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.]

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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.]

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.]

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.]

Who’s Reading Context of Scripture?

If you visited the last Biblical Studies Carnival, then you’ll know that Joseph is reading Hallo and Younger’s The Context of Scripture (3 vols; Brill, 1997) in a year, and so am I. Charles Halton had come up with the reading schedule at New Year’s, but one could join in any time.

Is anyone else reading CoS in a year, and posting about it occasionally? If so, please let me know. I don’t want to miss out on any posts.

[Who’s Reading Context of Scripture? was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/04. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Biblical Studies Carnival LI

I dub this month’s Biblical Studies Carnival to be the “Blogroll Amnesty Edition,” because it embodies in part God’s preferential option (on February 3rd, anyway) for the smaller blogs. I had asked that contributors give special consideration to the smaller blogs in this carnival, and several did. So, to the small fry linked herein: happy hit counts to us!

In accordance with venerable tradition (i.e., Duane did it), I am offering this Carnival in two parts. The first part is “Your Carnival,” and includes posts nominated to the carnival. The second part is “My Carnival,” and includes posts that I rounded up on my own. Again, “My Carnival,” in the spirit of February’s “Blogroll Amnesty Day,” will comprise mostly (but not only) posts from blogs that are sub-Top 50.

Your Carnival:

Old Testament and Suchlike:

The bloggers (in the persons of Darrell Pursiful and Tsalampouni Ekaterini) called our attention to Richard Hess on personal names in Gen 1–11.

Suzanne at Suzanne’s Bookshelf looks at Gen 3:16 (“and thy desire shall be to thy husband,” KJV), specifically the meaning of the woman’s desire.

Busybody Loren Rosson looks at Israelite/Judaean land ethics in the context of Philip Esler’s review (PDF) of Ellen Davis’ Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Claude Mariottini takes a closer look at the Song of Solomon, including Song 1:5 (“I am black and/but beautiful”).

David Stark at NTinterpretation is engaged with Martin Abegg on the meaning of “works of the Torah” for the Qumran community.

The New Testament and Suchlike:

Cynthia R. Nielsen at Per Caritatem has written a well thought piece on Eschatological Developments Within the Pauline Corpus.

Stephen Carlson at Hypotyposeis looks at the translation of σαρξ in Galatians 3:3.

On NT pod, Mark Goodacre lays out some of his case against the hypothetical Q source.

The Pistis Christou debate is alive and well at James Gregory’s All Things Ephesians, as he reviews a portion of Bird and Sprinkle’s The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies (Milton Keynes, U.K., and Peabody, Mass.: Paternoster and Hendrickson, 2009).

As a part of his series on Foucault at Political Jesus, Rod of Alexandria defends deconstruction and looks at the concept of Pauline “authorship.” See, too, the response by J.K. Gayle at Aristotle’s Feminist Subject.

(I have taken the “mythicism” conversation out of the NT section and given it its own area: see further below.)

Teaching and Writing:

Karyn at Boulders2Bits writes a thorough pre-publication review, with excerpts, of Jo Ann Hackett’s A Basic Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (with CD) (Hendrickson, 2010). How much would you pay for Karyn’s review? Don’t answer! There’s more! She has also reviewed Bordreuil and Pardee’s A Manual of Ugaritic (Eisenbrauns, 2009).

Alan Lenzi at Feeling Finite asks, “When Should Editors Step In and Say ‘Not on My Watch,’” concerning William Barrick’s review of Hill, Andrew E., and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament. What ideas about the history of ancient Israel or the composition history of biblical texts is an academic journal obliged to entertain? What ideas is it obliged to dismiss as unsupportable?

(Late breaker: the question is raised anew in Alan’s space in response to another RBL review, this time Bruce Waltke’s review of Michael Fox’s Proverbs 10–31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [Yale University Press, 2009]. What is the role of confessional assertions about the Bible in peer-reviewed review articles representing the Society of Biblical Literature?)

ZOMG! Mythicism! And Stuff!

The Big Conversation of the month, though, had to have been that started and maintained by James McGrath on the subject of “mythicism,” or the claim that the person Jesus Christ never existed in history. In a month-long dialogue spawning thousands of comments and dozens of responsive posts elsewhere, James found himself in a polygonal conversation with (caution: overlapping categories ahead) mythicists, creationists, atheists, and his fellow bibliobloggers.

I’ll offer links to James’ posts, then to some of the responses that I found. There is just no way for me to be comprehensive about this, but I figure that 1) if you were in the conversation, you will have caught what I’ve missed, and 2) if you are new to the conversation, this is more than enough to get you immersed.

Here is James, with the titles often paraphrased. If you would rather see all these on one page (albeit in reverse order), just search for “mythicism” on James’ blog. Here we go: mythicist misunderstanding (Feb 6), the discussion spreads (Feb 8), microexistence v. macroexistence (Feb 9), accusations and assumptions (Feb 9), more creationist parallels (Feb 10), creationism and ID (Feb 11), death of mythical messiah (Feb 11), Tacitus on mythicism (Feb 12), publishing on historical Jesus (Feb 14), YECs are like mythicists (Feb 14), yet more mythicist/creationist parallels (Feb 16), unreasonable faith and Jesus’s existence (Feb 17), not all atheists are mythicists (Feb 18), is there evidence for mythicism (Feb 19), mythicism and John the Baptist (Feb 20), mythunderstanding the criteria of authenticity (Feb 21), mythicism and historicism as theories (Feb 22), mythicism and paradigm shifts (Feb 23), at long last I understand mythicism (Feb 24), mything links (Feb 27).

