Agglutinative aspects in the Amman Citadel Inscription

by koot van wyk Seoul South Korea 11 February 2009

The Amman Citdael Inscription was discovered in 1961 during excavations carried out under direction of R. Dajani. Siegfried Horn was entrusted with the publication of it in July of 1968 and in that year he published an article on it. The stone is in the Amman Museum catalogue number J9000 (Horn 1969: 2). Cross and Geraty indicated that the script is Aramaic "since the development of Ammon's own distinctive writing style did not develop until early in the eighth century" (Cross and Geraty 1994: 169). For now the statement will go as is, but in anticipation of later publications by this researcher (and it is assumed the statement was made by Cross more than by Geraty), that the methodology of Cross in his paleographical and orthographical works, preceded by stormy discussions by J. L. Teicher and S. Birnbaum et al before 1953, added to this researcher's own analysis of Moabite Seals, is in great need of a critical evaluation. A number of reasons will be mentioned shortly here a. we are dealing with people not machines; people who migrated back and forth over the Transjordan; people who imitated archaic styles at times; people who were following the cultural trends brought by imperial influxes; people who intermarry and mixed styles on one seal. Cross is not the last word on orthography and some has made the error of calling his books on the subject the "Bible of Ortography".

A number of dignified scholars worked on the inscription after Horn as well, Cross (1969), Albright (1970), Palmaitis (1971), Puech and Rof?(1973), Van Selms (1975), Fulco (1978), Shea (1979), Sasson (1979), Dreyer (1980) and Shea (1981) again. Side comments were made by many other scholars: Garbini, Kutcher, Israel, Jackson, Aufrecht, Landes, Dornemann, Younker, Zayadine, Pardee, Dion and a long list of scholars. It is natural that each scholar involved in the Madaba Plains Project will mention or interpret from this Inscription. Anyone involved in Ammonite history, language or culture, will cite from this inscription and those who published it. Scholars in the Seventh Day Adventist Church archaeological departments and derivatives, are all interested in this inscription. Transjordanian scholars of ancient history will also pay attention to this inscription.

This researcher is looking at this inscription from a slightly different angle than scholars of the past. Whereas they followed a grammar-puritanic approach, Van Wyk will approach the subject in this investigation from a text-puritanic approach.

Amman Citadel Inscription Bruce and Kenneth Zuckerman.jpg

Photo by Bruce and Zuckerman

Amman Citadel Inscription Horn drawing 1969.jpg
Horn's Hand copy of Inscription 1969

Amman Citadel Inscription Horn Photo.jpg

Photo published in S. Horn 1969

Amman Citadel Inscription Dreyer 1980 drawing.jpg

Drawing of H. Dreyer of UNISA ca. 1980


Van Wyk's Translation of the Amman Citadel Inscription

[The words of M]ilkom: built for yourself(1) the entrances(2), enclosure(3), [and(4) ]

[ ]according to all(5) from the surrounding. To you(6) Matimatan(7)[ ]

[ ]I will surely destroy(8) and all from the desert [ ] ]

[ ]and on all(9) surroundings (10) righteousness(11) will prevail[ ]

[ ]Tedelet-bedelet (12) Bathan-Kabah (13)[ ]

[ ] you shall fear in the son of the gods (14)[ ]

Van Wyk Notes:

1. Shea's translation here makes sense: bnh. lk "build for yourself" (Shea 1981: 105). It was previously the rendering of Victor Sasson in 1979 (Sasson 1979: 118) "build for thyself". Dreyer's translation of "[he] built this" is maybe less literal. Siegfried Horn's translation of "[he] has built for you" is also closer to the literal rendering of the original (Horn 1969: 8). Shea and Sasson took it to be an imperative whereas Horn saw it just as a description.

2. Albright (1970) reads "harbors", Horn reads "entrances" (1969: 8), Dreyer reads "entrances" Dreyer 1980: 124-125), Sasson reads "points of entry" (Sasson 1979: 118).

3. Dreyer reads "and the enclosure". It is doubtful where Dreyer sees the waw copulative (and) here. Horn read it more literal "round about" (Horn 1969: 8).

