Andrews University Seminary Studies 24.2 (1986) 147-154.

          Copyright © 1986 by Andrews University Press.  Cited with permission.





                      FROM DEIR  ‘ALLA



                                          VICTOR SASSON

                                   South Bend, Indiana 46616



            Editor's Note: The Deir `Alla material treated here by Victor Sasson is a

            portion of a lengthy inscription on plaster discovered in fragmentary

            state within the ruins of a building at DeirAlla in Transjordan. This

            inscription, which claims to be "the sayings of Balaam," had appar-

            ently fallen from an upright position, breaking into two main clusters

            of fragments plus a scattering of smaller clusters and individual pieces

            lying between those two larger groups. As the two main clusters were

            pieced together (with gaps in the text, of course), the reconstructions

            came to be designated as "combinations." Sasson's article deals with a

            section from the "first combination"—i.e., text pieced together from the

            main cluster of fragments representing the beginning portion of the



            In Psalm 2:1-2 we read of a rebellion brewing among the

nations against the sovereignty of YHWH and his anointed king:


            lmh rgsw gwym

                        wl'mym yhgw ryq

            ytysbw mlky 'rs

                        wrwznym nwsdw ybd

                        l yhwh w 'l msyhw


            Why are the nations in turmoil?

                        Why do the peoples hatch their futile plots?

            The kings of the earth stand ready,

                        and the rulers conspire together

                        against the Lord and his anointed king.       (NEB)


The "nations" in this psalm are generally understood to refer to

those neighbors of the Hebrew Kingdom who are conspiring to

rebel against YHWH and his anointed king. Thus, in seeking to




148                             VICTOR SASSON


overthrow the sovereignty of the king, these pagan nations aim at

overthrowing the sovereignty of God himself. On the whole, there

is agreement among commentators and exegetes as to the general

import of Ps 2:1-2, with recognition that these verses speak of

conspiracy and revolt.1

            The plaster texts from DeirAlla are a fairly recent discovery

and much discussion is going on aimed at clarifying them.2  In my

own detailed study of the first combination I have argued that the

lhn and the sdyn are two separate and opposing groups of gods.3  I

have maintained that the sdyn conspire against the ‘lhn, who rep-

resent the established order in the world of men and in the cosmos.

For some unknown reason, the sdyn seek to overthrow the rule of

thelhn and bring about disorder and chaos to the world. Having

formed a conspiracy in their assembly, the sdyn order the goddess

sgr w ‘str—a lesser deity—to cover up the heavens with clouds of

darkness and to bring about terror to the inhabitants of the world.9

She is also told to keep silent forever, a command which can only

mean that she is to undertake her orders and execute them with

obedience to the will of the sdyn. The pertinent section of the

text—lines 18-27—is as follows, in transliteration and translation:


            1 See, e.g., Elmer A. Leslie, The Psalms (New York, 1949), pp. 89-91; M. Dahood,

Psalms I  1-50 (New York, 1966), p. 7; J. W. Rogerson and J. W. McKay, Psalms 1-50

(Cambridge, Eng., 1977), pp. 19-20.

            2 See the original edition by J. Hoftijzer and G. van der Kooij, Aramaic Texts

from Deir ‘Alta (Leiden, 1976). All further references to Hoftijzer in this article are

to this original edition, abbreviated as ATDA. See also A. Caquot and A. Lemaire,

"Les textes arameens de Deir 'Alla," Syria 54 (1977): 189-208; G. Garbini, "L'iscri-

zione di Balaam Bar-Beor," Henoch 1 (1979): 166-188; P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., "The

Balaam Texts from DeirAlla: The First Combination," BASOR, no. 239 (1981), pp.

49-60; B. A. Levine, "The DeirAlla Plaster Inscriptions," JAOS 101 (1981): 195-

205; and Jo Ann Hackett, The Balaam Text from DeirAlla (Chico, Calif., 1984).

For my discussion of the first combination, see my forthcoming article in UF.

