Elsewhere, the Akkadian
Throughout the last century there have been scholars who have regarded the remarkable similarity between the two episodes as ample justification for the belief in a connection between the two tales. But in some scholarly circles, parallels are viewed with skepticism, and the existence of any form of connection may even be denied. We therefore feel it is necessary to revisit the topic of the relationship of the Babylonian
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Mesopotamian account of the deeds and struggles of Gilgamesh
The epic recounts how Gilgamesh
The tale of the wild man and courtesan
Unfortunately, this episode is only partially preserved in the Old Babylonian
We will now discuss the tale as it occurs in the Mahābhārata
One of these is the “Story of Ṛśyaśṛnga,” narrated at MBh. 3.110–113.9 The tale runs essentially as follows: A fearsome ascetic
The above re-telling, however, only describes the central portion of the tale as it occurs in the epic. This central portion is that part found at MBh. 3.110.30–113.10 and is hereafter referred to as the “body” of the piece.10 Appended to the front of the tale is a brief preamble (MBh. 3.110.1–10) in which the narrator, Lomaśa, attempts to loosely summarize the story and the eldest Pāṇḍava brother, Yudhiṣṭhira, responds with a set of leading questions. The relationship of the preamble to the rest of the Mahābhārata
At the end of the nineteenth century, Heinrich Lüders (1897) attempted to explain a number of puzzling anomalies in the “Story of Ṛśyaśṛnga,” as narrated at MBh. 3.110–113. The “body” of the narrative, as we have sketched it out above, is quite straightforward, but a closer study of the body in conjunction with the preamble reveals a number of irregularities and contradictions; body and preamble simply do not seem to refer to the same story. Lüders carefully analyzed various versions of the tale for comparison and concluded that the discrepancies in the Mahābhārata
While we concur with Lüders on the importance of the preamble/body textual problem, we do not accept his conclusions regarding the story’s developmental trajectory. Lüders regarded the identity of the seductress as the primary key to understanding the evolution of the tale, a bias which, in our view, severely limited his ability to take other even more significant disparities between preamble and body into account, disparities regarding, inter alia, the power of Ṛśyaśṛnga, the righteousness of King Lomapāda, the god Indra’s fear of Ṛśyaśṛnga, the nature of Ṛśyaśṛnga’s actions in ending the drought, whether Ṛśyaśṛnga “lived as a deer,” and details of his conception (each of these points will be discussed in detail below). While the preamble addresses some motifs not utterly dissimilar to those in the body of the tale, it is our contention that the preamble was initially created for a different story about a character named Ṛśyaśṛnga.13 This figure, Ṛśyaśṛnga, the son of Vibhāṇḍaka, is known from quite early Hindu
We believe that at some early point in history the Mesopotamian tale of Enkidu
Our solution to the mystery of the mismatched preamble differs, therefore, from that of Lüders. Whereas we believe that the present tale of Ṛśyaśṛnga was created by the superimposition of a Near Eastern borrowing upon an earlier Indian
We note the following fourteen parallel elements in the two texts. These elements suggest the existence of a relationship between the two episodes. While many tales may share common elements and themes, these stories are composed of nearly identical sets of motifs that form the fundamental building blocks of both tales. Even more significant is the fact that this set of motifs is a heterogeneous collection in that the individual motifs generally do not lead inevitably to the ones which follow them. Thus, their appearance en masse in two otherwise-unrelated traditions strains the likelihood of coincidence.
Both wild men are the product of miraculous births, and both births are “typical” within their respective canons. Enkidu
Both wild men are represented as being a combination of animal and human and as having a connection to wild deer.18 Enkidu’s animal nature is reflected in his hairiness
Though they are a part of the natural world, the wild men are actually linked to the human social order. In both narratives, the wild man’s very existence, certainly his role, is necessitated by a crisis brought about by offenses on the part of the king. Both stories preserve a similar ambiguity regarding the king’s character and manner of rule. The significance of this parallel is deepened by the fact that both kings are eventually rehabilitated.
In both narratives, the nature of the king’s misdeeds is obscure. As noted above, in the Sanskrit
The account of Gilgamesh’s
In both tales, the king’s actions have cosmic repercussions. Lomapāda’s misbehavior angers the gods and causes them to withhold the rains, leading to the suffering of his people. As for Gilgamesh
All his body is matted with hair,
he is adorned with tresses like a woman:
The locks of his hair grow as thickly as Nissaba’s,
he knows not at all a people nor even a country.
