Biblical Hebrew

The Languages of Berkeley: An Online Exhibition

Biblical Hebrew
Page from Genesis (left) and title page (right) from the second Rabbinic Bible.

שער ה’ החדש
“The new gate of [the house of] the Lord.”

The son of an Antwerp merchant, Daniel Bomberg (born c. 1480) came to Venice to pursue the family business, and, having obtained a license to print Hebrew books, established a printing house. Among Bomberg’s first imprints were a Hebrew Pentateuch (1516) and the first Rabbinic Bible (1517).

The Rabbinic Bible was a new printed form, presenting the Hebrew text with full vowel and cantillation marks, and accompanied by Aramaic Targums and medieval commentaries. The four-volume second edition was produced by Bomberg in 1524; edited by Jacob ben Ḥayyim ibn Adonijah and containing an impressive critical apparatus of Masoretic notes, the second Rabbinic Bible has been the prototype for Hebrew Bibles to the present day.

The image of an ornate edifice fills the title page of volume one; between its decorated pillars, at the entry way, is a description of the book’s contents. Title page images such as this one—often accompanied by the phrase, “this is the gateway to the Lord,” from Psalm 118:20—establish the text as a place: a sacred place to be entered with care. Yet here, above this particular doorway, a somewhat different text (from Jeremiah 26:10), declares this to be “the new gate [of the house] of the Lord.” However venerable the site, the Rabbinic Bible (its publishers indicate) constitutes a novel approach.

Indeed, the Rabbinic Bible was a product of its time, a period in which Hebrew printing flourished in Italy, a time in which Christian study of the Hebrew Bible fomented and shaped its publication. Yet the Rabbinic Bible also made palpable Jewish textual culture, in which study of the Hebrew Bible closely entwined it with translation, commentaries, and other texts.

UCB scholars—and scholars from around the world—can pore over the pages of the 1524 Bomberg Rabbinic Bible​ at UC Berkeley’s ​Bancroft Library​.

Come delve into Hebrew at Berkeley:

Study ​Hebrew and Hebrew literature​ in the ​UCB Near Eastern Studies Department​:

Choose the undergraduate ​Minor in Hebrew.

Pursue advanced study in UCB’s ​Near Eastern Studies​ or ​Comparative Literature​ graduate programs.

Contribution by Ruth Haber
 Judaica Specialist, Doe Library

~~~~~~~~~~
Title: שער ה’ החדש … 

Title in English: [The Rabbinic Bible]
Author: Jacob ben Hayyim ben Isaac ibn Adonijah or Jacob ben Chayyim (c. 1470 – before 1538)
Imprint: Venice: Daniel Bomberg, 1524-1535.
Edition: 2nd
Language: Biblical Hebrew
Language Family: Afro-Asiatic, Northwest Semitic
Source: The Internet Archive
URL: https://archive.org/details/The_Second_Rabbinic_Bible_Vol_1

Other online editions:

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Azerbaijani (Azeri)

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Poster of Vagif play by Samad Vurgun. Kirovabad State Theater. 1939.
Publicity poster for the play Vagif. Kirovabad State Theater, 1939. (Wikimedia Commons)

Azerbaijani or Azeri is the term that is used interchangeably for the language throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. It is also known as Azerbaijani Turkish and retains most of the traditional grammatical endings of the pre-Republican era Turkish language that was spoken in the Ottoman Empire. However, in a certain sense, it is also influenced heavily by the Persian vocabulary. The language is currently spoken in the Republic of Azerbaijan that was a part of the Czarist Empire in the 19th century as well as in Southern Azerbaijan that is the part of modern-day Iran. In the Republic of Azerbaijan, the language script was changed several times. Currently the Latin script is used. The Iranian Azerbaijan continues to use Arabo-Persian script. 

Samad Vurgun was a well-known Azerbaijani poet and playwright. The first work of Vurgun—the poem “Address to Youth”was published in 1925 in the Tbilisi newspaper New Thought. Today every Azerbaijani schoolchild is familiar with his poetry. It is often set to music and performed by leading Azerbaijani artists. Featured in this entry is the play Vagif written in 1937 and which pays homage to the 18th-century Azerbaijani poet Molla Panah Vagif.

During his youth, Vurgun lived through the tough years of World War II. This challenging period had a very significant impact on his poetry, which was a real weapon against the enemy in that difficult time. He wrote over 60 poems on the theme of the Great Patriotic War. It was not an easy task, but in his works, the young poet managed to inspire an optimistic mood amongst the people, who were suffering from the hardship of war. 

He was calling on people to be patient and hardworking to attain victory. Vurgun’s popularity grew during the propaganda campaignleaflets with his creation “Ukrainian partisans” were dropped from planes over local forests to maintain the high spirit of the guerrilla fighters.

His poem “Parting Mother” was highly appreciated as the best anti-war work during a contest held in the US in 1943. It was published in New York and distributed to military personnel after it was selected among the best 20 poems of world literature about the war.

During World War II, Vurgun created poems dedicated to the deeds of Azerbaijanis in the fight against fascism. In the poems “Nurse”, “Bearer”, “The story of the old soldier”, “Brave Falcon”, and “Unnamed Hero”, he describes the selfless struggle against the invaders, the heroism of Azerbaijani soldiers and their contribution to the liberation of people from fascism. Due to his patriotism and unique talent, Samad Vurgun became a poet of the nation.

In 1943, Vurgun was awarded the title of Honorary Artist of Azerbaijan SSR. Two years later he was elected to the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences. His works have been translated into many foreign languages. For many years, he headed the Azerbaijan Union of Writers, was repeatedly elected a deputy of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and Azerbaijan and was awarded many orders and medals. His early lyric poems were published only after his death, in a compilation called “Chichek” (“Flower”).

Living in the era of a communist dictatorship, Vurgun had to praise the regime in his works, but in spite of this, the creativity of Vurgun, the restrained style of his poems had a tremendous impact on the development of the Azerbaijani poetry. Samad Vurugn died in May of 1956 and is buried in the Alley of the Heroes in Baku. 

The Azerbaijani Studies collections in the UC Berkeley Library represent the current research interests of our faculty and students. One of the well-known scholars of Caucasus Studies, Professor Stephan H. Astourian, interrogates the historical realities of Caucasus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in the context of the Armenian Genocide. The Azerbaijani collections are also supported through the donations of books by the Azerbaijan Cultural Society of Northern California. One prominent mathematics professor of Azerbaijani descent was Lotfi A. Zadeh. The focus of current collections on Azerbaijan revolves around the history of Azerbaijan and Caucasus, Armenian Genocide and the Frozen conflict of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh.

Contribution by Liladhar Pendse
Librarian for East European and Central Asian Studies, Doe Library

Source consulted:

Gadimova, Nazrin. “Samad Vurgun: A Poet With Pen as Sharp as Weapon,”AzerNews (May 28, 2013), (accessed 5/1/20)

~~~~~~~~~~
Title: “Vagif” in Səməd Vurğun : Seçilmiş əsərləri.
Title in English:
Author: Vurghun, Sămăd, 1906-1956.
Imprint: Bakı : “Şərq-Qərb”, 2005.
Edition: n/a
Language: Azerbaijani (Azeri)
Language Family: Turkic
Source: Sabunchu District Central Library, Central Libraries of Azerbaijan
URL: http://sabunchu.cls.az/front/files/libraries/54/books/831431433401352.pdf

Other online editions:

Select print editions at Berkeley:

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Syriac

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Syriac
Manuscript of The Book of Entertaining Stories (ca. 19th century by permission of Leeds University)

—One of Socrates’ disciples asked him, “How come I never see in you
any sign of sorrow?” Socrates replied: “Because I don’t possess anything
that I would grieve over if it got lost!”
—Another philosopher was asked: “What is it that would benefit most
people?” He replied: “The death of an evil ruler.”
—A man saw in a dream that he was frying pieces of dung. So he went to
a dream-interpreter to get an explanation of the dream. The dream-
interpreter said to him, “If you give me a zuza [a small coin], I will
interpret it for you.” The man replied, “If I had a zuza, I would buy some
fish with it and fry them, instead of frying pieces of dung!”
—A woman asked her neighbor, “How come it is permitted for a man to
buy a hand-maiden for himself, and to sleep with her, and do whatever he
wants, while it is not permitted for a woman to do any of these things, at
least in public?” The neighbor said to her, “It is because kings, judges, and
law-makers have all been men, and so have been able to justify their
actions and oppress women.”

These four anecdotes come from a work entitled The Book of Entertaining Stories, written in the Syriac language. Syriac is a member of the Aramaic branch of the Semitic languages. It developed as an independent language around the city of Edessa, today’s Shanliurfa, in southeastern Turkey. The first Syriac inscription dates to the year 6 AD. Shanliurfa became a center of early Christianity, and over the next thousand years a wealth of literature was written in Syriac, including historical annals, scientific texts, medical manuals, philosophical and theological tractates, religious poetry, and Bible translations and commentaries. Because of the richness of theological literature written in Syriac, it is sometimes called the “third language of Christianity,” after Greek and Latin. Much of this knowledge still exists only in manuscript form, awaiting study. 

The earliest Syriac texts are in a recognizably Aramaic form of the Semitic alphabet, which was originally developed by the Phoenicians. As with all Semitic alphabets, it reads from right to left. As time went by, it took on its own distinctive form, appearing in three distinct “fonts.” The manuscript page reproduced here is in the “West Syriac” font. The original Phoenician alphabet indicated only consonants, not vowels, but Syriac developed different ways to indicate vowels. These take the form of small signs written either above or below the consonants. These are however only used sporadically. In the page illustrated here, the vowel marks were added by a different scribe than the one who wrote the consonantal text.

With the Arab-Muslim conquests of the Near East, starting in the seventh century AD, Syriac was gradually replaced by Arabic as a spoken language. By about 1300 AD, there were probably very few native speakers of Syriac. However, it continued in use as a written language, right up to the present day, in fits and starts. Moreover, Syriac is still used in the liturgy of several Christian churches mostly in the Middle East, notably the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Syrian Catholic Church.

In scattered pockets in today’s Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria, Aramaic survives as a spoken language. These languages/dialects are known by a bewildering number of names, including “Neo-Syriac.” It is difficult to say, however, if any of them are direct continuations of classical Syriac, or of some similar Aramaic dialects.

