[b-hebrew] Amarna Letters: The Number 318

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Wed Dec 26 15:23:39 EST 2007

Yitzhak Sapir:
Thanks for your fascinating post.
1.  You wrote:  “The footnote [#18] reads, apparently,
 "Before '8', Knudtzon saw traces that he tentatively identified as '318.'"
Yes, that is the William Moran footnote I was citing.  As we will see in a 
minute, however, footnote #17 may be relevant here as well.
It is perhaps worth noting that in most other translations of Amarna Letter 
#287 that I have seen, this is simply shown as 318, without any footnote.
2.  You wrote:  “If it makes you feel better, the people who wrote these 
didn't seem to know Akkadian too well either :)  More accurately, they wrote in a 
 form of Akkadian, and probably just used Akkadian words and script to
 write out Canaanite (to give an example, it would be somewhat like writing
 "housim" in English, to mean "houses," which they would read as "batim").”
Yes, that is well known.  Though written in Akkadian cuneiform, the Amarna 
Letters use west Semitic, non-Akkadian grammar.  As Wm. Moran notes at pp. 
xxi-xxii of his introduction to the Amarna Letters:

”In the southern tradition [such as this Amarna Letter #287 from Jerusalem,] 
the transformation of the Babylonian language and the resulting deviation from 
normal usage were far more radical than in most forms of Hurro-Akkadian.  
Indeed, so radical is the transformation that one may ask whether the language of 
this tradition, even when qualified as ‘extremely barbarized,’ should be 
called Babylonian at all.  It is a pidgin in which the Babylonian component is 
mainly lexical, whereas the grammar is profoundly West-Semitized, most notably 
in the word order and, most important of all, in the verbal system.  The 
language can only be described as an entirely new code, only vaguely intelligible 
(if at all) to the West Semitic because of the lexicon, and to the Babylonian 
because of the grammar.”
3.  But now we are coming to the important part of your post.  You wrote:  “
As you see, the 3 and 1 are in broken portions of the tablet.  Together with 
the line before
 (also broken at the end) which reads "five thousand", my guess is the
 text should probably read "5318," if Knudtzon's tentative reading is 
accepted.  The "5000" ends some distance before the end of the line -- right before 
the crack, but as you can see on other lines, not all lines reach the very end.”
I am having trouble with your attempt to put 5,000 in here.  Here are my 
problems with your suggestion:
(a)  I do not think that anyone else has ever suggested that.  
(b)  Footnote #17 says:  “Albright, ‘silver (shekels),’ but the copy is 
against K[U.BABBAR].”  That footnote applies after the word “5000” in Moran’s 
translation.  Moran shows the “5000” as being clear, not ambiguous, and with 
there then being some space after the 5000.
(c)  I think most translators are seeing (i) first a reference to 5,000 of 
some material objects, though it cannot be determined what, and then (ii) a 
reference probably to 318 porters, although only the final numeral 8 is absolutely 
(d)  The number 5,318 seems implausible to me, in context.  How could 
Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem send 5,318 porters to pharaoh Akhenaten?  I do not see how 
Abdi-Heba could ever send 5,000 human beings to anyone, no matter what.  For 
example, Abdi-Heba is begging Akhenaten (unsuccessfully) for a mere 50 Egyptian 
troops.  So isn’t it more likely that the 5,000 is referring to some material 
objects?  Perhaps not silver shekels with Albright, but nevertheless 5,000 
material items of some sort, not 5,318 human beings.
(e)  Finally, if I am understanding that nice cite that you referenced, it 
appears to me that perhaps the “5000” is on line 54, whereas the reference to “
318 porters” appears on line 55.  You would not start a number on one line, 
and then finish that same number on another line, would you?  
4.  It is unclear to me from your post whether you are seeing 318 with 
Knudtzon, or whether, on the contrary, you yourself are seeing only 8, with the 3 
and the 1 coming from Knudtzon (rather than from your own independent reading).  
Could you clarify that? 
5.  Although I am primarily interested in the number 318, I would also like 
to hear your opinion of the word translated as “porters”.  Could you tell us 
anything about that word?
*       *       *
Thanks again for this great post.  Much appreciated, and very impressive.
If you could respond to the questions I have raised about the problems I see 
with trying to add in the “5000” here in connection with some number of 
porters that Abdi-Heba had sent to Akhenaten, that would be even more greatly 
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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