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Manfred Kropp

Orient-Institut, Beirut

An Aramaicism in the inscription of an-Namra

A further contribution to its interpretation
The present paper is dedicated in gratitude to Prof. A. F. L. Beeston for his keen
attention he lent to my first lecture on the inscription of an-Namra at the meetings of
the SAS in Manchester 1994. I could make good use of his additional suggestions for the
subsequent publication.
The inscription of an-Namra dating to AD 328 had to cede recently its rank as the eldest
written document of a coherent text in Northern Arabic to the inscription of Ayn Abada
(En Avdat). This document presents four lines in pure Northarabian, most probably a
magic spell, perhaps even in poetic form, and dates to the end of the 2nd, beginning of
the 3rd century AD. Nevertheless, the funeral inscription of king Mar al-Qays - possibly
not the king of all the Arabs, but the king of all of the /arb (Zwettler) - remains a rare
and crucial document to attest the development of North Arabian into a literary
language. It still is written in Nabataean script, thus it does not offer evidence for the
emergence of a proper Arabic script. But its linguistic form, especially the rhetorically
well constructed boast (far) in the last but one line, offers a glimpse of Arabic as an
already developed medium of literary and poetic expression, as does already the
inscription of Ayn Abada, some 150 years before. In fact the awrn, at the edge of
which an-Namra is situated Southeast of Damascus, played a great role in the
emergence of the Arabs and Arabic in history.
More than 90 scholarly contributions have appeared since its discovery in 1901 yet no
commonly accepted reading and interpretation of these 5 lines has come forth.
The paper is not meant as a comprehensive discussion of these readings and
translations, but emphasises a linguistic peculiarity of the text: Aramaicisms as they are
present in the regions Arabic dialects till today. I will focus on a hotly disputed word in
line 3 which has been read and translated in widely disparate ways: byaa - nyala nabbala etc. accompanied by philologically rather dubious translations and comments.
Read as the Aramaic verb yabbl it resolves as a common grammatical construction and
offers a plausible translation within the context.