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The Dialogue Between Two Scribes (1.184)

(956 words)

Author(s): Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; School Dialogues Commentary This provisionally fragmentary1 composition focuses on the competition between two scribes, one being more advanced than the other, and using his seniority to bully and insult the younger one — after which the teacher, apparently a stickler for school tradition, takes the side of the senior student (the “Big Brother”). But in the meantime we learn a number of practical and meth…

Hittite Proverbs (1.80)

(507 words)

Author(s): Beckman, Gary
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Hittite Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Proverbs Commentary The sayings and generalizing anecdotes by which the Hittites expressed the received wisdom of their civilization were not collected for use in scribal instruction as was the practice in earlier Mesopotamia, but are rather to be found scattered throughout texts of various types. The following is a selection of proverbs and proverbial allusions: Hittite Proverbs (1.80) Subject: Jer 31:29; Ezek 18:2 1. [ In a prayer, a queen addresses the chief godd…

The Famine Stela (1.53)

(3,441 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Pseudepigrapha Commentary The inscription is carved in thirty–two columns on the face of a granite rock where it was given the shape of a rectangular stela. The rock face is split by a broad horizontal fissure, which already existed when the inscription was carved. After the carving, further ruptures occurred in the rock, and they have caused a number of textual lacunae. Above the text is a relief scene…

The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer (1.153)

(3,623 words)

Author(s): Foster, Benjamin R.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Akkadian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Just Sufferer Compositions Commentary This is the most elaborate treatment of the theme of theodicy. It includes a veritable thesaurus of medical symptoms (Tablet II) and their cure (Tablet III). Because the sufferer protests not so much innocence as ignorance of his sins, his modern designation could well be “pious sufferer” rather than “just sufferer.”1 He is identified by name in the text (Tablet III, line 43) and was possibly its author. The ancient…

“Man and His God” (1.179)

(1,742 words)

Author(s): Klein, Jacob
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Pious Sufferer Compositions Commentary This Sumerian poem, of about 140 lines, tells a didactic story of a righteous sufferer who remains faithful to his personal god and ultimately is rehabilitated and restored to his former happy status. The poem opens with a brief didactic exhortation, that a man should faithfully praise his god, soothing his heart with lamentations, for “a man without a god would not …

Sinuhe (1.38)

(5,660 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Narratives Commentary The numerous, if fragmentary, copies of this work testify to its great popularity, and it is justly considered the most accomplished piece of Middle Kingdom prose literature. The two principal manuscripts are: (1) P. Berlin 3022 (abbr., B) which dates from the 12th Dynasty. In its present state, it lacks the beginning of the story and contains a total of 311 lines; (2) P. Berlin 10499 (abbr., R) which contai…

The Disputation Between Ewe and Wheat (1.180)

(2,014 words)

Author(s): Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Disputations Commentary This composition is presently the most accessible of the group of poetic disputations, a genre which was very popular in the Old Babylonian scribal schools and, according to the texts themselves, also at the royal court. This piece is remarkable for three reasons: it starts with a very long “cosmogonical” introduction,1 it is apparently occasioned by a festival (a banquet at harvest time?), and it is a prime example of a consci…

Instructions to Commanders of Border Garrisons (Bel Madgalti) (1.84)

(2,980 words)

Author(s): McMahon, Gregory
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Hittite Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Instructions Commentary An essential element in Hittite administration of provinces was the auriyaš išḫaš, literally “lord of the watch tower/ guard post,”1 often written with the Akkadogram BEL MADGALTI. This was the officer in charge of garrisons and administration in sensitive frontier provinces of the empire. The Hittite term is often translated “border governor”; Hoffner has proposed “margrave,” which implies the idea of governors assigned to fr…

The Babylonian Theodicy (1.154)

(1,853 words)

Author(s): Foster, Benjamin R.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Akkadian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Just Sufferer Compositions Commentary Formally, this classic statement of the theme of theodicy comes closest to the biblical book of Job, for it is cast in the form of a dialogue, albeit the sufferer has only one “friend” to put up with as interlocutor, and that friend is unnamed. A further formal parallel to biblical poetry in general is provided by the strophic structure which, like Ps. 119, features successive stanzas of equal length whose initial signs spell out…

Cairo Love Songs (1.50)

(231 words)

Author(s): Fox, Michael V.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Love Poems Commentary The following are stanzas from the second of two seven-stanza love songs (numbers 21A-21G) written on a vase, now shattered.1 Cairo Love Songs (1.50) Subject: Cant 8:6 ( Boy) ( Number 21A)If only I were her Nubian maid,her attendant in secret!She brings her [a bowl of] mandragoras …It is in her hand,while she gives pleasure.In other words:she would grant methe hue of her whole body. ( Boy) ( Number 21B)If only I were the laundrymanof my sister’s linen g…

Proverbs Quoted In Other Genres (1.175)

(638 words)

