Tis the writing on the wall
June 3, 2010 6:21 PM   Subscribe

Here is some script we saw on a cave wall in Şuayb, in the Syrian desert outside Şanlıurfa in Southeastern Turkey. Anyone have any idea what it might be?

It's obviously some sort of Semitic script, but I can't match it with anything I've found online.

some background info that might help:

Şuayb is an Islamic & Druze prophet who might or might not be the same person as the Hebrew Jethro, Moses' father-in-law.

Civilization in this area goes back 9000 years or so; residents have included Akkadians, Babylonians, Hittites, Persians, Seleucid Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Armenians, Crusaders, and Turks. Many of the Prophets of the Book, starting with Abraham, also lived near here.

Current languages include Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, and Aramaic/Syraic.

So while the script is Semitic, the language itself might not be.

Our unreliable guide said that this town had been pagan, Jewish (he said this marked the entrance to a 'Jewish Place'), and Islamic.

Also, my baby. (Did I do that right?)
posted by kanewai to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Looks kinda Kufic. Compare here.
posted by zompist at 6:58 PM on June 3, 2010

It might be Old Syriac, which would be more appropriate to Urfa. There are 2nd, 3rd c. CE inscriptions around there in Syriac in red (if I recall a paper I read almost ten years ago correctly.)
posted by cobaltnine at 8:21 PM on June 3, 2010

Best answer: No, it's Arabic, though a fairly stylized script. The shahada.

لا إله إلا الله
محمد رسول الله

and can't quite read the bottom line.

Making it hard to 'spot': the firstلا (top right) is turned into that symmetrical thing that looks like a space invader; theإلا is done with an alif maqsura ( ) rather than the (these days) usual straight alif; the ر in رسول curls right back up on itself instead of dropping below the line.

Might be heading that way myself before too long...
posted by lapsangsouchong at 9:04 PM on June 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry, meant to go back and put in an alif maqsura between those parentheses. Here's one: ى
posted by lapsangsouchong at 9:05 PM on June 3, 2010

Response by poster: That first character was the one that kept throwing me off. A stylized 'la' makes sense, & now it all seems so clear. Thanks!

(have you been that way before? If not, I'll have plenty of opionated tips for ya!)
posted by kanewai at 1:30 AM on June 4, 2010

Its a bit obscured but I'm fairly sure the bottom line is "sallah allah a'leyhe wa sallam"

صلى الله عليه وسلم‎

Thats stylized in the same way as the other two, so the و in وسلم keeps going and passes under the whole word underlining it. Theres also something strange going on with the ى in صلى although that just might because that portion of the wall is blanked out.

The font and the saying are both fairly straightforward, I'm surprised your guide couldn't figure them out.
posted by xqwzts at 3:42 AM on June 4, 2010

I see now in the morning what was throwing me off - I kept focusing on the irregularities, not the parts that were more straightforward. The لا I got, but the final part on each line looked way too symmetrical or something at 11 pm.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:19 AM on June 4, 2010

Response by poster: Illiteracy is very high outside the cities in those parts, in any language, and the 'guides' rarely speak much English.

Once we decided it wasn't Arabic we spent our time looking up old Samaritan and Syraic and Nabatean scripts .... and missed things that seem so obvious now!
posted by kanewai at 10:09 AM on June 4, 2010

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