Saturday, October 28, 2006

Weighing Another Blessed "BR" Ligature

Continuing the tale of my Labor Day/Week adventure, I returned to Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) on Friday afternoon (Sep. 8th) to examine the remainder of the Nelson Glueck collection kept in storage (the ossuary with rosettes & pyramids is the only piece I know of on display). I had hoped to find some stamped jar handles that may have been overlooked by others, but that was not to be the case. It turned out to be a serendipitous occasion though, with the discovery of a hockey puck inscribed in Paleo-Hebrew!

Not that I've memorized the Avigad/Sass corpus (WSS = "Corpus of West Semitic Stamp Seals"), but I've certainly thumbed through it enough that I did not recall ever seeing this specimen; & no, it's not really an ancient puck, but a weight that doubled as a personal seal! Naturally it was quite exciting to think that I might have rediscovered something of significance! The curator, Dr. Glenn Markoe, allowed me to take this photo so I could check it out when I returned home. I placed the object & its clay/putty impression side-by-side for a single shot using ambient lighting as best I could. Here's the other half of the photo:

As we were examining it, I noticed the Bet-Resh ligature just like the LMLK H4C seal, line 14 of the KH1 silver scroll from Ketef Hinnom, line 5 of KH2, & lines 1 & 5 of the Siloam Tunnel inscription!

When we returned to his office, he was not able to find a record of it in CAM's computerized database, but he did find it in their good-old-fashioned paper card catalog. Here's what it said:

Seal and imprint

white stone seal "to Berechya (hu)"
3 x 3 cm.
published in BASOR 153, 1959
green clay imprint 3 x 4 cm.

8th - 7th Cent B.C.E. _ WGD


The latter sentence in caps was handwritten on the card, & to the left was a nice shadow-photo of the object & impression. On a recent Sunday after the weekly worship service I attend in downtown L.A., I went to the Frances-Henry Library of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion to check out this issue of BASOR (#153 was published in February, 1959). (This was the first week of their extended hours through the rest of the semester.)

I had searched online & thought I'd find it included in an article by R. B. Y. Scott, "The Shekel Sign on Stone Weights". Though the CAM placard doesn't mention it, you can clearly see a sheqel symbol below the inscription as well as 2 horizontal bars indicating a quantity of two. I didn't notice this until I scrutinzed the photo upon returning to L.A. from Cincinnati because of all the detrimental dings in the object. Here's my mock-up drawing:

As it turns out, Scott's article on pp. 32-5 doesn't mention Rabbi Glueck's artifact, although he did mention the hypothesis that the sheqel symbol (an open-ended "8") at times substituted for "LMLK" based on the famous Gezer weight, but interprets it as "a conventionalized representation of the Hebrew seror, the tied bag or bundle in which lump silver & sometimes other valuables were carried." In a footnote, he cites Genesis 42:35, Proverbs 7:20, & Haggai 1:6, with metaphorical uses of $RUR in 1Samuel 25:29, Job 14:17, & Song 1:13. I would note that it's used with alternate semantics in 1Samuel 9:1, 2Samuel 17:13, Proverbs 26:8, & Amos 9:9. William Foxwell Albright added a comment that "the symbol is identical in form with Egyptian hieroglyphic & hieratic ss."

(By the way, when I chose the dollar sign to represent Tsadde in LMLK vol. 2, I had no idea it was the first letter of this word! It just seemed like a better way to combine "T" & "S" than the "X" I hastily chose in vol. 1.)

Two years later, Yigael Yadin published his dissention ("Ancient Judaean Weights & the Date of the Samaria Ostraca" in "Scripta Hierosolymitana vol. 8" edited by Chaim Rabin), hypothesizing that this "8" symbol evolved from the 4-winged scarab (the relevant section of his chapter is quoted on p. 186 of my LMLK vol. 1 book).

One of the reasons Prof. Scott speculated that the symbol represented a bag was its upward presentation on most weights as illustrated in his article. Too bad he didn't observe Rabbi Glueck's discovery on pp. 35-8, where it's shown horizontally like an open-ended infinity symbol--a spilled bag!

Nelson Glueck's article is totally excellent! He begins by describing the find spot in August, 1958 at Nebi Rubin overlooking the Mediterranean between Tel Aviv & Ascalon (though I cropped this modern map at Ashdod):

You can read the full text online if you have access to the JSTOR site, or you can see the first page here:

"Mrs. Jim Clore espied a small, smooth, gleaming white stone, which she picked up & handed to me. ... It has also generally been agreed that this class of weights is to be dated to the Persian & Hellenistic periods, to judge from the levels of the excavations in which they have been found. With this dating, the Nebi Rubin weight would seem to be in accord, because as our somewhat cursory examination of the surface remains on this tremendous site showed, there was nothing earlier. The main periods of occupation seem to extend from Hellenistic through Byzantine."

Then Glueck notes that the theoretical weight of the ancient sheqel is 11 grams, & this specimen weighs 21.894--almost exactly the expected amount considering the 2 horizontal bars indicating "2 sheqels". He also notes chisel marks on its underside (Fig. 3 shows them in his article), but I did not photograph the bottom since I didn't realize at the time that it was an ancient weight.

Next he focuses on the inscription:

"This particular Nebi Rubin weight is, furthermore, absolutely unique, so far as my knowledge goes, in that it is the only one of its kind bearing the name of its owner. On only one other similar weight is there an inscription."

That would be the aforementioned Gezer weight, which he describes plainly:

"Next to the two strokes are incised the ancient Hebrew consonants equivalent to l m l k, 'belonging to the king.'"

