Banned and Branded: The Mesopotamian Background of Šamata

Yakir Paz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The verb √šmt and noun šamata, attested in the dialects of Eastern Aramaic in the Sasanian period, would seem at first to be synonymous with the Palestinian term nidui, 'excommunication'. However, a closer examination reveals that šamata has a different semantic value. It is not simply conceived as a social sanction of excommunication but is understood as a curse involving divine violence; is closely associated with binding; and is often perceived as the property of powerful agents. In this article I argue that √šmt is derived from the Akkadian šamātu, 'to mark', 'to brand', especially in its more restricted sense 'to brand temple slaves' and 'to dedicate a person to a deity'. Understanding the Mesopotamian roots of šamata might help us better explain its unique regional features, shared by the Aramaic speaking groups in the Sasanian Empire.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalAramaic Studies
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands.


  • Babylonian talmud
  • Branding
  • Eastern aramaic
  • Excommunication
  • Incantation bowls
  • Mesopotamia
  • Oblates


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