Mid-month, Mike Koke at the Golden Rule took time to gather the links to date and offered a response with reference to 1 Thess 2:14-15, and also with reference to an earlier “historicity of Jesus” post of his own.

Neil Godfrey at Vridar was a steady interlocutor, arguing for the validity of questioning the historicity of Jesus (Feb 4), against misunderstandings on the part of historicists (Feb 9), and against circular arguments on Jesus’s historicity (Feb 11). (The dates should help you cross reference to James’ posts listed above.)

John Hobbins at Ancient Hebrew Poetry offered some considered judgments on the analogy from King Arthur (Feb 9) and on whether Albert Schweitzer can be called a mythicist (Feb 13).

Undoubtedly I have only scratched the surface on this topic. I assure you that I have left no-one out intentionally. I invite readers (and writers) to supplement my links to the “mythicism” conversation in the comments to this carnival.


My Carnival:

Technology:

Tim Bulkeley at SansBlogue wants to know what biblical scholars could do with an online information visualization tool.

Language, Linguistics, and Translation:

Peter Bekins of בלשנות literally had the audience drooling over linguistics at the Midwest SBL.

Crescat Graffiti blesses us with three great words that sound great together: Hieroglyphic…sex…graffiti.

In the “No, no, you can’t do that!” department, Doug “Clayboy” Chaplin alerts us to Preachers! Using! Greek! Claptrap detectors out, everyone.

(Oh, and speaking of claptrap, Jason at Εις Δοξαν reminds us that we can never, never get tired of the comedic preaching stylings of Steven Anderson.)

Tim at SansBlogue is reading Seth Sanders’ The Invention of Hebrew (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Join him for first impressions, the introduction, the first and last ’graphs, chapter one, and chapter two.

On the perennially favored topic of apologetic translation, David Ker at Better Bibles engages a post by Daniel Kirk at Storied Theology on theological manipulation in a translation of Gal 5:6.

Timothy at Catholic Bibles wants to hear you state your case for your favorite Bible translation (h/t to Qohelet at the Bible Critic).

Inscriptions and ancient texts:

Steve Wiggins of Sects and Violence in the Ancient World sees only “escapees from Flatland” (awesome literary ref there, Steve) in a bit of iconography claimed to represent Yahweh and his Asherah.

With a work in the hands of the printers, Alan Lenzi of Feeling Finite is now “off and running” on Reading Akkadian Prayers.

Speaking of reading Akkadian poetry: Beware of abnormal side effects! Duane is having Crazy Thoughts About Blindness and Reading Clay Tablets.

At כל־האדם, Joseph has continued to read The Context of Scripture. Here at Anumma, I have tried to do my part. We’re reading CoS in a year at the January 1st invitation of Charles Halton at Awilum.

Old Testament:

Paavo at מה יתרון has been working through Perdue on empire in Proverbs and in Job.

In response to Julia O’Brian’s piece in The Bible and Interpretation, “Biblical Scholarship and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Phil Sumpter at Narrative and Ontology has been reflecting on Biblical Scholarship and the State of Israel, and on ethnic Israel and Esther.

Qohelet’s church accidentally made a comedic case against (or for?) lectio continua. Or, at least against randomized selections from Deuteronomy.

Genesis and Stuff:

Thomas Verenna is one of several who observed Darwin Day on their Bible-related blogs.

Steve Wiggins finds that the scientific fact of evolution is, in the United States at least, still Out of Reach.

At כל־האדם, Joseph Kelly reacts to Strimple’s Historical Adam essay, calling it on the fallacious “argument from abbhorent consequences.” (It is fortuitous, then, that a related lecture came to Joseph from Princeton Theological Seminary.)

At Biblia Hebraica, Doug Mangum follows up on Joseph’s post, with  a related word on the similarly fallacious “argument from the NT.”

Nijay Gupta offers recommendations for reading on Genesis and theology.

New Testament:

Wright on Paul, now made easy! See N.T. Wright for Everyone: The Apostle Paul, by Nijay Gupta.

Qohelet (The Bible Critic) endorsed the “analogy from Arthur” that was offered by Eric Reitan beginning with a comment to the historical Jesus discussion. (Above, as a respondent in the “mythicism” section, John Hobbins also weighs in on Arthur).

Also relating to the Historical Jesus, Phil Harland (Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean) continued his podcast series on Studying the Historical Jesus with parts two and three.

At NT/History Blog, Bill Heroman is thinking on “Synagogue” in James 2:3.

Little help now! Patrick McCullough at kata ta biblia is looking for assistance on NT manuscript preservation as reception history, and also needs a good title for an SBL session (not a paper, a session).

Conclusion:

Well, I’m about wiped out. Don’t delay to begin nominating posts to the next Biblical Studies Carnival (instructions for nominating at that link). I will edit this preliminary information upon confirmation, but unofficial rumor has it that the redoubtable Jim West will take next month’s Carnival into his own strong hand and outstretched arm. [That’s a ’firm.]

Thanks for the opportunity to steer the ship this month, and I hope that everyone who enjoyed the Carnival will consider hosting when they may.

[Biblical Studies Carnival LI was written by G. Brooke Lester for Anumma.com and was originally posted on 2010/03/01. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]