Then comes the descriptive transcription of his weight:

"...incised in sharply defined, retrograde, ancient Hebrew characters, which read l b r k y, as 'belonging to Berekay. It would seem that this Nebi Rubin weight could also have served as a seal, it being possible to use it to impress on wax or other material the owner's name right side up. It could therefore perhaps best be designated as a seal-weight, capable of fulfilling two functions, because otherwise it would have made no sense to incise the owner's name in retrograde. This feature heightens the uniqueness of this seal-weight, in contra-distinction to the known, normally written, inscribed weights, sucha as the l m l k one from Gezer, referred to above, & the earlier, Iron II b q ', n s f & p y m ones."

His closing paragraph cites Biblical usage of the name & orthography (Berechyahu or Berechyah per Glueck; Berachiah in the KJV), which I'll present here along with my own system:

  • BRKYE in 1Chronicles 3:20

  • BRKYEU in 1Chronicles 6:39 (or verse 24 in some Bibles)

  • BRKYE in 1Chronicles 9:16

  • BRKYEU in 1Chronicles 15:17

  • BRKYE in 1Chronicles 15:23

  • BRKYEU in 2Chronicles 28:12

  • BRKYE in Zechariah 1:1

  • BRKYEU in Zechariah 1:7

  • BRKYE in Nehemiah 3:4

  • BRKYE in Nehemiah 3:30

  • BRKYE in Nehemiah 6:18

He notes:

"This would be in conformity with the probably Persian-Hellenistic date of the Nebi Rubin weight, with which its actual script, too, is in accord. The other references in I Chron. 6:24; 15:17.23 & II Chron. 28:12 occur in passages of post-exilic redaction. That does not mean, however, as indicated by II Chron. 28:12, that the name was not used in pre-exilic times, as well.

Of course a weight/seal datable to the late Judean monarchy may call his Hellenistic-Byzantine surface survey & post-exilic redaction into question, but I'm not aware of any extensive scientific excavations conducted at this site.

Notice in my drawing that there may have been another letter, a Vaw, after the Yod, rendering it as BRKYU. This form also appears in personal seals XXXa & XXXI as drawn & classified by Andrew G. Vaughn in BASOR 313 (February, 1999), or WSS 698/699 & 662 respectively. As Andy's illustration of these particular letters are speculative, compare also to my speculative drawing of the S2DR Vaw.

Bear in mind that my reconstruction of this final letter may be wrong--it may just be a coincidental alignment of dings. I admit it's an unlikely spelling, & the engraver would probably have begun the inscription farther to the other side so the final letter wouldn't end up on the edge of the already-calibrated weight.

Also I should mention that Rabbi Glueck omits Jesus naming Berachiah as the son of Zechariah (the prophet) in its Greek form in the New Testament letter of Matthew (23:35), nor does he offer its translation, which is "Blessed by God (Yahweh/Jehovah/LORD)".

To be continued...

Song of the week: "Free Money" by Sammy Hagar (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 28-second sample; 361kb).
G.M. Grena

Friday, October 27, 2006

Standard Genius Knob

Cuneiform words hammered into solid gold are certainly exquisite, but I find all ancient inscriptions interesting, especially royal ones, & extraspecially languages you don't typically see in museums. Elamite is one of them.

Continuing where I left off in last week's blog, the same West Asia room at the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) had this on display:

The placard says it's royal, but it would've been nice to have a letter-by-letter transliteration:

Knobbed plaque with royal
inscription of Untash-Gal

Southwestern Iran, Elamite; excavated at
Tchoga Zanbil

around 1250BC

glazed earthenware, molded
Gift of Dr. Roman Ghirshmann

On an adjacent wall hung a "relief fragment depicting a winged genius":

Okay, as you may have noticed, my photos from this excursion didn't turn out that great. As I said last week, it was a crowded event, what with the food-tasting tables & liberal party-animal snobs bouncing off of each other; I was grateful when they politely stepped aside as they saw me lining up a shot. Here's how the winged genius plaque actually turned out:

You've kinda gotta squint a bit, or step back a little, but this fragment preserved the head & shoulders. You can make out a bearded man facing left, & part of his giant wings along the right edge of the plaque. Here's its placard:

Relief fragment depicting a winged genius

Iraq, from the Palace of Assurnasirpal II at Nimrud

about 870 BC

Museum Purchase

Not quite as exciting as the solid gold plaques, a plaster inscription hung next to the genius:

Like I said before, I can't read cuneiform, so if anyone can decipher this ancient text, please feel free to post a response.

Okay, that's just me being my normal self. God programmed "incorrigible" into my genome. Here's the actual plaque (sorry--even more blurry than the genius photo) & its placard:

Slab with Standard Inscription of Asurnasirpal II

Iraq, from the Palace of Assurnasirpal II at Nimrud

Neo-Assyrian period, about 870 BC

Lent by the University of Cincinnati Fine Arts Collection

The inscription fragment above comes from the palace of the Assyrian monarch Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) at Nimrud in present-day Iraq. It consists of a series of formulaic phrases that list Assurnasirpal's royal lineage, title, & epithets, followed by a description of his military valor & conquests in battle, the boundaries of his empire, and and
[sic] his building of the palace at Nimrud. Repeated across the middle section of every wall relief in the palace, this 'Standard Inscription' was probably made for both magical and propagandistic reasons. As its text varies uniformly in length from room to room, its presence enables the modern archaeologist to reconstruct the original location and sequence of the various sculpted relief panels in the palace. Based upon its length, the Cincinnati cuneiform fragment may have come from one of the doorways leading into room C of the palace complex.