He was clad in a garment like Šakkan’s,
feeding on grass with the very gazelles.
Jostling at the water-hole with the herd,
he enjoys the water with the animals.
The hallmark of both tales, the sexual
Both seduction scenes take place beside a body of water. Enkidu
akalam iškunū maharšu
iptēqma inaṭṭal u ippallas
ul īde dEnkidu
akalam ana akālim
šikaram ana šatêm lā lummud
harīmtum pīša īpušamma
issaqqaram ana dEnkidu
akul aklam dEnkidu simat balāṭim
šikaram šiti šīmti māti
īkul aklam dEnkidu adi šebêšu
šikaram ištiam sebe assammī<<m>>
ittapšar kabtatum inangu
īliṣ libbašuma pānūšu ittamrū
ultappit gallābum šu’’uram pagaršu
šamnam iptašašma awīliš īwi
ilbaš libšam kīma muti ibašši
ilqe kakkašu lābī ugerre
(Gilg. OB P col. iii 87–11228)
They put bread before him,
he watched intently, gazing and staring.
Enkidu did not know how to eat bread,
how to drink ale he had never been shown.
The harlot opened her mouth,
saying to Enkidu:
“Eat the bread, Enkidu
, the thing proper to life;
drink the ale, the lot of the land.”
Enkidu ate the bread until he was sated,
he drank the ale, seven jugs (full).
His mood became free, he was singing,
his heart became merry and his face shone bright.
The barber treated his body so hairy,
he anointed himself with oil and became a man.
He put on a garment, becoming like a warrior,
he took up his weapon to do battle with the lions
Just as Shamhat cares for Enkidu
Though the purpose of the mission in both texts is to capture the wild man, in both stories the creature himself is more than willing to be taken away to the city following his consciousness-raising encounter with the woman. So Enkidu
At its heart, the tale of the wild man and courtesan
As Ṛśyaśṛnga’s story comes to a close, its similarity to Enkidu’s
In view of the overwhelming number of shared motifs, there can be little doubt that the two stories are related.31 Furthermore, in our view, acceptance of the relationship leads inexorably to the conclusion that the Near Eastern tale is the older. Certainly the age of the Gilgamesh
Our case is strengthened by a recent analysis of the Enkidu episode (Abusch 2005), for that analysis suggests that earlier versions of the Enkidu
There is, however, one obstacle to this otherwise straightforward identification of a parallel: the Mahābhārata’s
The story has been productive in India
This third Sanskrit
In this Sanskrit
In this Pali Buddhist
This second Pali Buddhist
The variants, though diverging widely in some respects, conform to certain observable trends of type and presentation, many of which involve motifs found elsewhere in Indian
The issue of priority among the versions was, of course, the primary focus of Lüders’ 1897 study, which study has stood as the flashpoint of the discussion on chronology for some time. Lüders concluded, as discussed above, that the Mahābhārata’s
The seduction of the youth is performed by one or more prostitutes
Lüders regarded the identity of the seductress as the key to understanding the evolution of the tale, a bias which, in our view, severely limits his ability to take other even more significant variations (such as the number of seductions) into account. There are three distinct acts which might be termed “seductions” in the Mahābhārata
The first of the Mahābhārata
The tale’s second seduction, the primary narrative element of the tale, is that performed in the Hindu
Our assessment of the Alambusā and Naḷinikā Jātaka versions, therefore, is that the Mahābhārata’s
The changing name of the wild man (Ṛśyaśṛnga, Ekaśṛnga, Isisinga) should be taken into account in the evaluation of priority. It is true that inexplicable name changes are not that uncommon in Indian literature, but, in this instance, the change in the wild man’s name is, in our estimation, a critical issue in determining the time sequence of the tales. The name of Ṛśyaśṛnga (lit. “antelope-horn
