The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Zoroastrian calendar's roots in 400s BC Persia

I looked around and ran across Sacha Stern, Calendars in Antiquity (Oxford, 2012), fifth chapter.

In the Zoroastrian calendar, the first day of month Farwardîn does not coincide with the vernal equinox. But Sacha Stern points out that it used to, at least within 15 days, over 525-430 BC.

Stern next notes the Sogdian, Choresmian, and Armenian calendars. These place the new year on the sixth of Farwardîn. She brings de Blois 1996 and 2005, that the Sasanians enacted a calendar reform. But the Iranshahr being what it is, not every province accepted this. The three northern fringes in question maintained the pre-Sasanian calendar. As to that original, the Sogdians retained the Babylonian Aramaic month “Nisan” for the third month. The third solar month and the lunisolar Nisan coincided in the late 300s and early 200s. The same holds for the Mandaeans in Iraq – rather, for those Iraqis whose posterity would become Mandaeans.

So for the fifth century BC Persian administration, Stern’s proposal implies a calendar with Iraqi names in an Egyptian solar arrangement. This has additional implications in how we understand the “Babylonian” dates among the (pro-Persian) Israelites in Egypt; the dates might, in the later decades, be intended as solar. For Cantera’s purpose, if I may speak for him, this removes Elephantine from the evidence against him, which (weakened) evidence was constraining the Achaemenid retention of the lunisolar system to the last Persian decade.

To continue with Stern: When in the late 300s BC the Greeks cut the Iranians off from the Semites, such Iranians as kept their solar calendar relexified this with religious and Iranian terms. The “Younger Avesta” community (once more: east Iranian, not Farsi) may or may not have been the ringleaders; but they kept the best record. Elsewhere the Sogdians, being traders, were perhaps slowest to accept the pan-Iranian nativist programme.

posted by Zimri on 17:32 | link | 0 comments

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Until morale improves

On Monday I came into work to read this happy horseshit. (NOTE: I'm backdating this point to Tuesday just to, you know, plug the gaps here.)

There is nothing here to make (working) employees happier. I see no new raises, no new benefits, no new improvements to corporate culture. I don't even see any jokes. All I see is it's time we all worked happy, a trademark no less, as if to tell us in passive-aggressive fashion that I haven't been "working happy" and that it's my fault.

This looks like some consultants got together with the fundamentally unserious blowhards making up our senior management, looked up some Studies Say That studies, and from it gathered the Deep Thought that happy employees are productive employees.

This much is fair enough. I get that a corporation is foremost interested in making shareholders and the higher management happy, pleasing the peasants only as a means to that end. I am a capitalist myself, almost certainly more so than I've seen from our oh-so-PC Chairman and CEO.

The problem occurs when these internal communications become broadsides sent to the staff. The same thing happens, by the way, when Diversity becomes a department and not something organic; Diversity corporations inevitably discriminate more. Studies show that. We have here a Chairman who imagines, like Shah Darius, that he can command shiyâti by fiat.

Down (way down) at my level, it's "Message: I care" all over again. Except that the message I got is that this company doesn't.

posted by Zimri on 17:35 | link | 0 comments

Monday, March 20, 2017


Helmut Humbach in 2010 pointed out that the older Avesta assumes a day split into three parts for ritual purposes, like the Qur’anic times of prayer. The Young Avesta, famously, has five times of prayer, like Zoroastrianism and Islam today. Humbach, in parallel to what I’ve been musing here concerning other Avestan redactions, assigned the expansion to the Sasanians, if early Sasanians.

Alberto Cantera is now telling us that we're missing something: “Miϑra and the Sun”, Estudios Iranios y Turanios 3 (2017), 25-58. Cantera has been looking further at Mithra / Mitra / Mehr, and at the Zoroastrian calendar – the whole of it. Yes, the Zoroastrians have one. (Actually, several, as we’ll see below.) Cantera sees a more thoroughgoing metanoia in Avestan thought, between the Old Avestan base (already redacted: p. 26) and the Younger Avestan commentaries of that older base. And he has some reformers in mind.

For background: the Old Avesta texts associated certain of their gods, or angels as Zoroastrians prefer you call them, with the times of day and the seasons of the year. Mithra was the god / angel of “daybreak” (p. 26; and of oaths, as he was for the Mitanni diplomats in the Bronze Age); the Frauuašịs presided over sunset. The Old Avesta also assigned the Iranians into four social circles, presumably concentric. These weren’t directly involved with what passed for the Old Avesta calendar – at first. It was all very Vedic.

As Iranians go, we know the Achaemenids best, and the Achaemenids were the smartest of the Iranians. They do tell us their calendar up to 459 BC. It was Babylonian, the lunisolar one. Even in Egypt, which had its own calendar (a solar one, much like the Younger Avesta – as Cantera notes), the Persian administration clung to the Babylonian calendar for instance at Elephantine, up to 401 BC - on that, see, Encyclopaedia Iranica on 'Calendars'. And the Seleucids and Jews borrowed this too. [UPDATE 3/22: Elephantine might be using the Egyptian calendar reskinned as Babylonian]

This implies that the Iranians didn’t have a calendar of their own up through the fifth century BC; and whoever had the Old Avesta, they knew that it was of no help in planning the harvest. So nobody knew the Younger Avesta yet as of 400 BC. [UPDATE AGAIN]

Cantera notes that the two additional (Young) Avesta rituals are entirely about the ritual, not about the natural world. They also keep Mithra at work throughout the day and night, not just at dawn. Cantera argues for a priest-friendly calendric reform, from a daily auroral focus to a solar and seasonal one – the latter based on the Egyptian calendar. Mithra thus became the angel of the sun, the Iranian Ra – as the Roman soldiers remembered him.

The Mihr Yasht and Frawardîn Yasht further introduce a fifth social circle: dax ́iiunąm fratəmatātō; this is “at a higher level than the country”. That is, it is either “a federation of countries” or an empire. This fifth circle, the circle of the shah’s court, is associated with the Frauuašịs and therefore with the calendar.

All this means that a Divinely-ordained empire introduced this calendar to Iran from Egypt, and from pagan pre-Ptolemaic Egypt at that. After the shah fixed the calendar, Iran’s priests overhauled the Avesta to fit. Whatever they left of the documents of the pre-reform Avesta, these the new priests burned, or surrendered to invaders to burn. Most likely the former, which they subsequently blamed on the latter; but let’s leave that to the side.

Anyway there is no way the Sasanians could have known so much about the lost Egyptian calendar. And the Seleucids before them were on Babylonian time, so the new Egypto-Iranian calendar was no gift from the Greeks. Some earlier Iranian empire took the calendar and enforced it, except where and when they couldn’t.

As Cantera notes, we have little choice here. The Achaemenids were the only Iranian imperials to control Egypt in its pagan era. Cantera doesn’t bring it up, but Quintus Curtius Rufus reports (apud Encyclopaedia Iranica again) that the “magi” were assuming the 365-day year as of Darius III.

But even if we assume Darius III’s solar year and extend it to an Avesta-based calendar (which, again, Cantera does not touch), I cannot see us convincing the academy straightaway. I should like to see more reference to this solar calendar and to all five Avesta rituals in late Achaemenid and post-Seleucid Iranian documents.

Furthermore, Cantera proposes this order: Old Avesta, [Achaemenid] calendar overhaul, Younger Avesta. The Achaemenids were literate in Old Persian and left no monument in Avestan. If their priests were working with an Old Avesta base, and expected to preach among Persians, as Darius preached among Persians, these priests assuredly would have commented upon that text in Old Persian too. The Younger Avesta is, still, not in any Persian dialect. How did they get from A through Z to C?

I cannot hope for much trace of the Old Persian commentaries in the west, one way or another; our span is narrow, 400450-333 BC, and the Hellenistic Era did a lot of burning. I do expect traces of a translation from Old Persian to Younger Avestan like all those Hebraisms in the Septuagint and King James, or at least an adaptation like the Qur’an adapts Syriac lectionaries. Accordingly I should like to see Old(ish) Persian loans in the Younger Avesta. I will allow Parthian and even Greek and Aramaic loans where they be calques from Old Persian. We will beware Aramaeograms and Sasanian-era “spelling corrections”.

Failing that, I fall back on my previous position here, that the Achaemenids never read any Avestan text, just para-Avesta pan-Iranian material, mostly Old Persian and now lost.

In this case, some Egyptianised priest who spoke Persian fled Alexander up the Silk Road to some Podunkestan, waving his (papyrus) scroll and swearing by Mitra that here was the calendar of Darius. Did I say Darius, I meant the first Darius… no… it was really from Cyrus… that’s it… taught by Zoroaster, that’s the ticket! The local priest verified that the calendar was, indeed, very old and that it at least worked. His follow easterners, as it happens, already had a canon – the Old Avesta. The western priest and the eastern priests agreed to merge them. So they revamped it and produced the Young Avesta. And there it stayed, away from western notice, until the later Sasanians rediscovered it and made it their own. In this case we might still see western loans in the Younger Avesta but not quite as many.

POSTSCRIPT: As we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls, or for that matter from Protestant and Orthodox resistance to Pope Gregory’s calendar, a calendar reform never gets accepted immediately, even (or maybe especially) when the new calendar is objectively superior. So I’m interested in narratives of resistance and of alternate calendars in Iran among Crone’s Nativist-Prophets.

UPDATE 3/22: Sacha Stern allows for an Achaemenid adaptation of the Egyptian calendar. And we found our alternate calendars... sort of.

posted by Zimri on 17:53 | link | 0 comments

Northern African Sprachbünde

The Northern African language-groups Semitic and Berber (and Egyptian of course) each came from their own single community, as the Indo-European languages came from the charioteers of the Ukraine. Yesterday I asked if the Northern African base-communities ever have come from a single “Afro Asiatic” group. Here is a model explaining their similarities if they didn't.

During the classical era, which we’ll roughly set 1200 BC to 700 AD, and from the Mediterranean perspective, which is the perspective that bequeathed to us the bulk of the documentation, North Africa was an archipelago of large semi-isolated islands. Like Sardinia and Corsica. Southwestern Morocco at the edge of the Corrupting Sea might as well be Australia.

A trader doesn’t stick around on an island any longer than he has to, to make a profit. Empires will stay as long as there’s a problem; otherwise, the Emperor won’t be laying out the funds to occupy it either – like no-one bothered with Ireland. Religious evangelists will hang around to “convert” the locals, who might then join the mission, but they also might not.

As far as language goes, the surest way to change the language is to change the people. If traders quit showing up, the islanders quit teaching their counterparties. The army will have to learn the native tongue if it’s not parked with a colonia of veteran civilians; their language won’t stick either. Religious conversion has a better record of staying-power, at least in North Africa, but even here this can get delayed if a group goes heretic, as the Barghawata did. Or if the locals just lock the priests into convents as the Irish did.

Trade, military, and religious networks can, however, encourage all the languages involved into sharing similar rules, to make translation easier. These rules then wash back to the original languages. In historical times this has happened to the Balkan languages. NativLang points to Precolumbian Mesoamerica for another example. The German term is Sprachbund.

This may have happened in the Sahara when it was more naturally navigable. (I am assuming no dromedary camel; I think this came later, alongside decent Mediterranean navigation.) Lake Chad corresponded with Tuaregs, the Tuaregs with other Berbers, the Berbers with Phoenician Semites, the Semites with each other, the South Arabian Semites with the Cushites. The Egyptians were there too; these mediated between the Semites and the Berbers, and to a lesser extent with the Cushites of Punt. I think.

The northern African correspondences were so piecemeal and tenuous, but still over such a long period, that I think patches of Sprachbund could spread. And then came the camel and the ship, and Islam, forcing the issue harder. We now have the illusion that northern Africa is genetically related in language.

posted by Zimri on 17:51 | link | 0 comments

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A warning for Afro-Asiatic scholars

What if I told you... that Berber, Semitic, Chadic, Egyptian, and Cushitic are not related? Let alone that weird outlier Omotic, which Rolf Thiel personally doubted; or those Old Libyan languages which may or may not be Berber; Canary-Islander ditto; or whatever the hell Ongota is (or was).

Claudia A. Ciancaglini is here to tell you that there are some languages that follow some regular rules, and that those languages may be grouped as families and their correspondences demonstrated over time. Indo-Hittite has contained such languages. So has Semitic. English and modern Romance, not so much; but that doesn't matter because these have an historical record, where the authors doggedly wrote down the language as spoken at nearly every step.

This does matter for Korean and Japanese. They don't have a written record before the Tang or so, much less a phonetic one. So every attempt to relate them so far has failed. And they will continue to fail, unless and until someone finds a book that describes their languages in 1500 BC.

I get a similar bad feeling about Afro-Asiatic studies. Whenever I look up language-groupings, I see a profusion of mutually-contradictory charts. This tells me that Afro-Asiatic linguists don't have a good data-set.

We have a good handle on proto-Semitic, sure; and Egyptian is just Egyptian, the only riverboat-gamble on the lower Nile. Proto-Berber studies are coming along; I haven't kept up myself, but I'm sure the best Frogs are on it. However: I have no clue what's been done on proto-Chadic or proto-Cushitic. And then there's the juggling around Omotic, Ongota, et al.

It's probably a good idea to sort out those Deep Saharan and East African languages, first.

posted by Zimri on 19:49 | link | 0 comments

New buzzword: "functional rights"

We've discussed "privilege" before; a perfectly good Latinate word that professional liars have perverted into something it isn't. Now, at Foreign Policy where now more than ever the truth matters, another professional liar has offered more jargon: "functional rights".

Today's liar is one fine-looking globe-trotting masters-degreed (in East Asia, not West) blonde chick named Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian. She thinks that Jonathan Rape-Rape Brown is da kewtest (looks a good bit younger than his 39 years) and, just because it's the right thing to do, you understand, defends him - poorly, I need hardly add. In the process she smears an honest Muslim, Umar Lee, he who first raised the issue, but hey.

I don't feel like linking directly, because when I take the time to deal with lies I at least want the lies to be ancient, and besides I don't want to put up with the paywall. So here's Robert Spencer. The commenter Custos Custodum over at JW adds, Bottom line: Foreign Policy is now running interference for global SLAVERY. If that's the case DC establishment wants to make, it should make that case honestly. But anyway.

I have mine own take on this last bit:

Ideologues are seeking to marginalize Muslims by making their speech and their activism relating to their religion come at a very high price. ... In the process, they are denying Islam the same functional rights that Christianity enjoys and silencing the very people

As a matter of American law, Spencer and Brown enjoy the same rights - if rights are limited to legal rights. Bethany Double-Barrel knows this, like any SJW knows that adjective-justice isn't justice. So she employs a parallel adjective to "rights", showing that legal rights don't render sufficient social parity for her taste. The notion here is the same notion with which academics have to deal: that Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech, that someone like Spencer speaking out is not the same as someone like Brown.

I suppose the question I would ask Bethany A-E, besides what face cream does she use, is at what point can we say that any Christian may be at a similar social level to any Muslim that their functional rights are sufficiently equal that the Christian may critique an Islamic argument, over matters that one might think have already been settled in this country like, oh, slavery and forcible concubinage. Clearly Spencer having a blog and Brown having a Georgetown professorship aren't sufficient. What additional handicaps should Bethany A-E place upon Christians?

posted by Zimri on 18:38 | link | 0 comments

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Aramaeogram GDY in Sasanian Pahlavi

Where Pahlavi texts speak of the glory and/or fortune that God spreads throughout the land under His shah, the authors employ an Aramaeogram: GDY or GDH or GDE, depending on whose transcription you like. (Pahlavi uses Aramaeograms a lot, following the example of cuneiform before it with Sumerian. One of many “features” that make Pahlavi such a PITA to read...) GDY is usually interpreted as khwarrah, understood as a halo of holiness-radiation.

It happens that later Zoroastrian literature and ‘Abbasid propaganda often preach God’s khwarrah diffusing from the shah, in that you’re better off closer to it. As the ‘Abbasid-era magi and jurists had done at that time (e.g. khwarrahōmand in fact spelled GDEʾwmnd), so scholars today expect to see khwarrah mentioned in Sasanian-era literature. Since the term apparently hasn’t been spelled out in Pahlavi before Islam, the Aramaeogram corpus is where the scholars have defaulted, and GDY is the Aramaeogram they’ve picked.

And so GDY has persisted. Albert de Jong, who delights in debunking myths about the Sasanian religion (maybe even more than I do), argues in “Sub Specie Maiestatis” ed. Michael Stausberg, Zoroastrian Rituals in Context that the Sasanids themselves never claimed they controlled khwarrah directly. Where contemporary Pahlavi texts invoke GDY, de Jong notes, GDY lives with the god(s) such that even the shah must work for it. So de Jong too has assumed that the shahs used GDY to represent khwarrah.

Relevant to this, Encyclopaedia Iranica has Things To Say.

