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Progress Report 7

Chapter 12 of the Doctrine of John, which is the second of two parts on the Good Shepherd, is now available at the project website. This chapter begins on p. 45, ln. 11, and continues to p. 49, ln. 5.

The chapter begins with an eutra exhorting someone (presumably the believer) to become a “shepherd’s helper” and aid in tending the flock. The respondent has reservations; first, he argues that the world is full of thistles and thorns, but the eutra offers a pair of everlasting radiant sandals to protect his feet from the thistles and thorns. He then lists a series of seven possible ways he could lose sheep (respectively, lions, wolves, thieves, fire, muck, water, and ‘remaining behind in the fold’), which the eutra associates with the worship of different entities, starting with the Sun, the moon, and the planet Mars.

While this was one of the easier chapters to translate (due, in no small part, to the amount of repetition within it), it was not without its challenges. I’ve already written about the phrase rahim raia, “a shepherd’s friend,” which perplexed Lidzbarski. The seven sects that claim members of the flock are also not explicitly identified, save for one (Christianity, which here represented by muck). The first three are associated with three of the visible planets (the Sun, the moon, and Mars), following the order of the week (Sunday is governed by the Sun, Monday is governed by the moon, Tuesday is governed by Mars, and so forth). I do not feel that this order is coincidental, so I collated the seven threats with the seven planets:

lion Sun Judaism?
wolf Moon ?
thief Mars Islam?
fire *Mercury *Zoroastrianism?
muck *Jupiter *Christianity
water Venus ?
gudibna Saturn ?
agambia gudibna Ruha ?

I am not certain whether the thief (the worshippers of Nirig, or Mars) represents the threat posed by Islam. Certainly, in post-Islamic texts, Mars represents Islam, but I haven’t established to my satisfaction that this section is indeed post-Islamic.

The fourth and fifth threats are fire and muck, representing the worshipers of fire and the worshipers of the Mšiha or “anointed one” (i.e. Christians), respectively, and the forth and fifth planets are Enbu or Mercury and Bil or Jupiter. Jupiter (or Ohrmazd in Pahlavi) is identified with the god of the Zoroastrians, thus suggesting that the “worshipers of fire” are to be identified with them, which is by no means an exclusively Mandaean trope. As for the Christians, Drower and Macuch (1965, 280) note that the Mšiha is explicitly identified with Mercury. The identification of the followers of the Mšiha with muck likely represents yet another Mandaean word play—the Messiah is anointed with muck, not fine oils, just as his followers are baptized in turbid waters, not the flowing, living waters of the heavenly Jordan. Strangely, though, these two planets are switched with respect to the religions that they usually represent.

I am not certain to whom the sixth and seventh threats refer, but the final two planets in this sequence should be Dilbat Venus and Kiuan Saturn. Death by drowning is the punishment for the worship of the seas, and the threat of “remaining behind in the sheep-fold” is the punishment for the worship of the Ekuria, those of the É.KUR or “mountain house,” the chief temple of Nippur. While I cannot make a case for associating the seas with Venus (apart from the obvious Greek myth about the birth of Aphrodite), the patron deity of Nippur was Enlil, whose role as chief of the divine pantheon was assumed by the god El in the West. According to the Phoenician History of Philo of Byblos, the Phoenicians identified El with the planet Saturn (in Mesopotamia, Saturn was associated with Enlil’s sun, Ninurta), thus connecting the gods of the É.KUR with Saturn (and possibly even Kevin Bacon, by extension, within six degrees).

The worshipers of Gudibna “in-the-sheep-fold,” on the other hand, is another mystery. This word doesn’t appear in Drower and Macuch, and its sole appearance seems to be within this very chapter. On the face of it, it is appears to be a compound of gu “in” and dibna “sheep-fold,” and therefore it may represent some kind of wordplay on the threat (of “remaining in the fold”). Lidzbarski suggests translating it as a “fold spirit,” so I have somewhat whimsically taken the liberty of creating a portmanteau word, foldergeist, from “fold” and “poltergeist.”

The eutra‘s response adds an eighth threat: agambia gudibna “beside in-the-sheep-fold,” who represents the Evil Spirit, Ruha ḏ-Qudša. As the Evil Spirit is the mother of the planets, I am all the more convinced that we are in an astrological context.