            3 The evidence is provided in my "The Book of Oracular Visions of Balaam

from DeirAlla," forthcoming in UF 17 (1985; to be published in 1986). This article

is a palaeographical, literary, and philological study of the first combination. Also, I

have provided a short note entitled, "Two Unrecognized Terms in the Plaster Texts

from DeirAlla," PEQ 117 (July-December 1985), pp. 102-103.

            4 Apparently sgr w`str is an astral-fertility goddess who cannot but obey the

command of the powerful sdyn gods.


     PSALM 2 AND TEXTS FROM DEIR ‘ALLA                                149



18. [' dr]n. [']tyhdw.

19. 6wnsbw. sdyn. mw’d.

20. [w'mr]w. ls[gr.]

21. [‘l. ytk.] ry.

22. [s] kry. smyn. b’bky.

23. sm. hsk. [w’1.] n/7gh.

24. ‘tm. w[srh.]

25. [b]smrky. thby. ht.

26. [wyrb.] hsk.

27. w’l [.] thgy. ‘d.  ‘lm.



18. [The migh]ty [ones] have conspired,

19. The sdyn have established a council.

20. They [have said] to s[gr :]

21. ["Let no] rain-water [fall!]

22. [S]hut the heavens with thy dense clouds!

23. Let darkness rule there [and not] light,

24. Impenetrable gloom and [distress!]

25. [With] thy darkness, bring about terror,

26. And obscurity [will increase,]

27. And keep thou silent forever!"


All of this is communicated to Balaam by the 'lhn in a vision at

night. What follows in the text is a depiction of a future series of

events, events that will be contrary to what is deemed orderly, nat-

ural, or normal. We are told, among other things, that darkness

will replace light, hares will feed without fear, men will fear to

tread where ewes graze, and hyenas will listen to words of reform.

As the sdyn assume power in the world and offend the 'lhn by their

action, even so does the weak, the insignificant, and the contempt-

ible mock the strong and the noble. With the rebellion of the sdyn

against the 'lhn, the natural order in the animal kingdom and the

social order in human society become chaotic.'


            5 The numbers within the transliterated text indicate the sequence of lines

according to the realignment of the fragments proposed by Caquot and Lemaire (see

n. 2, above).

            6 Most of the above comments were made public in a paper read at the annual

meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Dallas, Texas, in December 1983.


150                             VICTOR SASSON


            Some scholars have seen in the name sdyn an alternative or

synonymous appellative for 'lhn.7  The content of the first combi-

nation does not seem to me to support such an interpretation, how-

ever. My thesis that the sdyn and the ‘lhn are two opposing groups

of deities and that the language of the DeirAlla texts speaks of a

rebellion is now further strengthened by the linguistic evidence we

have in Ps 2. Both this Psalm and the DeirAlla texts deal with

conspiracy and rebellion against the major deity (or deities)—and

thus against the established order. And moreover, both documents

use similar terms in their description of the conspiracy and rebel-

lion. A closer look at the language used in Ps 2:1-2 and in the first

combination of the DeirAlla texts will reveal the following




            Psalm 2 —YHWH; msyhw.

            DeirAlla—'lhn; (sdyn vis-a-vis sgr w str).


            Psalm 2—gwyrn; l’mym; mlky 'rs; rwznym.

            Deir 'Allasdyn; (sgr w ‘str as a possible rebel vis-a-vis the sdyn).


Words of Same Roots in Context of Rebellion:

            Psalm 2—yhgw (hgh); ytysbw (ysb/nsb); yhd (yhd).

            DeirAlla—‘tyhdw (yhd); nsbzu (nsb); thgy (hgh).


            A brief discussion of the usage of the roots yhd, ysb/nsb, and

hgh becomes necessary at this point. To begin with, all of these

roots are found in the Hebrew Bible, used therein also in contexts

that have nothing to do with opposition, conspiracy, or rebellion.

Further, it is realized that the meaning of words from these roots in

Biblical Hebrew and in the DeirAlla dialect need not be identical.8


            7 So, for instance, McCarter and Hackett. The palaeographical and syntactical

issues connected with my lines 18-19 are discussed in my UF article.

