S15 – Sumerian Literature


  1. Jacob Klein and Yitschak Sefati (Bar-Ilan University)
  2. Monica L. Phillips (University of Chicago)
  3. Szilvia Jáka-Sövegjártó (Universität Heidelberg)

Paper Titles with Abstracts

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On the Two Principal Meanings of the Sumerian Term lugal
Jacob Klein and Yitschak Sefati (Bar-Ilan University)

Already the Akkadian lexicographers realized that the common ancient Sumerian term lugal has two major meanings: A more general and primary meaning “lord”/”master”, and a more specific, secondary meaning “king”. Accordingly, they translated this word by two Akkadian words: bēlum and šarrum respectively. While the former meaning has a general socio-legal connotation, the latter is a specific political title. This is a common knowledge, and in most cases it is easy to choose between these two translations. However, in certain texts of literary-poetical nature this term is used in a somewhat ambiguous context, and it is not easy to determine its exact meaning. The main purpose of this paper is to reexamine the usage of this term in literary-poetic texts, where the context is ambiguous and not unequivocal; to examine the various translations that were chosen or preferred by former Sumerologists; and to try to suggest certain rules which might facilitate to determine the correct meaning of the term in these contexts. A major context, in which the meaning of lugal may be ambiguous is when it is juxtaposed with the political-religious epithet en “lord”/”en priest”. These contexts will be examined with particular attention, taking into account the origins of these epithets and the semantic changes which they underwent during the third millennium BCE.

O, House! The Invocation of Temple Names in the Collection of Sumerian Temple Hymns
Monica L. Phillips (University of Chicago)

As with many Sumerian literary compositions, most of our evidence for the Collection of Sumerian Temple Hymns originates in various Old Babylonian curricular contexts. This makes the deeper significance and meaning of the composition difficult to grasp. Was it copied in schools as an intellectual endeavor, an exercise in complex word play and esoteric scholarly knowledge? Or, did it have a ritually significant background that was important to the clergy in whose homes it was found? And if so, is this background still accessible via the nature of the text itself? In this paper, I argue that the names and epithets that comprise this text did far more than elucidate the character and nature of each temple. Rather, they acted as vessels of meaning that made tangible the essence of the temples of southern Mesopotamia. The text invokes these names and epithets as ritual acts, establishing and maintaining the liminal nature of the temple space by substantiating the connection between the physical and divine spheres and infusing the temple with power and authority.

Safeguarding by Enhancing: Sumerian intangible cultural Heritage in the Old Babylonian Period
Szilvia Jáka-Sövegjártó (Universität Heidelberg)

Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes of a group or society that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present and preserved for future generations. Intangible cultural heritage consists of non-physical aspects of a culture, including oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe as well as traditional craftsmanship. Being in a sense ephemeral, intangible cultural heritage is more difficult to preserve than physical objects.
The safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is a twofold challenge. On the one hand, the continuity of practice and its transmission should be secured. On the other hand, intangible components of a culture might be fixed in any medium and thus turned into tangible information objects. These objects are characterized by their negligible intrinsic value, they acquire significance only in relation to their content.
In my talk I will focus on the intangible cultural heritage in Mesopotamia during the Old Babylonian period. I will argue that the withdrawal of the Sumerian language from everyday use initiated safeguarding strategies aiming to preserve the legacy conveyed by the language.
One of these strategies was the formalization of education through the establishment of the Edubba’a, a priest-run institution mainly responsible for the transmission of the Sumerian language. As it will be demonstrated, this institution was also responsible for the identification, documentation, enhancement and promotion of the Sumerian intangible cultural heritage.
As a complementary strategy, the number of information objects increased significantly in form of clay tablets not intended for long-term preservation. These knowledge repositories came into existence within the aforementioned institutional context.
In my talk I will concentrate on two processes relevant for the preservation of the Sumerian intangible cultural heritage. First I will prove that the continued proficiency in the Sumerian language resulted in the ongoing development of the material during the Old Babylonian period. Secondly, translations, though quite exceptional in the written corpus, served for promoting and sharing the heritage of a community with outsiders, namely with the Akkadian speaking community. As I will argue, a significant contribution of this Akkadian-speaking community learning Sumerian is also perceptible in the literary discourse of the Old Babylonian period which manifests in new literary forms applied for traditional themes.

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