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Letter-Prayer of King Sin-iddinam to Nin-isina (1.164)

(1,052 words)

Author(s): Hallo, William W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Prayers and Letter-Prayers Commentary The genre of letter-prayer combines the format of a letter with the function of a prayer. It is attested first for private petitions in Sumerian, and then developed into a royal mode of communication with the divine, as here. Later examples of the genre occur in Akkadian and perhaps even in Hebrew, notably the “writing” or “letter” of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. Like that letter, this one is concerned with royal illness; it is addressed…

Coffin Text 157 (1.19)

(635 words)

Author(s): Ritner, Robert K.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary This spell for “Knowing the Souls of Pe” (with its descendant Book of the Dead 112) provides a theological explanation for the Egyptian pork taboo, a prohibition never uniformly accepted (Darby et al. 1977:171–209; Miller 1990). The conclusion to the companion Coffin Text spell 158 is instructive: “Not to be said while eating pork.” No less interesting is the medical aspect of spell 1…

Ugaritic Birth Omens (1.90)

(3,121 words)

Author(s): Pardee, Dennis
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; West Semitic Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Divination Commentary Recorded observations of the natural world in the Levantine and Mesopotamian areas of the ancient Near East had two primary foci, medical and divinatory. The two areas were probably thought to be equally empirical. In the case of a symptom, one applied a given remedy or remedies and the complaint was supposed to go away. Other natural phenomena were thought to be followed by events …

The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld (1.108)

(2,521 words)

Author(s): Dalley, Stephanie
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Akkadian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Myths Commentary The Akkadian story is first attested in Late Bronze Age texts, in both Babylonia and Assyria, and later from the palace library at Nineveh. It is a short composition of some 140 lines, and seems to end with ritual instructions for the taklimtu, an annual ritual known from Assyrian texts, which took place in the month of Dumuzi (Tammuz = June/July) and featured the bathing, anointing, and lying-in-state of a statue of Dumuzi in Nineveh, Arbela, Assur and Kalah.1 Weep…

Prayer to Re-harakhti (1.29)

(770 words)

Author(s): Fox, Michael V.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Prayers Commentary This is an individual supplication in a fairly stereotypic form, probably designed for use by different people in various situations. The worshipper asks for acceptance of his prayers without praying for anything in particular and confesses his sins and folly without reference to specific transgressions. The worshipper seems to be a pilgrim to the temple at Heliopolis. The prayer is an expression of “personal piety,” a form of relig…

A “Non-canonical” Incantation (1.167)

(394 words)

Author(s): Hallo, William W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Incantations Commentary Incantations were among the earliest literary genres to be fixed in writing. Before they were collected into major canonical series, they circulated in individual formulations, as needed. Sometimes, as here, these were quite short, and to the point, even specifying the source of the problem by name. The name of the client who used the spell was inserted at the appropriate point. The …

Dumuzi-Inanna Songs (1.169)

(302 words)

Author(s): Sefati, Yitschak
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Love Poems Commentary The three poems translated below belong to the Sumerian love poetry composed during the Third Dynasty of Ur and early Old Babylonian periods (ca. 2100–1800 BCE). This poetry which is mainly cultic deals with the love affair and marriage of the divine couple, the gods of love and fertility, Dumuzi (the Sumerian name for Tammuz) and Inanna (the Sumerian name for Ishtar). This symbolic mar…

The Storm God At LiḫzinaThe name of the town in this text is twice spelled Li ḫzina and twice Ziḫzina. An explanation for this alternation of consonants is not easily forthcoming. (1.69)

(1,085 words)

Author(s): Collins, Billie Jean
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Hittite Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Incantations Commentary This is a mythological text belonging to the group of Anatolian myths known as the missing deity myths. The original composition dates to the period of the Hittite Old Kingdom. The supreme Storm God is the deity whose absence is the focus of this particular narrative. Presumably the Storm God absented himself in the first column of the tablet, after which chaos ensued for man and live…

Ritual and Prayer to Ishtar of Nineveh (1.65)

(1,057 words)

Author(s): Collins, Billie Jean
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Hittite Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Rituals Commentary The beginning of this text, containing a ritual for the goddess, is broken. In §4, where the text becomes legible, the officiant is reciting an invocation. Ritual and Prayer to Ishtar of Nineveh (1.65) Subject: Deut 18:9–12; 22:5; 1 Sam 28:8–15; Isa 8:19; 29:4 §3 […] they cover [her?] with a cloth […] all the singers play [the … –instruments] and sin[g]. […] outside on seven paths […] they go to […] and […]. The diviner [sets (?)] do…

The Great Cairo Hymn of Praise to Amun-Re (1.25)

(1,841 words)

Author(s): Ritner, Robert K.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Hymns Commentary While the initial sections of this universalist hymn are carved on a statue of the Second Intermediate Period (12th-17th Dynasties; see Hassan 1928:157–193), the best preserved manuscript is a Theban papyrus of the early 18th Dynasty (Amenhotep II). The papyrus text is published in Mariette (1872: pls. xi–xiii) and excerpted in Möller (1927:33–34). Commentary, bibliography, and translations are found in Grébaut 1874; Wilson  ANET ; Assmann 1975b:199–…

