Sunday, March 28, 2010

Inscription of the Day: Yehimilk

The Yehimilk inscription dating to the mid-tenth century B.C.E. was discovered in 1929. It consists of seven lines of text inscribed over the top of a previous pseudo-hieroglypic inscription that was written within registers dividing the lines (Gibson 1982, 17). The language of the inscription is Old Byblian, an early Phoenician dialect used primarily in the city of Byblos.
Yehimilk_DTM line drawing
The text is a royal dedicatory inscription by a king of Byblos. Several similar inscriptions also dating to the tenth century B.C.E. have been found at Byblos – Abibaal, Elibaal, and Shiptibaal. The basic pattern throughout these inscriptions is:
The object which PN king of Byblos, son of PN, king of Byblos built/brought for DN. May DN prolong the days of PN and his years over Byblos. (PN = proper name; DN = deity name)
This pattern was not limited to the inscriptions from Byblos but should be seen as a common formula for dedicatory inscriptions in the Canaanite dialects. The formula has even been found in a seventh century BCE inscription from Ekron, a prominent Philistine city (Gitin 1997).
Yehimilk transcription


1 (This is the) temple which Yehimilk king of Byblos rebuilt. 2 He restored all the ruins of 3 these temples. May Ba’al-shamem and Ba’alat 4 of Byblos and the assembly of the 5 holy gods of Byblos prolong the days of Yehimilk and his years 6 over Byblos. For [he is] a legitimate king and a 7 good king  before the h[oly] gods of Byblos.
The fact that Yehimilk doesn’t give us his lineage (i.e., I am Yehimilk, son of Abibaal, son of . . . ) but stresses that he is a good and legitimate king of Byblos suggests that he is a usurper (like Zakkur in an Aramaic inscription that we’ll get to later).

Gibson, John C. L. 1982. Textbook of Syrian Semitic inscriptions: Volume III: Phoenician Inscriptions. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Gitin, Seymour, Trude Dothan, and Joseph Naveh. 1997. A royal dedicatory inscription from Ekron. Israel Exploration Journal 47, : 1-16.


  1. You might be interested in this book (should be released soon):


  2. thanks, karyn. that book will definitely be relevant for studying inscriptions like this one.

  3. Did you do the translation or is this translation from one of the two bibliographical entries? Just a quick comment (I actually would have a few but I'll limit it to the one :-)...'ysr' in line 7 could actually be read as "destined"--rather than "good"--as it is closely related to 'sdq' in line 6. This word pair occurs in Ugaritic in Keret (KTU 1.14:I:12-13). Cyrus Gordon proposes it to mean (in Keret) something like "his lawful wife" and "his rightful bride" (Ugaritic Textbook 1998, pp.472-3 & see the comments in his grammar at 13.22). So in other words I wonder if a better rendering wouldn't be something like "...a legitimate king and a rightful king..."

  4. Rick, the translation is mine. The biblio was for the background info. As for your alternate translation, I like it. It fits the context of how I understand the inscription. Any other comments are welcome. I'm working through this text and a host of others preparing for my Advanced Semitics exam.

  5. If it were in Hebrew I would read it as "for he is a righteous king and an upright king". Look at all the encomia in the Hebrew scriptures about kings doing what is "yashar" (e.g., 2 Chronicles 24:2 - Yoash did "yashar" in the eyes of the Lord.)

  6. What is the book Karyn linked to? The link no longer seems to be working.