Further evidence that the Buddhist
The “Isisinga” form is of particular interest to us, as it actually reflects a misunderstanding of the meaning of the original Sanskrit
In the Mahābhārata
The texts’ attention to the wild man’s animal characteristics also varies. The three versions which utilize prostitutes
Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the direction of the tales’ evolution lies in the shifting presentation of the transformation that the boy undergoes as a result of the seduction. In the Mahābhārata
The motif of the tempted or besotted ascetic
Finally, we must turn to one more issue with which Lüders’ analysis was also concerned, that is, the issue of the preamble-body disconnect, and then to an analysis of the relationship between Mahābhārata’s
eṣā devanadī puṇyā kauśikī bharataṛṣabha
viśvāmitrāśramo ramyo eṣa cātra prakāśate 1
āśramaś caiva puṇyāravyaḥ kāśyapasya mahātmanaḥ
ṛśyaśṛngaḥ suto yasya tapasvī saṃyatendriyaḥ 2
tapaso yaḥ prabhāvena varṣyāmāsa vāsavam
anāvṛṣṭaryāṃ bhayādyasya vavarṣa balavṛtrahā 3
mṛgyāṃ jātaḥ sa tejasvī kāśyapasya sutaḥ prabhuḥ
viṣaye lomapādasya yaś cakārādbhutaṃ mahat. 4
nivartiteṣu sasyeṣu yasmai śāntāṃ dadau nṛpaḥ
lomapādo duhitaraṃ sāvitrīṃ savitā yathā 5
ṛśyaśṛngaḥ kathaṃ mṛgyām utpannaḥ kāśyapātmajaḥ
viruddhe yonisaṃsarge kathaṃ ca tapasā yutaḥ. 6
kimarthaṃ ca bhayāc chakras tasya bālasya dhīmataḥ
anāvṛṣṭaryāṃ pravṛttāyāṃ vavarṣa balavṛtrahā. 7
kathaṃ rupā ca śāntābhūd rājaputrī yatavratā
lobhayāmāsa yā ceto mṛgabhūtasya tasya vai. 8
lomapādaś ca rājarṣir yadāśrūyata dhārmikaḥ
kathaṃ vai viṣaye tasya nāvarṣatpākaśāsanaḥ. 9
etan me bhagavan sarvaṃ vistareṇa yathātatham
vaktum arhasi śuśrūṣor ṛśyaśṛngasya ceṣṭitam. 10
1. This, O Bull of the Bhāratas is the divine sacred river Kauśikī;
and here shines forth the charming hermitage of Viśvāmitra,
2. And also, O Great-Souled One, the hermitage called Puṇyā, of Kāśyapa’s son, Ṛśyaśṛnga, powerful, and of controlled senses,
3. Who, by the power of his tapas, caused Vāsava to rain
in a drought; from fear of him the slayer of Bala and Vṛtra rained.
4. That ṛṣi was conceived upon a deer, the powerful son of Kāsyapa.
He performed this great wonder in the kingdom of Lomapāda.
5. When the crops had been restored, the king gave Śāntā to him—
Lomapāda [gave] his daughter as Savitṛ did Sāvitri.
6. How was Ṛśyaśṛnga, the son of Kāśyapa, born from the deer
in prohibited sexual
congress, and how was he engaged with tapas?
7. Why, out of fear of the boy, endowed with wisdom, did Śakra,
the slayer of Bala and Vṛtra, rain in the ongoing drought?
8. How great was the beauty of the strict-vowed princess
she who seduced his consciousness, when indeed he was living as a deer?
9. It has been heard that Lomapāda was a dharmic royal ṛṣi—
Why indeed did the Chastiser of Pāka not rain in his kingdom?
10. Lord, all of this to me carefully as it happened
you ought to tell; I want to hear the ways of Ṛśyaśṛnga.
In contrast to the body of the story, the tale anticipated by this preamble is one in which Lomapāda is a law-abiding king, both Ṛśyaśṛnga and Śāntā play active roles, the gods involve themselves, and fear generated by Ṛśyaśṛnga’s powers is a critical element. All of the above hallmarks of the preamble are absent from the body of the story in the Mahābhārata
The body of the tale contains no suggestion of Ṛśyaśṛnga’s power whatsoever. If anyone in the tale generates fear, it is Vibhāṇḍaka, not the harmless and gentle Ṛśyaśṛnga. Śl. 6 of the preamble also asks “how was he engaged with tapas?” another issue that is never really adequately addressed by the tale.
