Daily Archives: November 19, 2008

Iron Age stele speaks of soul apart from body

The New York Times reports here on the discovery of an interesting stele at Sam’al/ Zincirli (ZIN-jeer-lee), an ancient site in southeastern Turkey.

In a mountainous kingdom in what is now southeastern Turkey, there lived in the eighth century B.C. a royal official, Kuttamuwa, who oversaw the completion of an inscribed stone monument, or stele, to be erected upon his death. The words instructed mourners to commemorate his life and afterlife with feasts “for my soul that is in this stele.”
“Normally, in the Semitic cultures, the soul of a person, their vital essence, adheres to the bones of the deceased,” said David Schloen, an archaeologist at the university’s Oriental Institute and director of the excavations. “But here we have a culture that believed the soul is not in the corpse but has been transferred to the mortuary stone.”

A translation of the inscription by Dennis Pardee, a professor of Near Eastern languages and civilization at Chicago, reads in part: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of [the king] Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber [?] and established a feast at this chamber: a bull for [the god] Hadad, a ram for [the god] Shamash and a ram for my soul that is in this stele.”

Here is a photograph of the stele provided by the University of Chicago.

University of Chicago.

Stele from Zincirli in which the king says that his soul is in this stone. Photo: University of Chicago.

A well known monuments discovered at Zincirli in 1888 depicts the Assyrian king Esarhaddon holding ropes leading to Tirhakah, king of Egypt and Ethiopia [Cush], and Ba’alu of Tyre. Tirhakah is the kneeling figure with negroid features befriended King Hezekiah of Judah against the Assyrians (2 Kings 19:9). The photo below shows the two captives on the lower portion of the stele. It is now displayed in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin.

Esarhaddon stele showing Tirhakah and the king of Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Esarhaddon stele showing Tirhakah and the king of Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.