The illustration featured here is the first page of a manuscript of The Book of Entertaining Stories, which was written about the year 1280 AD. The manuscript (dating to the 19th century) is now in Leeds, England, and is used here by permission. The author of the Book was one Gregory Bar-Hebraeus (1226-1286 AD). Bar-Hebraeus was born in a village called Ebra, in modern-day eastern Turkey. In the course of a long priestly career, he ended up as second-in-command of the Syrian Orthodox Church. He was a prolific writer: a recent bio-biography of his works in both manuscript and printed editions extends to over 500 pages. For this book, Bar-Hebraeus gathered edifying stories and anecdotes from many different cultures and languages, and turned them into Syriac. He wrote this work towards the end of his life, when he had intimations of his demise, “to wash away grief from the heart” as a “consolation to those who are sad.” As illustrated above, many of these stories are quite amusing, even today. Other anecdotes invoke wise men of ancient Persia, doctors, poor people, and more. There are a surprising number of stories involving “demoniacs,” that is, people possessed by demons; these are most probably stories involving the mentally ill. This work of his is probably the only work of Syriac literature known to non-specialists. It has been translated into many languages, including Czech, Ukrainian, and Malayalam. It was edited in 1897 by E.A. Wallis Budge: The Laughable Stories Collected by Mar Gregory John Bar-Hebraeus, on the basis of two manuscripts. 

Syriac studies have traditionally flourished in Europe, less so in the United States. In the last thirty or so years, Syriac studies both here and abroad have undergone something of a Renaissance. In 1992, in New Jersey, an institution called The Syriac Institute in English and Beth Mardutho (“House of Learning”) in Syriac was founded, with the goal of “the establishment of a Syriac studies center affiliated with leading universities that globalizes Syriac studies through the Internet.” Some four years ago, after a long hiatus, Syriac was again taught at Cal, within the larger context of Aramaic studies.

Contribution by John L. Hayes,
Lecturer, Department of Near Eastern Studies

Sources consulted:

  1. Hidemi Takahashi. Barhebraeus: A Bio-Bibliography. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press. 2005.
  2. E.A. Wallis Budge. The Laughable Stories Collected by Mar Gregory John Bar-Hebraeus. London: Luzac and Co. 1897.

~~~~~~~~~~

Title: The Laughable Stories Collected by Mâr Gregory John Bar Hebræus
Author: Gregory Bar-Hebraeus (1226-1286 AD), the Syriac text edited with an English translation by E. A. Wallis Budge.
Imprint: London: Luzac and co., 1897.
Language: Syriac
Language Family: Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Northwest Semitic
Source: HathiTrust Digital Library
URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001854249

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Turkish

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Turkish
Cover for 1974 edition of Bir Avuç Gökyüzü.

The Turkish writer Çetin Altan (1927-2015) was a politician, author, journalist, columnist, playwright, and poet. From 1965 to 1969, he was deputy for the left-wing Workers Party of Turkey—the first socialist party in the country to gain representation in the national parliament. He was sentenced to prison several times on charges of spreading communist propaganda through his articles. He wrote numerous columns, plays, works of fiction (including science fiction), political studies, historical studies, essays, satire, travel books, memoirs, anthologies, and biographical stories.[1]

His novel Bir Avuç Gökyüzü (A Handful of Sky), was published in 1974 and takes place in Istanbul. A 41-year-old politically indicted married man spends two years in prison and then is released. Several months later he is called into the police station where the deputy commissioner has him sign a notification from the public prosecutor’s office. This time, the man will serve three more years and he has a week to surrender to the courthouse. The novel chronicles the week of this man’s life before he serves his extended sentence. Suddenly, an old classmate with thick-rimmed glasses appears with the pretense to help. The classmate convinces the main character to petition his sentence and have it postponed for four months so that he can make the necessary arrangements to support his family. Unsurprisingly, the petition is rejected on the grounds of the severity of the purported offense that led to conviction. His classmate then urges the protagonist to take a freighter and flee the country, but instead he turns himself in. From the prison ward’s iron-barred windows he can only see a handful of sky.[2] The protagonist experiences lovemaking with his mistress mainly as a metaphor for freedom lost; the awkward and clumsy sex he has with his wife, on the other hand, seems an apt metaphor for the emotionally inert life he leads both in and outside of prison.[3]

Çetin Altan was well aware of language’s power and wrote articles on the Turkish language in the newspapers where he was employed as a journalist. At the age of 82 and during his acceptance speech at the Presidential Culture and Arts Grand Awards in 2009, Mr. Altan said, “İnsan kendi dilinin lezzetini sevdiği kadar vatanını sever’’ (A person loves the homeland as much as he loves the flavor of his own language). He loved Turkish and wrote with that love. In his works, as he put it, he “never betrayed the language and the writing.”[4]

An argument can easily be made to study Turkish. There are 80 million people who speak Turkish as their first language, making it one of the world’s 15 most widely spoken first languages. Another 15 million people speak Turkish as a second language. For example there are over 116,000 Turkish speakers in the United States, and Turkish is the second most widely spoken language in Germany. Studying Turkish also lays a solid foundation for learning other modern Turkic languages, like Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tatar, Uzbek, and Uighur. The different Turkic languages are closely related and some of them are even mutually intelligible. Many of these languages are spoken in regions of vital strategic importance, like the Caucasus, the Balkans, China, and the former Soviet Union. Mastery of Turkish grammar makes learning other Turkic languages exponentially easier.[5]

Turkish is not related to other major European or Middle Eastern languages but rather distantly related to Finnish and Hungarian. Turkish is an agglutinative language, which means suffixes can be added to a root-word so that a single word can convey what a complete sentence does in English. For example, the English sentence “We are not coming” is a single word in Turkish: “come” is the root word, and elements meaning “not,” “-ing,” “we,” and “are” are all suffixed to it: gelmiyoruz. The regularity and predictability in Turkish of how these suffixes are added make agglutination much easier to internalize.[5] [6] At UC Berkeley, modern Turkish language courses are offered through Department of Near Eastern Studies.[7]

When I was asked to write a short essay about the Turkish language based on a book, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the UC Berkeley Library has many of Çetin Altan’s books in their original language. While he was my favorite author when I was in high school and in college in Turkey during the 1970s and 1980s, my move to the United States and life in general caused these memories to fade away. Now I am excited and feel privileged with the prospect of reading his books in Turkish again and rediscovering them after all these years.

Contribution by Neil Gali
Administrative Associate, Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Sources consulted:

  1. http://www.turkishculture.org/whoiswho/memorial/cetin-altan-953.htm (accessed 3/10/20)
  2. https://www.evvelcevap.com/bir-avuc-gokyuzu-kitap-ozeti (accessed 3/10/20)
  3. “İnsan kendi dilinin lezzetini sevdiği kadar vatanı sever,” (October 21, 2017) P24: Ağimsiz Gazetecilik Platformu = Platform for Independent Journalism. http://platform24.org/p24blog/yazi/2492/-insan-kendi-dilinin-lezzetini-sevdigi-kadar-vatani-sever (accessed 3/10/20)
  4. İrvin Cemil Schick, “Representation of Gender and Sexuality in Ottoman and Turkish Erotic Literature,” The Turkish Studies Association Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1/2 (2004), pp. 81-103, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43383697 (accessed 3/10/20)
  5. https://names.mongabay.com/languages/Turkish.html (accessed 3/10/20)
  6. https://www.bu.edu/wll/home/why-study-turkish (accessed 3/10/20)
  7. http://guide.berkeley.edu/courses/turkish (accessed 3/10/20)