Author(s): Alster, Bendt
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Proverbs Commentary The proverbs quoted in the Sumerian proverb collections are usually devoid of context indicative of the situations to which they were normally applied. Yet, in some lucky cases, the proverbs listed in the proverb collections coincide with those quoted in literary compositions.1 On the other hand, a number of proverbs found in literary compositions, in particular in Shuruppak’s Instructions (cf. below), were not included in…

The Shipwrecked Sailor (1.39)

(2,153 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Narratives Commentary The tale is set in a narrative frame. A high official is returning from an expedition that apparently failed in its objective, for he is despondent and fearful of the reception awaiting him at court. One of his attendants exhorts him to take courage, and as an example of how a disaster may turn into a success, tells him a marvelous adventure that happened to him years ago. At the end of his tale, however, the official is still despondent. The only preserved pa…

Dua-khety or the Satire On the Trades (1.48)

(2,454 words)

Author(s): Lichtheim, Miriam
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Instructions Commentary Like the other Instructions, this work has a prologue and an epilogue which frame the actual teaching and set its stage. A father conducts his young son to the residence in order to place him in school, and during the journey he instructs him in the duties and rewards of the scribal profession. In order to stress the amenities and advantages that accrue to the successful scribe, …

Dialogue of Pessimism or the Obliging Slave (1.155)

(861 words)

Author(s): Livingstone, Alasdair
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Akkadian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Dialogue Dialogue of Pessimism or the Obliging Slave (1.155) (1) [“Slave, oblige me again!”] “Here, master! Here!” [“Get a move on and get ready] the chariot and harness up so I can go driving to the palace!”[“Go driving, master, go driving!] You’ll achieve your goal!”[“…] will show you preference!” ( 5) [“No, slave,] I will not go driving to the palace!” [“Do not go driving, master, do not go driving!”][The palace n]otable will send you off on his businessand will make you tak…

The Prophecies of Neferti (1.45)

(3,025 words)

Author(s): Shupak, Nili
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; “Prophecy” Commentary The single complete version of this composition is preserved on Pap. Petersburg 1116B which derives from the 18th Dynasty. This is augmented by fragments preserved on writing tablets and ostraca. “The Prophecies of Neferti” is a political document which was apparently composed in the court of the King Amenemhet I (1990–1960 bce) who is here cast in the role of a redeemer-king. The text is introduced by a narrative frame, setting th…

School Dialogues (1.SU.C.6)

(287 words)

Contributor(s): Hallo, William W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus 6. School Dialogues This section has been included for a very special reason. The Scriptural parallels here might be are few in number, and inherently vacuous, if not nugatory. And that is precisely the point: the rich ‘school literature’ in Sumerian from Old Babylonian Mesopotamia shows a striking and very meaningful contrast between the two cultures. In the Mesopotamian case the perception, ordering and…

Love Poems (C.4)

(167 words)

Contributor(s): Hallo, William W.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus 4. Love Poems The extant Egyptian love song texts all date from the 19th dynasty (ca. 1305–1200 bce) and the early 20th dynasty (ca. 1200–1150 bce). The songs’ composition too seems to date from the Ramesside period. They are collected on large papyri or inscribed on ostraca. They are sometimes labelled “Entertainment” (lit. “diverting the heart”) and probably served to entertain guests at banquets. Numer…

The Dialogue Between A Supervisor and A Scribe (1.185)

(1,143 words)

Author(s): Vanstiphout, H. L. J.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; School Dialogues Commentary This piece is not unlike the preceding one in that it consists of an altercation between a senior and a junior member of the Eduba. Still, the relationship is subtly different: the senior one is not just a more mature student, but a regular supervisor (an UGULA). He submits the pupil, who is obviously aspiring to higher things at this moment, to a kind of examination which dea…

Shuruppak (1.176)

(1,024 words)

Author(s): Alster, Bendt
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Sumerian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Instructions Commentary In addition to the standard version of this composition, dating around 1900–1800 BCE, an Early Dynastic version dating as early as 2600–2500 BCE, and two partly preserved Akkadian translations, one dating around 1500 BCE, and one dating around 1100 BCE, are known. The excerpts translated here are from the standard version, attested in approximately 80 fragments from Nippur and Ur…

Ostracon Gardiner 304 (1.52)

(227 words)

Author(s): Fox, Michael V.
Subject: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World; Egyptian Canonical Compositions; Individual Focus; Love Poems Commentary A number of ostraca, mostly written as school exercises, hold love songs or phrases typical of love songs. This ostracon dates to the reign of Ramses III (ca. 1182–1151 bce). Ostracon Gardiner 304 (1.52) Subject: Cant 8:1; Cant 4:9 ( Boy) ( Number 54)My sister’s love is in the …Her necklace is of flowers;her bones are reeds.Her little seal–ring is [on her finger],her lotus in her hand.I kiss [her] before everyone,that they may see my love.1  j Indeed it is…
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