Two basalt funerary stelae, inscribed in Aramaic and belonging to two priests of the moon god Śaḥr, were found In 1891 by fellahin digging clay for the walls of their houses on a tell abutting the small village of Nerab (about 7 km, or 4 mi., southeast of Aleppo, Syria). The stelae were associated with an uninscribed sarcophagus hewn from the same material, containing two skeletons. The sarcophagus had been uncovered two years previously in similar circumstances (Clermont-Ganneau, 1897, pp. 183–184). Charles Clermont-Ganneau obtained the stelae for France and had them brought to the Louvre museum, where they remain. He published them In 1897.
Each priest is carved in bas-relief on a stela with a rounded top. In Nerab I (93 × 35 cm), Sin-zer-ibni stands with his right arm raised in a gesture of prayer or adoration. His fringed robe, wrapped around his right shoulder, leaving his left shoulder bare, reaches to his bare feet. He is wearing a round cap and in his left hand he grasps some folded fabric, possibly fringed. The text surrounds his head and then continues across the bottom of his robe from the knee down:
"Sin-zer-ibni, priest of Śaḥr in Nerab, deceased. And this is his image and his sarcophagus (?). Whoever you are, should you carry off (?) this image and the sarcophagus (?) from its place, may Śaḥr and Shamash and Nikkal and Nusk tear out your name and your place from life, and may they kill you with a nasty death and destroy your offspring. But if you guard the image and this sarcophagus (?), afterward, may what belongs to you be guarded."
Nerab II (95 × 45 cm) depicts She'gabbar wearing the same cap and robe worn by Sin-zer-ibni on stela I. He sits before a well-stocked offering table, feet resting on a footstool. His left hand holds a drinking cup close to his lips. Facing him from across the table stands an attendant, carved on a smaller scale, either whisking flies from the table or fanning the priest. The text is inscribed on the flat raised surface above this scene:
"She'gabbar, priest of Śaḥr in Nerab. This is his image. Because of my righteous conduct before him he gave me a good name and prolonged my days. On the day I died, my mouth was not stopped from speaking; and with my eyes, what was I seeing? Children of the fourth generation wept over me [or: “and with my own eyes I was witnessing the children of the fourth generation. They wept over me…”] and became crazed with grief. They did not set any silver or bronze vessel beside me. They set me (here) with my clothes (only) so that, in the future, you would not carry off my sarcophagus (?). Whoever you are—should you commit wrong and carry me off, may Śaḥr and Nikkal and Nusk make his death odious, and may his posterity perish."
The script of the stelae is fairly conservative (Naveh, 1970, pp. 17–18; Gibson, 1975, p. 94). Virtually every form has a precedent in eighth–century BCE Aramaic inscriptions. A number of these forms, however, are at the innovating pole of the comparable forms (zayin, ḥet, kaph, samekh, ṣade). Assuming that the lapidary style was conservative in its own time, the script fits the early seventh century BCE.
Fortunately for dating purposes, She'gabbar of Nerab II has turned up as “Se'gabbari, priest (šangû) of Nerab,” in a Neo-Assyrian letter addressed to Sargon II (c. 710 BCE) published by Simo Parpola (1985). The same name is attested in two other cuneiform sources from roughly the same temporal and geographic horizon (c. 721–680 BCE; Parpola, 1985, p. 273, n. 2), allowing a date in the first decades of the seventh century BCE for She'gabbar's funerary stela.
The method of writing is scriptio continua throughout, without word dividers or spaces between words. The orthography is conservative and conforms to the practice of the Old Aramaic inscriptions of the ninth and eighth centuries BCE. The language is transitional between the Old Aramaic of the ninth and eighth centuries and the Official Aramaic of the Persian period. Certain consonants later lost through merger in the Persian period are still represented as they are in Old Aramaic (cf., e.g., l't'ḥz II:4; 'šrh, 'šrk I:8, 10; tnṣr, ynṣr I:12, 13). The form of the negative in the Nerab stelae (II:4, 6, 8) is simply l-, as in Old Aramaic generally (and in the Aššur ostracon), in contrast to l' in the texts of the Persian period. [See Aššur.] On the other hand, the vacillation between assimilated (ysḥw I:9) and nonassimilated forms (tnṣr, ynṣr I:12, 13) falls between the Old Aramaic inscriptions, which generally (outside of the Tell Fakhariyah inscription) assimilate, and the official and literary documents of the Persian period, which do not assimilate these forms. [See Fakhariyah Aramaic Inscription.] The form ykṭlwk (I:11) presupposes the *qṭl form of the root for “to kill,” widely attested from the Persian period, in contrast to the original *qtl reflected in the Old Aramaic inscriptions (and in cognate languages). Moreover, the language behind the Nerab inscriptions has already developed the quasi-verbal use of the participle (mḥzh 'nh II:5) entirely absent in the Old Aramaic inscriptions of the ninth and eighth centuries BCE, but widely attested in the Persian period.
