Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Dismemberment in Dan 2:5 and 3:29 as an Old Persian Idiom, "To Be Made into Parts"

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Dismemberment in Dan 2:5 and 3:29 as an Old Persian Idiom, "To Be Made into Parts"

Article excerpt

The book of Daniel contains two threats by king Nebuchadnezzar to dismember those not complying with his wishes. In the first instance, his own sages are at risk for failing to interpret the king's dream: "The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, 'The command from me is final: if you do not tell me the dream and its interpretation, you will be dismembered and your houses will be reduced to rubble'" (Dan 2:5). The second time this punishment is imposed is in Dan 3:29 where Nebuchadnezzar warns that anyone that dishonors the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego "will be dismembered and his house will be reduced to rubble."

This discussion will not be concerned with the historical or exegetical significance of dismemberment in these passages, but with the peculiar manner of expressing this penalty by the clause haddamin tit abdun/yit abed, which literally means "you/he shall be made into parts." While one might expect this expression to be idiosyncratic or even faintly humorous, Persian interference in the Aramaic clause can provide a more convincing explanation for its construction. Consequently, I will argue that haddamin tit abdun/yit abed, in Dan 2:5 and 3:29, may well be a loan translation from Old Persian, used to convey dismemberment.

The potential for a construction native to the language, or language family, needs to be investigated first.(1) The expressions in Dan 2:5 and 3:29 employ a double-object construction to describe the transformation of one thing into another. Such usages also occur in Old Aramaic, Hebrew, and elsewhere in Biblical Aramaic. For example, sym, "to set, put," in Old Aramaic and Hebrew can mean "to make, transform, convert" (KAI 222C:19-20, 23; Josh 6:18; Isa 41:15; 42:16, et al.).(2) Further, in Biblical Aramaic sim (Dan 2:5) and [s.sup.e]wah, "to set" (Dan 3:29), function passively with double-objects to denote the destruction of houses, "your/his house(s) shall be made into rubble." The example that most nearly resembles those in Daniel, however, comes from the Hebrew asah, "to make," in Neh 9:31 (also Nah 1:8; Zeph 1:18). There asah governs the pronominal object -am, "them," and the predicate object, kalah, "complete destruction," so that the sentence lo asitam kalah literally means, "you did not make them into complete destruction." Here, not only do we encounter a double-object construction but, as with haddamin tit abdun/yit abed, also a periphrastic one used to convey an action ordinarily relegated to verbs (e.g., killah). Therefore the possibility of an expression for dismemberment like those in Dan 2:5 and 3:29 occurring naturally in Biblical Aramaic (or Hebrew) cannot be ruled out.

Nevertheless, it may be meaningful that a double-object construction with bd, "to make, do," is lacking in both Old and Biblical Aramaic.(3) Apart from the texts suspected of being under Persian influence (Dan 2:5, 3:29; include also Ezra 6:11), bd is never used in Biblical Aramaic of making one thing into another. On the contrary, the double-object construction is well attested with the Old Persian verb kar-, "to do, make" (DB 1.87; 3.57; DSf 14-15, 17-18, 20; XPh 42-43, et al.). DSf 17-18 provides a suitable example: mam XSyam akunaus haruvahaya BUya, "He made me king in all this world." So then, if indeed the double-object construction was alien to bd prior to the Persian period, as the extant evidence seems to indicate, its use with the double-object in Dan 2:5, 3:29, and Ezra 6:11 may reflect a Persian construction with kar.

Of greater significance is the occurrence of the standard verb for dismemberment, gzr, "to cut in two," in an Old Aramaic Sefire inscription. KAI 222A:39-40 illustrates the penalty for covenant infidelity by cutting up a calf: [w yk zy] ygzr gl znh kn ygzr mt l wygzrn rbwh, "[Just as] this calf is cut apart, so may Matiel be cut apart, and (so) may his nobles be cut apart." Hebrew itself has several verbs for dismemberment, commonly karat and natah, less so tarap, batar, sasa, sasap, badal, pa ah, pasah, qasas, and possibly yaqa. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.