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

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.


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