Tanit

🏷  Semitic divine name pun · name   —   by Gerry · Feb 2020 · 2253 words

The Phoenician goddess Tanit is known by a multitude of symbols and aspects: A little figurine, a carnivorous beast, a crescent moon, death & fertility. Only pun analysis can explain them all, because all of them are similar to the name Tanit. This was not a joke, but the poetry whith which the ancients created their symbolism.

Tanit with the head of a carnivore.

Why is Tanit a moonlit praying figure, but also a carnivore with plaits?
Because the words for all these things are similar to her name.

Tanit puns in a nutshell

Tanit is written tnt on Phoenician steles. The problem with possible wordplay here is that her name is composed of the letters T and N, and both these letters are prefixes and also suffixes. That means that you can construct her name, or something similar, out of a great many words. That may be why she is associated with so many contradictory things.

Tanit as a female deity

While Ancient Greece had a god “Thanatos”, the Phoenicians only ever had a female deity “Tanit”. There must be a reason for this, and I suggest the name is similar to words that describe feminine aspects.

The most basic word is ˀnttˀ “woman”, and since the little Tanit symbol looks so archaic, this is maybe it. The letters T-N-T are all there, only in the wrong order. Another good match would be ṭˁyntˀ “pregnant [woman]”, from the root ṭˁn for “burden”, suffixed with T. This would also befit Tanit as a fertility goddess.

Aramaic ˀnttˀ = woman; ṭˁyntˀ = pregnant woman

אנתתא ˀnttˀ : woman, wife — Aramaic (CAL)

ܛܥܝܢܬܐ ṭˁyntˀ : pregnant, impregnate; a pregnant woman — Syriac (AAF)

Tanit as “the lady”

On the graveyard votive steles, Tanit is always called rbt “lady”. Why? It’s likely because her name is similar to ˀdnyt, another word for “lady” (if you allow for D ≈ T). Baal-Hamon is called ˀdn “lord” on the same steles.

Note: Maria is also called “lady”, because her name is extremely similar to mryˀ “lady”.

Hebrew ˀdwnyt = lady

אדונית ˀdwnyt : mistress, lady — Hebrew (Klein)

Tanit as a fertility goddess

It is often claimed that Tanit was a fertility goddess. This is apparently deduced from fertility symbols appearing alongside Tanit symbols.

One word root for “fertility” is ṭˁn, which has the basic meaning of “load” & “burden”. It is used for “pregnancy” as carrying a child is obviously a huge burden, and also for “bearing fruit” & “harvesting” in agriculture, because the ripe fruit is also a burden on the stalks & branches.

You can suffix this root to ṭˁn-t, which is similar to “Tanit”. That’s why she is a fertility goddess.

ṭˁn is also used to mean “burdened with grief”, which matches Tanit’s role as a goddess of death.

Aramaic ṭˁn-t = bear fruit, fruitful, crop, harvest

טעינותא ṭˁynwtˀ : produce — Aramaic (CAL)

טענתא ṭˁntˀ : plea; crop — Aramaic (CAL)

ܛܥܢܬܐ ṭˁntˀ : being fruitful, bearing fruit, the act of producing (especially fruit), carrying, being burdened with, being laden with, being loaded with — Syriac (AAF)

ܛܥܝܢܘܬܐ ṭˁynwtˀ : the produce / the output, the yield, the crop, the harvest / the return / the increase / the ingathering, the product, the fruit — Syriac (AAF)

Tanit as a goddess of death

Most of the very few surviving Phoenician texts are gravestones, and Tanit is typically invoked on these gravestones. The formulaic text is almost always the same:

To the lady, to Tanit, the face of Baal, and to the lord, to Baal-Hamon, vows … [name of deceased person].

l-rbt l-tnt pn bˁl w-l-ˀdn l-bˁl hmn ˀš ndr …

לרבת לתנת פן בעל ולעדן לבעל המן אש נדר

British Museum: stela from Carthage

Since all fleshed-out stories about Tanit were censored or lost with the Phoenician empires, it would be very interesting why Tanit is invoked on gravestones, and why it is always Tanit. Since she is said to be a fertility goddess, wouldn’t this be a contradiction? I think it may be a pun, though it’s hard to pin down.

The best-matching similar word is Greek θανατος thanatos for “death”. Greek & Phoenician speaking regions neighbored and overlapped each other, so this may even be the solution. The only caveat is that I have not found this as a loanword in any Semitic language.

But there may even be a genuine Semitic solution: The basic Semitic word for “death” is mwt, so we already have the first T for Tanit. Many Semitic grammar forms allow to suffix an N or T, and Aramaic grammar allows even N plus T. That would be mwt-n-t, probably most often used as an adverb, i.e. “deadly”. This is similar to m-tnt “of Tanit”, so she would be a goddess of death.

Note 1: I would also have expected to see the final T often with feminine forms, but the ones that found their way into the dictionaries mostly do not have this suffix T.

Note 2: The strange epithet pn-bˁl “face of Baal” may stand for pny-blˁ “returning to disappearance”, i.e. the deceased returned to where he came from.

Aramaic mwt-n-t = deadly, mortally

מיותנאית mywtnˀyt : mortally — Aramaic (CAL)

ܡܘܬܢܬܐ mwtntˀ : ready to die, at the point of death — Syriac (AAF)

Greek thanatos = death

θανατος thanatos : death; corpse — Ancient Greek (Wikt)

Tanit as a moon goddess

The Tanit symbol is often depicted with a crescent moon above her head. As human menstruation cycles have a duration of roughly a month, it was natural to assign lunar aspects to goddesses. However, it’s possible that there’s also a pun involved, with some word for “moon”.

Tanit’s crescent is always downward curved. At the equator where Tanit was worshiped, the crescent moon appears horizontal, usually upward curved. The downward crescent is not very visible, because the sun is then in the sky above it and drowns it out, as the moon’s lit side always points to the sun. Sometimes though, there’s a disc under Tanit’s crescent, which may depict the sun, and just such a time when it’s in the sky with the moon.

In any case, Tanit’s moon is a waxing or a waning moon. So one matching moon-related pun could be lyt for “not” & “nothing” (from “no”). It can be prefixed & suffixed to mt-lt-nt for “waning” & “disappearing”. The consonants are mtltnt, and include the letters T-N-T for Tanit at the end. So Tanit’s crescent may be a waning moon, chosen for this pun.

As for the prepended consonants mtl, those can perhaps also be incorporated into a pun, something like mtl-tnt “symbol of Tanit”. A mt-lt-nt “waning [moon]” would then be the mtl-tnt “symbol of Tanit”. That may also be why the waning moon is often grouped with the other, more famous Tanit symbol, the little praying figure. The waning moon’s “disappearance” theme again matches her role as a goddess of death.

Aramaic mt-lytyn-wtˀ = waning, disappear

מתליתינותא mtlytynwtˀ : waning, disappearance — Aramaic (CAL)

ܡܬܠܝܬܝܢܘܬܐ mtlytynwtˀ : evanescence, vanishing away, fading away, growing smaller, decreasing in phase — moon (?), ebbing, disappearance, waning — Syriac (AAF)

ܡܠܝܬܝܢܘܬܐ mlytynwtˀ : annihilation, reduction to nothing, final / total destruction, causing to cease to exist — Syriac (AAF)

Aramaic mtl = likeness, parable, symbol

מתל mtl : to compare; to be like, to be likened to; to use a parable; to represent symbolically — Aramaic (CAL)

ܡܬܠ mtl : to symbolize, to stand for, to be a sign of / to mark / to identify, to signify, to represent, to depict — Syriac (AAF)

Tanit as a praying figure

Countless articles have been written about the “Tanit figure” or “sign of Tanit”. Many even try to interpret some horrible nastiness into this harmless little symbol.

However, because pun-encryption is a secret to this day, all researchers fail to solve the puzzle, because they cannot publicly answer (or even ask) these 2 questions:

  1. What does the Tanit figure actually look like, described in the local language?
  2. Why would the ancient people associate this generic, basic doodle with Tanit, and only with Tanit?

If we answer these 2 very simple questions, we get the usual answer: Like all symbols, the Tanit figure is in fact a rebus riddle:

  1. The only expression of the Tanit figure is that she has her arms raised upwards, as in prayer.
  2. Consequently, there must be a Semitic word for “prayer” that is similar to “Tanit”. And there is.

The depicted Tanit word is likely תחנת tḥnt for “prayer” & “supplication”. The basic root is √ḥn for “grace” & “mercy”, but you can prefix & suffix that with T in various grammars.

Some geometric versions of the Tanit figure could even be formed out of the letters ˁAyin (circular head), Dalet (triangular body), and perhaps Nun (zigzag arms). This would spell out the word ˁnd “death” & “departure”, which again matches the appearance on graveyards. You could even prefix it with a T as t-ˁnd to make it similar to Tanit. The arms vary across versions though.

Hebrew, Aramaic tḥn-t = prayer, supplication

תחנת tḥnt : favor, supplication for favor; grace, mercy, petition — Old Hebrew (Strong)

התחננות htḥnnwt : entreaty, supplication — Hebrew (Klein)

תחננתא tḥnntˀ : prayer — Aramaic (CAL)

ܬܚܢܢܬܐ tḥnntˀ : a prayer / an address to God or a god in words or thought; a prayer / a set of words used for praying — Syriac (AAF)

Aramaic ˁnd = death, departure

ענד ˁnd : to depart; to die; to perish; to cease; to remove; to care for the dead — Aramaic (CAL)

Tanit with the head of a carnivore

On some statues, Tanit has the head of a carnivorous animal, usually said to be a lioness. I do not know why all analysts are so sure that this is supposed to be Tanit. But if it is, the animal must be a pun, similar to all those Egyptian gods.

I suggest that the animal is not in fact a lioness, but a hyena. Because the Semitic word for “[female] hyena” is ydntˀ, which is again similar to Tanit (if you allow for D ≈ T).

I admit that the head does not look a lot like a hyena. Then again, unlike with humans or horses, the artists had perhaps never been up close to a real hyena and didn’t know too well what it looked like. The neck of all such statues is also extremely long, which would point to a hyena.

As an extra clue for the punnery, the statues also all hold some official-looking cylindrical object in their hand. It’s likely associated with the office of a judge: dyntˀ “judge” is a perfect anagram of ydntˀ “hyena”, and also puns with Tanit.

All of such statues also have braids. I suppose those also pun with Tanit, perhaps as tnyntˀ “plait”.

Syriac ydntˀ = hyena

ܝܕܢܬܐ ydntˀ : hyena — Syriac (Wikt)

ܝܕܢܬܐ ydntˀ iadnta : feminine of ܝܲܕܢܵܐ [ydnˀ]: a hyena — Syriac (AAF)

Syriac dyntˀ = judge

ܕܝܢܬܐ dyntˀ daianta : a woman judge — Syriac (AAF)

Syriac tnyntˀ = plait, pleat

ܬܢܝܢܬܐ tnyntˀ tinianta : plait / decorative band; a pleat — Syriac (AAF)

Tanit as a spook symbol

Wordplay is not evil, but was probably originally meant be inspiring. I assume that religious names & symbols were at first created as a sort of rhyming poetry in archaic times, in an honest effort. But later spooky rulers seem to have always promoted those names & symbols that somehow involve more nasty puns.

Tanit is likely no exception: In Aramaic (and presumably many Phoenician dialects), her name is written with the exact letters for the number 2, which also means “double” & “copy”, and even “disguise” (by “copying” something else). This meaning is not attested for the Aramaic spelling though, where the number 2 is written tny and “disguise” is still written šny as in Hebrew.

As for spook puns, there is also a Tanit-like word tnntˀ meaning “irony” & “mockery” in modern Syriac. It’s apparently derived from tny “[puffing up] smoke”.

Aramaic tn-t = double, copy, repeat

תני tny : to repeat, do a second time; to change; to be repeated; to be told, reported — Hebrew (Jastrow)

תנותא tnwtˀ : copy; double; number — Aramaic (CAL)

תניותא tnywtˀ : repetition — Aramaic (CAL)

Aramaic tnt, tnnt = smoke, irony, satire, mockery

ܬܢܬܘܢܐ tntwnˀ : to smoke, to treat with smoke, to fumigate, to besmoke; to reproach with bitter and sarcastic insulting language, to taunt / to twit unkindly — Syriac (AAF)

ܬܢܢܬܐ tnntˀ : ironic / ironical, satirical, sarcastic, caustic, derisive / derisory, mocking — Syriac (AAF)

🏷  Semitic divine name pun · name