Tuesday, August 20, 2019

"Nippur, the lead goat of the land": home to many Aramaic incantation bowls

I'm reading an article about metaphors in the Sumerian language in The Ancient Near East Today, published by ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research), using the metaphor theory of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. 

One of the metaphors that is frequently used in Sumerian is the word "goat"(maš[2]) for leadership. From this concept is derived the "conceptual metaphor" that "CITES ARE ANIMALS," which is found in an inscription about the city of Nippur: "Nippur: the lead goat of the Land.” Why was it the "lead goat of the land"? I will answer this question, but first must make an excursus into the Aramaic incantation bowls found in Nippur.

This summer I wrote a paper on Babylonian incantation bowls, many of which were found in the ancient city of Nippur when archaeological excavations began there in the late 19th century.

This bowl was published by James Montgomery in his Aramaic Incantation Texts (1913), which includes 41 bowls written in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Syriac, and Mandaic (three different dialects of Aramaic). This bowl #2, written in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, is for Pabak the son of Kufithai, Abuna the son of Geribta, and Ibba the son of Zawithai, to protect them and their families from "evil fiends and bitter adversaries," and "demons, devils, tormentors, gods and female goddesses." (If you want to read the book yourself, it's available in full text on Google Books). 

This map shows where Nippur was located in southern Mesopotamia.

This map below shows important locations in Nippur and areas that were excavated.

Both of these maps are from an article on the website of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Nippur - Sacred City Of Enlil, by McGuire Gibson, Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology at the Oriental Institute.

According to Gibson, "Nippur was one of the longest-lived sites, beginning in the prehistoric Ubaid period (c. 5000 B. C. ) and lasting until about A. D. 800, in the Islamic era (Gibson 1992)." It was a sacred city, devoted to Enlil. He writes:
The strength of Mesopotamian religious tradition, which gave Nippur its longevity, can be illustrated best by evidence from the excavation of the temple of Inanna, goddess of love and war. Beginning at least as early as the Jemdet Nasr Period (c. 3200 B.C.), the temple continued to flourish as late as the Parthian Period (c. A.D. 100), long after Babylonia had ceased to exist as an independent state and had been incorporated into larger cultures with different religious systems (Persian, Seleucid, and Parthian empires). The choice of Nippur as the seat of one of the few early Christian bishops, lasting until the city's final abandonment around A.D. 800, was probably an echo of its place at the center of Mesopotamian religion. In the Sasanian Period, 4th to 7th Centuries, A.D., most of the major features of Mesopotamian cultural tradition ceased, but certain aspects of Mesopotamian architectural techniques, craft manufacture, iconography, astrology, traditional medicine, and even some oral tradition survived, and can be traced even today not just in modern Iraq but in a much wider area.
 Gibson writes about the excavations of Nippur:
Nippur has been the focus of major excavation since 1889 when the University of Pennsylvania opened the first American expedition in the Middle East. Finding the site a rich source for cuneiform tablets, that expedition continued to excavate at Nippur until 1900 [Hilprecht 1903; Peters 1897]. The main achievements of the expedition were to locate the ziggurat and temple of Enlil and to recover more than 30,000 cuneiform tablets of extraordinary literary, historical, grammatical, and economic importance. More than 80% of all known Sumerian literary compositions have been found at Nippur. Included were the earliest recognized versions of the Flood Story, parts of the Gilgamesh Epic, and dozens of other compositions. It was these Sumerian works, plus an invaluable group of lexical texts and bilingual (Sumerian/Akkadian) documents that allowed scholars to make real progress in deciphering and understanding Sumerian. As important in historical terms are royal inscriptions from all periods, especially those of the Kassite Dynasty which ruled Mesopotamia from about 1600 to 1225 B. C. More than 80% of our knowledge of this dynasty has come from Nippur texts. In a special category of Nippur texts are the business archives of the Murashu family, merchant bankers who controlled vast commercial and agricultural interests under the Achaemenid Persian kings (c. 500 B.C.) [Stolper 1985].
Gibson's article doesn't mention the incantation bowls, except obliquely, because he focuses on the earlier periods. The bowls are dated to the late Sasanian/early Islamic period (roughly the 5th-8th centuries CE), the last periods of habitation of Nippur.