Indra’s fear is expressed twice in the preamble, in śl. 3 (Indra rained “out of fear of [Ṛśyaśṛnga]”) and śl. 7, Yudhiṣṭhira’s second question (“Why did Śakra, slayer of Bala and Vṛtra, out of fear of the wise boy, rain in the ongoing drought?”).43 These statements anticipate a tale that describes some form of interaction or an ongoing relationship between Ṛśyaśṛnga and Indra. However, no mention is made of Indra’s fear of the boy in the body of the tale, where Indra’s role is nearly nonexistent (only one verse at MBh. 3.113.10).
Śloka 3 of the preamble specifically says that it was “by the power of [Ṛśyaśṛnga’s] tapas he caused Vāsava [Indra] to rain.” This does not accord with MBh. 3.113.10, in the body of the tale, where there is no further mentions of Indra’s fear, and no actions on the boy’s part are ever narrated. Indra simply sends the rain as soon as Ṛśyaśṛnga has been installed in the women’s quarters. Similarly, the preamble’s assertion in śl. 4 that Ṛśyaśṛnga “performed a great wonder,” also suggests more activity on the boy’s part than merely being abducted and locked up as a kind of talisman.
Ṛśyaśṛnga’s apparently passive role in the bringing of the rains also ties in with a general imbalance in the import of the drought as it is presented in the preamble and in the body. Though the drought is the central issue of the preamble and looms large in the opening of the tale, by the conclusion of the narrative it has been largely replaced by the issue of the pacification of the irate ṛṣi, and the actual account of its resolution at MBh. 3.113.10 occupies only half a verse.44
Ṛśyaśṛnga’s name, “Antelope-Horn
While the body of the Sanskrit
Another crux to be found in the introduction to the story regards the seduction of Ṛśyaśṛnga. MBh. 3.110.8 suggests that it was the princess
The contradiction between 3.110.8 and 3.111.5–6 cannot be resolved. It forms a significant crux and provides clear evidence of a disconnect between the preamble and the body of the episode.48 The seduction by the prostitute
Though Lomapāda has apparently redeemed himself by the end of the tale, disrespectful treatment of Brahmins is a serious crime. As discussed above in Section 4.5, “Parallel Elements in the Stories of Enkidu
Śl. 6 has Yuddhiṣṭhira ask “How was Ṛśyaśṛnga, the son of Kāśyapa, born from the deer in prohibited sexual
The presence of two sets of brahmins seems excessive. Where does the second group of Brahmins come from? To be sure, nothing in the narrative is irresolvable, but it is unnecessarily cumbersome as it stands.49 Moreover, though MBh. 110.21 refers to the subjects’ misery, it does not anticipate the suggestion at MBh. 3.110.27f. that the subjects may actually have been on the brink of rebellion as well.
Prominent among the above irregularities are a number of elements that are portrayed differently in the preamble and in the body of the story (dharmic Lomapāda/unjust Lomapāda, dynamic Ṛśyaśṛnga/passive Ṛśyaśṛnga, mṛga/ṛśya, living as a deer/living as a brahmacārin, Princess
In our opinion, the issue of the preamble’s difficulties is also connected to a similar awkwardness at the ending of the tale. While the body forms a seamless whole with no internal contradictions, after MBh. 3.113.11 the ending of the episode undergoes another puzzling shift. Ṛśyaśṛnga is whisked off to the harem, and the focus shifts to Vibhāṇḍaka’s journey to the city and the abatement of his wrath. We are never given any particulars about the resolution of the drought or Ṛśyaśṛnga’s role in stopping it, issues that are rather important in the Buddhist
We believe that the best way to explain these discrepancies is to assume that the present text is made up of two accounts, the later superimposed upon the earlier. In our reconstruction, the story of a wild man seduced by a prostitute
This section includes the opening questions plus the establishment of the locus of the tale and is a vestige of the original Indian
Here, the story of a wild man who is seduced by a prostitute
The suggestion that the body of the Ṛśyaśṛnga story is a borrowing is also generally supported by the context in which the tale is found in the Mahābhārata
We cannot leave this part of our discussion of the Ṛśyaśṛnga tale and take up the question of borrowing before raising and discussing the issue of whether or not the preamble might simply reflect other versions of the Ṛśyaśṛnga story, which, as we have seen, in some cases stray quite profoundly from the tale as it is found in the body of the Mahābhārata’s
In fact, some of the elements in the preamble are quite reminiscent of those in the other tales. For example, the assertions in śl. 2–3 that Ṛśyaśṛnga was extremely powerful would be an accurate description of the character as he appears in the Naḷinikā and Alambusā Jātakas. The preamble’s statement that the princess
However, other elements featured in the preamble are equally out of place in the other versions, including the idea that Ṛśyaśṛnga’s power was somehow directly instrumental in ending the drought: śl. 3 declares that “from fear of him the slayer of Bala and Vṛtra rained,” which is at odds with the Naḷinikā Jātaka’s account, in which it is the breaking of Ṛśyaśṛnga’s power that satisfies the god; and the Mahāvastu and the Alambusā Jātaka contain no drought at all. The statement that Ṛśyaśṛnga was seduced “while his being was that of a deer,” is also not found in any of the other versions of the tale, nor is the idea that Vibhāṇḍaka may have had intercourse with the deer; in fact, every other version of the tale is careful to explain away any possibility of sexual
Therefore, in view of the fact that every narrative element shared between the Buddhist
Especially in view of the absence (as far as we know) of an Indo-European or earlier Indic version of a wild man prostitute
The Mesopotamian source of the Ṛśyaśṛnga tale is probably some form of the Enkidu
We have already discussed at length the evidence that we perceive for the existence of “layers” in the Indian tale. Whatever the time period of the tale’s introduction to India
As was noted earlier in Section 4.11, “Narrative Layers in the Mahābhārata,” a number of the tales found in this section of the Mahābhārata
The matter of the tale’s arrival on the subcontinent is a thorny one. While it is possible that a folktale version simply diffused from West to East in a slow overland crawl, more direct contact may also be suggested. Two broad possible periods for transmission between Mesopotamia and India
This scenario carries the advantage of allowing ample opportunity for the story to move from the Near East to India; for the period from the Achaemenid domination of Gandhara
To our minds, however, a more serious obstacle to transmission within this time period is the issue of the figure of the hunter in the Epic of Gilgamesh. As discussed above (Section 4.6, “Summary of the Comparison of the Two Narratives”), we believe the absence of a hunter in the Indian version strongly suggests that the Indian tale was drawn either from a free-standing folktale without a hunter or from the Gilgamesh
Written versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh
These two factors (the absence of a hunter figure in the Indian
Contact between Mesopotamia and the civilizations of the Indus Valley
Though the advanced level of society represented at Harappa
In summary: the tale of the wild man seduced by the courtesan
Our explanation for the similarities between the wild man tale in the epic of Gilgamesh
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Versions of this paper were read to the American Oriental Society, San Antonio, in 2007 and to the Melammu conference in Sophia, Bulgaria, in 2008. Please note throughout that due to a difficulty in obtaining proper fonts, diacritics on the Sanskrit velar n and the Akkadian uvular h have been omitted throughout the paper.
We wish to call attention to two works which we were not able to incorporate into our argument. One is Y.V. Vas[s]ilkov, “Zemledel’českij mif v drevneindijskom epose: Skazanie o Riš’jašringe,” an article which we were unable to obtain. The other is Daniel E. Fleming and Sara J. Milstein, The Buried Foundation of the Gilgamesh Epic: The Akkadian Huwawa Narrative (Brill, Leiden 2010), which appeared only after we submitted this paper. We should mention, however, two aspects of their discussion that are relevant to the present work: the first is their argument that a distinction be drawn between the Enkidu of the OB Penn tablet // SB tablets I–II (who is a wild man), on the one hand, and the Enkidu of the Huwawa episode of the OB Yale tablet // SB tablets III ff. (who is a herdsman), on the other. This distinction, which we find persuasive, does not affect our present argument, for our wild man corresponds in the main to the character of the wild man found in that part of the epic that comes before the Huwawa episode. Furthermore, in composing our study we were already aware of some of the tensions between the parts, see (Abusch 2005, 430–433). The second is their contention that the superimposition of the story of the wild man and prostitute (found in the Penn tablet) upon the story of the prostitute and the herdsman (found in the Yale tablet) is responsible for the creation of the first part of the OB epic. For the significance of this point for our argument, see below fn. 53.
