Resumption of the argument.

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Resumption of the argument.

There are occasional Greek inscriptions in the same area of Sinai which are graffiti of “such-and-such a person” or of “such-and-such a person, son of such-and-such a person” (e.g. Stone 1572, Wadi Haggag: IOANNES MARTIRIANOU). These, however, are not associated with any particular Sinaitic inscription as are the few Greek translations-cum-transcriptions, treated supra. No doubt the intermingling of these with the genuinely ancient Sinaitic memorials has encouraged the belief that all the Sinaitic inscriptions are mere travelers’ graffiti from roughly the same era as the Greek.

The common understanding is that the inscriptions were inscribed by Nabataean pastoralists (or, according to Euting, by Nabataean customs officials!) in the Sinai desert, who recorded their names on the rocks to while away the hours. Thus šlm ‘bd’lhy means “Greeting! Abdallahi”, or in contemporary language: “Hello! I’m Abdul”. It is certainly curious that monuments of such a type were inscribed in this most inaccessible wilderness, without motive or circumstance other than to proclaim the banal message, “Hello! I’m Abdul”. Those who advocate the Nabataean theory must account for the amazing multiplicity of individual instances, in the Sinaitic wilderness of all places, of such senseless and arduous endeavor. The shorter inscriptions number in the thousands, on wadi walls, and on tumbled rocks, in hardly accessible coves, along a route of 150 miles or so, following (as it happens) that of the ancient Israelites in their sojourn in the wilderness and on their journey into the Desert of Paran, and up to the very peak of Mount Serbal, the oldest candidate for Mount Sinai. Some are more lengthy, and one, as has been pointed out, is formed of letters six feet tall. Who was this Abdul anyway?

The Nabataean graffiti theory does not explain the facts on the ground. Even the translation of the common and noticeable initial word šlm (#) as “Greeting” (the supposedly “Nabataean”, properly the Aramaic sh’lam = Hebrew shalom, peace, hail, health, welfare) is not accurate in many, if not all, cases. As Gesenius noted long ago in his Dictionary, the ancient Classical Hebrew shalom (corresponding to the Aramaic sh’lam) was not used as a common greeting, as it was in later Hebrew, but meant as an adjective: 1) of body, healthy, sound, 2) of number, in full number, 3) of situation and demeanor, secure, tranquil, peaceful, and hence friendly, and as a substantive similarly, wholeness, welfare, security, peace. Here the Greek translations consistently avoid the later usage, and understand šlm to refer to a numbering or recording of a quasi-military kind. That is Gesenius’ meaning (2), “in full number”, or as we might say, “a full muster”. The Greek interprets the Sinaitic formulaic phrase, on two occasions, like dkyr, as MNESTHE, “May he/it be remembered, noted”, and twice as AL(L)SO, “Jump to it!”. The translation MNESTHE was noticed by Levy, but strangely did not affect his universal interpretation of the word as “Greeting!” The word šlm indicates the inscription so introduced is a memorial to be noted (Greek mnesthe), or the mark of a position taken up (Greek ‘also), and the stock phrase at the end of many of the inscriptions informs us that, in consequence, “All’s well!” or the men are “Present and Correct!” If we were to translate the Sinaitic sh’lam as “full muster!”, then the Greek equivalent MNESTHE should be understood in the sense “Ready to be reckoned (in the muster)!”, as if the Sinaitic was an assertion that a line had already been formed for the muster, and AL(L)SO in the sense “Jump into line (for the muster)”, as if the Sinaitic was a demand to line up so that the muster could be made.

Presumably the Greek translations-cum-transcriptions were meant to publish the Exodus inscriptions to pious pilgrims of a later era who only spoke Greek. There is a vast difference between almost worthless graffiti of the Nabataean era, on the one hand, and inscriptions, if only graffiti and memorials, on the other, contemporary with the Exodus, the translation of which would be a sacred duty to a faithful Jew or Christian of a subsequent age.

Many of the names have a typical early Aramaic nominative termination in “u”, of which very few traces survived in Biblical or Classical Hebrew, but which might be expected to have been prevalent amongst the Aramaic speakers in an early stage of the nation’s development. In Biblical Hebrew this archaic termination could be exchanged for an “i”, e.g. Penu-el, “Face (Penu) of God”, otherwise Peni-el, with “i” instead of “u”. It is noticeable that out of twenty-four Hebrew names given for the twelve spies and their fathers in Numbers 13. 4-15, no less than nine have the “i” termination, which is not particularly common in other contexts, and here likely stands in place of an old nominative case-ending, equivalent to the Aramaic termination “u”. In other words, the popular Aramaic names were: Horu (actually found in Sinaitic: wrwx), Paltu, Sodu (attested in Sinaitic: wdwv), Gaddu, Susu, Gemallu, (attested: wlmg), Nahbu (attested: wbxn), Vophsu, Machu, but in the Hebrew dialect (used by Moses to write the Sacred Book) these became Hori, Palti, Sodi, Gaddi, Susi, Gemalli, Nahbi, Vophsi, Machi.

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