In the Iranian languages extant under the Persian and para-Persian imperia, the cognate to khwarrah in actual use was pharna. Hence names like “Tissaphernes” that spring up in Hellenistic accounts mentioning the Persians. Hence “Farrukhan” (no relation to any living calypso minstrel-acts). So khwarrah in that form is unnatural to the Iranians’ lexicon; it is jargon, attributable to the post-Avestan “revival” of Zoroastrianism probably Sasanian. (I know, here I go again…)

I think we are all agreed that post-Avestan khwarrah in Greek corresponds best to doxa, especially the Christian understanding of this. The Talmuds’ rabbis applied this very notion to explain God’s kabod in the Torah. I haven’t found a corresponding concept in pre-Islamic Arabic but, once we get to the Qur’an, al-ḥamd in phrases like al-ḥamd li’llah fits nicely. (Cf. ḥmd in Taymanitic.)

One thing about Aramaeograms, though: they’re in Aramaic, which is like Arabic a Semitic language. GDY is cognate not to (say) Taymanitic ḥmd but – as Encyclopaedia Iranica points out – to Arabic jadd; if translated to Greek, it is not doxa but tychē.

Pace de Jong: the Iranians did cite Divine glory, for millennia, and to name it they did use pharna and maybe even khwarrah. The concentric pattern of Iranian royal architecture assumes the emanation of Glory from the shah. And Encyclopaedia Iranica reports that Armenian literature of the 400s AD is aware of Sasanian propaganda to that effect (in noting that “Movses Xorenac'i” has already forgotten what khwarrah meant).

What I cannot assume, is that contemporary writers in Pahlavi coded for pharna / khwarrah with the Aramaeogram GDY. GDY for these guys works also for Aryan arta (Hindu dharma) or, even better, for Darius’ Happiness-For-Mankind.

posted by Zimri on 16:35 | link | 0 comments

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Bagratid history

One of our sources, if you can call it that, for pre-Islamic Armenian history is a work by one Movses "Khorenats'i" (whatever "Khorena" means). Movses claimed to write in the fifth century CE.

In 1978, Robert Thomson translated Movses into English. Thomson prepended an introduction, which you may read here. In it Thomson lists the following anachronisms which scholars had found in the text:

  • I 12 Moses is the first Armenian writer to equate Siunik' and Sisakan. The latter term is first found in Syriac in the sixth century; in the seventh-century Armenian Ashkharhats'oyts' it refers to a canton, not the whole province.
  • I 14 Moses knows of four Armenias. These four Byzantine provinces were not so organized until 536 A.D. (By Justinian).
  • II 62 Moses refers to the territory east of Lake Van as Vaspurakan, a term used only after the partition of Armenia in 591. Not until the early eighth century Narratio de Rebus Armeniae is Vaspurakan used to designate a province in the same sense as Moses uses it.
  • II 65 Moses refers to the Khazars, not mentioned in other Armenian sources before the seventh-century Ashkharhats'oyts'.
  • III 18 Moses knows of an Iranian advance into Bithynia. Only in the 604-629 war did the Iranians advance so far west.
  • III 46 Moses refers to two positions, Presiding Prince and Comes, in Byzantine Armenia; this reflects the position after Heraclius' victory over Iran in 629.

Thomson relies here upon Toumanoff, "The dates of the Pseudo-Moses of Chorence", Handes Amsorya 75 (1961).

Opinion today is divided. The Armenian historian Robert Bedrosian accepts Thomson, as do most Western scholars. On Wikipedia, to which I ain't linking, one can find a bevy of pro-Armenian hasbara defending the early date for Movses presented as if it were the last word. Nicolas Wade accepts Movses at face value, perhaps for the sake of argument.

Thomson goes further and sees Movses as a supporter of the Bagratunis, Bagratids as a Greek might put it. The era most friendly to Bagratid partisans would be the later 700s AD, when the 'Abbasids were generally sponsoring the Bagratids. Movses dislikes the Mamikoneans, who were the Bagratids' rivals up to 773 AD; since the Mamikoneans dwindled after that, no-one had standing to rebut Movses's history. I agree there was little point in slandering Mamikoneans after 773 AD. We do need a date somewhere 630-770.

Pace Thomson Moses' History reflects the period when the Bagratids were gaining the upper hand over their Mamikonean rivals, there was more than one such period. Also I don't see mention of Ishmael or Hagar in Movses, as I expect in an Islamic-era history, especially if an Arab caliph were calling the shots. (Movses seems more interested in relating the Bagratids to the Jews...) Thomson, especially in 1978, was fallible.

