N.T.WRONG

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Kispum Funerary Rites from Neo-Hittite Sam’al to Boston

Posted by NT Wrong on November 20, 2008

This 8th-century-BC stone slab was recently discovered on the Anatolian-Syrian border by archaeologists, at Zincirli, the site of the ancient city of Sam’al. Written on the slab, in a Northwest Semitic language and Phoenician script, is a declaration ‘by the deceased’ that his soul resides in the slab, and that he should be fed in a ‘feast’ (ḥgg), along with Hadad and Shamash.

“The inscription reads in part: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber(?) and established a feast at this chamber(?): a bull for [the storm-god] Hadad, … a ram for [the sun-god] Shamash, … and a ram for my soul that is in this stele. …” It was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and in a local West Semitic dialect similar to Aramaic and Hebrew. It is of keen interest to linguists as well as biblical scholars and religious historians because it comes from a kingdom contemporary with ancient Israel that shared a similar language and cultural features.”

This is fascinating — an institution of a kispum-like funerary ritual involving those two Levantine deities most associated with caring for the dead, Baal (Hadad) and Shamash/Shapash. Provision is made for both the deceased and the gods to be ritually fed together! Sam’al is a little further to the north of Ugarit, from which we get similar kispum-like funerary rituals such as those narrated in texts such as KTU 1.20-22, 1.161. For a biblical marzeaḥ, see Jer 16.5-8. The eighth-century dating establishes temporal continuity with the Cisjordan area, and some degree of continuity in funerary rites from Ugarit (1200 BC).

It is reported that Kuttamuwa is not himself a royal figure, but seems instead to be a royal official. Yet, he is pictured with seat and footstool and with a king’s hat. Is this Kulamuwa, the successor of Panamuwa? Or was he a separate figure, perhaps a priest? A similar kispum-like ritual is described in KAI 214 (‘The Hadad Inscription’), where the descendant of Panamuwa is instructed to provide food and drink for Panamuwa, along with El, Hadad, Shamash and Rakib-El.

But for those of us in Boston, there’s more, care of Dennis Pardee:

“Schloen will present the Kuttamuwa stele to a scholarly audience at the meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on Nov. 22 in Boston, the major annual conference for Middle Eastern archaeology. Dennis Pardee, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago, will present his translation of the stele’s 13-line inscription the following day at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, also in Boston, in a session on “Paleographical Studies in the Near East.”

I don’t think there is anything remarkable in the description of feeding Kuttamuwa’s “soul” — which is the focus of the News reports. It doesn’t even mean that Kuttamuwa is ‘disembodied’ — he may come for the food in another form from the underworld (perhaps as a bird).

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One Response to “Kispum Funerary Rites from Neo-Hittite Sam’al to Boston”

  1. Tom Verenna said

    Thank you for posting this!

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