In his analysis, Lidzbarski identifies some sections which are extraneous to the sequence, and appear to be glosses that were later incorporated into the text (I have placed these “glosses” between {brackets}). This “corruption” might also explain why the fourth and fifth threats are switched, at least from the perspective of the planets, and together with the sing-song, repetitive nature of the composition, it leads me to suspect that this text may have been transmitted orally prior to being committed to writing.


Progress Report 6

The eleventh chapter of the Doctrine of John, which is the first of two sections that Lidzbarski termed “The Good Shepherd,” is now up at the project website. This consists of the better part of six manuscript pages, from p. 40, ln. 6 to p. 45, ln. 10 in the 1915 edition.

I’ve been documenting my progress thus far with this chapter, so it really needs no introduction at this point. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to outline the passage briefly. “The Good Shepherd” is an extended allegory involving several elements:

  • a shepherd figure (who likely represents Hibil Ziua or Manda ḏ-Hiia);
  • his flock (which likely represents the Mandaeans);
  • various threats such as wolves and thieves (these are explicitly identified with the seven planets and the twelve signs of the Zodiac);
  • a storm of some sort (which some scholars have identified with Islam).

I dealt with the question of whether this passage addresses the Islamic conquest in an earlier post. Suffice it to say that I am not convinced. The passage usually adduced as an oblique reference to Islam (p. 45, lns. 1-2) doesn’t withstand the light of critical scrutiny. Subsequently, the passage does mention “those living at the tail end of the Age of Mars (nirig),” which might be such a reference. Mars is sometimes identified with “Abdallah the Arab,” the name by which the Prophet Muhammad is known to the Mandaeans, or as having descended alongside Muhammad, as in the Scroll of Inner Harran. Then again, Nirig is, of course, the Mandaean form of the name of Nergal (compare the Arabic name for Mars, مريخ marīḫ), the chief deity of Kutha, who was at times also associated with war, disease, and the underworld, any of which could naturally fit this reference. While this could therefore be an extremely oblique reference to Muhammad, the fact that Nirig/Nergal predates Muhammad by a considerable period of time (several thousands of years) requires us to be somewhat cautious about drawing such a conclusion.

The fact that the “Good Shepherd” makes reference to the “tail end” of this period should also give us pause; assuming that this passage was indeed composed in the early Islamic period, what would make the Mandaeans of the time think that they were living in the end of that era? The right half of the Great Treasure contains a similar claim in Book 18, suggesting that these two works might be coetaneous, if indeed the “Age of Mars” can be identified with the Islamic period. I have my doubts. The Great Treasure, for example, never employs this term, but it does appear in Code Sabéen 16, which is a manuscript of the Thousand and Twelve Questions (the so-called Pariser Diwan): hṣilnin bdinba ḏ-dara ḏ-nirig “we reached the end of the Age of Mars.” It would be interesting to investigate what this reference meant to this copyist of the Thousand and Twelve Questions. I’m not sure I want to try contacting the Bibliothèque nationale de France again for a copy, as their bureaucracy could really give Rutgers a run for its money.

The question of the presence or absence of any reference to Islam is not the only contentious aspect of this chapter; immediately preceding the reference to the Age of Mars is a reference to what appears to be female priests:

ṭubaihun el tarmidiata
ḏmn qlalia ḏruha mitparqan
mitparqan mn ṭanputa
uqlala ušišilta ḏlašalma

Happy are the tarmidiata,
who are free from the snares of Ruha,
free ‎‎from the pollution, the snare,
and the never-ending chain.

At first glance, tarmidiata appears to be the plural of tarmidita, the feminine form of tarmida, which is the first grade of the Mandaean priesthood as well as a general term for priest. As the cognates in related languages attest, it originally meant a kind of student or disciple, but in Mandaean texts it consistently refers to priests. In his translation of the Doctrine of John, Lidzbarski is silent about the identity of the tarmidiata, which he translates as Jüngerinnen (female disciples), but in his translation of the Great Treasure he argues that as female priests do not (currently) exist among the Mandaeans, this term cannot refer to female priests. Q.E.D. Drower, deferring to Lidzbarski, bent over backwards to translate this term as “women of priestly family” or “caste,” even though there is no logical basis for this interpolation. While it is certainly true that there are no female priests today, Jorunn Buckley has amassed a considerable amount of textual evidence for the existence of female priests at some point in the distant past of the faith. Obviously this question is not going away any time soon.

Bringing in the Sheaves

After a long period during which I was occupied in fine-tuning the Fieldworks parser by reentering old data (portions of the text that had already been parsed and translated), I have returned to that portion of the Doctrine of John that Lidzbarski named “The Good Shepherd.”  I’ve gotten as far as the part in which the shepherd is watching his flocks peacefully graze, when a terrible storm arises and menaces them.

As in the earlier portions I recently translated, this text contains some interesting “post-Classical” forms, such as aqariun ziqia mardia “boisterous winds broke loose” and ahlipiun [sic] mia “waters carried off.” Lidzbarski’s edition contains clues to most of the mysteries of these texts, but occasionally he translates a word without any explanation, as in the following passage from p. 42, lns. 5-6:

šurit alit ldibna

lmiṭib ainai mn duktin

Da sprang ich auf und trat in die Hürde,

um meine Schafe von ihrem Orte fortzutragen.

In the footnote to this verse, Lidzbarski notes that ainai “my eyes” is likely some kind of scribal error for a[q]nai “my sheep,” influenced by the presence of the same word ainai in the following line. He does not, however, attempt to justify his translation of as lmiṭib  “to bring back,” which is a real pity, as Drower and Macuch don’t include this form in their dictionary, either. Logically, it doesn’t make much sense for the narrator to enter the sheep fold to bring the sheep back, either, unless of course he were accompanied by them, but this fact certainly would have been mentioned.

The form miṭib, which belongs to the pattern migṭil, a less commonly attested alloform for the more usual infinitive form migṭal, suggests that we’re dealing with a verbum mediae infirmae such as √ṭ-w-b or possibly a verbum mediae geminatae √ṭ-b-b. The first is a complete non-starter, being stative where the context demands a transitive root, but the second, which means “to inform oneself; explore” in Syriac does indeed fit the context, even if it is not otherwise attested in Mandaic, at least not in the texts consulted by Drower and Macuch.  Consequently, I’d propose the following translation:

I leaped up and entered the fold,

to learn about my sheep from their positions.

Progress Report 5

The final chapter of the tractate on Yoshamin is now available at the project website.

This chapter consists entirely of Yoshamin speaking in the first person, lamenting his fate and his estrangement from his family. In his laments, he seems to accept some responsibility for his actions, describing himself (p. 39, lns. 8-9) as,

uai dilia ḏpumai ašplan

ulišanai hualia ridpa

Woe is me, whose mouth brought him down,

and whose tongue was an affliction to him.

On the whole, there are some interesting features of the language of this chapter as well, that suggest that it may be relatively late.  In p. 39, lns. 6-7, we find the modern form abadiun “they did” in the phrase,

mn kulhun eutria ḏabadiun husrana

ana šilmun husrana labdit

Among all the aeons that did wrong,

‎‎they repaid me with the wrong [that] I did not do.

The -iun ending, which is characteristic of Neo-Mandaic, but rare in Classical Mandaic texts (bare 3rd plural forms typically being indistinguishable from singular forms). That having been said, another such form appears on the following page, p. 40, lns. 1-2,

ala kulhun niṭubiata ḏhualia ldilia

kulhin he kulhin rgazian elai brugza rba

Woe to me, all of the consorts that I had,

all of them, yes all of them are greatly enraged with me!

The form rgazian has an extremely rare 3rd feminine plural morpheme, -ian.  While this morpheme is not typical of the Neo-Mandaic dialect of Khorramshahr, Macuch claims to have recorded some examples in the speech of his informants from Ahvāz. Finally, Lidzbarski discerns an Arabic loanword on p. 39, ln. 10:

besura autbun radaia qrun

They clapped me in irons, called me a “wanderer” […]

In a footnote to his translation, he acknowledges that radaia “wanderer” is occasionally a synonym for “planet,” and that it appears elsewhere in this text (p. 150, ln. 9), but argues that Yoshamin could not be a “wanderer” as he has been clapped in irons (literally, “settled down in a bond”). He translates it as Heruntergekommen “run down” and suggests that the word might actually be derived from Arabic رد radin from the root meaning “to perish” or “be destroyed.”