As funerary texts, the Nerab stelae are unique among early epigraphic Aramaic texts. They share a number of structural features with several Phoenician funerary inscriptions, including autobiographical elements and curses pronounced on the would-be violator of the funerary installations. [See Phoenician-Punic.] In both inscriptions, but especially in Nerab II, the deceased speaks from beyond the grave. The curses are comparable to similar curses found in other Northwest Semitic funerary, commemorative, and votive inscriptions (Gevirtz, 1961). Hayim Tawil (1974, pp. 57–65) has demonstrated the traditional character of several motifs in Nerab II by adducing parallels in other Northwest Semitic and cuneiform texts. Most impressive, however, is the sequence of motifs (most in the same order) shared with Nerab II by the Harran funerary inscription of Nabonidus's mother Adda-guppi' (Gadd, 1958, pp. 46–51) cited by Tawil (1974, p. 65).
The Nerab stelae exhibit an Assyrian influence in the names of the priests (Kaufman, 1970), in the formulae of the inscription (Tawil, 1974, pp. 57–65), and in the iconography of the bas-reliefs (Gibson, 1975, p. 94). The gods mentioned—Shamash, Nikkal, Nusk, and Sin (in the Aramaic form of Śaḥr)—are Babylonian. Nikkal is the consort of the moon god Sin/Śaḥr, while Nusk (if not also Shamash) is their son. From the letter published by Parpola (1985) it is clear that Nerab (cuneiform evidence points to a vocalization, Nēreb) was administratively dependent on Harran, where the same holy family was worshiped. Theophoric names from cuneiform tablets from Nerab of more recent date (c. 560–520 BCE; Dhorme, 1928; Oelsner, 1989, pp. 68–69, 76) indicate the longevity of the cult of this holy family in Nerab.
- Clermont-Ganneau, Charles S. “Le stèles araméennes de Neîrab.” Études d'Archéologie Orientale 2 (1895): 182–223. See with Clermont-Ganneau (1897).
- Clermont-Ganneau, Charles S. Album d'antiquités orientales: Recueil de monuments inédits ou peu connus. Paris, 1897. With Clermont-Ganneau (1895), the editio princeps of the Nerab stelae. Serious study should begin with the photographic plates, which are still the best published, especially for Nerab I. These are more readily available, although reduced and somewhat poorly reproduced, in Driver (1976, pl. 59.1–2) below.
- Dhorme, Paul. “Les tablettes babyloniennes de Neirab.” Revue d'Assyriologie 25.2 (1928): 53–82.
- Driver, Godfrey R. Semitic Writing: From Pictograph to Alphabet. 3d ed. London, 1976.
- Fitzmyer, Joseph A., and Stephen A. Kaufman. An Aramaic Bibliography, part 1, Old, Official, and Biblical Aramaic. Baltimore and London, 1992. The fullest bibliography on the Nerab inscriptions.
- Gadd, C. J. “The Harran Inscriptions of Nabonidus.” Anatolian Studies 8 (1958): 35–92, pls. 1–16.
- Gevirtz, Stanley. “West-Semitic Curses and the Problem of the Origins of Hebrew Law.” Vetus Testamentum 11 (1961): 137–158.
- Gibson, John C. L. Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions, vol. 2, Aramaic Inscriptions, Including Inscriptions in the Dialect of Zenjirli. Oxford, 1975. The most up-to-date treatment in English, with useful philological notes, in spite of their brevity (see pp. 93–98). Should be read critically.
- Kaufman, Stephen A. “Si'gabbar, Priest of Sahr in Nerab.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 90 (1970): 270–271.
- Naveh, Joseph. “The Development of the Aramaic Script.” Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 5 (1970): 21–43.
- Oelsner, Joachim. “Weitere Bemerkungen zu den Neirab-Urkunden.” Altorientalische Forschungen 16 (1989): 68–77.
- Parpola, Simo. “Si'gabbar of Nerab Resurrected.” Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 16 (1985): 272–275.
- Pritchard, James B., ed. The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament. 2d ed. Princeton, 1969. See plates 280 and 635. Relatively good photographic plates, especially for Nerab II (no. 635); more accessible than Clermont-Ganneau.
- Tawil, Hayim. “Some Literary Elements in the Opening Sections of the Hada, Zākir, and the Nērab II Inscriptions in the Light of East and West Semitic Royal Inscriptions.” Orientalia 43 (1974): 40–65.
Douglas M. Gropp