MORE ON THE NEW ZINCIRLI INSCRIPTION - a press release from EukeraAlert:
Funerary monument reveals Iron Age belief that the soul lived in the stone
Discovery in Turkey comes from major Iron Age site
Archaeologists in southeastern Turkey have discovered an Iron Age chiseled stone slab that provides the first written evidence in the region that people believed the soul was separate from the body.
University of Chicago researchers will describe the discovery, a testimony created by an Iron Age official that includes an incised image of the man, on Nov. 22-23 at conferences of biblical and Middle Eastern archaeological scholars in Boston.
The Neubauer Expedition of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago found the 800-pound basalt stele, 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, at Zincirli (pronounced "Zin-jeer-lee"), the site of the ancient city of Sam'al. Once the capital of a prosperous kingdom, it is now one of the most important Iron Age sites under excavation.
"The stele is in almost pristine condition. It is unique in its combination of pictorial and textual features and thus provides an important addition to our knowledge of ancient language and culture," said David Schloen, Associate Professor at the Oriental Institute and Director of the University's Neubauer Expedition to Zincirli.
Schloen will present the Kuttamuwa stele to a scholarly audience at the meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on Nov. 22 in Boston, the major annual conference for Middle Eastern archaeology. Dennis Pardee, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago, will present his translation of the stele's 13-line inscription the following day at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, also in Boston, in a session on "Paleographical Studies in the Near East."
German archaeologists first excavated the 100-acre site in the 1890s and unearthed massive city walls, gates and palaces. A number of royal inscriptions and other finds are now on display in museums in Istanbul and Berlin. Schloen and his team from the University of Chicago have excavated Zincirli for two months annually since 2006.
"Zincirli is a remarkable site," said Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute. "Because no other cities were built on top of it, we have excellent Iron Age materials right under the surface. It is rare also in having written evidence together with artistic and archaeological evidence from the Iron Age. Having all of that information helps an archaeologist study the ethnicity of the inhabitants, trade and migration, as well as the relationships of the groups who lived there."
The stele was discovered last summer in a small room that had been converted into a mortuary shrine for the royal official Kuttamuwa, self-described in the inscription as a "servant" of King Panamuwa of the eighth century B.C. It was found in the outer part of the walled city in a domestic area—most likely the house of Kuttamuwa himself—far from the royal palaces, where inscriptions had previously been found.
The inscription reads in part: "I, Kuttamuwa, servant of Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber(?) and established a feast at this chamber(?): a bull for [the storm-god] Hadad, ... a ram for [the sun-god] Shamash, ... and a ram for my soul that is in this stele. …" It was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and in a local West Semitic dialect similar to Aramaic and Hebrew. It is of keen interest to linguists as well as biblical scholars and religious historians because it comes from a kingdom contemporary with ancient Israel that shared a similar language and cultural features.
The finding sheds a striking new light on Iron Age beliefs about the afterlife. In this case, it was the belief that the enduring identity or "soul" of the deceased inhabited the monument on which his image was carved and on which his final words were recorded.
. This sounds like a remarkable discovery. 2008 has certainly been a good year for Northwest Semitic Epigraphy.
The paper by Professors Schloen and Pardee is a late addition and is not in the paper program, but here's the information on it from the SBL website:
SBL23-84Paleographical Studies in the Ancient Near East
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Meeting Room 304 - CC
Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion, Presiding (10 min)
Jason Bembry, Emmanuel School of Religion
Multiple Vocalizations in the Cairo Genizah Fragment TS A 39.3 (20 min)
Kent Clarke, Trinity Western University
The Trinity Western University-Wikene Papyri “Rediscovery” (20 min)
Joe Zias, Science and Archaeology-Jerusalem
Ancient Graffiti within the Alleged Judean (Tzuba) Cave of John the Baptist: John, or Lazarus, the Crusader Patron Saint of Leprosy? (20 min)
Christopher A. Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion
Horvat Uza Epigraphs: New Collations of the Entire Corpus (20 min)
Philip C. Schmitz, Eastern Michigan University
Interpreting the “Separate Inscriptions” from Karatepe-Aslantas (20 min)
Robert Deutsch, Tel Aviv University
The Hebrew Fiscal Bullae from the Time of Hezekiah King of Judah (20 min)
Dennis Pardee, University of Chicago and David Schloen, University of Chicago
A New Alphabetic Inscription from Zincirli (20 min)
Unfortunately my paper is at about the same time, so I won't be able to make it to Pardee's and Schloen's. But I trust that there will be some bibliobloggers there to give us all a full report.
UPDATE: I see that the NYT
also has a long article
that I initially missed. It has quite a bit to say about the term "soul" in the text, which is used in a way not found for the cognate word nefesh
in the Hebrew Bible:
The discovery and its implications were described last week in interviews with archaeologists and a linguist at the University of Chicago, who excavated and translated the inscription.
“Normally, in the Semitic cultures, the soul of a person, their vital essence, adheres to the bones of the deceased,” said David Schloen, an archaeologist at the university’s Oriental Institute and director of the excavations. “But here we have a culture that believed the soul is not in the corpse but has been transferred to the mortuary stone.”
A translation of the inscription by Dennis Pardee, a professor of Near Eastern languages and civilization at Chicago, reads in part: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of [the king] Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber [?] and established a feast at this chamber: a bull for [the god] Hadad, a ram for [the god] Shamash and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.”
Dr. Pardee said the word used for soul, nabsh, was Aramaic, a language spoken throughout northern Syria and parts of Mesopotamia in the eighth century. But the inscription seemed to be a previously unrecognized dialect. In Hebrew, a related language, the word for soul is nefesh.
In addition to the writing, a pictorial scene chiseled into the well-preserved stele depicts the culture’s view of the afterlife. A bearded man wearing a tasseled cap, presumably Kuttamuwa, raises a cup of wine and sits before a table laden with food, bread and roast duck in a stone bowl.
In other societies of the region, scholars say, this was an invitation to bring customary offerings of food and drink to the tomb of the deceased. Here family and descendants supposedly feasted before a stone slab in a kind of chapel. Archaeologists have found no traces there of a tomb or bodily remains.
Joseph Wegner, an Egyptologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the research, said cult offerings to the dead were common in the Middle East, but not the idea of a soul separate from the body — except in Egypt.
In ancient Egypt, Dr. Wegner noted, the human entity has separate components. The body is important, and the elite went to great expense to mummify and entomb it for eternity. In death, though, a life force or spirit known as ka was immortal, and a soul known as ba, which was linked to personal attributes, fled the body after death.
Dr. Wegner said the concept of a soul held by the people at Sam’al “sounds vaguely Egyptian in its nature.” But there was nothing in history or archaeology, he added, to suggest that the Egyptian civilization had a direct influence on this border kingdom.
UPDATE: Chuck Jones has posted a high-resolution photograph of the inscription here
at The Oriental Institute: Fragments for a History of an Institution