Saturday, October 06, 2007


ANCIENT SINAI HORTICULTURE



SINAI INSCRIPTION 353

The inscription depicted here looks illegible, at first sight, but with the aid of my drawing we should be able to make a lot of sense out of it. Originally it was inscribed on the rock face near the entrance to Mine L, but a block of the stone broke away and it fell to the ground, together with other such stelas.

First let us look for some familiar sequences. On the bottom half of the line that I have numbered as (1) we can discern the phrase "beloved of Ba`alat" (MHB`LT): M (water) H (jubilation) B (house) `ayin (eye) L (crook) T (cross). This is a simplified version of the expression, which in its proper form has two more letters: M'HB B`LT (as on the inscribed sphinx). The weak glottal stop (`aleph) has been swallowed, so to speak, and the double B has been reduced to one single B.

On the bottom half of the middle column (2) we can recognize the word for 'provisions' or 'rations', which we saw on inscription 375: 'RKhT (ox-head, human head, hank, cross).

At the top section of the same column (2) we can find the boomerang and snake combination that makes the word GN, meaning 'garden'; and there is another GN in the adjoining line (3).

At the top of column 3 (and also line 1) is an example of the two horizontal lines, representing Dh, the demonstrative pronoun, 'this'. So we have a sentence starting "This (is) a/the garden". Note that in the Bronze Age there was no definite article in Semitic languages (no equivalent of al in Arabic and ha in Hebrew).

My reading of the text gives us:
Dh GN ShMSh
"This is the Shamash garden (or the garden of Shamash)".
Shamash is the Semitic sun-god, and the garden would be under his protection and nurture.

The next letter I detect is D, a door. Many people have studied this text, and no one else has noticed it, so it has to be suspect. But if we allow its presence, then I would argue that we have the word ShD, meaning 'field' (known from Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Hebrew). To construct this word I have to assume that the final Sh of ShMSh doubles as the initial Sh of ShD; but we have already seen this phenomenon in the first column, in the expression MHB`LT, which should have been MHB B`LT.

The following two letters are B (house) and T (cross), which could be read as the word for 'house', but also 'daughter'. Then I find a faint but existent Sh (very flat, like the example on the Thebes proto-alphabetic ostrakon, bottom right), preceding a clear L.


Now we encounter a new letter. At first glance it looks like another B, a simple square; but it has a curved lower appendage. It is the same character as the one in the top left corner of
the Thebes proto-alphabetic ostrakon, and it is obviously the original Hh, representing a dwelling with a courtyard (from hhassir, or h.as.ir, 'court'). Sometimes the house section of the character is divided into two rooms (inscriptions 361 and 380), but not here.

It came as a surprise to me that we are here confronted by an idiom known in Hebrew: ShD BT ShLHh, 'a field requiring irrigation', literally 'a field a house of a water-channel'. I presume the 'house' or 'home' is there because of its counterpart: ShD BT B`L, 'a rain-watered field', literally 'a field (that is) a home of Ba`al'. In the Hebrew usage the Ba`al ('Lord') would have been understood as the Lord Yahweh, not as the Semitic weather-god named Hadad, regularly known by the title Ba`al.

Actually, if my proposed D is not really there, the sentence could possibly function without the word for 'field': "This is the garden of Shamash, an irrigated place (a home of a water-channel)".

The remaining letters of this column, running horizontally to the left, are: L K N Sh. The L could be the preposition meaning 'to' or 'for', and the root K-N-Sh means 'gather' or 'collect' (attested in Phoenician and Aramaic, and as kns in Hebrew, in the word kneset, 'parliament').
So the phrase here would say: 'for gathering'.

The next column (2) clarifies the statement in this line (1). The root K-N-Sh can be be found there also, without much difficulty. There is a letter Dh (=) between the K and the N of GN. It is possible to find a B above the boomerang of GN. Others see M, which could say 'from'.

Putting it all together, we have what I think is a very credible reading:
(3) This (Dh) [is] the garden (GN) of Shamash (ShMSh), an irrigated field (ShD BT ShLHh). (2) In (B) this (Dh) garden (GN) gather (KNSh) provisions ('RKhT).

Remember that the document defining the daily rations
('RKhT) for the workers (inscription 375) stipulated three handfuls of grain, plus garden pickings (MS`T GN). This patch of ground, near Mine L, was the garden where the workers grew their vegetables.

The remaining column (1) speaks of the equipment they used for melting and moulding metal.

The sequence of signs is: Dh K B Sh N M Sh M H B ` L T
"This (Dh) is the melt-furnace (KBShN MSh) beloved of Ba`alat (MHB`LT)"

Details of this statement will be considered in our study of inscription 351.

The new letter in this inscription was Hh (hhassir, house with courtyard); its related sound Kh (hank), which it replaced in Hebrew, is also in evidence here. In each line there is a K, all slightly different, but the example in the bottom left corner (as revealed in the photo, not as in my inexact drawing) shows how this character could turn into Greco-Roman K. There has been further confirmation of the boomerang (not just as a stick figure, but with its blade shown, as found twice here) as G, in the word gan ('garden'), in a context that is clearly horticultural.

SINAI INSCRIPTION 355



This piece of sandstone was also found near the entrance to Mine L, but is now lost. It may be the top left corner of Sinai 350.


More details on these documents (Sinai 353 and 356) can be found in my published article: Brian E. Colless, The proto-alphabetic inscriptions of Sinai, Abr-Nahrain 28 (1990) 1-52, particularly 31-34.

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