Erica C. D. Hunter has published a number of articles on the incantation bowls, in particular on those discovered in the most recent Oriental Institute excavations (the last of which was in 1990; they stopped with the Gulf War of 1991). In one article she writes:
Recent archaeological evidence has shed further light onto the Aramaic-speaking communities of Sasanid Mesopotamia. Recent excavations at Nippur of Area WG - adjoining the Jewish settlement dug a century earlier and from which Montgomery published his forty specimens - revealed in the seventh-century Level III five downturned incantation bowls. These were randomly buried in a courtyard which also featured an oven. Three of the specimens were written in Aramaic and two in Mandaic, the latter pair being for brothers.... The placement of the Aramaic and Mandaic incantation bowls strongly suggests that two families, one possibly Jewish and the other Mandaean, shared adjacent domestic quarters.
The article is "Aramaic-Speaking Communities of Sasanid Mesopotamia," Aram 7 (1995): 319-335, and the quotation is from pp. 332-32, published on p. 129 of Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran, by Jason Sion Mokhtarian (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015).

Back to the more ancient Nippur. The quotation that I began with is from an ancient inscription of king Ur-Ninurta, who reigned circa 1859 – 1832 BCE.  The inscription refers to the king making a copper image (with the king's face), which is holding a votive goat-kid, and it also employs the word "goat" to refer metaphorically to a leader.

The inscription is number Ur-Ninurta E4.1.6.2, and it's found in Douglas Frayne, The Old Babylonian Period (2003-1595 BC) (The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia / Early Periods / Volume 4; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), pp. 66-68.

A copy of an inscription of Ur-Ninurta on a tablet excavated at Nippur deals with the setting up, in the courtyard of Ninlil's Gagiššua temple, of an image of the king holding an offering of a votive goat (máš-kadra).
This is part of the inscription:
ii 6'-150 for the great mother of the Anuna gods,  the lady of the Kiur [...], in order to choose the mes of the Ekur, the supreme shrine, [in order] to purify the cleansing rites of shrine Nippur, the bon[d of heaven and earth, in order] to make the neg[lected] rites appear magnificently, [in order] to restore Nippur, the lea[d] goat [of the nation],

ii 16-210 it was Ur-Ninurta, who devoted himself to the Ekur, upon whom the god Enlil, king of the foreign lands, look[ed] am[ong] the broad, numerous people and truly [chose].
vi r-30 (I, Ur-Ninurta)..., (for) the gods An, Enlil, (and) Ninlil removed evil from ...

vi 4-50 and set up for them a ... (in) the shining [E]kur, (in) the ... city

vi 6'-120 I fashioned (for Ninlil) a [copper] image, whose form was endowed with my face, clasping a votive kid, standing to make supplications for me, an ornament of the main courtyard of the Gagiššua (temple).

vi 13'-140 1 dedicated it to her for my own life.

vi 15-180 (As for) the man who gives orders to  do evil against it, who [destroys m]y [handi]work
edge 1-6) ... the supreme ... of the god Enlil, may the ... which proclaims his name be revoked from  the [Ek]ur. M [ay the god N]inurta, the mighty champion of the god Enlil, forever b[e] its (the  curse's) evil spirit who cannot be countermanded.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Cat in my lap at "La Vie En Rose" Gallery in Jerusalem

Today I visited a lovely little art gallery in Arnona, Jerusalem, with a friend - La Vie en Rose. It's owned by Steve Selig, who is transitioning from running a picture-framing business to organizing art exhibitions and hosting artistic events at the gallery. This little kitty showed up to greet us.

Reed House in Jerusalem

At the end of the street I'm staying on in Israel, there's a house that's almost entirely surrounded by tall reeds. They've turned golden brown in the summer heat.

I'm reminded of a passage from the Gilgamesh flood story. This story appears in the book of Gilgamesh, although it didn't originate there - it's an independent story. Gilgamesh has gone to Utnapishtim, the Babylonian Noah figure who survived the great flood with his wife, and to whom the gods gave immortality.

The gods had decided to destroy humanity, because we were very noisy and disturbed their sleep. The "great gods" - Anu, Enlil, Ninurta, Ennuge [his name means "inspector of canals"] - had made the decision. Another god, Ninigiku-Ea, was "present with them," and was disturbed by this decision, he decided to warn Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim said to Gilgamesh:
"I will reveal to you, Gilgamesh, a hidden matter
And a secret of the gods I will tell you:
Shuruppak - a city which you know,
And which is situated on the banks of the Euphrates -
That city was ancient, (as were) the gods within it,
When their hearts led the great gods to produce the flood."
Ea told Utnapishtim:
"Their words he repeats to the reed-hut:
'Reed-hut, reed-hut! Wall, wall!
Reed-hut, hearken! Wall, reflect!
Man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu,
Tear down (this) house, build a ship!
Give up possessions, seek life!
Forswear (worldly) goods and keep the soul alive!
Aboard the ship take the seed of all living things.'"
Source: Tablet XI of Gilgamesh, published in Pritchard, ANET, p. 93.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Reconstructed wooden synagogue from Gwoździec, Poland

