Breaking Bread with the Dead Katumuwa’s Stele, Hosea 9:4, and the Early History of the Soul

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Matthew J. Suriano



The discovery at Zincirli of an inscribed stele belonging to Katumuwa, servant of Panamuwa, touches upon several longstanding issues concerning the meaning of the word nbš (Hebrew נֶפֶשׁ). Although the inscription was dedicated during the lifetime of Katumuwa, the continued provision of his “nbš that is in this stele” raises questions regarding not only the term’s nuance within a postmortem context, but also the nature of feeding the dead. These issues can be addressed by carefully examining the manner by which the term’s abstract and substantive forms relate to concepts of identity. The analysis of Katumuwa’s stele along with a new interpretation of Hos. 9:4 will show that nbš/נֶפֶשׁ is a ritually centered object that marks identity. In other words, postmortem identity is reified in the nbš /נֶפֶשׁ through ritual actions that include feeding the dead. This interpretation sheds new light on the substantive meaning of nbš/נֶפֶשׁ in inscriptions and in biblical literature, where the term signifies either a stele or a corpse.


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