This stone inscription is drafted in cuneiform script, the ancient writing system developed by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia around 3100 BC. Cuneiform ("wedge-shaped") writing is based upon a system of vertical and horizontal strokes composed of lines and wedges resembling arrowheads. When arranged in varying combinations, these characters form individual syllables that make up words. The strokes in cuneiform represent the actual impression of a wedge-shaped writing implement, or stylus, on clay. Cuneiform writing was also adapted to other, less-pliable media such as stone and metal. The adjoining case shows a sampling of cuneiform-writing documents in clay and metal from Mesopotamia and Iran.

These were the only significant cuneiform artifacts I observed. They had several other less-impressive pieces, but many more Egyptian artifacts, the prize being a full-size Ptolemaic wooden mummy coffin decorated "in tempera over linen & gesso" (1947.275; gift of Millard F. & Edna F. Shelt).

One section I didn't have enough time to examine thoroughly was their ancient Greek, Roman, & Judaean coins, beginning with a Lydia electrum 1/3 stater dating to 625 BC with "forepart of lion with wart or sun disc above nose". To CAM's credit, they distributed nice brochures listing their coins; #1-112 Greek, #113-124 Judaean, #125-182 Roman.

Aside from the ossuary I mentioned last week, the only other item on display that left an impression on me was a Roman-era funerary portrait. Made of limestone & supposedly from Palmyra in Syria, it contained an inscription naming "Malocha, son of Nur-Bel" (1958.257; gift of Mr. E.S. David).

Song of the week: "Genies, Sorcerers and Mesopotamian Nights" by Melechesh (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 28-second sample; 361kb).
G.M. Grena

Saturday, October 21, 2006

One Night with the King's Gold

Last week's coincidental release of a film focusing on the reign of Xerxes, son of Darius, made a nice intro to this week's discussion of Persian artifacts displayed at the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM). The Classical & Near Eastern Art portion of their website currently shows only 28 objects, none of which capture my attention like the ones I'm about to show you.

I traveled to Cincinnati during the week of Labor Day back in September, & visited CAM on Wednesday night. They stay open till 9pm on Wednesdays, & the entire museum was taken over by "One World Wednesday: the food, the drinks, the art, the music of different world cultures." On this particular day (Sep. 6th) Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was in the spotlight (coincidentally the next stop on Quidam's tour). Here are some Fun Facts provided to visitors:

  • There aren't any street addresses in Dubai.

  • The city of Dubai has a hospital just for falcons.

  • The world's only "7 star" hotel is in Dubai.

  • Industry experts estimate that 15 to 25 percent of the world's construction cranes are in Dubai.

The many tables of delicious-smelling, delicious-looking food samples & wine-tasting bars crowded & blocked many of the exhibits, but as soon as I walked into the West Asia section, this remarkable treasure immediately caught my eye:

(Note: CAM allows photographs for personal/educational use, unlike one museum I know...)

Here's its placard:

Bowl of Darius the Great

Achaemenid period, reign of Darius I
(522-486 BC)

gold, hammered, with chased decoration
Museum Purchase

As the inscription indicates, this gold vessel was a royal offering to the Persian king Darius I (522-486 BC). The recipient himself is commemorated in a dedication, inscribed beneath the rim, which proclaims "Darius, Great King" in the three official languages of the Achaemenid empire: Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite. To judge from its shape, this vessel was probably used for libation--the ceremonial pouring of wine in honor of a god. It may also have been used as a drinking cup (known in ancient Greek as a phiale). The bowl bears a stylized floral pattern consisting of a central rosette surrounded by the petals of a lotus flower, a design commonly found on drinking cups of the period (see Bowl with frieze of lions hunting bulls, 1957.500). Similar metal vessels are often shown carried by servants or tributaries on the stairway reliefs of the Persian capital at Persepolis (see Relief with attendant Mede, 1955.792). Fashioned from solid gold, this vessel was cast in a stone mold, and its relief decoration was produced by a process of hammering from the interior, known as repousse.

Royal offering? Wine for a god? Rosette pattern? Hmm...

The bowl resides in a clear plexiglas cube so you can walk around it, & the bowl is tilted on a 45-degree angle allowing all sides to be examined. Nice! The photo above shows its interior, though an optical illusion may make it seem like you're looking at the bottom; the 2 photos below were viewed from the bottom showing the inscription:

Rosette pattern? Wine for a god? Royal offering? Hmm...

A similar bowl, except for being silver & inscribed to Artaxerxes I, was displayed by the British Museum in their "Forgotten Empire: the World of Ancient Persia" exhibit:

Artaxerxes, the great king, king of kings, king of countries, son of Xerxes the king, of Xerxes son of Darius the king, the Achaemenian, in whose house this silver saucer was made.

Altogether 4 of these silver bowls have been documented, initially by E. Herzfeld ("Eine Silberschussel Artaxerxes I" in AMIran 7, 1935, pp. 1-8, Taf. I-IV), more recently by J.E. Curtis, M.R. Cowell, & C.B.F. Walker ("A Silver Bowl of Artaxerxes I" in Iran 33, 1995, pp. 149-53), & A.C. Gunter & M.C. Root ("Replicating, Inscribing, Giving: Ernst Herzfeld & Artaxerxes' Silver Phiale in the Freer Gallery of Art" in Ars Orientalis 28, 1998, pp. 3-38). (Also see "Inscribed Silver Vessels of the Odrysian Kings: Gifts, Tribute, & the Diffusion of the Forms of 'Achaemenid' Metalware in Thrace" by Antigoni Zournatzi in the American Journal of Archaeology vol. 104 #4, Oct. 2000, pp. 683-706.)

If the gold one I'm documenting here has been published anywhere else, please post a response. All lack provenance, but are believed to be from Hamadan (Ecbatana). Also on display at the British Museum's exhibition was an inscribed gold bowl on loan from the National Museum of Iran.

Next on display at CAM, I saw some solid gold plaques, again inscribed in cuneiform but to a different king:

Foundation plaques


Achaemenid period, early 4th century BC

hammered gold
Museum Purchase
1963.32, 33

These two inscribed Persian gold plaques served as offerings to commemorate the foundation of one or more royal buildings, according to established ancient Near Eastern custom. Inscribed in Old Persian, the official tongue of the Achaemenid realm, they invoke the protection of the Zoroastrian god Ahuramazda on behalf of the Persian Kings Arsames (ruled 6th century BC) and Artaxerxes II (405-359 BC).

I'm guessing the whole one on top is of Arsames, & the 3 fragments below are of Artaxerxes. If anyone out there can actually read these & confirm this guess, please post a response.

To see the context of similar plaques inscribed with cuneiform, see the foundation deposit from the Apadana of Persepolis & also one of Darius I on the Oriental Institute's website. See also texts AmH, AsH, DPh, DH, A2Hc, XH, & A1I described by Roland G. Kent ("Old Persian", New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1953).

Nor are these Persian specimens the earliest known. According to Percy S.P. Handcock ("Mesopotamian Archaeology: an introduction to the archaeology of Babylonia and Assyria", New York: Putnam, 1912, p. 103):

"Many bronze tablets of the Assyrian period have been found, & the well-known bronze doorstep of Nebuchadnezzar II provides us with another excellent example of an inscription engraved on metal. Moreover the more precious metals such as silver & gold were occasionally inscribed. Inscriptions on gold are very rare, but by no means unknown. M. de Sarzec for example found a plate of gold bearing a cuneiform inscription at Tellô, & a strip of gold bearing the name of the illustrious Naram-Sin of Agade was brought to light in the course of the American excavations at Bismaya."

What struck me the most about these displays at CAM was the complete absence of Biblical references to these 2 kings:

"Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, ... & hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. ... Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the 2nd year of the reign of Darius king of Persia."--Ezra 4:4-5,24

"But the eye of their God was upon the elders of the Jews, that they could not cause them to cease, till the matter came to Darius; & then they returned answer by letter concerning this matter. The copy of the letter ... sent unto Darius the king. They sent a letter unto him, wherein was written thus: Unto Darius the king, all peace."--Ezra 5:5-7

"Then Darius the king made a decree, & search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon. ... And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings & people, that shall put to their hand to alter & to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed. Then Tatnai, governor on this side the river, Shetharboznai, & their companions, according to that which Darius the king had sent, so they did speedily. And the elders of the Jews built, & they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet & Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built, & finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, & according to the commandment of Cyrus, & Darius, & Artaxerxes king of Persia. And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king."--Ezra 6:1,12-5

"The Levites ... were recorded chief of the fathers: also the priests, to the reign of Darius the Persian."--Nehemiah 12:22

"And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about 62 years old."--Daniel 5:31

"It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 princes, which should be over the whole kingdom. ... Then these presidents & princes assembled together to the king, & said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever. ... Wherefore king Darius signed the writing & the decree. ... Then king Darius wrote unto all people, nations, & languages, that dwell in all the Earth. ... So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius..."--Daniel 6:1,6,9,25,28

"In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans."--Daniel 9:1

"Also I in the first year of Darius the Mede, even I, stood to confirm & to strengthen him."--Daniel 11:1

"In the 2nd year of Darius the king, in the 6th month, in the 1st day of the month, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet unto Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, & to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, saying, ... In the 24th day of the 6th month, in the 2nd year of Darius the king."--Haggai 1:1,15

"In the 24th day of the 9th month, in the 2nd year of Darius, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet."--Haggai 2:10

"In the 8th month, in the 2nd year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet. ... Upon the 24th day of the 11th month, which is the month Sebat, in the 2nd year of Darius, came the word of the LORD unto Zechariah."--Zechariah 1:1,7

"And it came to pass in the 4th year of king Darius, that the word of the LORD came unto Zechariah."--Zechariah 7:1

"And in the days of Artaxerxes wrote ... unto Artaxerxes king of Persia; & the writing of the letter was written in the Syrian tongue, & interpreted in the Syrian tongue. Rehum the chancellor & Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king in this sort. ... This is the copy of the letter that they sent unto him, even unto Artaxerxes the king. ... Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read..."--Ezra 4:7-8,11,23

"Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia ... there went up some of the children of Israel ... unto Jerusalem, in the 7th year of Artaxerxes the king. ... Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, & of his statutes to Israel. Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, & at such a time. ... And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, it be done speedily, unto 100 talents of silver, & to 100 measures of wheat, & to 100 baths of wine, & to 100 baths of oil, & salt without prescribing how much. Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven; for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king & his sons?"--Ezra 7:1,7,11,12,21-3

"These are now the chief of their fathers, & this is the genealogy of them that went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king."--Ezra 8:1

"And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him; & I took up the wine, & gave it unto the king."--Nehemiah 2:1

"Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the 20th year even unto the 32nd year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, 12 years, I & my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor."--Nehemiah 5:14

"But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem; for in the 32nd year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, & after certain days obtained I leave of the king, & I came to Jerusalem..."--Nehemiah 13:6,7

I expressed the same surprise on ANE-2 this week over the lack of mention of Jews or Jerusalem in association with the exquisite ossuary they have on display, which features not only 2 rosettes, but also 3 triangular objects that may have represented pyramids on the skyline of Jerusalem in ancient times.

Last week I commented on the many contrasts presented by a quasi-historical film. This week we see a similar contrast between Persian history presented in the Bible, & Bible-less history presented at CAM.

Song of the week: "Memories Of Gold" by David Arkenstone, Kostia, & David Lanz (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 26-second sample; 328kb).

G.M. Grena

P.S. [2007-12-8] Thanks to Wilfried Gawantka for providing the following bibliography on this subject:

"The complete data on the three inscribed gold objects in CAM are as follows."

