The doings of American philologasters are, in truth, a curious study.

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Progress Report 2

I’ve just added the eighth buta (chapter) of the Doctrine of John to the project blog. This chapter occupied most of pp. 27-32 in Lidzbarski’s manuscript, and the translation has nearly 750 words.  With one exception, the initial chapters of the manuscript are rather long.

In the eighth chapter, Radiant N’ṣab (nṣab ziua), the son of Yoshamin, goes from the realm of the æther all the way to the King of Light in Glorious Splendor (giuat eqara, evidently a place name) to beg forgiveness for his father, and his words sway the King of Light to grant it.  Knowledge-of-Life (manda ḏ-hiia) is none-too-happy, and tries to dissuade the King of Light, but the King of Light rebukes him with a bit of gossip: apparently, Knowledge-of Life desired a woman from Yoshamin’s family, but Yoshamin refused him, giving him reason to hold a grudge against him.

This chapter contains yet another parallel to the mysterious phrase addressed in two previous blog posts. On lns. 8-9 on p. 31, the text reads,

mn bnẖ qadmaiia

ladaurẖ minaihun hda

uananẖ bṭinba qasagian

This means,

Out of his firstborn sons,
not one among them remains‎‎,
and his wives go about filthily.

There is some confusion in the manuscripts about the word Lidzbarski amended to ladaurẖ. According to the footnotes in Lidzbarski’s translation (but, oddly enough, not in his critical edition), manuscripts ABD have ladaura, and C has ladaua with the letter r interpolated above. Lidzbarski reads ladauar, from the D-stem of the root d-w-r, and compares it with ladauart on p. 20, ln. 4 (mn bnak qadmaiia ṣauta ladauart minaihun had, which he translates, “from your firstborn children, you have not found a single partner”). On the basis of the parallels in the preceding chapters, I’d like to amend ladauar to ladaiar and translate it as “not one among them remains/abides,” and perhaps reconsider the interpretation of DJ20.4 as well.

The anomalous and modern “participial present-future tense” (using Macuch’s terminology) makes yet another appearance with the word qasagian “they go.” As I mentioned before, the verbal prefix qa- is rare in Classical Mandaic texts.

Progress Report 1

As of today, August 24, 2012, I have personally translated pp. 1-29, 143-63, and 202-208 – 57 manuscript pages out of a total of 277. That is not quite the number that I had hoped to reach by the end of nearly two years, but it is at least a good start, and thankfully I am not responsible for the whole manuscript.

It is, at least, some small solace that I have also finished some other important tasks, which were necessary preliminaries to what I am hoping to accomplish with this project. Chief among these are the training of SIL FieldWorks (and, earlier, SIL Toolbox) to parse transliterated Mandaic texts, the transliteration of all the aforementioned 277 manuscript pages of Lidzbarski’s edition of the Draša ḏ-Iahia into the Latin script, and of course the electronic Mandaic lexicon used by SIL FieldWorks to parse the text, which now contains nearly 1500 lexemes. It is my hope that the rest of the work will progress more rapidly and smoothly now that I have established it upon a solid foundation.

Something Filthy?

The verses in line 11 of page 29 are parallel to those found on line 11 of page 26, but they don’t provide much more insight into their meaning, and even provide a new puzzle of their own. They read,

bnẖ bqiria gṭilia

uananẖ bṭinba qahadran

In English, this would mean something like

His sons were killed in a brawl,

and his wives wander about in ṭinba.

The word ṭinba is yet another mysterious word that has something to do with wives on the move. Lidzbarski was unable to explain it, and suggests that it might have something to do with fornication on the basis of p. 26 ln. 11, although he ultimately settles on the doubtful “mourning.” Drower and Macuch follow him in this interpretation, maintaining that its etymology is unknown, although the manuscripts have several variants, including ṭimba and ṭamba, which suggest assimilatory phenomena or possibly some confusion among the copyists.

For my money, the most likely source of this word is the root ṭ-n-p, “to be polluted or (ritually) impure,” which is not infrequently applied to women, particularly in the priestly commentaries. The Syriac adjective ṭnep “unclean” may be cognate, in which case bṭinba would be an adverbial construction, “filthily.” The final b, rather than the expected p, can be explained by appealing to perseverant assimilation, the labial partially assimilating (in voice) to the preceding sonorant with which it has come into contact.

Among the other curiosities of this passage is the form qahadran, which is identical with the Neo-Mandaic present tense.  The verbal prefix qa- is rare in Classical Mandaic texts, at least outside of the colophons.

Elsewhere in the tractates dealing with the Iušamin and his rebellion, we similarly find periphrastic verbal constructions identical to those used in modern spoken Aramaic dialects, but rare in the literature. In these tractates, they are usually found in the mouth of Iušamin himself; elsewhere in the text, the periphrastic construction is typical of the speech of demons.  They consist of a passive participle bound to the enclitic preposition l- and a pronominal suffix, and render the past, just as they do in the Northeastern and Central Neo-Aramaic dialects, with the pronominal suffix indicating the agent. Think of English, or Italian: a passive participle, and the verb “to have,” together render the past perfect: ho “I have” mangiato “[something] eaten” = ho mangiato “I have eaten.”

Even though these constructions are best understood through comparison with the modern colloquial dialects, absolutely nothing like them exists in Neo-Mandaic, which preserves the old Semitic perfect (or “suffix conjugation”). What relevance these constructions have to the dating of these passages, if any, remains to be seen, and will probably require an entire post or series of posts on its own.