For Movses, I prefer a time when the Bagratids were defending Christendom. We still must rule out the 650s, when the Bagratids united with their (later?) rivals the Mamikoneans, against Theodore Rshtuni who had joined the Arabs. Maybe we can point to the 690s when Smbat was curopalate on the Romans' behalf. Or perhaps to the 680s when Ashot Bagratuni was ruling Armenia independently of Rome and the Arabs both.

posted by Zimri on 17:52 | link | 0 comments

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The shah-centred world

Lincoln's Happiness for Mankind 45f. delivers one interesting point: for the Medes, the palace was in the centre of it all, and the closer you were the better off you were. This is a lot like the classical Islamic conception; for instance the Medinat al-Salam in that old Persian burg Baghdad was laid out in a circle.

Lincoln, for his part, goes further. He sees the Medes' plan as parallel to the Avesta. This means that the Iranian king-centred world comes from pan-Iranian prehistory. I don't know if the rajas across the Sind followed the same practice.

Since I cannot find such a layout in Akkadian, Ugaritic, Israelite, or Ethiopian palaces, I have to conclude that the Arabs took the idea from Persia. I would start with the "Mazdakite" reign of Kovad I. Later shahs called Kovad an egalitarian, but it might just be that Kovad had found a copy of Herodotus (or even some ruins!), and planned out the "true" Persian way of rule.

posted by Zimri on 17:24 | link | 0 comments

Hintze's evidence for an Achaemenid Avesta

I’ve been harping here on a pet theory that the Avesta is a Sasanian-era import to that Mazdaean religion today called Zoroastrianism. Newcomers (especially we Jews and Christians) tend to assume that the Avestan material, or at least the Gatha hymns in it, were canonical in the western Iranshahr during the time of the Bible. I am a newcomer too, but not a trusting one – I aim, as Darius claimed, to be an-arîka. So if I'm to accept a Persian-era Avesta, I want an argument.

Today I have tracked down such an argument: Almut Hintze, "Zarathustra’s Time and Homeland: Linguistic Perspectives" ed. Michael Strausberg, Wiley Blackwell Companion to Zoroastrianism (2015), 31-8.

Hintze does a fine job explaining “the Avesta”: that this is a collection, layered, in several now-dead Iranian languages, which languages were themselves not necessarily in direct descent. (I am reminded of Tocharian A and Tocharian B, or of Hurrian and Urartian. Or of “Maya”.) But I find Hintze’s argument for early Persian knowledge of Avestan text to be overbroad.

What Hintze offers in the early Achaemenid era (incl. Herodotos’ witness) is pre-Gathic formulae and practice which the Gathas also assume. By 358 BCE the ahurânîš were recorded in Lycia, in Aramaic; Hintze takes this as Achaemenid knowledge of the Yasna Haptang-haiti (from older Avestan). Hintze further cites Bruce Lincoln, Happiness for Mankind: Achaemenian Religion (Leuven: Peeters, 2012), which offers its own parallels between the Gathas and Achaemenid worldview(s). Although as I read Lincoln (e.g. p. 42), Lincoln keeps the Avesta and the Achaemenids in parallel, not in sequence.

On the form of Achaemenid “Zoroastrianism”, the fullest expression, if vague, is shah Darius’s monument at Bagastan (apparently “Beyistûn” in the Kermani dialect today), which explains in numbing repetition and in three languages why and how he refounded that empire. Relevant here, it explains what he opposed: the Druj, that is the Lie. In Avestan texts, the god and his prophet also attack the Druj. But the Avesta abolishes the (Kafiristan / Hindu) Daeva gods with it. Darius did not bother – at least, not in the original proclamation. Darius was (then) happy to accept other religious communities (and to tax them!). The utmost Lie was, rather, the denial of Darius himself as legal shah. Much later, for the Sasanians the courtier Tansar would tender similar arguments in his own tractate.

(Darius cobbled together some additional material for Bagastan as the revolts went on – this time just in Persian. By then, he expected Elam and Scythia to worship Ahuramazda as he did. Perhaps Elam was becoming Persianised; the latter was already Aryan.)

Although some Gathic language was part of early Persian royalism, and although the worldviews are parallel, I do not see the parallels extend to full quotes from the Avesta as scripture. (Such an argument needs something like Islam, whose caliph ‘Abd al-Malik in various monuments will quote extensively from Qur’anic suras 3, 4, 10, 17 et al.) So I deem still safest to credit much later shahs – I say, the Sasanians – for importing the Younger Avesta texts, at least, and probably more.

posted by Zimri on 17:14 | link | 0 comments

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Iranian hypocorism

I've seen a lot of Iranian words, mostly Persian, ending -ak. Arabic loanwords from Iranian roots can end -aq or -aj. So we get Babak, Mazdak, al-Farazdaq, maybe even istabraq. Gharaniq might count as well.

