of Amazon.

Dough preparation and cooking method:

The cooking method that I am starting with seeks to imitate use of the cylindrical clay oven, or tannûr, against the side of which one slaps a flat “patty”: the flat patty cooks very rapidly against the heated surface, until the cook judges it done and removes it. I am using an oven and pizza stone, heated to about 550-570 degrees Fahrenheit (285-300 C). Patties take about 2-5 minutes to cook, depending on size and leavening.

For leavening, I am using a sourdough starter that I created from white flour in February 2008 and have fed since. I use just a small smear of starter so that only a negligible few grams of white flour contribute to the barley loaf.

I use 1/2 C barley flour with 1 T olive oil and 1/2 t salt to produce four pita-like loaves.

Working with barley flour:

(Here I deal with leavened loaves. Unleavened barley bread is as easy and as uninteresting as unleavened wheat: a flat, crisp loaf. Nice for dipping into stuff, though.)

Modern recipes reflect the difficulties of working with pure barley flour: they all use a relatively small portion of barley flour, mainly for flavor, while relying on wheat flour for its material properties: more gluten, with its elasticity and potential for a good “rise.”

Barley flour has relatively little gluten. Therefore, even when you knead it a lot (layering the strings of gluten and creating overlapping web-like matrices of strings), it does not assume the strength of kneaded wheat dough. Since the dough does not “hold together” well, the gasses created by the yeast tend to just “ooze out” of the dough altogether: fewer bubbles, less “rise.”

Early discoveries:

So far, I find two inter-related strategies that help solve the problems in working with unmixed barley flour:

  1. The first is the concept of “oven spring.” When dough first heats up in the oven, the yeast responds by “going into overdrive,” metabolizing very quickly and producing bubbles rapidly before getting too hot and dying off. This is why a baker slashes the skin of a (large, non-pita) loaf before baking: it allows the expansion to happen and prevents unsightly rupturing of the skin. My point here is that “oven spring” allows for a peculiarity of pita preparation: we allow the dough to rise, then smoosh down most of that rise when we flatten balls into patties. This proves to be okay, because “oven spring” will buy us a final, rapid rise, helping to produce a tender loaf. The intense heat of a clay tannûr (or pizza stone) yields an awesome “oven spring.”
  2. The second, related, strategy is to be gentle in making flat patties of the pita-like bread made for slapping against the cooking surface. A rolling pin smooshes the dough down too much, losing almost all of the bubbles produced during the rising period. Also, the rolling pin crushes and tears at the already-crumbly barley dough, opening fissures through which the essential gasses of the “oven spring” will escape. But, by working the risen balls of dough with my hands, I can be gentle, preserving as much as possible of the lengthy “rise,” and also keeping the surface smooth and without fissures in order to contain the precious gasses of the “oven spring” during cooking.

The current result is a pretty tasty, tender, hand-sized pita with a flaky crumb and enough larger bubbles to make it interesting. Unlike a wheat-flour pita, it does not have the whole-patty rise that produces the characteristic “pocket” associated with the pita.

Future experiments will begin to achieve a more organized character, with attempts at different amounts of hydration and, eventually, working with molds.

[Barley Flour, Pita, and “Oven Spring” was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/19. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

On Not Being a Yutz: Egyptian Religion

Ancient Egyptian religion: not self-explanatory.

While I have not posted on the subject recently, I continue to keep up on reading The Context of Scripture in a year. (Joseph’s got the beat covered, as usual.) Among the Egyptian canonical inscriptions, we have completed those that have a “divine focus” (cosmologies, hymns, prayers, incantations). Over the weeks, I have come to a conclusion:

A couple of years of instruction in Egyptian language notwithstanding, on the subject of ancient Egyptian religion, I am, relatively speaking, a yutz.

Nothing to be ashamed of: my schooling in the contexts of the Hebrew Bible, anchored in the West Semitic, has tended to look eastward to Mesopotamia. But, I feel the need to do some reinforcing reading (rapidly, given my time constraints).

I’ll be working the stacks for resources for a few days. Let me know if there is anything I should especially keep my eyes open for.

[On Not Being a Yutz: Egyptian Religion was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/16. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

A Middle-Eastern Origin for Small Dogs

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) has its opinions about dogs. To call someone a “dead dog” is to insult them as ineffectual and non-threatening.[1] In conversation with a superior, you might humbly refer to yourself as “but a dog.”[2] Dogs return to their own vomit.[3] They growl at passersby,[4] but can be shooed away with sticks.[5] Like the birds of the air, they will eat your flesh, if you do not enjoy a proper burial.[6] They are not brave like lions, but for that reason, may live longer.[7]

Perhaps the dog would have cut a more impressive figure in the ancient Near East if at least some of them weren’t so small.

A genetic study has found that small domestic dogs probably originated in the Middle East more than 12,000 years ago.

Here, a modern dog attempts to capture something of the deportment of his diminutive but noble ancestors:

Copyright G. Brooke Lester

h/t to BAR on Twitter.

REFERENCES:
BACK TO POST (1 Sam 24:14 [all numberings English text]; 2 Sam 9:8; 16:9)
BACK TO POST (2 Kgs 8:13; cf. 2 Sam 9:8)
BACK TO POST (Prov 26:11)
BACK TO POST (Exod 11:7)
BACK TO POST (1 Sam 17:43)
BACK TO POST (Psa 22:20)
BACK TO POST (Eccles 9:4)

[A Middle-Eastern Origin for Small Dogs was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/15. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]