Marginal Notes on: HASI 9-11

This belongs to a series of “marginal notes” I will post on recently published Safaitic inscriptions.

The inscriptions HASI 9-11 are carved on a single stone, discovered by Abdul-Qader Al-Husan in the Mafraq Province, Jordan and published on OCIANA. The rock is said to be in situ but no further details about its location are given. The inscriptions seem to have been carved by a single hand. OCIANA reads the texts as follows:

HASI 9-11 (courtesy OCIANA).


HASI 9: l ns²ḥ bn hknf bn ydʿ

HASI 10: l ʾḥḥt bn ns²ḥ bn hknf

HASI 11: l ṣḥr bn hknf bn ydʿ w rmy gddʿ

The men Ns²ḥ and Ṣḥr are brothers and ʾḥḥt is the son of Ns²ḥ. While it is common to regard these texts as signatures, the fact that all three texts seem to be carved by the same person permits other interpretations as to their purpose. But before getting to that issue, I will discuss the interpretation of HASI 11. OCIANA has translated the text as:

By Ṣḥr son of Hknf son of Ydʿ and he went to a level plain

While the commentary does not discuss how this meaning was achieved, one may assume that the editor interpreted rmy as Classical Arabic ramā ‘to repair to a place’ (Hava, 264b) and gdd as Classical Arabic ǧadad ‘level ground’ (Lane, 386c). The final ʿ seems to be omitted from the interpretation. The letter is not on the photograph, and so the reading of the final word should be amended to gdd.

While it is true that the Safaitic words correspond to the Arabic ones identified and the result produces a grammatical sentence, the reason to carve such a pointless statement into rock is hard to find, even more so given that the author does not specify a specific plain but uses the indefinite form. The Safaitic inscriptions abound with what appear to be expressions of profane activities, such as pasturing and migrating, but these nonetheless would have held much significance to the inhabitants of the Ḥarrah and are essential to their survival. A prayer for security while pasturing therefore is far from pointless. This interpretation on the other hand seems only to state a matter of fact and, while possible, I wonder if the text could be better interpreted in another way.

The Safaitic inscriptions are highly formulaic in their contents but can vary significantly lexically. Inscriptions requesting security while keeping watch are common, but the verbs for ‘guarding’ or ‘keeping watch’ can vary from ḫrṣ, rʾy, ḫll, nẓr, tẓr, and so on; some of these are rather common while others are rare.

A common phrase, attested 46 times according to OCIANA’s count, is tẓr mny. This has been translated in various ways by different editors. Winnett and Harding give the translation ‘he awaited Fate’, referring presumably to death, and this is the only translation found in OCIANA in its present form. This translation contradicts the depiction of deified Fate as an unseen force that snatches its victim at any moment – not quite something one would or could await. I suggested in 2015 that the subject of tẓr was in fact mny ‘Fate’ and the phrase should better be translated as ‘and Fate lay in wait’. This better explains the prayers for deliverance and salvation that often follow:

RSIS 309: tẓr mny w yṯʿ rwḥ ‘Fate lay in wait so Yṯʿ send ease!

ASWS 169: tẓr mny f h rḍw flṭ m-bʾs¹ ‘Fate lay in wait so, O Rḍw, deliver (him) from misfortune’

WAMS 19.2: tẓr mny f h rḍw flṭ-h ‘Fate lay in wait so, O Rḍw, deliver him’

Now, why is this all relevant? I do not think the present inscription is a paraphrase of tẓr mny, but I suspect that gdd is another term for deified Fate, equivalent perhaps to mny ‘Fate’ and mt ‘Death’.

The term al-ǧadīd can refer to ‘a thing of which one has no knowledge’ and as such is used as an epithet of ‘Death’ (Lane, 387a). The following excerpt from the lemma on this root in the Lisān (s.v.):

الجديد: ما لا عهد لك به, ولذلك وصف الموت بالجديد.
هذلية: قال أبو ذؤيب:
فقلت لقلبي: يا لك الخير! إنما
يدليك للموت الجديد جبابها

The epithet may further derive from the basic sense of the root gdd meaning ‘to cut’ (Classical Arabic ǧadda-hu ‘he cut it off’ (Lane, 384b), a common metaphor for Fate, e.g. one’s “lot” in English or Kismet “fate, destiny”, from Turkish, ultimately from Arabic “portion”, from the root qsm ‘to divide’.

If we take gdd as a term for Fate, then the verb rmy is best understood as ‘to throw, cast, shoot’, with the ellipsis of its object. This verb has previously been attested in Safaitic (Al-Jallad 2015: 339). The motif of deified Death/Fate shooting arrows at the doomed is common in Classical Arabic poetry. To give just an example, consider the following distich by  Nābighah al-Dhubyānī (d. 604 CE):

أني وجدت سهام الموت معرضة بكل حتف من آجال مكتوب
‘I have indeed seen the arrows of Death directed at every doomed man from a pre-destined decree’ (al-Nābigha al-Dhubyānī, wa-ajmal ʾashʿārih, comp. ‘Amr Yūsuf (Alexandria, n.d.), 27).

Returning to the purpose of these texts, it is possible that the Ṣḥr had died and Ns²ḥ and his son buried and grieved for him, carving these texts as a memorial, the group of texts being carved by one of these individuals. It is also possible that all three men died and the texts are memorial, the epitaph applying to all of them.

The new translation I cautiously suggest is therefore:

HASI 11: l ṣḥr bn hknf bn ydʿ w rmy gdd 

‘By Ṣḥr son of Hknf son of Ydʿ and Fate shot (its arrows)’.


All sigla follow the OCIANA identifications.

Al-Jallad, A. 2015. An Outline of the Grammar of the Safaitic Inscriptions. (SSLL 80). Leiden: Brill.