None of the 16th-17th century wooden synagogues of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth survive today. Those that survived wars and fires were finally destroyed by the Nazis during the German occupation of Poland. But part of one of them has been reconstructed - the bimah and the gorgeously multicolored ceiling of the synagogue in Gwoździec, Poland. It forms the centerpiece of the Polin Museum of Jewish History in Warsaw. From the website of the museum:
Wooden synagogues were common in the 16th and 17th century because of the accessibility and low cost of the raw material. 
They were built by local craftsmen, not necessarily Jews, inspired by manors and rich bourgeois mansions. High-pitched synagogue roofs dominated the surroundings. Underneath there was the praying hall, corridor and increasingly large women’s section. The synagogue in Gwoździec, humble on the outside, hid extraordinary riches inside. 
The wooden building, erected most probably in 1640, was 15 meters high. During its existence it underwent numerous modifications. For example, the southwest  brick wing was added later to be used as a children’s study room (kheder) and a heated praying place during winter. The main hall reserved for men was an octagonal copula decorated with fabulous biblical paintings. The women’s section was located in the north and south part of the synagogue and on the gallery above the entrance hall. The synagogue was famous for its polychromes covering the ceiling and the walls, interlaced with biblical verses, proverbs and anagrams. One of the synagogue creators was Mordekhai Lissnitzki of Jaryzow. The paintings were restored by Izhak ben Yehuda of Jaryzow in 1729.
The bimah.

One of the painted sides of the bimah.

Looking through the top of the bimah towards the paintings on the ceiling.

Faun and flora painted on the vault - notice the turkey!

Psalm-prayer medallion on the ceiling, above a fish surrounding a town.

On the other side of the vault.

Excerpt from the Torah that is chanted before the Torah reading, above a painting of an elephant carrying a house!

The ceiling area that would have been above the Ark, with the two tablets of the Ten Commandments.

The double-headed eagle of the Russian Empire (I think).

"Blue-White Party"

I'm in Israel for a couple of weeks, and there's another election coming up. There was one earlier this year, but Bibi was unable to form a government, so another election was called. This is a sign for the "Blue-White Party," named after the colors of the Israeli flag.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Visiting Jewish Warsaw - the remnants of the Warsaw Ghetto wall

I've been in Warsaw since last Friday. I came for the annual meeting of the European Association for Biblical Studies, where I gave a paper on the Aramaic incantation bowls. Before the conference started, I hired a guide who took me to visit locations in the area where the Warsaw Ghetto existed during the German occupation. She brought me to several places where small parts of the wall that enclosed the ghetto still remain, and we also went to the site of the only synagogue that survived the Nazi occupation (it's been restored and still functions as an Orthodox synagogue). We also saw the Jewish Historical Institute (although we couldn't go inside, because it was closed for Shabbat), and went to the Polin Museum for the history of Polish Jewry. Outside the museum is the famous memorial to the Ghetto Fighters - the museum was deliberately built across from the memorial, and its shape reflects form of the statue. The museum is amazingly well done. Today is my last full day in Warsaw - I'm flying to Israel tomorrow - and I spent the entire afternoon in the museum, and still didn't see everything I wanted to see.

A small memorial to those who died in the Ghetto - notice the stones that were left, according to Jewish mourning customs, both on the planter and in the places where bricks were taken out.

The map above shows the boundaries of the Warsaw Ghetto on November 15, 1940, when the Jews were no longer permitted to leave.. There were two sections of the Ghetto, separated by a street that non-Jews (but not Jews) were permitted to walk on. Eventually a bridge was built across this street so that Jews could walk from one section of the Ghetto to the other.

The plague on the top left reads (according to Google Translate): "Ghetto enclave. Place dedicated to the memory of Jews, martyred and murdered in 1940-1943 by the German occupier." The top middle plaque reads "In the period November 15, 1940 to November 20, 1941, this wall was the border of the ghetto." The bottom plaque repeats the information on the top middle plaque, in English and Hebrew, and says, "This plaque was affixed by the President of the State of Israel Chaim Herzog during his State Visit to Poland," on May 26, 1992.

The small plaque is dedicated to a Polish man who preserved this building as a memorial of the Ghetto. The space where a brick was taken out mentions Yad Vashem, the Israel Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

This section of the wall goes between two post-war buildings.

This part of the wall was reconstructed. The top bricks are from the original wall - they're less even, and some of them were scorched by the fire. The top plaque reads: "During the period November 15, 1940 to November 20, 1941, this wall was the border of the ghetto. The smaller hexagonal plaque on the left is from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

This is one of of the original bricks - you can see how uneven and pockmarked it is.