Thursday, August 30, 2007

Voldemort at Qumran?

In one of the manuscripts of the Vision of Amram (4Q544), the title character has a vision of two angels; one of the angels is good, the other evil. According to Emile Puech in Discoveries in the Judean Desert 31, the bad one is described as having a "visage molting like a serpent" (Aramaic ‏חזוה חשׁל [כפ]תן‎). Which sounds a lot like Lord Voldemort — or at least some other follower of Salazar Slytherin.

But I have some problems with Puech's reading. For one thing, the root חשׁל doesn't mean "to molt," but "to crush" (unless you posit a connection with ‏שׁלח‎ II "to strip, flay"). For another, at this point in the scroll the text is ragged and only bits of the letters of this phrase are readable; I can't share Puech's certainty about his reading of this verb. Lastly, and somewhat subjectively, it just doesn't sound right; it's not something they would say.

J. T. Milik, the first editor of this scroll, read the phrase as ‏דחיל[ כפ]תן‎, "dreadful as a serpent." That sounds better, but is still not totally satisfying. Klaus Beyer's version, ‏דחיל[ כמו]תן‎, "dreadful as a plague" is no better, and is actually worse: what meaning can we attach to the idea that someone's face is as frightful as a plague? It might fit into a modern poem, but just doesn't sound right for the 1st century B.C.E.

My own suggestion is that the phrase should be restored as ‏דחיל [ואימ]תן‎, "dreadful and terrifying." It fits the readable traces as well as the other suggestions, and similar descriptions are known from other texts: Dan. 7:7, where the fourth beast is said to be "dreadful and terrifying" (‏דחילה ואימתני‎) and Targ. Hab. 1:7, where the Kittim are "terrifying and dreadful" (‏אימתנין ודחילין‎).

Not as much fun as having Lord Voldemort in the Scrolls, I admit. But still pretty terrifying.

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