The Great Hymn to Aten (1.28)

(1,538 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Hymns Commentary The texts in the tomb of the courtier Ay have yielded the most extensive statements of Aten worship. Here we have not only several short hymns and prayers but, above all, the long text which has come to be known as “The Great Hymn to the Aten.” The east wall of the tomb is inscribed with three hymns and prayers to the Aten and to the king, and the west wall contains the great hymn. The long text columns begin at the top of the wall. Below the text are th…

From the “Book of Nut” (1.1)

(1,472 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary This text consists of a series of captions accompanying the image of the goddess Nut stretched out as a representation of the sky, held off the earth by the atmosphere (Shu). Originally perhaps of Middle Kingdom composition, it appears on ceilings of the cenotaph of Seti I (Dynasty 19, ca. 1291–1279 bce) at Abydos and the tomb of Ramesses IV (Dynasty 20, ca. 1163–1156 bce) at Thebes; the texts were also copied, with exegesis, in two Demotic papyri…

Ugaritic Incantation Against Sorcery (1.96)

(802 words)

Author(s): Fleming, Daniel
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; West Semitic Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Incantations and Rituals Commentary This Ugaritic magical text was found in 1978 not at Ras Shamra but at nearby Ras Ibn Hani, though it should be the same age.1 The extant tablet is neatly inscribed but broken from the 16th line at the left edge across to the 22nd at the right. In spite of the good condition of the first 15 lines, interpretation is hindered by previously unknown terms. Clear references to sorcery and expulsion …

From Pyramid Texts Spell 527 (1.3)

(294 words)

Author(s): Allen, James P.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Cosmologies Commentary The Pyramid Texts were inscribed on the walls of the substructures of royal pyramids at the end of the Old Kingdom, with the same purpose as their descendants, the Coffin Texts. This spell begins by describing the material derivation of the first two elements of the world — the atmospheres above and below the earth (Shu and Tefnut) — from the single source of all matter (Atum), as a “mythological precedent” for the daily rebirth of the deceased king. From Pyrami…

Appu and His Two Sons (1.58)

(1,212 words)

Author(s): Hoffner, Harry A., Jr.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Hittite Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Myths Commentary This text has been translated here as an independent story. According to Güterbock (1946), the text is continued in the tale of the Sun God, the Cow, and the Fisherman. Although the extant copies of the Appu story are New Hittite, archaic language indicates an archetype composed in the Old or Middle Hittite period. The story has a moral, which is stated in the proemium. The unnamed deity wh…

Love by the Light of the Moon (1.169C)

(1,151 words)

Contributor(s): Hallo, William W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Love Poems Commentary This poem1 is a dialogue between Inanna and Dumuzi/Ama-ushumgalanna, who woo each other as a young couple prior to their marriage. The song opens with Inanna’s monologue, in which she tells of her chance meeting with Dumuzi and about Dumuzi holding her hand and embracing her (obverse lines 1–8) when spending the previous day in song and dance. Then a dialogue with Dumuzi develops (obverse lines 9–22): Inan…

Ugaritic Lunar Omens (1.91)

(1,451 words)

Author(s): Pardee, Dennis
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; West Semitic Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Divination Commentary Like the texts for divination by misformed births, the Ugaritic collection of lunar omens corresponds directly to a Mesopotamian series, in this case Sin, the name of the Mesopotamian lunar deity. This text, which was discovered in 1978 at the site of Ras Ibn Hani, only a few kilometers from Ras Shamra, is badly damaged, only the upper portion having been preserved and that incomple…

A Ugaritic Incantation Against Serpents and Sorcerers (1.100)

(1,109 words)

Author(s): Pardee, Dennis
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; West Semitic Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Incantations and Rituals Commentary A new Ugaritic incantation text, similar in many respects to RIH 78/20 (text COSB.1.96), was discovered in 1992 in the archive that has since been identified as belonging to Urtenu (Bordreuil and Pardee 1995), a high official in the city shortly before its demise (Arnaud 1982:106). The incantation was prepared especially for Urtenu (see lines 14–15) and shows a concern for venomo…

Plague Prayers of Muršili II (1.60)

(4,269 words)

Author(s): Beckman, Gary
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Hittite Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Prayers Commentary When he came to the throne, the Great King Muršili II was confronted with both the fragmentation of the Hittite empire and the raging of an epidemic of uncertain character which had carried off in short succession both his father Šuppiluliuma I and his brother Arnuwanda II. Innumerable ordinary Hittites had perished as well. While Muršili mastered the political situation within the firs…

The Song of the Hoe (1.157)

(1,956 words)

Author(s): Farber, Gertrud
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Divine Focus; Myths Commentary The ancient scribe seemingly had a humorous purpose in mind when composing this text. It should probably be categorized as a satirical school text composed for use in the Edubba (= school) and for other learned people.1 The composition has no coherent topic or theme. The thread winding through the whole text is the syllable /al/ which is a Sumerian logogram meaning hoe but which also occurs as part of other words or as a gra…
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