~~~~~~~~~~

Title: Bir Avuç Gökyüzü
Title in English: A Handful of Heaven
Author: Altan, Çetin, 1927-2015
Imprint: Kavaklıdere, Ankara : Bilgi Yayınevi, 1974.
Edition: 1st edition
Language: Turkish
Language Family: Turkish, Turkic

Recommended Online Resource:
“İnsan kendi dilinin lezzetini sevdiği kadar vatanı sever,” (October 21, 2017) P24: Ağimsiz Gazetecilik Platformu = Platform for Independent Journalism. Blog post of tribute to the writer with photos, videos, etc.
http://platform24.org/p24blog/yazi/2492/-insan-kendi-dilinin-lezzetini-sevdigi-kadar-vatani-sever (accessed 3/10/20)

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The Languages of Berkeley is a dynamic online sequential exhibition celebrating the diversity of languages that have advanced research, teaching and learning at the University of California, Berkeley. It is made possible with support from the UC Berkeley Library and is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Language Center (BLC).

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Yiddish

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Yiddish
Portrait of the author in 1907 (Wikimedia Commons) and title page of Alṭ-nay-Kas̀rileṿḳe (1919)

דער גרויסער וועלט-פּראָגרעס האָט זיך אַהין אַרייַנגעכאַפט און האָט איבערגעדרייט די שטאָט מיטן קאַָפּ אַראָפּ, מיט די פֿיס אַרויף.

 The great progress of the world has reached Kasrilevke and turned it topsy-turvy.

– From narrator’s foreword to the Kasrilevke stories (1919)

אַיין אַיינשרומפּעניש!  ווען האָט געקאָנט ארויס דער צאַפּען, אַיינגעזונקען זאָל ער ווערען? … אַ, ברענען זאָלסט דו, שלים־מזל, אויפ’ן פייער! און גרונם … דערלאַנגט דעם אַ רוק מיט’ן בייטש־שטעקעל אין זייט אַריין.  דאָס פערדעל טהוט אַ  פּינטעל מיט די אויגען, לאָזט־אַראָפּ די מאָרדע, קוקט אָן אַ זייט און טראַכט זיךְ׃ פאַר וואָס קומט מיר, אַשטייגער, אָט דער זעץ? גלאַט גענומען און געבוכעט זיךְ! ס’איז ניט קיין קונץ נעמען אַ פערד, אַ שטומע צונג, און שלאָגען איהם אומזיסט און אומנישט!

The driver of the wagon with the water barrel was beside himself! “An empty barrel! … May my helper shrivel up! How could that plug, may it sink into the earth, have come out? May you burn up, wretch that you are!” The last remark was addressed to the little horse, as he struck it with the whip handle. The horse blinked, lowered its chin, and looked aside, thinking, “What have I done to deserve this whack? It’s no trick, you know, to hit a dumb animal for no reason whatsoever.”

