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Saturday, March 04, 2017
"The Aramaic Text in Demotic Script": original Psalm 20
Professor Richard Steiner has recently uploaded what looks to be his life work, The Aramaic Text in Demotic Script. If you read the Bible at all, you need to read this too.
What The Hell Aramaic Text in Demotic Script?!, I hear you ask - at least, I'd asked it. The uploaded text didn't have an introduction. It happens that there is not much Aramaic that was written in Egyptian Demotic, since Aramaic has an alphabet of its own and is not native to Egypt. So this "Aramaic Text in Demotic Script" means just the one text, that inscribed upon the Papyrus Amherst 63.
Even if this papyrus were a literal fifth century BC laundry list PA63 would be of interest, at least to students of Aramaic. The orthographic standard of a language in a foreign alphabet is often more phonetic to the contemporary pronunciation than it is in a fossilised alphabet from centuries ago. So PA63 shows to us (western) Aramaic's journey into classical Syriac and Palestinian Aramaic. (Less helpful for Pseudo-Daniel; since that one's author wanted you to think of older, Imperial Aramaic.)
PA63 happens to be a collection of poetry and prose. Raik Heckl thinks it was a reader in spoken Aramaic for Demotic-trained scribes. Among its poetry is found a god whose name may not be spoken: this name is inscribed with an ideogram, the Egyptian sign of Horus. When you get into the language - well, you know how some later books of the Bible, like Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40+), are in "Hebrew" but follow Aramaic sentence-structure? PA63's hymns are often Canaanite in structure, despite the Aramaic vocabulary. Its editors and commentary-people (commenters? commentators? commentarians?) go further and see a translator of Hebrew at work.
Among them: the hymn over columns 11 and 12:
May Yaho answer us in our troubles (pl.),
This is another version of Psalm 20. Psalm 20 is a prayer for Divine aid, directed to the king - specifically to David, according to its header. PA63.11-12 looks like the same hymn adapted to a community without its king, translated just as far into Aramaic to make it intelligible, but maintaining its Hebrew base so everyone knew it was "Biblical". This will be like how King James calques terms which were never good English, like "beasts of the field": all who read it know it is Semitic construct-state.
Beyond that, I see other parts where we can discern the original between PA63.11-12 and the psalm. I notice both versions mention the sky. Also where the psalm mentions at the start Jacob, the papyrus mentions at the end (the) Bêt El, the House of the Canaanite High God. (I'm assuming an Aramaeoid pronunciation. And remember, in West Semitic languages there's no definite-article prefix before an idafa construction like Bêt El.)
In PA63.11-12, the Lord adorns the Moon in heaven; in Psalm 20, He has His sanctuary there. PA63.11-12's mention of the moon looks like a distraction... until it mentions the bow (and spear) of the unbelievers, so forcing a contrast against the Lord's bow in heaven (and comet?). PA63.11-12 at the end invokes "Bethel" which is the house of the Sky God. Quite literally, the bêt of El is His universe; we're just living in it.
The Biblical Psalm instead serves the Zion ritual-base ("The Cult", as the scholars put it, channelling Asimov). The Psalm's God has His sanctuary in the sky; the vault of Heaven is not His roof, but His floor. His priests have their parallel sanctuary at Zion. The Psalm rids itself of the bow and spear, instead bringing chariots and horses. Just to drive the point home, the Psalm adds verse 4
I'll add to this, that the Psalms as we know them were canonised in Hellenistic Judaea. If any were translated into Greek, for instance, we have only the Judaean translations. Some of those translations, like LXX Psalm 129 (130), are even more "orthodox" than the original! We've lost all record of any attempt outside that province.
So Psalm 20 is literally an instance of Zionist tahrif. During the early Hasmonaean era I could easily see priests in Jerusalem praying this psalm in its present form. I could also see the king's foes attaching the header to inform the people they had the wrong king.
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