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an ARYAN (Old-Persian) Idiom IN BIBLE

"To Be Made into Parts"

Dismemberment in Dan 2:5 & 3:29



By John Makujina


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. Yet prior to the Persian period locutions for dismemberment resembling those in Daniel are lacking in Old Aramaic and Hebrew.(4) The existence of verbs for dismemberment in Semitic and the absence of an expression like haddamin tit abdun/yit abed justify searching for foreign impact on the construction of these clauses.

A clue to the possible Old Persian origin of haddamin tit abdun/yit abed is the presence of haddamin, a noun that is undoubtedly a loanword for the Old Persian *handaman-, "limb, body part."(5) *Handaman- is often reconstructed by way of the New Persian andam, "limb," but the Western Middle Iranian handam (also andam, hanam), "limb," and the Avestan handaman- (Yasht 14.56) are much more appropriate models, both orthographically and chronologically.(6) In the transfer from Old Persian to Aramaic the first nasal, -n-, of *handaman- apparently assimilated into the daleth - thus haddamin - as also seems to be the case in at least one other Old Persian loanword, hoddu, "India" (Esth 1:1; 8:9), derived from the Old Persian and Avestan hindu-.(7)

The Persian origin of the two clauses in question may also be supported by their incorporation into a series of statements containing the same stereotyped language encountered in the official Persian documents of Ezra. Compare Dan 2:5, ubatekon [n.sup.e]wali [yitt.sup.e]samun, "and your houses shall be reduced to rubble," and 3:29, ubayteh [n.sup.e] wali yistawweh, "and his house shall be reduced to rubble," with the royal decree in Ezra 6:11, ubayteh [n.sup.e]walu yit abed al [d.sup.e]nah, "and his house shall be reduced to rubble because of this"(8)

Moreover, the decree formula sim [t.sup.e] em, "a decree is issued," abundant in the official documents of Ezra and attested in the Aramaic letters written by Persian officials in the fifth century B.C., also precedes haddamin yit abed in Dan 3:29 and introduces the punishments that follow, uminni sim [t.sup.e] em di, "Therefore a decree is issued by me [Nebuchadnezzar] that. . . . "Compare with Ezra 6:8, uminni sim [t.sup.e] em, "And a decree is issued by me [Darius]. . . . "Without making more of a point than the evidence allows, we may at least affirm that the Persian terminology in which our formula is embedded increases the possibility that haddamin tit abdun/yit abed is an Old Persian calque.(9)

A most convincing reason for considering haddamin tit abdun/yit abed as an Old Persian calque is because its construction follows Old Persian, where a combination of kar-, "to do, make" or bav-, "to become" with a direct object/predicate nominative can indicate actions or states of being that could otherwise be communicated through verbs. An excellent example of kar- functioning like abad in Dan 2:5 and 3:29 comes from DB 2.76, the execution of Phraortes by Darius: pasavasim Hagmatanaiy uzmayapatiy akunavam, "After that I [Darius] impaled him [made him on a stake] at Ecbatana." DB 2.90-91, the execution of Cicantakhma, is almost identical: pasavasim Arbairaya uzmayapatiy akunavam, "After that I [Darius] impaled him [made him on a stake] at Arbela".(10) An apparent lack of the verb "impale" in Old Persian, has led the scribe to choose uzmayapatiy akunavam, "I made [him] on a stake." These examples of the periphrastic use of kar- enhance our thesis in that, like dismemberment, they also describe a form of execution.

Both executions follow mutilation, as one example, DB 2.73-75, shows: adamsaiy uta naham uta gause uta hazanam frajanam utasaiy I casam avajam, "I [Darius] cut off his nose and ears and tongue, and I struck out one of his eyes." Here the actions are described with the verbs frajan-, "to cut off," and avajan-, "to strike out" (also in DB 2.88-89), and not with combinations of kar- + double-object, which would correspond well with haddamin tit abdun/yit abed. In these texts frajan- and avajan-convey the idea of mutilation rather than dismemberment. While mutilation is a brutal form of punishment, nevertheless it is not fatal (at least not directly).(11) Thus Phraortes and Cicantakhma were first mutilated, displayed, and only later executed (DB 2.73-91). Nebuchadnezzar's punishments in Dan 2:5 and 3:29, however, involved hacking a person to death, "you/he shall be torn limb from limb" (NASB, RSV, JPSV). Yet, had frajan- and avajan- conveyed dismemberment, another expression, such as the one in Daniel, could still have existed concurrently. Further, although a periphrasis of *handaman- + kar- is not found in Old Persian inscriptions, according to Dihkhuda it does occur in New Persian as andam andam kardan, where it also means "to dismember," lit., "to make into part, part."(12) There is always the possibility that andam andam kardan was borrowed into Persian from Aramaic, given the influence of Aramaic on the Persian language and given the fact that the earliest example of the clause, "to make into parts," occurs in Aramaic (Dan 2:5, 3:29).

