[b]Part 3: Traces of a Mosaic Tradition
The term Allāh seems to be a contracted form of al-ʾilāh 'the deity' and its particular form was restricted to Northwest Arabia and southern Levant in the pre-Islamic era. Allāh is relatively common in personal names but rarely invoked in the inscriptions. Could this be the same for Moses? Or better: can we discover traces of the Mosaic tradition in the Nabataean realm?
As stated previoiusly Pentateuchal and Mosaic laws were unknown to the Jews of Elephantine and Jerusalem to at least the fourth century BC, Pentateuchal personal names reflect in general the onomasticon of the second millennium as in Northwest Semitic source and Mosaic names are missing in ancient scripts of the near East, only to appear outside the scriptures at the end of the Intertestamental Period.
Yet there is one exception. During the period of Graeco-Egyptian syncretism, occurring in the wake of Alexander’s Egyptian conquest (c. 300 BCE), a Jewish community in Alexandria achieved a dramatic synthesis between Judaism, Middle Platonism, and Stoicism. And some philosophers from this community had something to say about Moses.
According to Artapanus Moses had first taught Orpheus, the mythological father of the Greek culture, then divided Egypt into 36 nomes (territories), assigned to each the worship of a different Egyptian god and ultimately identified Moses with the Egyptian god Thoth. Others responded to the work of Manetho, who wrote that Moses was an Egyptian, and a leprous, crippled priest working in the pagan temples of Egypt, who fell away and taught atheism to the Jews (atheism in this case being the denial of the Egyptian gods). Other accounts appear much later during or just after the decline of the Hasmonean empire. This all isn't very productive as it certainly doesn't explain the absence of Moses' name or the Mosaic tradition in the archeological record. So let's see what we can find in Nabataea.
Moses & Theophoric Names
The concept of the Slave of God
It is very difficult to find a culture in the Near East that does not have the “slave of God” motif. In ancient Egypt a theophoric name as Hm-Ntr meant 'Slave-of-God'. In ancient Babylon, circa 1750 BC, the name Ab-di ILi indicated service to God. At RasShamra (1500-1200 B.C.) we find Ugaritic theophoric names such as names 'bdil, "Slave-of-God," and 'bdb'l meaning "Slave-of-Baal." In the Elephantine Papyrus of the fifth century B.C., discovered near Aswan in Egypt, we have the names bd ngo, "Slave-of-Nego," as in Daniel, and 'bd'ly
meaning yes, slave of God.
In the third Islamic century Mohamed was given 100 names—the Asmdul-Uusna or "Beautiful Names." All of these begin with 'abdu and end with Allah or with one of the 99 epithets of Allah, for example Abdur-Rahmani, 'Slave-of the Merciful One.' Thus the practice of designating oneself as the Slave of one's God has been maintained for at least 4000 years to this day. Most often the term was used figuratively for an individual's name, for the description of an exceptional leader as Moses; and even for an appellation of the Messiah.
This becomes fascinating in the context of communities that didn't knew slavery, for instance the Essenes – living throughout Roman Judaea according to historian Josephus and others next to the Dead Sea. Philo tells us that:
”There are no slaves among them, not a single one, being all free they help one another. And they condemn slave-owners, not only as unjust in that they offend against equality, but still more as ungodly, in that they transgress the law of nature, which, having given birth to all men equally and nourished them like a mother, makes of them true brothers, not in name but in reality.”
This information is fascinating as slavery wasn't practiced the Nabataean empire which would stress the importance of being a 'slave to God'. To find references and understand the usage of theophoric names in the Nabataean realm we need to understand Moses' role in the Exodus. The Moses of the Bible is a diplomat negotiating with the pharaoh, a military field commander, a prophet and family man leading the Israelites together with his brother Aaron. But most of all he's the one who:
To seize, to take hold of for God
- leads refugees away from harsh Egyptian rule;
- leads the Israelites to the 'Promised Land' which is seized after Moses dies;
- a lawgiver bringing the Covenant down from Mount Sinai.
A first example is Nabataean msˇkw, a masculine personal name. This name is one of the commonest names in the Nabataean inscriptions at Umm al-Jimak but also appears in Nabataean inscriptions in the Sinai, Palmyra, fequently in Safaitic and is widely attested in Greek (Hauran). The name msˇkw
is from the Semitic root msk
meaning ‘‘to seize, takehold’’. The compound names msk'l amd msk'lh in Safaitic allow for an understanding of the name in our inscription as a hypocoristic form, in which the theophoric element was omitted such as "God has seized."
The Nabataean deity Dushara is mentioned in a famous billingual inscription at Umm al-Jimal. The Greek text is 'Masexos Aoueidanou Dousarei Aarra' and the Nabataean 'msgd’ dy mskw br ‘wyd’ l-dwsr' meaning 'The cult-stone which was made by masik, son of ‘awπdhå, for Dushara(1) The Greek version of msˇk is thus theophoric name Masexos, common at Umm al-Jimal and throughout the Hauran and reflects Arab-Aramaic root, msk, and is translated as 'God has taken possession'. Masexos indicates a third person singular masculine verb from the ﬁrst stem, equivalent to Classical Arabic masak ‘‘has seized’.(2) This strongly indicates the cultural and probably religious uniformity of the Hauran and the Harra or Safaitic regions of Syria.
Servant of I am
In the Sinai peninsula the Nabataean divine name 'hyw, of which there are more then 15 occurrences, includes a personal name bd 'hyw. (3) The Nabataean name may refer to a god or mountain YHW in north-west Arabia.(4) According to scholar Siegfried Herman this personal name occurs often in the Nabataean inscriptions of Sinai where the second element of this name gives the impression of being independent(5) and designates the one who bears the name as a 'servant of I am'. The encounter with the Nabataean “I am” as a define designation in the Sinai is significant as, according to Exodus, the name of YHWH was revealed on Mount Sinai(6). Perhaps more relevant is the link with certain inscriptions in old Negev and Proto-Siniatic indicating tribal knowledge of Yah/Yahevo/Yahweh.
