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

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.


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