W03 – The Transmission of Cuneiform Culture in the Near East from the Death of Alexander to the Rise of Islam

Organizer: Zackary Wainer (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)


  1. Bronson Brown-deVost (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
  2. Eshbal Ratzon (Tel-Aviv University)
  3. Zackary Wainer (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  4. Willis Monroe (University of British Columbia)
  5. Aleksandra Kubiak-Schneider (Independent Researcher)
  6. Martin Lang and Reinhard Meßner (Universität Innsbruck)

General Abstract

This workshop focuses on the development, diffusion, and adoption of cuneiform culture throughout the Near East during the Hellenistic, Roman, and Persian periods, and is especially relevant in light of the theme of this year’s RAI, “Intellectual Heritage of the Ancient Near East.” While the maturation of cuneiform culture within the Mesopotamian heartland at theend of the first millennium BCE has been the object of scholarly attention for some time, Assyriologists have given less consideration to how groups across the Near East adopted and incorporated various aspects of Mesopotamian literature, science, religion, or philosophy into their own cultures during the last centuries BCE and first centuries CE. The individuals participating in this workshop will present on the reception of different facets of Mesopotamian culture across the eastern Mediterranean, from the death of Alexander until the advent of Islam. Papers in this session may address concerns common to the cross-cultural enterprise through the lens of specific Near Eastern texts and cultures that flourished during the periods in question, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Roman Palmyra, or Parthian and Sassanian Persia.
By engaging with scholarship centered around the dissemination of cuneiform culture, this workshop’s aims are twofold: to encourage dialogue between scholars who study the Near East but focus on different genres of text from relatively diffuse geographical areas and chronological periods, and to further general Assyriological familiarity with groups and texts that adopted aspects of cuneiform culture during and after the decline and eventual extinction of the cuneiform writing system.

General Contact: zwainer@gmail.com

Paper Titles with Abstracts

To view the abstracts, please click on the titles:

Reading SpBTU III 72 as Florilegium
Bronson Brown-deVost (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)

E. von Weiher described SpBTU III 72 as a collection of citations from various incantations texts, and line 14 had previously been considered a commentary on Maqlû. Upon a more careful reading, W. Farber has argued briefly that the text represents a speculative theological work (ZA 79[1989]: 232–236). His analysis of the text provided a more grounded interpretation, yet only explored its genre as far as it might relate to Mesopotamian commentary literature. I intend to expand upon this suggestion with a more detailed comparison of SpBTU III 72 to other similar compositions in order to better describe its genre and place within the literary tradition.
SpBTU III 72 has limited similarities to the commentary texts, and the arrangement of citations in it differs from what is commonly found in excerpt tablets. Rather than copying a several blocks of material from famous compositions, it appears to utilize small citations which are taken at will from various works. Yet all the excerpted lines deal with similar themes, or at least relate to a similar development of thought. The collocation of these quotations serves as vehicle for theological reflection on the eqation of Anu (and his consort Antu) with Enlil (and his consort Ninlil)—an exegetical tool with marked similarities to the so-called florilegia genre that developed in Greek and later Western literature as well as briefly at Qumran.

Jewish Time in the Astronomical Book of Enoch and Mesopotamian Astronomy
Eshbal Ratzon (Tel-Aviv University)

It has long been known that the Astronomical Book of Enoch (AB) uses Mesopotamian astronomical knowledge. Among the Mesopotamian texts researchers have highlighted as influencing AB are MUL.APIN and Enuma Anu Enlil XIV, which were both composed hundreds of years prior to AB. The earliest versions of the Aramaic Astronomical Book (AAB) were composed during the fourth to the third centuries, though except for the concept of the zodiac, its authors do not seem to have had any knowledge of the advanced mathematical astronomy developed in Babylonia at this time. In this paper, I will demonstrate that a new understanding of the time units used in the AAB demonstrates that their astronomy was more accurate than previously thought, and was influenced by Neo-Babylonian astronomical texts as well. However, unlike their Babylonian peers, they used seasonal time units, dividing each day and night into 14 seperate parts. This first division of the day into hours in Judean culture was an original creation of the Jewish Aramaic astronomers who authored the AAB, and who may have been influenced by the Egyptian concept of seasonal hours. Their aim in this development was both theological – to develop a Jewish time system based on the number seven – and astronomical – to represent astronomical accuracy with their limited mathematical skills.