4. Since it is asyndetic, one would expect an "and" at the end of a list of nouns.

5. Nearly all scholars agreed on this word. Shea read the initial kkl as "When all" (Shea 1981: 105).

6. Dreyer's reading here is "of this enclosure". Where the word "this" was taken from is hard to say. Horn's reading makes more sense here (Horn 1969: 9) "from round about you" [Horn's literal rendering]. Horn then paraphrased it as "that surrounds you" [Horn's paraphrased rendering]. Here is the problem with the word. It is a long word with no word dividers or dots between letters of this long word. It is a word msbb`lk. Horn implies that there was a scribal error and that the copyist forgot to add a dot between the beth and ayin. Horn places the dot there, divides the word and that is his literal reading. Is it a personal name Meseb-Ba`alak(?)/"from Seb-Ba`alak [thus Van Wyk]. Sasson read it as "on all thy surrounding fronts" (Sasson 1979: 118).

7. Is mtymtn a personal name? Horn reads it as "from Tymtm". Dreyer reads it as "from the highest part". The reading of Victor Sasson and William Shea makes better sense here: mt ymtn "they shall surely die" (Sasson 1979: 118) and (Shea 1979: 18). Shea says that F. M. Cross was the first to suggest that the expression is an infinitive absolute followed by a third person masculine plural imperfect of the root "die" (Cross 1969: 18). Cross has divided the word according to his own sensus plenior principle utilizing grammatic mental expectations forced upon the text and trying to align the text physically to his mental expectations. Thus, he places a virtual word divider between the taw and the yod. Van Wyk wonders if we do not have here a personal name. See the correlate in Mati'el of the Sefire Inscription. El is a divine epithet and one wonders if Matan is also such a divine name or title? Is this then a ruler or priest or overseer of the Ammonite area that is addressed here?

8. Dreyer read here "the one like the other and every included thing" (1980: 124-125). Horn read it as "what had been destroyed I ... throughout the west" (Horn 1969: 8). Sasson has quite a paraphrase: "[Fear not, for] I will extripate every one that incites ag[ainst thy land]" (Sasson 1979: 118). Sasson's rendering makes sense in the original and one can say that it is possible. There are instructions, curses and promises of protection in the text.

9. On this translation, all scholars agreed.

10. Horn read here "threshold" since he has a building in mind (Horn 1969: 8). Shea read it as "round tower" since he had defenses in mind. Sasson translated it as "fronts" since he has a covenant in mind here and geographical territories surrounding Ammon as a people of Milkom.

11. Shea translated ṣq as "victoriously" (Shea 1981: 105). Dreyer has it "(on) every of his sides" (Dreyer 1980: 124-125). Sasson read it as "justice" (Sasson 1979: 118). Horn has translated the word as "legitimate" since he had a building in mind (Horn 1969: 8).

12. Dreyer translated it as "the innermost inner-door. He dugged" but in his case he has left out the translation for bṭ (Dreyer 1980: 124-125). Sasson ignored the word divider that is visible in both the drawing of Horn and Dreyer [from Horn] after the initial lamed ]l.tdltbdlt. Horn said that the word division is strange (Horn 1969: 12). Sasson divided it his own way: ]lt[.]dlt[.]bdlt. He did not use the first two word dividers in his transcription but in his translation and spacing it is clear that he intended virtual word dividers here. Said Sasson "the dot before the first taw in line 5 may safely be disregarded" (Sasson 1979: 122-123).

Our issue with Sasson is, can a modern scholar rectify or modify the text to fit the grammar of the modern investigator and edit the text for the original scribe? Is this legitimate science? In Shea's transcription there is not the initial lamed nor the word divider after the lamed. Shea has it ]tdlt[.]bdlt. Shea's virtual word divider is before the beth. Shea translated it as "door by door inwards" (Shea 1981: 105). The photo by Bruce and Zuckermann supra definitely supports a word divider before the taw and what appears to be a lamed remainder. Van Wyk will read it as ]l.tdlt[.]bdlt. Albright read it as ]tdlt[.]bdlt. and Shea later read it in 1981 the same as Albright but not the same as Horn (1969). Sasson follows Cross who divided the word according to the sensus plenior principle, namely ]lt[.]dlt[.]bdlt. It is questionable as to how far modern grammarians may panelbeat the "deformed ancient text" to fit their own sensibility. In Van Wyk's view, the modern scholar cannot assume editor functions of an ancient text and with scissors, glue and wastebasket start "rectifying" a text not fit to modern grammars. A. Sperber complained about this "puritanical approach" by modern grammarians to the Masoretic Text (A. Sperber, A Historical Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. A Presentation of Problems with Suggestions to their Solution [Leiden: E. Brill, 1966]: 418). Van Wyk suggests that the puritanical grammarians approach to ancient texts ignores three important aspects of the ancient world: a. on a linguistic level the ancients experienced bilingualism, multi-lingualism, loanwords, neologisms. b. On a scribal level the age of the author plays a role on the text final form. c. The mechanism of writing, whether he wrote himself or used a scribe and dictated the text. It is difficult to too readily want to rectify seeming inconsistencies, double spellings of words, erratic and fluctuating descriptions and difficult formulations.

