Marginal Notes on: C 4717

Inscription C 4717, known only from a hand copy, reads as follows:

l ḫyḏt bn ḫbṯ bn s¹m(k) bn s¹wr bn mlk w rʿy h-nḫl bql w ngʿ b-ry s¹rqt f h bʿls¹m[n] (ġ)[n](y)t

Tracing Dunand 925 (courtesy of OCIANA).

The translation of most of the text is straight forward:

‘By yḏt bn ḫbṯ bn S¹m(k) bn S¹wr bn mlk and he pastured in the valley on fresh herbage and grieved in pain b-ry s¹rqt  so, O Bʿls¹m[n], let there be [abundance]’

The section in bold occurs only once in the corpus of Safaitic. Ryckmans, the original editor, translated it as “he wept because the land was watered”, but this interpretation is hard to justify logically and linguistically. The first component resembles the well-known formula b-rʾy ‘at the rising’, referring to the rising of asterisms on the horizon (Al-Jallad 2014, 2016). If a glottal stop can be restored here, then it would suggest that the following term refers to an asterism or heavenly body.

The root s¹rq concerns the semantic domain of theft, attested in Arabic. None of the zodiacal or para-zodiacal constellations can be reconciled with this meaning. It is possible that the term is the name of an asterism that does not survive in any known tradition, and if that is the case then it is impossible to identify it.

The Robber is one of the names of Mars in the Mesopotamian star catalogs: mul (see Koch-Westenholz 1995). Is it possible that the Safaitic actually attests a name of Mars? Was its rising considered a bad omen, at least at this particular time? Another name of Mars, The Evil One, mul lu-um-nu, is possibly attested in Safaitic. I suggested (Al-Jallad 2014: 225–226; Al-Jallad 2016: 87, 102) that the phrase ʾlmn b-ʿqbt (KRS 1551) refers to an astronomical event, namely, the passage of Mars through Scorpio and seems to have been considered a bad omen, as the author then prays for relief or rain. Could there have been multiple names for the planet Mars as in the Mesopotamian tradition?

It is possible to venture a non-astronomical interpretation of this text by taking s¹rqt as thieves, cf. CAr saraqatun. The phrase could then be translated as ‘he grieved when seeing thieves’, but such an expression would find no parallel so far in Safaitic, at least with b-ry.

For now, the astronomical interpretation seems to be the best fit for this difficult text. But as with all inscriptions known only from hand copies, a great deal of caution must be observed when advancing theories based on them. Until the rock is rediscovered, we cannot know for sure what this text truly says.



Al-Jallad, A. 2014. An ancient Arabian zodiac. The constellations in the Safaitic inscriptions, Part IArabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 25.2: 214–230.

Al-Jallad, A. 2016. An Ancient Arabian Zodiac: the constellations in the Safaitic inscriptions, Part II. AAE 27: 84–106

[C] Ryckmans, G. Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum: Pars Quinta, Inscriptiones Saracenicae Continens: Tomus I, Fasciculus I, Inscriptiones Safaiticae. Paris: E Reipublicae Typographeo, 1950–1951.

Koch-Westenholz, U. 1995. Mesopotamian astrology: an introduction to Babylonian and Assyrian celestial divination. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.

[KRS] Inscriptions recorded by Geraldine King on the Basalt Desert Rescue Survey in north-eastern Jordan in 1989 and published here

Marginal Notes on: Inscription 259 in Khraysheh 2002

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

Fawwāz Khraysheh published in 2002 an edition of Safaitic inscriptions from Biyār al-Ghusayn, Jordan. The 512 texts contain a good mix of genres, mostly conforming to the established formulae, but attesting a few new lexical items and constructions. A few of these texts have figured into my grammar (2015), and more will be used in the second edition. My reluctance to draw on this particular edition comes from the fact that there are virtually no photographs of the inscriptions in the book. While such a weakness is forgivable for older editions, there is no reason for such an omission in modern works. Thus, we are made to rely on the tracings of the author. Even the most experienced epigraphist can trace glyphs incorrectly, as a large number closely resemble each other even in ideal conditions, and so drawings are not the best source to establish the attestation of new vocabulary or constructions. Khraysheh passed away nearly a decade ago and the location of his photographs is unknown. It is hoped that his estate can make his field material available to scholars in the future or that his texts will be re-discovered by a future expedition to Biyār al-Ghusayn.

The inscription of interest is no. 259, which Khraysheh draws as follows:


Khraysheh’s reading and translation:

KhBG 259

l ʾḫʾl bn gd h-dr w ṣyr b- ḏʿṯr m- m[dbr]

‘this is the campsite of ʾḫʾl son of Gd and he set off in the month of Ḏū ʿAṯṯar from the desert’

In his short commentary he states:

“It is not strange that some of the Safaites would use the names of the South Arabian months, despite the fact that this is the first time that ḏʿṯr is attested as a month name in Safaitic” (my translation)

In fact, it is rather odd that a South Arabian month would appear in the Safaitic inscriptions, given that there is no evidence for South Arabian influence otherwise. Moreover, at least three Babylonian months have been attested so far, knn (=kānūn), s¹bṭ (=šubāṭ) and nṣn (= nīsān). Month names, however, are exceptional and the normal way of reckoning time is through the use of a zodiac star calendar (Al-Jallad 2016).

