Monday, 1 June 2020

Oldest Arabic poem

I love that in this ancient poem, Mot, a personification of Death from the Ancient Canaanite religion, the enemy of Baal, the Thunder, Rain God, is explicitly identified as Sun...Another proof that climate indeed has major influence on the development of religious symbolism...

This is the oldest poem in Arabic: a 3-line text recounting the cosmic battle between Mōt, the god of death, and Baʿal, the storm god as described in the Baal Cycle


It is carved in an ancient script close to Safaitic and is at least 2000 years old. The reconstructed pronunciation of the Old Arabic: the verses form a final rhyme in *ām*, with an otiose syllable in the second verse.

1) ḥagga mōtu wal-lāẓẓu ṯarām
2) fa-muyakānu layālay-uh wa-ʾaywām-uh
3) wa-hāʾ baʿalu yabītu wa-lā-hu bāta wa-mā nām

Here is what is says:

1)Mōt has held a feast; the scorner eats
2)Established is the alternation of his nights and days
3)Behold Baʿal slumbers; he slumbers indeed, but is not dead…

The transliteration and translation was done by Ahmad Al-Jallad @safaitic, Epigraphist, Philologist, Historian of Language, Ancient Near East and Pre-Islamic Arabia. 

This is what he says about the actual inscription:

"This inscription (KRS 2453) was discovered in northern Jordan by Geraldine King in 1989, published online with a preliminary reading and no translation. The text is undated but certainly pre-Islamic. Mythological material can survive millennia. The letter shapes are rather archaic, differing from both Safaitic and Hismaic in their details. I safe guess: the text is at least 2000 years old but perhaps much older"


Here is the explanation of each of the verses:

1) "Mōt has held a feast; the scorner eats"

Mōt is the West Semitic god of infertility, drought, literally "death". This line explains that Mōt reigns. Holding a feast is a mark of kingship. (Ahmad Al-Jallad)

2) "Established is the alternation of his nights and days"

This verse affirms Mōt’s dominion through a connection with this cosmic phenomenon. A similar phrase occurs in the Quran (23:80): "And it is He (Allah) who gives life and causes death, and His is the alternation of the night and the day. Then will you not reason?" (Ahmad Al-Jallad)


3) "Behold Baʿal slumbers, he slumbers indeed, but not dead…" 

A similar phrase occurs in Quran (2:255) "Allah, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsisting by Whom all subsist, there is no god but He.  Neither slumber seizes Him, nor sleep; to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. Who is there who might intercede with Him save with His leave?" (Ahmad Al-Jallad)

It is very interesting that the same things attributed to Mōt (Sun god, god of death in the desert) in this Pre Islamic poem are in Quran attributed to Allah...

Mot gained dominion by ‘killing’ Baal, the Storm, Rain god. But according to the Baal Cycle, Mot only killed a substitute. Baal went into hiding in fear of Mōt’s power, only to return to life at a later point....

This is the way to indicate seasonal, cyclical character of this "battle"...

Here is Baal holding a thunder hammer in his right hand and a lightning spear from which the tree (of life) is sprouting...In deserts it is the rain that creates life...


The ultimate triumph of Baal (Rain, Life) over Mot (Sun, Death) can be seen on these pictures of the Dead Sea area, one of the driest places on earth, taken in February (mid winter) 2020...Larger than usual amounts of rain have transformed normally barren shores of the Dead Sea into a meadow... 


This poem is definitely related to the Baal Cycle as known from Ugarit. In its Arabian context, it appears to be a seasonal myth, symbolising the struggle between the dry summer months (Mōt) and the rainy seasons (Baʿal). A few texts record Baʿal in times of drought(Ahmad Al-Jallad)

I would argue that the original Baal Cycle is the seasonal myth. In Eastern Mediterranean, Anatolia, Levant, Mesopotamia and Arabia, the climatic year is divided into two parts, two seasons: Dry season (May-October) and Wet season (November to April). Dry season is the domain of Mot, Sun...And Wet season is the domain of Baal, Rain...

No memory of these myths makes it into Islamic-period sources...(Ahmad Al-Jallad)

Well...As you can see from the above Quran quotes, it does, except both Sun and Rain gods were amalgamated into one god, Allah, the Sky god...Serbian Dabog is the same kind of Sky god, being both Sun god and Bringer of rain, Storm god...

Baʿal survives in local dialectal expressions. In Lebanon, one can say: "ḫallī ʿalā ba‘al" 'leave it to Baʿal', referring to plants that are watered by the rain! (Ahmad Al-Jallad)

Bibliography:

"Echoes of the Baal Cycle in a Safaito-Hismaic Inscription" by Ahmad Al-Jallad

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