The inscription is especially important because it is bilingual; that is, the same inscription is preserved in two languages. Both inscriptions are on the skirt of a life-size black basalt statue of a governor discovered accidentally by a farmer in a field being prepared for cultivation near Tell Fakhariyah in eastern Syria. The Aramaic version is on the back of the skirt. The same inscription in cuneiform characters is written in the Akkadian language in an Assyrian dialect on the front of the skirt. The BAR article included pictures of the statue.
We are pleased to report that in April 1982 both the Aramaic and Assyrian inscriptions were published in an editio princeps.a In September 1982, an article describing the inscriptions at some length and with full texts appeared in the Biblical Archeologist.b
The prompt publication of these important inscriptions is surely to be applauded.
In the past, questions have been raised as to whether Syrian government officials were attempting to influence scholarly interpretation of the famous Ebla tablets by discouraging consideration of their Biblical connections.c It is therefore especially gratifying to see the publication of these inscriptions in the Biblical Archeologist. The American Schools of Oriental Research, publisher of the scholarly Biblical Archeologist, has recently considered creating a new journal with the title Near Eastern Archaeology to accommodate less Biblically oriented articles, especially those relating to recent finds from Arab countries. The publication of these Syrian inscriptions in the Biblical Archeologist may help to demonstrate that a new journal with a non-Biblical name is unnecessary.
Not only were the Syrian inscriptions published in the Biblical Archeologist, but the authors carefully considered the Biblical implications of the inscriptions. Although “nothing in the inscriptions has a direct relationship with the Bible,” the authors state, nevertheless they consider the relationship of a number of words in the inscriptions to 008Hebrew words appearing in the Bible. The authors note, for example, that the nearest parallels to the curses in the Syrian inscriptions are found in the Bible. The article also observes that “within the Aramaic text are three words which are immediately relevant to understanding biblical Hebrew.” One of these words describes the Assyrian god Hadad as one “who enriches the regions.” The Aramaic verb is ‘dn (eden). From the Assyrian text we can be sure the verb relates to wealth and luxuriance. Recent scholarship, such as E. A. Speiser’s commentary on Genesis (Anchor Bible, p. 16), however, relates the Garden of Eden to the Sumerian word edin, meaning steppe. In light of these new inscriptions, it would seem rather that the Biblical Eden is probably related etymologically to a place of great luxuriance.
The Syrian inscriptions also provide insight into that mystifying passage in Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image (Hebrew: selemd), according to our likeness (Hebrew: d’mut).” The Syrian statue is referred to by two Aramaic words which are cognates of the two Hebrew words in parentheses. In the first part of the Aramaic inscription the statue is introduced as an “image” (dmwt’); the second part of the two-part Aramaic inscription begins by referring to the statue as slm, a statue. This is the only time these two words appear as a pair in ancient inscriptions, except in the Hebrew Bible. The Syrian inscriptions will now have to be considered by scholars trying to understand what it means to be created in God’s image, in his likeness, and what meaning this apparent repetition in the Biblical text suggests.
In their Biblical Archeologist article, authors Millard and Boudreuil date the Syrian inscriptions to the mid–9th century B.C. They exclude the 11th and 10th centuries on historical grounds. The political situation during the earlier period is inconsistent with that reflected in the inscriptions. The authors also considered the artistic features of the statue, as well as the script and language, in arriving at a mid-9th century date.
In BAR, Adam Mikaya dated the inscription to the 10th century B.C., although noting that some scholars would place it as early as the 11th and others in the 9th century.
In a symposium held in Jerusalem in July 1982, devoted entirely to these Syrian inscriptions, both Professor Frank M. Cross of Harvard and Dr. Joseph Naveh of the Hebrew University, two of the world’s leading experts on such scripts, agreed that on paleographic grounds alone the Aramaic inscription from Syria would clearly be dated to the 11th century. Script development for this period, said Cross, is securely established. The Aramaic inscription from Tell Fakhariyah “fits easily into this series” of what scholars refer to as Phoenician script and is datable on this basis to the end of the 11th century B.C.
However, both Cross and Naveh recognized that other, non-paleographic evidence points to a 9th century date. The date of the inscription therefore remains uncertain, although Cross now leans toward accepting a 9th century date.e
How would Cross and Naveh explain an 11th century script used in the 9th century? 010The 9th century scribe must have copied an already ancient script. Such “archaizing” was not unknown in ancient times. But the 9th century scribe responsible for this inscription, if in fact this is what happened, “archaized” with almost unique precision.
Millard and Bordreuil, on the other hand, argue that, “although the inscription has a very archaic appearance” and “contains letter forms unparalled (sic.) after the early 10th century,” other letters reflect later paleographic developments. They therefore conclude that, taken together, these features indicate a local derivative of the Phoenician alphabet from the 9th century. Cross disagrees with Millard and Bordreuil. This Aramean script contains no features that reflect developments after the 11th century, he says.
Even if written in the 9th century, however, “no other lengthy composition in Aramaic is known from so early a date.”
In our July/August 1981 issue, BAR published the first account of a newly discovered inscription—the oldest Aramaic inscription of any significant length ever found. (See “Earliest Aramaic Inscription Uncovered in Syria,” BAR 07:04, by Adam Mikaya.) The inscription is especially important because it is bilingual; that is, the same inscription is preserved in two languages. Both inscriptions are on the skirt of a life-size black basalt statue of a governor discovered accidentally by a farmer in a field being prepared for cultivation near Tell Fakhariyah in eastern Syria. The Aramaic version is on the back of the skirt. The […]
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The Hebrew word selem is also translated as statue.
Cross explained to BAR that there are very few artistic materials from the 11th and 10th centuries B.C. with which to compare the statue. And the historic materials are not altogether clear. The best evidence on which Millard and Bordreuil rely, says Cross, is the name of the father of the governor commemorated by the statue. This father is named Shamash-nuri, who was the Assyrian eponym for 866 B.C. Cross points out, however, that repetition in names in successive generations of a dynasty is characteristic of the Aramean dynasties of this general period. In the 9th and 10th centuries, names were repeated wildly. Accordingly, the Shamash-nuri mentioned in the statue may well be the great-grandfather or great-great-grandfather of the Shamash-nuri mentioned in the eponym lists. Accordingly, Cross does not consider the historical or artistic evidence decisive.