1) The gold plaque cut in three pieces
CAM Museum purchase 1963, 32 or 33: = Kent, AsH.


  • Ed. pr. 1944 (cf. Kent, 1953, p. 107a, and Schweiger II, 1998, p. 526).

Later editions:

  • R. G. Kent, Old Persian, 2nd ed., 1953, s.v. AsH: p. 107a (Lemma); p. 116ab (OP; Engl.).

  • Pierre Lecoq, Les inscriptions de la Perse achéménide, Paris 1997, s.v. AsH, p.. 180 (French transl. only.)

  • Günter Schweiger, Achämenidische Keilinschriften, Taimering 1998, s.v. AsH: vol. I, p. 150 - 151 (OP; German); vol II, p. 525 - 528 (data, bibliography,transliteration of OP).

  • Rüdiger Schmitt, Das spätachaimenidische Altpersische, in: Rüdiger Schmitt, Beiträge zu altpersischen Inschriften, Wiesbaden, 1999, p. 105 - 111: "AmH und AsH", there p. 109 - 111, s.v. AsH (OP; German; linguistic commentary).

  • Rüdiger Schmitt, Pseudo-altpersische Inschriften, Wien 2007, p. 27 f., s.v. AsHa (OP; German); Thesis: "nicht-authentische achaimenidenzeitliche Inschrift", that means: the inscription, though said to be found in or nearby Hamadan, the center of modern forgery of Achaimenian objects of interest for private collectors and museums, is not a modern forgery, but genuine in as much as it is from later Achaemenian time; but it is not a document of king Arsames himself or of his time.

Empiric data:

  • Schweiger II, 1998, p. 525 (transl. WG): "Gold plaque; OP only, 14 lines. . ca 90 x 130 mm; thickness: unknown; weight: unknown."

  • Kent, 1953, p. 107a: "OP only, 14 lines, on a gold tablet in three pieces, complete except for lower right corner; about 9 x 13 cm"; more exactly Schweiger II, p. 525: in the third piece are lost the last two lines, that means the ends of line 13 and 14.


  • Schweiger II, S. 525: "Die Tafel gehört zu dem Schatz, der 1920 bei Hamadan gefunden wurde.", that is: "The plaque is part of the treasury found 1920 near Hamadan." - For this no reference! The plaque being in the private collection of "M. Vidal, New York, USA."


2) The uncut gold plaque of Artaxerxes II
CAM Museum purchase 1963, 32 or 33, = Kent A2Hc.


  • Ed. pr.: A. U. Pope, The Illustrated London News, July 17, 1948, p. 58 - 59 (Kent, 1953, p. 114a; ILN non vidi).

Later editions:

  • R. G. Kent, 1953, s.v. A2Hc: p. 114a (Lemma); p. 155b (OP; only partial English translation).

  • Pierre Lecoq, Les inscriptions de la Perse achéménide, Paris 1997, s.v. A2Hc, p. 270 (French transl. only.)

  • G. Schweiger, Achämenidische Keilinschriften, Taimering 1998, s.v. A2Hc: vol. I, p. 162 f. (OP; German); vol. II, p. 555 - 558 (data; bibliography; transliteration of OP).

  • R. Schmitt, Das spätachaimenidische Altpersische, in: the same, Beiträge zu altpersischen Inschriften, Wiesbaden, 1999, p. 88 - 91, s.v. A2Hc (OP; German; linguistic commentary).

Empiric data:

  • Schweiger II, p. 555: Gold plaque, OP only, 20 lines, complete. Ca. 130 x 130 mm; thickness: unknown; weight: unknown. Provenience and remain (remaining?): Schweiger II, p. 555 (sic!, the same words as p. 525): "Die Tafel gehört zu dem Schatz, der 1920 bei Hamadan gefunden wurde.", that is: "The plaque is part of the treasury found 1920 near Hamadan." - For this no reference! The plaque being in the private collection of "M. Vidal, New York, USA."

Authenticity: Never disputed.


3) Gold bowl with inscription of "Dareios", CAM, Museum purchase 1963, 31.

For this bowls cf. now Rüdiger Schmitt, Pseudo-altpersische Inschriften, Wien, (Oct.) 2007, p. 93: The short inscription (OP, Elam, Akk.: "Dareios, Great King") on the 3 (or only 2) bowls he has knowledge of are epigraphically and linguistically correct; but it would be no problem to copy them correctly.


Further References:

1) The inscribed gold bowl from the National Museum of Teheran, as loan in the Exibition London, BM:

"Forgotten Kingdom", has an inscription of Xerxes: "Xerxes, Great King" (better in French, which has the same word order as OP: "Xerxès, Roi Grand"), in OP, Elam., and Akk. See the Catalogue of this Exibition, No. 97, and Schweiger, 1998: I, p. 198 - 199 (OP; German); II, S. 563 f.

2) Herzfeld's 4 silver dishes "from Hamadan" with dubious inscription of Artaxerxes II:

See now in extenso with full bibliography:

Rüdiger Schmitt, Pseudo-altpersische Inschriften, Wien 2007, p. 82 - 93, s.v. "F(älschung) 10: Silberschalen ,Artaxerxes' I.'", mit Abb. 16 (color, BM): OP, German translation, comm. Thesis: modern forgery (linguistic and grammatical arguments; convincing).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

One Matinee with the King

"If it please the king, & if I have favor in his sight, & the thing seem right before the king, ... let it be written."--Esther 8:5

This week Todd Bolen's "BiblePlaces Newsletter" (Vol 5, #4 - October 10, 2006) includes an informative overview of the annual Jewish holiday called Sukkoth. During prayer times throughout Sukkot (a weeklong festival), Jewish men hold "beautiful" fruit & tree branches in their hands as they proclaim: "Blessed are You, God our Lord, King of the Universe..."