Van Wyk wonders it is possible that we have here a nickname of a person's child Tedelet-bedelet? A puritanical textual approach will favor Van Wyk's view but a puritanical grammatical approach will favor Crosses approach.

13. Sasson reads "be quenched" here (Sasson 1979: 118) and sees the root as "extinguish". Shea reads "[they] shall surely extinguish [them" (Shea 1981: 105). Horn had a building operation in mind and sees it as "he dug" (Horn 1969: 8) and so it was also read by Dreyer "he dugged" (Dreyer 1980: 124-125). Sasson chose his semantics to fit his Divine Oracle or Covenant mental image and Shea chose the same to fit his Divine Oracle about Ammonite Defenses mental image. There is nothing wrong in postulating a mental image as background for reconstruction since this is the only way to make sensible what is limited knowledge. Van Wyk wonders if we have here a nickname of a person Bathan-Kabah? A puritanical textual approach will favor Van Wyk's view but a puritanical grammatical approach will favor Crosses approach.

14. Horn reads this as "to fear, be afraid" which occurs in Hebrew Ugaritic and Phoenician (Shea 1981: 20). Shea suggests that it should be translated "he will be favoured by the gods" (Shea 1981: 105). What is problematic in Shea's 1981 translation is that the English translation omits the rendering "son of gods" (Shea 1981: 105) for bbn.'lm. Sasson gives the translation "]thou shalt stand in awe of the son of the gods" (Sasson 1979: 118). A better translation will be according to Van Wyk "You shall fear in the son of the gods". There is the preposition beth before the word bn "son".

Dreyer reads it as "on the outside of the entry court". Shea suggested that it reads the Ugaritic parallel "sons of the gods". Shea interprets it as referring to Ammonite king, feared as son of the gods (Shea 1981: 20). Sasson also suggested that it refers to the "son of the gods" (Sasson 1979: 118).

Various settings or context that translators had in mind in their translation.

Horn: Building operation

Dreyer: Building operation of a temple? or palace?

Shea: Building operation of defenses by a divine Architect

Sasson: Divine Covenant setting with instructions, curses and promises

Methodology of establishing context


Horn used his archaeological knowledge of buildings and structures to provide him the necessary presuppositions to unlock the problems of interpreting the fragmented text of the Amman Citadel Inscription.


Cross relies on his knowledge of Grammar and Paleography and its chronology to consider the text and date it. Anyone who uncritically work with Crosses books or articles on North West Semitic Paleography or Orthography has not read yet the debates of J. Teicher, W. F. Albright, S. A. Birnbaum and others prior to Cross. Van Wyk warns against what he perceives as "ethno-orthography" by modern scholars on this subject.


Sasson wants to use the Old Testament as a formulation gutter in which he wants to reconstruct the Amman Citadel text. The approach has its limits though. One cannot place all the books of the Old Testament on a similar level due to the various dates of authorship involved. Multiple contexts both in time and geographical sphere are sometimes involved. Isaiah for example was a keen reader of Moses' works and so it would be legitimate to use Isaiah (time wise) and Amos as well as the books of Moses, should Isaiah also use the phrase or idiom.


Shea used his archaeological knowledge of defense systems to "upload" his mental lexicon to assist him in the reconstruction of the text.

Van Wyk:

What Sasson has done with the Old Testament to recreate the context of the content of the Amman Citadel Inscription, Van Wyk has done with the Sefire Inscription. In Van Wyk's approach, contrary to Crosses approach, Van Wyk wants to be text-puritanic while Cross wants to be grammar-puritanic. It is not clear who has a better option to the Citadel Inscription. In Van Wyk's approach it implies that the word dividers need to be respected absolutely. The original scribe knew what he was doing and the presence or absence of them were well calculated. There is no need for editorial adjustments.