Servant of (the) God
The name Abdallāh or 'worshipper of Allāh' exists in the pre-Islamic period. Abdallāh is in the Nabataean epigraphical record attested as ʿbdlhy and ʿbdlh and is found in Northwest Arabia, the Sinai, Negev and the Edom-Moab plateau These texts can date between the second century BCE to the fourth century AD. The spelling ʿbdlhy reflects the preservation of the case vowel like abdallāhi. This theophoric name is also attested in a Greek transcription in a Hellenized form: Αβδαλλα or Abdallas, originating from Madaba in 148 AD. The Greek form Abdallas remains in use till the end of the sixth century AD where it is attested in the Nessana Papyri.
The 'Muslim' conquests introduced a new set of Arabic onomostica from Yemen, previously unattested in the Nabataean realm and Northern Arabia such as abd er-rahman. Names common to both the old northern dialects and that of those who performed these conquests can sometimes be distinguished in pronunciation and in the post-conquest era of the seventh century AD theophoric name Abdallāh was now rendered differently, in the dialect of invaders.(7) The Akkadian equivalent of ʿAbdallāh, Abdi-il(i), meaning worshiper of the deity, is attested at least as far back as the Neo-Babylonian period (c. 626-539) and then into the Achaemenid/Persian period.
God's Rabbi: Rabbel
In Judaism Moshe (Moses) is the lawgiver, to whom the authorship of the Torah is traditionally attributed. For this he is called Moshe Rabbenu in Hebrew meaning Moses our Teacher. The Christian religious apologist Iustinus Martyr (second century) considers Moses to be the first religious teacher:
“I will begin, then, with our first prophet and lawgiver, Moses... that you may know that, of all your teachers, whether sages, poets, historians, philosophers, or lawgivers, by far the oldest, as the Greek histories show us, was Moses, who was our first religious teacher.”
So does the Nabataean linguistic record offer traces of this religious concept? It does and we only have to consult the lists of Nabataean kings that mentions rulers Rabbel I and Rabbel II Soter. Ruler Rabbel
I appears as 'rb(b)'l mlk
' in Nabataean inscriptions. Nabataean root rb refers to 'commander' in a military or 'Master' in a civilian context, the way a student would address a Master of Torah. As 'l refers to God, the name Rabbel means God's Teacher or God's Commander.
The occupation of rabbi is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and appears first in Jewish literature in the Misnah, the first major written collection of the Jewish oral traditions, according to tradition first redacted at the beginning of the third century AD which seems to match a 1700 year old 'rabbi' burial inscriptions found during an excavation in the Galilean town of Tzippori. The issue here is that phrases such as 'master/teacher of the symposium ' or 'Gods Teacher' occur centuries earlier in Nabataean Aramaic script.
The gift of God: eternal life
Theophoric name 'Aus'allahi ('s'lhy' ) is noted in about 50 times inscriptions, mainly in the Sinai, along with 19 other prefixes to the second part of the theophoric combination.(8) This name is also known in Arabic, Thammudic, Safaitic(9) and Greek (Ausallos) and means explicitly 'the gift of God'. Now would it be easy to move on but the name – gift of god – is a central theological concept. In the New Testament Gods' gift to mankind is explicitly mentioned multiple times. The central theme here is naturally is the promise of eternal life as described in Romans 6:23.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”
The crucial thing is that theophoric name Gift of God, s'lhy, simultaneously appears in multiple languages, within the Nabataean realm, when the earliest books of the New Testament are codified - 1st and 2nd century AD.
The Seat of Moses
In Mathew 23 tells: “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses seat'.” In Exodus this seat is where Moses sat to judge the people but considered this too much work for a single man (Exodus 18:18 ). Traditionally the seat of Moses acted as a symbol for those who had the authority to teach the law. In 1926, archaeologists discovered the "Seat of Moses" in the ancient synagogue of Chorazin carved from a basalt block, the place where the reader of the Torah would sit.
The Hebrew word for "sat" is yâshab, which means, "to sit down, specifically as judge". In Aramaic the word motab means 'seat' or 'throne' of the deity or ruler, deriving from Semitic root ytb, wtb meaning to sit. Now the Nabataean realm offers two examples of such divine thrones. One large throne is shaped in a votive nice at the base of mountain Jabal al-Khutba at Petra and another very large throne is found in a rock-cut cave at as-Sela, the mountain fortress city with a staircase that seemingly leads to nowhere and only can be accessed as described in the old Testament.
The linguistic and archeological record of Nabataea offer clear yet circumstantial evidence for a Mosaic oral tradition in Nabataea.
Personal names occur in large numbers in local texts throughout the Nabataean realm, from the Arab peninsula to Syria, and a large minority are theophoric. Many names occur on building dedications of public civic and religious structures like houses and tombs, on altars, walls, columns doorways and statue doorways. Even more names can be found on tombstones, which nearly always give the name of the father and the deceased, sometimes permitting interconnected genealogies.
Scholars that have studied these names using onomastics offer only superficial conclusions when trying to link their conclusions to the local Nabataean culture or religion, which is always defined as some kind of paganism. This of course doesn't explain the regular distribution of theophoric names over Nabataea that can be linked to the central doctrines of Judaism and Islam. It's obvious that we have to come up with a new religious model for the Nabataean realm.
But before sanitizing the Nabataean pantheon we'll have a look at Ba'al.