It's a time of joy & celebration; likewise, I've been very excited this past week since learning that a movie about the Biblical book of Esther was being released.

"One Night with the King" is the first movie I've seen in a theater since December 17th, 2000 (the devilishly-delicious Elizabeth Hurley in "Bedazzled"; a very cute film), & it's the very first movie for which I've ever bought a ticket several days in advance:

I took an early, extended lunch break from work yesterday to catch this matinee, not knowing how crowded the theatre would be. It's a group of 20 auditoriums, each small but comfy with large, wide, soft, reclining chairs. To my surprise, I walked into #15 like it says on my ticket at 10:25, & was completely alone. After a couple of minutes of curiosity--Could I really be the only person interested in this film?--I walked back out, found an usher, & asked if the ticket really meant auditorium #15. He said it did, so I went back in. It's ironic that this would disturb me, since I much prefer the thought of having the huge screen all to myself with no one around to irritate me (cell phones, screaming brats, rude people whispering, etc.). But at 10:32 when the theatre was still empty--including the projection booth--I walked back out to the main entrance & asked if maybe it had been relocated since I had bought my ticket in advance. It had. Auditorium #1. The opposite hall!

I scurried on over & could hear the audio as I approached. This one had patrons, though not too crowded (less than half full--still surprising). Fortunately the actual film had not begun; the sound I heard was for another Biblical epic I had never heard of that's scheduled for a December release: "The Nativity Story". The trailer looks/sounds terrific! The casting for Mary is excellent! If the birth of Christ is of any importance to you, this 2 1/2-minute trailer (viewable online) will send chills down your spine!

"One Night" begins in dramatic, Biblical-Epic-Genre fashion with a somewhat graphic scene of bloody bodies lying lifeless per 1Samuel 15:3. This provides the backdrop for Haman's hatred of Jews: He was an Agagite (Esther 3:1), a descendant of the Amalekite king spared by King Saul (1Samuel 15:9). This really ticked God off (1Samuel 15:11), & Samuel the prophet as well (15:19; portrayed quite well by Peter O'Toole). I would've loved for this section of the movie to last a little longer (in contrast to Mark Moring's opinion in Christianity Today), & to hear Samuel say, "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice," & to see him act out 15:33 to the fullest. But alas, the producers sacrificed harsh reality for a PG rating.

I don't fault them for this decision. I understand the importance of entertaining a large audience, & the traditional Christian desire to be "nice/sweet/gentle" now during the "acceptable Year of the Lord" (Isaiah 61:2). Certain Biblical truths don't sell well to a Born-Again Christian audience (the filmmakers' primary target), especially the killing of women, children, & babies by people following God's orders. They also sacrificed Biblical accuracy & Ancient Near East history in minor ways throughout the film. It's not the way I would've done it had I been entrusted with a $20-million-dollar budget, but then again, my choice of Biblical topics would've been the confrontation between King Hezekiah & Sennacherib, something no filmmaker has yet attempted. But I digress...

As Samuel kills Agag in a politically-correct manner off-screen, we learn from John Rhys-Davies, narrating the film in the role of Mordecai, that Agag's pregnant queen escaped; hence "500 years later" we meet the band of Agagites dressed from head to toe in obviously-evil black, bearing insignias resembling a cross between a stylized swastika & the medical symbol of a snake entwined around a pole. Haman, a perfect casting played by James Callis, is their leader. This guy is the current president of Iran (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) without the dumb-ass smile.

Haman fumes when he suspects someone of even thinking that any Jew could be a human of equal status with an Agagite! After being covertly paid for espionage that will help him advance his cause of revenge for what Samuel did centuries earlier, Haman takes the payola & dumps it into the moat surrounding the palace of Xerxes!

The filmmakers contrast Haman's hatred brilliantly by presenting Esther's dream of departing Susa & joining a caravan to Jerusalem, such is her fondness for the city she has heard so much about in the scrolls she reads. But in the shadows of Xerxes' staggering royal palace, she also dreams--as any girl--of being a queen to free her fellow Jews.

The computer-animated flyover shots of the palace & surrounding empire are superb & breathtaking to behold on the big-screen--especially the waterfalls pouring from the upper floors down to the moat. (Don't ask how the ancient Persians managed to pump it all up to that height--sorry for the reality check--I'm an engineer.) I could not find a daytime photo in their press kit online, so here's a snag from the trailer (the bottom of the waterfalls are the large white columns; they actually start much higher up) & one from the press kit at night (giving a better perspective of the palace's height):

Departing blatantly from the Biblical story, Esther flirts back & forth with a Jewish servant named Jesse, played by a Brad Pitt / Robert Redford type of actor named Jonah Lotan. He's truly the bottom of the barrel in this film, & were I involved with the project, his scenes would never have been included. Yes, I'm jealous of his good looks, but his claim to infamy is that he participates in every bad scene in this movie. Thankfully, the good scenes far outnumber them.

Prior to seeing the movie, my favorite scene provided online is a behind-the-scenes take of Tommy "Tiny" Lister announcing the entrance of King Xerxes, surrounded by members of his elite personal bodyguard, The Immortal Ten Thousand:

"I appear to you by the gracious command, of the great KING OF KINGS! The emperor of the world! Xerxes! Son of Darius!"

