The House of David

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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

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