Philologastry

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

The Peacock’s Lament

The Mandaeans and the Yezidis, two  groups that fascinated Stefana Drower and continue to fascinate the generations of scholars who have followed her, have recently made the news, but unfortunately not in a good way. Coincidentally, I’ve been working on Prayer 75 of the Doctrine of John, in which Ṭausa, the Peacock, laments how far he has fallen in the world. At first he is bitter and resentful for having been humbled and forced to guard the kimṣa, a somewhat contested term that is likely related to the Aramaic and Hebrew root קמץ, and evidently refers to a place.

Drower, Macuch, and Rudolph identify this term with the Gnostic πλήρωμα pléroma, the totality of the spiritual universe, as opposed to the material world, which is known as the tibil in Mandaic, and with which it contrasts in this text (šauiun naṭar kimṣa / alma ḏtibil baṭla, lit. “[The Great Life] made me guardian of the Kimṣa/until the Tibil perishes”). If this is accurate, then the Peacock stands not within the pléroma but rather on “our side” of the boundary, which is to say that he has been separated from the Godhead and exiled from the world of light.

Eventually, he acknowledges his own faults (chief among them his pride) for having brought him so low, at which point his father, the Great Life, sends him a “letter of truth” (engirta ḏkušṭa), which Sundberg identifies as a letter containing within it Gnostic truths, in his monograph on the word kušṭa. In it, the Peacock earns that his father is extending him the ritual handshake (also known as kušṭa), which is a sign of reconciliation. Relieved by this news, he praises his father wholeheartedly.

Although short, this is one of a very few passages to which scholars such as Drower point when discussing the shared traditions of the Mandaeans and the Yezidis, the two groups with which I began this entry. Our Peacock is identified by the Mandaeans with the lightworld being Yushamin who, just like the Peacock Angel of the Yezidis, is an emanation of the Godhead who defies Him out of pride and is exiled, but eventually becomes reconciled with Him and is redeemed. 

The Peacock Angel of the Yezidis is most frequently compared with the figure of Iblis in the Qur’an (7:11–13), but the obvious parallels between the Mandaic Ṭausa and the Yezidi Tawûsê Melek cannot be discounted. As all of the written traditions surrounding the Yezidis and Tawûsê Melek are comparatively late, this account (in the Doctrine of John) may well be considered the earliest surviving tradition about this enigmatic figure.

The translation follows.

bšumaihun ḏhiia rbia

mraurab nhura šania iaqra

In the name of the Great Life,

may the sublime precious light be exalted!

lhil lkipẖ ḏiama

qaiim udariš ṭausa  

Over yonder, by the seashore,

Tausa the Peacock stands preaching.

uamar

He says,

man aldilia damia

manu damia ldilia

el kimṣa autbun

ušauiun naṭar kimṣa

alma ḏtibil baṭla

“Who is like me?

Is there anyone like me?

[The Life] has set me down at the Pleroma,

and made me its guardian,

until the material world comes to nought.

alma ḏbaṭla tibil

ubnia hšuka saipia

uširiana ḏmia minaihun mipsiq

Until the material world comes to nought,

and the children of darkness come to an end,

and conduits of water are cut off from them.

ana ṭausa

akšilun hiia abahatai

unaṭar kimṣa šauiun

libai bplugta qam

I am the Peacock;

my father, the Life, has laid me low,

and made me guardian of the Pléroma.

My heart was divided,

libai qam bplugta

uriuianai etakšal

My heart was divided,

and my senses faltered.

emrit

I said,

man ebad brurbia

ḏbdilia abdia

‘Who has done to the Mighty,

what [the Life] has done to me?’

ana ṭausa pihtit pumai

ulrbia ḏemarlun

I, the Peacock, opened my mouth,

and spoke to the great ones, saying:

man minaikun

ḏhusrana hua

uakšil rbia

‘Who among you

has suffered such a loss,

and whom among you

did the Great [Life] stumble?