Assuming that Khraysheh copied the inscription correctly, ḏʿṯr can refer to a month or celestial body connected with the deity ʿAṯtar. ʿAṯtar is a proto-Semitic deity, worshipped in South Arabia as ʿṯtr, but also found in Ugaritic as ʿṯtr, Mesopotamia Ishtar, Canaanite, ʿštr, and Aramaic ʿtr. Thus the presence of this name alone does not require a connection with South Arabia. ʿAṯtar has not yet –to my knowledge– appeared as a deity in the Safaitic inscriptions, so at the very least the term would seem to be foreign.

A month with the divine name ʿṯtr occurs in the Minaic calendar as ḏʿṯrt and in Sabaic as ḏʿṯtr (see Beeston 1956). Neither for these names matches perfectly the Safaitic attestation and therefore there is no a priori reason to assume a borrowing from one of these calendars. While the change of ʿaṯtar to ʿaṯṯar is trivial, there is no reason to assume that it is necessary in Safaitic, nor is there any reason to assume the deletion of the final t if the form was borrowed directly from Minaic. Thus, to account for these oddities we must appeal to one or more ad-hoc phonological changes during the borrowing process, or a pronunciation that differed from the spellings of the Ancient South Arabian texts.

In possible support of the South Arabian origin is the use of the relative pronoun with the month name. This practice extended to calendars outside of South Arabia as well: some of the month names of the Arabo-Islamic calendar contain this pronominal element, e.g. ḏū l-ḥiǧǧah, and possibly the calendar of Ancient Dadān (this will be argued in the Leiden University thesis of Fokelien Kootstra).

Based on the Safaitic evidence, ʿAṯtar was not worshipped in the Ḥarrah and the deity is not mentioned by ibn al-Kalbī in his Book of Idols. As far as I know from the Thamudic inscriptions, none of the variants of ʿAṯtar has appeared in prayers. However, at Dūmat al-Ǧandal the deity ʿtrs¹m /ʿattar-samā/ ‘ʿAttar of the heavens (lit. sky)’ is encountered in a single text:

h rḍw w nhy w ʿtrs¹m sʿd-n ʿl wdd-y

O Rḍw and Nhy and ʿtrs¹m help me in the matter of my love!

ʿtrs¹m is attested in a few Thamudic inscriptions from North Arabia (e.g. Winnett and Reed 1973: 136, 160, 161). Positing a connection with the present attestation, however, is problematic for the same reasons as the South Arabian connection – the name is not an exact match.

Considering all of the evidence, I believe that Khraysheh’s suggestion of a South Arabian origin to be the most plausible, but if so, the source was most likely the Minaean trading colony at Dadān in North Arabia rather than South Arabia proper. This month name could have diffused to surrounding Arabian tribes, like the Ḥawīlat, Liḥyān, or Ruhay. During the diffusion process, the final t could have been lost – perhaps because it was subject to common sound change of at to ah and ultimately ā. While this did not happen in Minaic or Safaitic, it did happen in the local Arabian dialect of Dadān, at least in some conditions. Just as the Babylonian month names diffused to the Safaitic writers of the Ḥarrah, nomads of North Arabia may have taken over the names of months from oases such as Dadān and Taymāʾ.

While the North Arabian tribes I have mentioned above do not usually carve Safaitic inscriptions, contact with them is well attested in the Safaitic corpus, e.g. WH 736.a (Al-Jallad 2015:60). Thus, the Safaitic writer could have learned this month name from interaction with North Arabian tribes as they migrated into the Ḥarrah, a phenomenon also well attested in the Safaitic inscriptions. It is also possible that the author belongs to one of the North Arabian tribes I have mentioned above – Safaitic inscriptions were composed by diverse groups and a few inscriptions were in fact composed by men from the Ḥawīlat tribe of North Arabia (Al-Jallad 2015: 18-21).

I would suggest the following translation for the text:

l ʾḫʾl bn gd h-dr w ṣyr b- ḏʿṯr m- m[dbr]

‘By ʾḫʾl son of Gd, in this region, and he returned from the inner desert to a place of water during (the month of?) Ḏū ʿAṯṯar’.


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

Al-Jallad, A. 2016. An Ancient Arabian Zodiac: the constellations in the Safaitic inscriptions, Part II. AAE 27: 84–106

Beeston, A.F.L. 1956. Epigraphic South Arabian calendars and dating. London: Luzuc.

Khraysheh, F. 2002. Nuqūš ṣafawiyyah min biyār al-ġuṣayn. Irbid: Yarmouk University Press.

Winnett, F.V. and W.L. Reed. 1973. An Archaeological-Epigraphical Survey of the Ḥāʾil Area of Northern Saʿudi Arabia, 22: 53‒114.