The 3600 Psalms of “David's Compositions” and the Mesopotamian Sexagesimal Number System
Zackary Wainer (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

The portion of 11QPsᵃ in the Dead Sea Scrolls labeled by Sanders as “David's Compositions” has been the subject of much scholarly inquiry over the years. In between passages praising David and his deeds, this section of 11QPsᵃ includes a list that enumerates the psalms and different types of songs associated with David. Though scholars have offered various justifications for the numbers connected to the different songs listed in “David's Compositions,” most agree that the quantities associated with these songs are related to the calendar at Qumran. Conversely, there is no consensus for the rationale behind the 3600 psalms ascribed to David in “David's Compositions.” While some have tried to connect these 3600 psalms to the 150 psalms in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible and the gematriah of David's name, the number of priestly divisions in 1 Chronicles 24, or the traditional number of canonical books in the Hebrew Bible, others have argued that a lexical connection or calendrical considerations are the key to understanding the number of psalms in “David's Compositions.”
This paper contends that the 3600 psalms in “David's Compositions” are best appreciated in light of the sexagesimal, or base-60, number system that came to the Levant from ancient Mesopotamia. After briefly recounting the distinct rationales offered by various scholars for the 3600 psalms in “David's Compositions,” I will focus on some of the different Mesopotamian cultural vestiges known from the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the sexagesimal number system. I will then argue for the significance of a sexagesimal number system, and more importantly, the Mesopotamian cultural ideas inscribed within this numerical system, for understanding the implications behind the 3600 psalms in “David's Compositions.” In order to best theorize this phenomenon, I will conclude with an examination of other instances of ideas connected to numbers or number systems being transferred within the course of cultural contact in the ancient world. This communication not only solves an important crux in Dead Sea Scrolls research with an idea from the Mesopotamian cultural mileau, but provides another example of the transmission of cuneiform culture to the Jewish Levant, and Qumran in particular, by the end of the first millennium BCE.

Illustrating the Patterns of the Heavens in Cuneiform and Later Sources
Willis Monroe (University of British Columbia)

Babylonian astronomical and astrological methods and precepts were long acknowledged by later cultural traditions in the history of their own scientific craft. Primarily these references took the form of a reference to the Chaldean astrologer or through oblique usage of a particular mathematical constant. Howver, an important component of later astrological and astronomical texts were the illustrations and diagrams added to them by copyists. The diagrams clarified the complicated methods for predictive astronomy but also illustrated complex systems of association between zodiac signs and other forms of knowledge, e.g. medicine. The use of diagrams is a very specific reception of a source text, where the reconfiguration of text into a visual form both adds and subtracts meaning through its conversion.
Cuneiform texts, in comparison, contain very few diagrams and illustrations of celestial topics. However, a tradition of circular diagrams and other illustrations does exist from the Neo-Assyrian down to the Hellenistic period. This talk will examine the progression of these diagrams in context with other forms of celestial illustration and seek to place the development of diagramatic processes in context with later (non-cuneiform) forms of astronomical and astrological diagrams. Crucially, there seems to be a progression of descriptive diagrams based on celestial geography that progresses to a analytic form of diagram where material from neighboring traditions is incorporated into diagrams in order to place it within the context of astronomical cycles. For instance, the Neo-Assyrian circular diagrams are primarly related to the position and order of stars and constellations in the sky, while later diagrams begin to incoporate the zodiac, finally a late circular diagram uses a circle to describe birth omens. This progression of diagrams will be compared with the practice of diagrams from later textual traditions to investigate the use of celestial paradigms in the description of related phenomena through illustration.

Hymns in Stone. The Palmyrene “He whose name is blessed forever” and its ancient origins
Aleksandra Kubiak-Schneider (Independent Researcher)

169 Palmyrene inscriptions, qualified as votive dedications, contain an Aramaic formula “He whose name is blessed forever”. They date mostly on 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Previous research focused rather on the identification of the “Blessed Name” than on the meaning of the whole expression and its place in the local cults. The study conducted to my Ph.D. brought into the light a connection between this cultic formula and Mesopotamian prayers and hymns. This paper will focus on the link with Babylonian and Assyrian religious traditions, which is very striking in case of the presented material. First of all, the Palmyrene epigraphic material, in the aspect of their language and expressions, and will be put side by side with the Akkadian evidence. For Palmyra I have chosen a few examples, like: PAT 1558, PAT 1911 and PAT 1928. Concerning the Akkadian hymns and prayers, I concentrate on Ludlul Bel Nemeqi, shuilla prayers to Marduk, Nabu and Nergal and Great Hymn to Ishtar. Second of all, I will try to answer the question of the category of the inscriptions: are they simply the votive dedications or are they short, personal, hymns towards a merciful deity? Furthermore, it would be also interesting to pose the question: why particularly Palmyra, and not the other places in the Roman Near-East, shows such strong parallels with the Mesopotamian religious traditions?

Forms of Speech and Literary Patterns in Rituals and Prayers from the Cuneiform World and in Early Christianity
Martin Lang and Reinhard Meßner (Universität Innsbruck)

Certain forms of speech and literary patterns of prayers and ritual texts of cuneiform sources and Christian material from the Late Antiquity seem to be strikingly similar. This applies e.g. to the introductions of incantations and to the Epiclesis, a peculiar form of Christian prayer which probably emerged in Syria. The authors try to follow the traces of its tradition history. The possible origin of summoning a divinity to “stand” or to “enter” and to reveal something has its documentable origins in the early 2nd millennium BCE in a special kind of prayer being an integral part of a procedure of divination.
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