Actually a different take made the final cut rather than the one shown in the 3-minute promo, but it was still delivered well. Lister, perfect for the role of Hegai, adds great presence to each scene he's in: very tall, very scarred, very strong, very black, with a deep, booming voice. When I hear him cry out what I just quoted, I can easily imagine him adding to it, "Bow, motherfv(<#rs!!!" One minor anomaly keen film critics will notice is that although Hegai mentions the loss of his "eye & manhood" in the film, & despite the fact that a large knife-wound is visible across the right side of his face, both of his eyes appear to work just fine throughout the film, differing dramatically with the scarred eye tissue shown in the promo clip. Compare:

So begins the famous scene that costs Queen Vashti her kingdom, a feast that Esther & Jesse manage to sneak into. (Don't ask how; it's not shown; maybe they bribed The Immortal 10k!) When Xerxes, played by Luke Goss, begins his quest for a new queen, Esther, along with many other young Jewish ladies, is forcefully taken from her "uncle" (actually cousin-cum-godfather) Mordecai, in the middle of the night. So too is Jesse rounded up to become a eunuch for the king, transitioning into the Biblical role of Hatach in chapter 4 of Esther (though never named as such in the film). The scene of them meeting up to sneak into the palace was terrible; but even worse was their reunion in the palace when Jesse cries, "They cut me!" instead of saying, "They castrated me!" What a contrast to Hegai's cry!

Anyway, Hegai takes charge of the fresh Jewish concubine, & immediately becomes impressed with her ability to read the epic of Gilgamesh in its native Babylonian script, though you wouldn't know it in this film because she reads it in English just as all other dialogue therein. It's too bad that she didn't read it at least in some sort of Arabic dialect, rather than her native California-girl accent. Tiffany Dupont, your basic generically-pretty, Born-Again-Christian poster-girl plays the starring role:

I expect her at any minute to say, "I'm all, it's like, whatever!" I don't fault the casting director's choice since I don't know who their choices were. I just know she doesn't match the Esther my imagination conjures up upon hearing, "the maid was fair & beautiful" (Esther 2:7) & "obtained favor in the sight of all them that looked upon her" (2:15). I would show some pictures here of the type I'm thinkin' of, but I'm sure my readers can imagine their own choice.

But when you see the other maidens, you too will easily agree that Esther is worthy of the crown. The film shows two vignettes of other candidates: one has serious trouble mounting a horse, but no problem falling promptly off of it, while the second one timidly enters the king's bedroom, & promptly pukes her guts out. (Okay, they don't actually show this, but she covers her mouth just in time as her eyes are popping out!)

One of my favorite scenes comes when Esther is chosen to simply read the daily cuneiform news for the king one night, which was penned in ink on vellum parchment, believe it or not (& large ink letters at that, reminding me of foundation-brick script). He's molding clay figurines--yes, who would've guessed Xerxes had a hobby--when she begins to ad-lib the document & transition into the story of Jacob serving for Rachel (Genesis 29). An interesting idea, but not if you stop to consider the context of her changing her name from Hadassah to Esther to hide her Jewish background! Will they ever make a movie without plot contradictions?!! And people complain that the Bible's 66 books contain contradictions!

Speaking of books, another crime of historical accuracy is the royal library, which apparently contains only vellum scrolls--no clay cuneiform tablets!

Some days later when Esther gets her real "one night with the king", I excuse the filmmakers for all earlier grievances! It's fantastic! I too became emotional & tears filled my eyes. It was that powerful. Perfectly scripted, & flawlessly executed. Maybe what really got me was the truly beautiful way they wove Proverbs 25:2 into the dialogue of this scene:

"It is the glory of God to conceal a thing; but the honor of kings is to search out a matter."

It's actually quoted ***3*** times in the film, much to my delight! You see, this is how I ended the first Biblical archeology article I wrote for Bible & Spade magazine (vol. 18 #1, Winter 2005). I began it by quoting verse 1, which mentions that the men of King Hezekiah copied these proverbs of Solomon (a connection first made in the context of LMLK seals by Michael Welch).

Well, surprise, surprise--Xerxes chooses Esther to be queen, & like all good Born-Again Christian kings ruling ancient Mesopotamia, they remain chaste until after their big wedding, which becomes another very colorful, extravagant scene:

But Xerxes is soon off on a business trip, during which time Mordecai & Esther foil a plot to poison him. This segment of the movie contains some interesting references to Greece, & their dangerous new "democracy". The scriptwriters even managed to weave in the statement, "all men are created equal"!!!

Xerxes returns home surprisingly early just in time to see Esther concluding a secret reunion with Mordecai, & rather than confronting them & killing them on the spot, he does what any good soap-opera actor would do: he becomes jealous, keeps his feelings hidden, & merely avoids romance with her, which naturally causes her to wonder why.

As Hegai leads her to his bedroom on a subsequent evening, they pause before entering upon hearing laughter from within--a young lady's voice, obviously frolicking with the king in an adult manner, which tears Esther apart inside, & she runs away. Since this is a Born-Again Christian movie, we are immediately shown the other side of the bedroom door, & to our great surprise, the great Persian king is merely giggling over the male & female servants who are making his bed for him. This was the standard, ever-repeating gag that made the late-70s sitcom, "Three's Company", such a hit for Suzanne Sommers, Joyce DeWitt, & the late John Ritter.

Xerxes now concentrates on a military campaign against Greece. His discussion of how to finance the venture takes place in a room where the entire floor is a map of the then-known world (interesting from a historian's perspective), & Haman utters his well-delivered line about slaughtering the Jews, "every last one of them", & confiscating their property.

Next, Mordecai rents his garment (not dramatic enough in my opinion), prays to God (addressed in good Born-Again Christian fashion as "Father" rather than Adonai or Jehovah), then refuses to bow to Haman. This portion of the movie follows the OT story fairly well, but one extremely noticeable wrinkle is in the delivering of the famous line, "you've come to the kingdom (LMLKym) for this..." (Esther 4:14). Believe it or not, the scriptwriters actually substituted "palace"! I cringed! My eyes popped out, I covered my mouth, & nearly puked my guts out! Personal note to the scriptwriters: A palace is a building, you fools! A kingdom can be an allegory for our life on Earth! How could you ruin such a classic piece of KJV prose! Were you afraid of violating someone's copyright on the text?!!

That literary fiasco notwithstanding, & the subsequent prayer of Esther (again, addressed to "Father"--I almost expected her to quote John 3:16 at some point), the pivotal scene of Esther entering the royal court unannounced was extremely well done--another emotional moment for me (in a good way); albeit the filmmakers' decision to have her run through the pouring rain, completely undone dresswise, was utterly nonsensical since all she did was invite the king & Haman to a private banquet:

She looks fantastic soaking wet, but this completely contradicts the scenario of Esther 5:1; still the presentation worked extremely well in the movie: again it nearly made me cry as it was supposed to. Again I excused them for botching the I've-come-to-the-kingdom line so badly.

I'll conclude my review at this point because the banquet scene includes an extremely clever twist that I don't want to spoil for moviegoers. One of the reasons I don't pay to see movies in theaters is that I get real ticked off over endings that suck, & "One Night with the King" has an excellent ending without compromising the Biblical version.

My only disappointments with the remainder of the film are that Esther's head is cut off ... no, not by an axe, but by the cameraman who didn't adjust to her standing up at the banquet (I can't believe the editors didn't catch/fix this), & we don't get to see Haman hanged. Such a pity. Couldn't they at least have shown his feet going limp & his pleading cut off?

"One Night with the King" doesn't make it to my Top 11 List of all-time favorite films (its "PG" rating means "pretty good", whereas an R rating might have turned out "really" good), but it was overall enjoyable to see on a big screen, & was quite engaging--for better or for worse--throughout its entire 122 minutes; they flew past way too fast for me.

Most viewers may not catch the final, & possibly deepest, contrast: King Saul's disobedience to God at the beginning of the film that resulted in a bad thing, vs. Queen Esther's disobedience to Persian protocol that resulted in a good thing. The film mistakenly emphasizes the kingdom of Persia being rent from Xerxes as the kingdom of Israel was from Saul centuries earlier.

Nor will most viewers realize the esoteric Christian contrast between the unapproachable Persian king, & the easily-approachable, true King of Kings:

"Come unto me, all ... for of such is the kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 11:28 & 19:14)

Song of the week: "Queens" by Cirque Du Soleil (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 30-second sample; 360kb), though Handel's "Xerxes (Largo)" makes a good alternate. Enya's awesome "Book of Days" with horrendous, alternate English lyrics plays within the 6-minute behind-the-scenes promo, but don't worry; it was mercifully cut from the film.
G.M. Grena

Friday, October 06, 2006

Let It Snow!

This weekend, post offices across the USA (& online) have begun offering a new set of 39-cent stamps featuring microscopic photos of snowflakes:

Ice crystals commonly begin as a piece of dust tumbling through the clouds. Gathering water molecules, they blossom into crystals with endlessly different patterns because of the constantly changing atmospheric conditions. This myriad of patterns has been classified within 7 basic forms by the International Commission on Snow and Ice (click here for an overview); the 4 photos selected by the USPS represent 2 of them:

  • "stellar dendrites" with branching treelike arms

  • "sectored plates" with platelike arms

Because fallen snowflakes start to melt & lose their shape within minutes of landing, they're particularly difficult to observe under a microscope, or to photograph.

Kenneth G. Libbrecht, Professor of Physics & Physics Executive Officer at The California Institute of Technology (CalTech), has built a tremendous website devoted to this art, & his fabulous photos are the ones chosen by the post office. He quickly transfers the snowflakes from cardboard to a glass slide using a paintbrush, then snaps the photos inside a temperature-regulated enclosure using a digital camera attached to a high-resolution microscope. That's a fancy way of saying the obvious--these are true freeze frames!

I am very grateful to Prof. Libbrecht, the king of snowflake photography, for granting me permission to feature several other specimens from his database here on my royal blog! You can click on the photos below to pop open hi-res versions of the photos on his website, or you can visit it directly for more info & photos galore:

"And your eyes shall see, & ye shall say, 'The LORD will be magnified...'"--Malachi 1:5

"Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things..."--Psalm 119:18

"Now therefore, stand & see this great thing, which the LORD will do before your eyes!"--1Samuel 12:16

"An image was before mine eyes. There was silence."--Job 4:16-17

"LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see."--2Kings 6:20

"And the LORD showed signs & wonders before our eyes..."--Deuteronomy 6:22

"Howbeit I believed not the words, until I came & saw it with my own eyes; and behold, the half was not told me!"--1Kings 10:7

"And yet this was a small thing in thine eyes, O God."--1Chronicles 17:17

"Lift up your eyes on high, & behold who hath created these things..."--Isaiah 40:26

"This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes!"--Psalm 118:23

"In that day shall a man look to his Maker, & his eyes shall have respect for the Holy One of Israel."--Isaiah 17:7

"Thine eyes shall see The King in his beauty."--Isaiah 33:17

"'The heathen shall know that I am the LORD,' saith the Lord GOD, 'when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.'"--Ezekiel 36:23

"Thus will I magnify Myself, & sanctify Myself; & I will be known in the eyes of many nations, & they shall know that I am the LORD."--Ezekiel 38:23

"Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see."--Luke 10:23

"Your eyes have seen all the great acts of the LORD, which He did."--Deuteronomy 11:7

"Mine eyes have seen The King--the LORD of hosts."--Isaiah 6:5

Song of the week: "Snow On High Ground" by Nightnoise (click the song title to visit Amazon; click here for a 30-second sample; 360kb).
G.M. Grena