Peace and forgiveness

Today’s entry will start again with a photo from the corner table at my office! This time a bit more populated, since on the left you see Richard Holton Pierce and on the right Inge Eliassen.


Pierce is a professor emeritus at the University of Bergen and is known for being one of the four authors of the Fontes Historiae Nubiorum. We were having our Wednesday meeting of reading Old Nubian and at its end Inge came by to discuss his contribution to the thematic issue of Dotawo on Nubian place names. Inge has just defended successfully his master thesis on Darfur (para-)militia and will be writing about place names from the western end of Sudan. Pierce is contemplating a contribution from his notes on the Beja country, the eastern end of the country. But about that in the future.

Today, a note from yesterday’s Old Nubian session: we observed a difference in the analysis of a word in the fourth line of the first page of Saint Minas’ miracle as edited by G.M. Browne (1983) and Vincent van Gerven Oei (2012). The word is:


According to Browne, the word means ‘peace’ and the explanation is based on his understanding of the passages in which the word is used and for which there are parallels in Greek and Coptic. For example:

1. John 16:33, where the word for ‘peace’ (ειρήνη in Greek) is in Old Nubian


(the ending -KA denoting the directive, the object of the verb)

2. Liber Institutionis Michaelis, IN I 11 ii 3, where the same word translates the Coptic loan-word from Greek


Browne’s etymological analysis proposes the unattested stem of the verb ΤΩΚ followed by a variant KN of the semantic morpheme KE and the abstract -substantive formant NAYE (Browne 1989, p. 10, § 3.3.2).

On the other hand Van Gerven Oei suggests an etymology from the attested verb stem TOKAP followed by NAYE, where the P is assimilated by the N (The Miracle of Saint Mina, p. 65). This explanation sounds more probable.

Nonetheless, Vincent does not seem to acknowledge (or at least this is how it appears to be in his analysis of the Minas’ text) that the Nubians used the same stem for both notions, namely forgiveness and peace, although they were using two different words for each one of them, and he translates with ‘forgiveness of God’. More precisely, the Nubian dictionary includes (OND p. 178):

forgiveness vs peace

However, this lexical custom of the Nubians is in fact an excellent insight offered into the way they understood peace, almost always linked with God, and completely absent from the documentary sources on Nubia published to date. It seems in other words that for the Christian Nubians ‘peace of God’ meant ‘forgiveness by God’. Future studies and discoveries will elucidate the matter further.

For the time being, one more comment regarding the significance of making this observation precisely yesterday, namely on the day of the third anniversary of South Sudan’s independence on the 9th of July 2011.

It is really doubtful how many people have been commemorating in festive manner the formation of the youngest state of our world since the country is in a mess: civil war, half its population fleeing from their homesteads, and famine looming… It is characteristic that South Sudan has been ranked as the most fragile state on the planet today, topping the list where Somalia has throned since 2008…

The causes of this situation are very complex but the perennial tribal clashes cannot be excused, but rather their catastrophic results must at some point and from both sides be forgiven… Therefore, I found it as an intriguing coincidence that I discussed with Pierce yesterday the meaning of the Old Nubian words for ‘peace’ and ‘forgiveness’…

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