Agglutinative aspects of the Amman Citadel Inscription

"Sumerian is an agglutinative language; its most characteristic feature, therefore, is that it strings together, by simple juxtaposition, a number of words intended by the speaker to convey a certain idea" A. Poebel started the Sumerian Grammar. And so we suddenly understand the name of Methushalach (Genesis 4:18) and Isaiah's son's name: Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:3).

This is what we have here in the Amman Citadel Inscription according to Van Wyk. Three names are intended here in these "difficult constructions".


In line 2 there is the name Matimatan and despite the grammar-puritanic approach of past scholars, let us be text-puritanic and suggest it compares to the Sefire Inscription (ca. 740 BCE) Mati-el. The grandfather of Mati-'el had a long name, `Attarsamak. How about reading it as Mati-matan?


As a personal name it may still have the grammatical semantics that scholars wants to pose here. The point is just that a father called his boy or daughter Tedeletbedelet, a kind of long nickname and his daugther Bathan-kabah.


Does "extinguish pregnancy" display any sign of relatedness to desires of abortion and the result of an illegitimate child?

It was a period when the long-names for children were very popular as evidenced in Sefire, Isaiah and now it seems in the Amman Citadel Inscription.

Amman Citadel Bibliography

W. F. Albright, "Some Comments on the Amman Citadel Inscription" BASOR 198 (1970): 38-40.

ANET Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament ed. J. B. Pritchard (Princeton: Princeton University, 1955).

W. E. Aufrecht, "The Ammonite Language of the Iron Age." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 266 (1987) 85-95.

F. M. Cross, "Epigraphic Notes on the Amman Citadel Inscription," (1969): 13-19.

F. M. Cross and L. T. Geraty, "The Ammonite Ostraca from Tell Hesban," Hesban After 25 Years edited by D. Merling and L. T. Geraty (Berrien Springs, Michigan: Institute of Archaeology, Siegfried H. Horn Archaeological Museum, 1994), 169-175.

P.-E. Dion, "Notes d'?igraphie ammonite," RB (1975): 24-33.

R. H. Dornemann, The Archaeology of the Transjordan in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1983.

H. Dreyer, "Die Citadel Inskripsie uit Amman," UNISA Studiegids CLHB03/5 page 124-129.

W. J. Fulco, "The `Amman Citadel Inscription': A New Collation." Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 230 (1978) 39-42.

G. Garbini, "Le lingue semitiche" Studi di storia linguistica vol. 9 (Napoli: Istituto Orientale di Napoli, 1972): 104-106;

G. Garbini, "Ammonite Inscriptions," JSS 19 (1974): 159-168.

S. H. Horn, "The Amman Citadel Inscription," BASOR (1969): 2-13).

F. Israel, "The Language of the Ammonites." Orientalia lovaniensia periodica 10 (1979) 143-59.

K. P. Jackson, The Ammonite Language of the Iron Age. Harvard Semitic Monographs 27 (Chico, CA: Scholars, 1983).

R. Kutcher, "A New Inscription from 'Amman" Qadmoniot 5/1 (1972): 27-28 (in Hebrew).

G. M. Landes, "The Material Civilization of the Ammonites." Biblical Archaeologist 24 (1961) 65-88.

I. Palmaitis, "The First Ancient Ammonite Inscription of the I Millennium B.C." Vestnik drevnei istorii 118/4 (1971): 119-126.

D. Pardee, "Literary Sources for the History of Palestine and Syria II. Hebrew, Moabite, Ammonite and Edomite Inscriptions." Andrews University Seminary Studies 17 (1979) 47-70.

E. Puech and A. Rof? "L'inscription de la citadelle d'Amman," RB (1973): 531-546;

V. Sasson, "The 'Amman Citadel Inscription as an Oracle of Promising Divine Protection: Philological and Literary Comments," PEQ 111 (1979): 117.

A. van Selms, "Some Remarks on the Amman Citadel Inscription," BiOr 32 (1975): 5-8;

William Shea, "Milkom as the Architect of Rabath-Ammon's Natural Defences in the Amman Citadel Inscription" PEQ 111 (1979): 17-25.

William Shea, "The Amman Citadel Inscription Again," PEQ 113 (1981) : 105-110.

R. W. Younker, "Rabbah." In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by D. N. Freedman, 5:598-600 (New York: Doubleday, 1992).

F. Zayadine, "Recent Excavations on the Citadel of Amman." Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 18 (1973) 17-35.

F. Zayadine, "Recent Excavations on the Citadel of Amman." Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 31 (1987) 299-311.

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