This opinion was first expressed by Jensen (1913, 528): “Edvard Lehmann hat Greßmann auf die Analogie zwischen der indischen Geschichte von Ṛśyaśṛnga und der “Hierodulen”-Episode des Gilgamesch-Epos aufmerksam gemacht und Greßmann erwähnt dies auf Seite 95 seines Buchs. Weder Lehmann noch Greßmann denken natürlich an mehr als eine bloße Analogie‚ obwohl die Analogie zwischen beiden Episoden schon allein für sich eine historische Abhängigkeit doch wohl mehr als nahelegt. Greßmann’s Anmerkung mußte mich nun aber dazu veranlassen, die Ṛśyaśṛnga-Geschichte ins Auge zu fassen. Und das Ergebnis war: Auch die indische Rāmā- yaṇa-Sage, durch die Ṛśyaśṛnga-Geschichte eröffnet, geht in der Hauptsache letztlich auf das Gilgamesch-Epos mit der “Hierodulen”-Episode in seinem Anfangsteil zurück, ebenso aber vor allem diejenigen Stücke des Mahābhārata, die diesem mit dem Rāmāyaṇa gemein sind.” See also, e.g., (Albright 1920, 331): “But it is very probable that our story goes back eventually to a Mesopotamian origin; in no other case that I have seen is the likelihood so great.” (Williams 1925–1926, vol. 1, 30–31; Schlinghoff 1971, 58–60 (our thanks to Oskar von Hinüber for this reference); Schlinghoff 1973, 303–305; Panaino 2001, 152–153, 170.) Also cf. (Abusch 2005, 425 n.23).
The transcriptions of the Akkadian text of the Old Babylonian (OB) and Standard Babylonian (SB) versions of the Gilgamesh epic are based upon the transliterated text in (George 2003); the translations are his as well.
Tablet XII contains the end of a different account of Enkidu’s death. On an errand for Gilgamesh, Enkidu descends into the netherworld. He is seized by the netherworld and cannot escape death; he returns only as a shade in order to describe to Gilgamesh the state of the dead.
The episode is now also known from a tablet provisionally dated to the beginning of the Middle Babylonian period; see (George 2007, for the dating see p. 63).
As far as we can see, nothing in the new “Middle Babylonian” version (cited above, fn. 6) contradicts this statement.
In regards to the Mahābhārata, all passages cited here are from the Critical Edition (Sukthankar 1942), and all translations are EBW’s. In regard to the composition of the epic, we concur with others that the epic was assembled slowly over an extended period, roughly between 400 BCE and 400 CE; see (van Buitenen 1973–1975, vol. 1, xxv) or (Brockington 2003, 116).
A complete translation of the Ṛśyaśṛnga episode may be found in (van Buitenen 1973–1975, vol. 2, 431–441).
It is the narrative contained in the body of the Mahābhārata’s tale of Ṛśyaśṛnga to which we refer whenever we discuss the Mahābhārata’s version in general terms. See below, Section 4.11. “Narrative Layers in the Mahābhārata,” for our division and characterization of the sections of the final text.
Cf., e.g., (Winternitz 1962, 351–353).
Dahlmann disagreed strongly with Lüders’ method for tracing the history of the story (Dahlmann 1899, 283–287). Later scholars who present arguments against Lüders’ conclusions about the nature of the original story include (Panaino 2001; Pauly 1987–1988; Schlinghoff 1973; Williams 1925–1926, 34).
Thus we agree with Lüders regarding the originality of the preamble; however, in contrast to Lüders who sees the Mahābhārata tale as essentially a coherent whole which underwent a few contradictory revisions, we maintain that the present body of the tale (MBh. 3.110.30–113.10) is a later addition.
These are listed at (Lüders 1897, 1) as well.
The Ṛśyaśṛnga tale as it occurs in the Mahābhārata may not be the direct progenitor of other variants of the tale in India, but we believe it to be the earliest version of the tale of the seduction of the wild man in India for two reasons: First, because the other tales all contain elements that appear to be alterations of the Mahābhārata’s version, and second, the Mahābhārata contains the evidence of superimposition. For further analysis of the variations in the tales see (West 2010).
In 1897, when Lüders published “Die Saga von Rśyaśrnga,” the story of Enkidu and the prostitute might not yet have been widely known, but the story had been translated and re-told, for example, in (Jeremias 1891, 16–18).