Two more suggestions remain to be made. First, the verb bd was probably the standard translational equivalent for kar- in Aramaic. Although this can be assumed a priori, since both verbs have similar roles and semantic ranges within their languages, it can also be verified to some degree by the Aramaic version of the Behistun inscription, which regularly has bd in place of kar- in the Old Persian original.(13) The second point (and this supports the first) is that the link between bd and karwas so strong that bd eventually became crystallized as the verbal ideogram OBD (for kardan) in Western Middle Iranian.(14) Therefore the idiom "to make into parts" in Old Persian (using the infinitive of kar-) would have been, *handama cartanaiy. To match the tense and voice of the hithpeel imperfects tit abdun/yit abed, a future passive example in Old Persian - by way of the passive optative of kar - would probably be satisfactory: *[hauv] handama kariyais, "he shall be made into parts."

Despite the possibility of a Semitic explanation for haddamin tit abdun/yit abed, I conclude that the cumulative evidence makes the proposal for an Old Persian origin compelling: a lack of evidence for the double-object construction with bd in Old and Biblical Aramaic, with the exception of clauses under possible Persian influence; the existence of a serviceable verb for dismemberment in Old Aramaic; the inclusion of haddamin within the proposed calque; the presence of this expression within the context of phraseology peculiar to the official Persian documents of Ezra; and, most importantly, the resemblance of the clause to the function of kar- in Old Persian and its apparent survival as andam andam kardan in New Persian.

The outcome of this study may have implications for the critical study of Daniel, as well as for topics like linguistic influence and cultural exchange in the Persian period. In terms of literary issues, there is now further evidence for the anachronistic use of Persian terminology within a Babylonian setting in the book of Daniel. This study also suggests that Old Persian influenced the book of Daniel and Imperial Aramaic in more ways than hitherto estimated, especially in regard to syntax and loan translations. In discussions of the interaction of Old Persian and Aramaic, Aramaic is usually considered the dominant language and credited with a far greater degree of influence. Yet if the conclusions of this study are correct and if other calques can be found in Imperial Aramaic, the subordinate role of Old Persian may need revision.



I am grateful to Tremper Longman III for his encouragement and his expertise in Akkadian and to Wilma Heston for her advice on Old Persian. Unless indicated, translations are mine.

The abbreviations DS, DSf, and XPh refer to texts available in R. G. Kent, Old Persian, American Oriental Series, vol. 33 (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1953), 107-57.

1 Imperial Aramaic was most influenced by Persian, Hebrew, and Akkadian; see Franz Rosenthal, A Grammar of Biblical Aramaic (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1983), 57-59. On Akkadian influences I have relied on Stephen A. Kaufman's The Akkadian Influences on Aramaic, The Oriental Institute of the Univ. of Chicago Assyriological Studies, vol. 19 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1974).

2 Akkadian samu, "to allot, determine," shares the semantic range of Northwest Semitic sym, but does not exhibit nuances such as "to make, transform, convert"; epesu, "to do, make," does, CAD, S/1: 358-64; E: 230, 232; AHw, 1225.

3 See Ronald Allen Brauner, "A Comparative Lexicon of Old Aramaic" (Ph.D. diss., The Dropsie Univ., 1974), 435-38; J. Hoftijzer and K. Jongeling, Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), 810-16. Indisputable examples of bd with a double-object do occur in Imperial Aramaic, but even here Persian influence is just as possible as it is in the biblical material; see Emil G. Kraeling, The Brooklyn Museum Aramaic Papyri: New Documents of the Fifth Century B.C. from the Jewish Colony at Elephantine (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1953), 226 (8.6, 7, 9), lm bdh bd, "to make him a slave"; Beh 17 (= DB, 3.12), mrgw mlk lyhm bdw, "they made a Margian king over them."

4 Kaufman makes no connection between haddamin tit abdun/yit abed and Akkadian forms. Brauner adds that in Akkadian the equivalent of gzr and karat is probably parasu, "Lexicon of Old Aramaic," 123.

5 The point is generally accepted by lexicographers and commentators, Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), 1089 [= BDB]; Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, Hebraisches und Aramaisches Lexikon zum Alten Testament, 3rd edition (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995), 1696 [= KB]; Maximilian Ellenbogen, Foreign Words in the Old Testament: Their Origin and Etymology (London: Luzac and Company, 1962), 65; Andre Lacocque, Le Livre de Daniel, Commentaire de l'Ancien Testament, vol. 15b (Paris: Delachaux et Niestle, 1976), 43ff.