After some hunting I found that Late Achaemenid Persian used -k(es) as a hypocorism - an affectionate dimunitive. Arsaces was a term of endearment for the actual Persian name, which had *Arshu in it. I'm sure this feature lingered in the language.

Babak would then be, quite literally, "Papa". Mazdak will have been *Mazda-something or other; he probably wasn't named the Zoroastrian equivalent of "Little Allah", unless his enemies were being sarcastic. As for Hammam "the Farazdaq", Steingass tells me Farâzîd meant scrapings of bread in the plural - "cakes", in nineteenth-century English; Hammam's biographers tell us Farazdaq meant "lump of dough". But affectionately!

posted by Zimri on 16:50 | link | 0 comments

Monday, March 13, 2017

Building the Israeli jidâr

Biblical Nabuchadrezzar (sometimes misspelled Nabuchadnezzar) derives from the Babylonian name which we transcribe “Nabû-kudurrī-uṣur”. We're told it means “o Nabu, protect my son!”. Today I was sifting through some Elamite material and found something relevant.

I’ll get the (more) boring stuff out of the way. Nabu is a Babylonian god. Uṣur is the standard Akkadian term for a firstborn son. The aspirated “chadr” in the Bible reflects Aramaeoid begadkepat; this may or may not have struck the Babylonian language too as of 600 BC. So the "protect" part is the kudurrī, in Babylonian orthography.

Hosea and Amos knew a similar-sounding root: GDR, for instance gadarti at-gadarah (lit. I shall wall up a wall). Most scholars think kudurrī and gadar are related. GDR became good Biblical Hebrew when it was time to write Torah.

The Muslims have applied al-jadr to the Ka`ba wall, but I do not see the Arabic GDR root in – say – Nabati or Safaitic. As I look for walls, dams, and barriers in the Qur’an I find instead Q. 18:95 radm, leaving aside Iranian words like barzakh and firdaws. Al-gadr is, then, one more loanword into Islam, this time certainly Biblical (and not native Iraqi).

But that doesn’t mean the gadar(ah) was native to Hebrew (nor to Aramaic) before that. During the Bronze Age, kudur was exclusive to the Babylonian form of East Semitic, and even there was never heard before the Kassite hegemony. It comes from the kudurru, a boundary-marker. According to L. Sassmannshausen, “Adaptation of the Kassites to the Babylonian Civilization” ed. Languages and Cultures in Contact OLA 96 (Leuven: Peeters, 1999), 409-24; 413 n. 22, the word was originally Elamite.

To me this looks like the Israelite northern-kingdom (and Syrians?) understood the gadar(ah) as a wall in the Iraqi style: Assyrian, Babylonian, and Elamite.

posted by Zimri on 16:07 | link | 0 comments

Friday, March 10, 2017

The currency of Nobadia

Artur Obluski's The rise of Nobadia has been raised to my attention. This is a book-length thesis on the Nubian kingdom directly south of Byzantine Egypt and, soon enough, of Islamic Misr.

One Jwona Zych has translated Obluski's book to English for a certain "Journal of Juristic Papyrology". I do not know why she (I think it's a she) chose that journal, given that Rise is an analysis of archaeology with precious little documentation of any sort, let alone legal briefs. Although, given the time and place in question, papyrus was the material of choice. And I am grateful to have it in English since I'm not a Slav myself.

On Nobadia's borders, another Nubian state came up to its south: Makuria. Makuria is the state known to the Muslim historians. The Copts writing early in the eighth century noted a King Merkurios ruling Makuria a few decades prior, who styled himself a black Constantine and fought against Nobadia. Apparently Merkurios won, since inscriptions in the Nobadian capital mention Merkurios in the 700s and, later, the Muslims mostly forgot Nobadia ever existed.

Obluski mootes one conclusion around pp. 107f. He finds that much of what has been unearthed in Nobadia are "enclosures". These are like army forts, but without a lot of structure inside them. Obluski believes these were built to hold livestock. And they were fortified to a standard such that they kept the "livestock" from finding ways to climb or sneak out. So these were quite intelligent livestock.

The enclosures could have been constructed in the sixth century. Something is telling me, early seventh.

posted by Zimri on 07:50 | link | 0 comments

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