– From the story “Fires”

Yiddish is the thousand-year-old language of European (Ashkenazic) Jews. Written from right to left in Hebrew characters, it is derived from German and includes many Hebraic and Slavic elements. It is used for everyday purposes as well as for a rich variety of religious and secular literature, ranging from medieval times to the 21st century. Most Yiddish users were annihilated during the Holocaust of World War II, yet the language continues to thrive in the United States, Israel, and Europe.

Arguably the best-known Yiddish writer, Sholem Aleichem (Sholem Rabinovich, Ukraine 1859 – United States 1916) was a founding father of modern Yiddish literature. A supreme humorist, he created the literary persona of “Sholem Aleichem” and tapped into the energies of the Eastern European spoken Yiddish idiom. In a variety of genres, he invented modern Jewish archetypes, myths, and fables of unique imaginative power and universal appeal. Sholem Aleichem’s “Tevye” stories provided the basis of the popular mid-20th century musical Fiddler on the Roof.  He founded the Folks-bibliotek publishing house (Kiev, 1888) to encourage writers he admired, and identify new talent. In his satirical, yet warm Kasrilevke stories of the 1900s, he created the quintessential fictional shtetl. Its poverty-stricken residents aspired to modernity. Though plagued by backwardness, they continued to dream of redemption.

Following the death in 1916 of the beloved Sholem Aleichem, multi-volume editions of his collected works were published widely. This 1919 edition is printed in the Yiddish spelling prevalent at the time, with transliterations of Germanic linguistic elements; this was meant to help “legitimize” Yiddish (then considered a “jargon”). These transliterations are not used in modern standardized Yiddish orthography. The story “Fires,” from which this selection is taken, underlines the actual lack of progress in the fictional town of Kasrilevke, which prides itself on striving for modernity. The aside, giving voice to the abused horse in the midst of this municipal crisis, is typical of the creative yet plainspoken genius which made Sholem Aleichem so popular.

While the number of native speakers of Yiddish continues to dwindle, Yiddish at Berkeley is thriving. In addition to the esteemed annual conference on Yiddish Culture, we have a wide range of courses dealing with the life and culture of Ashkenazic Jewry, a diverse faculty committed to the preservation and scholarly investigation of Yiddish, and an ever-growing number of students who are pursuing academic futures exploring Jewish culture in the traditional languages of the Jewish people. Students interested in Yiddish at Cal can pursue their interests in the departments of German, Comparative Literature, History, or through the program in Jewish Studies.

Contribution by Yael Chaver
Lecturer in Yiddish, Department of German


Title:
Alṭ-nay-Kas̀rileṿḳe  
Title in English: Old-New Kasrilevke
Author: Sholem Aleichem, 1859-1916
Imprint: Nyu-Yor : Shalom-ʻAlekhem fols-fond, 1919.
Edition: in Ale Verk, Sholom Aleichem
Language: Yiddish
Language Family: Indo-European, Germanic
Source: The Internet Archive (Yiddish Book Center)
URL: https://archive.org/stream/nybc200084

Select print editions at Berkeley:

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The Languages of Berkeley is a dynamic online sequential exhibition celebrating the diversity of languages that have advanced research, teaching and learning at the University of California, Berkeley. It is made possible with support from the UC Berkeley Library and is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Language Center (BLC).

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Sumerian

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Sumerian
Photograph of royal inscription on clay tablet with permission of the British Museum (left) and autograph (right).

This inscription is divided into two columns. The left-hand column is read first. Each column is divided into lines, each of which includes a noun phrase or a verb phrase. The individual cuneiform signs are read from left to right.

Col. I. 1 Inanna For Inanna,
2 ninani his lady—
3 UrNammu Ur-Nammu,
4 nitah kalaga the mighty man,
Col. II. 5 lugal Urima the king of Ur,
6 lugal Kiengi Kiurike the king of Sumer and Akkad—
7 eani her temple—
8 munandu built.

Sumerian was spoken in the most southern part of ancient Mesopotamia. With its oldest texts dating to no later than 3000 BCE, it has the distinction of being the first attested language known to us. After its death as a spoken language, about 2000 BCE, it continued to be studied in the Mesopotamian school system for another thousand years. Sumerian literature is the oldest preserved literature in the world, and some of its compositions still have the power to move us today.

Sumerian also has the honor of being a “language isolate.” It has no obvious relatives, living or dead. It must have had relatives in the past, but these have all died out, without any of them being recorded. Sumerian is regularly taught at Cal. As might be expected, it is primarily studied by those interested in the history and culture of Mesopotamia. But it is also of interest to general linguists, for whom it offers a number of interesting features.

Most Sumerian texts were written on clay “tablets” created when a scribe would go to the river, gather some clay, form it into a convenient shape, take a reed to use as a stylus, and inscribe right onto the clay. These tablets were then put out into the sun to dry. Important tablets, ones that scribes needed to keep for whatever reason, were baked in ovens.

The writing system for Sumerian is called “cuneiform,” because of the wedge-shaped form of the characters. It was probably invented by the Sumerians. It is a complicated system, with hundreds of signs, some representing syllables, others representing words. The cuneiform writing system was eventually adopted for languages unrelated to Sumerian, including Akkadian (a Semitic language) and Old Persian (Indo-European).