6 Rosenthal, Biblical Aramaic, 59; Mary Boyce, A Word-List of Manichaean Middle Persian and Parthian, vol. 2 of Acta Iranica: Encyclopedie permanente des etudes iraniennes (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977), 46; Hoshangji Jamaspji Asa, An Old Pahlavi-Pazand Glossary (Bombay: Govt. Central Book Depot, 1870), 62, 125; Christian Bartholomae, Altiranisches Worterbuch (Strassburg: Karl J. Trubner, 1904), 1772. I use the term "Western Middle Iranian" to include Arsacid, Sasanian, and Book Pahlavi.

7 Kent, Old Persian, 214. The verbs hadam, "to dismember, dissect," in Late Aramaic (for example, Tg. Jon. Judg 14:6; 19:29; 20:6), and hdm in Syriac, are most likely denominatives; see Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli, and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York: The Judaica Press, 1992), 333; Ellenbogen, Foreign Words, 65.

8 The etymology of [n.sup.e]wali/[n.sup.e]walu, "dunghill (?), rubble" (?), is inconclusively traced to an alleged Akkadian nawalu (BDB, 1102). JPSV has "your/his house(s) [shall be] confiscated" (Ezra 6:11; Dan 2:5, 3:29), preferring the LXX in each case: to kat eme poiethesetai, "shall be made mine" (2 Esdr 6:11); analephthesetai . . . eis to basilikon, "shall be taken for the royal treasury" (Dan 2:5, LXX); demeuthesetai, "shall be confiscated" (Dan 3:96, LXX).

9 The phrase "Persian terminology" is used guardedly here, since the formula ubayteh [n.sup.e]walu yit abed is not attested in Old Persian. Nevertheless, it is potentially dependent on Old Persian (or other Persian languages) - whether stylistically or syntactically; see Lee V. Hensley, "The Official Persian Documents in the Book of Ezra" (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Liverpool, 1977), ii-iii. To express the destruction of a building by the locution [n.sup.e]walu yit abed, "it shall be made into rubble," agrees with the use of the Old Persian kar-, as will be explained in detail below.

10 See also DB, 3.52, 92.

11 Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 140. I am grateful to W. Heston for insisting on this distinction. It should be mentioned that kart-, kirrenidan, and krt-, cognate verbs for "cutting," are used to describe dismemberment in Avestan, Pahlavi, and Vedic, respectively; see Bruce Lincoln, "Pahlavi kirrenidan: Traces of Iranian Creation Mythology," JAOS 117 (1997): 681-85. Therefore a cognate for kart-, etc., in Old Persian - though unattested - should not be ruled out.

12 Ali Akbar Dihkhuda, Lughat-namah, vol. 1 (Tehran: Donishgah-i Tihnan, 1958-66), 348. See also F. Steingass, A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary, 8th ed. (London: Routledge, 1988), 108. I am indebted to W. Heston for tracking down the Dihkhuda reference. This expression surfaces in 2 Macc 1:16 (1st cent. B.C.) as mele poiesantes, "dismembering," lit., "making [them] into parts," and is undoubtedly the same idiom as haddamin tit abdun/yit abed in Daniel (KB, 1068; Otto Ploger, Das Buch Daniel, KAT 18 [Stuttgart: Gutersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1965], 45). Because, however, both Persian and Semitic influences are. arguable in intertestamental literature, this example does not assist us in determining the origin of the clause. Further, in Akkadian epesu, "to do, make," exhibits a number of combinations with direct objects to express actions that can also be related through verbs (see CAD, E: 191-235). Thus a locution like "to make someone into parts," though unattested, is within the possible uses of this verb. The example that most resembles Dan 2:5 and 3:29 occurs in an Old Assyrian tablet where epesu governs damu, "blood," and means "to shed blood" (CAD, D: 79; E: 206). But here the literal sense is "to commit bloodshed" rather than "to make (someone) into blood," as it would need to be for a true parallel to haddamin tit abdun/yit abed.

13 Beh 2 (2x) = DB, 2.38-39; line 3 = DB, 2.42; line 17 = DB, 3.57; line 20 = DB, 3.19; line 29 = DB, 3.40 et al. The connection is indirect, however, because bd probably replaced the Akkadian epesu (based on the Akkadian version), rather than being a direct translation of kar-. AHw, 223; Jonas C. Greenfield and Bezalel Porten, trs., The Bisitun Inscription of Darius the Great: Aramaic Version, Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum (London: Lund Humphries, 1982), 21, 62; A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), 249.

14 See Prods Oktor Skjaervo, "Verbs in Parthian and Middle Persian Inscriptions," in Studia Grammatica Iranica: Festschrift fur Helmut Humbach, ed. Rudiger Schmitt and Prods Oktor Skjaervo, Munchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft, vol. 13 (Munich: R. Kitzinger, 1986), 434ff. 


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