Given that Yoshamin elsewhere (p. 38, ln. 13) claims that he is being called “the Eighth” (as in, the eighth planet, the demonic equivalent of being the fifth Beatle), and the text is otherwise free from Arabic loans, I can’t endorse this interpretation.

Progress Report 4

The ninth buta of the Doctrine of John has finally been completed and posted to the project website.

This consists of the text running from ln. 6, p. 32 to ln. 12, p. 37, and is one of the longer chapters that I’ve posted.  It’s remarkable for its use of the periphrastic perfect (mentioned in an earlier post below), but in other respects resembles the preceding few chapters, involving the same characters (Yoshamin, his son N’ṣab, the Great Life, and Knowledge-of-Life).

The chapter begins with one of Yoshamin’s laments, which earns him some sharp words from Knowledge-of-Life.  Yoshamin rebukes Knowledge-of-Life, which delights the Great Life (for reasons that are left to the imagination).  The Great Life dispatches Yoshamin’s son N’ṣab to calm Yoshamin down and promise him that he will be restored.

Progress Report 3

I’ve lately been occupied with other things, but I found the time today to complete pp. 32 and 33, the first 18 lines of the ninth buta.  As in earlier chapters, this chapter continues the story of Yoshamin from a first-person perspective. It is not entirely free of mysteries.

The manuscripts are somewhat inconsistent in parts, and there are clearly portions where something is missing. In line two of p. 33, Lidzbarski’s Manuscripts A and D read:

hašta akṣalia uakṣalẖ el

Now it pains me and it pains […]

Similarly, Lidzbarski’s MS B reads:

hašta akṣalia ukṣalẖ el

Now it pains me and it pains […]

Clearly there is a lacuna in these three manuscripts. MS C, on the other hand, reads

hašta akṣalẖ llibai

Now it pains my heart

The suggestion is that the line should be reconstructed

hašta akṣalia uakṣalẖ el libai

Now it pains me and it pains my heart.

This is a fairly minor fix.  There are, however, two extremely enigmatic expressions towards the end of the page.  Lidzbarski suggests, on the basis of MS C, the following

laahai ḏkariuta

ularahmai ḏrahmutai

adkar ḏpšaṭilẖ kušṭa

I’ve translated this as

Neither my brothers out of pity [kariuta],

nor my friends out of my friendship [rahmuta],

have mentioned that I pledged the truth.

Literally, the text reads “brothers of sorrow” and “friends of my friendship;” one would expect a preposition here, perhaps mn or b-, but neither appears.

The other manuscripts (A, B, and D) substitute elaha “God” for laahai “Neither my brother(s)” and replace ularahmai ḏrahmutai with simply ularahmutai “and no friendship.”  This is neither especially meaningful, nor does it match the meter (if indeed I have reconstructed the meter properly).

Finally, the last verse on the page reads:

enišiuia liuma ḏhamrai

uladakria mn iumai had

They forgot the day of my reckoning [?]

and do not recall [even] one of my days.

The manuscripts are unfortunately of little help here, at least as far as I can discern; A and D have hamra for the final word of the first half, and B has ḏhamra. B also adds  after iumai. Lidzbarski translates this phrase as “day of wine;” what that could possibly mean, in this context or any other context for that matter, outside of the Jack Lemmon film, is not immediately clear to me.  The Pahlavi word āmār “reckoning, consideration”  makes an appearance in Official Aramaic as hmr “account,” possibly on its own as well as in several compounds (see DNWSI, p. 284); Drower and Macuch also list the word amar “affairs, aspects, amount” in their dictionary, which they unconvincingly derive from the “Arabic” آمار (surely they mean أمور ? Or is this the Persian word آمار “numeration; statistics,” which is not actually Arabic in origin?) .  Perhaps “the day of my reckoning” is intended? Unfortunately we are no closer to a convincing translation.

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.

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