In his דמות and צלם, Part 3.

Begin with Part 1 here and then Part 2 here.

To this point we have looked at the distribution of דמות within the Hebrew Bible, as well as the morpheme וּת-, in order to determine whether this could be an Aramaic loan or an ‘Aramaism’, and if so, whether it reflects the late influence of Aramaic. Since Hebrew and Aramaic have a long history of contact, Hurvitz argues that it is not sufficient to merely identify something as an ‘Aramaism’ and conclude that it was borrowed late, but you must also consider its usage within the Aramaic dialects to provide a reasonable path for the borrowing. This is where the study gets a bit more interesting.

Unfortunately, there are actually very few attestations of דמותא in Old or Imperial Aramaic. It only appears once (that I could find) in Imperial Aramaic (the official dialect during the Persian period), but this is in the phrase לדמות ד, “in accordance with”, where it is being used as part of the compound preposition rather than as a substantive. In later dialects it is used quite often as part of a compound preposition as well.

On the other hand, it appears in two Old Aramaic inscriptions where its usage is quite interesting. The first is a broken inscription from the so-called Tell Halaf ‘Altar’ which dates from c.900 BCE. The second, and more important, is the Tell Fakhariyeh Aramaic-Akkaidan bilingual inscription which is also from the 9th Century BCE. דמותא appears twice in this inscription, as does the synonymous term צלם:

(1) דמותא זי הדיסעי זי שמ קדמ הדדסכנ

(1) The ‘likeness’ of Had-yiṯ’i which he set up before Hadad of Sikan

(12) …צלמ הדיסעי (13) מלכ גוזנ וזי סכנ וזי אזרנ…

(12)…The ‘image’ of Had-yaṯ’i, (13) king of Gozan, and of Sikan, and of Azran…

(15)…דמותא זאת עבד…

(15)…he made this ‘likeness’…

(16) …צלמה שמ…

(16) …he placed his ‘image’…

The inscription is on a life-sized standing figure of a certain Had-yiṯ’i, and this statue is the referent of both דמותא and צלם, which seem to be used as synonyms. To this point, we have only been discussing דמות, but it should be noted that צלם is a perfectly good Aramaic word as well. In fact, it is a good Akkadian word, ṣalmu, which seems to be perfectly cognate to its Hebrew counterpart (see Randall Garr, In His Own Image and Likeness, Brill, 2003, 137-138). That is, it is used in the same contexts and refers to the same types of objects. And the main referents of ṣalmu are statues, mainly of deities and royal figures.

Such images have a long history in Mesopotamian art, and Garr even suggests that the Assyrian-like statue at Tell Fakhariyeh may indicate an avenue by which the Mesopotamian style and concept of the ‘image’ was moving west. This would be interesting if it provided a background for Genesis 1 since we generally think of the ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ of God in less physical terms than a statue. However, the statues are considered both representations and manifestations of the persons they represent, so this certainly could include the moral and functional roles theologians tend to attribute to the imago dei.

Regardless, we have here the use of דמות as a synonym of צלם in the 9th Century BCE. Unfortunately, we have no other evidence of the use of דמותא as a substantive from Imperial Aramaic to compare its distribution. Still, it seems quite reasonable that דמות could have been borrowed early just as easily as late (if it even was borrowed). The linguistic evidence here is just inconclusive, and the lesson, of course, is that ‘Aramaism’ does not necessarily equal a late date.

Explore posts in the same categories: Language Contact

2 Comments on “In his דמות and צלם, Part 3.”


  1. […] In his דמות and צלם, Part 3. Related posts:More on AramaismsDating OT using BHAramaic Presence Doesn’t Mean Late Date? […]


  2. […] In his דמות and צלם, Part 3. Post a Comment or Leave a Trackback […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: