The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

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

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