The vast majority of Sumerian texts are administrative and accounting records. The text reproduced here is a “royal inscription.” These are relatively short texts in which a ruler broadcasts his accomplishments, often the building of a temple. This particular one was inscribed on a mud-brick. These bricks formed part of the structure of a temple or palace. They would not have been visible to on-lookers: their function was to proclaim a ruler’s accomplishments to the gods, not to contemporary mortals. In many cases, the same text was recorded on dozens of bricks. This particular brick was commissioned by one Ur-Nammu, who ruled in the city of Ur from 2112 to 2095 BCE. It records the dedication of a temple in Ur to Inanna, the most important goddess in the Sumerian pantheon. Some dozen bricks with this same inscription have been preserved.

The first brick found bearing this inscription was uncovered in an excavation at the city of Uruk, in the 1850s. Now held in the British Museum, it was “published” in 1861 by Sir Henry Rawlinson, the most important figure in the decipherment of cuneiform writing. His edition appeared in the first volume of an important series entitled The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, published by the British Museum.[1] The brick reproduced here is also from Uruk. It was published in 1905, as part of a long series of volumes called Cuneiform Texts from the British Museum.[2]

Because it is expensive to publish photographs, most cuneiform texts have traditionally been published in “autograph” form. This means a copy hand-drawn by a modern-day scholar. The editions of texts published in Cuneiform Inscriptions and in Cuneiform Texts are all in autograph. A photograph of this particular exemplar first appeared in 1910. The analog photograph given here was created by the British Museum in 1990. Eventually, the British Museum will make available high-quality photographs of all their holdings online. But given that their holdings include many many thousands of cuneiform texts, this will take a while.

Hundreds of thousands of texts in Sumerian have survived. Many were unearthed by professional archaeologists; some were found accidentally; many others were illicitly excavated or stolen. They are scattered throughout the museums of the world. In order to keep track of them, the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative led by Robert Englund at UCLA is an attempt to organize an online catalogue of all these texts, assigning every cuneiform text known a unique number.[3]

Contribution by John L. Hayes,
Lecturer, Department of Near Eastern Studies

Sources consulted:

  1. Rawlinson, Henry, Edwin Norris, George Smith, and Theophilus G. Pinches. The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia. London: Lithographed by R.E. Bowler, 1861. vols. 1-5
  2. British Museum. Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities. Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum. London: Published by the Trustees of the British Museum, 1959. vols. 1-58
  3. Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI)


Title:
Brick of Ur-gur (BM 090015  or CDLI P226650)
Author: unknown, autograph by Sir Henry Rawlinson
Imprint: Uruk (mod. Warka), Ur III (ca. 2100-2000 BCE)
Language: Sumerian
Language Family: Language isolate
Source: Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (British Museum)
URL: https://cdli.ucla.edu (search by CDLI  no.)

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Ancient Egyptian

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Ancient Egyptian
Letter to the Dead, recto (left) and verso (right), Papyrus Hearst 1282

Ancient Egyptian is a language that was spoken in and around the Nile River valley from the 4th millennium BCE through the 11th century CE. The earliest form of this language was written in the Hieroglyphic script. Soon after the development of Hieroglyphs, the availability of papyrus as a light, portable writing material and the complexity of drawing complete Hieroglyphic signs led to the development of Hieratic. This cursive form of the ancient Egyptian script is what an individual named Heni used to write a letter to his deceased father, Meru, sometime between 2160 and 2025 BCE. Heni’s composition is one of a handful of texts known as “Letters to the Dead,” which have been found throughout Egypt written on materials as diverse as pottery, figurines, linen, and stone stelae. Although this genre of text is attested for a period of nearly two thousand years, only a handful of examples survive, all of which share the common goal of communicating a wish or desire from the living to the dead.

The letter of Heni, written in vertical columns, as was typical for Hieratic of this time period, opens with a greeting to Meru before imploring him to intercede on his son’s behalf and offer aid. Heni believes he is being falsely accused of harming someone, insisting the wrong was instigated by other parties. Unfortunately, the details of the event are lacking. These letters are frustratingly vague, as it was assumed that the intended audience — usually a close relative or acquaintance — knew the specifics of the situation. The letter was folded and addressed like letters sent among the living. That is to say, the address was written on the outside (the two short lines written horizontally towards the bottom of the verso of the papyrus): the nobleman (iry-pat), count (haty-a), overseer of priests, Meru. In order to ensure the message was delivered, Heni deposited the small papyrus in his father’s tomb. Whether or not his father (or the living judges) recognized his plea of innocence, we will never know.

Several millennia later, Heni’s papyrus was found during the archaeological excavations of George A. Reisner. Working under the patronage of Phoebe A. Hearst, Reisner excavated the site of Naga ed-Deir between 1901 and 1904. The letter was found in the tomb of Meru (N.3737), which was decorated with images of him enjoying everyday life. The papyrus was shipped by Reisner to Germany for conservation, where it remained until after World War II. When financial difficulties compelled Phoebe Hearst to withdraw funding for the Berkeley Egyptian Excavations in 1905, George A. Reisner was appointed to the faculty at Harvard University and to the curatorial board at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston. A young, enterprising curator at the MFA, William Kelly Simpson, knew of papyri excavated by Reisner and later sought them out in Germany. With Simpson’s help, the papyrus — along with several others — traveled from West Berlin to the MFA. After securing them in Boston, Simpson published the first translation of this text. Despite earlier inquiries from faculty at UC Berkeley, it was not until the 2000s that Professor Donald Mastronarde of the Berkeley Department of Classics ascertained the whereabouts of these papyri and engineered their return to Berkeley. The Letter to the Dead, along with numerous other ancient Egyptian papyri, are now housed in the Center for the Tebtunis Papyri at The Bancroft Library, as part of the Egyptian collections acquired by Phoebe A. Hearst between 1899 and 1905.

Courses in Ancient Egyptian are taught at UC Berkeley in the Department of Near Eastern Studies as part of a program in Egyptology. Students can take classes in several phases of the language, including Old, Middle, and Late Egyptian, and Demotic.

Emily Cole, Postdoctoral Scholar
The Center for the Tebtunis Papyri, The Bancroft Library

Source consulted:

Simpson, William Kelly. “The Letter to the Dead from the Tomb of Meru (N 3737) at Nag’ Ed-Deir.” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, vol. 52, 1966, pp. 39–52. JSTOR.


~~~~~~~~~~
Title:
Letter to the Dead
Author: Heni
Registration Number: Papyrus Hearst 1282
Imprint: 9th or 10th Egyptian Dynasty. First Intermediate Period  (Between 2160 and 2025 BCE)
Language: Ancient Egyptian
Language Family: Afro-Asiatic, Semitic
Source: The Center for the Tebtunis Papyri, The Bancroft Library (UC Berkeley)
URL: http://dpg.lib.berkeley.edu/webdb/apis/apis2?invno=P%2eHearst%2e1282&sort=Author_Title&item=1

 

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Medieval Hebrew

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First page with text in hebrew, latin, and arabic.
First page of De idololatria liber with text in Hebrew, Latin, and Arabic.

Dionysus Vossius’s Latin translation of Maimonides’s Laws of Idolatry, first published in 1642, is self-evidently the product of many cultures. On some pages, you can find four different alphabets: Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, and Greek. Yet the text itself aims to protect the singular, true religion from all other pretenders. A paradoxical work of cosmopolitan xenophobia, this version of “Laws of Idolatry” sheds light on the contradictions and complexities of 17th-century Christian Hebraism, and it places a canonical Jewish text in a surprising, unfamiliar context.

Maimonides had long been a favorite among Christians (“the only Jew to desist from talking nonsense,” as the scholar Joseph Scaliger wrote), and his philosophical masterpiece, The Guide to the Perplexed was translated to Latin in the thirteenth century. But his law codes remained more obscure. Only after Christian knowledge of and interest in Hebrew exploded in the sixteenth century did scholars begin mining them — for philological tidbits, interpretations of scripture, and mythographic lore. That’s because while the Laws of Idolatry mainly contains practical restrictions on Jewish interactions with idolaters, it also contains Maimonides’ capsule history of various forms of idolatry. This history and typology proved immensely important in a nascent scholarly discipline, what we would call today the comparative history of religion.

Dionysus Vossius, a Dutchman, was probably inspired to translate and annotate Maimonides by the great English scholar John Selden. Selden had used Maimonides to write De Diis Syriis, a comprehensive treatment of the pagan gods which heavily influenced John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Dionysus’s father Gerardus Vossius, himself a great scholar and friend of the Dutch jurist and historian Hugo Grotius, took Dionysus to England, where he met Selden and studied. Dionysus was a precocious scholar (he wrote an Arabic dictionary at sixteen), but he died at 21, and the Laws of Idolatry is consequently bound with his father’s complete works.

I am drawn to this volume by its incredible synthesis of religions and cultures: the English, Dutch, and Continental European republic of letters; the text’s many learned languages; the mixed Christian, Jewish, and pagan histories. To be sure, the combination is not without tension. The famous passage in which Maimonides proclaimed Christians idolaters (9:4) is of course absent here, as even in Hebrew it was a favorite target for Christian censors. And indeed, Vossius’s translation was itself banned, placed on the Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1717. Yet there is a remarkable irony in this most avowedly parochial of books becoming a source of wisdom for Christian scholars. This odd jumble of languages, prejudices, agendas and mistakes is a little glimpse of early modern globalization; its yellowed pages contain a world that is shockingly interconnected, mixed-up, and vibrant.

Leaf through the pages of the 1668 edition of De Idololatria Liber at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, or read it online.

Contribution by Raphael Magarik
PhD Student, Department of English

Title: De Idololatria Liber
Title in English: The Laws of Idolatry
Author: Maimonides, Moses, 1135-1204; Latin translation and notes by Dionysius Vossius
Imprint: Amsterdam: Joan Blaeu, 1668.
Edition: uncertain
Language: Medieval Hebrew
Language Family: Afro-Asiatic, Northwest Semitic
Source: Google Books (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma)
URL: https://books.google.com/books?id=sZ4PtQEACAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Select print editions at Berkeley: 

Maimonides, Moses, and Dionysius Vossius. De idololatria liber. Amsterdami: apud Ioannem Blaev, 1668. Bancroft Folio f BL200.V6 D3 1668 v.2

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Armenian

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Armenian
Shahan Shanur’s Retreat Without Song (left) and  a collection of poems by Hovhannes Tʻumanyan (right)

At the request of the Librarian for the Armenian Studies, Liladhar Pendse, we are posting this entry on April 22nd in the memory of the victims of Armenian Genocide. The 24th of April is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. The resilience of the Armenian nation, language and culture exemplify a human desire to overcome destruction and create literary monuments.

Armenian scholar and official at the court of King Vramshapuh, Mesrop Mashtots (Մեսրոպ Մաշտոց) invented the Armenian alphabet in 405 CE. Today, Western Armenian is one of the two standardized forms of Modern Armenian, the other being Eastern Armenian. Until the early 20th century, various Western Armenian dialects were spoken in the Ottoman Empire, especially in the eastern regions of the empire historically populated by Armenians and which are known as Western Armenia. Western Armenian language is also spoken in France and in the diaspora of Armenians in the United States. On the other hand, Eastern Armenian is spoken in Armenia, Artsakh, Republic of Georgia, and in the Armenian community in Iran. The two Armenian standards together form a pluricentric language. Nevertheless, only Western Armenian is considered one of the endangered languages by the UNESCO.

In the late 1980s, a group of Bay Area Armenian-American visionaries decided to introduce the concept of Armenian Studies at one of the most renowned universities in the world — the University of California, Berkeley. Within a few years, under the leadership of the UC Berkeley Armenian Alumni, and thanks to the remarkable mobilization of the community and generosity of major donors, the William Saroyan Visiting Professorship in Modern Armenian Studies was established. Later the Krouzian Endowment, established in 1996, would provide this position with significant additional support. In the fall of 1998, the William Saroyan Visiting Professorship became a full-time position.

Professor Stephan Astourian was appointed Executive Director of the Armenian Studies Program and Assistant Adjunct Professor of History in July 2002. The William Saroyan position was no longer dependent on temporary appointments. Professor Astourian began to build the foundation of a full-fledged academic program focused on contemporary Armenian history, politics, language, and culture. The program now offers Armenian history Armenian that is further enriched by visiting scholars, academic conferences, symposia, and public speaking engagements organized or delivered by Professors Astourian and Douzjian.

Shahan Shahnur’s Retreat Without Song was serialized in the Paris daily Haraj (Onward) before it was published as a novel in 1929. Set in Paris, the novel traces a tempestuous love story that provokes an identity crisis in the main character. While the interethnic romance between an Armenian man and a French woman drives the novel’s plot, its setting and characterization foreground the challenges Armenians faced after their exile from Istanbul, in the aftermath of the genocide. Upon publication, the novel enjoyed immediate success among readers; however, conservative critics, appalled by its violation of cultural taboos, labeled it pornographic. Today, precisely for its provocative treatment of religious values, romance, and diasporic life, Retreat Without Song rightfully occupies a place among the foundational texts of modern Western Armenian literature.

Hovhannes Tumanyan’s artful Eastern Armenian verse, unanimously loved by readers for over a century, presents cultural wisdom and a witty, critical perspective on socio-political dynamics. This collection includes two narrative poems that inspired operas: the tragic love story depicted in Anush served as the libretto for Armen Tigranyan’s homonymous opera whereas The Capture of  Fort Temuk, a historical tale of political intrigue, was the basis for Alexander Spendiaryan’s Almast. Also notable in this collection, David of Sasun is based on the third cycle of the Armenian epic Daredevils of Sasun. A remarkable piece of literature, this epic circulated orally for almost a millennium until its first transcription in 1873, which in turn paved the way for studies and transcriptions of additional variants. Tumanyan’s verse adaptation of this epic, first published in 1904 and still widely read, bespeaks the poet’s mastery of folkloric style.

Contribution by Stephan Astourian & Myrna Douzjian
Faculty, 
Armenian Studies Program
Liladhar Pendse, Librarian for Armenian Studies, Doe Library

Title: Nahanjě aṛantsʻ ergi
Title in English: Retreat Without Song
Author: Shahnur, Shahan, 1903-1974
Imprint: Serialized for the daily newspaper Haraj =Haratch (Paris: Imp. Araxes, 1925-?).
Edition: Unknown
Language: Eastern Armenian
Language Family: Indo-European, Armenian
Source: Digital Library of Armenian Literature
URL: http://www.digilib.am/book/882/Երկեր%20թիւ

Print editions in Library:

Title: Banasteghtsutʻiwnner
Title in English: Selected Poems
Author: Tʻumanyan, Hovhannes, 1869-1923
Imprint: Kostandnupolis : Tpagrutʻiwn K. Kʻēshishean Ordi, 1922.
Edition: 1st edition 
Language: Eastern Armenian
Language Family: Indo-European, Armenian
Source: HathiTrust Digital Library (UCLA)
URL: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.l0081024747

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The Languages of Berkeley is a dynamic online sequential exhibition celebrating the diversity of languages that have advanced research, teaching and learning at the University of California, Berkeley. It is made possible with support from the UC Berkeley Library and is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Language Center (BLC).

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