            8 In my brief discussion of the DeirAlla dialect in the UF article, I conclude as

follows: "In sum, the overall lexical, morphological and syntactical features of the

dialect coupled with the markedly Canaanite nature and pulse of its poetry all

indicate—at this stage of our knowledge—that the language of these texts is more

related to Canaanite dialects than to Old Aramaic."


         PSALM 2 AND TEXTS FROM DEIR ‘ALLA                    151


            We will first examine the biblical root yhd, "be united."9 Cer-

tainly the root is related to Hebrew ‘hd, "one," just as Arabic

tawahhada is related to whd, "one." In the Bible we encounter

mostly the adverb yhd, "together," appearing in various contexts.

A good example of the use of yhd as an adverb in a context of

conspiracy occurs in Ps 31:14. As in Ps 2:2, the adverb here is used

in conjunction with a verb from the root ysd:


            ky smty dbt rbym mgwr msbyb

            bhwsdm yhdly lqht npsy zmmw


            For I hear many men whispering

            threats from every side,

            in league against me as they are

            and plotting to take my life. (NEB, 31:13; cf. 88:18)


            A good example of the use of yhd as a verb occurs in Gen

49:6a, where the nouns sdm (root ysd) and qhlm are used parallel

to each other. The context of Gen 49:5-6 speaks of murder and

destruction brought about by the rebellious brothers, Simeon and


            A striking use of the root yhd, in its Aramaic form, occurs in

Haphel in an Old Aramaic inscription—the Zakkur inscription.10

Here King Zakkur reports that Barhadad has formed a league (i.e.,

conspired) with several other kings to fight against him:


            whwhd. ‘ly. brhdd. br. hz'l. mlk.

            rm. s .... ‘sr. mlkn.                (KAI, no. 202 A4-5)


            The use of the preposition ‘1, "against," is clear in Pss 2 and

31 (where yhd is used as an adverb) and in the Zakkur inscription

(where yhd is used as a verb). In the DeirAlla texts, on the other

hand, the verb 'tyhdw is used without the preposition ‘1. It would

be hazardous, of course, to generalize from one instance as to


            9 Brown-Driver-Briggs, Lexicon, p. 403 (hereinafter BDB).

            10 Although Hoftijzer mentions Pss 2 and 82, the word hwhd in the Zakkur

inscription, and other relevant biblical texts (see ATDA, pp. 192-193, 199), he steers

a very different course in interpreting the first combination. Further, Hoftijzer

believes that the ‘lhn and the sdyn do not constitute two separate and opposing

groups of gods (see ATDA, pp. 275-276).


152                             VICTOR SASSON


whether or not in the DeirAlla dialect the verb yhd required the

preposition ‘l (in the kind of context we are discussing). Be that as

it may, it is obvious that when the text states that the sdyn gods

tyhdw, we are to understand that they got together for a dark

purpose, and not for an innocent social hour. The sdyn isolated

themselves in a particular place to hatch their plots and to issue

their orders. They "got together" in conspiracy aimed at rebellion,

just as the nations and kings in Ps 2 got together to overthrow the

rule of YHWH and his anointed king. The verb hwhd in the Zakkur

inscription gives further illustration of this particular usage.

            Next to be examined are the roots ysb/nsb. The verb ysb

(Hitpael) occurs several times in the Bible in contexts of opposition

(positive or negative)—e.g., Ps 94:16; Deut 7:24 (11:25) and, of

course, Ps 2:2. But nsb, too, can occur in context of opposition, as

in Ps 82:1:


            lhym nsb b’dt bqrblhym yspt

            God takes his stand in the court of heaven

                 to deliver judgement among the gods themselves.        (NEB)


This example is interesting because the verb nsb has God as its

subject, just as the verb nsb in the first combination of the Deir

Alla texts has the sdyn gods as its subject. However, the meaning

and usage of the verb nsb in the DeirAlla texts is somewhat

different. In Ps 82:1 God stands in the heavenly assembly (dt ‘l) in

order that he may pronounce judgment against false deities.11  In

the DeirAlla texts we are told that the sdyn have established (nsbw )

an assembly (mw’d ). On the other hand, we have seen that the

sdyn's assembly is formed for the purpose of rebellion. On the

whole, it appears that Biblical-Hebrew (hereinafter BH) nsb and

ysb and Deir-‘Alla nsb share something in common, especially

when they are used in contexts that suggest opposition or rebellion.

            According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon, p. 426, ytysbw

is Hitpael from the root ysb and this root occurs only in this form.

The more recent Koehler-Baumgartner Hebraisches and ara-


            11 It is interesting that the false and unjust deities judged in Ps 82, very much

like the sdyn, are at home in darkness amid "the shaken foundations" of the earth

(vs. 5).


         PSALM 2 AND TEXTS FROM DEIR CALLA                   153


maisches Lexikon (Leiden, 1974), p. 408, makes the following paren-

thetical comment in its entry on ysb: "(alle ubrigen Stammformen

zu nsb?)." Clearly, there is a problem as to the exact relation

between ysb and nsb. It is beyond the scope of this study to dwell

on this problem. However, the use of the phrase wnsbw sdyn mw ‘d

in the DeirAlla texts appears to me to suggest (1) that BH ysb in

Ps 2 and DeirAlla nsb must have something in common, since

both are used (albeit in different ways) in contexts of rebellion;

(2) that BH ysb may well have originated in BH nsb (cf. Ps 82:1);

and (3) that Biblia Hebraica's ytysbw for ytysbw in Ps 2:2 is an

unwarranted suggestion and that Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia is

correct in abandoning this suggestion (although it is not clear on

what ground this abandonment was made). Surprisingly enough,

Hebraisches and aramaisches Lexikon can still suggest ytysw as a

replacement for MT ytysbw in Ps 2:2.

            As a verb, hgh in BH has two distinct meanings: (1) "to moan,

speak, muse, imagine, devise," and (2) "to remove."12 It is clear

that in Ps 2 the verb hgh is used in the sense of "imagine, devise"

(cf. NEB's translation above). In the DeirAlla texts the verb hgh

in the phrase w’l thgy ‘d ‘lm is best understood to mean "speak"

(with a nuance of "imagine, devise"). Some scholars, however,

have understood hgh here to mean "remove,"13 but the general

context where the above phrase occurs does not support such an

understanding of this verb. The linguistic evidence in Ps 2:1-2 now

confirms the unlikelihood of this suggestion (see also Prov 24:1-2).

            It should be noted that the first meaning of the verb hgh (see

above) is the more prevalent one in the Bible, whereas the second is

rather rare. To opt for the biblically rare meaning "remove" for the

DeirAlla hgh on account of real or supposed difficulties in the

preceding line(s) of the text is, surely, not the best methodology in

this instance.14

            In conclusion, both Ps 2 and the first combination of the Deir

Alla texts use similar terms in their depiction of conspiracy and

rebellion. In the case of Ps 2, the conspiracy and rebellion are those


            12 BDB, p. 211.

            13 So, McCarter and Hackett.

            14 The issues posed by the preceding lines are discussed in my articles in PEQ

and UF (see n. 3, above).


154                             VICTOR SASSON


of pagan nations against YHWH and his anointed king. In the

case of the DeirAlla texts, the conspiracy and rebellion are pri-

marily those of the sdyn against the ‘lhn. To accept this last con-

clusion regarding the first combination will naturally entail the

rejection of the proposal that the ‘lhn and the sdyn are one single

group of deities sharing a common purpose. The ‘lhn and the sdyn

will be correctly viewed as two distinct and opposing groups of

gods in conflict with each other. In fact, we can now characterize

the rebellion in Ps 2 as universal rebellion and that in the Deir

Alla texts as cosmic rebellion.





This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Andrews University Seminary Studies

SDA Theological Seminary
Berrien Springs
, MI 49104-1500

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: