[b-hebrew] Amarna Letters: The Number 318

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Dec 26 19:39:27 EST 2007

On Dec 26, 2007 8:23 PM, Jim Stinehart wrote:
> 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.

In the translation by Ziporah Cochavi Rainey (into Modern Hebrew), the
reading is "five thousand [...] ... eight".  No 318.  As you can see from the
tablet in the photo site I gave -- which is really in good resolution
-- there is
no certain text in the broken section, although the space to the right of "five
thousand" is reasonably clear of all text.

> As Wm. Moran notes at pp. xxi-xxii of his introduction to the Amarna Letters:

> 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."

And to that, let me quote the words of Eva von Dassow (IEJ 53/2, 196-217):
"Consider the hybrid Canaano-Akkadian verb forms [which are
conjugated appropriately when Canaanite and Akkadian agree,
but which are conjugated according to Canaanite when they
diverge], the Canaanite words and glosses, the Akkadian words
in Canaanite usage, and the arrangement of all of the above in
Canaanite syntax. When the reader of one of these letters read
the signs in which it was written on clay, though those signs
spelled Akkadian and quasi-Akkadian words, he read Canaanite
words in Canaanite word order."

A pidgin is a real language.  This Amarna language does not live
on.  We don't see it later.  We don't see it earlier.  In contrast,
the people who supposedly spoke this language spoke Canaanite
before, during, and after the use of the pidgin.  The verbal system
-- where frozen forms selected pretty much randomly -- are used
as roots within a Canaanite morphology is very much like other
systems of writing where the morphology is applied to a foreign
sign (consider in English, "1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th").  The idea that it is
a pidgin is therefore rather hard to accept, and the idea that it is
just a code for writing Canaanite is in fact very attractive.

> 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.

It really seems to me pretty natural.  The words evidently read, "five thousand
3 hundred 18".  (Sorry, I had to break the line because I ran out of space).  It
is in fact, the simplest reading, and a reading that says "five
thousands [silver
shekels and 3 hundred 1]8 porters" is doing too much interpretation of the text.

> (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.

The full translation by Rainey of lines 52-59 reads:
"I sent caravans to here to the king, my lord, [x] prisoners(?), five
thousand [...]
... eight porters to the caravans of the king were captured in the
field Ayalon.  May
the king my lord please know that I could not send a caravan anymore to the king
my lord.  Be aware!"  I do not see where a "silver shekel" fits in this context.

> (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.

I see the problem of 5318 porters.  But here is a proposal.  Maybe
it's not porters?
The reading of the word "porter" is based on the reading ú-bi-li-mi in
the text.  This
is read as "yobil" from the root ybl "bring" in Canaanite, much like
yocer "potter"
or yo$eb "dweller."  The -o- is a giveaway that this word is Canaanite
because it
indicates the a: > o shift that was not present in Akkadian.  Based on
Sivan, the
other comparable form is in EA 288, line 13 "raise a tax for the
king."  In EA 256:28
Sivan suggests either a stream or a ram's horn.  It figures after a
list of places, and
the word right before it could be read as "spring," so stream seems
right to me.
All this means is that only two usages of "yobil" appear, one saying the king is
raising tax to the king, and the other here.  The determinative LU.ME$
that appears
before the word, apparently indicates a plural of professions.  See here:
http://www.sron.nl/~jheise/signlists/determin.html There are various meanings of
ybl that could have been proposed, but the determinative restricts us.  I agree
that five thousand porters is a great amount.  The whole population of his city
state probably did not reach that many.  I drop the suggestion.

> (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?

That, however, is not a problem.  I'll let you figure out how I would
handle such
a situation.

> 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?

I think it is very problematic to depend on this number because it is
in a broken
context.  It doesn't say 318.  It just says something-eight.

Yitzhak Sapir

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