[rbia] rmalẖ tigra ḏskultai

dilia ṭausa lgaṭ rbia

unaṭar kimṣa šauiun 

alma ḏtibil baṭla

[The Life] started the fight

since he was upset

with my stupidity, the Peacock’s folly,

and made me guardian of the Pléroma,

until the material world comes to nought.’

kḏ haizin abadubia

rbia ana ṭausa

libai etakšal mn samkẖ

When the Great [Life] did this to me, the Peacock,

my heart sank into my stomach,

emrit

I said,

mahu hṭit bit hiia rbia

ḏabahatai ldilia akšilun

mn kursiai umn atrai

autbun {u}bidnab almia

‘What sins have I committed against the House of Life,

that my own father has dethroned me,

brought me down from my place,

and set me at the far end of the universe?

autbun bidnab almia

alma ḏtibil baṭla

alma ḏbaṭla tibil

ubnia hšuka baṭlia

baṭlia abnia hšuka

uširiana ḏmia minaihun mipsiq 

hinun lhšuka šaplia

ubnia anhura mitqaimia

At the far end of the universe he has set me,

until the material world comes to nought.

Until the material world comes to nought,

and the children of darkness perish,

and the conduits of water are cut off from them.

They will descend into the darkness,

and the children of light will be raised up.’

ana kḏ haizin abadubia rbia

libai etakšal mn samkẖ

When the Great [Life] did this to me,

my heart sank into my stomach.

emrit

I said,

lmahu equm uesgud

uešabinun lhiia abahatai

uṭabutai bemrum lalagṭia

uakšilun mn duktai

ašplun uatiun

naṭar kimṣa šauiun

‘Why do I stand, and worship,

and praise the Life, my father,

when he does not praise me on high?

He has tripped me from my place,

brought me low and accused me,

and made me guardian of the Pléroma.

ana abadubia hiia

[When] the Life did this to me,

emrit

I said,

uai elai ṭausa

ḏskultai napša mn ṭabutai

ušuprẖ giṭlẖ

umalalẖ ḏpumẖ sakruia

urabut ruhẖ sakartẖ

uailak ḏšuprẖ giṭlẖ

umalalia ḏpumẖ ašpluia

‘Woe is me, the Peacock,

whose is exceeded in decency by his stupidity,

whose looks have killed him,

who has stuck his foot in his mouth,

and whose pride has trapped him!

Woe is the one whose looks have killed him,

and whose own words have brought him low!’

ana malalit uamarnalun lrbia

I spoke, saying to the Great [Life],

alma ḏlahuit mkika

kḏ mia ḏatin mn puma praš

alma lahuit hakima

ḏkulhun saklia minai qdima

ḏkulhun mardia haizin etmakak

alma ḏlahuit kušṭana

ḏlaiit pumai kadba

alma ḏlahuit atriṣa

kḏ patura ḏqudam kapnia triṣ

aklia sabia minẖ

uqaimia lmaraihun midnin

‘Why was I not level,

like the water that comes

from the mouth of the Euphrates?

Why was I not wise,

that the fools before me

who rebelled were thus brought down?

Why was I not truthful,

without a lie in my mouth?

Why was I not set properly,

like a platter set before the starving?

They eat their fill from it,

then stand and submit to their lord.

hibil etmakak labahatẖ

abra rhima qruia

ṭausa ḏla emakak

bra mrida qruia

abahatai bemruma

[ṭabutai] lalagṭia

Hibel submitted to his father,

and he called him a beloved son.

The Peacock did not submit,

and he called him a defiant son.

My father does not praise me on high.’”

kḏ hazin amar ṭausa

qalẖ lqudam abahatẖ sliq

abahatẖ ḏšimuia el qalẖ

engirta ḏkušṭa kdabulẖ

As the Peacock said this,

his voice rose up before his father.

When his father heard him,

he wrote him a letter with the truth.

uldilia rmulia bškintai uamarlia

“He put me in my celestial dwelling, and said to me,

kušṭa pšaṭlak rbia

abrẖ lpaura mn euṣrak

‘The Great [Life] has extended the hand of Kušṭa to you,

now put your rage out of your mind.'”

kḏ hazin šuma ṭausa

nha uetib libẖ el samkẖ

qam usgid ušaba labahatẖ

mn riš briš

When the Peacock heard this,

he became calm and his heart settled down,

He got up and worshiped his father

wholeheartedly.

uhiia zakein sa

And the Life is victorious.

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