Zubia on the Mind

Page 26, Line 11 of Lidzbarski’s Draša ḏ-Iahia manuscript reads,

mitpasasia bnẖ bqiria azlia

uananẖ lzubia napqan

Roughly translated, this means

His sons will be destroyed, entering a brawl,

and his wives will leave for zubs.

Variants of this phrase  also appear on p. 82, ln. 4 and p. 140, ln. 12. The word zubia is a mystery; within this line, it is clearly parallel to qiria “strife,” but the text doesn’t give any other hints as to its possible meaning.

Lidzbarski notes that others (who?) have identified the word zubia with zāḇē “rivers,” but he rejects this suggestion.  In the context of the other passages the phrase seems to suggest some sinful (perhaps sexual) activities on the part of the women, and he concludes that “going out to a river” is anything but sinful, within a Mandaean context. Perhaps, he muses, fornication is intended?

He further suggests that it might be related to the word zabia, which appears alongside the word adidia in the Ginza, and that both refer to pagan institutions. Nöldeke attempts to relate it to the Syriac word debḥā, “sacrifice,” which Lidzbarski also rejects.

Following Nöldeke, Drower and Macuch suggest that it might possibly be a doublet for the word daba “slaughterer,” and relate other efforts to identify this word.  Zimmern suggests that it comes from Babylonian zabbu(m), an “ecstatic,” identifying this term with a class of pagan priests, and Pallis suggests that the word might be an attempt to (folk-) etymologize the former with the root d-w-b, related to Hebrew זוב and Akkadian zābu. Could this be yet another example of the infamous Mandaean penchant for punning?

Certainly the word’s polysemy, indicated in its entry from the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project, makes it pregnant with possibilities for paronomasia:

dōḇ, dōbā, dawbbā

1 a flow of bodily fluids Com.

(a) as an infirmity JLAtg, PTA, Syr, JBA, LJLA.

(a.1) gonorrheal flow JLAtg, PTA, Syr.

(a.2) hemorrhage Syr.

(a.3) catarrh Syr. 1 head cold Syr.

(b) menstruation JLAtg, PTA, LJLA.

(b.1) ܡܸܫܵܝܵܐ : menstruation Syr.
2 of other fluids Com. —

(a) of water Syr. —

(b) of wine JBA.

(b.1) distilling of wine Syr. —

(c) ܕܕܸܒܫܵܐ : dripping honey Syr.

The interchange of d and z are not unknown in Mandaic (most famously in the words for “gold,” dahba and zahba, and “blood,” dma and zma), but Pallis’s explanation still seems a bit forced. Pagan cults and menstruation puns seem like an awfully heavy interpretation to hang on so small a hook.

Given the context, I can’t help but think of colloquial Arabic زب (zubb-) “penis,” but I can think  of no convincing reason why I should consider this interpretation superior to any of the others that have been advanced. Of course, if the word is indeed Arabic, that would suggest a relatively late date for the composition of this text.

San Diego Fête

I spent the last week in San Diego visiting with friends and family.  During this time, I had the opportunity to visit with Zed Nashi and his mother Lamea Abbas Amara (pictured below, second from left). On the night of Saturday, August 18, 2012, we attended a small Mandaean get-together, which was attended by no fewer than four sheikhs, including Sheikh Salah Choheili (pictured below, third from left).


During this time, I also had the opportunity to briefly consult Lamea’s copy of the Doctrine of John, bundled together with a copy of the Book of Souls, which Zed has helpfully agreed to scan for me using my VuPoint Magic Wand scanner.

Suitable Means of Verification

To paraphrase Prince Feisal in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, “young men start blogs, and the virtues of new blogs  are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then they become bloggers, and the vices of blogging are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution. It must be so.” In his The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain makes the following observation about journals, which could just as easily be applied to blogs:

Alas! that journals so voluminously begun should come to so lame and impotent a conclusion as most of them did!

Why must it be so? Obviously, to keep a journal or a blog, one must possess not only observations to make, but also the discipline to keep making these observations on a regular basis. In all honesty, I’ve never had either in abundance, which makes for a major challenge.  Twain continues,

If you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year.

Over the past decade, I’ve tried my hand at blogging several times.  It never took. I always felt frustrated at my failure to populate my blogs with posts, and resented the challenge that they implicitly represented to my discipline.  Why try again, considering what a pain it is?  I’ve never really had the motive or the impetus to keep a blog, as I’ve always felt that what I say in print spoke sufficiently for me.

That all changed with the award of a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholarly Editions and Translations grant in 2010, which was recently renewed for 2012-14.  In the process of putting the 2010-12 grant to bed, I found myself confronting a seemingly intractable problem: how do I document my effort?  Both the federal government and my employer require me to report and certify the effort that I’ve expended on my grant. Were I paid by the hour, and employed weekdays from 9am-5pm, with a 40 hour work week, this would be a fairly simple problem to solve, but I am not, and the number of hours that I put into my work, including the research sponsored by the grant, vary from week to week. As far as my employer and the government are concerned, this is my problem to solve, not theirs.

Both my employer and the federal government require that I produce “suitable means of verification” for the effort that I’ve reported, in the event that an audit (either internal or external) occurs. In addition to the traditional time sheets, suitable means of verification can include calendars, memos, emails, travel reports, presentations, as well as meeting agenda, notes, and minutes, so long as the means are written.  It occurred to me that a blog detailing the work that I had expended would not only protect me in the event of an audit, but also give me a way to gauge my efforts for my own purposes.  Thus I have a very real (legal and financial) impetus, motivated by mistrust and caution, the vices of suitably old philologasters such as myself, to maintain this blog.

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